I’ve learned a few programming languages in my time. Sometimes for a particular project but also occasionally just for fun. So I was interested to find out that someone I knew had invented a programming language where the code looks like song lyrics; it’s called Rockstar.
What are song lyrics but a form of poetry and I like writing poetry so how could I resist. The best way to learn any language is of course to write a program in it, so I chose a simple example and had a go.
It was a fascinating experiment. Choosing a simple enough program to write made me aware of how many things I take for granted in most languages, things like bitwise operations or string manipulation. Writing this* into Rockstar led to a detailed study of the syntax. I made some guesses as to how things should work where the documentation wasn’t clear. I’ve followed some of the official example code and sometimes not. Using null as equal to zero and then incrementing it felt so wrong I just had to find another way.
Despite all this I found getting a ‘working’ Rockstar program is the easy part. Rewriting it to be sufficiently poetic took some time, including developing some of my own coding conventions which just shows how poetic code really is.
I’ll also admit to cheating slightly; the language as specified doesn’t have a random number function and I wanted one. So (based on C’s rand function) I’ve assumed a function that returns a random integer between zero and whatever maximum is available. I figure gambling is fairly rock star so that is an acceptable extension (I hope).
Because that function isn’t defined in my program I’ve added a way of showing that too. I hope I’ve also used comments in an interesting way.
Bring on Chance (my own invention)
Time takes my life and my tears
While my life is as strong as my tears
Put my life without my tears into my life
Give back my life
Simply takes a smile and a wave
Put a wave without a smile into the world
Build it up
Put Time taking Chance, the world into your life
Give back your life with a smile
Dreaming takes my hopes and my fears and my smiles and my tears
Shout my hopes
Whisper my fears
Shout my smiles
Whisper my tears
The sunshine was frightening
The shade was my compatriot
Your hopes were everything
My idea was wilder (no more than this)
Dreaming taking “I am thinking of a number between”, the sunshine, “and”, the shade
Put Simply taking the sunshine, the shade into my heart
While my idea is stronger than your hopes
Say “Take a guess.”
Listen to your dream
Build your hopes up
If your dream is smaller than my heart
Whisper “Your guess is too low.”
Take it to the top
If your dream is bigger than my heart
Whisper “Your guess is too high.”
Take it to the top
If my heart is your dream
Break it down
If my heart is your dream
Dreaming taking “Good job!”, “You guessed my number in “, your hopes, ” guesses!”
If my heart ain’t your dream
Say “Nope. The number I was thinking of was ”
Whisper my heart
*Obviously working out what this program actually does is left as an exercise for the reader
So sometimes my Twitter feed points me to something really interesting. Recently it pointed me to an application called Duolingo. It can be used via the website but there are mobile applications for Android, Apple and Windows. It’s an application for learning languages (the name may give you a clue there) which encourages you to spend five minutes a day learning a new language.
The idea is simple. Play the game, translating simple words and phrases in both directions and gain experience points (‘XP’) which allow you to level up through the language. Learning new skills and (more importantly) completing ‘streaks’ of continuous days played gains you ‘Lingots’ an in-game currency which can buy you useful things (a timed test, or a streak-preserver for instance) or just a new outfit for the games mascot, a rather cute green owl. You can follow friends too, thus allowing you to see who has practised most this week and cheer them on when they are doing well.
There are a wide variety of languages available depending on the language you’re starting from. For English speakers not only are there the obvious candidates (French, Spanish and German) but more unusual options like Esperanto, Swahili or Klingon. The courses are effectively crowd sourced, people volunteer to create the content which means that enthusiasts create courses (hence the more unusual options).
I decided to give it a go and learn Welsh. The first lesson was surprisingly easy (possibly helped by the fact that my six-word grasp of Welsh already included “bore da” and “nos da”) and I was hooked. It is surprisingly addictive. Got five minutes to kill? I’ll just strengthen my skills a little then…
The mobile version is the most accessible way to use it but the notes on the lessons when you visit the website contain some useful grammar tips which I’m not sure how well I’m going to learn. I’m hoping the later lessons will use more complicated constructions and perhaps I’ll learn them by absorption then.
Nine weeks in though and I’m still having fun. “Dw i’n hoffi dysgu Cymraeg”* in fact. I can’t do anything useful with it yet, like read a book or watch S4C, but for now it’s still a fun little game to play.
* I like learning Welsh.
You may well ask. Indeed you may also wonder how I even know and therein hangs a tale.
It starts a while ago when I first attended the Loxwood Joust where one group of performers were a troupe of belly dancers who I thoroughly enjoyed watching. This might have led to nothing had someone not decided to give me a hip scarf for my birthday. Now a scarf covered in jangling coins is hardly something you can wear around the house so I took the hint and investigated belly dancing lessons.
I found a class on an evening I wasn’t busy less than half a mile from my house, so I went along to give it a go.
Now you’ll know I’m not a complete novice to dancing in general and indeed I even have badges to prove it but this was a completely new genre for me.
Luckily the other ladies were incredibly friendly and supportive even when I was wallying about* at the back feeling like I had two left arms (the feet are far easier than the arms I tell you).
Yet somehow after only a few lessons I was learning the steps to the dance that they were learning for the Hafla. No, I had no idea what that was and still less idea that they would turn round and encourage me to perform with them there.
It turns out a Hafla is an evening when lots of troupes of belly dancers get together to eat, drink and most importantly dance for each other.
As part of the beginners class it was a chance to dress up and show off basically everything I’d learned up to that point and a chance to watch a lot of very talented ladies perform a surprisingly varied array of dances.
It really was an awful lot of fun. If you get the chance, you should go to one, you’d enjoy it.
*A technical term I assure you.
Having developed a real love of being backstage I thought I’d put some effort into learning how to do it a little better. So I signed up for Crew Class training.
It’s primarily aimed at people who want to work in the industry full time but as someone who always wants to do the best job I can (and is not averse to the idea of being paid part time for doing something I love either) I thought I’d give it a go.
So off I went to a little theatre in London to meet an assortment of people and spend the day learning about the world of backstage work.
Simon who ran the training was enthusiastic and entertaining. It was a long day with a lot of information being thrown at us but it was never boring and our attention was held throughout.
A major part of what we learned was terminology. From things we all knew already (‘upstage’, ‘downstage’) to terms I’d never heard before (‘socapex‘,’tallescope’). These were accompanied with pictures and in some cases returned to again and again to ensure we’d remember them.
As well as that we covered how to put a show together. Power, lighting and sound were examined and explained in a way that made sense. We were given good practical advice on working in the industry. (I’ll give away here the fact that the first rule was ‘Don’t be late’). There were practical examples given from real experience which certainly gave me a few new ideas.
For me the day felt like revision (and validation) of what I’d already learned and de-mystification of some things I’ve not yet encountered. I left feeling more capable, more positive and able to go on to bigger and better things. At least I’d like to hope so.
Once upon a time there was no internet. People looked up information in huge paper things called books (not sure what one is? Google it). Or they just lived not knowing the answers. Shopping was something you did by walking into shops and choosing from the items on the shelves and finding out what products were available relied on the knowledge of your friendly local shop assistant.
Now of course, we have the internet. I like the internet, I can find out almost anything almost instantly. I can choose from a variety of products and have them delivered to my door without me having to get cold, wet or sore feet from walking around town all day. It does however have its limitations.
So here are some things I have not been able to find:
- A website which tells you which new phone is the best one to upgrade to based on your current phone (If I find one it will laugh at me and tell me to get two tin cans and some string, but that’s not the point).
- A way of automatically marking up an e-book script for a part (if you use Apple though, ScenePartner looks amazing and does audio too).
- A website which given a dish and a geographical area will find a restaurant that serves it.
- A website which lists all the things that you can’t easily find on the internet (hang on…).
If you happen to know any answers, or even have things of your own you cannot find then do please comment and tell me.
So our pantomime has finished. I have already talked about how I learn my lines for a play but for the panto I had also to learn several songs and accompanying dances.
Of course learning a song largely involves listening but as I struggled to learn the lyrics (you try memorising “rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong”) I spent time poring over a lyric sheet, learning them as if they were lines.
When it came to the dancing I had more trouble. I watched out choreographer, copied her movements, practised what I could remember but still it struggled to stick. Beginning to fear I would never master the steps, I turned to online advice on how to learn and was reminded that there are three main learning preferences:
- Tactile (Kinesthetic)
I already know I’m a visual person. I am the reviewer of any document most likely to say “Can you add a diagram to that”. I learn lines from how they look on the page. Suddenly, I had a revelation. I sat down and wrote out the choreography (in note form at least) and laid it out alongside the lyrics I had already worked on. Now I had a way of identifying the gaps in my memory (which our choreographer could fill in for me), a way of learning and practising by myself and a crib sheet before the performance.
Quite honestly, I’m kicking myself I didn’t think of it sooner.
So the most important thing I learned from this was, no matter what you are learning you need to learn it in the way you learn best. Whatever that is. And for me writing this down is the best way for me to remember that lesson!
Well I thought I should mention that I have found myself a new singing teacher. She’s a lovely lady and I’m looking forward to working with her.
I had a trial lesson with her recently. It was in many ways different than I was used to, which is to be expected. However I think that is a good thing as it will stretch me in new and interesting ways. Indeed she got me to do several exercises, some familiar and some which were completely new to me.
The only drawback is that the summer holidays are upon us, so I will have to wait until the Autumn to get started with her.
I’m looking forward to it immensely.
I’ve had my last singing lesson.
Not for ever I’m sure but certainly for now. My singing teacher is leaving the area and so my lessons have come to an end. I’ve known about this for some time but with the play having been taking up my attention I’ve not acted on that information.
Now however, I have to think what to do next. Keep practising of course and also somehow find somebody who I can have a good rapport with who can help me achieve the things I want to with my voice.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
I’m very excited to have recently got a part in a play after many years away from the stage. This leaves me in the position of having lines to learn for the first time in a long while.
In discussion (in the pub, after rehearsal, where else?) I was interested to note that a couple of the other actors like to record an audio version of their lines which they then listen to – but that’s not my style. Instead I prefer to read my lines from the book, enabling me to build up a visualisation of the page and mentally ‘read’ them off in my head.
I think for me trying to learn them aurally would tend to make it harder for me to recognise the cue and harder for me to vary my delivery and I’m certainly not ready to set my performance in stone yet.
I think it’s interesting how different people learn in different ways though. How do you learn things best?