Random Thoughts

December 22, 2012 - Programming

In a first, I will actually post something not programming related, but not one of my innumerable nonsense stories, either. Today, I will write about Graphics Design.

Now, I’m no Graphics Designer- I don’t know the theories, and I didn’t go to Art School or any of that. So bear in mind that none of what I am about to say is expert advice in that domain area. Asking a programmer about Graphics design is the equivalent of asking a Plumber about Piloting an airplane. Thankfully, however, the former is a bit less dangerous.

My forays into “Graphic design” was basically “screw around in Paint Shop Pro until I end up with something that doesn’t look really bad”. It was really necessary; when creating a GUI Program, you need icons and other images for your User Interface, and when creating a game you need even more. Unfortunately, aside from what I had to make, I didn’t really get much practice. I had photoshop for quite a long time before I even used it, instead preferring the tools I was used to.

However I got into a subject that I found interesting, and that was ripe for use in creating various graphics. That subject was, I’ll admit, the newer “My Little Pony” Show that is becoming popular. I won’t defend that particular interest here, since this is neither the time or place for such a discussion, but the point is that it gave me something to work with. My original foray into using Photoshop to create Desktop wallpapers with that subject matter were merely for my own personal use. I shared them with some friends- one of which who is an artist himself- and they agreed that they were well done. They ended up getting featured on a site devoted to the subject as well. I continued to sharpen my skills by simply making more and more of them. Not all of them are awesome, but over time I learned quite a few photoshop tricks, and more importantly became quite familiar with the program, which I’d argue was the entire point. Now I’m also able to create the other graphics I need with ease, too. Here are some of my favourites:

This is rather one of my favourites. The Subject here is a Phoenix character, who is a pet of one of the other characters. I like this one because it really matches the character- I mean, it’s fiery and explosive- much like a phoenix. Inset and with a particular layer filter applied, the character who’s pet this is is visible too, which I thought was a nice effect. My primary three tasks when creating one of these is really just a few steps- first I create the background, then I paste in the vectors, then I create the text. The first and last usually take the most time, but it really depends on what I work with. Some compositions use 3ds Max for parts of the background, and mix them with other creations, and so forth.

Over time I did run out of subjects and characters to use from the given subject matter. (I do have around 160 Wallpapers now, so that should come as no particularly big surprise to be fair). Then I got the idea for “mixed” subject matter. For example:


What made this “project” appealing was how many things I needed to do. Here I mixed Stargate- which is one of my favourite shows- with the aforementioned subject matter (which I’m trying to avoid naming so this doesn’t get to high a pagerank for that subject). This required work in 3ds max (for the Stargate itself, as well as part of the “wormhole” effect shown inside as well as Photoshop to plop it all together. The image in the middle depicting several characters from the formerly named subject matter was created as a separate image, then pasted into this one. The portions that extended outside the gate area were chopped off,  and various effects as well as a layer mask were added to create something I was happy with. The text on either side are lyrics from songs that are present in the aforementioned subject matter; these are written using a Font from Stargate, which serves to make it an interesting “Easter Egg” for anybody that attempts to determine what the text says.

I guess my point is that some of what I created is- at least in my opinion- pretty awesome. Considering that I had hardly even touched photoshop a month or so previous, I’d say it was some improvement. I’m still looking for a good project that is attainable to do in 3ds Max that would go beyond standard poly editing and whatnot.

Anyway, my point? I’m sick of freelancing regardless of the task itself. It’s an unstable income source, and it requires far too much independence in the form of disparate commitments. My problem is that I can’t bring myself to overcommit; if I don’t think I can do something, I won’t even bid on a project at all, and I frequently underbid. More importantly, what do I identify as? Myself? Fake CEO of the “fake” company that I pretend to have started but which exists only as a set of logos I staple onto my products? Basically, I’m sick of it being only me. It’s nice to have your own projects, and guide the direction they take, but too much independence in that fashion is actually quite, well, annoying. The problem is sometimes I just want to program something. What I will sometimes do in that case is visit Project Euler and some of the more advanced questions, but these have pretty much no real practical application. I guess it boils down to the fact that managing and seeing a Project through to the end is something I can do, for the most part, but would prefer not to; some parts are frustrating, and most importantly it’s trying to remember all the things I haven’t done that can be annoying; I need to program  this… I need to mnake the graphic for this component… I should add something here using a graphic… maybe I should do this… The installer should handle this… etc etc. It’s overwhelming, and as my portfolio of projects grows, I find maintaining them to be more and more annoying.

Some might argue that the reason is that I have nobody but myself to blame if things go wrong. While that’s true, I don’t think blame is really the appropriate word. Fact is I think that a group of developers is far more likely to have a more diverse set of skills that they are good at, and those skills can be put to use as needed to work towards the goals of the project. One person doing all of them will result in some parts either being a massive pain, or just sucking. BASeBlock is a good example of this: the Music is downright terrible and repetitive. And yet, that short, 2 and a half minute “composition” (if we can even call it that) took nearly a month to create. Compare that to the implementation of Block Categories via Attributes into the game itself, which was maybe a few hours from start to finish, and it becomes clear that there is quite a bit of disparity in what I’m good at.

Even so, I do enjoy dipping myself in the cheese fondue of other skillsets; Sort of like how I will delve into programming languages I was otherwise unfamiliar with and attempt to learn them, because it can sometimes bring insight into my “main” focus, which of course is on the Programming. Everything else I do is either to support that goal or just faffing about.

Anyway, what I’m driving towards is that I’m sort of looking for a “proper” job. This freelancing stuff, in some ways, just makes me look like a prude. And I am always working with different people, who have different attitudes and it can be quite annoying; One project the person is an absolute peach, and the next they are complaining that a button was one pixel off. Consistency. That is the goal here.

I’ve been bumbling about and checking kijiji and Craigslist on and off for openings nearby. There have been a few and I’ve gotten a few Interviews as well but nothing has come of that yet. I’d argue that my resume “intimidates” people, but that’s ridiculous. If anything, it looks like a bunch of stapled together acronyms. Another concern I can see being the case are two things: First, somebody with this many things on his resume is probably a bit of a Jerk, and second, “we can’t possibly afford this guy”… the irony here being that me even mentioning the latter almost confirms the former; I hardly think my skills are worth that much, since only some of them are really the type of skills I feel safe marketing.

The big goal here is not to get something super lucrative, by any means. I don’t think of myself as a John Carmack or a John Romero, despite the stupid opinions of some of my friends, who seem to think that being able to replace a Video Card should qualify me for some sort of award, I’m just one person. I already tried making headway as one person, and it only worked a bit. Trying to maintain this blog, all sorts of projects, and innumerable other responsibilities is quite annoying- there really is no distinction between work and play; one minute I’m working on a Database Application, the next I’m playing Minecraft, and I’m simply sick of this sort of thing.

The ideal goal is not to find a job where I am the “smartest” person. That’s just self-indulgent. The Ideal would be to work somewhere where everybody else is smarter than I am. In some ways I already feel a bit fraudulent- I touched on this in my post about receiving the Microsoft MVP Award- But part of me also thinks this is a good thing. If you continue to think you really aren’t “qualified” for what you are doing, you will always strive to learn more. And from what I’ve read, this is a quality shared by a lot of very competent engineers, so I’m in good company. It’s also probably better to be ignorant of how good you are than ignorant of how terrible you are, too. That’s kind of why I’ve had issues selling myself- I mean, Whatever I say makes me feel like I’m self-important- which is the tricky part.

Anyway, May as well share a recent Interview experience. Perhaps my readers can learn from it- either what to do, or, more likely, what not to do. I’ve not gotten a reply back in regards to this particular opportunity, and it’s one of those ones where afterwards, you really can’t decide if it went really well, or if it went absolutely horribly. It’s one of those ones where you can imagine yourself leaving and the people inside either going “hmm, he seemed OK” or “wow what a tool that guy was”.

It started, obviously, from my typical circumstance where I occasionally browse for opportunities. According to my E-mail sent folder, I sent this application on the 3rd. Now, overwhelmingly, I don’t actually hear back anything from these places. One location, Wirestorm, had already filled the position, but added me to a “shortlist” of candidates for a position they felt they would need in the future, and let me know of this (and asked if it was OK).

I got a response on the 11th (as I write this, last Tuesday). Now, call it fate, bad luck, or the fact that the account was inundated with so much pointless facebook garbage, but for some reason I didn’t actually see the response until Thursday, which was the day said E-mail requested an interview. I partly panicked, but responded and asked if it was “too late” for that to go down that day. The response was that it would be fine. I was relieved, of course. However, at this point, I decided to, you know, figure out who I was dealing with here, seemed like a reasonable first step. Normally when I apply to a place I will do some basic research on them, too. However the issue is I do that so often, occasionally the different companies and groups of people sort of mix up. My first mistake, in this regard, was that I wasn’t able to find the correct application. This was an interesting problem. The actual response I had sent was of course to one of those obfuscated Craigslist postings- at least for this one- so I wasn’t able to easily cross-reference and find exactly which application was for this place. My mistake was that I thought one I had sent way back in September was for this location. But I had sent it much more recently.

The Interview itself, I thought went well. At least, from my perspective. Though it’s hard to really tell from the 30-40 minutes that it lasted, I think I would get on with those folks rather well. There were a few trouble-spots. First, I was really more nervous than I expected. This caused issues when enunciating things, and I think I spoke really fast too. I thought it went OK, a few side discussions about things.

I guess the one trouble spot is that I don’t really have an applicable employment history; I mean, with clients I don’t typically keep in contact beyond the project duration. Arguably, I could, but then I might seem needy. I do have some very satisfied clients that I doubt would think twice before giving me a recommendation, but they haven’t been active on the site for ages. The only other employment is far more low-rung- eg. Tim Hortons.

There is an interesting side-point to that though, since at that Job I had to deal with a rather badly-designed touch-screen interface, written in, from what I could tell by using Reflector on it, in VB.NET, using hard-coded database passwords to boot. I didn’t do anything with it, but I did make a mental note of some of the usability flaws that it had. Those “notes” came into play somewhat for BCJobClock, where I bore in mind that the application was not the focus of the task people would be performing; they were doing their Job. This meant everything should be otherwise smooth. The UI should be basically invisible, if done properly. I don’t think I quite got there with BCJobClock, but hey, it does the Job.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the moment,  from what I saw they seemed like a pretty epic group of people that I could learn a lot from. I was also really bored and redid their logo for some reason in Photoshop. I’ll keep it to myself, if they go with me I can show them in person, and if not I’ll probably send them a copy of it anyway; though I don’t think it’s much of an improvement from the original and I couldn’t find the correct font for it, though I found something close. It was mostly for practice.


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