Tag Archives: learning

Gomix

A few weeks ago, I started learning basic code for websites.

Which is weird, because coding doesn’t really fit into my conception of the things that I like and the things that I’m good at. Despite my father’s protestations that understanding computers *might* be important one day, I gave up high school computer science as early as I could.

What is even stranger is that I’m actually kind of enjoying the coding. It is satisfyingly creative. So far, it’s mainly formatting, it’s just that the formatting has to be expressed in a weird language that takes some getting used to. Using the language correctly makes me feel weirdly powerful. I tend to giggle maniacally when I manage to make the website do the thing that I am trying to make it do through the power of my code (it’s like magic!)

I’ve been completing quite bounded and specific tasks within the online course that I’m signed up to (available via CodeAcademy). Change the font size here, create a heading called ‘Whatever’, make a numbered list, make it this colour. That’s pretty easy, so I’ve also been branching out a little and, at the end of each exercise, when the course says, ‘Hey, now play around with what you’ve learnt!’ I’ve been trying to create websites that look like they came out of the early 2000s, with all the fonts and all of them a different, garish colour on another garish background and my text organised via lists instead of paragraphs. It’s been super fun. I’ve been writing weird, stream-of-consciousness websites, which I would like to pretend I invented, but really were inspired by a New York Times article concerning the internet art of the 90s.

Anyway, to encourage me, a friend, who is an actual, professional, paid-real-money coder, sent me a link to ‘Gomix’, which is a website that allows you to use other people’s code to do… internet things. You know, things on the internet.

Look, I’m not entirely sure I understand everything that I can do with Gomix. But, it seems like it’s goal is to take a lot of the faff out of coding. And, also, let people work together on their code (if that’s a thing that you have enough skills to do). Watch the trailer here.

So, this is my very basic understanding of how I could use it. Say you’s building a new web page and you want a heading on that page and you want it to be massive and pink and in Times New Roman. If you’re formatting in Microsoft Word (which is a program I understand), you would just choose ‘Times New Roman’, the colour pink and 300pt from the drop down menus at the top of the screen and then start typing. But, if you’re building a website, those drop down menus don’t exist. You have to write them into existence. You have to tell the internet, here’s my webpage, it’s called ‘x’, I want it to have a heading, that heading should say ‘this’, it should be this colour and this size. So, a lot of coding is just the same over and over again, because each time you start a new website, you have to start it from scratch and tell the website you want a heading, it needs font, it needs a font colour etc etc etc. Gomix allows you to get the basics straight away and then tweak them, rather than starting from scratch.

My big problem with Gomix is that my coding skills are currently very limited (as the above mangled explanation of coding should indicate to you). I think the people who tend to use the site have bigger goals for the things they want to make. There was coding for games and coding for bots on Facebook Messenger and twitter. I have made a twitter bot before (it tweeted Charlotte Bronte quotes!), but it was under direct supervision and with extremely specific instructions. I barely understand what is possible with a bot, let alone understand how to change the code to create one. So, I had to find a code template on Gomix that was something I had the skills to play around with. I had to find a plain old website.

The website template I found was still pretty complex. To be honest, I ignored 3/4 of it, because I didn’t understand what those bits were or how they worked. But I committed to seeing what I could do with the other 1/4. I tried to change the colours of some fonts. That seemed like a pretty easy thing to do. It turned out to be very difficult as the bits of font I tried to change didn’t have the names I expected them to have in the code. Then I forgot what the old colours were called, so I couldn’t change things back to how they used to be. I suddenly went from trying to change very small things to changing EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE – attacking every colour of every single piece of text I could find.

Initially, I wanted to use really specific colours (there are around 16, 000 different colours that you can indicate through a code which tells the computer how much red, blue and green to put in a colour). But, I couldn’t find the bits of texts whose colour I had changed and couldn’t figure out if that was because I wasn’t changing the right bits of code or if the colour change was too subtle. SO, then I decided to chose a super simple colour – ‘blue’ – that was very different from all the colours already used on the web page. Then I could track what changes were happening and when. It also meant I didn’t have to remember (or look up) complex colour names like rgb(66, 134, 244), every time I tried to change something. Once I started getting a handle on which bits of text were changing, I chose another super simple colour with a super simple name – ‘tomato’ – and used it to alternate and highlight certain bits of the page.

The background image also seemed to be something fairly simple that I could alter. I was ostensibly designing a website for myself/about me (because I can never think of anything else to design – I am SO self-absorbed), so I decided to find a picture of a typewriter for the main image. Seems simple, right? IT WAS NOT. Every picture I chose had super bad composition. Well, that’s not fair, they were all quite nice images on their own with perfectly reasonable composition- but as soon as you used them as a background image with text on top, the images made the text impossible to read. White text over the white paper that was being inserted into the typewriter. Title text over typewriter keys with letters on them. I tried changing the colour of the text, the size, tried to realign it, but it all looked messy and/or unreadable. Eventually, I found a picture of a typewriter that had a giant expanse of blue behind it. My text went on the giant expanse of blue and it looked… acceptable.

I also changed the actual text on the website. This was much easier, as I could see exactly what I was changing. But, even so, I learnt much – the less words the better, or it looks ugly, which is (as anyone who read my blog will know) a fairly tough ask for someone with such tendencies towards over-writing.

All these (quite small and cosmetic) changes took me several hours. It was difficult. But, it was also fun and gave me an opportunity to experiment with some of the things I’d been learning on my course. It gave me a better idea of what coding might be like (instead of having a teacher over my shoulder saying, ‘see that bit of code there? Don’t worry about all the rest! Just that tiny bit that looks exactly like this? Well, change that tiny bit in this exact way using this precise piece of code that I am giving you’). I guess it’s the difference between doing language exercises like, ‘Wo bist du?’ ‘Ich bin Jenny’ in your German course with your fellow students and then actually going out into the real world and attempting to introduce yourself to an actual German human.

Also, I’m still not entirely sure how the test website I make goes out into internet-land and is found by other people. It has to have an address, yes, but, then… how to connect the address to the website? Does one use soap? Or do you sew it together? Look, I did warn you this computer stuff has never really been my cup of tea.

peterpan

Me, attempting to attach website code to web address. Image found here.

Below you can see some screenshots of the website I tried to make.

screenshot-2016-12-27-at-18-30-57

First page of website. Sample title: WHY ARE TYPEWRITERS AND/OR CODE SO HARD?

screenshot-2016-12-27-at-18-31-18

To be honest, my favourite part of coding is creating really stupid buttons. I’d super-love it if you could download a person into your computer. Not in a weird way, just in a… yeah, ok, maybe you can’t do that in a non-weird way.

screenshot-2016-12-27-at-18-31-08

I think websites would be better if they were more honest. ‘We’ll try to do this thing for you, but, let’s be honest, things might go wrong but we do promise we’re trying as hard as we can.’

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In Defence of Children

I’ve noticed something strange when I meet new people recently.

When I used to tell people I was an actor/writer, they would look reasonably interested. Despite the fact that I was unemployed, had had very little success, was depressed and/or constantly struggling with eating disorders (or maybe because of this), people seemed to find a strange glamour, or at least slight interest, to me when I described myself as an actor/writer. And this was even after assuring them I had never been on ‘Home and Away’. Not to brag, but a boy I met at an online dating site, who was gainfully (and happily) employed as a teacher decided, after 3 dates with me, to chuck it all in and audition for NIDA. There’s a power and fascination to the ‘following-your-dream’ trope, no matter how dreadfully or unsuccessfully you are following that elusive dream.

However, now when people ask me what I do for a living and I say kindergarten teacher, people’s eyes tend to glaze over. There are no follow-up questions. If I attempt to speak about something amusing, or interesting, that happened at school, I look back at my dinner companions and find them staring at their plates, the wall, the floor, the door, calculating how long exactly before they can make their excuses and get away from the Woman Who Won’t Stop Talking About (Her) Children.

A. tells me the problem is that I don’t know how to filter between interesting/funny/horrific stories that hold their own and ‘Cute Kid Did Cute Thing.’ Stories in the latter category are as if I attempted to describe to you a video in which a child makes a hilarious expression after eating a lemon. Sure, it may be hilarious, but it kind of loses something in the telling.

My problem is that I find the children all-consumingly fascinating. It’s not just because they’re adorable (though, believe me, they are freaking adorable), and it’s not just that they smell good (but, Good God they smell good – sure the poop stinks, but the tops of their heads? it’s like the poop of angels and unicorns and fairies, which is to say THERE IS NOTHING ELSE ON EARTH THAT SMELLS THAT GOOD) and it’s not just that I’m probably the teensiest, tiniest, weeniest bit clucky myself (KEEP IT ON THE DOWN LOW PEOPLE, I HAVE A REPUTATION TO UPHOLD AND AM NOT READY TO GIVE UP MY STUNTED, RESPONSIBILITY-FREE ADULTHOOD JUST YET). Those things help, as do the constant cuddles, and the enthusiastic way they great you in the morning (why don’t we all greet each other by yelping with joy and then throwing our arms around the legs of our friend and not letting them in the door because we’re JUST SO DARN PLEASED TO SEE THEM?) and the fact that they think I’m a combination of cool/hilarious/talented/highly-skilled at everything as well as all-knowing and all-seeing and all-powerful.

But aside from all of that nice, fun, gooey, cutesy, sweet stuff, I find being around the children so interesting that I can’t help running off my mouth at dinner parties, even when I can see everyone else checking their watches. I’ve tried to break it down for you.

1) At the risk of sounding like an overly proud first-time mother, watching them learn every day and make little discoveries is both funny and fascinating. I’m not trying to convince you that my kids are any more special than any other group of kids – they’re not baby geniuses and they’re just doing what they’re programmed to do. But, I think it’s almost like watching a long-form documentary called ‘The Origin of Adults’. We all had to go through this at some point. We all had to learn how to walk, to speak, to eat, to make little hand movements, to make big body movements. We all went about it in our own idiosyncratic ways, we all had our own little stories and challenges. And let me tell you, all of this was much harder than you think it is now. It’s amazing we got here at all. We should all feel a lot more impressive for being able to thread a bead on a necklace. Or, open a yoghurt container. Or cross our arm across our body in a ‘Saturday Night Fever’ dance move. You are skilled, Adult. Never forget it (even if you’ve forgotten how you ended up getting there).

2) Watching them explore the world around them is hilarious. Adults spend most of their lives trying to look like they’ve seen it all, and done it all. If they don’t know how to use a thing, they will ask a trusted someone, who is guaranteed not to laugh at them, in private, in hushed tones, whilst hiding their face in shame. Or they’ll google it, which, I guess is kind of the same thing. Kids, however, are just like, ‘What is this thing? Will I shake it? Cuddle it? Scrunch it up? Push it off the table? Should I put it in my mouth? Or my ear? My nose? Perhaps all at once? Is that possible?’ If they’ve decided something goes in their mouth, then there is no stopping them, and, what’s more, they don’t care who sees them! That towel/key/plastic strawberry/misshapen and dirty rock is GOING IN THEIR MOUTH and they’ll very happily show you the results. It means they come up with a variety of inventive new uses for toys, as well as making toys out of previously dull objects and creating much more fun for all involved.

3) Kids are basically all emotion all day long. They swing from one pendulum extreme to another with barely a breath in between. It is sometimes exhausting to be in the middle of this kind of behaviour. But, from the sidelines, it can be highly educational. Most adults have learnt to control their emotions and to shape their behaviour so that it’s socially acceptable. So, even if they are feeling like bawling their eyes out on the U-Bahn because someone yelled at them in German, and they kind of understood it, and they kind of didn’t, and that kind of made it worse ’cause then they started filling in the gaps with the worst things they could think of (for example), they don’t do it and make everyone else in the carriage feel uncomfortable, they go to the cinema, buy a ticket for the saddest movie they can find and then cry silently in the dark for 2 hours over some stale popcorn and flat, fake Diet Coke. But, kids! Oh, the sweet, joyful honesty of the expression of children’s emotions! Kid doesn’t like another kid? Unliked kid gets pushed. Kid likes another kid? Kid kisses other kid. Kid stretches favourite elastic necklace until the elastic snaps and the cheap beads explode all over the room? Kid cries in horror at surprising unfairness of the world. I have a theory that the emotions we feel as adults are no more complex or interesting than the ones the kids feel every day, it’s just we dress them up more fancy. We come up with fancier explanations for what we’re feeling, and fancier reasons for why we’re feeling that way, and often do the fanciest of fancy, self-defeating, roundabout behaviours to attempt to address said feelings in socially acceptable ways, but in the end the feelings are the same. Of course, we (usually) factor in complicated, abstract things like empathy (‘I push kid, kid is hurt, kid cries = not good’) and reason (‘I push kid, kid is hurt, kid cries, kid tells mum, kid’s mum tells my mum, I get in trouble = not good’) and modify our behaviour accordingly. I spend most of my day attempting to convince the children to deal with their emotions in different ways, for social reasons or for empathy/reason reasons but I still can’t help enjoying it when they do things the way they want to do them (as long as it doesn’t involve them killing each other). Kid wants toy train another kid is playing with. So, kid takes train. I can see the logic.

4) Their enthusiasm for very basic things is awesome. Today, a kid got excited because I cut up his potato with a spoon in front of him. The amazed sounds he made would have made you think I had cut a woman in half and then put her back together. Yes, ok, so life is new to them, and so it’s easy to get excited by banal things, and, sure it could also be seen as exhausting or boring, but, no. No, I choose ‘awesome’. It’s awesome. There’s nothing like someone getting excited by you cutting up their potato in front of them to make you think, ‘You know what? You’re right. Potatoes are awesome. Spoons are awesome. Life is ok.’ And, no, I’m not saying there aren’t terrible things happening in the world, and, no, I’m not forgetting my privilege to live in a safe, happy city, or the privilege of the kids I’m working with to have spoons and potatoes, but, still. I think we could all stand to occasionally take a moment out from all the scary stuff to acknowledge how cool it is that you can make big things smaller by using a metal implement with no sharp edges and some gently applied force. Besides, kids get excited about silly, little things that adults get excited about every day, but no-one tells the adults they’re boring or exhausting or stupid, do they? Trains, new dresses, going on holidays, bicycles, babies, cake, ice-cream, Minions… these are just a few of the things the kids got excited about over the past week and which regularly grace the status updates of my fully-grown, highly intelligent and extremely classy Facebook friends.

I think, in the end, I don’t see the children as wild animals, or as needy, greedy crying machines, or as stupid humans, I just see them as what they are. Tiny people who haven’t grown up yet. It’s a weird thing to try and explain. But I often see them playing or talking or laughing or just generally hanging out and an expression will cross their face and you’ll think, ‘Yes. Yes, I can completely see what you’ll be like in 20 years time, because you’ll be exactly the same. You’re already exactly who you are.’

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A Haircut in German

Well it’s been a week and I’m still here. I haven’t booked the next flight home to Australia, I haven’t attempted to sneak back into the UK via the (lets admit it) rather flimsy Northern Irish border.

I quite like it here. I’m very much enjoying my German class, which gets me up and out of bed for 9:15 every morning. I eat a banana, I have nutella on crackerbread and a cup of tea then walk to school, which takes 40 mins and wakes me up. Like every good kindergartener, I am completely in love with my teacher, whose praise and attention I am constantly searching for. The truth is, I was always a much better student than I have been at anything else I attempted in life and going to German class every morning has allowed me to regress to those happiest of days. This isn’t me rewriting history through a haze of nostalgia, by the way, I was always aware of how much I enjoyed school, even as a teenager. Except for a couple of rough transition years at the start of high school, I never wanted sit at the back of the class and ignore the teacher. I liked the teacher. Even the teachers that didn’t like students anymore, due to years of yelling and reprimanding and putting up with being the butt of jokes, the teachers who didn’t trust students anymore – I was determined to like them too. I felt sorry for them. I secretly wanted to convince them that I was not like all the others, I was a student who respected and wanted them to like me and would like them back. Yeah, there’s all sorts of psychological issues bound up in my feelings about teachers and people of high status and importance, but let’s just leave that for the moment, and get back to the point.

loved being a student. I loved learning. I loved essays. I loved grades, for God’s sake. Sure, when I got bad ones that was a bit unpleasant, but it got to the point when I could stop doing the subjects I wasn’t interested in and just do the ones I liked and then everything was easy. Even when it wasn’t cool, I loved being a student.

I’m not trying to crow here, I know school wasn’t a bowl of cherries for everyone. Also, saying I was a good student essentially tells you that I was very good at completing tasks with defined rules. I was good at following an authority figure. I was good at learning accepted knowledge and regurgitating it on demand. I was good at being a subordinate. None of these things are good for life. None of these skills are ones that are going to assist you when you drop out of college and found your multi-billion dollar tech company. I don’t think it’s that great I am so good at being student. All I’m trying to do is give you and idea of the  undeniable bliss I am experiencing right at the moment.

It certainly helps that I’ve convinced myself I am some kind of German genius. That me and the German language are connected on a deep, personal level. That I understand this language. It’s strange rules make sense. There’s a family myth that somewhere in my mother’s lineage there are German- Australian settlers from the late 19th – early 20th century and for the past week I have become more and more convinced that this true and my latent Germanic heritage is finally rearing its head in the form of my UNBELIEVABLE, UNEXPECTED and UNNATURAL FLAIR for the GERMAN LANGUAGE.

Of course, I’m cheating a little. There was that year of German study I did back in high school that I thought I remembered nothing of. More importantly, there’s my basic Norwegian skills that give me a slight edge – not only can I easily pick up the German words that sound and look similar to English, German words like ‘reise’ and ‘bild’ and ‘kunst’ hold no mystery for me, due to their exact transfer from/to Norwegian.

Also, I’m actually, probably, not as good as I think I am. This was made clear to me yesterday when I started happily writing out all of my vocab (colour-coded for gender) and I realised I’d written down a hell of a lot of wrong meanings that I thought I had understood and Collins’ online German dictionary was telling me I hadn’t:

Look at all my pretty pretty colours!!!

Look at all my pretty pretty colours!!!

Nevertheless, I’m doing my goody-two-shoes act at school. I’m the student that everyone hates. I pretend I am the Hermione Granger of German class. I yell out answers to possibly rhetorical questions just to fill the silence. I am ridiculously over-enthusiastic about participating in games. I chuckle knowingly at the ridiculous dialogues we are meant to translate (‘Das ist kein Geldautomat! Das ist ein Fahrkartenautomat!’ Oh ho ho, silly fake German man who is trying to get money out of a travel ticket machine, how that did tickle my funny bones). I read animatedly with what, I assume, is some kind of accurate German accent, but is probably more Norwegian-laced Australian.

Das ist kein Geldautomat! Das ist ein Fahrkartenautomat!

Das ist kein Geldautomat! Das ist ein Fahrkartenautomat!

What has been boosting my confidence is the tiny little interactions I am having with ACTUAL GERMAN PEOPLE outside of class. I’m not going to lie, they’re not perfect by any means. But they DO take place in German. I went to a fancy supermarket the other day to buy cheese. The lady at the counter spoke very quickly in German to me. I apologised (in German) and said I spoke bad German. She said that was very good German! I asked her if she spoke English. She didn’t. So I proceeded to order my cheese in German. There wasn’t much ordering. She asked me if I wanted all of a piece of cheese. I said no, ‘small’. She asked if I wanted it in half, I said yes. I picked up another cheese, she told me it was Goat’s cheese. I didn’t do a lot of talking, but what I said was understood and I got all the cheese I wanted. We were both very pleased with ourselves.

Another day I bought beer at the store (I DRINK BEER NOW, WHAT IS THIS), I came to the counter and the man told me the price. One trick I always use to stop people speaking to me in English is to look at the cost on the till. However, it came up on his till as a price that I didn’t expect. I said to the man, Sorry, 3.20? and pointed at the till. He said no, it was the price I expected. Yes, ok, it’s not like I’m reciting Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses in German, but, hell, I’ve been here a week, ok?

Today I got a haircut in German. I did some preparations beforehand. I made sure the hairdresser I went to had ‘Frauen’ out the front so I knew they cut ladies hair. Then I looked up, ‘Can I have a haircut?’ on Google translate and ‘I don’t have a Reservation’ and ‘to the chin.’ I wrote them down in my smartphone notes and then headed out. I won’t lie – I was nervous. I mean, telling someone what you want them to do to your hair is a delicate business even when you speak the same language. But everyone assured me everyone spoke English in Berlin, so surely, if worse came to the worst, I could speak English to them. Surely?

I got to the hairdressers and stood outside, looking at the windows nervously. There seemed to be a side for men and one for women. The men’s side was full. The women’s side was empty. Luckily, a gentleman walked out and smiled at me in a friendly manner. He said something in German that I failed to understand. I said that I was sorry I didn’t speak good German. He said that wasn’t a problem. So I said, in English, ‘Could I have a haircut?’ He looked worried and ummed and ahhed, then gestured to a woman down the street. So, I pulled out my phone and showed him my note, ‘Kann ich einen Haarschnitt?’ He smiled and said, ‘natürlich’. The woman approached and greeted me. I showed her my phrase too. She said, not a problem. Then, as all hairdressers do, she attempted some conversation. She asked where I was from. I was delighted. I knew this phrase. This was definitely one of the German phrases I had been taught and knew off by heart in the past week. I said I was from Australia and she nodded and made a sound of interest. She said it was cold and closed the door. I agreed, delighted with myself. She asked how much I wanted off, making a small sign with her fingers. I shook my head and said, ‘zum Kinn’ and showed her. It all went very smoothly. She asked if I wanted my fringe cut. I said yes, she took a little off and showed me. She wanted to know if I wanted it shorter. I did. All up, it took about 15 mins. Ok, it wasn’t 15 minutes of German speaking, but, come on. You’ve got to be impressed – I’ve only been here a week! I’m impressed, even if no-one else is. And to top it all off, it only cost me 10 Euro. Best afternoon ever.

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