Geek Project: LightSail

Lightsail-BadgeI’ve been a backer of LightSail since it first released on Kickstarter, but it’s only just occurred to me that y’all might be interested in it too!

LightSail is a solar sail project that I had to back, thanks to a childhood (and adult) fascination with Arthur C Clarke’s short story Sunjammer plus a large dose of “wheee SPACE!” that every grown-up adult should possess.

The actual LightSail has now been launched, ignored everyone for a while but then started talking again, and it currently floating around the Earth enjoying the view…I get regular updates through the Kickstarter project and it’s been absolutely fascinating. I won’t even try to tell you about the details on here, but please do go and check it out!

Spaaaaaaace

If you haven’t played Portal 2 (in which case, please go and do so) there’s a Core in it that’s obsessed with space, and the title is a quote from that…however, it’s also very apt for a crafty project that my housemate Sam and I have been doing recently, and I’ve just finished the last details on. We made SPACE!Space-themed bedding
We found the fabric during our visit to Clevedon, at a wonderful shop called The Spinning Weal. I was after a simple-ish project to teach Sam to sew, and the fabric was so awesome that we had to get it – and hey, duvet cover plus science equals awesome!

Sam sewingI didn’t take many pics during the making process (and let’s be fair, the duvet cover is twice the size of me anyway, so pics don’t work well). We started on the pillowcases as they were simpler; I showed Sam how to measure and pin and then he did a seam…and then did the rest of the seams and the next pillowcase…he picked it up so quickly that I was really impressed, and I don’t think I did more than one seam just to finish the duvet! We did both struggle with laying out the cover, mostly because of the sheer amount of fabric, and then I had to remember how to do buttonholes. But we got there!

We got two types of fabric; one that was the Solar System, and one of light-to-dark space. I have to admit I messed up – I didn’t get enough of either. We ended up using a black cotton to do ends on the pillowcases, and also on the duvet cover; it was partly leftovers that I had already and partly a few meters of standard black from Hobbycraft.Solar System pillows

We did two sets of pillows, both of which are also reversible, so you can use either side and have the pattern going right across the bed. There’s the solar system (right) and the light-to-dark stars (below).Space 3 The duvet cover is light-to-dark stars with a strip of black at the top – entirely my bad for not checking how much fabric we needed, but it was sort of an impulse purchase. Luckily it did work out this time, but I definitely prefer buying more fabric to less, and this is a reminder to me to do that next time – I can always use spare but making up shortfalls is a pain.

It looks pretty amazing on the bed, and I’m grinning madly, while also debating what I can make next. What other fabrics are out there?! But there you go – crafty, geeky and absolutely awesome!

Sam hasn’t seen it on the bed yet either, so I’m looking forward to the grin in about half an hour’s time when he goes upstairs…it’s the little things in life, isn’t it?*

 

* I got a grin and a hug. I think he approves of it! 🙂

Another creative outlet

14/07/2014 20:11

I haven’t done any writing for a little while (officially, since the first Saturday of the month, and even then my hour’s writing time courtesy of the Swindon Freewriters was actually spent plotting charts…), but I do have another creative outlet at the moment that I want to talk about: coding.

Yes, I’m a nerd*.

 

For all the non-tech people reading, I do all the stuff that makes your screen look pretty and the words flow nicely and the boxes to resize when you look at this website on your iPad instead of your computer screen. I mostly work in X/HTML and CSS, and I’m currently learning (ok, swearing at) Javascript with plans to learn jQuery because apparently that is SO MUCH DAMN EASIER THAN STUPID JAVASCRIPT**. I’m also mostly self-taught, as I suspect a lot of coders are. I did six months with a web team who were brilliantly helpful and I picked up a lot of the basics there, but things change a lot in the web world. There are some courses that teach you; I highly recommend Lynda.com if you have access to it, and W3 just generally, as their mini-courses are excellent to play with.

But I mostly learned simply by fiddling. Most web editors have a WISYWIG (what you see is what you get, aka. plain view), but also have a code button. I simply started changing things; I looked through the code, and began to recognise the format. That’s a <p> paragraph, oh ok…and that’s a <table>, and there’s a <a href “www.writingandcoe.co.uk”> link…so that’s the <h1> title, and then if I go into the CSS I can see that the <h1> is bold and larger size and ooh look, I can turn it colour:blue; – and it goes blue! Whee! So what happens if I change that…ah. Um. Ctrl+Z? Ummm, nope. Ok. Restore saved version and try again!

 

I admit, I love coding. I absolutely love the feeling of getting something working. I get the same high as I get from writing when I write code and it does what I want. I get ridiculously happy in the moments when I’ve spent an hour trying to figure out what’s wrong, and I work it out. I love being able to make a change and see it happen. I love the languages, the formats, the structure and the ability to explore and experiment, the fact it changes with every iteration of the language. I really admire the W3, and that fact that so much of the languages and the whole coding and formalities are crowd-based and anyone can chip in, anyone can understand. Coming from someone who is very disillusioned by politics due to the lack of ability to participate***, who felt that so much of life is the preserve of people with something I didn’t – one way or another – have, the fact that you can simply learn coding yourself and understand it well enough to be able to understand and participate in this amazing community is still a constant surprise to me.

I also love the teaching and learning process. I love that there is always more to learn: I will never be good enough, and that’s amazing. There will always be better ways of doing things, and everyone I speak to helps me with my understanding. On the flip side, I was recently absolutely floored by the realisation that I have suddenly got good enough that I can help other people, and that I am that person I have been looking up to for the past few years. Last week, a colleague brought across several pages – and I could see the errors, and see where it had gone wrong, and point her at how to fix them.

And that’s probably the most important thing in coding for me. It’s a sharing experience, and it’s a learning experience. I won’t fix my colleague’s errors for her: I’ll point out the problem, and point her at how to fix them; I’ll be there for when she needs help; I’ll happily show her how I would fix it – but she needs to know what the issue was and what the solution was for next time, and so I won’t just make it all better. If the people who taught me had just fixed my errors, I wouldn’t know what to do when I saw them again.

 

So for the past three weeks, I’ve been coding for three days a week(…ok, four-and-a-half. Don’t tell my two-days-a-week-boss). I have done coding before, fairly obviously, and I’ve coded several sites from scratch. But the fact I am getting paid to do this, and the fact that it is all I am doing – sitting blissfully in the corner of the office with my headphones in, tapping away – is still astonishing to me.

So there you go! I haven’t been writing novels, but I have been making things change colour and resize and display what they’re meant to instead of error messages. It’s just as creative, in its own way!

 

* I was told this in some astonishment by a colleague. I just looked at her and said “I am ridiculously happy because my menu goes bold when I click on a page. Of course I am a nerd!”

**I may have opinions about things.

***I don’t usually discuss my political opinions (unlike my opinions of Javascript), so that’s likely all you’ll hear about them.