Hey, that’s pretty good

When writing my fiction stories, I always strive for as much conceptual creativity as I can. That being said, stories about people tend to be inherently unoriginal because people tend to write a lot about other people, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, it’s very easy to just write about the day to day experiences that a writer has. Because of this, I have worked to avoid a focus on an anecdotal human element, and I write more about particular settings and organizations of people rather than individuals themselves. I have found this to be quite effective in creating an interesting, although hard to relate to, narrative.

As a product of this, I also for no particular reason that comes to mind, write stories with the narrator telling the reader how stories occur in the past tense. I think the reason why I do this is because of the ability it gives me to skew time. I could have a narrator describe a series of events, and then I would tell the reader “oh by the way that happened in like 2068” in a fairly passive way. Not only does this set the perspective of the narrator’s time, but it also give the reader a totem to grab onto to understand the scale of the story and potentially give them an idea about how far technology has progressed (this works going into the past, too).

The best part to this all is that I’m also writing my stories in prices that are, get this, greater than 500-100 words! Can you believe it? The stories that I think are the most successful are the ones with greater word counts! Its almost as if the more tools to create an artist has, the better their work will be.

Now that I’ve ranted about the technicalities of my writing, I’ll share a few of my story prompts because I think they’re at least mildly interesting.

The prompt I am most proud of so far is a little something I wrote inspired from SCP. I’ve written a story in the exact same way that an SCP story would be written. The particular object I’ve decided to write about is a TV that emits light that forces objects to age extremely quickly. Constant power must be applied to the television to keep it off (because logic) otherwise the TV will quickly age the area around it. The rate at which the light accelerates ageing is unfathomably fast, but the reader is not told this, as they have to figure it out by doing a bit of cross checking on the experiment logs provided in the story.

The other idea I had was about a factory that hunts down raw resources, and uses them to sustain itself and produce scientific information. The entire process is managed automatically by the factory, so it requires no maintenance. The factory works so well, it has developed past the technology every other civilization that has ever existed, but the twist is that humanity has been dead for many millennia after the factory achieved this state.

Advertisements

Micromeaning in Microfiction

Seriously? An expectation to write strong stories in less than 100 words? I’ve been bamboozled by this conundrum. Less than 500 words is formidable because there was at least some room to slap together an exposition that the reader can hold onto and appreciate, but less than 100 means all you can have in a story is a small arrangement of actions between characters that are so flat that they might as well be classified as two-dimensional.

Many 100 word stories try to expand their characters by trying them into symbols. While I can appreciate the effort  being made to expand these characters, 100 words can still leave extreme amounts of variability when it comes to the interpretation of what those symbols are supposed to mean. Yes, a reader can figure out that a spider, bear, or snake is supposed to be the antagonist, but finding the details to derive the conflict with that antagonist becomes an annoyance. Is the antagonist supposed to represent a rapist, war, genocide, a paper cut, or maybe even you accidentally spilling your coffee on yourself right before you leave home to go to work? The expansion becomes so broad that any deeper meaning the author attempted to weave into their words becomes lost in a sea of vagueness.

It’s not that I hate the idea of short stories, but rather I hate the tools that get taken away with over the top constraints. In a similar sense: it would be cool if I could grow an entire cornfield with just one seed, but that idea does not work in practice. I can’t say I understand why my classmates are so enthralled with this idea,  but if its their cup of tea I guess they can appreciate it. I will be writing my fiction in as many words as it takes to make the writing compelling. Fiction creates an open canvas that no other type of writing can quite compare to, and that open canvas creates infinite possibility for any writer to communicate the world they want to represent. However, keeping stories too short is like cutting a 1 inch square section out of that canvas and trying to use only that fraction of the canvas to create a world. Sure, you can use any part of the canvas you want, but the final product will always be of lesser quality than if you decided to go ahead and utilize the whole canvas.

The Heist

Here is a small narrative piece I wrote for English class:

Tonight, we’re hitting up a warehouse in St. Louis. The warehouse is owned by an organization that calls themselves “private security,” but is really just a bunch of thugs and mercenaries. That being said, this organization has outposts all over the world, so there’s no telling what kind of juicy illegal loot is going to be on the inside.

The first place we need to hit them is their server room, as this will be where one of the guards is watching the cameras. In addition to blinding their primary security system, it will also allow us to steal the servers themselves. Who knows what could be on the servers? Military blueprints, secret state budgets, and even access codes to the vaults deeper inside the warehouse are all possibilities.

Once they’re blind, we need to sneak around the warehouse and search containers. We need to avoid being seen by guards, as every one of them has a pager to set off the alarm. Killing the guards is also undesirable. The more guards we have to kill, the more suspicious their radio operators will be from the silence.

Any look we find can be taken to the back of the warehouse by the river. The warehouse’s lookouts have a blind spot back there. We can set up a zip-line there to carry items across the river without being noticed.

Our contractor wants us to do this silently, and if we do set off the alarm, then we won’t have the firepower to hold off the SWAT team for any mount of time. If the alarm goes off, we are screwed.

Flash Fiction

None of the flash fiction we read in English class earlier appealed to me, and I do not think it is because of the content of the prompts or stories themselves. I think the less than 300 words limit on these stories is difficult for any writer to work with. With a limit like that there is no time to set up exposition, and writes just have to cut to the chase to a rising action. This lack of exposition makes it difficult to create an engaging story, as all of the meaning has to be implied, there are not enough words to state it explicitly.

One You Tuber that expresses my vice on word counts from the opposite perceptive. Be warned, the martial here is a bit adult, but I think the point that he makes is worth sharing. (Relevant part of the video ends at 1:44).

While he is arguing that word minimums make for bad writing, I would like to take the time to show that word maximums have an equal and opposite effect. If a maximum word limit is too low in a subject like narrative fiction, then you can’t create a world that  a reader can become invested in, and you also can not sustain the reader’s curiosity to learn more and more about the fictional world you worked so hard to create.

Of course, that’s not to say it is completely impossible to write immersive works of fiction with low word counts. The SCP Foundation is a web series that provides great examples of this. Each article is short (500-1000 words), but manages to tell a small part of a larger story. Because the story is spread out across all the different articles and the articles do not have any particular order, the story can be reproached and read my anyone from any starting point. The entire point to this is to still put the narrative into small chunks and still drive the reader’s curiosity to know more.

Application of Knowledge

Over the last two weeks, I have committed myself to making a little something for a more common good. With the skills that I have, I have written an application for exam proctors of the Unites States Emergency Medical Service. This applications saves student information, allows test proctors to check off skills in a controlled environment, and send that information to the teacher responsible for awarding certification to the students that pass the exams. The application can track what objectives each student did well on, detect actions that the student performed out of order, and even check for conditions that would warrant failure for a student. Grading accuracy is important for the application, as it separates the transponders who are competent enough to hold another person’s life in their hands from the individuals that should not do so.

While I have not finished the project to the fullest degree, it is very close to completion. All it needs is a few finishing touches before I can upload it to the Google Play store. What is so ingenious about the app is that students wont be able to spoof scores and send it to their teachers. If a students has the app on their phone then all they can do is produce text files to send to their own email.

I decided to finish the bulk of this project over spring break because it would be a major stress relief to have that done now rather than needing to finish the project in May. It is of utmost importance to me that I have it done by May because it is my capstone project in order for me to earn my associates degree in Information Technology. What is even better about this achievement is the meager time investment it took out of my actual break. Instead of working on the application constantly over the course of a few days, I was able to comfortably do it in chunks throughout the break. This meant that I was able to manage my time so that the project did not interfere with my social life by any major stretch.

In the segments of downtime between my work sessions I spent time participating in LAN (Local Area Network) parties with my friends. At these parties, we would all set our computers up in the same room, and we would connect them together so that the computers were all on the same LAN. This very short distance and high throughput connection gave us the ability to play out video games with amazing response times. At the same time, it was able to give us an advantage over other players because we could talk to each other directly.

These parties were a great bonus to the stress relief of having my application done. Knowing that I can manage time for a big project while maintaining a satisfying social life reflects what my experience in college is probably going to be like. Just like this spring break, college will be a time where I maintain my academics while still finding the moments to sit back and have a bit of fun.

Hello World!

Programmer

In eighth grade, I started to read a book that changed my life forever. Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners put me on a path for me to learn object oriented programming. I was on a FIRST Lego League robotics team at the time, and I was completely unaware of the rabbit hole that I had just stumbled into. Computer programming has not just taught me how how to make computers run; it has taught me how to think. Programming is all about manipulating information in ways that makes that information easier for human being to comprehend. Because of the multitude of good and bad methods that can accomplish this task, there is a dire need for a programmer to have creativity and critical thinking. Creativity allows a programmer to find new ways of manipulating in hopes of finding the most effective and secure methods. The benefit of this kind of metal exercise has even sparked discussions of turning computer programming into a core subject. While I do not agree that every child in the United States should be forced to learn programming all the way from kindergarten to high school, I do believe everyone should take at least one computer programming course at some point in their education, and that is coming from someone who works with it every day.

Career Technical Education

Attending Central Nine Career Center has given me a phenomenal opportunity to advance my education for my future plans of becoming a computer programmer. This opportunity comes in the form of an Associates Degree in Information Technology from Vincennes University right out of high school. The IT program that they have allows me to earn this degree while I am still in high school through dual credit courses. So far, it has been an amazing experience because it allows me to learn about subject matter I am profound in and allows me to save money for my Bachelor’s in Software Engineering because of all of the credits I will have from earning the Associates Degree through this program. However, the benefits of this curriculum go a bit past saving some money and earning my degree early on. It gave me an experience with Carrier Technical Education that most people in the United States do not have a chance to have. I was able to learn and apply real world skills that are currently in high demand from employers, and that is enough to justify my recommendation for Carrier Technical Education.

Video Games

My parents and siblings have been bombarding me with the world of video games since I was born. When I was very young, although I am not sure how young, the first device I had to play with was a Game Boy Color with Pokémon: Leaf Green that my dad gave me. Initially, my only real problem with this was that I was still illiterate at the time. Understanding controls and performing actions were simple to start learning but progressing the game’s underlying or understanding overarching objectives was basically impossible. One I entered elementary school and actually learned how to comprehend written English. This gave me the tools I needed as a player to start achieving higher levels of engagement in my games. As I aged, I found myself hitting skill caps in all of the hand held and console games that I owned. Becoming more skilled in those games took so much practice that the games stopped being fun and worthwhile to play. This is when I started to turn to gaming on PCs. PC gaming had a very unique controller by comparison to console gaming: the mouse and keyboard. Unlike joysticks on a conventional controller mice gave me the ability to more accurately look in the direction that I wanted to look in. I wound not have to wait for the game to slowly pan around, but instead I could instantly look to where I wanted by moving my mouse at different speeds. The addition of a keyboard also improve the quality of my controls. Keyboards have significantly more buttons in a smaller amount of space by comparison to controllers; this gives me more actions that I am able to preform, and the closeness of the buttons means I can execute those actions in a smaller amount of time. When combined, a mouse and keyboard provide an expansive world of possibilities for skill improvement and a general ability to enjoy the games.

Learning to program has only cased my appreciation of video games to flourish. I  have made my own video game projects to test my skills, and I can say with great certainty that it not an easy process. The level of engineering and planning it takes to make even the simplest of games is tedious and time consuming. Turning a video game into a final product is not a process of toy making, it is a process of engineering and computational wonder that brings these games to life

Prepositions

Do not ever end a sentence in a preposition. Please.

The Heart of Engineering

designIf school has taught me anything, it is that the only true failure that anyone can experience is failure to learn from their own past mistakes. Nobody has ever mastered an art or a skill without stumbling as a beginner, and to gain the most experience out of an opportunity they must first know the ways it can go wrong. Once a mistake is learned, it will never be made again if it was learned properly. This is how to world of engineering works. Engineers work hard on designing a product, prototyping it, and criticizing their own work until they eventually solve the problem at hand. The best part about this process is that once an engineer finishes a product, he can not only reuse that product in future solutions but use the information from the mistakes he learned from as well.

However, there is a dark consequence for people who do not recognize and lean from their mistakes: utter failure. Making a mistake and not learning from it had three losses: the aftermath of the mistake, losing something that can be learned from, and even more mistakes of the same nature. Someone ends up in a loop of the same mistake over and over again is in a horrible position where the losses just keep adding up. Even Einstein refereed to this loop by saying insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Programming is no exception to this moral of failure, as it is a variety of engineering. The syntax of computer programs is far more sensitive than that of any written language. Capitalizing a letter in the wrong spot or using one incorrect piece of punctuation can completely change or just simply ruin the way a program works. Testing code over and over again requires learning from failed attempts because no computer program ever works properly on the first attempt. Frantically compiling code and making little changes each time is the bulk work of a project.

The Scientific Method

I believe that the scientific method is the greatest invention of all time. Every discovery that humanity has ever unveiled in some shape or form involved the scientific method. Through observation, experimentation, analysis, and a few more important steps in between, humanity has come up with many consistent explanations for how the natural world functions and methods of predicting future events. This difference between asking how and why events occur is actually what makes the distinction between scientific law and scientific theory.

Scientific law are results from extensive experimentation that set up a way of predicting how events will occur under any given conditions, usually in the form of an equation. For example, gravity is considered scientific law because we can predict how the force will affect the world(F=mg and F=G(M1+M2)/r^2).

Scientific theory are results from extensive experimentation that explain why events happen the way they do. Evolution by natural selection is an amazing example of a theory because it explains shifts in allele quantities within a population by flagging the cause to be that alleles that case negative effects in an organism force it to reproduce less, and alleles that are reproduced less progressively get more and more rare because they cannot sustain their own existence. Many people in society misuse the word “theory” as if it holds less merit than a law, but in actuality theories hold just as much merit for “being real” as laws do. When people say that they have a theory about something and they have not tested it yet it actually is not a theory; it is a hypothesis. It makes me sad when someone redefines a word to fill a position where another perfectly good word already exists.

Artist

The work I do as a programmer tends to be more of an art more than anything else. While computer programs can be used to store information, analyze data, or increase productivity, they can also be used for creativity and expressionism. Graphing Mandelbrot sets exemplifies this. They are beautiful structures that no human can reproduce by hand, and adding the color and other strange transformations to it invites more room for creativity.

Art is not just drawing, music, or  sculpting; art is any medium in which a message or emotion can be propagated from one person to another. Programming takes creativity, as there are so many ways to accomplish tasks and tasks that can be accomplished. Making programs that have an impact on someone is not impossible, and anyone who had a hard time believing me on that should give this a try. The point I am making here is that art has grown so much from the times where the only art that was considered worthy of discussion was great masterpieces in literature or phenomenally realistic portraits of societal leaders. Today, what seems to matter in a piece of art is the spectacle it brings to its viewer. The skill behind the art does not matter much so long as it has a significant impact on the viewer. Likewise, if a certain piece of art took an extreme amount of skill to make then it might not be apprenticed as well if the impact it has on the viewer is negligible.

Puzzle Fanatic

I was in either sixth or seventh grade when I solved20161125092941.jpg my very first three by three by three Rubik’s Cube, and the excitement of doing it the first time was overwhelming to me. The puzzle had seemed impossible to me up until that point, but with a bit of determination, memorization, and Google I was able to find a solution. Most people would have stopped right there and would have been happy with their abilities, but deep inside I had a burning passion to do more.

I asked my parents to buy me a five by five by five cube the next Christmas, and sure enough gave one to me. I wanted to conquer this challenge on my own this time, and I was not going to use any Google to aid in my solution. Days passed by, and I had managed to conjure up my own method to solve the cube. I was able to figure out how to do it by using some of the patterns I learned from the first cube, and applying the past skills that I earned to beat a new challenge felt awesome. However, I was not going to stop at that. With a bit of Google searching, I was able to find that there were other puzzles just like my Rubik’s cubes  cubes that were not actually cubes. The one that I wanted to do next was actually a dodecahedron. This puzzle has twelve sides, and a star shaped pattern on each side for the pieces to turn on. While the puzzle looks quite challenging, it is actually a fairly easy puzzle to anyone who has solved a three by three by three, as solving this puzzle uses the exact same movement patterns as the cubes. While solving it does take twenty minutes to actually execute, it is still a neat party trick to be able to do.

Martial Science

img_0108
“Magical” Pencil Balancing

I have heard a quote going around lately that says something along the lines of “the difference between science and just screwing around is weather or not you have someone writing it down.” I find this quote to be oddly satisfying because it accurately represents what I do on a daily basis. I spend a lot of time learning through experimentation and screwing around, and it is a jolly good time!

However, today I will not be screwing around, but instead I will be doing actual science by writing it down. In my English class, I found that by bending a piece of paper by just a bit I can give that paper enough stiffness to hold up two pencils by their little tabs. What made me so proud of this little structure is that I actually knew a bit of the martial physics at play here even though I did not actively recognize them.

One of my mentors in robotics, Mr. Coulombe (only one letter away from the name of the Law!) works as a programmer and structural engineer, and it his jobs to run massive computer simulations of individual atoms in materials acting upon each other. He is the smartest person I know, and has given me the honor of having mini-lessons on this particular science.

Basically, to make this work I had to slightly alter the martial properties of the paper so the paper would stand up on its own. When a piece of paper comes out of the factory, the cellulose molecules that compose it form a fairly imperfect lattice. By rolling the paper into a circle and back out again, I was working out those imperfections so that the lattice would slowly become more and more perfect. This causes the paper to become more and more brittle (and less ductile), and this brittleness makes the paper tend to form in a certain shape that is more stiff than otherwise. Because the paper rests in a stiffer and curved shape, it is able to be put onto its side without falling over. In addition, the added brittleness allows the paper to support slighly more weight before it starts to fail. This extra ability to bear weight allowed me to place the two pencils onto the paper without the paper caving in on itself.

However, the paper’s ability to hold the pencils weight is only one part of the mechanics at play here. The other part can be assessed by asking: How does the weight from the pencils not cause the structure to fall over? The answer to this question is far more simple, as it has to simply do with the idea of center of mass and the position of the pencils. In the picture, the pencils can be seen to be on the inside part of the curved paper. This would typically case the paper to fall in the same direction that the more massive part of the pencil is on, but it does not do this due to the support given by the outer parts of the paper curved in the same direction that the pencils are applying the sideways force. The pencils are safe on the inside of the curve, but would cause the paper to top if they were on the outside of the curve.

The application of the rules at play here go beyond balancing pencils on pieces of paper; they are used in architecture, mechanical engineering, and even aviation. By learning and applying the knowledge science has recorded, humanity had engineered the most amazing devices that are taken for granted every day.

Memories

From the little evidence I can gather on this subject, I have concluded that my childhood was not as eventful as the ones of my peers. My mom tells me that I was later than my brother and sister to develop speech. My brother and sister started to talk in complete sentences when they were two years old (and never shut up after that), but I took an additional year to start talking in the same way. This is probably due to the close relationship that the three of us had at the time, as while they talked I observing the sort of things they did. I never needed to talk because they were so good at spotting the indicators for my needs before I said anything about them. They noticed what sorts of toys I played with, and whenever I seemed to be searching around aimlessly they would know what I was doing and speak for me.

However, what made my need to speak even lesser was the incredible level of independence all three of us possessed when we grew up. Whenever we had a problem to overcome, whether it was a need, social conflict, or even a physical barrier, we had, and still do have, a unique ambition to overcome it ourselves rather than seek the assistance of our parents. Overcoming challenges mattered to us as kids, and despite all the reasons I now know that motivate me to do that I do not know why I did it as a kid.

cq5dam.web.1280.1280.png

When I was about four or five, I remember being particularly hungry on a Saturday afternoon. My mom was out of the house, and my dad was out mowing the lawn. While four-year-old Ben easily could have gone outside to ask for some lunch, climbing up the refrigerator door to drink some chocolate syrup flavoring made much more sense to me. My parents felt so proud of my new-found independence and ability to access the fridge that they did not even bother to ground me for it. Journeying through my childhood gave me independence that allowed me to endeavor school in a manner that makes me appreciate my education, and my parents were very lain back when it came to me overcoming bigger and bigger challenges. While the did step in when things got too serious, most of the time they let me figure out my own solutions, and that is a skill that everyone should be given the opportunity to grow up with.

Central Nine Adventures

My Central Nine experience can be summarized with one experience I have had with one fellow classmate named Luke. Leading up to this experience Luke had always asked me for help. Every time he asks for help he yells “Ben, help me!”, and I am forced to simply say “No”. After all, I have to get my own classwork done as well as him, but one day he stopped asking me for help. When I came to notice this I looked at my surroundings to find out why; It turns out that my buddy Talmage was playing a word typing game with him.

Their word typing game was a heated battle of glory. Their Words Per Minute counters were up and around 60. At first, I did not really care about their battles, I only cared about the nice peace and quit it gave me from the “Ben, help me!” interjections. However, after a few minutes there was a new disturbance in the area. Talmage had beaten Luke in the battle and Luke got triggered by this. Even now, typing that line triggers him because he refuses to accept my documentation of these events. This once peaceful typing competition had turned into a brutal testosterone fueled yelling match.

It did not take long for our teacher to break up the conflict. However, rather than doing anything about it administratively our teacher let them suffer through their in class assignments, and no “Ben, help me!” interjections were permitted. All of our class work is done in class, and those two had just wasted much of their time when they could have been doing their work. The moral of this story? Do not waste your ego on small unimportant things such as typing games while you have bigger goals that you should be focusing on.

My Rig

I am the sort of person who loves video games. In fact, I spent the greater part of a year working on saving up money to build a gaming PC. This was a unique experience for me because I had never dedicated to a project of this scale before. First, I had to spend a few months working to save the money I needed for the computer. Once I had done that, I had to pick out the parts I wanted and make sure those parts were all compatible. Then I had to go though the painstakingly long process of assembling and troubleshooting the machine.

However, once my work was all said and done, the product was amazing. The computer I built ended up something that would cost about three times as much if I had decided to buy it from a retail vendor. Knowing that my project beat most other options in both price and effectiveness made me feel like what I was doing was impressive, and I learned a lot by doing it. I know in the future I will see that DIY is not a scary option, but rather it is an opportunity to do something that most people cant just buy in a store somewhere and be left with a worse product.

Today, I use my computer for more than just gaming. I use it for Computer Aided Drafting, video editing, and as a general workstation for very computationally intensive tacks. In robotics, using the Computer Aided Drafting software that I have assists me in making parts with significantly more accuracy and significantly less faults, and that alone makes the thing worth carrying back and forth from robotics. The value of the computer’s work is far greater than the cost that it took to build it in the first place, and I’m glad I did.