750Words d3: Ideas (picture books)

Whoo hoo! I’m three for three in the goal of forever! I’ll take it. I won’t publish them all. The purpose of 750Words.com is to just write. It is not to write to you. Sometimes I’m too whiny, sad, or mad. Enough yuck out there without my adding to it.

This topic came to me as I work through a VueJS tutorial by Maximilian Schwarzmüller. I like to have a plan build as I learn. I find it especially helpful as I’m getting smaller chunks in with an instructor like Big Max. Because his tutorial is organised into small chunks, I have little breathers that allow me to think to myself, “How would I use this?”. I could say that after an hour, but then the “this” would be more about a larger concept instead of smaller tools. It’s harder for me to think “How will I use Vue” or “What will I build with Node” than to ask myself how I could use changing the style dynamically with Vue and a method.

I have more time now to think, plan, and write. Not much more time, though, so let me just publish this and move on to my next lesson. (today’s stats)

When I taught math to 4th graders, I loved reading aloud from picture books. People can blather on about chapter books as though a child must graduate from picture books to chapter books completely. Books are no classrooms; however, you learn plenty from them. I believe that a good picture book offers so much more to the reader than what a chapter book can. Mind you, I love fiction and wish I had unlimited funds so that I could sit home and read and not apply for jobs. I am not here to compare the two as though one is better. There’s enough of that bullshit between childless-by-choice and parents, stay-at-home moms and “working” moms (“”s of sarcasm as we know that SaHMs work plenty).
Although I was a math teacher, I read to the children plenty. One group could handle “Flatlands” even. Expurgated. I’m not a fool. The kids were 9 and 10. There were some things they weren’t going to hear for the first time in their math class! I also read “Where the Red Fern Grows”—not once without snotty tears. But what I absolutely loved the most was finding a beautiful picture book. I loved a good story and the complementary pictures. Read, show, read and show. A good story does not have to be a long one. For me, length is how it stays with me.
Mostly the stories I read were what you might think about when you think of a picture book: an adventure, a lesson learned, a special someone, cute animals, etc. That’s what I thought of when I started teaching, but we had excellent librarians when I taught. They pointed me in the direction of picture books that explained math concepts: multiplication, exponents, geometry, etc. How awesome was that? I still refer to those books when I tell people that math and art are not separated. Proportion? Ratio? Geometry? Symmetry? Have you not heard of daVinci, Michaelangelo, Mondrian?
When I stopped teaching, I remember wanting to write children’s books to make math less frightening or to supplement a math concept. Wanting to write is much easier than deciding to write. Deciding to write is different from having the story and concept down.
It goes without saying that I have not written a book, but in the years since leaving the classroom one never leaves teaching), I have discovered my love of coding, specifically HTML/CSS, JavaScript and its libraries. I am currently getting my VueJS and NodeJS on, and while I’m learning them, my mind keeps returning to writing a picture book. I can’t draw. I can. Everyone can. I am not an artist one pays to draw. How is that? Clearer? Especially as I work through VueJS, I think about making a picture book with my words and my SVG illustrations.
Until I get skilled enough, I need a place to store ideas. I’ll start with a few here.
I love ABC books. Edward Gorey is wonderful and a reminder that picture books and ABC books do not have to be cutesy. Why not one for math or narrow it down to geometry? If geometry, less about ABCs and more about just terms? I’m teaching coding to children (middle schoolers). What about the ABCs of dev. Or keep it to language or basics? What about a build-your-own ABC book? Let the student choose the theme, letter (no need to build ABCs in order), and supply their own images? The program could scale the images to the appropriate size. The child just needs to make the SVG on her own. I don’t know. Work with me here! What made me think of that one is that so many city- or town-specific books aren’t about the town the child hails from. Why not have Clare from Pooperville build an ABC book of her town? Andrew from Fartzburg might build the ABCs about what the people in his village do. Why not? ABCs of good deeds? Seriously, ABC books are unlimited as all they have to be is in alphabetical order. How is that for a scope?
I’m too new of a dev to have that be a theme for me, so I’d have to return to that.
I have greyhounds and have fostered them for years. I’m deeply concerned about their treatment by handlers and the industry. I know that some handlers and greyhound owners who race them truly do love their dogs, but the industry is not friendly. You, Mr Gentle Owner, may keep your hound long after she’s stopped winning and until a ripe age of 16, but we all know that is not the norm. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who do not know a lot about the greyhound and don’t think of them as an option for a pet. “They must need a lot of space.” “They must want to run all day.” “They’re so big, and I have an apartment.” All myths. Greyhounds and other sighthounds won’t be for everyone—same with any breed—but the more literature that is out there, the more people will read and consider. Maybe a book will help a greyhound find its forever home, and maybe it will keep the wrong person from adopting and surrendering. No. Do not adopt a greyhound for you to do your 10k runs with. Usain Bolt is not a marathoner, right?
MATH (of course)
I specifically think of 4th graders as they’re at that cusp of going from concrete-sequential to abstract. I used to have a car covered in bumper stickers. Covered! All over. Not just on the bumper. In the middle of the back was one that read “I hate bumper stickers!”. Students who thought that was hilarious were ready for fractions. Those who were stumped and confused? Well, perhaps this year wouldn’t be the year they got fractions. There are so many ways to show math in a picture book: ratio, fractions (but please leave the cliché pizzas out), division, multiplication, factorials, … Of course, addition and subtraction, but that’s getting to an age I’m not aiming at.
Huh? What? How hard is it to parent and bring up awful topics? I’m thinking about pet death, a parent’s job loss, bullying, body changes. There are many topics here, but to just write and include images without researching the topic and how to address it to kids? This is heavy. I’d have to be careful. I should be careful with any topic, but obviously these have an edge to them.

I hope to add more when I think of them. I should also probably quit adding and start planning, but that is another post!

750Words d1: Fitbit, Dancing, and the benefit of boredom

I’m done with my Daily CSS Images challenge and have found that I have missed writing. Following a link from a Medium post, I came across 750words.com and wrote my first piece. They tell you not to edit, so I didn’t. One thing I learned is that I did this in under 30 minutes. I can afford 30 minutes. I had assumed daily writing challenges would take longer. I love math; I love to write. This is perfect for me because of stats: Pretty graphs and yummy pie charts

750words Day 1

I know that some people look at my wrist and see the Fitbit and roll their eyes. I don’t care too much about counting my steps; I walk my dogs nearly every day and run every other day. I also do not care about opinions of others for the most part. What my Fitbit does for me is to remind me to get up and out of my 90-degree angles. While I’m underemployed and looking for a job, I am at my laptop coding, learning more about code, applying, and regretting. At 10 before the hour, my Fitbit rattles me to inform me to dance. Yup. If I’ve not done enough, I get reminded. I shout to Alexa to play 80s pop, and then I dance. I get more steps in with 5 – 10 minutes of dancing than I do walking around the block, AND I get to do this in an air-conditioned house. Sorry, Mme Ozone.
Where are the places to dance for the length of a normal song? I don’t want anything extended or remixed. I want the living room I danced in when I was a kid before I could go out. Where are those places? I do not have the attention span for a long dance-remix. I also want to hear the lyrics. I don’t mind remixes found in dance places; however, for me, those are better in spin classes when I need the distraction for 10 minutes. What I want is to dance for 3 minutes one way and change it up for another. Remixes are just hell for me. I’M DONE WITH THIS BEAT!
It’s not fun to dance alone, but I’m not. I have the unappreciative and wary audience of pets. I figure they look at me like a toy that is too big to kill the squeak. They track me, though. I see it in their eyes. They are entertained. No. I’m not anthropomorphising. They watch. They wag. When I’m done, they come up for attention. It’s change; it’s movement; it’s always different.
The other side of this Fitbit exercise is a graph I have kept in my head. I have become curious as to what songs get more steps in per minute. These are my steps and my moods. Obviously, this is not scientific in any way, but it’s fun. I’d be curious to compare the songs against others but also against each other and see if there are large variations.
I have found another benefit to the dancing: it clears my Etch-a-Sketch head. I am often following a tutorial or trying to apply what I’ve learned from the tutorial to my own code or following a daily challenge. With so many rules to follow, I don’t get to clear my head to just let the mind wander. Since I often choose 80s pop, new wave, or alternative playlists, my mind goes back to being a teen or young adult. I think about anything and everything that is not JavaScript, VueJS, NodeJs. Once I shake the code out, my mind wanders to other things. I come up with the ideas I can bring to life with code. I am a firm believer that getting bored is important. Most of the things we enjoy, need, and use came up while someone was staring off and let her or his mind wander and ask “What if …”. What is the point of learning to code if I can’t come up with ideas to solve problems? Even if I’m far too green to bring my ideas to life, coming up with them is more important to me. Who cares how great the dev team is if there are no fresh ideas coming to them? Get bored. It’s ok. It’s just not ok to “solve” the problem of being bored by whining about it. Get bored. Write. Wonder. And save. Even if it’s not about to happen, get it down and make like the English Beat and save it for later.
Did I mention save it? My grandpa was Paul Cassidy, a ghost writer for Superman in the late 30s. He left Supe for a better paying job as a teacher. I know. Don’t laugh. He also read history for fun and illustrated scenes he read. Where are those? Deep in a landfill. When he moved into his retirement home, he threw it all away. His right—I give him that—but what a loss for his family and others.
So while others may see another middle-aged woman with a Fitbit to count steps she thinks will counter what she eats, I know this buzzer reminds me to get up, dance, and let my mind wander. On that note, Cyndi Lauper is reminding me that girls still just want to have fun.

Must remember to get bored

Pressure is on always.

I need to apply for jobs. I look at job postings. Employers want lots of skills.

I need to get more skills. I take online tutorials and follow blog how-tos. I do what they say.

I need to commit to GitHub every day. I need to commit something amazing that I have done on my own without a support group that looks like the next big thing.*

I have to make time to learn and do my own stuff. Do I focus on little skills (do this one thing) or bigger ones (libraries and frameworks)?

I decide to make something biggish. I want it to be mobile first and need to sketch it out. I need pen and paper. But I need to code. If I don’t code and prove it on GitHub, I can’t possibly be improving anything. So I wing it. I don’t like what I make. Looks unplanned. It is unplanned. It’s ugly, but the jQuery works or the component shows up. Whoo hoo!

I do this; I do that. I’m busy busy busy. Mornings with CSS. Afternoons with front and backend. Read best practices for UI. Read “The Art of Readable Code”. Ignore that lovely escapist novel you wanted to read. Again.

But where is the much-needed void? Where is the time I spend on the couch staring at the ceiling thinking of nothing until an idea enters? Where is my GitHub repo for that? No. I didn’t code today. I let my mind wander, and I got this great idea …

This is my problem. No one makes me do what I am doing. I am doing a great job working on getting (and remembering) new things, but I am not doing a good job of doing nothing and letting my mind go. I can’t combine this with running. I can’t stop and write ideas down by scraping notes in the sweat and sunscreen on my arms.

It’s time to let myself get bored. Do very minor code changes (make ES5 functions fat arrow functions, alter style, did I really want that colour?) and then do nothing impressive. Get bored. Wonder “what if …”. Think back to my classroom and what I wish I had an app for. Come up with a story for a VueJS book. Be unbusy and let ideas enter my brain.

Then write that shit down, woman!

Get over yourself. You love to code. You’re new, you need to learn more. But you love it. And you know you’ll love it even more when you’re building what you’ve thought of, so let that happen. Not typing div or this.sumpin=this.sumpin.bind(this) or transform: rotate(-45deg) every day does not mean I’m not a developer. Planning. Drawing. Designing. They count.

The pressure is on from people I don’t know, so why am I adding to it? I am my project manager (micro managing and stubborn), UI designer (clearly drinks too much), front-end developer (tenacious but a bit high strung at the mo), and backend developer (very green, might get the boot). I am also the janitor, cook, pet carer, housekeeper.

I’m not even close to being Mr. Torrence, but I’ve been staying away from the water heater.


*I know that isn’t true, but you know that this is how it feels.

Glitch, please.

Last weekend, I attended a Girl Develop It (ATX) meeting called Intro to NodeJS. I have a list of Node tutorials and am making my way through them. They are all helpful, but nothing beats having a human there to immediately notice a furrowed brow or a raised hand. Oh, but wait. There is something just as great: Glitch. Glitch is a Fog Creek baby, so it’s the baby sibling of Trello, FogBugz. (Trello is now part of Atlassian, so I still consider it a sibling, but an older one who got married into another family.) They have a look and style to their projects that is inherently playful. It is no surprise to me that the people behind those other projects came up with Glitch.

I come to software development from teaching. I still do teach. I hope never to fully leave it. I do not think kids or adults will learn as fast if you do not encourage copying, playing, breaking, and tweaking.

Copying? Heck yeah. Copying and saying it’s your own? No. However, you are foolish not to take something finished and excellent (for the most part) and copy it. Feel it being created with your own hands. For art, a child trying to imitate daVinci will probably not recreate the master, but she will look at how proportion is used. Maybe even realise that the eyes are not at the top of the head. In a forward to a collection of his favourite short stories, David Sedaris said that he used to type his favourite paragraphs to get the feel. There is a difference between copying to learn and copying to take credit. If you don’t know that difference, I don’t know how to talk to you.

In our tutorial, we used Glitch. We could see our changes immediately, remix (think fork) our own, add npm packages easily and not bother with installing, … When I’ve thought about trying something for Node as I learn, I kept thinking that everything had to be huge. It seemed daunting. All I want to do is practice with require, extends, Express, etc. I love my tutorials and can code with a parallel project, but what if I want to start from nothing. Where can I see it happen? Do I have to create a file structure I may or may not want to keep around? Glitch allows me to copy others by remixing and then from there I can adjust the code to see what breaks it or what changes where. What happens when I do this? Or that? I can even get code from GitHub that I like to play with on Glitch. (Full disclosure: I have not tried that, but it is something they say I can do.)

Playing is the other thing I believe in as a teacher. Playing is a child’s way of manipulating. We don’t play on the streets. It’s not safe. We also don’t play with code by creating a file structure and installing every possible package just in case we need it. Just thinking about that stresses me out. If I know exactly what I am going to make, then I’m all about my Sublime, file structure, packages, and away I go. But when I just want to play and have no idea where I’ll go with it? Glitch, please. Need Lodash? Easy. Add a package and move on. Want help from friends who are ahead of me in what I’m trying to learn? Invite them to help and code with me. They don’t even need to be near me.

I still have a lot to learn with Glitch. I have not had all the time I’ve wanted to play with it, but I try to return to it daily to learn something new. During the week, I am so loaded to the nostrils with challenges that my weekends may be the best time for extended Glitch time. I think I’ll replace my Daily CSS Images challenge with a Sandbox Challenge and have an hour of Glitch and an hour of Codepen so that I can code with the freedom of screwing up.

All that praise aside, the best part is that it’s created by awesome developers to help the n00bs like myself get better. How stinkin’ nice is that?




What did I just say?

When I was at The Iron Yard in Austin, I struggled with using the language of coding language. It felt hokey. I was embarrassed to say things like “passed in” or “instance”. I felt like a poseuse. I also was nervous about being called out for it. Hear me out.

Language is often used as a way to exclude others. It is the secret handshake. Doubt me? Misuse a word that belongs to a certain group. I dare you to say “between him and I” (yes, Grammarly, I know. I’m making a point; don’t make me sic you). to a group of English teachers. Mispronounce “meme” to a teen. Tell a scientist that you have the “stomach flu”. How else can people better identify who is in and who is out? As a dual US-Australian citizen, I deal with this all the time when I choose to keep my Aus/UK spelling when I do my own writing. It’s my way of keeping my Australian identity while in Texas.

To protect my ego, I resisted. I can’t misuse the terms if I just don’t use them or if I use my own slangy terms. The problem is that the language is part of that culture. My instructors pointed out that if I want to be a developer, I have to use the right words. It stung. It felt like a criticism. Ok. It was. We need to not be so sensitive about criticism and using “critique” to soften it. I was not doing the right thing by me if I wanted to become a developer. If my instructors had let that slide, they’d have failed me. I got that. I was a teacher once and loathe letting things slide because it might hurt feelings. If seasoned developers laugh at me for using the word in the wrong situation, then they are the jerks. I had to let that go.

Still, new vocabulary doesn’t happen overnight. I had to hear the words, read the words, use and misuse the words until I didn’t realise I was no longer thinking about them. After I left the boot camp, newly minted and freshly scrubbed, I read coding blogs, logged hours in video tutorials, and talked to others about code. Somewhere along the way, these terms became a part of my own language. I noticed it when I was explaining functions to a middle school student. For some reason, after saying “passed in”, I paused. I don’t think the child noticed, but I had to take a breath.What did I just say? When did that happen? When did it become natural and not something I actively thought about? One day I hope to be the mentor to someone switching careers to become a software engineer. I want to be the safe person to practice speaking the language of code. Excluding is easy and all over the place. Let me not be that person.

Pure CSS fun

Because I needed another challenge …

I do not know why I signed up for the Daily CSS Challenge. All I know is that I saw someone’s 100-Days-of-Code tweet that had some cute image and this hashtag I had not seen before: #dailycssimages. What is that? I had been using CSS and CSS3 to place boxes of paragraphs and images onto my screen. What is this new tasty candy I see? I looked it up and found myself taking The Coding Artist‘s (Mike Manialardi) tutorial on making a pure CSS image. I was hooked. I signed up for the (week) daily challenge.

I feared that I would use this as a way to avoid other projects when they got difficult. I also worried that this would soon become something that was glorified doodling.

Wrongo, Falsetta von Falshenberg.

Here’s what I thought I’d be doing: making boxes, making circles, using background colors.

Here’s what I have done: learned how to use mixins, used box-shadow to make pixel pictures, become familiar with Pug, used for-loops in Pug and SCSS, improved my ability to animate features and coordinate the timing.

And I am not even done. I just found this YouTube account from following other people in the challenge: Eleftheria Batsou. Now that I am used to how I break ideas down into shapes and concepts, I would like to see how others do it. I can’t lose when I see what other people do.

I keep a bucket of my entries, but these are some of my favourites:




My inner toddler

Until I have a full-time job, my job is finding that job, and my day is broken into looking for it and preparing for it. In some ways, looking is easier. Writing a cover letter and fretting over a typo I may have missed exhausts me, but I am limited to the résumé and the cover letter. When those are done for the day, I look at a number of things I need to learn to back up those documents I send out.


  1. Improve upon my current skills
  2. Learn more frameworks and libraries
  3. Learn more languages
  4. Don’t forget how to do the old stuff while you’re acquiring new stuff.
  5. Repeat this loop until 2090.

I’m no longer in a boot camp, so I do most of my learning, relearning, and refreshing with tutorials. I have a list of tutorial class names on graph paper. I colour in a square for every new lesson. These tutorials cover languages, frameworks, updates (ES6), UI to backend. As I watch the progress bars grow stall grow, I notice that my tutorial pattern is a lot like the eating habits of a finicky toddler: Nothing but ES6 except bite of HTML5 for a while, then vanilla JavaScript only with maybe a bite of ES6, then ONLY REACTJS!!!, then Python and node, BACK TO ES6!!, oooh, Flexbox. Nom nom nom …

This used to stress me out, but as long as I circle back, I’m good. If I never want to see a topic again, that’s also good. That language or framework is not for me. I need to know this. If I’m on a roll, why stop just to have balance? If I’m in a ReactJS mood, why deny myself that and force PHP on me because I should?

We are incredibly lucky to have the internet and the means to have online-tutorials, blogs, and challenges. We can sample and choose our style and pace. There is no right way to consume these new skills except what works for yourself. So if all you want to do are ReactJS tutorials, go for it, shuggatoots. The others will be there for you when you’re ready.