Nov 24, 2008

SparkArts 2008

This weekend Tracie and I attended a bit of the Spark Arts Festival at the Salt Lake City Library. This is the second year for the Spark Arts Digital Festival, a program to help beginners and wannabes like me learn ways to build and design video games.

I first heard about it when my Writing for Mass Media teacher, Shana Hamilton, told our class we could receive extra credit going to the Festival and writing an article on our blogs about it.

I have both my History classes on Saturday, and in Art History I had a test. So I emailed Clarissa Helps, who is in charge of the Festival, a few of my questions.

My questions were:
Would I still benefit from going about half the day?
Would I be interrupting anything?
Would I get totally lost?
Would I be able to possibly buy the software for building games on CD-ROM or get them installed on a flash drive?

Clarissa responded promptly:

"You would still benefit from attending Saturday afternoon. If you are able to attend Friday evening as well, I encourage it, but the main events on Saturday will begin after 12 noon.

SparkArts is designed to welcome both the programmers who attend the entire festival and those who just want to drop by. You would not be interrupting by coming Saturday afternoon. I also do not believe that you'll be totally lost, no. If you get confused and wish to refute this claim, feel free to come speak with me Saturday. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

If your laptop has an Internet connection, you can obtain the software online. I will also have the software on a flash drive."

With this new information, I eagerly awaited the festival, as well as my promised extra credit.
As some of you may know or at least have guessed, designing and making computer games is a secret dream of mine, and this seemed to be the universe opening a door a crack for me. My love of making video games stems from my love of making games, my love of video games, which stems from my over active imagination and desire to one day be paid for having fun.

Saturday class and test came and went (Look forward to these, and more, in an upcoming blog) and Tracie and I drove up to Salt Lake City.

I'm not sure if Ms. Hamilton, my teacher was testing our resolve, but Saturday was the day of the big game. As in BYU vs. U of U. Fortunately, we didn't run into any real traffic (Unfortunately for BYU, U of U doubled their score) and arrived at the Library in good time. After asking information where the Festival was held (and the sign in front of our faces) we entered, and I was a bit surprised at what I found. We got there around 3:45, and most of the attendees were playing Dance Dance Revolution (very very well, I might add) but there weren't a bunch of elite computer programming geniuses dispensing wisdom; there were a gaggle of folks hanging out with friends.

I shortly learned that the Festival was the brainchild of siblings Adam Helps and Clarissa Helps, (siblings of my teacher, Shana Hamilton. If the family resemblance didn't give it away, an interview with Adam did).

Everyone was very friendly, Adam showed me a few websites I could go to in order to download free software for programming a basic game, XNA Game Studio and the language C#, as well as a website with all kinds of tutorials even someone like me could understand. In interviewing Adam, he told me he works designing 3D models and is a BYU graduate, recommended things like GIMP for images, Audacity for Sound effects, and Modplug for music. About 80 or 90 people have attended the Festival at the time I spoke with him, and there were two "almost" entries in the design a game contest, down from last year's two. Adam said that next year they hope to be in Utah County for the Festival, and I look forward to attending next time, hopefully earlier, and with more game designing know how.

One darn good-looking guy learning a bit about designing games.

I also spoke with Michelle, a friend of Clarissa, who was nice enough to stop sketching some amazing drawings to talk with me a bit about the art and visual aspects of game design, something she hopes to do (and I would LOVE to do). I felt very inferior to her (and everyone's) skill and knowledge, but she offered some encouragement, that most of her teachers and professors didn't start drawing or designing until they were in college. So there's still some hope for me after all! She showed me one of the coolest things an artist or graphic designer would love: a Wacom Tablet, where you can basically draw on computer. Reason enough to get into this stuff. One piece of advice she gave me that I may look back on and agree: "Digital Painting is easier= lies."

I learned a lot at the Festival, not so much about HOW to design a game (we were only there for about an hour, after all) but I learned 1) that it's still possible, 2) where to go to learn and 3) that I can do it! And you can too!

Nov 19, 2008

PRESS RELEASE: SparkArts: A Digital Festival


SparkArts: A Digital Festival

Salt Lake City – The annual SparkArts Digital Festival will be at the Salt Lake City Library this Friday and Saturday. This free event teaches participants how to create art with a computer and is particularly geared toward people who want to make digital art and video games but don't know how.

"Utah had a thriving digital arts scene among teenagers and college student in the mid-90s," said Adam Helps, one of the festival's founders. "Unfortunately, much of this has faded away in recent years. SparkArts is our attempt to revive and even expand on this culture, which helped capture the imagination and inspire the previous generation's computing professionals."

People are welcome to bring their computers and install our free and legal software so that they can build new creations with ease. Those without computers will be able to use our lab area to work on their projects.

Major focuses of the festival include video game programming, computer-aided music composition, digital painting and 3D modeling. Participants will meet professional game developers, musicians, and artists in a casual setting. There will be question-and-answer sessions, tutorials, and many just-for-fun activities including games, scavenger hunts, and competitions inspired by the quirky digital-arts culture.

SparkArts will have several different competitions in game creation, music, and art all with a 24 hour deadline. The results will be displayed in a fun and colorful closing ceremony.

SparkArts organizers have been setting up similar events for more than five years, and hundreds of participants have come and enjoyed the experience. Most of SparkArts' organizers are software developers and IT professionals working in Utah.

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday at the Salt Lake City Public Library, 210 E 400 South. Please contact Clarissa, the events coordinator, at with any questions or comments. Visit the SparkArts website at


I'll be there, partially for the extra credit, partially because it looks really cool.

Nov 17, 2008

Christmas comes Earlier every year

Not that I'm complaining.

I've been listening to Christmas music on the radio and on iTunes for about a week and a half now, and it just makes me more festive, more jolly, and more able to deal with the fact that it gets dark before I leave work now.

I keep trying to convince Tracie to let me decorate the apartment with holly and mistletoe and our tree and everything else in the cinnamon-scented box in storage, but she still won't let me, saying she just set up fall decorations. Oh well.

I've started Christmas shopping already, Tracie and I are finally getting to the age where there's not much out that we want for Christmas. Maybe that's why people have kids, so they can go nuts with holiday spending again.

On Saturday we went to Mervyns, as that store is going out of business and apparently they have wicked specials, but somehow not nearly as cheap as I'd think from a store going out of business. We probably should have gone last week, since the store looked like it had literally been looted. There were bags and boxes EVERYWHERE, clothes missing, on the floor, since all sales are final, employees don't seem to care about the cleanliness of the store anymore. We got a few things for us, but the big purchase (and the majority of my Christmas gifts from Tracie) was... a new suit!

I think my last suit died before I started a blog, maybe 2 years or so ago I had a great new suit my parents got me after my mission that I ruined when I slipped on the ice and landed in a puddle of gasoline. The suit never recovered, I did eventually.

It's a gray suit, complete with a new tie (Tracie HATES all my ties) and belt, and I must say, for the price we paid for it, I look like $1,000,001 bucks! I'll have to post a picture of me, though I'm usually against posting pics of me. You see, I'm not nearly as vain as you might think. But I'm much lazier than you think.

We've also bought a new bookcase, so most of our Christmas shopping for each other is done! Now we just have to enjoy our cocoa and Christmas music while the weather gets colder. Until we go to Texas and have a Christmas at about 80°!

Nov 12, 2008

Sometimes I Wake Up Grouchy...

Sometimes I let her sleep.

Nov 10, 2008

Update Nanowrimo 2008

So my novel has been going along horribly. It's so boring I have to force myself to write every word. Then in my writing class we had to go somewhere on campus and write what we saw. And for the first time all month I enjoyed writing. I really like my story, but I don't like writing it. So I'm putting it on hold and again going back to what I love and what I think I'm good at: fantasy and humor.

I'll be writing or trying to write multiple stories, just going for 50,000 words.

Now, just for fun, and because I have to write a few hundred words for a blog entry for my class, here's my 2 writing assignments for the day:

Observations at UVU Library

A woman drops off her husband at the new library building. For convenience she takes a handicapped spot and waves goodbye. I walk past them and find a seat in one of the many areas with a plaque pleading "this room needs a good name," providing Ali Johnson's phone number if you feel like adopting something different and Brad & Angelina got the one you had your eye on.

I sit at a table on the ground floor of the 5 story high "green" building, realizing that a library might not be the best place to observe others and their conversations. I am one of 19 students doing work we have to do here for some reason, instead of at home. More than half of us have laptops, there is one group of 4, three groups of 2, and the other nine of us stay involved in our own business, our own projects.

The group of four seem to enjoy themselves. It's interesting how enjoyment and general rowdiness tends to increase as the number of people in a group rises. But then, if I just burst out laughing or talking to myself I would break several basic rules of decorum, and I'd move from observer to observed.

A soldier in military fatigues has just left. He looked determined to go, whether that means he finished all his work here or has a pressing engagement somewhere else, I'll never know.

The talkative quartet has also just left, each dispersing in a differing direction. The only sounds in the room now come from the scant click click of fingers on laptop keys and a large tv in the corner telling us irrelevant information about Barack Obama's personal life and how incompetent George W. Bush is. He's out of the White House soon, I thought they'd stop beating the poor dead horse. But, the Media's gotta abuse something.

And now, I leave. Wondering for a second who, if anyone, marks my departure for longer than the time it takes for me to walk out the door.


My other assignment was to write about something I love and then a how to about it. Since it's preoccupying my mind and time, even though I'm hating it as much as I love it, I wrote about NaNoWriMo. Hope you enjoy. If not, fake it.


Writers throughout history have been asked "how to write." Their responses may vary in syntax, but it all boils down to one profound word: "WRITE."

November is National Novel Writing Month, where writers and wannabes endeavor to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Before starting, the only thing you need (besides a pen and a lot of paper) is an idea. Any idea. Then just write. Editing, making it interesting, making sense, that all comes later. Write until your hand bleeds and your head explodes. Then type. Or dictate. Just get words down, because you can't move on to editing or publishing or signing a three movie deal with New Line Cinema if you haven't finished writing.

So write. Write write write. After you write, congratulate yourself. And let your manuscript you've come to love and hate cool down. Go back to it in a few months. It will still be there. Now, rewrite it. But this time you're free to worry all you want. Because now you're revising, and the fun part is over.

Nov 5, 2008

Snow! NOOO!!! and other quandaries

It's snowing again already! Didn't we just start Spring? Sigh.

Now is the winter of my discontent. Now is the discontent of my winter. Well, at least it waited until November this year to start snowing. Now Utah will be whiter than ever, even though we just elected our first half-black president.

I didn't vote this year, (sorry) but my reasoning was I didn't want to regret my decision. I'd be blamed either way for who I voted for or didn't vote for, but mostly, I forgot to register and didn't want to go down to the city office after the deadline.

I didn't especially want either candidate to win, but, with the outcome the way it was, it will be nice to hear Democrats blamed for things again for once. My only regret is that, since McCain didn't win, that means that Susan Surandon, Michael Stipe, Stephen Baldwin, Seal, and a bunch of other idiots I don't care about aren't leaving the country. Oh well.

Does this mean people in America are less racist and more sexist than we thought? Or just more anti-Republican than we knew? Hm.

Hey, it's stopped snowing for now, that's good.

My classes are going well, I think. We've had fall breaks and teachers going out of town and missed classes, but I'm enjoying them as good as I can. I think I said before this is not going to be a fun semester, but a necessary one. I'm already planning for next semester, though my big excitement for now is in a month and a half we'll be in TEXAS for Christmas and will get to see Ammon & Lynette and family from Singapore, who I haven't seen in years, and my parents and younger brothers, and other family coming to visit as well. I don't care if I've been good or bad this year or how Santa Claus treats me, but I AM excited to see so many Beckstroms this year!

My NaNoWriMo novel is off to a rocky start, so far I've thrown up only about 2000 words of passive verbs and cliche, (kind of like my blog) but I'm still committed, and I hope to start enjoying my book soon. If it keeps going the way it's going, I'm not sure I'm ever going to outline again. It takes a lot of the fun out of writing. Poor me.

We had a very happy Halloween, but Tracie called writing the first post about it, so I'll just say we had fun and put some heat under Tracie to get it written. :)

Also, this week is our book club's first book review meeting, we've read "The Metamorphosis" and will discuss its meaning, its author's intention, and decide once and for all what it really means to be "Kafkaesque."

That's about all I gots to say for now, not looking forward to the snow, but I guess I am looking forward to cocoa season, Christmas music and family memories to remember and make.

Nov 3, 2008

Dr. Austo Stradoseptile

In case you were wondering (I know I was) what I would look like if I were a Bond villain. Wonder no longer.