Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rolling of Rick

I seem to have done a pretty poor job of keeping up with BEDA. Oh well. Back to our regular schedule! (Or lack thereof.)

Today I'm going to talk about Rick Rolling. For those who don't know, Rick Rolling is the process of giving someone a link to something (generally a Youtube video) and telling them it is one thing when in fact is a video of Rick Astley singing Never Gonna Give You Up. It's a neat song, and Rick Rolling done right can be hilarious. Unfortunately, "done right" is apparently quite a challenge.

Now that we've talked about what Rick Rolling is, let's talk about what it is NOT. Simply hearing the song does not mean you have been "rick rolled." A few years ago at ACEN a guy was walking around with a stereo playing the song, and people would exclaim "ahaha, he just rick rolled you!" No! He didn't! That isn't how this works! I know I'm being an internet pedant right now, but we all have our values and this is mine. =p Use the term right! It is only rick rolling when you deceive someone into clicking a link to the video that they think is something else. Get it right. The life you save may be your own.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Have you ever stopped to think about how awesome science is? I mean, periodically I hear people complain about something silly like "It's 2011, where are my flying cars?" Sorry dude, your argument would sound a lot better if you weren't posting that comment on an international digital communication network using a handheld device capable of multiple forms of data exchange and communication, global position and a slew of other features.

Like, srsly, smartphones are probably more advanced than tricorders and communicators from Star Trek. The only thing they can't do that tricorders can is scan someone to tell if they're alive or dead, but hell, someone's probably working on an app for that. Yeah, we complain about not having space ships, but if you showed an Android to someone from 50 years ago they'd probably burn you for being a witch.

And the internet, man. People take it for granted since it's been around for a while, but holy shit, have you ever stopped to think about mind blowing it is that I can just press a button and be talking to someone in Australia as if they were sitting across the table? Even the old days of clunky text chats were pretty impressive, but now we have VOIP and video chat, it's pretty wild.

As for cars, sure they don't fly, but you can hop in a car in New York and be in California within a few days. That used to take months, and half your party would be dead by the time you got there. Hell, you could get in an airplane and be there the same day. There's your flying car, what?

However, nothing that mankind ever has or ever will do compares to the technological awesomeness of this:

Friday, August 12, 2011

This post is new so it sucks

One thing that continues to irk me is the trend of insisting that everything that is old/classic is awesome and everything that's new sucks. I see this often on the various websites and forums I frequent, and applies to virtually every medium of entertainment, as well as other things.

Just today in fact, I saw a post on Reddit demanding to know "Why doesn't Disney make movies like this anymore?" and showing a picture of a scene from Fantasia. Sure, Fantasia was pretty neat, but to insist that Disney hasn't created anything of note lately is . . . what?

Sure, there are some pretty horrible songs/books/movies/games these days, but there are some awesome ones too, and there were horrible ones "back in the day." However, there is such a pool to draw from that it's easy for people to practice selective bias and list a bunch of, say, good bands from a few decades ago and a few unpopular or "bad" (I hesitate to use bad in an objective sense for something that is really up to personal taste and preference, but you get what I mean) ones from today, stubbornly ignoring the fact that it could easily work both ways.

I guess that was kind of vague, so perhaps another concrete example: as anyone who's known me for more than 30 seconds knows, I am a huge fan of the fantasy MMO Everquest. EQ is an old game, and as such has gone through a number of evolutions, now boasting 16 expansion packs and countless smaller patches. Obviously, the game today is wildly different than the game that launched in 1999. Now, while I don't agree with every change the developers have made (devs, Y U nerf jester of Bristlebane illusion times?), for the most part the game has gotten better and better over the years. Even some of the changes I disliked I can begrudgingly admit were probably for the better, it's just impossible to please everyone in a game where if you ask 10 people what they want, you'll get 20 different answers.

Got a bit rambly there, didn't I? Anyway, despite the progress and improvements in the game over the years, there exists a steadfast niche of players who insist "the good old days" were the best, and EQ was "ruined" by all the expansions and additions (casually overlooking the fact that with no content additions everyone would have gotten bored and quit ages and ages ago). Now, as I said before, everyone has a different opinion, and I don't expect everyone to like all the same things as me, but often the arguments are just irrational appeals to emotion with no real factual evidence (and not just for classic EQ, but for a lot of these "it was older back then" arguments).

"It just felt more real." "You weren't there, you wouldn't understand." (Used regardless of whether or not the other party actually was "there" or not.) "It's just not the same."

Yes, there's some shitty music today, and I'm not a fan of a lot of movies nowadays but guys, that's nothing new. For the most part, I think, entertainment (and society in general) is moving on up. I mean, I have my share of complaints of course, but we don't burn people at the stake for being witches anymore so hey, progress right?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Things I like

To counter yesterday's post, I'll make a cheerier one. Things that make me smile:

Apple Pie


Pixar Movies

When someone I haven't talked to in a while texts or messages me just to say hello and see how I'm doing.

When a pretty girl smiles at me as she walks past.

Cats. Usually.

When one of my students solves a complex problem on their own without needed to turn to me for help. While that makes me feel a tad superfluous sometimes, it's good to see the problem solving and research strategies I taught them working.

Finding out a good friend (or attractive girl! =p) and I have a previous undiscovered common interest that we can talk about for ages without getting bored.

Discovering that one of the web comics I enjoy has an update. This may be unusual, but I remain intentionally ignorant of their update schedules so I can enjoy a pleasant surprise every few days.

A complex piece of code compiling and working as intended on the first attempt.

Getting a compliment or recognition you weren't expecting. The second week of camp this summer, one of the 10 year-olds made a poster saying how she loved the camp and listing all the instructors names. My name had a #2 next to it (considering how many of us there were, and how much she liked her #1 instructor, a #2 was not at all bad), which totally made my day.

Other stuff. I couldn't possible capture it all in one list, so I'll cut it short here

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Things that annoy me

I realized a bit late that I'd forgotten to blog today. As I'm still making a half-hearted attempt to keep up with my belated "BEDA" plan, I shared my post-less woes with Kyle, who suggested I blog about annoying things.

Sounds as reasonable as anything. (I hope this doesn't make me sound bitter.) Things that annoy me:

My cough. Seriously, why won't it stop? Now my throat is sore and it makes me less than happy. I thought it was getting better this morning but it seems I was proven wrong. Oh well.

The sounds of people eating. Yes, humans are gross when we eat. Alas.

People who act like their personal preferences are irrefutable objective fact. "I don't personally find you attractive, so you're ugly and nobody will ever love you" etc.

Flip flops. No idea why, but I h9 them, I do.

Flashing banner ads, or ads with sudden sound. Don't get me wrong, I am all for the ad-based revenue model for websites and content providers, and I most certainly don't mind seeing an add or three as I browse my web comics, so long as they don't distract me with flashes and sound.

People who think that simply regurgitating pop culture references without any originality is clever or witty. Yes, I liked Portal too, but shouting "THE CAKE IS A LIE" every time someone talks about a particular bakery item doesn't make you funny. Similarly, as much as I love Monty Python, I grow weary of people who feel the need to shout "Ni" every time we walk past a shrubbery.

When my hair gets in my mouth. I do like having long hair, but it has its drawbacks.

Mildly related, when people feel the need to inform me that it's odd for me to have long hair while being male.

The list could go on but I'm tired, and some of these could be their own blog posts and also I don't want to seem all complainey. Maybe tomorrow I'll do a list of things I like.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Everyday I'm bloggin'

So my astoundingly awesome nerd buddy Kyle is doing this fancy Blog Every Day in August thing and tells me I should do the same. I'm 9 days late and horrible at updating my blog, so it seems improbably that I'll be able to keep it up, but I'll take a stab at it anyway. Maybe.

So, where should we start? I rarely talk about my own personal life in this blog, but I feel compelled to talk about my summer job a bit. Ages ago I found a listing on Craigslist looking for people to teach teenagers game design at a summer camp. I followed the link, and next thing you know I've been hired by a pretty fancy company to teach for two weeks (was supposed to be four but one session got cancelled) at Lake Forest College. Two weeks isn't much, but fortunately they had openings at another school and I was able to teach for another four weeks at Northwestern University.

It was an interesting experience. Teaching can be a fair bit stressful but also, at the risk of sounding sappy, fairly rewarding. I also learned that teaching programming presents some unique challenges.

The problem with teaching a programming class, especially one that is only a week long, is that there is no conceivable way to teach the kids everything they'd need to know about the given language. Even in a semester long college course you can only scrape the tip of the iceberg. I saw my job as not to teach them to program, but to teach them how to learn to program. The first couple of days I'd hand them everything as they had no idea what anything meant, but as the end of the class drew nearer I'd become intentionally more vague. Rather than spelling out everything, I'd give them a higher level suggestion and tell them to think about how to implement, or rather than fixing their problems for them, I'd give them some general troubleshooting strategies. If they had a problem, I'd tell them to Google it first.

This wasn't to be lazy on my part, this is just how I program. Nobody has all the answers out of the box. I don't sit down to start on a piece of software and instantly know what to do. I figure out what I want to do, pull out some Google tutorials and start thinking about how I'll make it happen. The problem is that kids aren't used to classes like this. They expect the adults to have all the answers and dispense them freely, so sometimes when I'd tell a student "Why don't you Google it and see what you find?" they'd get frustrated, thinking it mean I didn't know the answer and was just trying to keep them busy.

Sure, a few times I didn't know the answer, but most of the time I was just trying to show them how to figure things out on their own. Some of the kids got this fine, and developed the ability to solve most of their problems on their own, only calling me over to ask for help when they had a huge issue. Others, however, became entirely dependent on me. Sure, I don't mind helping and answering questions, but if you refuse to do anything without my help, what are you going to do when I'm gone, kids? Fortunately, those cases were the minority, and I like to think that most of my kids left prepared to Google and MSDN/Apple Dev Network their way to success. (Or is that just me being naively optimistic?)

Well, that post ended up a lot more substantial than I expected. Now to figure out what to ramble about tomorrow.

tl;dr Going to try (and fail) to post every day in August. Teaching is hard but fun.