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Video Games & Math: A Survival Guide!

math, meme,

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It has been awhile!

Yes, I have to say that it has been a few months since I have posted.  I can truly say that it’s not due to inactivity.  A few injuries in my family caused my time to be completely redirected, but now that everything seems to be getting back on track, I am attempting to get back on schedule with my blog posts.

But first, an update!

So, math? lol.  In a previous post, Math and Game Design, I talked about my fears around not getting enough Math in my curriculum in school.  I found out the deficit was due to how my major was coded and if I wanted to get more Math, I would have to change my major.  I did so without hesitation.  My major originally was a double major in Computer Science and Graphic Design.  I thought this was a good route to follow considering my desired future in making video games.  But then I learned that my school cut out a lot of the math options in order to accommodate the double major status.  Now that I have that situated, Calculus I and II, Discrete Math, Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations are all part of my near future! Well, I actually completed Calculus I already and that was a challenge, but I did well!

Somehow, Math made me a cave dwelling loner…

The last Math class I took prior to Calculus I was Trig in 2001.  Yes, I’m old.  I’ve always excelled in Math without effort.  I took AP Calculus in high school and although I placed in Calculus II on my placement test, I still decided to only take Trig because it was the minimum requirement for my major at the time (I was a tad lazy back then).  I got a B in the class, even though I only came to class for quizzes and exams.  To further demonstrate my laziness, I had a friend sign me in for attendance and turn in my home assignments.  I mean, 8am classes are just evil.  Anyway, the true point is that not only had I not taken a Math class in 14 years (damn), I also did not put much effort into the class that I did take.  To say that I was a bit intimidated to take Calculus after such a gap in time, is a monumental understatement.  I spent HOURS reading, watching YouTube, doing practice problems, pulling my hair out, and having mini heart attacks while waiting for grades to be posted.  But in the end, I feel as though it was all worth it.  I mean, who cares if I growled at people who came within 10 feet of me, or that I locked myself in my room while I solved problems that took up both sides of the paper?  The point was that I was figuring it all out…

League of Legends… My saving grace…

I found that breaking up my studies with a wholesome (lol) game of LoL was really beneficial to me.  I could virtually shoot things, yell at my monitor, giggle when I killed things and then get back to my studies.  I also played my favorite streamers in the background while I studied and often the ambient noises of game play or hearing a funny joke would make me giggle and I would relax significantly.  On too many occasions to count, when I returned to my math problems, the answers that I couldn’t figure out were so obvious to me, all I needed was to step away for a bit.  What better way to step away than video games 🙂

What’s next?

This session, I’m taking Discrete Math, Computer Graphics, and Calculus II.  Three classes that are drenched in Math and I’m actually looking forward to it.  After taking Calculus I, I rediscovered what I had loved so much about Math so long before.  The primary concept being how many applications of Mathematics there are in the world.  Math is everywhere, and the more I study and appreciate it, the more I see it in my every day life.  Although my course load this session is likely to keep me a cave-dwelling loner, I promise to leave my cave to share more of my story!

TL;DR

Math is yummy.  If you’re into programming, don’t be afraid to take those extra math classes, so far I have seen just how every single math concept I’ve learned can be applied to Computer Science!  Also, play video games.

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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Programming

 

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“I want to be a computer nerd, just like you!”

computer nerd, programming, life, coder bug

Sometimes I’m just oblivious…

I have to admit that I often go through life completely oblivious of the impressions and impact that I make on other people.  As I am pursuing a greater education, I am realizing that I am developing a following of younger females in my family.

It all began with my niece getting into graphic art.  Now this may fall into both the art and technology arena, but more than her artistic abilities, I recognized her ability to grasp concepts really quickly.  She has been teaching herself how to use Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator — she began this at 12.  My sister, in full support of her, purchased her a Wacom pen tablet for her 13th birthday which occurred a few weeks ago.  Although I support her goal of wanting to be a cartoonist, I really see her passions developing into areas such as animation or even game development.  She currently loves to make cartoons and small animations of the characters she develops.

She is in the process of applying for a high school that specializes in Game Development and Interactive Media.

Our relationship has grown and developed through random FaceTime conversations where I’ve walked her through a concept that she needed a little more clarification if she couldn’t find the answer online.  I am flattered that she looks to me for help in these areas and through this connection we find ourselves enthralled in our own geeky conversations only to look around and find other family members staring dumbfounded.

But wait! There’s more!

Recently, my goddaughter/great niece confidently informed me that she wants to be a programmer like I am.  Her mom sent me a text saying that my goddaughter has been talking about our programming conversation ever since that day and that she told her that she wants to be a computer nerd just like me.  She has always had an inquisitive mind and her mom informed me that she has the tendency of doing extensive research into things that interest her – such as a full research paper on owls – she’s 10.  She’s recently switched her razor focus from owls to programming.  I recognize the spark in her eyes when she speaks about programming.  I remember having the same experience at the age of 12 when I coded my first web site by hand – html tag by html tag.  Somehow this deep passion went unnoticed and it has taken 10 years for me to get back to that place where I started.  Hopefully, if it’s what she really wants, my goddaughter, instead, will spend the next 10 years developing her talent and deepening her passion for programming.

Engagement begins with an invitation

I never once considered that the young women in my family would be interested in programming.  I feel a new responsibility to help them explore the possibility – at the very least.  As fickle as a child can be, I think that it’s important for me to help explore Computer Science as an option.  There are programs that exist today that help with getting young women interested in STEM fields.  I feel like I can now bridge the gap between their initial interest and tangible resources and programs that will further spark that interest.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2014 in Programming, STEM

 

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Peanut Butter, Jelly and Algorithms: A mini update!

Algorithms

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What do these three things have in common? Well, it’s what I’m having for breakfast!

It has been about a year…

As time progresses towards to the one year anniversary of me changing everything in my life in order to return to school, all that I can do is count my blessings.  I post about this subject quite a bit, mainly because life changing events tend to have that effect on most people and I am no exception.  One thing that I can say is although my life has not slowed down one bit, it is a different kind of chaos that I live in now.  One that I have complete say in and complete control over.  Which is completely different from the chaos I lived in last year.

What’s happening?…

Well, Fall Semester started almost 7 weeks ago and I am getting into the Graphic Design portion of my classes, but I also am taking an Algorithms class.  One thing that I have learned is that Algorithms have completely mesmerized me and have taken over my brain cells.  So much so, that I wonder why I am just learning Algorithms when I’ve taken quite a bit of programming classes so far.  I believe that this class would have helped me with each programming class that I’ve taken so far since I’ve returned to school.  Some of the concepts have been interesting with me attempting to wrap my mind around them, but for the most part they all make since.  Although I’m taking 3 other classes, my life has slowly began to evolve around Algorithms and getting a sound understanding of them.

PB&J and Algorithms… 

As I stated earlier, my breakfast this morning was interesting, mainly because I woke up thinking about a basic Algorithm that we learned during the first week of class.  Being pretty early in the course, we were discussing Union Finds and the difference between the different methods.  I was interested in the relationship between the different methods.  While reading the material, I remember having difficulty with simply identifying the results of certain unions.  I wasn’t able to answer the questions until I mapped them out for myself on a piece a paper and using a highlighter.  At the time, I felt silly, but thinking back, it was a visual way of helping me understand the concept.  What had me up early this morning thinking about Algorithms was the different ways to analyze situations in order to develop an algorithm to suit the situation.  Really, as simple as this concept is, it really opened my eyes to how I’ve thought in the past.  I have ALWAYS been a person that hate doing repetitive things.  I usually try to find a way to make a process easier and automated if possible.  I was the person creating spreadsheets with formulas because I could see the time saved once the work was done.

The last revelation I’ve had of this magnitude was during my Probably and Analysis class during my very first semester.  We had to write a list of everything we did each day, the more detailed the better.  For example, instead of listing “I woke up”, we listed “I took a breath, I opened my eyes, I lifted my arm”… etc.  You can see how tedious a list like this could be.  Well, this was my professor’s way of explaining the different programming paradigms and the differences between languages that are closer to machine language and the ones that are more high level.  All explanations of different languages have led me back to that visual assignment and have helped me to digest concepts better.

Since this is an update… 

I’m excited to announce that I am still on the Dean’s list and I still have a 4.0!  I was afraid that once I had gotten into more difficult topics that it would be tougher to maintain my grades.  I still have a bit to go but I am getting more comfortable and learning more and more each day.  One thing I do have to say is that I learn a lot on my own.  I read so much and practice much more than is required.  This is for my own benefit, I don’t want to get to the point that I am not constantly learning something new.  I also want to learn in tandem with what my classes are teaching me.  I still use YouTube as a great scholarly resource 🙂

I am still taking supplemental MOOC‘s to make sure that my learning is well-rounded.  These have been tremendously beneficial and the options available have also grown.

As always, I am excited about what the future will bring, and I am happy of my new addiction: Algorithms… 🙂

 

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2014 in Programming

 

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My Attempt to Redefine Productivity =^.^=

My Attempt to Redefine Productivity =^.^=

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I’m not in Kansas anymore…

As time goes on within my studies, I’m realizing that my typical way of learning is getting me frustrated. In the past, I’ve been able to learn new things quickly and get to the point where I can teach others. In my management days, I’ve been in situations where I was thrown in the deep end to see if I would sink or swim. I’ve always worked best under pressure and in uncomfortable environments.

Recently, learning in the way that I’m accustomed to learning has led me to rabbit holes of possibly useful but mostly irrelevant learning. I know that I want to learn above and beyond my school’s curriculum but often times my learning translates to a wasted afternoon of vision-less research. I’ll start my day out with a plan on what I’ll learn and practice, but then there’s some topic I didn’t consider. Sometimes there’s a bug with the OS I’m using. Or there’s a concept that will help make the topic I’m learning much more clear.

Is that time really wasted?…

Probably not. But sometimes it does feel as though I’m spinning my wheels. Ultimately I know much more than I did last year. I also understand that I learn more every single day. Most days however, I think I need to play catch up because I think I’m so far behind. Behind what? Who? I’m not sure entirely. Here’s where my learning style can be problematic lol. There’s SO much information. I turn into a kid in a candy store. Utterly fascinated by the smallest bits of information and shamelessly celebrating “Ah Ha” (or “Duh”) moments. I can spend an entire day practicing writing code. Or I can spend it reading about different programming paradigms. I can get lost for hours digging through open source code or daydreaming of a program I’d like to write just for my personal use.

What’s bothering me is my inability to quantify the time I’m spending. Days can go by and I don’t have a tangible idea of what I’ve learned. I’m also not 100% sure that I want to measure my time spent. But I do want to have something to show for my endless hours of pondering.

An unexpected kick in the teeth…

A completely unrelated situation lead to a revelation of how my thought process works.  Someone offended me pretty badly recently and I realized that I let it get to me. I’m convinced that the person was mostly clueless that their words had an effect on me. Because of this fact, I had no where to direct my anger. Do I think they are a bad person? No. The result of this conversation led to me second guessing myself. So much so that I began to question my every move and my time spent.

I know that there will always be people in life to challenge our resolve. It’s how life is. What I am taking away from this situation is that other people’s opinion of me cannot add nor subtract from my value.  If they are too closed minded to recognize my value, then that is their loss and of no concern of mine.  All I can do in life is be authentic and strive to be the best me, each and every day.

A conclusion?  I think so…

Each of these experiences have all concentrated into one single point of understanding that “Excellence is a habit”.  Who cares if I spend random hours of pondering different topics if while at the same time I’m maintaining the 4.0 that I sought after?  Who cares what some small minded person thinks about me when I am the one who knows exactly what she wants in life and is not afraid to pursue it?  Excellence is relative to our current situations, are we being the best that we can be?  Excellent!

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Programming, Uncategorized

 

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Math and Game Design

lovemath

 

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My epic quest to encounter more math…

Math, really?  Yes! I have come to the point in my studies that I feel the need to brush up on my math skills.  I have been reading many resources and on multiple occasions I have discovered that a pitfall some may succumb to is not taking enough math when pursuing a degree in Computer Science.  Apart from this research, many of the books I’ve been reading mention that although an extensive background in math is not necessarily a requirement, it helps.  Some of these resources even add that the better programmers have backgrounds in Mathematics as well.

Well, that’s fine and dandy but what now?

I am in the situation where I have fulfilled the Math requirement for my degree, but I took these classes over 10 years ago (oh boy I feel old).  In addition to this, my double major is already getting a bit pricey so I do not want to take any additional credits that won’t go directly to my degree requirement.  My solution? MIT Open Courseware…

What is MIT Open Courseware exactly? 

A few posts ago, I wrote about MOOCS, massive online open courses.  MIT makes a huge chunk of their courses available, and many of them have assessments, audio/video lectures, and final exams so that you can test yourself on concepts and retention.  Although you do not receive credit for taking the courses, who can put a price on gaining knowledge? For me, it is not about receiving credit, it is about brushing up on concepts and developing a mental muscle that will ultimately make me a better programmer in the long run.

What classes will you take?

Here’s the thing… lol.  I have this thing where I am a learning junky.  I am that girl that can not sleep because she has to read one more chapter of that coding book (like last night).  I am saying this because once I started researching which classes I want to take, my list grew from about 3 or 4 courses and now it’s at 23 lol.  Just to put that into perspective, the number of classes required to get a full 4 year MIT degree is about 35-36 courses.

Once I started browsing, I said to myself, “Self, why not learn a bit more while you are at it?”.  Why limit myself to just learning some Math, why not see what all of the hype is about?  What started as supplementing my learning with Math, turned into supplementing my learning in general.  The mentality behind my decisions were to choose courses that I:

1) know I will need some extra practice with.  In these situations, I am already taking the equivalent at my University, but I want to take the MIT OCW version to solidify my learning.

2) fit the requirements of MIT students.  I took a look at the Math requirements for a Software Engineering degree at MIT and found most of the equivalent classes. I also added a few courses that interest me in general and have nothing to do with any particular structure.

Yeah, but the courses?

Here are the courses that I came up with.  Remember this was catered to me specifically based on my interests, the classes that I’m taking at University, and the requirements of a MIT Software Engineering degree.

Ok here they are (in no particular order):

  • Intro to Computer Science and Programming
  • Computation Structures
  • Elements of Software Construction
  • Introduction to Algorithms
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Language Engineering
  • Probabilistic Systems Analysis
  • Mathematics for Computer Science
  • Design and Analysis of Algorithms
  • Practical Programming in C
  • Intro to C Memory Management & C++ OOP
  • Effective Programming in C and C++
  • Physics I
  • Physics II
  • Calculus I
  • Calculus II
  • Differential Equations
  • Linear Algebra
  • Computational Methods of Scientific Programming
  • Logic I
  • Modal Logic
  • Decisions, Games and Rational Choice

Um… that’s a lot…

Welp, it is, especially in addition to work, a full time school schedule, and a game dev internship.  From now until I get my masters, I have quite a few years, so I will use these resources to supplement my learning on a more structured bases.  Right now, I already use MOOCs to supplement my learning, but now I will approach it from a different angle.  Instead of looking for materials to help me with the classes I’m taking, I will use MOOCs to help me learn tangential topics that will help me in the long run.  I believe it’s a win-win in my opinion.

Mmmmm Yummy Math… 

All in all, I’m extremely excited about this new adventure.  I have always believed that knowledge is power and MIT OCW is just another tool to gain knowledge with a bit of a challenge added to it!

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2014 in Programming

 

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Apple vs. Android =^.^=

android-vs-apple

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This isn’t my usual type of post, but after having this debate so many times with friends and family, I felt it necessary to lay out my thoughts about the topic.  🙂

I drink all of the Apple Juice and eat all of the Apple Sauce…

One may look at me now and think that I am completely biased when speaking on this topic.  I currently use a Macbook, I have an iPad, an iPhone 5s, and I use my iPod classic when I’m working out, I use Apple TV, connect my devices through an Apple Airport Extreme, and I locally backup my devices via my Apple Time Capsule… Even listing these outright made me shudder at the likelihood that I’ve become an Apple fangirl.  But it has not always been this way.  In fact, I had been ANTI Apple for, well a long time.  I also have to qualify that I worked at a major electronics retailer for 14 years and was exposed to all different devices (all at discounts so I got to choose what worked best for me).

So what made me jump into the Appley Goodness? 

The initial appeal to Apple actually was something more practical — the battery life on early Android devices left me wishing for the simplicity of a flip phone again.  I mean, what was the point of having a sophisticated smart phone, if it was DEAD by noon? I’m not saying that the battery life on the early iPhone was the best either, but from my own experience it was far better than my experience with my first Android device.  Once smartphones had completely taken over the market and there was representation across all platforms, I was able to make an even better comparison. Here are some things that KEPT Apple as my primary device (for most of my career I had two devices, a work and personal phone — typically one was Apple and one Android):

1) Con (Android) Slow to Update — The issue with Android is that there are HUNDREDS, if not thousands of different Android devices out there that all need to be considered before updates happen, and they all depend on both the manufacturer and carrier to get their heads together.  Essentially there are too many hands in the pots and I got tired of waking up and checking my phone for critical and awesome updates to software… only to find it either was postponed or cancelled altogether.  With Apple, the hardware and the software comes from one place and once an update is announced, I have it available to my phone within the week.

2) Con (Apple) App Restraints — Apple has gripes about paying for things in an app that’s not charged through iTunes, so a few of my favorite apps, I have to go through extra steps to pay for something, which is a pain.  Although I’ve heard that Android has been having some hiccups in this arena as well.  There were also some features on some apps that were available on Android but not on Apple, although that can be said the other way around as well.

3) Con (Apple) DMR — Apple has it’s hands wrapped tightly around copy rights and you have to essentially buy everything you listen to.  Although applications like Spotify and Pandora and even iTunes Music make this less of an issue these days.  However, I do miss assigning any song in my library as a ringtone (like you can on Android).  Android is more open platform, so I was able to download music for free through some applications.

4) Con (Android) App Exclusivity — Yes! Android HAS come to market with a ton of apps and has a robust market place now.  However, there are STILL companies that only release Apple applications and specialized devices that are only available for iDevices.  Why?  Because of the issue that I mentioned earlier.  There are HUNDREDS of different devices for Android, different hardware, software versions, different specs, different screen aspect ratios.  From a programmer’s point of view, even though Apple sends developers through more hoops and circles to develop an app for them, in the long run it’s more simple because of the standardization of their iOS.  The same entity makes the devices and makes the software… So, even though more times than not Apple and Android versions of apps are released simultaneously, there are considerable times when they aren’t (at least in my experience and for apps that benefit me).

My iPhone 3Gs was my Apple Gateway Drug…

After taking a zillion pictures with my iPhone 3gs and having far better battery life, and syncing it happily with my iTunes account (on my then windows laptop), I was happy and content.  There wasn’t anything spectacular about my phone.  But that was just it. There were no gripes, no “I wish this, I wish that”.  It worked for my purposes and I was happily content with it.  I didn’t go and buy everything Apple I could find at this point, but gradually over the years once something died (like my router), I started to consider buying an Apple device as a replacement.

Apple isn’t for everyone… 

I’ve said all of this in order to address my preferences, but one thing I learned while interacting with customers day in and day out, is that everyone is different.  There are people that will be Android forever and people that will be Apple forever.  Even now, I still have some Android devices that truly amaze me such as the Samsung Note Tablet — awesomeness personified.  Some of the things that are cons to me may be pros to other people.  Therefore I have not fixed the debate but happily perpetuated it 🙂

The important thing is that everyone should choose for themselves what works for them.

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2014 in Programming

 

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Learning Relational Databases – Summer Fun =^.^=

Programmer Problems

 

Ooops, I dropped a course… 

In January, I was having serious issues with a class, Relational Databases.  I felt completely lost in the class, not necessarily because of the content, but because of the learning environment.  Reading about databases just was not cutting it and although I resorted to YouTube videos for supplemental learning, my professor’s requirements were unique.  I could understand the supplemental information that I found, but I could not correlate it to my professor’s teaching style.  When I asked for additional help, the language barrier left me even more confused.  So, reluctantly I decided to drop the class.  I’m saying all of this to say… I can run but I can’t hide.

Welcome to the summer session of Relational Databases… 

The first two weeks of this class has shown me two things 1) I wasn’t going crazy in January when I took RD the first time 2) I’ll learn all about relational databases after all.  The one thing that really stood out to me was the different ways to notate data models, which can seem confusing but was actually great for I could choose the style that I felt most comfortable with.  Although I would rather be doing more summery things, I am actually enjoying learning about relational databases — does that make me a nerd?

Just in case I’m not the only one in this boat… 

I have found a few supplemental educational tools to help me with understanding Relational databases, so I will share them here!

1) A friend and fellow blogger suggested the Manga Guide to Databases.  This resource has been a great tool in understanding the concepts of databases, while enjoying a really awesome story with subtle-but-funny references to database history.  This guide has helped me to stop STRESSING over learning and enjoy a story in the process.  I’d suggest this reference to any manga lover that also has to learn about databases lol.

2) YouTube!  Yes, YouTube is a distance learner’s best friend.  Reading is great, but having a visual aid helps in learning.  There’s also the added benefit of learning through different perspectives which helps tremendously.  I’ve found one channel of a professor that has all of his lectures for his Relational Databases course available in one handy playlist.  His teaching style is really laid back, however he explains the concepts in a way that’s truly understandable.

3) I stumbled upon a site that has practice examples for the different concepts of databases such as entity relationships and normalization.  The tutorials are straightforward, but the most beneficial is the practice problems.

I’m learning, and it’s awesome… 

I never thought that learning about databases would be interesting, but once I understood all of the areas that databases impact – I realized the importance of knowing all I can about them.  I shall continue to learn!

 

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2014 in Programming

 

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