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Posts Tagged ‘English

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.

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Written by dfockler

03/04/2012 at 2:53 AM

NaNoWriMo: The Aftermath

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Well it is over, National Novel Writing Month is done. It was 30 days of grueling work, but the deed is done.

I first wrote about NaNoWriMo back on the 27th of October. When I started the exercise, I didn’t have a good memory of exactly what it took to forget the world around you every evening and just write. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy writing. I have a degree in creative writing, if there is any dedication to a cause greater than getting a laughable degree and going deep into debt for it, I can’t think of it. Oh right, there is also dying… I guess there is that.

I got this from a stock image site. I made myself sad.

When I Started

…everything was okay. I thought I knew where I was going, I had my outline and I charged ahead. My hook was tight, my character was interesting from the first page. That is when I ran into my first problem. The character had an interesting personality, but by his own nature, he was quiet and stand-offish. He didn’t have wild conversations with others, he put them down, or ignored them. So as a writer who thrives on dialog, I wrote a main character that couldn’t participate in my favorite writing mechanic. Brilliant move on my part. I was determined to stick to the character in my head though, so I stuck with it. The obvious solution eluded me.

In The Middle

As the weeks went on, things got difficult. This is what I call the ‘OH JESUS THIS OUTLINE IS NOT AS LONG AS IT NEEDED TO BE’ phase. I have tried outlines several times now, and it always ends the same. I know the start to my story, I know the characters and setting, I know the viable ending, and I know some important stuff that will happen in the middle. What happens is that you write a scene that you thought would be good, but it turns out to be three pages instead of 10 pages. You go through a dramatic moment, and it turns out that it took a page to finish, and lead a different direction than you expected. So what is there to do? You power through it, there is no time for revision, you cannot reverse the flow of time, this isn’t Prince of Persia this is NaNoWriMo dangit.

My character’s lack of dialog was drawing conversations to a close much faster than I expected. My new succinct writing style gained from school was ending everything in half the time. This wasn’t looking pretty. So some changes happened in the story, dark changes dreamed up in midnight fevers.

They were beautiful. Like a Dostoyevsky character, madness and frustration drove me to the edge, and there I found salvation. Actually, I found it in driving my character mad. His personality was slowly corrupted by the pressures of the world around him, and instead of a background madness his became real. This change is exactly what makes me love NaNoWriMo, by forcing my hand, I came up with an alteration to my original idea that was better than anything I could have originally imagined. Would I have gone there eventually? Maybe. The event is a fire that burns away impurities and leaves something at the bone, but it may not always be the delicious marrow you want.

Okay, not this 'mad'

As I pushed forward, several obstacles got in my way. Star Wars: The Old Republic, an upcoming MMO, had beta events several weekends in a row, and I gave them a try. I had nights where I did no writing at all because I played so late that I had no time before I had to get some sleep. Thanksgiving loomed as well.

The Big Finish

Finishing the story wasn’t going to be easy. I was behind by thousands of words. I was so far behind my 50k word goal that I was wondering if success was even possible. I pushed ahead anyway, writing down new daily goals. Soon I was supposed to write 3,000 words a day instead of 1,660.

My conclusion no longer made sense either. The development of my character was straying from my original plan, which now seemed shallow or even offensive. So something had to change, and fast. I turned my character’s friends against him, made his own mind a torture dungeon. As I threw more obstacles in front of him, I had my character climb to a conclusion that was way beyond the original. What started as a argument between former lovers was now a trial for an ostracized man.

This was about when I realized my horrible mistake. Every situation with my main character was stuck with him and his stunted personality. He was the one having a crisis, but he also never voiced it. I found myself yearning for the minds of other characters. Except I was in first person. That was the solution I missed back in those first days. The story should have been in a close third, and I would have had the freedom I wanted. Instead I had the troubled mind, but nothing else. It dragged me down every day.

The days got harder, and soon I hit the last few days. I had to write over 5k words each day. Each night I stayed up and fought my keyboard until it gave up words. Even if my story didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted, I would reach 50,000.

As the month ended, I stayed up late on that last night and threw up my word count on NaNoWriMo.org. I was over the 50k, 2,000 over actually. I made it.

NaNoWriMo tested me more this year than any previous year. The world around me was tougher than before, working a day to day job with hours that forced me to sleep at 10pm. My goal was greater, to write a story that had a serious edge, to write in a genre I never wrote in before. Still, the essence of NaNoWriMo, and the support of my friends, got me over the finish line again.

A Winrar Is Me!

The novel is a piece of crap, but that is a problem I’m saving until January.

Thanks for reading everybody.

Written by MD Kid

12/11/2011 at 10:13 PM

The Trickster’s Ruse

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The worst part about trusting people isn’t when you give them the initial okay, it is the eternity afterwards while you hope you made the right choice. This isn’t so important if you want to gain employment at a place like Taco Bell. The structure of Taco Bell is mechanical, no one worries if the manager at their local Taco Bell, Wal-Mart, or Minimum-wagetown, is trustworthy. As long as they don’t sexually harass you, and give you enough hours to pay your bills, everything is fine.

Someone finally gave me a shot to do content writing for them. It may seem odd to say it, but it has been the most stressful thing that has ever happened to me. That isn’t shocking, my life has been short and rather easy. Compared to say, sleeping in until 11am and then walking to class, something like this should seem stressful. The problem was why it was stressful.

Let me say that my final goal is not to be a content writer. The work seems fair, the pay is workable, but it is not what I spent four years learning. It is not what keeps me awake at night with a passion that forces me to scrounge about for my notepad at 4am. Content writing is a means to an end. It allows me to work where I play, to sit on my butt for 20 hours a day instead of just 12. So when someone bit, and asked me to do some content writing for them, I didn’t know what to say. Ignore that I quite literally didn’t know what to say, and then put on top of that the metaphorical “I didn’t know what to say”. How much money do I ask for? How do I ask who they are? How do I get paid? A few hundred questions went bouncing around in my brain.

I’ve accepted the work. Then I was asked to give a rate, aka how much do I want to be paid. This is a funny story, you’ll like this part. Now I was told in original e-mail correspondence that I would be doing a ‘couple’ of articles. Couple, 2-3 right? So I went on a grand journey to figure out how much I should be paid. The end goal of being paid is always to make enough money for the time you put in. A couple of articles a week said to me that I should be able to work on these couple of articles, and at least make enough money in a week that it felt like I was actually working at minimum-wagetown. So I set my per-article price at something like forty dollars each. The reality? I was going to be working on around 20 articles a week. Making my original rate sound like I was trying to murder them debt. It was all worked out in the end though.

Not all of it, actually. I still only make minimum wage if I can finish each articles in about 20 minutes. If I take any longer, I’m being underpaid. I also still don’t know anything about the people paying me. Since they aren’t public, they didn’t want to give any details they didn’t have to. All I have is a name, and an e-mail address. I get paid through pay pal. I haven’t received a new assignment for a week and a half. It isn’t perfect, it wouldn’t even keep me off of the street if I didn’t have the support of my family. It is a start though, an extremely shady foot in a dark door.

Should I worry that I’m effectively making spam for someone who doesn’t want to be named? I’m more worried that days after I got my first paypal payments, I received an e-mail in Chinese that said my paypal account was going to be sending $300 dollars to some guy named Wong. I wish that was a joke.

So I’m just going to trust these people for now. They seem alright, and they have actually given me a chance, and paid me. That is more than I can say for Wal-Mart or Taco Bell. I’ve already learned from these people, my resume is growing, and I’m still not being sexually harassed. So it seems like everything is going great so far.

I’ll keep pushing forward.

Written by MD Kid

10/04/2011 at 8:18 AM

The Mentor Approaches

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Networking is one of those skills that means everything, and is rarely taught. When I received training to work at my community college, networking was always on the topic of the day. My boss, an amazing lady by the name of Dr. Mari Kruger, made sure we knew that communication and connections were just as important to to success as any skill. There are thousands if not millions of people out there that have skills like mine or better. That means the only way to get anywhere is to know someone who is willing to give me a shot.

That said, I suck at networking. It is probably because I’m lazy. I’m also shy. I’m not very hip. I don’t always have the best haircut. I also have a pretty goofy laugh. The lazy part is big though. There have been many bridges extended to me, and I usually leave them hanging in the air. Anyone who knows bridges, or has played one of the estimated billion bridge building games on the app store, should know that a bridge extending to nothing but air is going to crash and burn. Now that I’ve entered my 4th or so month of unemployment, I think my feelings about bridges should make a change.

When I went to the Penny Arcade Expo, I had the chance to hear from a lot of people who do exactly what I want to do. They write, and they enjoy writing. They are freelance writers who work on game magazines and websites. They are indie role-playing game developers who create stunning worlds for others to play in. These people are living the dream, and they were there for me to talk to and ask questions. They gave me a lot of good advice about stick-to-it-tiveness (a real word, look it up), and how to survive in a world where writing isn’t exactly the quickest way to the white picket-fence. I don’t remember any of their names, so obviously my bridge-related skills are taking baby steps. I remember some of the projects they worked on, and I have absorbed a lot of their advice.

The panel on freelance writing was full of people, more than even the panel organizers expected to have there. It was interesting to see a room full of nerds who wanted nothing more than a chance to formulate essays and articles about their hobby. Actually, it wasn’t very surprising at all. It was more disheartening to realize exactly how many people were trying to get their foot in the door of the freelance market. I don’t like having my feet stepped on, so shoving my tender foot into a mountain of sweaty shoes is a turn off at best. Still, I listened to what they had to say. The main advice was to be persistent, and to start out where you can. Make a blog (I don’t know where I’ll get one of those), write your own articles, don’t try to start at the top. A good piece of advice came when a man asked how he could get in the door to interview game developers so he could sell the article to magazines, he was pretty much told he couldn’t. It was hard enough for magazines to talk to some developers, a freelance without any ‘cred’ wasn’t going to get very far. The main thing I learned was to get myself out there, which I’ve been trying. It is good to know that I wasn’t on the wrong track.

Another panel was the indie developers panel. This wasn’t for digital games, with bleeps and bloops on one of those LED screens. No, this was about pen and paper, dungeons and the dragons that populate them, nerds imagining their way to entertainment. The creator of some indie projects were there, like the creators of Panty Explosion and Apocalypse World. The greatest advice here was that an indie developer does not need to sacrifice their own money to publish. The best idea is to start small, work with playtesters online, and then self-publish through services like Lulu.com. That way when a copy of your game sells, you make money. You never have to print a large mountain of copies and hope to sell them all, you can work on 100% profit.

So what does all this mean for our dashing hero? I’ve decided not to quit yet, that is one thing. The experience of PAX was already amazing, yet hearing from people who have been published only reignited my quickly fading flame. I know that I need to get all the experience I can get, and to keep writing here and other places. If I can get one break, any break, things may turn out fine.

In the meantime, I need to start writing down people’s names. At least add them on twitter or something.

 

Written by MD Kid

09/18/2011 at 9:32 AM

Nothing is Worth Nothing

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The first thing you learn from selling yourself, is if you are worthless. Not that I have any self-esteem issues, not yet anyway. I’ve been trying to find work related to my degree, work that I’m interested in, work that I can be proud of. Instead I’ve sold myself to any gig that I’m viable for, and haven’t even earned a rejection.

I think when I got this degree I expected a fairy-tale situation. Sure it would be difficult for a month, everything would look real grim, and then a big fluffy cloud of sunshine would come just in time to save the day. I would get a just-good-enough job to take on, and then I could move on to the next chapter of my life. Now I’m at the end of my rope, and my checkbook.

First I tried to use the well named ‘freelance writing gigs’ website for help. That didn’t get me anywhere. Since then I’ve kept an eye on craigslist anyway, since most of the jobs on the freelance site link back there anyway. Sure it isn’t the best resource, but I think I can definitely count myself as a beggar by now.

My second attempt was Elance.com. An interesting site in concept, the execution is a lot more depressing. Elance.com works on a bid system, where freelancers can say how much they are willing to work for and why they are good for the job, then hold their breath until they get hired or end up in the obituaries. The first gig I applied for, a small ghostwriting project, I said I could work for 10 dollars an hour.

That’s an okay rate, I’m not exactly an expert. The rate looked like $11 to the employer, because Elance has their own overhead. When I did the math, this was just enough money for me to survive for the duration of the project. I wasn’t trying to put money toward a small island, I just wanted to eat next month.

I received a message from the employer that my rate was the highest one. I was shocked, this couldn’t possibly be the case. When I looked at the other proposals, every writer was either from India, or part of a group. There is no way I can compete with the cost of living in India. They can work for $5, and they have experience on top of that. The only chance I have, is to earn less money than what I need.

So that was it, I made two attempts. It was time to throw in the towel.

Alternatively, I could embrace what the job market, if not society, was trying to tell me. My writing isn’t worth anything. Correction, my writing isn’t worth anything right now. Two years of writing in an academic environment means nothing in the big world of paychecks and meeting loan payments. I need to build up a resume in the boring business world. I could have writing samples with TPS reports, or maybe really good contracts I typed up.

The new plan is to try working for nothing. The positive, I won’t be making any less money. If I work for friends and family, writing up the things they need done for their websites or businesses, I might actually get a resume worth looking at.

I’m still waiting on a miracle though. At this point, I can use it.

     

Written by MD Kid

08/23/2011 at 6:12 AM