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A Question For Today: Nostalgia

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What does nostalgia mean to you? When you hear that word, what do you see, what do you feel?

For me, Nostalgia is a double edged sword. It let’s me see the world with a glitter around the pale edges. Without nostalgia, I wouldn’t smile at the sight of a power ranger costume at halloween, wouldn’t chuckle from the thought of an Amelia Badelia book.

It is something like a crystalized twinkle of joy. Our mind snatches and holds every snapping synapse dedicated to that particular laugh, hordes them together in labeled bundles.

It can be positive. I still start crying if I hear the opening music to the super nintendo game, Secret of Mana. I can watch the spider-man animated series for hours, no matter how much the violence is neutered. Dragonball Z is still an inspiration toward friendship and hard work.

It can also lead to horror. There is no excuse for having fond memories of Sisqo’s ‘Thong Song’ (let me see that booty go, du-du du-du, let me see that booty gooooooo, that thong thong thong thong thong).

I believe the greatest fear is betrayal. For years I imagined the game ‘Ice Hockey’ for the Nintendo NES as an action packed game before its time. When I got it for Wiiware, it was a simple control scheme with modified mario sprites.

I still loved it though. It isn’t ‘Ice Hockey’s’ fault that it eclipsed all other hockey games in my mind. It also kept a beaten path to my childhood. The question is if that path is worth the disappointment in the now, the constant reference to yesteryear.

Please let me know your thoughts below.

Written by MD Kid

03/28/2012 at 6:47 PM

Kids and Programming: A Goa’uld Symbiosis

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Ok so it’s not really a Goa’uld symbiosis, let’s make that perfectly clear. For a while now, probably ever since the early 90’s when GUI systems came out in force, there has been a new trend in programming. This trend is pushing toward making it easier to for the uninitiated to build and author their own software for the devices they love. Smart phones and App Stores (I’m using the term ‘App Store’ to mean any easily accessible software distribution platform) have pushed this at a much faster pace, but young people are at the forefront of this evolution in software development. It seems like once they pop out of the womb the doctor hands them an iPhone. It’s difficult to deny that technology is becoming integral to functioning in our society and kids are not being left out of this trend. Being a computer geek doesn’t carry the same connotation as it once did, with new movies and shows about people who use computers, The Social Network and iCarly come to mind. With this new found digital acceptance at an early age it makes sense that a small subset of these new young computer users will be interested in building software.

The end goal of any programmer

With the incentive and ease of distribution of the App Store, who wouldn’t want to make a few bucks from writing a little game for the iPhone. The neighborhood grass grows tall because technically knowledgeable kids don’t have to mow lawns to make money anymore. If I wrote an app that cost $0.99 on the App Store, and only 100 people bought it, I would still make around $100. One man made over $500,000 off of his app in a few months. Sure this is the exception and not the rule, but you get the idea. I gain a user base, experience at making better apps, and I get feedback from my users as to what they would like to see in the app. As a poor high school or junior high kid the fun of letting other people see your work is incentive enough to make cool stuff, but getting paid for it is like the icing on the cake. The same way Steam has been a godsend for indie developers to get their game out there, the App Store has been a boon for iPhone and Android developers who want a good way to let people know about their work. I make it sound as if the App Stores are without their drawbacks, but I’m talking about how they mainly effect younger people, and if you just want to get your product out there, it’s a good way to go. Herein lies the kicker,  a still smaller subset of kids are becoming interested in what it means to write better software, how the computers and software they love to use works, and what types of skills it takes to become a professional software developer.

The end goal of any programmer

With the decline of state and therefore school budgets, less and less money gets pushed into expensive subjects. We are left with English, math, history, and science. Which of these are students probably the most interested in? If you said none of them, you are mostly correct. This is partly because the teaching styles used in schools and the lack of resources to teach in other ways besides lectures, homework, and then tests. Most students crave doing things hands on, because they don’t have to listen to someone else tell them what to do. They are in control and have to take ownership of the learning themselves. Programming lets you start with nothing, using just your own brain and the things you have learned, apply them to a problem, and end with something cool that you can share with other people. If you look at the subjects that people are really interested in it usually follows this pattern. Start with nothing, Create, Share. This is why students don’t like math or science, until you are doing college level mathematics or science, you don’t get to experiment or create. With music and art, creation is intuitive and almost anyone can do them. With something like invention or programming, you have to mix logic and the intuitive sense of creation, which is often difficult. The earlier you start thinking this way the better you will be at doing both. So when kids start programming at a young age, it gives me hope that it will catch on and have kids using logic to create. The end hope is that kids will then apply their logical minds to other problems outside of programming and make the world a better place.

Written by dfockler

03/04/2012 at 2:53 AM

Nerds abound, get yer finger based controller boards at the ready!

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This may come as a surprise to people who don’t understand what is it like to take a blank screen and add barely functioning logical rules, years worth of complicated half-coagulated libraries, backlogs of bad habits and terrible ideas, undocumented purely wizardry based command line tools, and little bit luck, but programming is a challenge, on par with golf. Sure you may say to yourself, “but there’s 16 year olds who make a million dollars on the app store.” I admit programming has been made much easier in the last half-decade. But, ask any one of those 16 year old prodigies what a quicksort algorithm is and in all honesty he could probably tell you. There are prodigies in every field, but computers are cool and kids like cool things, apparently. Back to the point, unless you have been thinking in a programmatic way for a few years, or have an aptitude for logical thinking, which of course your’s truly has one of these, programming is hard. It’s by definition not intuitive.

I personally don't wear a balaclava when I code

If you don’t adapt to it immediately it probably means you are a perfectly normal person. Changing your way of thinking from one in which you can communicate in a vague, expressive way, into one in which you must describe exacting specifications is not an easy task. You must be able to keep multiple variables juggled in your mind at the same time, and be able to imagine how each of those variables will affect the others. Here’s a thought for those intrepid few who have fallen down the slide and made it this far into my epilogue about my favorite subject. Imagine you are a girl, *wink wink*, you have 4 friends who need to come over for a party, Amy, Becka, Cindy, and Darla. They can come over in any order you want, but each order comes with dire consequences. If Amy comes over first, Becka will die. Uh oh. If Becka comes over first Cindy won’t come over at all, and Darla will bring her boyfriend Ethan, gross! If Cindy comes over first, the next person who can come over has to be Darla or Cindy. Now imagine these are variables in a billion dollar spaceship controlling the guidance computer of said ship.  If you get them out of order, the ship might crash into a major city. Bad news for you, the programmer of the control chip. I think you get the idea of being able to handle multiple variables. Sure it’s not equitable to either of these scenarios except the last one. *GASP*

I don't even...

Though once you learn to program and to love to learn to program, it is one of the most fulfilling things you can do. It’s both technical and creative, boring and exciting, applicable and trivial. It encompasses so much of everyday life and you learn to examine everything around you in a different way than you did previously. It will get you laid and/or paid. On second thought only paid. But I guess if you get paid enough you can get laid. It will get you extra laid if you are a girl, but we won’t go into that. You’ll always be able to both impress and shun yourself at parties, and most of the friends you end up with will also be programmers. It’s a very inclusive lifestyle, and I say lifestyle because that’s what it is. If you spend more than 5 hours a day doing the same thing, that thing is part of your lifestyle, so deal with it. Your interest in programming might go through ebbs and flows like it did for me, but it has stuck in my brain, and won’t let me escape at this point.

Written by dfockler

02/23/2012 at 4:40 AM

Bad Art and Brainstorming: The First

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Hey folks, did you come here to see another post about how life is hard as a BA holder who isn’t working in the field they wish they were? Too bad, today you are going to be subjected to Bad Art and Brainstorming.

What is that? Well the first thing you need to know is that I cannot draw. My artistic capabilities are childish at best. When I made my mother a picture of our family for her birthday, she said, “It looks like a 6 year old made this,” I was 23 at the time. I consider perspective to be a noodle scratcher, and I’ve written essays in celebration of my achievement in ‘coloring inside the lines’. When I took a drawing class in community college, I dropped out after the first week because things were already ‘heating up’.

So I figured the best way to talk about some of my new creative ideas is to draw my story concepts in MSpaint, then explain them. Without further rambling, Bad Art and Brainstorming.

A sunny day in the world of colored blocks

On facebook a month ago I started asking ‘questions of the day’ as a chance to talk to my friends about things related to story, games, and art. It was pretty fun, and we’ve had some good discussions on genre and tropes, the concepts in art that we see so often that we expect them and have named them. When I asked about mega-corps, the cyberpunk staple of companies that become so large they are effectively national powers, we got into a discussion about ways to make this trope fresh for new stories.

To tell the truth, I don’t think we got there. In the end a lot of ideas circled around the same old deal, companies that become huge and powerful are bad and meanie heads. They have poopy shoes, and they smell like bum. Etc etc.

The only place where I split away from the pack was when I thought about the path of a corp becoming a megacorp. The idea was a common one, a powerful AI. Instead of an AI meant to do anything special, it would initially be meant to handle customer service, answer calls and troubleshoot problems. This AI, lets call him Ted, would work for a company large enough to support him, like a media conglomerate. As new technology was developed, Ted would get more powerful, be given more responsibilities, until he effectively was the company. The idea of an AI in charge of a megacorp has been done, humanity loves to put an uncaring super-computer at the head of their fears. It is no surprise that Terminator is as popular as it is. The question is what happens after these AI, several of them now, control the megacorps that control the world. They make requests that come from no human, they manipulate lives for the greater good of some non-human, they may set laws that no human would care for or think of. These AI have transcended, except that isn’t quite right. They were never human beings, they were just incomplete. If you give Ted all the resources he needs to do whatever he wishes, and he has masses answering to his every whim, isn’t he effectively a god?

This first picture is looking up to a corporate headquarters as if it were ‘holy’. Now I’ve taken a college course or two (isn’t that the point of this blog?), I assume most of you have as well, you understand the mass media and corporatism. This isn’t supposed to be the usual ‘have we started to worship companies as idols’ question, it is supposed to be a step beyond. In this hypothetical, the companies have gotten away from their owners, they have become their own entities, and we are the stones they pile to build their empires.

Now this wasn’t the first embarrassing picture I ‘drew’ for this brainstorm idea, it was the second. Lets see the first.

A children's toy is attacked by wiggling green lines in the dreams of a pencil

 

This infantile work is supposed to represent a person coming up to a rock edge to see a castle below. How does this relate to the AI idea? In a world where Ted is trying to make his business as perfect as possible, it isn’t unreasonable that the gap between the rich, the average, and the poor, would be divided to extraordinary levels. As some see even today, the job of the poor in a capitalist structure is to put work into the process of shipping and manufacturing, and then reap very little of the rewards for their labor, before the state around them supports them just enough to get back to work. So why pretend that their wage is livable when you can change the way they live? Then change the way they see the world around them so that you never have to pay them in the first place. They would never have the money to purchase any of the products created, but that is a matter for the markets to adjust to. Soon you have a section of society who lives on a different scale of technology, and their world is driven into a more medieval society.

The art represents one of these ‘poor’ finally coming upon a home of the rich, which to him seems like a grand castle. It also helps that I’m no good at art, so I just drew a bouncy castle. When and if I actually write anything related to this, it would be a more muddled message; what exactly does it look like? and what of the protagonists life colors how he sees the building? Would it look more like the first image, skyscrapers against a skyline? The design and coloring (mostly in the lines) of the first picture may be how a person today would see a ‘divine’ building, while this second picture is how the poor from the setting would see it.

This idea seems more appropriate for some serial, many short stories showing the evolution of a character from a poor ‘dust dog’ to an agent of change in a world that isn’t equal. Sounds like fun.

All right, that is enough of that. Hope you enjoyed Bad Art and Brainstorming, there should be more of it in the future.

Written by MD Kid

02/23/2012 at 1:31 AM

A Letter to My Sisters, and My Niece and Nephews

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Living in this technological age, where information spreads like wildfire, has lead me to assume you younger generation know a lot. This is a fault of mine, thinking that between the internet, television, and new teaching techniques, someone would make sure you know certain facts of life.

I realize now that my assumptions may be wrong, that time is ‘of the essence’, and that a lot may elude you.

My sisters, I assume you know that you are beautiful.
I assume you know that ‘you are beautiful’ is not a phrase, not a quote from a song or a commercial, but a way of life.
I assume that you take this to heart, and know that you are not beautiful with a certain make up, in skinny jeans, or with that new hairstyle, but instead are beautiful in your bare skin, in your raw hair, in your natural state.
I assume you know you are not an object, not a billboard for the next blockbuster or platinum album.

I assume you know that school is not about your grades.
I assume you know your education is more than a diploma.
Fuck a diploma.
I assume you know that school is about the knowledge, about knowing how the world works and why. Which is why I assume you know you are going to try going to college. Because it isn’t about the degree, it is about the experience.

I assume you know about the birds and the bees.
Or about the birds and the birds, or the bees and the bees, or the squirrel that was there too.
I assume you know that homosexuality is fine. It is natural. It is nothing to shun, mock, or whisper about. I wouldn’t expect you to hide who you love, so I do not expect it of my friends sean or steve, that would be unnatural.
I assume you know that sex is natural.
I assume you know sex should not be shameful, awful, mechanical, or painful (unless you so choose).
It should be a joy, cultivated and savored like a fine wine.

I assume you know that you are your own master. Slavery is illegal now, act like it.
I assume you won’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do with your body, not beyonce, not bieber, bachmann or obama. They do not own you, and they never will.
I assume you know that the world is not about followers, friend requests, favorites, likes, or +1s.
I assume you know it is about people. Real people, the billions of them, who live and die on a daily basis.
I assume you know that those worth listening to are rarely seen on camera. They are philosophers, leaders, historians and teachers, reminding us that we live amongst fellow human beings who wish to be safe, happy, alive.

I assume you know that life is full of hardships. Despite what you have been told, this is not a test, you will not be graded, this is just the human condition. Billions have faced it before you.
I assume you know that your ideas are valid, you need to speak up, you need to put your opinion out there.
I assume you know that “opinions are like assholes.”
I assume you know some people’s opinions are popular, but that does not make them special or flawless. Anything you aren’t allowed to question, is not worth listening to.

I assume you know that being sick is not a failure, being sad is not a weakness, and that death is not a trifle.
I assume you know I love you, and will always.

To my niece and nephews (you can listen too girls)

About love

Love does not come at first sight, is not a pit you fall in to, and does not come from flying diapered baby angels.

Love is tough to understand. This is because love is shown all wrong on TV, and you experience the true thing every day. When you love someone, you are willing to sacrifice anything required to help them, and they will never require it if they love you. You wish for the happiness and success of the other, despite what you say or how you act.

I love you little ones, Mykel, Montez, Myana. Just like I love your mom, my sisters. Just like I love my mom and dad. Just like I love Natalia. Just like I love my many friends.

Written by MD Kid

01/26/2012 at 9:04 PM

This Big Year

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This last year was life changing for me; I got my bachelor’s degree in English, met my first great love, decided that living well would be too easy, and became a minority again. Not all of this was exciting, but it will all be important going forward.

This whole blog’s purpose has been to talk about my post-degree survival. I have struggled to find work in a crap economy, buckled under the pressure of said economy, given up on ever finding economic happiness, recanted that statement, then recanted my recantment.

It is hard to remember back when I first graduated and dug around in the mud of the internet, hoping to dredge up a job. Now I have a job and a half. I have my desk job, my credentials to assure everyone that I am just as disappointed with my earnings as they are. My other work is in content writing, creating the bland paragraphs you read across any C-list website across the web. It is boring work, and somehow less boring than my desk job.

As I’ve done more content writing I’ve made small adjustments in my view of a writing career. It is, however, my desk job that has changed my viewpoints the most. You see, right now I am a simple file clerk. I get paid better than I used to when I had a job at my school, but probably not as well as I deserve. My tasks include copying papers in files, mailing papers in files, putting files in drawers, and taking files out of drawers. I repeat this for 8 hours, with a 1.5 hour commute each way. Don’t get me wrong, my coworkers are enjoyable, kind, helpful. Also, I understand that you have to start on the low rung, even if you have a degree. That just gets you in the door, and then you claw your way up, hoping to survive life in the meantime. There is one problem though, and it is a rather huge problem, I don’t want to move up here. I know and have heard of plenty of writers who have jobs on the side, I know that you don’t become a famous writer and live your life in paradise. All I’m saying is that if I had to continue doing my current job to make my living wage, I would go insane. This is no small thing, I value my sanity. I give my sanity due for getting me this far in life (though not without its hiccups, like that time my sanity told me to walk home from school at 10 at night), and I won’t sacrifice it over a paycheck.

Creative writers get filthy rich all the time right? RIGHT?!

So what can I do? I guess the only answer I’ve come up with is to have patience. Which is exactly why I intend to be jobless in about 10 days. All right, maybe patience isn’t the best word for it. See here is the situation, my filing job is a temporary job, and they keep extending my time there. That is awesome, it gives me money, all the while edging me closer to a face-to-face with Mr. Madness. This time my job is supposed to end at the start of February, and I intend to stick to that. If I cut this job off, without getting ‘fired’ for some bad reason, I should receive a new job from my temp agency at some point in the future. In the meantime, I hope to steep myself in the process of building my writer’s ‘platform’ and finishing a manuscript or two. Will this work? Not likely, I am dreadfully lucky when I actually get a job. I will probably get offered a full position within the week, I’ll let you guys know.

If I do get February off, I plan to spend it with my first great love. As I like to call her, my FGL, or my Fugul, all of which I have trademarked. We’ve been together for more than this last year, but this year has been quite an adventure in romance. Just three years ago you could have heard me spread my creed of ‘ignoring the ladies to achieve capital gains’. I still believe in that really. My romance is, nearly, exactly how I would have dreamed. No pointless flirting and engagements, we didn’t meet at a club, and I haven’t had to lay claim to a baby created over our 2 years together. I give us an A+.

She is more talented than me, which stings in a petty way. There are benefits to relating to another artist though, in particular I can talk to her. While I was sure that I would be stuck with a life of only showing my work to my mate for the purposes of getting empty pats on the back, instead I have someone who can critique like a pro. We discover more that we have in common every day, and we are different in all the right ways (there are anatomical differences that are of note, IE da boobies). One thing in particular is relatively new for me, but it has been a long way coming.

Again, rewind two years. If you asked me what my beliefs were as I headed off to school, I would have told you that I was a spiritualist. My family is technically Baptist, with a few Jehovah’s witnesses sprinkled in there. My belief in the structure of the church was already shot. I don’t care about what a pastor or priest has to say, and I knew that there was no house that you could shove god in. For me, there was likely some power out there though, and I was willing to believe in a spirit inside me. Maybe I read too much manga.

Now I can firmly call myself an atheist. An interesting turn for such a short period. It dawned on me one day that I shed everything else related to religion. I had no god, I had no church, I had no faith community, I had spirit within. I believed in this one life, and on treating everyone around me as a human being, not a representative of a future life. As my self-identification changed, so did I. This election cycle has definitely helped. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot connect myself, even passively, to a group that would impede the progress of the society around me and purposely harm innocents in the name of their collective beliefs. This is not a knock against the teachings of my previous faith, or any other. Christianity is all right in small doses, and I won’t hate on anyone who wants to go along with the mutated creature that is usually brought up when we speak of Christianity. That is, all the talk of ‘love and charity’ that gets left behind.

Good old Jezus!

The public application of Christianity is something different though, and exactly what I had to escape. I joined my fellow students to stand up to the Westboro Baptist Church, I have listened to people speak of their god defining marriage while ignoring the wishes of their fellow man, I have seen the leaders of faith blame the poor and sick for their trouble while hoarding power for themselves. As a person, Christianity is a failed experiment. As a writer, Christianity is a well crafted tragedy, the smiling cult welcoming the world’s ruin. It turns out that only 15% or so of my country is atheist, so I guess I’m a minority here.

This is only January though, so who knows what may come in the months ahead. Maybe I’ll get famous and meet you readers in the funny papers. Alternatively, I could find a constructive way to use my degree in the workplace, while continuing to learn. Most likely I’ll be complaining about my job for a long time now. Only one way to find out.

Written by MD Kid

01/11/2012 at 3:49 PM

The Impostor Syndrome

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By Daniel Fockler

For the past few years I have had this feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be where I was in my life. Sometimes I felt like I shouldn’t have the job I have, or have the grades that I get. I had just chalked it up to my already low self-confidence. I made myself believe that the accomplishments I had made were because I was lucky. I worried that everyone around me was doing so much better than I was and that I wouldn’t be able to compete with them. My self-doubt and low self-esteem in my abilities had prevented me from participating in high school activities before. My stress about failure coupled with my confidence issues, felt crippling when confronted with competition. I’m now a senior computer science student and these feelings still crop up. I worry that all of the other students will be able to find jobs and I will be unable, due to my self-evaluated programming skills.

Just recently I learned that this feeling was not uncommon but has a name, the Impostor Syndrome.  In a study done by psychologists Clance and Imes in 1978, they found that many female graduate students felt like they didn’t deserve what they had accomplished. In further studies done by other psychologists this same phenomenon was found in many other collegiate students and teachers in some cases. They also found that the syndrome presents in men equally to women. Often the ability to self-evaluate creates a situation in which the person cannot accurately evaluate themselves. They compare themselves to their peers even without the knowledge of their peers abilities. For all the impostor knows the other people they are competing with could feel exactly the same way, or have equal or worse abilities to them. Often times people will not congratulate themselves for their accomplishments, but they will dwell on their errors and failures. It’s a difficult thing to realize and even more difficult to correct.

I realize that more and more life is all about fake it til’ you make it. In my experience people with confidence rarely believe that they are better, they are just pretending until it becomes normal for them to feel that way. As a scientist it seems silly to judge my ideas on unknown information, but that is exactly what I was doing. I was letting my feelings of doubt affect how I viewed others and consequently how I judged myself. Whether I knew how my abilities stacked up didn’t matter. An important step in overcoming this feeling is to take an accurate look at your competence in your field and not to judge yourself against others without objective information of your progress. Do you know the materials you are learning? Is there any solid evidence that you are doing worse than you should be doing? It’s easy to slip back into the impostor way of thinking if you are having a tough time with your work. Truly analyze your abilities, look at your accomplishments and don’t let yourself undermine what accomplishments you have achieved. It’s easy to keep raising the bar and devaluing what you have done, but keep looking at the evidence and you will find that you are keeping up and deserve the success that you have.

Written by dfockler

12/14/2011 at 2:14 PM