Digital Pens

Well, folks, it’s time to finally give you the scoop on my school adventures so far.  To sum it up in just a few words: it’s been great!

Wait, don’t go just yet!

I talked last week about how school has been keeping me busy.  That’s an understatement.  It’s quickly become apparent that I’m working on school projects from about 9 am (slightly after arrival on campus) to between 7:30 and 9 pm every day.  And that’s not just weekdays – that includes some busy weekends, too.  Only by being super proactive with my work have I been able to keep up on posts and other writing.

But that’s not to say I’m not enjoying the experience.  I haven’t had a single day yet where the time moved slowly.  Not a single period has been boring, or lacked the opportunity to learn something.  Even material that I’ve seen before – technically, I learned linear algebra with my first degree, though I admittedly don’t remember it all that well – has been presented in new and interesting ways.

One of my biggest struggles when learning anything new has always been discovering the ‘why’ at the heart of the idea or equation.  The ‘why’ of how the thing works, and the ‘why’ of its usefulness.  Often it’s difficult for me to devote myself to learning a concept if I can’t see the natural progression from it.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there are many of you who can relate.

I’m learning those ‘whys’ here, and can honestly say my professors are some of the best I’ve ever had.  In linear algebra, not only am I understanding something that now appears laughably easy, but I’m seeing how critical it is for working with computers.  If you’ve ever looked at a 3D picture on a screen, in a video game or otherwise, the entire operation behind it is dependent on linear algebra.  It would literally be impossible to draw a 3D object without linear algebra.  Part of me asks, why hasn’t that ever been made apparent before?  Why have so many math lessons been taught at such a cut and dry level?  I can’t answer that, but I can say my professors are making the difference.

Now,that’s not to say my professors don’t have their own unique quirks and personalities.  Professor Mead, our CS120 instructor (for learning the computer language C), has the gruff demeanor of a football coach, or perhaps even a drill instructor.  He’s obviously a true expert and very thoughtful in his instruction, but his philosophy on coding things properly is downright draconian.  Of course, in the end, that’s for the best, and it’s clear why he enforces those rules.

On the opposite end of the personality spectrum is Professor Duba, who seems like the guy football coaches would have hated.  He reminds me distinctly of this fellow:

Rick Castle

Ever seen the show ‘Castle’, or any other character played by the actor Nathan Fillion?  That’s pretty much Professor Duba.  Not only does he act like ‘Castle’, he actually looks a bit like him to boot.

If you’ve never seen the show, Richard Castle is a fantastic writer and generally stand-up guy who has the affect of mischievous schoolboy and a sometimes scandalous reputation.  Watch one lecture of Professor Duba’s and one episode of ‘Castle’ and you’ll quickly see the connection.  On that note, the new students have been instructed by the upperclassmen to always clap whenever he comes into the room, and repeatedly ask him about the phrase “The King of the Nerds.”  I’ve heard rumors it involves something that happened in a bar 10 years ago.  I’ll let you know if I find out about that one.

Despite all those funny quirks, however, he also happens to be an accomplished physicist who’s worked with Stephen Hawking, and taught me more about how computers think and work in three weeks than I learned in my previous 29 years.

In general, I would say all of my professors are quite brilliant.  I’m confident my professors at UF were equally accomplished, but something else I can’t quite put my finger on comes across here at DigiPen.  Perhaps its the smaller nature of the school, or an outside factor I don’t see right now, but I’ve really gotten the sense of how much the instructors have to teach me here, and how willing and excited they are to do so.

Of course, since they are so dedicated to their teaching, they’re also dedicated to making sure we understand the material.  Which means lots of homework, and some very difficult work has been put on us very, very quickly.  But the rewards are already starting to manifest.  To give you an example, I thought I would show off parts of the ‘game’ that I made in the last week.

I call it ‘Neutron’, and the basic premise is an ‘Asteroids’-style shooter with the caveat that you can’t kill enemies yourself.  You have to get a ‘Positron’ enemy to combine with a ‘Negatron’ enemy, destroying both of them and forming a ‘Neutron’ which you can collect to raise your score.  Shooting enemies makes them change polarity, and they’ll occasionally attract one another. Of course, if you touch an enemy or a wall, you die, and the game resets.

It’s very simple, and I won’t say there wasn’t a lot of hand holding at this early stage, but the game is mine.  I coded the scripts, made the animation for the ship, constructed the level, and figured out how to make the enemies change with shots and destroy themselves when they combine.  It was a pretty cool experience.

I expect I’ll soon have many more.  See ya next week!



One comment to Digital Pens

  • Stephanie Blackwell  says:

    Hey there! Glad to see everything is going good 😀 I know the feeling of “things being presented in a fun way”. A lot of the stuff i’m learning, I already know, but my amazing professors are really amping it up and making it amazing with the stuff I didn’t already know and answering the why’s.

    Here’s hoping we might get to team up for a game team one day 😀

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