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Managing Projects and Site Inactivity

posted July 30, 2017

Tags: art, site, writing




You may have noticed that this site doesn't update very much. Every year I say I want to post more, and somehow it never happens.

It's not like I'm not doing anything. Let's look at the projects I have going right now:

And maybe that's the problem? I have so many projects on the back burner. I mean, on top of those listed above, I have all the ones that have been sitting back there, untouched for months or years:

And that's not couting the things I need or want to do that have little to do with this site:

Have you noticed that most of those are just media consumption? Yeah, that's why getting out more is the first thing on the list. But when I do that, I'll have even less time for everything that's already on the list. That's not to say it isn't a worthwhile tradeoff, but it still doesn't help me here.

So what's my actual problem? Well, I think there are a few of them:

I don't know what to do. I've tried making lists, but maintaining the lists became yet another chore to manage. I've tried deadlines, which have worked in the past, but they end up just increasing the pressure, making everything even more of a chore. I've tried making up schedules of which days I'm going to work on which projects, but I never even got started with those.

I suppose one thing I could do would be to post works in progress. That wouldn't necessarily help the overall problem, but it would at least give me something to put on the site. Having the unfinished versions out there would give me more incentive to finish, so I don't let down anyone who wanted to see the completed works. If I can get feedback on the WIPs, that would be a big help in keeping my enthusiasm up, and in deciding which projects aren't worth the effort and should just be canned to make way for better ones.

I also need to be less of a perfectionist. As I learned years ago from that post-a-day challenge, Focusing on getting things done rather than polishing them forever can still yield good results. Of course, that wouldn't do much for my lacking the energy or inclination to keep at a project.

I'm sorry if you were expecting a more thought-out blog post or something with some actual advice for those having the same problems I have. I guess I'm just thinking out loud, more than anything else. Well, that, and just telling anyone who cares that I'm not dead and letting you know what I've been up to. Oh, and ensuring that I don't have another year missing from my blog archives. But mostly just thinking out loud.

Thanks for listening. Er, reading.

Sonic, Comics, and Me

posted December 07, 2016

Tags: comics, Sonic, video games




I apologize for the length of time it's taken me to get this post out. This spring, after a series of Sonic-related misfortunes, I decided to take a hiatus from all things Sonic for the duration of Lent. You can read all the details in my earlier post on the subject, so I won't recap them here.

Since then, a few things have changed. For one, I started getting Sonic Universe again. It turned out that the reason I didn't get part 4 of the Silver arc was a delay on Archie's end, so no subscribers got the issue. After a couple months, it did show up. It was also a huge disappointment, like the finales of SU arcs usually are, but whatever. I continued getting SU issues until my subscription ran out, which includes all of "Eggman's Dozen" and the first three parts of the next arc starring Knuckles, Amy, and Team Dark. I never did get the issues I missed from the start of the subscription, or any STH issues.

Another thing that wasn't really a new development, but was news to me, was that Archie Comics is, well, still Archie Comics. I'd hoped that perhaps, after the Ken Penders kerfuffle and replacing their legal team, they might have cleaned up their act with regard to how they treat their talent, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Then there's the firing of Jon Gray, which is probably unrelated to a lawsuit he was involved in against one of Archie's co-owners, but still looks shady for reasons I can't quite put my finger on.

I've also seen general complaints about the quality of the comics I'd missed. According to fan complaint, the main series has fallen back on a pattern of introducing a Freedom Fighter group in a new, exotic locale, then dashing off to the next one without really developing the new characters. As much as the series was hurting for world-building after the reboot, I don't think anyone was really asking for a return to the mid-90s mode of empty lore-creation without compelling stories and character development.

For that matter, now that I think about it, the comic has never really been as good as I've wanted it to be. It's had its moments, but it always seems to fall flat at the last minute or settle for being just okay. I've given it more chances than it really deserves, and it's clear now that things are not likely to change any time soon.

Enough about Archie. What about the games? Another Boom game came out and it's...less bad. I still don't care about Boom, but credit where it's due: It's an improvement. Sonic Mania was announced, and it looks fantastic. Finally, someone gets what fans actually mean when they say they want something like the Genesis games. Another announced Sonic game that may or may not be a de facto Generations 2 looks like it has potential, at least.

Sure, the franchise still has its problems, but things are looking promising.

On the fandom side of things, I'm still checking in on the forums at Archie Sonic Online every so often. It's a nice little community with a lot of former BumbleKing members. I've also found several Archie Sonic blogs for when I get nostalgic for that side of the franchise: Bonehead XL has a full-fledged review blog Hedgehogs Can't Swim that nicely fills in the hole left by the retired Drazen. The reaction blogs Thanks, Ken Penders and Robotnik Holmes' Sonic Blog of Archie-ness are also interesting, if a little negative (and the former just recently returned from hiatus). On the game side, Blazehedgehog writes about Sonic periodically at The Hotdog Laserhouse, and if I really want Sonic news that I can't get from him or from the forum, I can always just check TSSZ, Sonic Stadium, or Sonic Retro.

Finally, in non-Sonic news, I'm finding other things to keep me busy. There are many wonderful Webcomics I've been reading that offer me things I kept wanting from the Sonic comic but never truly got, or at least never got consistently. I've gotten back into game development, a hobby I've been trying to start for over a decade, and I'm finally making progress. Thanks to Inktober, I'm also a little more confident in my artistic skills.

So all this points me to one thing: I need to ditch the comic and be done with it. Archie is too incompetent to do business with and too sleazy to support, the comic itself shows no signs of ever being as good as I keep wanting it to be, and I have other sources not just for good entertainment in general, but to indulge my emotional attachment to the characters. The comic, not the franchise as a whole, has been the source of most of my Sonic-related frustrations, and I don't need it anymore.

I'm still a little sad to let go, but mainly I'm glad not to be so invested in something that gives me more stress than enjoyment. Either way, I'm still a Sonic fan.

Tag Search Update

posted April 21, 2016

Tags: programming




After about two and a half years of being "temporarily down for maintenance," the Tag Search function of this blog and that of the art gallery are now back up and running.

I had taken them down in September 2013 when I found an XSS vulnerability. While I'd meant to get them back up quickly, I ended up confusing myself into thinking that the code was beyond repair and abandoned it in favor of writing a new tag search from scratch. (Throwing out your whole existing codebase tends to be a terrible idea, but as with most terrible ideas, it seemed like this time, it was a good idea. It wasn't.)

One roadblock led to another, and I kept setting the project aside in favor of other things. Eventually, I got fed up enough to ask whether that old version was really as irreparable as I'd thought, and it turned out that the bug that looked so daunting was actually fairly trivial to find and fix once I knew where to look.

Here's where things currently stand: The old search is now online again and functional, with a few bugfixes and a cosmetic improvement or two over its previous live version. You can search for one or more tags, and it will return a list of all pages tagged with all the given tags. It ignores search terms that no pages are tagged with.

What it doesn't do, unfortunately, is sort the results. I'd like to have it display the most recent pages first, but currently it doesn't do that. Instead, it's displaying the results alphabetically, according to filename rather than title. I have yet to comb through the code to determine if it's even trying to sort anything, but in any case I'll have to make some bigger changes to enable it to grab post dates in the first place before it can use them for sorting.

Meanwhile, for the "new" version, I have an SQLite database schema mostly hammered out, though I now realize that I'll need to add the post date to that as well. I also have a data-access class that is capable of setting up the database, but doesn't have methods to query it yet. The latest hurdle was deciding how to store dates (since SQLite doesn't have its own specific date/time data type and will let you stick any data of any type into most fields) and updating the schema and database-creation logic to match. Now, of course, I realize that this schema didn't have a place for the post date either, so it would have the same bug as the current version.

So while I'm going to keep that in my back pocket (in the spirit of "don't throw away code that works") so I'll have a starting point if I ever decide to migrate to SQLite, I'm going to keep the current version as the canonical version for now and (as Joel Spolsky recommends in the article linked above) just keep making incremental changes to it until it does what I need and stops being ugly. One day, it will be glorious. In the mean time, it will still work.

On Hiatus from Sonic Fandom

posted February 10, 2016

Tags: BumbleKing, Sonic




I don't know if this is a rough time to be a Sonic fan, but I've been having a rough time being a Sonic fan lately. It's been a steadily growing pile of frustrations.

For starters, I'm still a little sore over the comic rebooting. I'm also not thrilled with the games lately, as they've focused mainly on mobile apps and Sonic Boom for the last year or two, and before that the last big Sonic game was the playable but disappointing Sonic Lost World. On top of that, Archie Comics cashed my renewal check for Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Universe last Spring, but I've only gotten three issues since then. I e-mailed them twice about this and never got a response.

On Saturday, January 30, I checked to see if Dan Drazen had posted any new reviews, only to find out that at the beginning of January he potsed his last review. He was giving up on the comic (again) after having basically the same subscription problem I had. Not only is one of my favorite reviewers bowing out, but this tells me my subscription issue was not a one-time fluke. I went to BumbleKing to see if anyone there had anything to say about Drazen, only to discover that the forum was shutting down. There were threads set up for everyone to say their goodbyes and to say where they could be reached. It officially locked at midnight the morning of Feb. 7.

Well then. With that, I was just about ready to bow out of Sonic fandom entirely. I certainly had no more intention of reading the comic, now that my main—and basically only—place to discuss it was disappearing, if it meant throwing money at the hopelessly incompetent Archie Comics.

But then I started trying to catch up with my fellow BK members by looking up their Tumblr and DeviantArt accounts. And I saw things. Wonderful things. Essays. Blog posts. Discussions. Debates. Fan art. People being passionate about Sonic, and not just the comics but the games and everything. As if that weren't enough, people from BumbleKing dropped by my deviantArt. I got some lovely comments and a favorite.

So now I'm a bit conflicted. On the one hand, I am definitely not going to drop out of Sonic fandom now that my own love of Sonic has been reinvigorated. On the other hand, I'm still steamed at Archie. There's no way I'm renewing my subscription now, and I don't want to pay double the price for the privilege of having to drive to the store to get my comics, especially since my purchases would still underwrite Archie's ineptitude.

So what do I do? Lent to the rescue!

The main idea behind the traditional practice of giving something up for Lent is penitential—that is, an offering in reparation for sin—but an important secondary effect is that it helps us reduce attachments to things (particularly, the thing given up) and focus on what's really important. It can also help us to see the thing given up with fresh eyes: Once we're used to doing without it, we can decide how badly we really needed it.

That is exactly what my relationship with the Sonic franchise needs right now. So in addition to my usual penance, I'm also going to be giving up all things Sonic. With any luck, when Easter gets here I'll be in better shape to decide what I want to do about the comic.

I'll try to report back here once I've made a decision.

Scale Studies

posted June 30, 2014

Tags: art




It's been almost a year since the last time I posted any artwork. Sadly I just haven't been finding much time to draw. That doesn't mean I haven't done anything, though. It just means I'm even slower than normal.

I do have a project that I'm working on. It's taken me a few months of on-again, off-again work and a whole lot more prep work and studies than I expected when I started, but it's getting close to being done. In the mean time, though, I figure I'd better share something so people don't think I've stoppped drawing altogether.

So here's a page of scale studies.

Image: A page of scale studies from my sketchbook.

I also have a 2000 x 1500 px version of the image.

I'm not overly impressed with these, but I think they've given me enough information to get back to work on the drawing itself.

These aren't arranged in any kind of order; I basically just kept moving to the next empty spot that felt good. You can see the earliest attempts toward the middle there, and you'll notice that as time went on, I eventually gave up on drawing cylinders to wrap the scales around.

My first few attempts (actually the bottom-left may have been the first one) were aiming to avoid the sort of shingle-like overlap that usually comes to mind when I think "scales"; it just didn't seem realistic, so I tried for something pebblier like I'd seen in NeonDragon's books. Unfortunately I ended up emulating something I didn't actually like, and wound up with scales that looked like a bunch of different-sized rocks haphazardly glued on.

I tried a couple examples with the more traditional, overlapping scales, and they seemed to work okay but they weren't what I wanted. Plus, they'd be a pain to draw and end up wrecking the finished drawing by clustering too much detail in one place.

So I went hunting for reference and came across The Making of Jurassic Park by Don Shay and Jody Duncan, which had plenty of photos of the animatronic creatures made for the film. That pebbly dinosaur skin was almost exactly what I was looking for, and it led me to a key insight: Scales still have shadows on the edges away from the light source, even when they're not overlapping like roof tiles. I just needed to make sure I was shading the dark sides, and not necessarily the bottoms, which is harder to remember to do than it sounds. Another trick is to avoid letting the shadows/outlines touch each other for the most part.

(Yes, I know that dinosaurs probably weren't all reptilian and scaly and that they probably had feathers. They didn't know that in the '90s, and besides I've done enough feathers for this project already, dagnabbit, and I'm still not done. Feathers are hard. Ugh.)

So that's been my adventure in trying to learn how to draw scales. With any luck I'll have the actual drawing finished before too long. In the mean time, I hope this is of some use or interest to someone.

Seven Posts in Seven Days Wrapup

posted April 2, 2014

Tags: Jennifer Fulwiler, writing




You may have noticed that this blog got suddenly and uncharacteristically busy the last week of February. So busy, in fact, that during that week I broke my previous record for the number of blog posts in a year. Why did this happen?

It's all thanks to Jeniffer Fulwiler, who blogs at Conversion Diary. She's responsible for the Seven Quick Takes phenomenon and the Where do you write?" meme that I almost participated in a couple years ago. To that list we may now add the 7 Posts, 7 Days challenge.

Sure, for some bloggers, seven posts in two days would be considered slow. For us ameteurs, however, writing a post a day is a big commitment. The goal of the challenge is not just to create more posts (though that's a plenty good enough goal for me) but also to overcome both laziness and perfectionism. It shifts the focus to getting stuff done, which is something I've historically had a problem with.

So how'd I do? Reasonably well, I'd say. I managed to make a post every day of the week. Of course, a couple of those went up between 11:00 and midnight, and one of them actually went up just before midnight and I didn't get everything quite done until a couple minutes after, but I counted it as a success anyway. (Hey, the post page was up before midnight, so it counts.)

But did it actually help me stop procrastinating? Well...not really. I had this wrapup post planned before I even started the challenge, but I'm only getting it posted now, a month later. Clearly something more is needed to break the habit than just one week of hitting it really, really, hard. I guess it's analogous to the difference between studying and cramming, or between healthy eating and a "Get into my skinny jeans before the high school reunion" diet.

On the content side, I'm not 100% satisfied, but it turned out significantly better than I thought it might. Of course, being less than 100% satisfied is part of the point: You can't be a perfectionist when you only have one day (read: a few hours, once you get done with work and whatever else you have to do that day) to start and finish a post. I also think I got a nice range of topics, from words and definitions to video games to books to religious matters. I'm also quite proud of myself for not posting anything about Sonic the Hedgehog. (Directly, that is, though the series does tangentially relate to a few of my posts.) There are a couple things I would have liked to tighten up, such as the ultimate point of the post on the word "literally," but overall I'm satisfied.

Of course, the real reason I'm posting this wrapup is that I want to share what some of the other bloggers have come up with. After all, I put my link on the list, so it's only fair that I send some love in their direction, too.

One blog that I found via this challenge and really enjoyed is Mama Knows, Honeychild by Heather (a.k.a. Mama H.). Like Conversion Diary, it's a usually-humorous blog mostly focused on family hijinks. The main difference is that it has stick figures instead of scorpions. One of the 7-days posts was about Mama H. having a bizarre dream. Now I've had some odd dreams and my family members have had some really bizarre ones, but I don't think any of us has ever had a dream that involved doing that to an owl. (Yes, this is a shameless tease. Go read the post.) The blog has a serious side, too, having hosted thought-provoking posts about such subjects as how not to argue against abortion.

Elizabeth at Blue Jeans and Fancy Things has an interesting post about a certain bill that recently got vetoed in Arizona. She also has a variety of thoughts, tips, and tricks related to cooking. (And hey, who doesn't like food?) Valerie at Momma In Progress mostly stuck with lists including a list of ways to be a rock star by just dooing cool, simple stuff for your kids (and some of those sound plenty fun even for a boring nerdy quasi-adult-type guy like me).

You can, of course, read the whole list of participating blogs at the end of the Conversion Diary post that kicked off the challenge.

A little revisit of the Little Book

posted March 2, 2014

Tags: definitions




Lent begins this Wednesday, so of course my parish started handing out Little Black Books. I've written about the Little Black Books before and I was not kind to them. It seemed to me that their meditations were too touchy-feely, self-centered, and even heterodox.

It's possible I was too hard on the Little Book. After all, one of my strongest criticisms was of the book's choice of words, "the whole Christ offers the whole Christ," referring to the congregation offering the Eucharist in the Mass. Then I found out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses similar language in a few places, e.g. where #795 says, "Christ and his Church thus together make up the 'whole Christ' (Christus totus)."

After a look at this year's model, though I'm pretty comfortable with my initial impression.

I happened to pick up a copy and open it to a random page, which turned out to be Thursday of the second week of Lent. The scripture reading is the scene from Matthew's Gospel of Judas leading the crowd to arrest Jesus. The Little Book talks about the "shock" of having one of Jesus' closest disciples being the one to arrest him. It then gives us this bit of theological speculation:

Later that night, when Jesus was in his "holding cell" at the high priest's house and everyone was asleep, Jesus must have turned this over and over in his mind. What went wrong between me and Judas? Is there anything I could have done to prevent this?

The Gospels make it pretty clear that Jesus had Judas' number from the beginning. Jesus even said at the Last Supper that one of the Twelve would betray him. Besides, the divinity of Jesus (which would naturally include omniscience) is a central part of Catholic doctrine (and the Little Book is by and for Catholics).

Here, the Little Book has Jesus angsting like a battered spouse, wondering what he did to bring this on Himself. It's pathetic. It's insultng. It at least borders on blasphemy.

Okay, I admit it: I only looked at one page. Maybe the rest of the book is fine. But between this and my past experience, I'm not going to put all the time and effort into reading through the whole thing to make sure. I'd rather put that time and energy into finding some kind of Lenten reading material that I know I can trust.

I think I might just stick with the Gospels themselves.

Definitions

posted March 1, 2014

Tags: definitions




Definitions are important. If you're going to be arguing about something, you'd darn well better know exactly what you're arguing about. Otherwise you and your opponent will just talk past each other, and you'll each be baffled at why the other can't comprehend what you're trying to say. I touched on this Monday in the post about use of the word Literally.

One thing I find funny is that "definition" itself is a somewhat ambiguous word.

The way I see it, there are two basic types of definitions (and probably a few more I'm forgetting, but for now let's just focus on the two). One kind of definition is simply an explanation of what a word means. The other kind is some kind of quasi-authoritative source or specification for what something is.

For example, take the word "sedevacantism": Wiktionary defines sedevacantism (as of this writing at least) as "The belief, held by a minority of Traditionalist Catholics, that the present occupant of the papal see is not the true pope and that the see has been vacant since the 1960s." That "held by a minority" part illustrates the difference between the two kinds of definition.

If that's a definition of the first kind, then the bit about who holds the belief is just a bit of context to help the reader understand what the word refers to. If there was a sudden increase in the number of Catholics who became convinced that the post-Vatican II popes have been false popes, then the definition would become inaccurate. (That's no big deal in Wiktionary's case, since it is a wiki after all.)

On the other hand, if it's the other kind of definition, then if large numbers of Catholics suddenly adopt the belief now known as sedevacantism, then that belief will cease to be sedevacantism, since sedevacantism is by definition a minority view.

When I say that definitions are important, I mean that it's important to make sure the person you're talking to knows what you mean. In fact, I'd say that's the single most important thing about communication, because without it, you're not really communicating at all. So it's probably a good idea to make sure it's clear, when you give a definition, whether you're talking about the fundamental nature of a concept or just the way you're using a word.

February 2014 Reading List Update

posted February 28, 2014

Tags: reading list




Once upon a time, I put together a reading list and posted it to the Internet with the thought that I'd do some reading, and then use the blog to share my thoughts about what I read.

I think I got one more post out of that, and then I barely read anything else on that list. So now I want to give it another shot.

Here's the list as it was when I left off in 2010. The books I had completed were:

And the ones still in progress or not yet started were:

I have finished a few of those books, so here are my thoughts.

Orthodoxy was pretty good. It's been long enough now that I don't remember it in detail, but it's a fairly interesting account of Chesterton's religion and philosophy. I don't remember it featuring the kind of problematic ideas about women that were in What's Wrong with the World. Like almost everything Chesterton wrote, it's full of really quotable lines. It's definitely worth reading, at any rate.

Getting Past No was also an interesting book, and it had some really useful advice in it. The idea of the book, if I had to summarize it in one sentence, is, "Try to make it as easy as possible for the person you're negotiating with to construct a solution that's good for both of you." It's a little more complex than that, though; I feel like I'm leaving some things out.

It does have a few problems, and it recommends some strategies that make me wonder what the author was thinking. For instance, he describes a case in which a woman is negotiating with two men over the price of a used textbook, and the men are employing a trick in which one offers a stupidly-high price and the other suggests cutting her a deal by offering her a price that seems much better but is still more than the book is worth. The suggested approach: The woman should compliment the men on the quality of their good-cop/bad-cop routine and then, with a laugh, suggest that they now get started negotiating for real. I'm sorry, but that would come off as incredibly condescending. People don't like being accused of things, especially when the accusations are correct, but it's also possible the second guy honestly had a higher estimation of the book's value than the woman. Besides, the routine is obviously not so good if the woman saw through it so easily. There are a few other cases of strategies that made me think they'd probably make me less likely to cooperate if someone used them on me.

That said, the book is still an interesting read, and I did pick up some useful information.

The next one I finished was the Gospel According to Mark, but there's so much good material about the Gospels online already that I really don't think I have anything to add.

There were also a few books I've added to the list:

I already finished the two sci-fi novels within a month or two of receiving them as Christmas gifts. (You know I love Christmas gifts.)

Redshirts contains more crass sexual content than I'm comfortable with, and a scene late in the book wherein the characters are called out for their dirty minds is much appreciated, but really too little, too late. That problem aside, I greatly enjoyed the story. I should warn you that there's a plot twist in the middle that makes the book really something other than what I was hoping for (and what the cover blurbs were advertising it to be), and this normally would have upset me, but the writing was so good that I stuck with it to the end anyway. Speaking of the end, the three "codas" at the end of the book were really interesting and thought-provoking.

"Interesting" and "thought-proviking" would also be good ways to describe the January Dancer. They're also more central to the tone of the story. The downside is that it's a little too complicated for its own good. It jumps around so much at the beginning and introduces so many subplots that it's hard to tell who the main characters are. It also has an unfortunate preoccupation with the sexual exploits of one of its characters, to the point that it overshadows her considerable intellect and skill. I also resented the bait-and-switch of naming the book after a character (Captain January) whose story arc is rendered pretty much unimportant after he finds the eponymous treasure (the "Dancer"), a bit like the unnamed characters who find the bodies in the opening teasers of police procedurals. Overall it wasn't a bad read, and it had some moments of real beauty, but it also left me a little exhausted.

There are a few other books I've read in the last couple years, too, but I never even thought about the list at the time, so I won't go over them here. Maybe some other time.

So what about the ones I haven't finished yet?

I really like Fagin's The Artist's Complete Guide to Facial Expression so far. The problem I'm having is that I flipped ahead and looked at the pictures, so now every time I tried to read it, my brain goes into "I already read this" mode and starts skipping over stuff. It's still a great book, and I don't seem to have any problems using it as a reference work, but I may never actually finish my initial, cover-to-cover read-through.

I haven't made much progress on the Summa Theologica but that's mostly a function of setting it aside to focus on other things. It's really interesting so far. What fascinates me is that even though it sounds like this big, scary, impenetrable work of theological profundity, it was actually intended to be that era's equivalent of a ...For Dummies book. So it's actually quite readable.

I went ahead and took the two AJAX books off the list, since I don't plan on finishing them. They both have an awful lot of redundant code samples in them; if memory serves, both books have pretty much complete source code for every project, which means each book has its version of the function to create an XMLHttpRequest function repeated several times. Anyway, once you know how to use an XMLHttpRequest object (or just use jQuery), you can basically figure out the rest of it yourself, though I suppose the book's examples might prove helpful. Some of the examples also have you using AJAX for things that would be better off in my opinion without AJAX, but then again that seems to be the primary use of AJAX, so I can't really blame the authors for that. I'm not saying they're necessarily bad books; just that they didn't help me much, and learning AJAX from online sources is probably easier.

On that note, I want to revisit Wicked Cool PHP, even though I already wrote about it back in 2010. After the additional programming experience I've gained since reading the book, I can't really give it the same recommendation I did before. It has some good stuff, sure. But it also encourages terrible security practiecs like rolling one's own CAPTCHAs (and CAPTCHAs are breakable enough when done right) and using unsalted MD5 hashes to store passwords (which is better than plain text but still pretty easy to break). Not only does it not mention parametrized SQL queries, but it uses the obsolete mysql extension rather than mysqli (or PDO) and even recommends the "magic quotes" feature, which is so bad that it was removed from recent PHP versions, and the manual has a page devoted to why not to use it . It even uses rand(), which the manual says is not cryptographically secure, to generate "random" passwords. There's good advice as well, but nothing you can't pick up from sources that don't teach you to shoot yourself in the foot.

Security aside, it does have some interesting stuff, but most of it is stuff you can pick up from other sources (sometimes even just the PHP manual). People for whom any of this stuff is news would be better served by learning good programming practices like SOLID principles, design patterns, a development methodology or two, and (if it wasn't clear by now) how to write Web programs securely. You'll pick up the other stuff as you need it.

I think that covers all the bases for now. There are a few more books I'm interested in getting, but I won't add them to the list just yet. So here's what the list looks like now:

Anything Worth Doing Is Worth Doing

posted February 27, 2014

Tags: inspiration, sayings




You're no doubt familiar with the old saying, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." What it means, of course, is that if something is important enough that you're bothering to do it in the first place, it's probably important enough to be worth the effort it takes to do it right.

You may also have heard G.K. Chesterton's famous statement, from What's Wrong with the World, "that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." It had a certain meaning in the book relating to women and their hobbies (and I'm just going to grit my teeth and set aside Chesterton's problems with women for the time being) but it's taken on a life of its own these days. It's often used to mean that if something is important enough that you're bothering to do it in the first place, it's important enough not to give up just because you aren't very good at it.

I try to take both of these to heart. In fact, taking only one of them to heart is a recipe for disaster. (Or at least failure.)

If you live by the maxim that anything worth doing is worth doing well, but you're not able to do it well, there's a good chance you won't do it. I speak from experience here: Perfectionism is a big reason that my art gallery (and this blog, for that matter) is rather sparse. I also have a habit of being so discouraged by my lack of skill that I don't enjoy practicing enough to keep doing it, leadng to a vicious cycle that makes it not worth doing the thing at all. Remember I mentioned the other day that I'm not good at music? This is why.

On the other hand, if you take "worth doing badly" as an excuse for doing things badly, then...um...you're going to do things badly. Which is...you know...bad? Okay, to be less obvious about it, it's easy to take the phrase as an excuse to do a poor job of something and still feel good about yourself, because hey, you did it.

A balance between the two is necessary: You have to let go of perfectionism and actually get stuff done, but you also have to make sure you're giving it the effort it deserves.

So I've decided to adopt a new variation: Anything worth doing is worth doing! Okay, it's a tad tautological, but the idea is to take the emphasis off the adverbs and turn it to the act itself. If it's worth doing, then it's worth doing even if you're doing it badly, and worth continuing to do until you can do it well. Plus, it's an admonishment against laziness: "Dude, you just said it was worth doing, so do it!"

This is not easy, of course. Doing stuff is hard, and doing it well is even harder. But that's not the point. The point is that even if doing stuff is hard, it's worth it.

Seriously?

posted February 26, 2014

Tags: BumbleKing, writing




Something that's come up on BumbleKing recently is the question of whether people take the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise too seriously. I'll probably post my answer to the question in that forum thread once I get it figured out, but in the mean time I want to step back and focus on something broader: What exactly does it mean to take a work of fiction seriously?

After noodling over it for a while, I'm beginning to think that there are several different ways one can interpret the phrase. It can refer to how important the thing is or how big a part of one's life it is. It can also mean a desire for the work itself to be serious, as opposed to flippant. (This is more or less the meaning the BumbleKing thread focuses on.) I think there's also a sense that's a tad harder to define, but boils down to willing suspension of disbelief. It's that last sense that I'm going to focus on here.

In this sense, a work doesn't have to be serious for me to be able to take it seriously. For instance, take the original The Legend of Zelda. It is a game in which a boy in a skirt tunic fights to save a kingdom from a giant blue pig. It's silly, if you think about it, but that oddly-colored porker is taking over the world, and that pants-challenged kid is going to save it!

That's the trick, I think: The conflict has to be real. You can have flippant, wisecracking heroes like Jack O'Neill, Sonic, and Tony Stark refuse to dignify their enemies by treating them seriously, but on some level, they should still take seriously whatever is going on between them and their antagonists.

I'm just brainstorming here, but I think the reason is that a good conflict is something relatable that helps us to stay grounded even in the midst of fantastic, comedic, or absurd goings-on. It creates a human element that makes it feel real, in spite of everything else.

This is a hard thing to quantify, and I really don't know if there's a specific place where I can draw a line that separates a conflict I can take seriously from one I can't. But I do think that a badly-implemented conflict can make it hard to take something seriously, as in Sonic Lost World (or Shadow the Hedgehog, lest you think it's just the silly tone). However, a really good conflict can make even something fairly silly, like the Portal games, easy to take seriously.