Scratch-ing an itch

Scratch logo
Image via Wikipedia

Sorry for the awful pun. It had to be done.

For those who don’t know, Scratch is a programming language geared primarily at younger children. We use it with our S2 classes (around 12-13 years old) although I am aware of many primary schools who also introduce it to children at a younger age.

Frankly, after a bit of struggling to begin with, I’ve found it to be a great language. Sure it doesn’t have a solution to every problem and yes, you often have to fiddle around a lot to get it to do precisely what you want but for the level it’s aimed it, it’s a fantastic tool.

The best thing is the layout. It’s bright, clear and gives very fast results. The colour-coding of different data types makes it easy for children to spot how the programs are put together. There’s no typing necessary (other than the occasional number) as the programs are built using jigsaw pieces with code on. The pieces change shape dynamically as code is formed into loops and the like. All very pretty.

Over the holidays I spent an hour or two with Little Miss (aged 10) who was very impressed with the simplicity. She managed to create a couple of short animations on her netbook. I went into full-on geek mode and created the attached Ghostbusters game (no copyright theft intended – it just seemed like a nice name).

Use the mouse to point your gun in the right direction and the space bar to fire. There are seven levels, on each of which you have ten bullets and have to hit the ghost five times. Clear a level using exactly five bullets and you get a bonus.

You can download Scratch from for free. There are versions for Windows, Mac and more penguin-oriented operating systems.

My ghost-busting title is available as a single file here: Ghostbusters (ZIP file, 2.8Mb)

UPDATE: you can play the game online here!

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Bowling For Soup (acoustic performance)

Bowling For Soup Acoustic
Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

I first Saw Bowling For Soup at Download some years ago and thought they were rather good fun. When I saw they were playing Glasgow last year I rushed to get a ticket and wasn’t at all disappointed (Anni had told me they were great when she saw them in Cardiff back in 2007, I think). It turns out that Jaret and Erik do an acoustic show, and this is what I went to see this week at the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh.

I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but it turned out to be excellent. Certainly a departure from what I’m used to, but one of the best gigs I’ve been to in some time precisely because of it.

Jaret and Ryan Hamilton (from Smile Smile) kicked things off as a duo called “People on Vacation”. They did a handful of nice songs then tootled off to be replaced by “Linus of Hollywood” who did a solo set, which was very well received.

With a very short set change, and in between having their photos take at the side of the stage with umpteen fans, half of Bowling For Soup grabbed their guitars and ploughed through a set lasting nigh on two hours. This was partly due to a very accommodating venue. The gig was, apparently, meant to end at 10pm, but they ran on until just after half past. Thanks to Liquid Rooms for that! I guess they were still coining it in over the bar…

I don’t think a hit was left untouched, and the acoustic versions were suitably different in places to warrant a separate album, in my opinion. The crowd were singing along from the start and the banter was as good as you’d expect from BfS. Any shout was responded to in good humour, the between-song dialogue genuinely funny and it was obvious you were watching two long-standing friends doing what they dreamed of doing when they were kids.

They even managed to squeeze in a version of “Dance Song” from the current album (soon to be outdated by a new release in three weeks). So we have an acoustic version of a rock song parodying a dance song. Cool.

The icing on the cake was the two guys in front of me trying to pull the two girls next to them… who ended up getting off with each other.

A great night with a great band in a great venue with a great crowd. Roll on October and the full band coming back for another tour!


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Help a friend

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Swimming
Come on in - the water's lovely

I’m not normally one to plug things like this, but this is on behalf of a very good friend of mine who’s doing something utterly cool.

Later this year Sharon is taking part in the Great North Swim, by far the biggest physical challenge she’s ever undertaken. She will be raising money, hopefully a lot of it, for Help For Heroes – a UK charity which helps the members of the armed forces and their families who are killed or injured in the line of duty… and then not taken care of properly by the government which sent them wherever they were when it happened.

It is a fantastic cause and the swimming will be done by a fantastic woman.

Please, if you have a spare few bob, head over to Sharon’s JustGiving page and make a donation.

Thanks, folks. Normal service will be resumed once I think of something disgusting or ranty to write about.

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May I just say…

There are a few things I know about my grandpa’s military career. Not a lot as he refused to talk about a lot of it. I know he was on the beaches at Normandy. I know he was in the Commandos in one form or another.

But over the years it gradually takes shape. Little bits come from the family. Some info here, some info there.

And every time I have more respect for him and for the people he served with. I learn that bit more. In my lifetime he’s gone from “being in the army” to “being in the Commandos” to “being on the beaches at Normandy”.

Today I found out he was in the military wing that created the first branch, wing or group – whatever – of what was to become the SAS. As I type this I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. My grandfather helped form what is one of the best-known and best-respected subsection of any armed force worldwide.

The SAS has a reputation second to none. I’m not being big-headed, but you ask anyone. From the US Marines to the Taliban – the SAS is the ultimate fighting regiment. Anywhere. Any country. They are, simply, the best.

And my grandfather was one of the originals. The men who formed it. The first to join it. And – at the time – for the best reasons.

All these years later, he would never talk about what he did in the war. Now, whether that’s because of orders or because he realised it wasn’t for the eyes and ears of people who weren’t there I don’t know… I don’t know.

I think it was more for the latter. War’s bad. Spilling blood it bad. Killing men who are fighting for their own cause is bad.

But to hold all that in, and remember it and not show off about it… that is good. Very good.

And here I am celebrating Christmas. With some wonderful people. Which I may not have been able to do without the efforts of people such as my grandad.

And I have just got to say:

Thank you

To all of you.

To my grandad, and to everyone who served with him, alongside him. To the British and Americans, the French, the Russians (eventually), the Spanish, the Canadians, the Aussies, the Kiwis, the Belgians… everyone. And I include the Germans in this. We all know how the war went – I personally don’t blame the German people for anything that happened.

From myself and everyone downstairs from me enjoying a great Christmas party. We couldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for you.

Words fail me to explain and thank you for what you did for me and for everyone I know.

To all of you. Every one of you.

To their relatives.

To their descendents.

To their wives, husbands, children, partners.

Thank you.

Grandad – I love you.

Thank you.

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