Fall 2015 Teen Leadership Retreat

I know this isn’t related to what I have been blogging, but there is more to my life than just trying to learn JavaScript.

Two weekends ago my associate pastor and his wife, myself, and two other leaders, took a group of 14 senior-high teens down to Mohican State Park in Loudonville, Ohio, from Friday evening until Sunday morning (returning in time to attend Sunday School – I teach the preschool kids, and I sure was tired!). As a group we hiked Hog’s Hollow, and (most of us) climbed the all the stairs of the 80-foot-high Mohican State Park Firetower. Even I managed to finish the climb this year (last year I couldn’t make it to the top)! Maybe next year I’ll actually remember to take photos.

During this time of food, fellowship, training, and fun, the teens learned something we all need to be reminded of: the importance of setting a good example. It was a leadership retreat, because no matter who we are, to someone else we are a leader. These senior high teens are the ones that the junior high (and younger) children look up to. We reminded them that you may never know how much you are influencing someone else’s actions, and that you must make good decisions because others are watching you for guidance.

While there were plenty of study sessions and free time, the teens also learned the importance of solitude. Each teen had a span of 45 minutes out, alone, away from others, disconnected from phones and ipods, and a questionnaire with hard questions about the future, and what motivates them, and what changes they need to make. These are precious things to do that we rarely take time for in our frenetically connected world.

All in all it was a wonderful trip, and I am excited to see how it impacts these teens in the future as they become the leaders and examples to the other young people in our church youth group – and at home and school.

You’re a leader too. Set a good example.

Addendum: Keep Going In Spite of Rejection

I am listening to to Writing Excuses podcast, and they just said something that I really wanted to add to follow up the post I made on failure.

“There is no easy way. This is so much harder than you think it is going to be. Do it anyway because it is so much better than you dream.”

– Howard Tayler.

“Rejection is not negative-validation. You should not be requiring external validation to continue working on your craft. Keep writing. Those things you are tempted to see as negative validation will happen throughout your professional career, and if you can’t write while this is happening, you will have a problem. Learn how to keep writing.”

– Brandon Sanderson

On Quora I have been seeing some negative comments on the likelihood of becoming a web developer in mid-career.  While that may be true, I am going to take these writing quotes and apply them to everything. I know I crave too much validation (I have been compared to Rarity, I’ll let you Google that one.) I want people to say my art is pretty and my story is cute and pat my head over the tiniest thing. No one but your mother will do that in the real world (though, on the Internet you can surround yourself with a circle of people who always like your work, but that’s just a bubble).

Anything worth doing is going to be hard – right at the beginning of Eloquent Javascript it points out the difficulty of the journey. As David says in 2 Samuel 24:24 you can’t offer up something that costs you nothing and expect to reap blessings from it.

Everything takes hard work.

Living in a State of Failure

That may sound like a very depressing title, but keep reading.

I’ve been listening to Code Newbie podcast, especially Episode 60, Impostor Syndrome (an interview with Alicia Liu). I, according to the episode, really don’t have Impostor Syndrome. Few people do. She’s pointed out that it has become a buzzword. Right now my feelings of “code inadequacy” are not from any syndrome, they are from learning new stuff. Of course I am not good at new stuff, I am still struggling to learn it!

That being said, I do wonder if “this is the right thing to pursue”. Alicia Liu does touch on this, that while coding is the new hotness, it really isn’t for everyone. The thing she said that resonated with me, is that coding as a job is (paraphrase mine) living in a state of failure. Nothing you code is going to work right the first time. I think it’s good to know this going in. I am kind of a perfectionist. I don’t like failing. I don’t like error messages. When I was a full time technical editor/writer my goal was to comb every document so well that the QA department wouldn’t find anything to bleed red ink on. But, after years, I finally realized that when someone marks everything you did up and changes it, it really isn’t personal. A second set of eyes is always going to see things to change, or point out how they would have done something differently. I’m still learning this, honestly, it’s hard to get it to sink in. But I’m hoping that this will help me for code reviews in the future. Knowing that your ugly code is being changed, not because you are a failure, but because that’s part of the process, and that you’ll get better with time. The code is still going to get thrown out, but it isn’t a personal attack.

What do you think?

Success Guaranteed

I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as Ten Quick Tips for Success.

You can go to The Daily Muse and Monster.com or Ask a Manager (or anywhere else) and find nothing but articles on “These 6 Social Media Tips will Get You Noticed” and “Ten Phrases that Spell Death On an Interview”. I have decided that, while some of the tips have value, my problem is that, my internal monologue says “YES! follow this and you’re golden! This one tip is what you were missing!”.

No one can know what is going through an interviewer’s head. No one can say “this one skill will get you hired” or “this one soft skill will get you hired” or “this one secret word will get you hired” or “this one crazy tip will cut down belly fat every day”.

There is no one easy answer that works for everyone, or everyone would be doing the same one thing.

Sure, I’m not speaking as a hiring manager. And reading all of the “X Easy Tips” blogs can help you come up with some useful suggestions.

But don’t worry about “that one crazy tip”. Use common sense, and if you can, it’s wise to get a second set of eyeballs to look over what you have written before you hit ‘send’.

Odin and Cold Turkey and Focus

Mt Rushmore
Mt Rushmore Looks Just Like I Expected

Well I haven’t blogged for a long time, and for this I apologize! In September I took some vacation time and went to South Dakota. It was gorgeous, and the weather was amazing! (I also went to Salt Lake City Comic Con.) But I’m not going to turn this into a “someone else’s boring vacation photos blog”.

I also have been, in October, participating in Inktober. Participants create (or are supposed to create) an original ink drawing every day in October. I didn’t manage to do all the days, but I had a good time anyway. If you want to see more of my art let me know in the comments.

Prince or Frog?
Prince or Frog?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent a few days re-evaluating my study path. I’ve been frustrated by Udacity and have canceled my subscription (at least for the time being). In the interim I’ve discovered The Odin Project.

The thing it offers (and Udacity also offered this) is a plan. I must face that you can’t learn an appreciable amount of web development skills just by noodling around taking online tutorials. I really need a path and a plan. I just don’t have self discipline. I’m sure some people have learned this way, but it doesn’t work for me.

Another useful thing I have discovered is Cold Turkey. It’s a program that helps you focus on what you are doing, and not spend all day reading random things on Twitter and Wikipedia. (Oh yeah, that focus and plan thing.) I’ll let you know how it is working.

A final kick-in-the-pants motivation tool is basically everything Shawn Blanc ever wrote. He has a course on living a focused life. I haven’t taken it, yet, but I get his motivational e-mails, and they are always full of passion and challenge! You may enjoy them too.

Game Development, JavaScript, and Persistence

Well, this week I have been taking a break from my Udacity project (in a sense) by strengthening my JavaScript and HTML5 Canvas understanding before going back to tackle FEND “Project 3: Frogger Clone”.  Here is some information that has been helping me:

Zenva has a class on making an HTML5 game from scratch. The instructor is fantastic and goes over every line of code. I highly recommend this.

After that course, I went back to my Project 3, and felt I understood a bit more of the direction I should take it. But my core knowledge of JavaScript is still lacking, and I didn’t know how to actually get from point a to point b. Currently I am working my way through Eloquent JavaScript by Marijn Haverbeke, seriously this time, taking notes, working through the exercises in the provided code sandbox.

As I am working through Eloquent Javascript, sometimes I have been hunting up further resources to explain the things in it. For this I am greatly indebted to JavaScript Is Sexy.com  even if the name makes me die a little bit inside.  Get a load of this explanation of Variable Scope!

This week I have discovered a really great podcast, too! It’s called Lostcast by Lost Decade Games and is all about game development. It’s from a very realistic perspective, unlike some of the other podcasts I’ve found.  You can join their forum too, they are great guys. They have encouraged me greatly with art tips.

Lately I’ve felt like I’ve had to concentrate on studying coding, and leave my art and craft skills to rot on the back burner (…that’s a kind of mixed metaphor). But it sounds like there are plenty of reasons to keep honing both art and coding hobbies together. Thank you Matt Hackett! I also look at Rob Stenzinger, another “coding artist”. Also add The John Su to the list of “coding artists I admire who are far more talented in their sleep than I am while concentrating very hard on something, like coding and art.” It’s a surprisingly long list.

Finally, here is a very informative blog post explaining what an entry-level front end (mostly JavaScript) developer really should understand in order to get a job.

I feel bad that all I do is link you to other people, but all these resources are  really great and I want to pass them along!

 

 

 

Continuing JavaScript Education

I am still working on learning JavaScript. It’s hard. But I’m not alone in the struggle.

There will be times when reading this book feels terribly frustrating. If you are new to programming, there will be a lot of new material to digest. Much of this material will then be combined in ways that require you to make additional connections.

It is up to you to make the necessary effort. Take a break, reread some material, and always make sure you read and understand the example programs and exercises. Learning is hard work, but everything you learn is yours and will make subsequent learning easier.
– Eloquent JavaScript by Marijn Haverbeke.

I have found some good resources in books.

  • First, as I just quoted up there, Eloquent Javascript by Marijn Haverbeke. It’s great, and it’s free online.
  • JavaScript for Kids by Nick Morgan (so good!)
  • Beginning JavaScript 4th ed by Paul Wilton and Jeremy McPeak
  • Secrets of the JavaScript Ninja by John Resig and Bear Bibeault
  • A Software Engineer Learns HTML5, JavaScript and jQuery, by Dane Cameron
  • Thinking in Javascript by Aravind Shenoy, and
  • Mastering Javascript Design Patterns by Simon Timms.

Not one of of them have I completely finished reading, but I think they were all good resources and I don’t regret any money spent on them.
I wish I had them all in hardcopy print; trying to read for comprehension on a Kindle is just not the same.

Now, once I had randomly purchased some of these books, I realized that you can’t just dive deep into code books indiscriminately.
I purchased Mastering Javascript Design Patterns optimistically thinking “hey this is an O’Reilly book, it must be awesome” and not realizing that it has a big disclaimer that you should really have a strong grasp on JavaScript before you actually use the book.

So, I suggest, start by reading Eloquent Javascript online (or purchase it!). Also JavaScript for Kids is fantastic – that one is really the first one I picked up. it made the language seem friendly.

My personal trouble is that I haven’t yet learned how to “think like a JavaScript programmer” and I am not good at breaking a complex problem down into bite-sized chunks that I can tackle using the JavaScript tools in my belt. This bothers me. This reminds me of all the classes in college that caused me to get out of Engineering. I just don’t intuitively have the problem-solving gene, or whatever it is. But that quote at the beginning of Eloquent JavaScript gives me hope.

When you are struggling to follow the book, do not jump to any conclusions about your own capabilities. You are fine—you just need to keep at it.

jQuery is not JavaScript, except (surprise), it is.

I didn’t really understand what jQuery was until this week.
If you are just getting into front end web development, maybe this will help the light-bulb turn on for you as well.
All I really had to do is read the first sentence at the https://api.jquery.com/ web page: jQuery is a library of JavaScript commands, developed by John Resig. It isn’t a separate language. It’s a library of powerful commands. As Cameron said in my Udacity course, “if you had a few days, you could come up with a library of commands like this yourself”. But that is, as someone else commented, like saying the Mona Lisa is just paint. The jQuery library is concise, and streamlined to work effectively at what it does. You can open the library itself in your editor of choice (I like Note++) and look at it, and even start to see how it works.

In my studies at Udacity I have moved from JavaScript to jQuery. But I don’t feel like I have a strong enough background in JavaScript to fully understand how to shortcut the commands using jQuery. I just purchased a copy of Secrets of the JavaScript Ninja, by John Resig and Bear Bibeault. My copy didn’t arrive yet, but I’ll let you know if I find it valuable. In fact, I just heard an interview with John Resig on this episode of Code Newbie podcast. It’s an interesting listen too, though he doesn’t get into jQuery code itself in the interview.

If you have any insights or tips, let me know!

The Making of My Logo

Here is how I came up with the logo for my “Identiflora” project.

I know normally I would have some pencil sketches, but my idea was all vector fonts from the moment it entered my head, so I didn’t sketch any lines.  I imagined question marks rotated around a circle, looking like flower petals – since my project is about identifying flowers.

many_questionsThe first thing I did was do a cursory Google search, and didn’t discover anyone else using anything like that idea.  (Whew!)

 

flower_appsNext I decided to check the iTunes App Store both to get an idea of what a good, clear logo would look like, and to see which logos are already out there.  I also consulted this article on How to Create Better App Icons.

logo_1So with that in mind I started making my vector question marks. I began with a base font, and squashed it around a bit so it is “mine” and not a specific font.

I like where this is going but, hey, those question marks are all backwards!

So I flipped them. I also decided this orange color is not reading “flower.” It looks more like “sun.”

I switched to green and red, like red rose petals. But it just wasn’t working for me. I tried some more colors and even added leaves to emphasize “flower.” But I don’t just want a flower, I want a question too. So I finally realized I should make the question mark stand out!

But that doesn’t read as a flower. It’s just a “weird octopus made of question marks”. So I went to my secret flower weapon: pink. This one is a keeper.

Indentiflora_2015

What do you think?

 

I have an idea

While I am still working on Udacity classes, I really want to start working on my own personal project. For years I have been passionate about plants, especially identifying wild native plants. You can probably tell, since most of the photos that make it into this blog are plants.

In college plant taxonomy was by far my favorite class. I loved that class. It was just four guys, the teacher, and myself. In retrospect my final project was “sort of phoned in.” It involved going out to a nearby park, several times a week over the course of a few months, and documenting the growth of the spring plants, and the seed dispersal methods they each used. I really didn’t take personal observation seriously, and at the last minute I sort of “Alta Vista-ed1” for a good part of the information. The way I didn’t pursue my college classes with my whole heart still bothers me, and that’s why I really want to complete this Udacity nanodegree. I want to prove to myself I can work hard at something difficult, and push through, and complete it.

But back to the plants.

I love plant books!

I want you to see wildflowers as your friends.

While I know other plant ID sites and apps already exist, this one is going to be my own. Everyone starts with a first project, and, yes, this may be ambitious, but it’s a topic I really enjoy. Ideally, I want to code the web app, sketch the art,  write the text, and take the photos of the plants. Now that probably isn’t going to be exactly how this works out, or else it would be a site that only helps you identify plants that live in my back yard. But it’s a dream, goal, and working idea.

Indentiflora_2015So Identiflora.com was born. If you go there, there is nothing to see. I won’t even link you to the  boring parked page. But I registered the name and drew a little app icon.
I’m excited about this!

 

1That’s what searching was called before it was Google, and after it was Lycos.