Underestimating

One of the problems I’ve always had is underestimating. I underestimate how long it will take me to do an assignment. I underestimate what I’ll need to have for a project I’m working on. And I certainly underestimated how much stuff I need to do when working on my short film.
I’ve been working on a pre-production plan for the short film I’ll be shooting next month. Once again, I underestimated just how much planning goes into it. I have scenes pictured out in my head, but when I actually sit down and break down the scene, I realize that I’m going to need X number of actors; this, that, and the other prop; a lot of lighting to make sure people aren’t just shadows. The list goes on and on.
The worst part is knowing that no matter how much pre-production planning I do, I’ll have forgotten something. I always do. Every time I travel between home and school I always leave something behind. I know the same is going to happen with this production. But that’s a part of life. Things will be forgotten, but rolling with the punches is an important part of any creative effort.

A Collection of Dark Premises

Image from Ready.gov

Image from Ready.gov

It’s time for an update on the short film I’m working on. I figure it’s time to share the premise.

“A student who hates his roommates must spend 6 hours trapped in a room with them during an emergency.”

I’ll elaborate a little.

Tim’s a college student who just wants to be left alone. He doesn’t really have a good reason to hate his roommates; he just really hates living with them. He’d rather be on his own. He doesn’t want to talk to them. I imagine in the kitchen he probably has a cabinet that the others aren’t even allowed to open up.

This post isn’t about that though. This is about the inspiration for the other part of that.

When I was 12, my family moved to Southeast Washington. Part of the TV market in that area was Umatilla, OR. Once in a while, there would be a little PSA on the local channels about what they should do in case of emergency. You see, Umatilla was home to one of the US’s stockpiles of chemical agents. There was a plan to incinerate them, but until that was completed just a few years ago, there was some serious danger.

If there was an incident, they would have had to shelter in place (quickly, I might add) and seal off the outside air coming in. So that was the inspiration for the premise. In fact, the characters largely follow the instructions given on Ready.gov for sheltering in place (though in reality they probably would have evacuated; sheltering in place like that is only good for a couple of hours).

Now I’m at college in Rexburg, Idaho. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m close to another place. Idaho National Laboratory in nearby Idaho Falls doesn’t pose the same kinds of danger (they mainly focus on energy research), but they’ve had incidents too. In fact, they were the site of a fatal nuclear accident in 1961 (the ones killed were personnel working on the reactor).

So put my college experience and the chemical accident premise together and you get this story!

Starting is the Hardest Part

blank-page

That image above is a good summary of the hardest part of making a short film (which is just one of the things I’m doing in the next few months). Seeing a blinking cursor on screen is just so intimidating. Even though my ideas are always brewing in my head for a while before I actually start typing things out, that doesn’t make it much easier.

The weird thing is that once I start, things open up. The words just start flowing out of my fingertips when I actually start typing. But it takes a massive amount of effort to just get those first words onto the page. I’ve started though. I’ve got the draft of my short film’s script written, though there’s some stuff I’m not happy with yet about it.

Until I get it refined a little more, I’ll just leave the logline here:

A student who hates his roommates must spend 6 hours trapped in a room with them during an emergency.

Building and Fixing: Working on PCs

Some people build computers. Other people fix them. We all use them.

I recently built my first computer and was inspired to share my experience and also see what it’s like to fix a laptop. I visited with Michael of The PC Penguin and watched as he fixed a broken power port on a laptop, and we talked about what it takes to keep up with the changing computer repair industry. In this short documentary, I also share a brief overview of what I went through to build my first computer. Looking back, I make it sound a little scarier than it was, but it’s really not that hard. If you’re interested, you should give it a shot sometime!

My original idea for this documentary fell through, so I only had about a week and a half to put this one together. I had just finished building my first computer a day or two before and it was such a great experience that I decided to make that the subject of this documentary! I emailed Michael and he was perfectly willing to participate and it was really interesting watching him work. I wish I had known I would be doing this before I built my computer so I could have recorded myself as I put it together. Instead, I had to go back after the fact and recreate a couple of shots. Also, since the inside of my case is painted black, it’s really hard to get good shots in there, but I did my best.

Michael Fixing a Laptop's Power Port

Title Screen

Chinese in Rigby: Short Documentary

[Trailer coming after it finishes uploading. Check back in the morning. This message brought to you by awful internet, which is what I have. Seriously, this apartment complex could use a major upgrade.]

Why would a little elementary school in a small town in the middle of Southeast Idaho be teaching their students Chinese? How would that even work? Well, they are and it does. At South Fork Elementary in Rigby, Idaho (population of the entire county: about 25,000) some of the Kindergartners and First Graders are not just learning their ABCs: their learning an entirely different language.

The long-term goal of the immersion program in the Jefferson (County) School District is to have the students learn the language all the way through high school, achieving a high fluency level by the time they graduate from high school. South Fork Elementary in particular chose the Chinese language to give the students an advantage in the business world in 15-20 years when they graduate from college.

In this short documentary, I tried to capture a little slice of what the classroom environment is like, while providing a little basic information on the program. I cannot say enough nice things about the staff at South Fork. They have been nothing but helpful and kind in their assistance making this film. The teachers are wonderful, the administration has been so cooperative, and, most importantly, the program is great. While it’s clear the students don’t understand everything the teachers are saying, it’s amazing to watch them pick up on and understand the contextual clues surrounding these new words they’re learning. They can already count at least up to twenty in Chinese. They generally have a good idea what the teachers are asking them to do. They’re little information sponges, which makes them the perfect candidates to learn a new language, even while they’re still trying to get a grasp on their native language.

Special thanks go out to Mr. Howard, the Principal of South Fork for keeping in good contact (even if I didn’t always do a good job at that), the school secretaries for helping me out (and saving me hours of work digitizing all the legal release forms), Yu Jin and Li Li for putting up with me distracting the students (though I tried not to, the kids will always be distracted by a camera), and anyone else I might have forgotten. I’ve had a lot of great support, and I’m very appreciative of that.

A Chinese immersion program in Rigby, Idaho?

It seems odd that there would be a Chinese language immersion program for kindergarten and first grade at an elementary school in tiny Rigby, Idaho. Why would they need to, or even want to, learn Chinese in a town surrounded by fields and farms?

It’s true though. I’m currently creating a short documentary about this program. South Fork Elementary started it this fall with two teachers: one for kindergarten and one for first grade. The majority of the class is taught in Chinese, including and encompassing every other subject the students would learn. They speak Chinese all through the school day, every school day.
In my documentary I’ll be showing a typical day in the classroom, with interviews with the teachers, school administrators, and parents discussing the merits and challenges of the program.
I would have some stills and a trailer, but I actually haven’t filmed it yet! The biggest challenge with this documentary has been getting the legal and privacy aspects taken care of. You have to be extra careful when you’re dealing with an elementary school! Those are all worked out now, and I’ll be going to the school on Tuesday and filming all day!

Getting Started HTML

Time for a senior project! I’m synthesizing all my interests together by creating “Getting Started HTML,” a guide to learning the very basics of HTML and CSS for people who aren’t even aware what HTML or CSS are.

This arises out of my campus job from the last several semesters. I tutor for a class called “Creating Online Media,” which is a class to teach HTML and CSS to communication majors. These are people who are more familiar with Photoshop than a text editor. HTML may seem relatively simple to those of us with a background in technology, but it’s extremely hard to get into the correct mindset when you have never had to use anything but WYSIWYG tools. HTML and CSS are pretty abstract ways to create things: you’re turning text into design.

Basically, I want to make these things easier to understand. That will not be an easy task, but you can help if you want. I’ll be building text and video content over the next two months. I would love feedback along the way. Particularly, the written content is available online as I write it. So get in there and give me feedback!

Internet & Age

I’ve been a DreamHost customer for almost 3 years now. They’ve been around for a lot longer than that though: this is their 16th anniversary. I’ll get back to that in a couple of paragraphs, but I want to start with my own history with creating web pages. I think my family got its first dial-up internet connection around that same time. I’ve been interested in creating websites for just about as long as I’ve had an internet connection. We had a program called Print Shop Pro and as part of its suite there was a page to make websites. I shudder to imagine what the coding of those pages looked like. (Memo to self: break out that old hard drive and see if anything’s still there.) The sites were also pretty ugly: the templates definitely were part of the 90s, and that was a dark period for web design.

That led me to eventually learn how to code myself though. I downloaded a little tutorial program that guided you through the basics. Of course, most of that knowledge I gained doesn’t apply today. It tought me to make text bold by using the <b> tag. CSS wasn’t common back then. Even though I had learned to use basic HTML code, it still felt intimidating. I primarily used Netscape Composer (and its successors) to create web pages, even until around mid-2007 (the year I graduated high school). From there I moved onto WordPress, really getting serious about it in late-2010 (though I had messed around with it since about late-2006, even before WordPress.com launched!). These days, I’ve started getting more serious about learning to handwrite HTML and CSS. Last fall I took a class about HTML, CSS, and PHP. Now I tutor for that class and use it on a regular basis. In fact, my latest website project is a series of tutorial articles about HTML and CSS. It’s written using Jekell on Github Pages, so it’s mostly hand coded, with Markdown making things a little faster.

That leads me to web hosting. I remember our family getting junk mail back in the late 1990s urging us to get a domain name. Yes, we got snail mail to get real domains. While I don’t remember too well, it seems like those domains were very expensive. I don’t know if they included hosting or not, but the point is that getting online cost a lot of money back then. (I think part of why we got that mail is that we got film developed and printed through an online company, and even got the photos back in digital form! That made us progressive, I think, and probably made us more likely to want a website.) Whether it actually cost a lot of money or not, it felt like there was a much higher barrier to creating websites in the early days of the internet.

Since that time, we’ve seen a serious democratization on the internet. In the early days we had tools like Geocities. Personally, my first website accessible on the internet was created using Tripod.com (hey look at that, it’s still around), based on an article I saw in Boys’ Life magazine (edit: I found the article! I think my first site on Tripod was about Pokémon or something.). Of course, those tools were restrictive. I’ve never liked restrictions. As I got more serious, I started to look for free web hosts. I don’t remember the names of any of those, and I doubt they’re around anymore (at least in any recognizable form). I also had a little web server on my home computer with a free domain redirect pointed to the IP address during senior year of high school. I had a small WordPress installation there (and a little proxy script to get around blocks at school). I knew that wouldn’t cut it for critical uses though.  In fact, in 2007 for an e-commerce competition for the Washington State FBLA I got a charitable person to give me some space on their SSL secured server for me to make my entry site because I needed it to be secure and stable. Now there’s great blog tools like Blogger and WordPress.com that are easy for just about anyone to use. Social media and easy blog tools (that can be adapted to make easy websites) make it so anyone can have a voice. (Side note: I hate it when people call Blogger “Blogspot.” Small pet peeve of mine. Thank goodness the BYU-Idaho Department of Communication is pushing WordPress on us. Of course, now people get confused about WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org. Exchange one problem for another I guess.)

After my LDS mission, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do an on-my-computer web server if I wanted a website. So I set about looking for a domain name and web host. There’s a lot of choices, and I wish I had done more research (finding a web host is something that you should research out but I didn’t have much patience for that), but I knew I wanted one that would work with WordPress. I wanted to use that for a blog, and I was planning on using Joomla or Drupal for my main website (though I eventually switched everything over to WordPress). I figured a good place to start was with WordPress’s own site. Fortunately, they had a page with some recommended hosts! I ended up choosing DreamHost. For one, their web panel is very different from the others, but in a good way. I’m fairly tech savvy, but I was new to many hosting concepts, but DreamHost’s web panel lays things out very simply. It’s intuitive and provides all the tools you need easy access to. Their one-click installs have WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal: all the things I was wanting. And the price was competitive, while offering unlimited everything: great for someone who likes to tinker with stuff (I’ve tried out a lot of web software on various subdomains). One of the most reassuring factors though was their age. They were 13 years old when I signed up with them. That’s basically ancient in internet years. They’re still going strong today.

Have they been perfect? Of course not. There have been some spots of downtime, even some extended ones, but every host has that at some point. It’s technology: it will always fail at some point. I’ve been pretty happy with them overall. They make things easy for newbies, but they’ve got the power for experienced users as well. It would be nice if, one day, my site just grows so large I have to go find some crazy expensive hosting from some specialized provider, but for the foreseeable future, DreamHost has everything I need. There are tons of great hosting companies out there, but DreamHost is up there in the top tier, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

Full disclosure: I am writing this post to enter a contest to get a free year of hosting from DreamHost. If you are a current DreamHost customer, you can enter to win too until midnight tonight. Keep an eye on that page though: there’s a different deal or giveaway every day, some for new customers, some for current customers, and some for anyone! The first link in this article is an affiliate link: I get some cash if you use that link. Thought you should know.

New(-to-me) Games Week!

It’s only about a week before I go back to school, but I still have a massive Steam library of games that I haven’t played yet (though that’s been true of my Steam library the entire time I’ve had a Steam account!).

That’s why, every day this week, I’ll be playing a game I haven’t played before every single day! I’ll be trying to include genres that I don’t usually play either because I want to branch out a bit. And just to make sure I give each game a fair shot, I’ll be playing each game for a minimum of 2 hours.

I’ll be streaming at 11am Pacific each weekday this week. You can watch at twitch.tv/lazyrivr or at my gaming blog lazyrivr.com.

Here’s the (tentative) schedule for the week:

Monday

Avadon: The Black Fortress

Perhaps best described as an old-school RPG, this is a game I’m hoping will surprise me. I’m not a huge RPG fan, especially the old-school kind. They’re awfully slow, and I tend to want to overthink when playing an RPG with all those stats and equipment slots. This is mainly why I’ve got the two hour minimum.

Tuesday

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

Here’s another RPG, but with a little more modern twist. It aims to be old-school, but it’s got a funny slant, instead of being all “steeped in mythology.” So I think I’ll enjoy this one a little more.

Wednesday

Jurassic Park (Telltale Games)

I first sat down and watched Jurassic Park (the movie) all the way through a few months ago while it was in its theatrical 3D re-release. It sold me. Great movie (short on plot, but big on fun). I’ve heard some… not-so-nice things about Telltale Games’ adventure game based on the franchise. I haven’t played it, so I guess I’ll find out if it’s as boring as people say it is.

Thursday

Alan Wake (subject to my computer’s awfulness)

Alan Wake looks like it’s pretty awesome. Moody and atmospheric, I’m just hoping my computer will be up to the task of playing it and streaming it at the same time (spoiler alert: the graphics setting will be on “really really low”).

Friday

Retro City Rampage

Friday is a time to just shoot things up. And that’s what I’m going to do. Mayhem! 80s references that will go above my head because I was born in ’89! Stopping the evil good guys! I hoping this one will be a blast!

 

Each day after I’m done playing, I’ll try to pull out a few highlights and write up some thoughts about the game.

Here’s to making that Steam library more worth the money!

An Introduction to PHP

One of my jobs is tutoring for COMM 310 at BYU-Idaho. The course is called “Creating Online Media,” and in it we learn HTML, CSS, and a little PHP. PHP is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the class. I had a couple tutoring appointments earlier today on the subject, and in preparation for those appointments I made this presentation. I’m posting it here for two reasons: to possibly help other people, and to get feedback. Let me know if it helps you, or if you would make any changes!

[gdoc link=”https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Vx5mGveY5kABJcOsPESzmTdvBlx0JiWSAAIlvfMhnTQ/pub?start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000″]