Stop Saying You Need To Know Math To Program

Imagine that you’re going to attend your first math class. You’ve asked everyone you trust about math, and they’ve told you that you need to be good at English before entering. And you’ve studied everything you can about English. You’re prepared; you can take this “math” thing everyone was talking about. Confident about your abilities, you look up the black board, and see this:

Solve:
1 + 1 = ?

Well, uh, yes, you know what “solve” means, but what does “+” or “=” stand for? And why are there so many numbers?

It’s only until years later that you realize the only reason everyone recommended learning English before getting into this profession because in the real world, you’re often translating word problems into math equations. This leaves you disgruntled. Sure, knowing English is useful if you already know math, but it didn’t help in the slightest when you’re learning it for the first time. It feels like everyone lied to you, despite their best intentions.

The above example might sound rather absurd, but it’s exactly how I felt when I first learned programming. Everyone insisted that I improve my math skills because programming has strong similarities with math. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While it’s common for a programmer to translate math equations to code, knowing math does not help you learn coding any faster. Much like how English and math are two very different subjects, so to is math and programming.

So what is programming? It’s about writing a set of instructions in a language a computer understands. Take the following example:

Console.WriteLine("This is the first line.");
Console.WriteLine("This line of code prints the second line.");
Console.WriteLine("Let's print more lines!");

This C# code above will print 3 lines on the console. Can you guess what those lines are? As a quick hint, the part, “Console.WriteLine” basically tells the computer that it should print the information between the two parenthesis in the console, before making a new line.

If you guessed the following answer:

This is the first line.
This line of code prints the second line.
Let's print more lines!

Congratulations, you’re already on your first step in learning programming. No math needed!

The only difficult part of this job is that the language a computer understands — store value here, recall said value, do this if that, etc. — is very limiting, and requires the programmer’s smarts and attention to detail to cover language’s the limitation. Coding requires you to know what conditionas are (true vs false), and when to use loops (do this 10 times). Programming also requires parsing out the state of stored variables after running through a set of instructions. In short, programming is a whole lot of logic, a subject most math courses don’t teach. Don’t worry about solving math problems: let the computer do that for you.

So I ask from other programmers this: stop saying to those who doesn’t know programming yet and wants to learn coding that they need to know math. This gives the impression that programming is about solving 342 x 853 in their head. It gives the impression that they’ll need to combine 3 tangentally-related equations to solve a single word problem, when in the programming world, it’s actually better to leave those equations separated. Worst of all, it gives the impression that good mathematicians are automatically good programmers. None of these are true, and it all makes it unnecessarily harder for everyone to learn coding. Instead, say what is actually accurate: know a little bit of logic before learning programming.

Anpanman, the inspiration of One-Punch Man

Note: this is a cross-post from a Facebook post I made.

Seeing that my Facebook timeline is being filled with a lot of One-Punch Man‘s existential crisis, I should probably talk about Soreike! Anpanman (それいけ!アンパンマン), a show I grew up with and what One-Punch Man is clearly based off of. They both fight against aliens with their signature one-punch, and their baldness and fashion style are eerily similar. Plus, anpan (red-bean-paste-filled bread) are delicious, so yeah, let’s talk about my childhood.

Anpanman is a children’s anime. Yeah, I don’t have a particular strong feeling with this one like I would with Doraemon or Crayon Shin-chan. It’s clearly aimed at just above toddler and younger elementary kids. Every episode starts with the titular character, Anpanman and/or his friends flying around town filled with anthromophic animals and…more (noticeably annoying) characters with food as heads. An accident would occur, and the hero/heroine swoops in to the rescue. This ranges from something as dangerous as a bridge breaking apart while a bus full of kindergartners was crossing it to something as petty as a kid who’s hungry. For you see, Anpanman and his friends, Currypanman (curry-bread man), Shokupanman (white-bread man), Melonpanna (melon-bread girl), etc. has superhuman strength and hilariously bad substance-related weakness (typically water). A western audience would immediately figure out what these characters are based off of. That said, they also have one more interesting quirk: their heads, being bread, is both edible and directly related to their strength. This becomes an interesting character study when Anpanman doesn’t hesitate to help that hungry kid by feeding him a piece of his own head, thereby weakening himself. Additionally, it works as a Deux Ex Machina because baker Uncle Jam and Batako-san seems to bake an endless supply of Anpanman’s head replacements (they also have a truck that doubles as a helicopter and submarine, so this isn’t as out-of-ordinary as one would think). They literally unscrew his last head to replace it with a new one. Either that, or shoot the new head from a distance, hence knocking off the old head and screwing on the new. Very metal.

This universe’s equivalent of Lex Luther is an alien named Baikinman (germ man), who also has a bratty but significantly nicer partner-in-crime, Dokinchan (heart-beat girl?). Baikinman is a bit of a mad-scientist, capable of making awesome robots in one night. He’s also childish, spoiled, and selfish, which combined with his mad genius, proves to be a deadly combination. His absolute insistence on destroying manners and consuming as much candy as possible (he also gets cavities a lot. Dude doesn’t learn) is what often causes trouble around town. That, and he hates Anpanman for his one-punch hits (Aaaaaaaan-puuuuunch!).

As with most super heroes, Anpanman is a classical straight-man, and Baikinman is the one-dimensional, psychopathic brat. Instead, it’s the side characters that are the most interesting. For example, Dokinchan, while selfish, immature, and often cooperates with Baikinman on his greedy schemes, gets very annoyed with Baikinman temper tantrums and frequent lies. This, combined with her crush on Shokupanman, often leads her to back stab Baikinman and even show some good will in a couple episodes. Currypanman is like Donald Duck: good at heart, but has poor anger management. He has the ability to spit acidic curry, which makes him comparably more destructive than Anpanman, so any episodes starring him is usually about the struggle of staying happy while dealing with annoyances that comes with fame.

Anyway, for those interested in seeing how Japan interprets super heroes aimed towards kids, Anpanman is actually pretty interesting cultural study. They do have an unusual focus towards proper manners and traditions, as seen by it’s opposite, Baikinman. That said, if you expect fast-paced action, blood, and gore One-Punch Man is known for, you’re going to be disappointed.

The Tragedy of Racism in Japanese Media

Warning: racism will be openly discussed in this post.

In a podcast I was in earlier, there was a mention of black face appearing in the Dragon Ball Z anime, which the US localization team did their best to cover. The brief discussion about it being racist left me with mixed feelings, so I wanted to address some thoughts that propped from that moment. In short, I have a theory that many racist undertones from Japanese media are not a result of racist intent, but rather, consumption of racist foreign media from a clueless audience. And to be honest, that’s a rather tragic way of revisiting an old problem.

When it comes to the US, topics about slavery and segregation in our local history comes up starting around middle school, and most teachers emphasize how horrible they were, and how they still affect us today. In comparison, at least up to middle school level I was educated in, Japan doesn’t even talk about slavery in their local history (despite the fact that they obviously existed there), let alone anything related to the African continent. On top of this, Japan is an infamously homogeneous population, with 98.5% reported as ethnically Japanese as of 2011. To them, the racism against blacks might as well not exist: they lived through a completely different history that didn’t involve enslaving blacks, and since their country’s black population is so tiny, most citizens haven’t encountered a black person either.

So if a Japanese medium depicts a black face with no knowledge of historical context, and thus, no ill will, that’s not racist, no? While I do believe that the creators probably intended to create a cool looking character, it also tells me they’re depicting the worst kind of racism: one born from ignorance. Unlike what most “Japanese people are really patriotic” comments like you to believe, Japan does consume foreign media, and even crave it. Many manga artists, including father of anime, Osamu Tezuka are well-known to be inspired by American comics and films, especially Disney and Looney Toons. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that any black face and other racial stereotypes are directly inspired by racist comics and films from the USA. And these stereotypes trickle down into their daily lives: since their presence in Japan is so small and thus, they have no real-life examples to go by, when a Japanese person does meet a black person, it’s fairly common for them to make a huge list of poor assumptions. Ironically, these very assumptions brings birth to fashion styles that attempt to depict the positives in that racial stereotypes (in comparison to Japan’s absurd level of politeness, anyway), which proves to be further damaging when they go out of style. In a way, Japanese media is a child learning from a racist father, the American media.

The part that I’m feeling most mixed about is whether this is something that can be solved, or even whether it should. I don’t, for example, think it should be Japan’s responsibility to learn the dark history of segregation in the US, similar to how I don’t think the US needs to teach Japanese history. As mentioned before, I genuinely think Japan uses racial stereotypes because “it looks cool.” It’ll be difficult to convince anyone that something that looks cool to them is actively harmful outside of their own country (side note: yes, it’s harmful inside their own country, too, but there isn’t many that can speak up against the practice). I frankly can’t blame the creators there not knowing any better: they are making media for their own country, and it falls under the localization team’s responsibility to adopt the medium to their country’s standards.

On the positive side, though, the reduction of black face appearing in the American media has reduced black faces in Japan as well, albeit slowly. It’s more common to see black people in mangas and animes now-a-days depicted as simply anime characters that just have darker skin; their lips are either not depicted or very thin pink, rather than the doughnut shape black face is known for. Japan’s way of stereotyping black people are looking less and less distinguished from how they depict other foreigners, too: obnoxiously curious about everything, rude, insensitive, violent, and more. I mean, yes, the xenophobia is a problem in and of itself, but it’s a bit humbling to see that they look at both white and blacks as equally annoying presence in their rhythmic lives full of manners and rules. Finally, American media that depicts segregation and their harmful effects are positively influencing Japanese media as well, with mature mangas like Billy Bat depicting segregation with the proper weight and respect.

Besides, it’s not like Japan can’t be intentionally racist, either. The Japanese population being racist against South Koreans and Chinese is a very real reality. One can easily see this in the standardized Japanese education, the very same middle-school-level education I was taught in, that fails to mention their historical slavery practices. I get very wary of Zatch Bell!‘s depiction of Li-en, and in particularly, her strange, thin(ner) eyes. While she’s a character that, fortunately, kicks ass and is a fantastic ally, her racist design is something the artist must have been informed of, and chosen deliberately. I hope that you, consumer of Japanese media, don’t learn from these stereotypes depicted by the racist father, the Japanese media.

Ludum Dare, Heavy Topics, and Anti-Censorship

Today, I want to talk about heavy topics and how it relates with my anti-censorship beliefs. As a warning, I’ll be discussing about domestic abuse, and make very brief mentions of rape.

With Ludum Dare 33 over, and our Tech Valley Game Space stream finished, I can’t help but notice compared to other Ludum Dares, this one in particular had more controversial games. I guess this is to be expected: the theme was, “You Are The Monster.” To be honest, I’m disappointed, not because games were more controversial this time — if anything, it’s a sign that the medium is maturing — but rather, because they didn’t serve to do anything positive. These games have, in my opinion, failed to utilize the power of free speech, and instead serve as examples of how to abuse the lack of censorship in today’s connected world.

For example, there’s a game called Monster in the House which involves a greedy spouse whacking her husband with a bat to extract money from him. In the middle of the game, some children will bounce in, and the spouse has to be careful not to hit them while extracting more money. Game ends when the spouse’s satisfaction meter falls to 0, or the spouse accidentally hits a child. It’s a pretty comical game, to be honest, with all characters in the game either looking like grumpy clowns or bouncing balls. Likewise, the depiction of blood is very unrealistic, utilizing a string of red squares instead of looking like an actual liquid. Playing the game, I think the creator wanted it to be a fun game above all else, and had no intention of offending any specific person. It was made with good intentions, and I personally have no ill will to the creator. That said, the subject hits very close to home, and it’s infuriating that the game fails to recognize the gravity behind domestic abuse issues.

My dad owns a sushi restaurant filled with days of ups and downs. My mom, despite her children still in high school and middle school, did her best to help him out during the downs. Both were hard-working, and my mom especially was resourceful, rarely showing any signs of greed. That day was, perhaps, the worst moment the restaurant faced. I was exceedingly lucky. I was asleep when it happened, and have to rely on my siblings recollection about this event. After one stressful night, my mom snapped. Unable to take the day-by-day stress anymore, she attempted to claw and tackle my dad. My dad, usually calm and quiet, frantically pinned her down until her anger subsided. It only happened one night, and neither parent violently attacked each other again. Yet, it was enough to change our entire family.

I want to get back to my position with censorship for a minute. I’m against censorship: I favor keeping our speech in public as free as possible. The reason? I’m a strong believer that if we want to tackle topics like domestic abuse, it’s necessary to discuss about them directly, rather than working around them as if they doesn’t exist. Similarly, anti-censorship gives us the freedom to criticize, especially those in position of authority. With this measure, we the people can put companies, politicians, law enforcers, and other authoritative or privileged figures in check by pointing out their flaws. Thus, I lament when public schools or libraries — any public locations with employees who are in the exact position and expertise to discuss and educate difficult topics in a civil manner — censor mediums that cover said topics. Anti-censorship is most powerful when a medium causes the public to discuss how to improve our current world.

When mediums cover heavy topics, I’m always asking whether it successfully starts a constructive discussion in the subject matter, or criticizes any unfair practices. For Monster in the House, the answer is a stern no. The game fails to make useful observations as to why domestic violence often goes unreported, and certainly poses no solution to solve it. Even if it was presented as a joke — and to be fair, I do think the creator meant it as a joke — it fails to be either absurd, or a criticism to the practice. Similarly, when Wild Flirtation casually presents “Card Rape Sakura” as an option your monster character can respond to a woman, I fail to see how that joke is absurd, or provide a meaningful discussion about rape. And being a Japanese-American, I’m fully aware what that joke was making fun of. The joke only serves as a criticism to Japan’s image issue, and not the rapists in the Japan, or in any other country. Both games only serves as an example (even a normal) of violence, passive and unwilling to comment on the subject when they should be. They’re just controversial for controversy’s sake.

As opposed to these games, there were two that comes to mind that served to be a more positive example. Manifest Destiny depicts a giant white male figure roaming around and destroying pyramids while small black people runs away from him. A casual observer would probably comment the game is racist, and it is: the game openly admits it’s a metaphorical depiction of colonizers taking over African countries, including selling off the natives as slaves. Even without this message, the criticism the game makes on race still stands: the white giant progressively becomes more demonic as the game moves along, making it clear to the player their actions in-game are evil. I also really liked Hitogochi which, despite it’s more innocent dialog options than Wild Flirtation, was graphically more violent. The game makes the player role-play as a monster being treated by a klutzy and inexperienced caretaker. Important to the plot is a separate, primal personality the monster is fighting against that wants to eat more human flesh. Hitogochi makes it clear this primal split-personality is the main villain, and offers numerous options to fight against it. It successfully criticizes violent urges by presenting it as an absurdly psychopathic personality, and even provides some positive actions one could take to fight against it. While both games contains controversial subject matters, their presentation makes it clear both wants to fix said matters.

Free speech should be treated as a tool, something that can be used for good and for ill. As game developers focusing on pushing bounds of the medium, we should focus on the good behind free speech: providing positive and constructive messages for the public. It is our responsibility to both approach controversial topics with confidence, and with proper research and education. Covering just controversy itself isn’t enough anymore.

Predicting the future (because I’m, bored)

When you’re devoting much of your time on stuff like independent game development, it’s very easy to have a myopic view of the world. So to relax a bit from being an insignificant indie gamedev, I’m going to try thinking of something else besides video games. By predicting the future…very poorly and insignificantly.

Niches will be more important, while general public will become a less viable market.

There’s two reasons I suspect niches will become more important: first the recent successful startups in practically every field I know of have been capitalizing on smaller, more devoted niches. Second, I’m seeing that the advent of internet and smartphones has caused a lot of younger people to favor exceptionalism somewhat more than their originating country’s culture. I suspect the newer generation prefers working with tools and comfort that feels like it was made for them than what’s popular. This will inevitably chew away “general public” as a market, forcing a lot of bigger companies to create different variations of the same thing to cater each niche.

In other words, the next generation market will heavily depend on style and identity. The shift to this personalization age will be a slow one, however, since the only way a startup can grow from their niche is to aim towards general public. Personally, I suspect (and hope) that the market will slowly fragment, causing “the general public” to shrink.  Until, that is….

Everything will be automated.  Yes, even art.

It’s a historical constant that making any job easier for the general household stays and improves lives.  So when the next set of automation, either with cooking, sanitation, material collection, etc. rolls, you bet that’s going to remain for a long, long time.  Going along the same line of thinking as the last segment, automation will first aim towards niches, then push themselves into the general public with customization options.  Should they succeed hitting the general public, these companies will be able to hit a wide range of niches merely by adding more customization options, making their product personalizable for nearly everyone.

Not only will this inflate the size of “the general public” again, it will actually make competition less viable.  In fact, at the point automation becomes a real thing, I suspect monopolies will rule the market (at least, in the Windows vs Mac level of “monopoly”), and formations of new companies, including art studios, stagnate.

At least in the US, defense and law enforcement spendings will decrease, and public service will increase. This will be true for most first world countries as well.

Simply put, war and violence are at an all-time low, and will continue to decrease for nearly every country.  Technically, I suspect there will be a bottom to that curve, but I don’t see that happening specifically on a global scale for quite a while.  Anyway, things like defense and law enforcement (police, for example) spendings will have to decrease as they become less and less necessary.  People are becoming more capable of policing themselves, making the enforcements more outdated.

Instead, spendings on public services will increase.  We’re already seeing this: countries like Japan are aging, and the need to support older people are causing them to go heavily in-debt.  Practically all first-world countries are facing this problem in varying degrees, even here in the US.  We’re living longer, and will need to support the growing, older population, and since increasing that age limit for retirement isn’t going to happen any time soon, the spendings will have to increase.

This results in some significant shifts in the market.  For one, older generations are now going to be a new niche market, and a healthy one to boot.  Second, government as a customer will be less reliant on “brunt force”-based defense, instead focusing more on cyber defense and spying.  This shift in technology also means that airplanes, tanks, and battleship engineering will be fazed out towards maintenance while UAVs and snooping will become more important.

There will be a series of major technological breakthrough in combating global warming.

Disregarding the debate on whether global warming exists or not, lots of efforts has been placed in combating global warming.  I think it’s inevitable that a new series of breakthroughs will occur, allowing companies to adopt cheaper protocols that still manages to be environmentally more safe.  This includes emitting less toxins and carbon dioxides, as well as using less rare-earth materials.

The unfortunate thing is that it’s going to take the less fortunate countries a little longer to adapt to these technologies.  This is partially due to politics, as these countries that rely on mining rare-earth materials a lot will now have to sustain that market artificially.  However, most of it will be due to simple human stubbornness.

Alright, all of these predictions were safe so far.  Let’s try something else.

The numbers of countries will increase until your backyard is your own country.

Taking the personalization part to the extreme, I expect the number of countries to increase, especially after the automation phases.  Basically, by the time everything becomes automated, most upper-class households will be capable of holding on its own without relying on imports.  It would, at this point, make sense that they attempt to customize the government to their preference.  I think somebody will eventually figure out how to efficiently create their own country, and everyone will follow suit.

So what does this mean for the United Nations?

UN will die, and be replaced by the internet.

Or something like that.  When I say “UN will die,” I mean that they will lose relevance.  Really, I’m not sure what will replace the UN, but my hunch says it’s the internet.  Because that makes sense.

Currency will cease to exist.  Trade will be more personal.

Obviously if your country is the size of your backyard, it’s going to be pretty pointless to have money.  I suspect trade itself won’t die, though.  Instead, it’ll be more personal, with less middlemen to worry about.

The world is shifting towards introverts.  Social will become more physically separated.

I suspect extroversion will be less appealing as a personality trait, as newer technologies that augment communication favor those introverted.  In a lot of ways, both the general population and the popular media will become a lot quieter and will rely on more complicated connections with their audience.

Alright, that’s enough venting boredom for now.  Back to work!

Help Support Indies Need Booze Patreon Campaign!

Hey, all. I wanted to give a shout-out to a great friend who regularly sets up events called Indies Need Booze, allowing both fans and indie developers to have a great, casual time to talk each other and laugh out loud. These guys has helped me a lot, and it only seems fair that I return them the favor!

indiesNeedBooze

They recently started a Patreon campaign to help sustain their blog, and it’s an amazing deal. Starting at just $3 a month, you’ll receive a free game every month. Sounds excellent? Here’s the link to their campaign:

http://www.patreon.com/indiesneedbooze