Get ahead of the game—make your own Android app.

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or a lot of people, the hardest part of programming is getting started—especially in high school, where only a few lucky students can take programming classes. How do you do something when you’ve never learned how to do it, right?

Try this: learn on your own!

Here's one model of the software development cycle. Google it to learn more about what it means!

It can be hard at times, especially when you’re already going through hours of school every day. But the rewards are great—imagine being able to make money by selling your app on the market—and it doesn’t take as long as you might think.

In fact, if you dedicate just an hour a day (not even counting weekends) you can have your first basic app done in less than two weeks. And you can have something substantial—a real app with some functionality—in just a few months! Here’s how to get started:

  1. Pick a language and install it. There’s a wide selection of language to choose from, but if you want to make an Android app you ought to install Java. (Before doing so, check if your computer already has it.)
  2. Download an IDE. To make a program, you need a couple things besides the language:  a text editor to write the code (like how you can use notepad or Word to write a paper for school); and a compiler to translate the code you write into “machine code,” the language your computer works in. An “integrated development environment” is something which combines an editor and compiler, and also adds some really handy features to help programmers out. A good IDE can suggest code, help you find bugs (holes in your code that will make a program malfunction), and keep you organized. We recommend using Eclipse because it’s powerful, works well with Java, and is free. Here’s a link to Eclipse’s Java IDE.
  3. An older version of Eclipse, with the Android plugin, running an Android VM.

    Install the Android plugin for Eclipse. Follow the instructions on this page; they’re pretty simple. This plugin gives you a few cool things: first, it adds basic functionality for working with Android apps; second, it has a UI editor, so you can edit the app visually rather than just with code; and third (perhaps coolest) it lets you make a virtual machine. (A virtual machine is just like it sounds: a virtual computer inside your real computer. They’re great for testing programs because they’re conveniently right there on your computer (meaning you don’t even need an actual Android phone!), and no matter how catastrophically your program fails you can clean up the mess by just making a new virtual machine.)

  4. Arguably the best book on beginning Java programming, written by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates, has plenty of examples and explanations, and is written for someone who isn't an expert yet.

    Learn to code as you do it! The best way to learn is by doing, so having a book (or online tutorial) opened while you program  is the best way to learn how to program! We recommend these books to get you started: Head First Java to learn how to code in Java; and Hello, Android to learn how to program an Android app. If you can’t find those ones, don’t worry! Just check your local libraries for similar books, and don’t forget to check thrift stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army for used copies as well! Follow the examples in your books, and check out Google’s online classes to make some simple apps for practice.

  5. Look for an idea for your own program. If programming is your job, you often have a project assigned to you, but having an idea is at the heart of all self-driven programming. Let the question, “What should I program?” simmer in the back of your mind. When you find a problem in your life that could be solved with a simple app—whether it’s the problem of boredom (make a game), or a new handy way to share photos, or whatever—then you’ve got your idea! Take what you’ve learned and start coding!

Everyone Needs A Computer To Survive: Near-Portland Students Can Get Them Free.

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ou may have heard that computer science is important to study, but have you really heard the why?

Today we’re going to talk about why you need to study computer science to be successful. And then we’re going to talk about why getting a computer is not a problem for anyone near Portland, thanks to a great group called Free Geek. There’s a fair amount of reading, so skip to the parts which are interesting to you.


Why You Need Computer Science And, Therefore, A Computer.

Software Development: Your Future Job

Software developers have bad posture, according to this picture from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What are they trying to say? Be the cure. Sit straight.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Software Development is one of the fastest-growing highest-paying jobs. Read: It is one of the highest-paying jobs, and of the category of highest-paying jobs, it is is the fastest-growing. And many of those jobs require only a bachelor’s degree. (Source). That’s pretty wild. And it means if you want to hop on board with one of the most accessible and lucrative jobs in the US, you need to start programming.

About Software Development

Read a little bit about software development, as described by the US BLS. Here’s the gist:

  • The job growth from 2010-2020 is projected to be 30%. The average is 14%.
  • The median pay is $90,000 per year.
  • Entry-level jobs require a B.S. in computer science. Similar-paying jobs often require a Ph.D.

That last piece of information is important: if you want to become a high-paid software developer, you need to study computer science.

Obstacles for Computer Science Students

Charles Babbage, the first computer scientist, didn't have a computer but was still great. You can be, too. But since computers are, you know, invented now, we recommend picking one up.

Don’t even get us started on the number of non-programming jobs which require you to use a computer (most of them). That said, computer science what you need to survive.

So why are some people skeptical about CS majors, or hesitant to study it? Well, there are a couple things which, at first, seem scary:

  • A CS major involves a lot of mathematics classes.
  • It’s hard to get one’s hands on a computer with which to program at home.

Here’s the problem with math: it usually involves a lot of pencil-and-paper computations which are tedious and just plain annoying. That’s how math often gets taught in school. But the kind of math you learn for CS is less about computing and more about concepts, and you can have your computer do the computing (appropriate, isn’t it?). Check out this great TED talk, from one of the guys in charge of Wolfram Alpha, about how to revamp your math education:

Math is not about tedious calculations, it’s actually about logic and problem solving.
Plus, when you’re learning to program a computer, you can make it do all of the
calculations.

Given that a CS student needs to focus on conceptual math, and can make their computer do the calculating, that means that the biggest problem for CS students is getting a computer.


How to get your hands on a computer.

Linux is popular among programmers because it's completely open-source and completely customize-able. That's why there are custom distributions like Ubuntu.

For a lot of people, getting a computer can be hard. A decent one is a couple hundred dollars, and good ones can be over a thousand. Some people are lucky enough to get one as a gift or hand-me-down from family or friends, but other families just don’t have computers. That’s fine for a family, but not for you. You need one to study CS, or even just to get by in the professional world.

In Portland, there’s a company called Free Geek, whose goal is to get computers in the hands of as many people as possible. They believe computer skills are essential for the future, and have a number of programs to get computers into the hands of people who may not be able to get them otherwise.

The Ubuntu logo. Ubuntu is one of the most popular distributions of Linux.

Free Geek has two programs to get computers at no cost: the Adoption Program, where you donate 24 hours of time in exchange for a free computer; and the Build Program, where you build five computers for Free Geek, and then a sixth for yourself. Click the above links to learn more, and then apply.

The best part: the computer you get is loaded with Ubuntu Linux, a great operating system both because it’s free and because Linux operating systems are great for programming learners, thanks to their customization and their shell. Plus, they offer free classes for their volunteers.


Read On

Tear Apart Your Microwave: Why secondhand stores are your friend.

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any people wind up being engineers because they like working with their hands. That interest starts with things like clay and LEGOs, but as you get older you might find yourself wanting something more. Toys are fun, after all, but you’re big enough to get your hands dirty with something bigger. Something more complicated. But it can be tough to find something suitable that you’re actually allowed to take apart. If you did what Engineerguy does in this video, you might get in a little trouble:


Engineerguy is one of our favorite YouTube channels.
Check out some of our other posts mentioning him.

But GetReal thinks the drive to take stuff apart comes from a good place, and that drive is what makes a lot of people good engineers. So don’t let it die. Keep that drive to learn alive by going to a secondhand shop like Goodwill or Salvation Army, where you can buy used hardware like microwaves, TVs and computer monitors for way less than the price of a new one. Then take your bounty home and tear it apart.

This is a microwave gun on a truck. We recommend against trying a DIY version for now.

Gutting hardware is the most visceral and real way of learning how it works. (Consider for a second how doctors first learned about the human body; gruesome, but it gets the point across.) If you find yourself wanting to get your hands on something bigger and better than LEGOs or clay, save up a few bucks and head to a nearby secondhand store. Find some good stuff to tear apart, and maybe even rebuild.

Just don’t make a microwave gun. See left.

How to kick start your DIY engineering project.

As a kid it might be hard to get things done. You might have a lot of ambition but a whole lot of people telling you no–either because you’re “under 18” or because you “don’t have a degree” or some other lame reason.

At times like those and, indeed, like many other times in your future, you can’t just wait for someone’s permission to do something. If you want to make it happen, you’ll have to do it yourself.

Check out this article about some California high school students who are building their own flight-simulator cockpit. Or just watch this video:


It sounds like tough work, and it surely is.

What can you learn from this group? Don’t get scared off by the idea of a big project. They sure didn’t. In fact, you can use it as motivation to try and get even more done. Engineering is, at large, all about breaking down huge projects into manageable pieces.

Camcorders are ideal, but if you or a friend owns a smartphone with a camera, that can record video too.

One thing that’s making this group successful is that they’re documenting their progress on film, and uploading it onto their website. Especially for big DIY projects, it’s cool to share your work–part of the beauty of DIY is that it can inspire others to do it themselves.

But getting a website hosted and getting a camcorder is expensive. On top of that, what about the cost of the project itself? Don’t get turned off by the need for money. Sometimes big projects need big funds, and for that there are services like kickstarter which let you present your project idea and, in return, ask for donations. All you need to do is promise to give a little back.

But even then, sometimes there are clever ways to cut corners. And that’s another important lesson: don’t squander your resources:

  • These guys are using an open-source (free and editable) flight simulation program, because buying one could cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Plus, open-source means they can edit the program if they want, to customize it for their needs.
  • A lot of high schools have a multimedia program with cameras that they lend out to students, and even editing software. If your school doesn’t have one, ask your teachers about which schools do, and contact them!
  • Furthermore, web hosting can be free. There are services like Google Sites and Weebly which offer free website building. As a matter of fact, the group making The Viper used Google Sites for their website. And there are many other free hosts.

A lot of these tips are “don’t”s. That’s because when it comes to your own project, only you can decide what to do, because you’re not waiting for permission from anyone else. We’re just advising that you avoid letting these potential turn-offs demoralize you, because they’re challenges everyone faces all the time, and there are good ways to solve them.

Read on:

100% LEGO Arm. Cheap Prosthetics?

A LEGO hobbyist and YouTube video maker named Max Shepherd uploaded his most recent creation, something which is pretty impressive and very cool: A prosthetic arm design, made completely out of LEGOs.


Probably not getting put on someone’s shoulder any time soon, but very cool.

For something made totally out of LEGO parts, this is a great feat. It’s not as agile or strong as regular prosthetic limb designs, but it can do a lot of humanlike things as seen in the video.

While LEGOs as prosthetic limbs may not be a reality for our immediate future, this is definitely testament to the fact that technology has gotten so accessible now, that someone with some spare time can make a fully-functional limb. All you need to do this yourself is time, patience, and the engineering and programming skills you can learn here in Oregon.

Read On:

High schooler builds his own 8-bit computer, because he can.

Well, he probably surprised himself in doing it. It sounds like a pretty scary thing to try, but once you get going and focus on getting one step done at a time you’ll be amazed at what you can do.

And that’s what this guy did. A guy named Jack Eisenmann, who just graduated from high school, built himself an 8-bit computer out of an old TV and keyboard, and some chips he probably bought from an electronics store. Oh, and tons of wire, as you can see in the video:

Complete with classy retro music. The system has 64K of memory and
prints a 240×208 black-and-white screen.

From the creator:

The DUO Adept is an 8-bit homebrew TTL CPU + GPU I have designed and built. As a challenge I used only basic kinds of logic chips; no microcontroller or video card. It has a black and white TV monitor and keyboard, and is generally awesome!

Oh, and I forgot to mention: I made this when I was a highschooler with no formal education in electronics. 🙂

Read on:

  • Here’s the project website for what jack calls the DUO ADEPT. Looks pretty complex, but we’ll bet you he took everything one step at a time.
  • Engadget article about the story.
  • Wikipedia article about TTL, which he used to design the computer.

PSU’s Business Accelerator helps you grow your own engineering company

The Portland State Business Accelerator sounds, on its face, like something for a Business major. And in a way, it is. It’s a business incubator, which is a facility that helps startup businesses grow, so you’ve got to have a running business if you want to get help from it.

PSBA is just a little off campus from PSU, and helps startup tech businesses grow

But this business incubator is different. PSBA is focused specifically on technological-innovation businesses, so if you want its help you’ve got to be in the world of engineering and innovation.

Which means a business major might not be enough if you want to get your idea through PSBA. Have you considered a minor in business with a major in engineering, or even a double major in business and engineering?

Some people really enjoy doing the tedious trials and tests and redesigns—and that’s how they do their part to be engineers. These are the kinds of people who might like puzzle games—they’re addicted to solving little complex problems. But there are also people who like creating a creature that can do these innovations on its own. These are the kinds of people who might like playing games like Sim City—little problems are great, but the big issues are what stop the big progress.

If you’re a PSU student or plan on becoming one, there are also internships available through the companies incubated at PSBA if you don’t plan on starting your own. It’s a great way to move from the university world to the working world—a transition that can be difficult for a lot of students.

PSBA offers office space, research labs, and several other resources to growing businesses. If you’re the type of person who likes engineering because you have have good ideas that you want to share, starting your own business might be for you. And if that’s the route you want to take, consider a minor in business, or even a double major, and check out PSU’s opportunities.

Read on: