May. 21st, 2013

Helping

May. 21st, 2013 12:28 pm
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
Some time last week, I was in a bad mood such that what I felt like doing was spending hours playing simple, repetitive computer games. But honestly doing that does not really make me feel better, except very very short term, it just makes me annoyed at myself for wasting a lot of time on pointless things. So I had the brain-wave of deciding to sit down and work out what it is exactly that I crave from computer games when I'm in that kind of jangly bad mood. I concluded that I wanted to be doing something sufficiently difficult to give me a sense of accomplishment, but easy enough that if I concentrated I'd have a pretty good chance of succeeding. And I wanted lots and lots of immediate feedback. I figured out that a more productive activity that meets that need is programming.

So I took the plunge and asked to get my Dreamhack (DW development environment) reactivated after a three-year hiatus, and started working on a really small styles bug. volunteering for DW )

The other reason this is important to me is to keep me empathizing with learners. [twitter.com profile] mixosaurus made a really powerful blog post about respectful and compassionate teaching. Kat is right on the money that the sort of people who become academics may never have been crushingly bad at any academic subject, whereas by definition we're going to be teaching people with a range of abilities and levels of motivation, not just those who excel and love the subject and go on to become experts in our fields. It's really, really good for me to remember what it feels like to be a beginner, to be too scared of making mistakes to actually make progress. I know I have students who find, say, immunology as arcane and jargon-filled and arbitrary as I'm finding Git right now (like I said, the programming is going fine so far, it's the version control I'm struggling with). And they're not "stupid" and they're not deliberately refusing to try just to be awkward, they're beginners, or they're people who have succeeded at somewhat related skills (such as A-Level biology) but find that this particular intellectual field doesn't quite fit with the way their brain works.

So learning new skills is good for me as a teacher, as well as being satisfying. I've revived my dev journal at [community profile] livredor to document some of my learning process, and since I have it I'll probably throw the baking in there as well, and maybe some of my very beginner-ish Arabic, though I generally know how to learn languages so I have less need to work on the meta-cognition stuff there. I strongly expect that 99% of people will find this detailed documentation totally boring, which is why I'm hiving it off into a separate journal. But I'm also mentioning it just in case you have the exact mindset where you find watching people learning new things interesting, and if you do you're welcome to watch the dev journal.

And if you have wishes for DW, well. I am not quite at the level where I can scratch my own, or my friends', itches yet, but I'm hoping to get there, at least if we're talking small itches. I mean, ideally what I would like to do is write a couple of smartphone clients and a decent front-end for the image hosting and a tool for exporting journals properly with comments and maybe something to import from Tumblr before Yahoo screw the site up beyond repair. But those are way beyond my capability and likely to remain so, because this is always going to be a hobby for me, I don't have a thousand hours to actually become an expert.

However, what I can do is a whole bunch of things related to the back-end that generates journal appearances. The most complicated things I've done so far are writing the Page Summary module, and writing code that mainly affects designers rather than end users to do with the option to colour-code entries on your reading page depending who posted them. Certainly, if there's a colour combination or a display option that you wish existed, there's a good chance I can make it happen. Note that I am not a web-designer by any stretch of the imagination, but what I can do is implement someone else's aesthetic concept in a format that can be made into an official style on Dreamwidth.

In order to be able to do that it has to be something with a licence that DW can use; if you designed something yourself you need to submit a CLA before it can be incorporated, if it's someone else's design then it needs to be public domain or under an appropriate licence. This means that I can't make official DW layouts with, you know, Game of Thrones wallpaper, and it also means that I can't make a Dreamwidth version of LJ Flexible Squares, which is a very common request. What I can do is take CSS-based layouts that modify Flexible Squares, and apply them to Dreamwidth's Tabula Rasa, because actually DW has more flexibility for styling with CSS than LJ ever did, it's just not very well publicized.

So tell me, next time I am in a bad mood and want to spend an evening programming, what can I do for you?

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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