Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Tutorial on Online Tutorials

A lot of people describe tutorials as being double-edged swords, either because the work is impossible to replicate or too easy to replicate (and therefore commonplace). The truth is actually a little grimmer. Tutorials are more than just double-edged swords; they're like swords with lit sticks of dynamite for handles. They can taint all of your future work with repetitive effects and debilitate your ability to learn new programs. The tutorial is a powerful tool that can be used for good but careless reading can actually hurt you!

The reason I don't like tutorials is because people read through them thoroughly and then they typecast their own artistic methods to fit them: "Okay so I'm making fire for the eightieth time in Photoshop. I have to use this exact setting and use these exact filters and . . ." What you'll end up with is a very boring string of work—if you're lucky. A lot of people are hard pressed to even find a use for what they've "learned" in tutorials because their exact settings/techniques don't end up working with the rest of the project. When artists start thinking that they always have to do it the same way with the same settings they produce boring, bland and just plain bad work.

The problem is that people read tutorials and see them as techniques and settings instead of taking away the artistic principles behind them. It's easy to get caught up in the minor nuances that make up the effect or technique in the tutorial. The problem with this is that people absorb the technical details but they completely forget the greater picture of what they're trying to do in the first place. It's not just the readers who are the offenders though; the writers of tutorials are to blame as well.

A big problem is that people who write tutorials get caught up in technical details as well. They write tutorials with pin-point accuracy and include picture examples so that people can feel safe as they follow along. A lot of tutorials you see on the web (Program based mostly) are full of numbers and settings and are completely lacking in theory and practice. A good tutorial is one that acts both as an instruction set and an artistic lesson.

As I've been saying, what people should get from tutorials are the principles and ideas behind them that often go overlooked. This isn't always easy with the incredibly wide-spread availability of tutorials for various things; many of these tutorials aren't heavy on artistic theory anyway. What I like to do is browse through tutorials and when I see one I like, I don't read it. I look at what it's about, the brief overview, and then I go off and try to do it by myself without reading any part of the tutorial. If I get lost at a certain point I'll go back and see what they did but I won't read that damn thing until I hit a bump in the road. I find that my method leads to more creative learning and a lot less disappointment.

The point of it all is to learn to think for yourself and experiment with the tools you have at your disposal. You'll gain a lot more from learning what the specific function of a tool or menu is than you will from simply learning someone else's method of using it. Self-learning is one of the most powerful ways there is for learning computer programs; for traditional technique it varies. With drawing and sculpting it’s pretty safe to use the "look and try to replicate" approach. Complex and/or dangerous trades like jewelry crafting and pottery making should be studied thoroughly using the appropriate texts.

Overall I think tutorials can be beneficial to just about anyone who wants to learn more, as long as they're used correctly. Finding tutorials that focus on possible variations is a definite plus. Another good technique is to seek out as many tutorials on your specific subject as possible and compare them to each other. As long as you read responsibly and try to take away artistic principles instead of quick fixes and settings, you should be fine. Just remember: nothing compares to a well-written book on the matter!

Abstinence-Only: A Small Drop for a Big Thirst

*I wrote this a few years ago when I started college*

A young man calmly walks into the bathroom for a routine visit to the “porcelain god”, and all is good. He taps his fingers on the cold white surface of the countertop as he makes his way to the back of the room, anticipating some long awaited bladder relief. As he unzips the fly of his pants and takes hold of, what he might describe as, the eighth wonder of the world, he notices that something is terribly wrong. What once felt like any other warm living body part now felt more like a rotting dead fish, cold, clammy and unwelcoming. It is suddenly hyper-sensitive to touch and pain spirals throughout his groin. The boy looks down in terror as a drop of pus oozes out of the swollen opening of his glowing red member. He has gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This scenario may have been avoided if the boy had abstained from sex or used a condom; however, his high school does not provide information on condom use, and he is a bit of a rebel.

The punishments for disobedient students in areas where abstinence-only sexual education is implemented are AIDS, unplanned pregnancies and a myriad of painful and traumatic sexually transmitted diseases. Some teenagers have informative parents who explain the necessary methods of preventing STDs but those who do not are being denied valuable information that could change their lives forever. Abstinence-only sexual education is a threat to society and withholds information that students have a right to know.

Abstinence-only Sexual Education is a program in which students are taught solely to sustain from sex and are not comprehensively taught about contraceptives. The program is intended to reduce the amount of STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) among teenagers and young adults in high school. The students take the course and most take a vow of virginity (In some private religious schools the vow has different theologically based names) and according to journalist Cheryl Wetzstien, “Taking a virginity pledge is ‘strongly associated’ with lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – teen pledgers are twenty-five percent less likely to have STDs as young adults than non-pledging peers, Heritage Foundation researchers Robert Rector and Kirk A. Johnson said in their reports”. The inverse is also true, however, and other studies have shown that those who pledge are more likely to engage in non-traditional forms of sex that keep them at risk for STDs. In fact, according to journalist Jill Colvin, a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health found that those who take virginity pledges are “six times more likely to have had oral sex than a non-pledger”. It also found that pledgers who were male were as much as four times more likely to have had anal sex than abstinent males who did not make the pledge. While the efficiency of virginity vows can be somewhat unclear, the vows of abstinence are only a small pixel of the Abstinence-Only Sex-ed image.

One of the most controversial attributes of Abstinence-only education is the biased contraceptive information. The program insists that abstinence is the only one hundred percent effective method of preventing STDs, which, aside from extremely abnormal occurrences, is true. In response, however, almost all schools which utilize the program discuss only ineffectiveness of contraceptives. It is a widely known fact, and statistic confirmed by the AVERT organization’s website, that, when properly used, condoms can drastically reduce one’s chances of being infected with STDs and have an eighty-six to ninety-seven percent success rate in preventing unplanned pregnancies and STDs. While the programs do teach the most effective method, they provide no other methods and severely limit students’ options. Students who do not follow the doctrine of the program face possible exposure to dangerous STDs and unplanned pregnancies without the proper protection. There are numerous types of contraceptives and birth control with very high success rates when properly used. Sexually transmitted diseases are obviously not the only problem teenagers face today; teen pregnancies are a very important factor.

Unplanned pregnancy has become a large issue in the United States. Less than fifty percent of schools in America provide information on obtaining birth control and only roughly thirty-three percent of schools educate students on abortions and sexual orientation. According to the Planned Parenthood® Organization, the United States of America has “the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world”. Our teen pregnancy rate is almost double that of many other countries. Teen pregnancies are traumatic to both the mother and father; often times there are severe financial problems. Teenagers today are having sex and having children, despite the futile attempts of Abstinence-Only Education. Abstinence-only education is not effective in preventing teenagers from having sex. It is also a largely theological movement.

The abstinence-only method of sexual education was first suggested by Christian religious groups and is a teaching in almost every private Protestant or Catholic school. The groups have received millions of dollars in funding from conservative politicians and bills designed to provide money only for abstinence-only education. Abstinence until marriage is a very important part of both the Christian Protestant and Christian Catholic religion and the ism is focused around this. Unfortunately this does nothing more than delegate a moral on teenagers. There is no law that defines the appropriateness of contraceptives. The constitution specifically states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . .” Government funding exclusive to schools which adopt a doctrine of a religious group is unconstitutional, as it would establish the government’s support for a particular religion and exclusion of others.

The program is merely endangering students by not providing precious information in the hopes that every student will listen and obey. Almost every aspect of the Abstinence-Only movement is based on theology, and not on safety. While it teaches a valuable practice that will save many teens the anguish of STDs and pregnancies, it is not effective enough. It is no secret that all teenagers do not follow the rules they are given. It is inevitable that students will have sex despite what they’ve been taught. Vows of virginity prove to be of little help, anyone with a working mind can break a vow, and many teenagers try to find a “work-around” such as oral or anal sex, which still lead to STD infection. With abstinence only sexual education the young adults and teens are ignorant to the proper ways of protecting themselves from STDs and conception. They are left defenseless in a cold world of disease and death. If Abstinence-only programs were implemented across the United States our country would eventually suffer a plague of overpopulation and disease.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pi, the closest thing to God?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a giant supercomputer that could just calculate Pi to quadrillions and quadrillions of digits, infinitely?

They say that, because pi is so infinite, you could assign each letter of the alphabet a number and you would find any piece of literature somewhere in pi, entire novels even!

We also have nearly infinite choices for how we assign those numbers, which further expands the possibilities. A doesn't have to equal 1, it could be 4 or 56 or 217; it's all arbitrary.

So if we had a computer that stored trillions of petabytes of information on the digits of pi and could search through them reasonably fast, we could then create a database of all the possible knowledge of the universe.

We could store decoder combination for letters in another database and thin search through pi for all the known texts of the world. Once one is found, we could then record the place it starts in pi (Probably in Exponential format to save space) and the decoder combo used. We could then have an entire work of literature stored in a few characters, and it's all part of an infinitely massive variable that contains all of the possible knowledge in existence.

In essence, pi is a database that stores every possible knowable thing and we can access any particular piece by simply searching through it.

Of course I think this would also mean that we could use a decoder combination at random and just search through pi to see if it has anything interesting to say. Since it's infinite there's no limit; perhaps a message from god is hidden within pi. Since pi, supposedly, never ever ends and has no pattern it's reasonable to believe that a detailed description of everything that could or will ever happen in the future is somewhere in pi. Of course there's just as much chance of finding a fictional version as well.

Maybe it's all just fantasy/fiction but if anything I've said carries the slightest bit of truth, I think Pi seems to be all knowing and very mysterious--not unlike many people's view of God.