Going geek

Q1 of 2012 down, and my list of  completed ‘new somethings’ is looking quite impressive already: fitness boot camps, yoga classes, attending trendy launch parties, jewellery making, becoming an organ donor, even mentoring someone in running! Phew! It’s no wonder my posts have been getting few and far between; I’m too busy doing stuff to be writing about the stuff that I’m doing. Oops! Some balance is required in this respect I think… Anyway, it’s all been great fun and, without wanting to sound smug, not too taxing (although some of the yoga positions I’ve attempted defy gravity!). But all this was about to change. It was time to take things to a new level. It was time to engage my brain. That’s right people; I was gonna go geek.

I have the right genetic make-up to be a nerd. I’m whiter than Casper the Friendly Ghost. Dressed as a sheep. In a snowfall. Covered in talcum powder. And at the first hint of sunlight I burn redder than the sun. I can’t even sit under a 60 watt bulb without my factor 120 on. I’m as blind as a bat without my geek-chic specs on. And I was always hopeless at sport. Except running, which I’m quite good at. But that makes sense. Nerds should be adept at this, you know, from all the running away from bullies and stuff. Anyway, I digress.

Last week I made good on a threat I’d been holding in reserving for a few years, by popping along to a course of unadulterated geekery run by my friend Seb Lee-Delisle. I’ve been wanting to attend one of his courses for a while – they always sound so cool – but the content has always been way too advanced for my teeny little brain to comprehend. So when I found out he was putting together a creative JavaScript course for complete noobs, and realising this would fit in rather nicely with my ‘ new somethings’ plan, I signed up. Two birds, one stone. Nice.

I was apprehensive in the days leading up to this nerd-fest, being that my only attempts at anything vaguely like coding were the two frenetic weeks I spent teaching myself basic HTML and CSS last year, to get my website up and running. And this didn’t really give me an edge. It’d be like attending a course to learn Spanish and saying “well, I kinda know some French”. Yeah, really not very helpful. The ‘creative’ element – given top billing in the course title – was giving me the heebie-jeebies too, cos I’m about as creative as a stick. So the prospect of spending 2 days blinding tapping away at my hefty laptop, employing my patented ‘nod-and-smile’ technique every time something was said that I didn’t understand (I anticipated having a major case of neck ache and face freeze by the end of the course!) and trying to cover up my lack of creative prowess by using the brightest colours I could code up, to cause temporary blindness, was a little unnerving. But as I’m always being told, particularly by said teacher of this course, “Feel the fear and do it anyway”. Ok fine. I’ll feel the fear and do it anyway. Times 100! Bring it!

The dates rolled round, and suddenly here it was, Geekment Day. Or Geekment Days; it was a 2 day course after all. And what a fun couple of days it was! The class were a lovely bunch of fellow noobs from all sorts of backgrounds, all eager to learn this weird JavaScript stuff. The girls outnumbered the boys 4:1, which I hadn’t expected, and it was pretty cool to see so many girls interested in learning programming :). Day 1 kicked off with Seb showing us some basic drawing commands, and how we could use these to make shapes, dictate colours and even move stuff around the canvas! Cool! Check out some of the pretty stuff I made:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After we had these basic commands down, and we’d stopped sniggering at the slightly rude sounding terms we’d been learning all morning –  “Now remember, it’s really important that you stroke your Rects before you fill your Rects…” (snigger) – we were tasked with creating a little critter with wobbly bits and everything! Here’s my offering: click on the bunny then watch him wobble as you move your mouse across the canvas!

Kinda cute, right? And I almost understand how I put him together, which is pretty cool!  The rest of the class made awesome creations too, from wobbly aliens to grinning faces to a hilariously rude body part. I won’t mention exactly what it was (where would be the fun in that), but will say that, when it came to Day 2 and particle systems, the owner of the anatomical graphic wasted no time in working on an eruption of particles to ‘finish off’ her work. Nuff said. Needless to say, immature as we quite clearly were, we all had to have a sneaky look at her laptop, laughed like naughty school kids and collaboratively decided that her offering won the entire course.

Day 1 completed, pretty stuffs coded by yours truly, so onto Day 2, with gusto! Well, I started with gusto. It soon petered out when Seb started schooling us in while loops and for loops and arrays… What the flip?! Queue all manner of confusion and brain-frying and frustration, admittedly mostly from my corner of the room. We were now into scary territory. The bit I’d been dreading. The moment where I’d found myself staring at my screen, fixated with wide-eyed gormlessness and not understanding even a hint of what I was looking at! Oh how I longed to go back to stroking and filling my rects. Reassuringly though, this stuff seemed to be a bit of a stumbling block for everyone. But we were lucky. Seb is an excellent teacher, and talked us through this terrifying world of unfamiliar terminology, happily answering all our “um, I may be being really dumb here, but…” questions. And it started to sink in. Well, for the others perhaps. As for me, I was still clueless! But I bluffed my way through until the afternoon, chomping at the bit for the exciting culmination of our 2 days of coding – PARTICLE SYSTEMS! Ooo particles, you’re so pretty. And so impressive looking. Shapes that appear from nowhere in an explosion of awesomeness. Aahhhhhhhh! Ones that are glued to your mouse and whizz across the screen, following your every whimsical move. Weeeeeeeee! Who knew that after such a short space of time, complete JavaScript novices could be creating such visually stunning effects. What a brilliant way to end 48 hours of nerdy wizardry :D. It’d be rude not to share some of my particle examples, so here you go. Click on the images to see them get animated…

       

That’s some pretty awesome stuff right there!  And after only two days. Amazing!!! So I’d like to say a huge thanks to Seb for running a brilliant course for us coding virgins. I’m always blown away by the stuff Seb does, so getting to see the mechanics of how he can create visually beautiful things with code was really eye-opening. Understanding it (for the most part anyway…) was even more amazing! But being able to type some gobbledygook that can barely count as English into the notepad, and instantly see it come to life in the canvas – wow. That was so cool it almost hurt a little. As expected, the anticipation was way more painful than the actual act, but we’ve all come away, Javascript cherries popped, feeling nicely sated thank you very much ;).

And that’s it, my first Creative JS course completed, and I’m actually feeling a little impressed with myself – yay! So am I now a fully fledged geek? Um, probably not. But this has definitely gotten me a few steps closer. And seeing as I’ve now become inseparable from my laptop, playing with the variables in my examples from dusk till dawn, I think it’d be acceptable to declare my status as nerd-in-training. I’m now the proud owner of a big orange book, which professes to be able to learn me in the ways of processing. Hmm. We’ll see… I’m still tweaking the stuff I created in class, and if any of my random changes result in something mind-blowingly gorgeous (it could happen, right?) I’ll definitely be posting them. But for now, it’s glasses on, curtains drawn, laptop launched, and brain engaged. All systems code!

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