An Outstanding Article on Systems Used for Learning

This essay, by Bret Victor, is excellent. I feel that I consistently hit roadblocks and humps the size of mountains when learning to program and I couldn’t quite figure out what I was butting against. Victor’s essay,  
http://worrydream.com/LearnableProgramming
 was not only interesting in its criticisms of current learning environments for programming, but also answered some questions I didn’t even know I had about programming. A great read!

Minimum Four Years Experience Required

So, 90% of the reason I’ve been learning programming is simply because I want to learn. The other 10% is the hope that I can learn enough that if I lose my current job (the company is having certain troubles that are well-documented) I might be able to transition into a new career path. However, as I get older and older without any real, relevant experience in the field will it matter how much I know or can do?
It would be nice if there was some kind of collaborative mentorship place for people to program. For example, maybe I start programming a website, and someone else can come in and fix things, make comments, that sort of thing. Treat it like a real, collaborative project with the emphasis on learning, breaking, destroying, fixing, and understanding.
This would have to be a process where people are matched on similar learning interests and similar skill levels. Or, perhaps two people of similar skill are matched with one person of a higher skill level.
If two are matched with someone of a higher level they can learn and develop and better understand the process. This may be something I explore. I believe I understand the principles behind a site like this, but not the storage and account management aspect. I’ll have to add this to my pile because I think it’s an idea worth exploring.
So, the point here is that it’s difficult at a certain distance from college to gain practical experience necessary to understand a potential career environment. I suppose if you’re knowledgeable enough most people will understand that and be able to overlook the experience gap, but I believe something like this would be helpful.

Goodbye June

I’ve been doing a lot Codecademy over the past month. It’s gone well. I have a much better understanding of JQuery and in turn, Javascript. I’m completely caught up on their lessons for Code Year. I even came up with a t-shirt idea, $(‘i’).animate(‘theDom’); or $(‘i’).manipulate(‘theDom’); something like that. Perhaps I’ll actually put that out there somewhere. Now that I have so much JavaScript experience (SO MUCH) I’d like to explore using MelonJS again. Javascript is quirky, but with a better understanding of the basics I feel more comfortable diving in.

My Python learning has been on the back-burner. Now that I’m all caught up for Code Year I’m going to go back through Learn Python the Hard Way and finish that up. I’m about half way through. I stalled once I got to the section on making your own adventure game. Instead of figuring it out and doing what I knew how, I tried to tackle too much, which is what led me to Pygame, and Invent Your Own Games With Python. There’s also a sequel that was written to IOGWP that I may get into soon called Making Games With Python & Pygame.

At this point I feel the best thing I can do is set myself on a small project and hack away at it until it’s complete. I’d love to have a mentor who could take a look at what I’m writing and offer guidance, but I’ve yet to meet anyone working in Javascript or Python. There are a lot of groups that meet about Python, but they meet on Wednesdays and I’m busy with improv at HUGE Improv Theater at that time. I still haven’t made a schedule, which leads to a lot of time wasted. I’m not a good scheduler or planner. Must plan. Must work. Must learn.

A Rough Programming Month

Unfortunately, the past month has been a bit of a let down as far as programming goes. I got behind on my Codecademy lessons, mostly because they were going through the very basics of html/css and it was a bit boring. The lessons have spiced up and I’m again learning a bit more of the finer details of why certain CSS works the way it does. I really need to get the box model memorized so I’m not just fiddling with settings trying to get things to appear nice.

My biggest concern with my html/css is learning how to do pixel perfect implementations across browsers. When I look at Seoul Players in an older browser, it makes me weep a little bit. It doesn’t look awful, but there are a few minor foibles that need to be cleaned up. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do so just yet. There is some issue with displaying our mailing list sign up form. I believe I know what the issue is, but the code is being pulled from the Mailchimp server and cannot be edited, as far as I know. I’m sure there’s a way to fix it, but I haven’t found the solution yet.

Hopefully these Codecademy lessons get to some more things I didn’t understand before, so I can fix up the site better. As far my Python learning. It has been stalled. I made good progress in my Udacity course, but failed to finish. I really wish I could take a year off of work and really concentrate on working through those lessons as well as other Python tutorials. There is so much free education available, but just not enough time to make use of it.

However, I can make time. I just need to implement that schedule I was talking about last month.

Too much

I stretch myself too thin sometimes. I end up with a lot of stuff I want to do and am unsure how best to pursue it. I started the Intro to Programming class on Udacity with the full intention of keeping up with it, but unfortunately I can’t do it at work, so I got very behind and wasn’t able to complete it. If you’re looking for a great way to learn though, the class has been great and I would highly recommend getting on it as soon as possible. New classes are starting next week.

What I am able to do at work is fix up the website I made last year,  Seoul Players. I’ve been attempting to clean up my very messy CSS. There is a lot of work left to do, but I’m getting closer and closer to finishing the site. I don’t feel too bad that it’s updated when I’m able as I did make the site for free. I do feel bad for whomever might have to take over the site in the future, so I really need to clean it up and comment it.

When I began the site I had every intention of commenting everything, but as I was building I realized more and more that I had no idea how to really use CSS. I had made sites before, but they were strictly HTML with some inline CSS. This was the first site I made with external style sheets and I was really happy with it at the time. I still am, but I really need to fix it up nice.

So, ultimately what I see from my development as a developer is that I am learning…however, I’m not learning the things I want. I want to program games. I will program games. I will figure it out. I need to schedule my life better.

Wow, what a difference some syntax can make

For the past month I’ve been focusing on learning Javascript through Codecademy. While the lessons have been great I’ve had some trouble getting used to the code as there was never a formal lesson on how and when to utilize braces, semi-colons, and white space in the code. When I began the Javascript lessons I was fresh off of a few months of working with Python and it just clanked like a lemon off the show room floor.

Today, I’ve returned to Python. It’s pretty. It’s clean. It’s user-friendly. It’s so much simpler to immediately see what’s happening in the code. Even after two and a half months of learning Javascript I still have trouble seeing the code for what it is. I just opened up a program I was working on in Python and, even though I’m a poor commenter (I know, I know, I need to get into the habit of commenting in my code), I immediately recognized and remembered the rules of the code. That made me excited.

So, I’m back to working through Invent Your Own Games with Python. I’m excited to be back working in Python as it really is such a nice language to look at. Javascript is like that ugly, dull girl who is really into you, but you just do not like. Python is the sweet, girl next-door who you’ve been friends with your whole life and accidentally fall in love with. Python makes the best kind of lady.

Boggle clone, here I come!

Programming it Up!

Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a programming upswing. Thanks to Codecademy I’ve been able to work on my learning throughout the work day as well. Python has been on a bit of a back burner while I concentrate on the JavaScript heavy lessons featured on Codecademy, but I am all caught on lessons with nothing to do!

So, soon it will be back to Python. I’m nearly done with “Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python” and it has been a fantastic break from “Learn Python the Hard Way”. It isn’t challenging and holds your hand the whole way through, which is what I needed, a bit of baby stepping to get me through some of the tutorials. I stopped “Learn Python the Hard Way” at the point where I had to create my own game. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do what it was asking me, but that I wanted to do more. I was trying to create a control scheme for my game and wasn’t quite getting it, which is how I ended up at PyGame, which is also how I learned about “Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python” in the first place. Wow, what a cicle!

Now that I’ve been working with a different language I can also more clearly see how the structure of a program doesn’t change much from one place to another. The JavaScript I’ve been learning is only going to help enhance my understanding of Python.

There’s another great game-making tool out there called Melon.js. It is a game-making framework for JavaScript. It’s still in development, but is quickly updated with new features and bug fixes. There is also a nice Google Group where questions can be asked and are usually answered quickly at MelonJS Google Group.

Speaking of Google Groups I have joined a number of them, which has also helped me keep up with the latest goings on of various people’s projects. Living in Minnesota I joined PyMNtos, which is the Python meeting group for Minnesota. I have also joined PyGame, Django, Google App Engine, and various others. And, I’ve signed up for some fantastic email lists like Hacker News, JQuery, JavaScript Weekly, Python Weekly, PHP Master (which I’m not sure if I’m ever really going to bother to learn), Sitepoint and others.

Basically, I’ve mostly been reading. Reading, practicing and reading. What I need to do is decide on a project and a language and just have at it. I believe once I complete “Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python” I will go ahead and do just that. I have grand ambitions for a game, but will start more simply. I would like to create a simple, graphical game based on a board game. I love Boggle (so much!) so I think I’ll start by making a Boggle clone. Awesome idea dude! Oh yeah!

Fight Against SOPA and PIPA

The following is a letter I sent to my Minnesota Senators concerning SOPA and PIPA

Dear Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken,

I worry about the scope of both SOPA and PIPA. I know that you have both stated that you are against SOPA, but you are both co-sponsors of PIPA. I urge you to read a couple of articles about what happens when sites are found to be infringing. It might be an eye opener and it might require you to better understand and learn about how hosting companies and DNS, Domain Name Servers, work.

The following is an article about a website named Pajiba straight from the horse’s petoot. Their website happened to be hosted on the same hard disk as an infringing website that was shut down by DHS years ago. The hard disk which contained their entire website and all of their backups of their website was confiscated because a completely unrelated website was also hosted on that server disk.

http://www.pajiba.com/miscellaneous/the-department-of-homeland-security-has-shut-us-down.php

Imagine that happening to thousands of people if SOPA or PIPA passed. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. We don’t know how few or how many this bill might affect, but I guarantee innocent websites will face indirect consequences of this legislation.

Also, a blog dajaz1.com was shut down for over a year for hosting infringing content when, it turns out, they hosted no infringing content.

http://www.prisonplanet.com/dhs-shut-down-blog-for-a-year-on-false-pretenses.html

They were told they could go through the motion to regain control of their website, which they did, which took them over a year to prove they’d done nothing wrong before they could be operational again.

These are just two examples of what WILL happen if PIPA gets passed. Innocent sites will accidentally be targeted, shut down, erased, dumped. The government is not a tool of any industry. Stand up and fight for honorable people. We already have bad-enough laws, the DMCA, that allows the government to take these actions against infringing websites. Don’t make it worse.

In fact, you can make it better. Instead of removing these sites without a trace why not allow thirty days, or sixty days for a website or person to prove that they are not infringing. Drastically removing innocent people’s and companies’ websites before they’ve been proven guilty is foolish and will lead to terrible consequences for the internet and website operators and maintainers.

Please reconsider your stance on this legislation and all future legislation that aims to curb piracy. It needs to be written clearly, with the help of people who understand the internet and due process, and not by lobbyists in the entertainment industry.

I appreciate your time,
Thank you,

Joseph Halvarson
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Details

I’ve started a new job. I’m doing electronic discovery for law firms. It’s been going well so far. Still in the learning stages. However, I’m starting to see patterns in programming related work. It’s all about the details…and the process.

These details and processes are not limited to just computer work, but are all around the world as well. There are processes that we follow each and every day and my eyes are becoming more open to all of these processes, and I’m beginning to question the efficiency of those processes.

I follow a pattern in my day. I wake up, I make coffee. I drink coffee, I smoke a cigarette. I shower. I get in my car. I start my car. I pull forward and to the right, then reverse into the alley. I drive to work along the same path, with an occasional deviation for various reasons. Road closure, convenience store stop. I arrive at work and I read my RSS feeds. I check my email. Then I go about learning my job. This is my M-F process. Is it efficient? I’m attempting to figure that out. What will make my life more efficient and easier?

This is just one tiny process in my life and just like programming I must follow the process and the details otherwise something will error in my brain. I will feel as though I forgot something, because I did. Just as if I forget a detail in programming the program will error and I must investigate where that error came from.

This slight change in my observation in the world, I believe, will allow me to further my learning of how to interact with the computer when programming. Structure, details, process. Pay attention. Be efficient.

A Long Time Gone

Well, since my last update it’s been quite the whirlwind of activity. I had lived in Seoul, South Korea for two years, but quit my job, flew to Vietnam for a week and a half to visit friends and am now back in Minneapolis, MN two years and three weeks after I first left. I’ve been busily looking for jobs, and unfortunately I still don’t know enough about either programming or web development to find work in those fields. There is an explosion of available work, but you apparently need some kind of skill. I have accepted a job to be a Service Desk dude for an IT outsourcing company. I start on Monday.

So, with that out of the way I’m moving on. I’ve made it up to lesson 36 in Learn Python the Hard Way, which asks to design a simple text-based adventure game similar to the game created in lesson 35. I made a plan, planned out the structure of my game and the goal of the player, but I found myself stuck. The game we made felt too simple, so I decided to try to create a text-parser for my game. It hasn’t gone so well so far. I couldn’t really think of how to begin. I thought I could just define all of the possible verbs and go from there. Then I realized how will the program know what to do when a verb is entered. How can I define North to only go through the “North” exit? I figured I could just create flags inside of each room, but so far it hasn’t been working. I ended up downloading a text-adventure system for Python called PAWS, so I could dig through what they did, and hooooo boy, it is complicated.

I’m not going to go into what I found in PAWS, mostly I just found that at this point I’m not able to create a system of such depth and finesse, but it gives me something to aspire to. Wait, who am I kidding, when it comes to programming it’s all something to aspire to right now. So, I’m working on my game and I’ll post what I end up with at the end of the week that’s supposed to be dedicated to it. I started on Sunday the 11th, so hopefully I’ll have something compiled and playable this Sunday the 18th.