Change is Good

I’m trying to ignore the fact that as of today, (i love you. i know) 2016 is officially the shittiest year of my almost 46 years on this planet. It’s not just me, I know. Lots of people feel the same.

2016 – the year of death and disillusionment.

I want, instead, to focus on 2017, and on the things I am going to do to change my life.

I’m not going to read the damn news anymore – that’s for sure. Too depressing. Instead, I am going to read books in genres I’ve never read before, like historical fiction and mystery and (yuck) romance. I need to understand how other people think. You all confuse the hell outta me.

I’m going to get out of the house everyday – and I’m going to make sure I don’t look like such a slob when I do. A little effort in getting dressed in the morning will make it a lot easier to greet the world.

I’m going to put all my creative energy this year into developing my programming/app building skills so that by the end of the year I will be qualified, and have proof of that qualification, to get a new job.

So… change.

This blog is a tool I’ve used before to help me focus on following a new path. And I’m going to do that yet again. Starting on the first – I’m going to start documenting those three changes – everyday – except Sundays and holidays and travel days…  so – not the first then, the second. =)

But I’ll be posting all the details about my new super-duper app thingy here on the first – so look out for that.

See you then…

 

 

I hate it when that happens

Head down, buried deep into a problem, until, finally – yes! I figured it out. Only to find, once I step back and look at the whole thing, I’ve gone and created three more problems with my clever solution.

Does this happen to everyone or is it just me? It’s being so focused on chopping the vegetables just right that you let the rice boil over.  It’s letting go of the vacuum cleaner to straighten the pillows and have three feet of curtain sucked up the hose. It’s reaching for the potatoes and knocking over your glass of milk. “Slow down, pay attention.”  Only, I was paying attention, too much attention, to something else.

Related imageThese mistakes are the most annoying mistakes. They’re the ones you can see coming miles away.  They could happen to anyone, at anytime, but they’re so easily preventable. It’s very important with programming to stop, and look, and test after every change. It’s so important, they have a name for it: regression testing. If I don’t test the whole thing each time, it means I’m bound to spend another hour going slowly backwards, change by change, to see if I can find the moment where everything fell apart.

So, what to do about it? I think I need interruptions, like someone snapping their fingers in my face saying, “Wake up!”  To that end, I’ve downloaded an app to my phone that chimes every 15 minutes. A gentle reminder to pick up my head – look around a bit – see what’s going on around me. Because a quick test now will save me an hour of undo’s later.

Nasty Know-it-alls

Spent the last two days buried deep in a complicated problem with my code. Back when I was a kid – before the internet existed – if I ran into a problem with a program, I grabbed one of the thick manuals and searched the index or the table of contents for words that seemed related – then I turned to the page and read a bit, skimmed really to see if it looked helpful.  if it did – I’d read it again more carefully – if not – I was back in the index, looking for another word – or back to the shelf for another book. And if I really could figure it out – I would ask my dad, he knew everything.

Not much has changed.  Except now I type my search words into google and see what pops up on the first page. (If I can’t find a possible lead on the first page – I’ve used the wrong words) I follow the first seemingly relevant link then I skim to see if it looks close to helping me – if not, it’s back to the search results.  Etcetera…

Anyway, as my dad knows – and as anyone working with any coding knows – google will invariably lead you to StackOverflow.com.  It seems it is the only manual on the shelf these days.  Which is a shame.  It’s an awfully nasty book.  Full of nasty (male) know-it-alls who will call you an idiot and scream RTFM!* or GO DO SOME  RESEARCH! at you with the least provocation. They do NOT believe in the statement: “There are no stupid questions.”

I have never asked a question there myself – I’m too afraid.  Just being a woman amongst all that testosterone is enough to make me uncomfortable – I’ll think long and hard before exposing myself to that sort of vitriol.

Now – in their defence, I will admit that there are plenty of times even I’ve rolled my eyes at a seemingly inane question. Usually they are written simply: “How do I do X?” and for those, the answer is just as simple: go read the manual. But often it is painfully clear that the asker is struggling to write a coherent question because either they don’t know what they don’t know or English is a foreign language to them.  Often it is both.

I read those questions and I think of some poor overworked, underpaid developer, newly graduated from a for-profit tech school, thrown a mass of crap by their new boss and told they have one day to fix the problem, or else.

I think of the worst of the nasty know-it-alls as being time-rich hobbyists. Living off their mother’s or their wife’s income, and spending all day luxuriating in the deep waters of the esoteric conundrums of their favorite programing language. They surface occasionally to take vicious swipes at the children barely treading water – just for the fun of it.

They say they are harsh because they don’t want the site bogged down with crap – that if every question is legitimate and well written then everyone using the site will benefit. And yes, of course that’s true.  But how is it helpful to the sincere beginners out there to have a website they can’t use?  If the manual is written by and for the experts who already know what they’re doing, then my newbie search words won’t lead me anywhere. The gap between beginner and intermediate is too far to jump on your own.

I was lucky when I was just starting out. If I was so flummoxed that I didn’t even know what word to look for in the manual, I always had my kind and gentle father to help me out.  Not everyone has someone to help them to learn how to ask a question.

There needs to be a place to ask the stupid questions too.

*RTFM – Read The Fucking Manual

 

Be Prepared

I Want a Do Over

The auditorium is vast, absurdly over-sized for the two dozen occupants, yet filled to the rafters with the uncomfortable silence emanating from the stage.  I stand there alone, staring down at the plastic sheet on the overhead projector, wondering what the hell I thought I was going to say?  I’ve got nothing.

Overhead Projector

Despite the way my eyes have dilated in the glare of the projector bulb, I can still see my boss out in the audience, hunched down in his seat, a hand covering his face.  He looks like he’s crying.

This is not a nightmare.  This really happened to me, two decades ago now, and I still haven’t forgiven myself.

It wasn’t stage fright. (I actually like being the center of attention.) It was a total lack of preparation.

Be Prepared (Boy Scout Motto)

“Be prepared for what?” someone once asked Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting,
“Why, for any old thing.” said Baden-Powell.

I know, I know…  Everyone hates the Boy Scouts these days, but still – you have to admit that quote is funny (I copied it verbatim from their website.)  But it goes on to say, “Be prepared for life – to live happily and without regret, knowing that you have done your best.”  You can’t find fault with that, can you?

In the list my life’s regrets, (have I mentioned this list before?) messing up that presentation is about halfway down.  I didn’t do my best, I hardly even tried.  I read a bit about the topic, I made some slides, and that was it.  I trusted too much in my ability to ‘wing it.’  (Wing it: to improvise; to do something extemporaneously (without preparation.))

All of my life, all throughout school and all of my jobs, I’ve managed to muddle through by just showing up and trusting that I would think fast, and just figure out what to do and how to do it when I got there.

Think Fast

I didn’t finish the book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, (It ended up getting too technical, (ie boring.)) but I understand the premise: we believe ‘fast thinking’ (instinct, gut) is good and trustworthy, but inevitably it leads us astray. And more importantly, it’s just lazy.

“A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical
exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the
same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course
of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of
skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

And that is my problem.  I don’t do now (prepare) anything I can put off till later. I rationalize my laziness by saying I am being efficient.  By preparing, I would end up spending a lot more time on a task that could be completed (perhaps not as well, but probably good enough) in a tenth of the time.

Be Prepared (The Lion King)

So prepare for the coup of the century
Be prepared for the murkiest scam
Meticulous planning
Tenacity spanning
Decades of denial
Is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed
Respected, saluted
And seen for the wonder I am

But what if…  What if I had prepared for that presentation?  What if I had actually studied for the tests I barely passed?  What if I had done the research and found the quotes and thought long and hard about the topic of a term paper? What if instead of just submitting the second or third draft, I actually work on a story until it is perfect?

The memories of failure haunt me to this day. There are no do overs. But I could start fresh…

I could be prepared, for every old thing, to do the best I can, and to be seen for the wonder that I know I am…

Maybe I’ll start tomorrow.

(Reblogged from June of 2013) 

 

Eat the peas first

yuck
yuck

Dinner was always the same. Green vegetable, mashed potatoes, dead animal. No, I’m exaggerating. Sometimes we had spaghetti and meatballs, sometimes we had grilled cheese and tomato soup. Sometimes it was fish sticks with macaroni and cheese, my favorite! But mostly it was broccoli or spinach and steak or pork chops. The point is, sometimes there were peas on the plate and I had to eat them.

The lesson I learned then was to eat the peas first. The smell, the taste, the texture – I hated all of it, but if I got rid of them quickly, I could move on to the things I did like. (An aside – I have never, as an adult, made peas for myself for dinner – and I never will.)

I’m working on a prototype of my project – eventually I’ll make a demo and show it off here – but right now I’m at a point where there is nothing fun or interesting or new to do. All that’s left is finicky detail work.  The endorphin-rush of learning something new is over – now it’s all about polish. This is the part that always stops me dead in my tracks.

Good thing I’ve learned how to trick myself.  First – I have given myself a deadline: the demo video must be done by January first.  Second – I can make lists of tiny, tangible tasks, because even if I don’t get pleasure out of doing the work, I will get pleasure from ticking off the check box when it is done. Third – I’ll put the most annoying and boring of the tasks at the top of the list.

Eat the peas first – cause afterwards, everything else tastes great.

 

stick-to-itiveness

I like stick-to-itiveness better than ‘grit,’ don’t you?  It means what you think it means. Not like grit which is the bit-of-sand in your teeth that ruins the clam chowder.

Angela Duckworth is the person we have to thank for the current popularity of the word grit. I don’t think the movie True Grit, either the original or the remake, can take any credit.

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t want to give up again. I’m terrified of my future self, waking up on some crappy, rainy morning, turning off the alarm, burrowing deep into the covers and saying – what’s the point?

Duckworth says Grit is a combination of Passion and Perseverance. I get the perseverance, but the idea of the word passion being a part of that equation seems a bit off to me. I equate passion with people. And – I can honestly say, if there is anything I am good at sticking with – it is relationships with people. Yes – I was once married and am now divorced – but I made that relationship work for 17 years, even though it should have died in the first six months. If I have decided you are worth keeping in my life – then I will keep you, come hell or high water. Does that mean my relationships are gritty? Yuck.

No – this project of mine will not succeed based on my passion for the outcome. It will only succeed if I have a clearly defined routine. I can’t depend on emotion. I need a cold, hard checklist of tangible things to do everyday.

The result of the year long slog has to be something worthy of the effort of course – but a belief in the worth of something is not a passion for it.

Publish what you know

About the second part of yesterday’s theme…

You would think that by saying I’m going to focus on becoming an expert in the field of video game development, that in order to ‘publish’ what I know – I would have to create a video game.

Well, you’d be wrong.

Think about the last time you used an ATM. You interacted with a computer screen. It asked you questions, you responded to those questions with the chip or magnetic strip on your card and by pushing buttons. Was the experience pleasant, neutral or frustrating? Someone wrote the code, designed the layout of the screen, tried to predict what you would do next… 'I won again!'How is that any different than playing Angry Birds on your phone? How about Facebook or Twitter? Same thing – a screen, some code, some attempts at predicting how a user (player) would most like the experience to go.  In the end – all the same tools are being used for those interactive experiences as are used creating a big game like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft.

In order to achieve my goal of becoming an expert in video game development – I have to become an expert in using the tools that are used in video game development. In my particular case,  I’m going to use a Game Engine called Unity. (Thankfully free – since I am poor!) A game engine is a tool that has pre-written almost all the code you need for a typical game, so that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Things like how to deal with mouse clicks and especially how to incorporate all the stuff you need to make a game look nice. The other (also free!) tool I’m going to use is called Blender – it’s a 3d modeling software. Most animated movies use 3d models now – it’s a lot like making the clay models used in stop-motion animation.

I’m not going to write anymore about the thing I’m going to make – mostly because I don’t have all the details worked out yet. But also because I want to have it be a big surprise when I launch my project on January first.

The point is: although I am using video game development tools – I’m not making a video game.

Become an Expert

I stumbled across a video about six months ago… Australian dude, driving in his car, talking to his phone about sales people ‘cold calling’ and why it doesn’t work. I forget why watched it, something to do with work, maybe? I think the only reason I watched all the way through was because of his accent… Anyway, at the very end of the video he said something, one of those ideas that are so simple and yet so true that they stick with you like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth.

Become an expert; publish what you know.

“Become an expert and publish everything you know about what you do.” For him, it meant, don’t call them, make them call you, but for me, it means something a bit grander than that. It made me think about all the things I know and how I’m not an expert at anything.

So I started thinking about all my interests, and why I find them interesting, why I never push myself up and over that learning curve I talked about yesterday, and which one of those interests would be worthy of my full attention. I thought about money and time and my job and my lifestyle and my fears and my dreams… I made lists… lots and lots of lists.

In the end, it seemed there was really only one thing to focus on: Video Game Development.

20141221_121407
A display in a museum of art from the amazing work of the video game developer, Tim Schafer

I know, video games seem foreign to many of the people who read this blog, but if you’ll stick with me over the next couple of posts, you’ll see how the skills a person must acquire to build a video game, or any interactive experience are useful in every part of our culture today, and will become even more so in the future.

Because what is video game development, at its core? It’s interactive storytelling made with art and code.  That’s all.  It is, in a way, just like this blog. I type these words onto this screen, ideas are converted into pixels with code which in turn enable you to read my thoughts. It’s a virtual conversation with code as the medium.  It’s the way more and more of us interact with each other everyday.

So. That is what I’m going to do with my 2017. I’m going to become an expert in video game development. In one year. (You should be laughing now.)

to be continued…

 

My Insane Plan for 2017

This is me, going crazy.

I’m publicly declaring my New Year’s Resolution, and I’m doing it a month early. Here it goes: for all of 2017 I am going to focus all of my energy and attention on ONE thing.

Of course, I still have my job and other obligations, but instead of flitting from hobby to hobby I’m going to pick one and stick with it.

The problem: things generally come easy to me at first, but as soon as I encounter any difficulty, as soon as the learning curve becomes too steep, I give up.  I say, “This is boring,” and I look for something new (and easy) to do.

Well – it is time to do something about that habit.

So here I am, standing on my soapbox, silently screaming to the masses, “I’m not going to give up this time!”

And what is it exactly that I’m not going to give up on?  Hmmmm…  You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to learn that part of the plan.

 

20161201_071813
A tiny painting that has nothing to do with anything.