So I am expending a lot effort to learn to code my own iPhone Apps. As I wade through the not so well worded descriptions of how the programming languages work and abstraction and blah, blah, blah my brain hurts and I wish my Venti Pikes Place was a tall cool beer. I have done a lot of scripting in MAYA, Lightwave, FLASH and all that sorta stuff over the years. I am told by my PROGRAMMERS friends though that what I have done is NOTHING compared to what THEY do when they are coding FOR REAL! I mean, man, I mean like they are really DOWN IN THERE MAN! They are DOWN AMONG ‘EM! They are TALKING TO THE METAL and from their fingers flow the mana from which new worlds are born! They are MAGICIANS MAN!!
Tom Lopez once pointed out in one of his radio plays that the definition of the word “Arcane” is “Secret Knowledge”. If you are unfamiliar with Tom Lopez and Meatball Fulton’s work at ZBS you should check it out because not only are they silly and entertaining but they also make you think twice about the world you accept as real.
In every society there are the medicine men, the wise men, the “Keepers of the keys” to the kingdom of enlightenment. They usually surround themselves with trappings of their mystic powers, strange and curious oddity from beyond the veil, and speak in tounges.
Yeah so programmers are a lot like that, except now they surround themselves with action figures and wear “Big Bang Theory” T-shirts. They gibber in Java, Ruby on Rails and Cocoa and have far flung opinions about, well just about everybody and everything. Sometimes, as milestones approach, they are quiet and keep to themselves, which is the harbinger of either digital brillance or a trip to the local bell tower with a high powered rifle (don’t worry though, these days the weapon is usually an iPhone APP).
Now I have spent my entire life around computers and programmers. During the Korean war my Mom, Audri June, had to go back to work because she had two kids and a husband in Japan fighting for our personal freedom against the godless commies. She got a job doing something that they thought at the time was too demeaning for men to do, programming computers the size of aircraft hangers. She started programming with patch cables and did it for 30 years. As a tyke during the summer I often sat with her at work and colored as the walls of tape drives spun and spun. I likes the musty mechanical smells and the fact that the air conditioning was great, a rarity in Southern California at the time. Later on in college when I was studying engineering and using my first CAD system ( an IBM, we used punch cards) she and I would sit at the dining room table and work on our cobol code together. I loved those days.
When I got into the computer games industry though I met the EDGY new generation of programmers, these guys were surfing the crest of the digital revolution. For the most part I liked them a lot. They were smart, informed and welcomed the well structured Chaos that I always attempt to surround myself with. The Majority of my friends are still programmers, but there was a universal attitude at the beginning of games that said that artists were an “over priced necessary evil”. Most of the artists coming in were more familiar with paint than with pixels and they had to be shown how to use the tools, taking the programmers away from more important things…like…well anyway. The problem was that the artists had something the tech guys didn’t. something intangible. Something that allowed them to do things that the programmers couldn’t, and even worse it was something that they had innately, it didn’t come from years of schooling it was NATURAL.
It was ARCANE, and the programmers were used to that being THEIR BALLIWICK!
For my part though I had a lot of respect for their skills as well, almost the the point of being reverential (though I never let on that I felt this way). I would stare at their open editors in awe, I suspect in the same way some of them looked over my shoulder, or those of my co-workers (I did get to work with some of the best artists of my generation). My friend Tom Lucas used to come in and look over my shoulder while I worked and ask if he could just do ONE pixel so he could say he had done art for a computer game. I told him sure, if I could add a semi-colon to his code anywhere I wanted to (debuggers weren’t that good back then). Often the programmers would do stand in art to show us what a new tool for animating or art creation would do. Thus was born the phrase “programmer art”.
So what the hell does all this have to do with me, a pudgy, bearded artist learning to program? Well you have to understand that a lot of artists like myself are having to make their way again in the world as freelancers after a long time suckling at the brick tit of the games industry. Some will say it is because of offshoring of art and development resources to former third world countries. The more bitter of us will snort about the rampant “age-ism” in the games industry these days, which is true to some extent. I think though there is another underlying reason that so many of us are back out here, the same reason that the Army doesn’t want anyone over 30, too many of have our own opinions and are set in our ways and that doesn’t fly well with producers and designers who grew up playing the games we were making. They will buy you a beer but they don’t want to work with you.
So as I am reinventing myself into the guy I want to be when I grow up I am back in the world of the wizards of programmers, this time with new eyes and looking at them form a new perspective. In this case I was looking for a simple solution to a simple problem. When I went to the Apple Dev sites, even though they are great (that’s the Kool-aid talking) I still might as well have been reading translations from High Elvish. So I bopped over to the numerous iPhone forums and searched, what I got was people like myself asking a simple question and getting responses of a…somewhat colorful nature. On one board one wag said they couldn’t tell them in a public forum because of the NDA you sign when you become an Apple developer (like he was special for having paid his $100). On another board the same question was asked and the thread rapidly degenerated into a mud slinging match at Apple (this guy was obviously too clever for the rest of us and he resented that Steve Jobs refused to take his calls).
Finally I saw that there was a YouTube video that was a direct response to my question. I clicked on the link and was shown exactly what needed to be done in a clear concise manner…by someone who sounded like they were 12 years old. I can’t stop smiling about this because it gives me some hope for the next generation of developers. I mean in both the professional docs and the user forums all the bozos were acting like twelve year olds and in the end I got my answer from one.
Man, it made my day. “…and a little developer shall lead us!”