In which I confess things about code

I have a confession and my confession is this:
I have a masters degree in computer science and am an out-and-proud geek, yet I couldn’t code my way out of a wet paper bag.
 
Ask me to use existing software to work out the viewshed analysis of an ancient Mesopotamian settlement, or display the pottery distribution of an Egyptian burial mound and I am *there*. I’ve even been known to set up the odd blog and website in my time, tinkering with templates and settings and what-have-you. I wrote this post using markup language to make certain words bold and create the hyperlinks and so forth.
 
But ask me to do anything more complex than working out why something isn’t displaying as italic on a webpage and I am lost. Honestly, anything more involved than coding a simple webpage (and let’s not forget using tables for layout was still an accepted practice when I learnt, gods help me) and I am stumped.

Suggest I create a computer programme from scratch? I will laugh and laugh at you. And then go hide under my desk hugging my MacBook, sobbing, feeling like a traitor to my geek-self.
 
Coding is a skill set I have just never learnt.

I’m clearly not scared of computers or technology and I have been playing with them since my father first brought one home in the late 80’s. I cut my geek-teeth on DOS and the C: prompt.

Somewhere along the way, however, I fell into the role of playing with (and frequently breaking!) the software that my brother coded. I became all about making existing software dance to my tune – learning what could be bent to do what was needed, and what you just had to work around because “it wasn’t built for that”. When faced with these limitations however, for some reason, I never thought “well, the tool I want doesn’t exist, so why don’t I just make my own?”

Which is crazy, when you think about it.

Because I am, first and foremost, all about learning the WHY. I have to figure out how things work and their underlying logic. It’s why I am constantly trying new things, picking up new hobbies. I am driven to understand how things are put together. So it would make sense, wouldn’t it, if I was to learn more about how the software I love playing with was coded and put together?

It’s not really because I doubt my ability. I’ve just… never learnt. Is that because I was never given the opportunity? Was it assumed that the boys would learn this stuff whilst the girls would just learn the touch-typing? Did I mentally just put this stuff into a “the things my brother does” box and move on to other things?

No matter.
 
2015 seems like the perfect time to change that. And Emma Barnes couldn’t agree more – her clarion call in the Bookseller lays out wonderfully all the reasons we should, every one of us, be reaching for that how-to guide. (Whilst Publishing-centric, the argument holds true for any industry really).
 
It really isn’t rocket science. Learn to code and you will be much better prepared to understand what is possible and to know when the tech-heads are having a laugh and taking you for a ride. You’ll be better placed to articulate what you actually want. You will be able to understand the limitations – certain things HAVE to be done certain ways because you decided things right at the beginning. Do ISBNs have 9, 10, or 13 digits, for example. Only code the capacity for 9 into your programme at the start and… Oops! Time and money to fix.

I’m not saying we all have to become professional coders and build our own Twitter, or version of Word, our own publishing platform, or a remote control that turns the kettle on in the morning three minutes before the alarm goes off so it’s boiling when I stumble into the kitchen…

(OK, someone has to build me that. NOW.)

I’m not saying you have to build a whole new thing from scratch. We can’t all be the ideas people and we can’t all have the desire, or quite frankly the time, to be the next Silicon Valley innovator. But in this day and age of open source, RaspberryPIs, and APIs, I do think we all need to educate ourselves and learn at least the basics.

Computers don’t scare me. Code, for some reason, does. A little bit. So here I will make my stand and say “Enough”. I will not be defeated Ruby, or Python, or Java, or (insert programming language here). I am reaching for the coding tutorials and I am excited about it.

I really am.

Who’s going to join me?

 

How to Survive in a Sci-Fi World – redux

I have been trawling through the archives a little bit recently, primarily to get ideas for a redesign, but also reminding myself that I actually can write, and that I used to kick ARSE at this blogging thing. During the history safari, I rediscovered a gem I originally posted back in 2006. I hate the thought of it languishing, unloved and unread, so in the spirit of all the remakes infecting our cinemas, I have brought it back to life. Slightly tweaked of course, because I would hate to be accused of rehashing content for the sake of it :P

So without further gilding the lily, I bring you:

HOW TO SURVIVE IN A SCI-FI WORLD

Before we get to the fun stuff, a little background. I love sci-fi and fantasy, and have read and watched far too much over the years (according to friends and family that is. As far as I am concerned, bring it on!) All this has left me with a slightly, um, geeky, outlook on life, and more trivia than you can shake a moderately large stick at.

One thing that you would have to be fairly unperceptive not to have noticed, is the number of cliches that abound in this genre. Whilst watching Alien for the nth time with my brother, he yelled at the screen “don’t you realise, you never go back for the ships cat!” That stuck, and the idea transmogrified into what you see below. Kind of a beginners guide for the first-time heroine (or hero, I’m not picky. All the gender specific nouns I’ve used are interchangeable). Inspired by everything from the “classics” to the slightly more screwball, I hope they strike a cord, and you find at least a few funny. Do let me know, both what you think of these, and if you can think of more.

Continue reading How to Survive in a Sci-Fi World – redux

Fort

There’s this place we used to play, my brother and I.
A glorious fort of brambles, in a field of golden green.

There was a place we used to play, my brother and I.
A fairy palace of thorns, in a lake of waving grass.

I remember a place we used to play, my brother and I.
A sanctuary from our childhood, a space away from home.

There’s a place I wish we could find again, my brother and I.
A refuge from our lives now, a haven where we talk.

Spring

Toes in the grass,
Face in the sun.
You can do anything,
Be anyone.

The potential is there, for those
Who might look.
A green shoot from the earth.
A fast flowing brook.

Time to wake from the pall
Winter has cast.
Move onwards my friend,
And reach for the stars.

I Remember

I walk along in the early spring sunshine, and look down at my tattooed feet, free of tights for the first time since October, and I remember who I am.

I remember that I like who I am.

I sit in the hairdressers chair as she dries my hair, revealing the glorious purple shine, released from beneath the dull brown, and I remember who I am.

I remember that I love who I am.

I sit in a living room, drinking a cup of tea, whilst around me amazing people talk passionately about things we all I adore, and I remember who I am.

I remember that I am loved for who I am.

I remember, and I never want to forget again.

Anything is possible

The question I have been asking myself for a while now is should I acknowledge the monumental lack of blogging activity, or just start up again, as if by ignoring the gap it won’t have happened.

But I can’t treat it like the elephant in the room; it is just not in me to do that. Just how did I go from such sparklingly-awesome blogging, to the desolation and tumbleweeds which have been prevalent the last year? Seriously, if Bright Meadow had been a puppy, you’d have called the RSPCA on me long since. What happened to the blogger at the peak of her game?

Would that I knew.

Was it Twitter taking all my thoughts? A job I adore in my dream sector? Living in a new and stunningly beautiful city? Perhaps it was just that I grew older.

Or a combination of all of the above with other things I don’t want to acknowledge in the mix.

What next? I genuinely don’t know. It hurts to think that Bright Meadow has reached the end of the line, but at the same time I just don’t know what I would write about if I was to start blogging daily/weekly again. I had a moment a few months back when 9rules went through more change and, what with one thing and another I gave up the leaf. It was a hard decision to take. 9rules was this HUGE thing that happened to me back in the summer of 2006. You cannot underestimate the sense of pride I had when I first put up the leaf. So to let it go?

Even now it makes me blink a bit in shock. But I just wasn’t the same blogger any more and the leaf wasn’t where I was at.

Yes, a part of me, a large part, wants to kick Bright Meadow back into gear to see if I can earn that leaf back. Just to see if I can. Because I still have it in me somewhere.

But should I? What would I get out of blogging consistently once more? Surely my efforts are better spent at writing that blasted book and living my life.

Bright Meadow though… It’s something special to me. I want it to have a future. I just don’t know what the future is.

Yet.

Dark and Stormy

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It was a dark and stormy night and they were gathered around the central hearth.
“Tell us a story, lei-lei sa”.
“Then listen well, all of you, whilst I tell you a story true. A story about lord and men, thieves and ladies. This story has love and war and death and betrayal and redemption and honour. This story has it all; and this story is about my father…”

I think I might have found the voice of my narrator for the story. The annoying thing? I actually found the voice in a burst of inspiration whilst sitting in the Botanic Gardens back at the start of September, but I’d forgotten about it. Most of my writing gets done on the MiniMe or, in a scrape, on my phone and then transfered to the MiniMe. But every now and then I am tripped up by my addiction to notebooks. Sometimes I just can’t stomach tapping away on the computer; I need the feel of pen and paper, especially when I am making random jottings and notes. As I was doing that day in the Botanic Garden.

So a snippet gets scribbled down as it floats through my brain, without me really making a connection to anything else, then I put the notebook away and forget about it. Till three months later I am sitting bored at my computer, browse through some old photos on Flickr, see a shot of a notebook I’d taken, check what I’d written, and… pfft! the connection is made.

Not that my story really needs a narrator and nor am I sold on the efficacy of narrators (they can be a trite and over-used device) but it is nice to have, in my head, a framework of how this story came to be told. It isn’t just a random story of some people going on a journey – it fits into a wider context and becomes the history of a particular group of people. We hear the story because people in the future are telling it to their kids…

Whether or not this telling will be made explicit or not is another matter. I’ve got to get the first draft on the page before I get to think about wider stylistic points.

Just don’t ask me how close I am to getting the first draft onto the page, please…