Update on Activities: June 8, 2015

June 8, 2015 at 2:58 pm (Computer Science, Programming, Rant, Thinking) (, , , , )

So I had somebody remind me that I haven’t posted anything in a while here. It hit me that it’s been months since I’ve posted an update on what I’ve been up to so I might as well write a few things down. I’ve actually been keeping myself very busy with a number of non-programming projects, so I’ll post a few things.

One of the main things that’s been taking up my time lately is that I’ve been trying to improve my brain. To do this, I’ve been using some software on and off to try and improve my working memory. It’s based on some research called the “dual n-back” test; essentially you’re testes on how many previous numbers you can remember as well as where the numbers were displayed on a 3×3 grid. I believe there has been mixed feedback in the reproducibility of this work as well as its transference to other areas of activity. This means that people aren’t 100% sure that doing well at this test will help you do other things.

In addition to this, I’ve been reading a ton of books from my local library. I believe a week or two ago I hit a point where I had 22 books signed out at one time on a wide variety of subjects. Part of my strategy of being able to read all of these books is that 3-4 of them are books on speed reading. I honestly still can’t believe how much faster it has made me while being able to consciously remember everything I’m reading. I’ve traditionally had attention problems while reading and have gotten used to the lines of text moving around on the page. These techniques have definitely helped me worth this problem.

My last update for today is that I’ve been taking a bigger interest in my career. This has been a theme of the past year as I’ve turned my “normal” job into half of the things I do at work. I’ve been taking on new responsibilities and being more proactive about what I do. For example, this past week I started writing a newsletter for my product’s team to keep them informed on big sales and customer use-cases. This is somewhat of a small thing, but as I keep my ear to the ground at my company for useful information, I saw a need that wasn’t being met by anybody else and opted to fill it.

On a final note, I’ve been keeping better track of all of the interesting things I’ve been doing voluntarily. So I hope to remember to post here more often on what I can (I’m sure there are some things I can’t share for confidentiality reasons).


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Wealth of Nations: Thoughts on the initial few chapters

January 31, 2015 at 1:00 pm (Rant, Thinking) (, , , , )

One of the books I’ve recently been reading is Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. It’s a book first published in the late 1700’s on classifical economics. It’s a very large book that’s divided into sections and chapters, but the first area has been dealing with the division of labour. Essentially it is a discussion on how each household produces commodities and services (food, clothing, carpentry, etc), but also has needs that aren’t fully met by their own production. These needs can be met by other households through the exchange of goods and services that are produced beyond what the originating household consumes.

In simpler┬áterms: People don’t use everything they make, but other people may have a need for that extra “stuff”.

The discussion moves onto the idea of division of labour, where instead of each household trying to produce iron nails for building things, you could have one skilled source that is the expert at producing nails. So, instead of each household producing 20 nails a day, you could have one guy that can put out 1000 a day because that’s all he does. He can then exchange his product with other households to fulfill his needs. This way, he is efficient in his production and doesn’t have to be his own butcher, baker, carpenter, etc.

The way that Smith discusses these things and describes the breakdown of production was actually pretty effective; however, it is something that made me reflect on my own thinking. He took a concept of a product, say, a an article of wool clothing, and broke it down into things like: the shepherd raising the sheep, the guy sheering them, the people washing the wool, and so on. Sometimes these jobs were done by different people, sometimes not. Certainly when you get into the actual production of producing the threads and the cloth itself, it is handled by different outfits.

Getting back to my point, his breakdown of this topic is very similar to my natural line of thinking. It’s possible that somebody who doesn’t think this way could be surprised to otherwise informed about the matter, but to me it was just reading about things that I had already been thinking about (as a side note, I don’t actually have any formal education in economics or wool production).

It then made me think about other well known authors I had been reading lately and my conclusion is that many of them are just writing about common things they think about. Some of them write about topics to simplify the information so it can be processed easier for others, but many are just writing about their final musings. I don’t imply that it didn’t take a considerable amount of effort to process the topic or research it, but just that it doesn’t seem as hard as I would’ve imagined to produce work of interest to others.

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Project: DarkWolf2D (2D Dungeon Crawler)

January 10, 2015 at 4:30 pm (Game Development, Games, Graphics, Java, Processing, Programming, Rant, Uncategorized, Video games) (, , , , , , , , )

Over the holidays, I had some time to upgrade the core┬ácode for my game engine. I’ve upgraded the version of Processing that I use as well, which means I can use shaders for rendering along with some of the nicer JSON loading features. While I have a “version 2” of my engine working though, I haven’t yet retro-fitted it into my Zombie Mansion yet. This is coming in the future, but for “proof” that my code works, I’ve been putting together a small game based on a design I had in a dream. It’s the “basic” version of the idea, which means no multiplayer and no nice graphics.

The idea is for a dungeon crawler action game that takes ideas from the MOBA genre. I know how it sounds, but it’s actually a very basic idea and it’s already half built. It’s a player-vs-environment game right now where the player begins at level 1 for each dungeon and has to level up as they progress to bosses. The theme for it is an alternate history WW2 where the characters are different classes such as “US Medic”, “Russian Sniper”, or “French Resistance Fighter”. Each class has a basic attack and a list of abilities they can level up and use. I’m keeping the XP system as simple as I can (although I’ve never built one before), and I’m not using any items for the game right now.

For rendering, it’s a 2D game with no character animations; just a static side-shot image. This should keep the dev cycle pretty low for now. I also have a feature backlog that I’m considering making public, but for now I’ll only do that if I have anyone comment that they actually care to look at it. It’s a list of all the features that I plan on implementing (some are basic things like “add audio to the game”, and it functions as my “todo” list. As I build in features, I mark them as “Complete” and they shuffle to the bottom of the list for storage.

Edit: Added a screenshot. It’s very basic and you can’t really see anything worthwhile. Just showing that I can at least render the player in a level. I’ll make a video later.

First screenshot of DarkWolf2D

First screenshot of DarkWolf2D


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Efforts Update: December 6, 2014. Psychoanalysis and Statistics

December 6, 2014 at 12:37 pm (Art, Rant, Teaching, Thinking) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the works of Carl G. Jung; a titan in the field of psychoanalysis, and psychology in general. I picked up one of his books on Amazon for my Kindle: The Theory of Psychoanalysis. I’ve been curious about his actual work and theories for some time as my prior research has shown that probably all personality analysis theories are derived from his writing.

The book is surprisingly well written and easy to understand. I’m still only 30% through the book right now, but he covers Freud’s theories and where the line of separation is from his own. He actually goes as far as to defend Freud’s more controversial theories on psycho-sexuality in children, although most of his frustration was clearly with the scientific community at the time. Apparently Freud had received responses that were more emotionally-driven than factually, however I think that this is understandable and even expected given the subject matter. I haven’t yet investigated Freud’s work and prior life to understand where his approaches came from, but there are only so many minutes in a day.

Getting back to Jung, I’ve also picked up the Kindle copy (text only) of his Red Book. He kept a secret book filled with notes, illustrations, and illuminations describing his self-analysis during a period where he wrestled with what he thought to be his own unconscious. I’ve only gotten through the biography chapter so far, but even that part sheds a LOT of light on why his work developed the way it did.

His artwork is extremely well done; he was an accomplished painter and you can see the influence of the Mayan and Inca art that he studied while he was in France. It actually reminds me of the Sharpie artwork created by one of my friends. He uses a similar style of geometric forms in his work as well.

Outside of the study of Jung’s work, I’ve also been spending a fair about of time studying statistics and the R programming language. Hosted on Coursera, there is a great course with video lectures created by the biostatistics lab at Johns Hopkins University. It’s coming along slowly because I’ve been bouncing between several courses to pick out the most interesting and immediately useful stuff, but they’re nicely done.

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Nov 17, 2014: Activity Log

November 17, 2014 at 10:59 am (Rant, Thinking) (, , , , , , , , )

I thought I’d write a quick post about what I’ve been up to recently (mostly for myself). I can’t talk about some of the neat side projects I have going on at work, but I’m using Entity Framework, MVC, Web API, and the D3 web visualization library and it’s fun stuff.

I spent some time on the weekend watching some more videos for some Coursera courses I’m taking. It got me playing around with R, the statistics software. This is a pretty nifty system; in my opinion much better than my MatLab experiences (although still similar in some ways). It’s worth checking out if you do anything with numbers. The best part is that it’s free! You have no reason NOT to check it out!

Also, I spent a short while playing with WebGL. I wrote some quick app stuff to get it going and see what was required. My initial reaction is that it’s pretty low level, code-wise. You have to have a pretty good grasp of OpenGL, and a very good grasp of shader programs. Still, it looks pretty nice for what it is; definitely worth playing around more.

I’ve also been reading a book on criminal profiling (for fun). There’s some interesting stuff there, and it’s rekindled my interest in psychology as well. I’m trying to find a decent (and inexpensive) Kindle book on Amazon that covers a good overview of psychology. I picked one out and it ended up not being supported on the version of Kindle that I have. Sad days.

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Update on schemes

October 9, 2014 at 4:40 pm (Rant, Thinking) (, , , , , , , , )

I’ve realized that it’s been a while since I’ve posted an update here. I’ve been a little pre-occupied with my schemes and efforts at my day job, and that’s been affecting my home-time effort to do things for the most part. I’ve had to put my game development on hold for a while due to lack of time and lack of motivation when I see my backlog of items, levels, and bugs. A bit hit on my motivation has also been trying to decide on story elements and other basic game design aspects. It’s a little weird that this is my problem since I’ve been trying to design games for probably two decades; my blockage has traditionally been that I don’t have the tech to build what I want to build.

In the spare time I DO have, I’ve been taking online courses as well. One of the courses I’ve spent a lot of clock cycles on is a course (and book) by Dr. Barbara Oakley on learning how to learn. It’s one of the better sources for improving ones’ mind that I’ve seen in a very long time and it is highly applicable. I’ve also read up on some of her research and I’ve found it to be similar in theme to some of the concepts I was dealing with during my undergrad (I wrote my undergrad thesis on a closely related topic).

In addition to that, I’ve also taken up the Dungeon Master role for a group of D&D players including my wife. Putting together adventures and campaigns has been a big drain on time, but has also been somewhat fulfilling. It’s a good exercise in designing levels and storylines for videogames, so I’ve been enjoying the challenges of coming up with the content and having players essentially “break” my plans. It’s also giving me some practice on working with difficult personalities; some players are really into the game and roleplaying, but others just want it to be Skyrim. This mentality kind of defeats the purpose of the whole game and sometimes ruins things for other players.

One of the main things that has been tiring me up and dominating my clock cycles is something I can’t really discuss here in full. I’ve been networking at work and trying to make connections, generate new ideas, and other fun schemes. There’s been some major steps forward and some really good connections, but there has also been some big setbacks as well. Essentially, I am trying to create my own opportunities and improve on the job I have. I’m working towards creating the demand for what I want to do and getting the connections to put myself in that area. It’s a little time consuming and frustrating sometimes, but I’m hoping it pays off in the end.

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Anti-education employers

September 8, 2014 at 9:39 am (Rant, Thinking)

Here is a situation I find myself in. I’ve been told (multiple times) where I work that my masters degree is irrelevant. It apparently doesn’t factor into my wages and it doesn’t translate to “years of experience”. Now, if you are fresh out of school you might understand this as it happens to plenty of people. My problem is that I have multiple years of experience and I’m not “fresh out of university”.

In two years of working here, I’ve been the only one in my office to give the company patent applications for original ideas; by this I mean patents that aren’t related to the office codebase. Some of the software we’ve worked on has been very academic in nature, and I’ve been one of the few to volunteer to thoroughly understand how it works. I’ve also been asked to work with a product manager to design new features to increase revenue for the company.

Of course, none of that can be attributed to being more educated though… School is for suckers I guess.

For those who are considering extending their stay in post-secondary, you might want to figure out what your plan is. There are definitely employers out that that value education and will see what it can do for them, but be prepared for the opposite. Keep in mind that being educated does not make you instantly know how to do things (and do them right), it’s something meant to augment your existing talent and help shape your thinking; practical experience will always be required, but it’s not difficult to get.

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Why is academia so against academic endevours?

September 4, 2014 at 10:51 am (Rant, Thinking) (, , , , , , , , , )

I feel like academia is a broken system. There are a number of things wrong with the entire thing, but what has been really bugging me is how publications work. You submit your research to a publisher and if they accept your work, you pay them money for publishing and likely you pay to present at a conference. Then if anyone else in the world wants to check out your research, they get to pay the publisher to access it. We’re not talking a few dollars to cover the bandwidth and storage costs, some of these papers are over $30!

Universities will typically buy subscriptions to vendors so that students/staff can access whatever they need to. My beef is that you have to be a current, paying student to gain access. You can’t be an alumni, you can’t pay the university for temporary access, and you can’t be a perspective student.

In my case, I want to read up on research to stay relevant in my field and to potentially work with other professionals again on new research. I’m essentially out of luck here. I can’t pitch new research to professors to become faculty without access to the research, and I can’t magically become faculty with empty hands (and I wouldn’t want to; I’d prefer to have something to offer). I’m honestly not sure who these rules are designed to protect. I was told by the library administration that the vendors had rules, but as the university is giving them plenty of money already, why would they care? If they’re trying to product the authors’ work, the research is still for sale, so large companies can afford whatever they need anyway.

It all just sucks. I had some good research leads and now I’m dead in the water.

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Book of Knowledge

August 18, 2014 at 10:58 am (Rant, Teaching, Thinking) (, , , , , )

I am starting a new notebook. While reviewing some information from one of the online courses I’m taking right now, I realized that I am back in an old habit of assuming I’m smarter than I am. This usually means that I read stuff and learn about stuff and assume I’ll just remember it, or assume that I understand it completely. This notebook is meant to write down summarized information on whatever I am learning at the time. It will also include mnemonic tips and other stuff.

This will allow me to quickly review whatever is in the book and solidify it in my mind. I want to keep it concise enough so I can glance through it, but have enough details so that I don’t lose context or have no clue what things are.

Work in progress.

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Why isn’t there a new build of Zombie Mansion!?!

August 15, 2014 at 4:01 pm (Programming, Rant, Thinking) (, , , , )

This is the question that all of the voices in my head have been asking me. The general answer is this: I’ve been busy. I do have a new build that should have fixed all of the issues from the first demo build, but I keep getting distracted from verifying that it’s all ready and packaged.

What’s been keeping me so busy though? Well, a number of things. I started taking several courses on Coursera recently; this is one of the things. I’m taking courses on game theory and cognitive psychology and a couple others. So that’s taken some of my attention.

I’ve been spending some time filling in gaps of my knowledge as well. I bought a book that has a lot of general knowledge topics, so it’s led to some additional reading. For example, I’ve always had an interest in psychology, but I haven’t formally studied it; it’s usually been about reading periodicals and research papers, etc. So I read through a general overview and history of it to cover up the gaps. The theories and relationships of Freud and Jung are interesting to me as well. I’ve always been a little iffy on Jung’s research, but it’s sparked a bit of additional effort to learn more about how his distilled theories originated.

Also, I’ve been looking to help a friend out with some web programming stuff. It’s similar to what I do at work right now, but I’ve had to spend a fair amount of time getting up to speed. Unfortunately, I’ve been somewhat stretched by additional responsibilities at work and home, so I’ve been lagging behind a bit.

Man I do a lot of stuff, and this isn’t even the complete list…

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