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James Buys A Vita


Sometimes I look at my video game collection, both real and virtual, and think that there is no possible way I’ll be able to play all of this in my lifetime. I spent well in my youth, and now the years of combing bargain bins at the local Electronics Boutique has left me a virtual playground to rival Inception, the Matrix, and the Holodeck combined.

It was around one of those times that one of my co-workers mentioned she had a spare Playstation Vita lying around. I chuckled to myself, thinking that even if I had it, it would be YEARS before I could play games on it. Still, the months wore on, and that Vita was still available for a very reasonable price. So I thought to myself, I work hard, I pay taxes, I pull back into the slow lane on my morning commute. I need a symbol of my diligence, tangible proof that I can hold in my hands and then say to myself, “I contribute to society”.
So I paid in cash, and now I have it! Even though it’s officially a legacy platform in Sony’s eyes, there are still a few games that I’m excited to play on it. Some of these are already out, and some of them will have to remain as japanese imports. I’m actually looking forward to putting down cash for some of these at a convention. So much more personal than online! Here are my top five:

5. Disgaea 3 & 4

I’m a strategy RPG fanatic, and the Disgaea series is one of the genre’s 800 pound gorillas. In any given entry to the series, you lead an army of adorable demons in a dastardly plot to take over the multiverse. The characters use attacks like 10 person suplexes with damage counts numbering in the millions of hit points. There are so many ways to grind and level up your army. Even the weapons all have rogue-like dungeons inside of them where you can improve your weapon and your warriors. I will probably finish these games and make it to Disgaea 5 some time around the heat death of the universe.

4. Attack on Titan

The Titans of Hajime Isayama’s manga are serious business. They are so tough, you would need an army of Ninjas- no an army of Spidermen-  no, Ninja-Spidermen! Luckily in you get to join this Ninja Spider-man army and defend Humanity from the ultimate in Fee-fi-fo-fum.

3. Berserk

When Koei Tecmo decided to make Dynasty Warriors, a game where you literally fight hundreds of enemies, it’s hard to believe they didn’t have Berserk in mind. There’s nothing like taking a huge sword to mow down entire armies to take your mind off a day in traffic.

2. Macross Delta Scramble

 

The Macross Scramble series absolutely ruled on the original PSP. Since Macross Delta is still on the air, I hope the campaign mode is a little more involved. It’s hard to get invested in the story if you are constantly reminded that it’s just a simulation.

1. Super Frickin’ Robot Wars

This game series is the my chocolate and peanut butter. You have every giant robot series banding together in a loosely plotted cross-over scenario to carry out the most ridiculous attacks in a scenario that is…well…a battle royale would not even begin to describe it. In this latest installment, Super Robot Wars Victory, Space Battleship Yamato is getting a special guest appearance, fighting alongside the Mobile Suits of Gundam, Macross’ Valkyries, and so, so, many others. It is pure madness, and it’s also getting an English translation! I’m freaking out here!

Are We Spamming You?

What is the etiquette on personal marketing? How many times to you have to post on Facebook or Twitter before people know you are doing a thing they might want to check out? At what point does it become annoying? These questions have been bothering me lately, not because I’ve got something to promote (yet), but it seems as though I’m the last to know when my friends are doing something creative, like a webcomic, a music album, or home business.

Of course, I could just ask people what they’re doing through private messaging, but that just sounds rude. You might catch them at the exact moment of their life when circumstance stands to rip away all of their artistic dreams and toss them into the ether. Or you might remind them that they haven’t worked on their thing in ages, and that their big chance might have slipped away.

Now, if you’ve already made a thing, how do you get the kind of feedback you need to get better? Your only option there is to solicit comments and criticism privately, but then, there is always that shadow of a doubt that you might be terrible and everyone is just too polite to say anything.

As someone with delusions of creativity, I want to see my internet feeds full of people trying new things. I want to see that first painting as much as I want to see that advanced cosplay prop photographed with a new lighting rig. Art is such a personal kind of communication. It increases our collective self-knowledge in a way that’s different from the kind of social media overshare that we’re all afraid of. There are some squicky aspects to it, but I’m just be generous with my likes and comments until we figure them out.

Contributing to Open source in 8 easy steps

 

If you want to find a job as a programmer, a four year degree may not be enough.Formal education can only tell employers so much about what you know and how you work. Fortunately, most of the internet is now run by open source software, which anybody, and I do mean anybody, can contribute to. In 2015, over 98% of servers are run using some form of Linux, an operating system that was written by community of thousands over the past 23 years. http://www.w3cook.com/os/summary/ Almost every kind of software out there has an open source counterpart that you can download, compile, or make changes to yourself. It’s a great way to teach yourself programming and get the attention of prospective employers. You may think, well that’s fine and good for a genius like you, James, but how do *I* get into open source software? Easy, just follow these 8 steps.

1. Get a Github account
Github.com is kind of like Facebook for programmers. It allows you to post your code and track all of your changes using a handy version control program called git. Just head to github.com and pick a username and password!
2. Find a project
This step is going to be different for each person, but you generally want to pick something that people are using and are contributing to. That way you can get more feedback from people in charge of the project or from the users. You can find new projects by browsing github, sourceforge, or by looking up any old open source product you like to use, like firefox or WordPress. When it comes to web software, my favourite place to find new projects is Refactorcop. It was a winner at the 2014 rails rumble, and it analyzes github projects on Ruby on Rails, and makes sure they comply with the code standards in the Ruby style guide. You can use Refactorcop’s search engine to find projects that need code cleanup, a process that doesn’t change the program’s functionality, but ensures that the code is easier to read and contribute to.

3. Check the issues page
Once you choose an open source project, you should check the issues page on the repository to find out where you can contribute. These may be features, bug fixes, or general annoyances that users have noticed. These issue pages are also a good way to tell if your project is active. Active projects mean that you will be able to get quick feedback on any code you contribute.

4. Fork the project
“Forking” refers to a process where you create your own “branch” of a software project within its version control system, which is kind of like a family tree for computer programs. If you are still confused, I think Github’s help page can do a better job of explaining it then I can.

5. Download and Test the project
This may be the most important step of the whole process. It proves that this program you want to work on isn’t broken. It can also give you some inspiration for changes you want to add yourself. Use the git clone command to download the code.

6. Program
This is where that four year degree (and a lot of google) comes in. Add your code, make sure it’s readable, test it out, and commit it to your branch!

7. Submit a pull request
Once you are confident that your code has made the software better, send a pull request to the original project. Here is Github’s tutorial on pull requests.

All that’s left is to wait for the project manager to approve your changes, and voila! You are now contributing to the open source community! Sit back, crack a beer, and know that you have made the future just a little bit better! Thanks goes out to Dan Kubb and everyone else in the Fraser valley Ruby Brigade who introduced me to this whole process.

Introducing the Writing Machine

Well, it looks like I’ve been called out. I had been thinking of starting a writers group. You know, an online place where people could come together in the spirit of mutual creative motivation. It’s always easier to keep your word count up if you have 2 or more people expecting your word count every day. But I had a question, what happens when you finish your first draft and you are not creating new material? How do you track your editing if you are not using a word count to track your progress?

So I decided to talk to my favourite self-publishing experts at the Smarter Artist Podcast, and asked them how they would track their editing.

Believe it or not, they answered! We had nice little back-and-forth about how one would do this and they said they would put my question on a future episode. And they did! You an listen to their answer here, but basically, you can use the number of words in the chapter or short story you are editing as your word count. Of course, you can track other factors like time spent, the place you are working in, even the time of day.

When I found this podcast episode, I realized that I had not started the writing group I  mentioned in my email. They did not use my last name, and I could simply disavow the proclamation forever, but I decided if I needed to kick in the ass to do this, this podcast episode would do the job.

So, after messaging all of my writer friends, I started a new group on slack.com. I called it the writing machine because I want to focus on the day-to-day habit of writing. Before all that discussion about prose, structure and character development can happen, I believe that you need to focus on production. You can’t improve a product that’s not there. If you develop the habit of writing every day, it becomes automatic, and so it’s a writing machine.

I always get a little nervous setting up groups like this, but I promised myself that I would learn more about creating communities this year. What better way to learn than by creating one myself? There’s still plenty of room here at the writing machine. If you want to join, send me your email address, and I’ll send you an invite.

4 Questions for 2016

Rummaging back through my 2015 posts, I found that I had set a bunch of goals for myself. Sure, I accomplished a few things last year. I moved, put another 10,000 words on my novel, and read 88 books (okay, most of them were graphic novels and audio books, but still). Other goals were kind of a bust, like restarting one of my old blogs, or setting up a twitch streaming channel. There was only one difference between the goals I achieved and the goals that I did not. It’s all habit. Just about everything that I’ve completed or finished last year came down to whether I was working on it every day for a given length of time. It’s one of those dull truths that you can only learn from experience.

Now that it’s a new year, I want to change my focus. Last year, it was all about finding out how to achieve, now I want to find out how to make a bigger impact. So instead of having goals for 2016, I want ask some basic questions to frame my actions. It’s about making better choices about what do, rather than how to do it. Here’s what I want to know in 2016:

1. How do I create community?

Throughout my life I’ve put a lot of emphasis on going it alone or taking the path less travelled. It’s given me the courage to seek out a lot of new experiences and take on unusual challenges. However, that effort only really pays off when you can share it with a great community.

Communities have brought us the current convention scene, hospitals, and copious amounts of open source software. There is still a lot I don’t know about them, though. How do you create a good community? How do you keep a good one going? I guess my first step to figuring this one out is to contribute more. I need to share things that I’ve found or created. I also need to encourage everyone else who tries to do the contributing. So, if you like to share your work, expect my likes and comments.

2. How do I use my knowledge to help people?

It’s a funny thing. The older I get, it feels like my knowledge is getting rarer. Everyone gets in to more specialized fields and suddenly I have more friends who don’t know about computers than those who do. How can I share that knowledge in a way that can help a lot of people? The great thing about sharing knowledge is that doesn’t cost anything to distribute. Even 20 years ago if you wanted to educate people you at least needed to print out a pamphlet or something. These days all it takes is a Facebook page and you are off to the races. The trick then, is to know what people want to know at any particular place and time.

3. How do I automate more?

Automation is the very soul of my career. Programming takes human thought and it applies it to the same repetitive tasks, over and over again. It frees your brain up for the sort of specialized thinking that humans are good at, but machines aren’t. Of course, automation doesn’t need to apply to just machines. I agonize over a lot of little decisions, such as when to place a phone call, where I really should just make a choice and accept the consequences.

4. How many cute little cafes can I take my wife to?

There’s this place in Aberdeen Center called the Sugarholic cafe. It had well-dressed wait-staff and a lot of crown moulding. I had a croquette sandwich, and Sara had some crab pasta. I want to find more places like that.

So there you have it. A little bit of navel-gazing, but with a direction to look outward. I’m still going to work on stuff, too. The novel is going to be DONE this year, come hell or high water. Beyond that, I’m not going to plan any future side projects. I’m going to be in a different head space once this one is done, so I can make the decision when I get there. Other than that, I’ll just try to keep my house clean, get to work on time, and hang out with my family on the weekend.