Saturday, December 31, 2005

My Year In Review

I spent about an hour and a half trying to write my “2005 year in review” and was not very happy with the final result. In a similar style to last years review, I broke the year up into months, and wrote a quick little blurb about what I had been doing. The problem is that though the summer months were quite eventful, I found that January through May and August to December were rather dry, at least from the reader’s perspective. So this will be try number two at creating something readable.

I managed to go on a couple of great vacations this year. I saw New York City and Philadelphia for the first time. Both were experiences that I will never forget.

Salt Lake City is a great place to live, but its night life pails in comparison with that of New York. It was amazing to me that on a weeknight at midnight there were still people all over Time Square, and that the restaurants were still open for business. There was such life, and excitement there. While in New York I managed to catch two Broadway shows, Wicked and Fiddler on the Roof. I also did the touristy things, and had a whirlwind visit of the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art.

Philadelphia was also an awesome experience, though I wasn’t as awed by the culture and sights. The occasion to go to Philadelphia was the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC). My aunt is an administrator with a School District here in Utah, and figuring that I would enjoy the conference because of my major in school, she invited me to attend. Though the conference lifestyle is a bit grueling (read up early and on your feet most of the day), it was highly inspiring and educational. I came home from the trip jazzed about blogging, podcasting, and full with ideas for the future of computing.

This past summer, I committed myself to accomplish a couple of projects.

The first was that I wanted to enroll in an exercise course at the University. My father being on the Staff there gets a discount, so I could take a fitness course with him very inexpensively. We decided on a spinning course, and though my dad would probably say that I wimped out on the thing (6:30 just seemed really early to be up and spinning), I think I had a good time once I got over the original shock that riding a stationary bicycle could actually be difficult. If I could just get myself more dedicated to a solid bed, wake schedule the whole thing would probably be a lot more enjoyable. I have decided that rigorous physical activity is an important part of any desk bound person’s day.

The second was to write a piece of software that wasn’t dictated to me by some class at school. Knowing that when I was in school this would be practically impossible due to my course load, the time to do this was also in the summer. Coming home from NECC, I was really excited about podcasting, so I decided to write my own RSS feed manager for pod casts. As a first attempt at creating a web application using PHP/MYSQL it wasn’t all bad, though it really ended up being more of a proof of concept than something that people would actually use. It was exciting because it was the first piece of software that I had ever written that came entirely from me. I know that most computer science geeks did this sort of thing when they were two years old in basic, but given that I just came to the computer career seriously a year and a half ago, I think I am making great progress.

Speaking of school, it is truly one of the greatest things to have happened to my life in recent years. As I have said several times in the past year, I am so very happy to have found a major that suits me. I don’t think that I would be willing to spend the hours studying for anything else, and with only three semesters left, the end is in sight. The future is hopeful and bright! Academically it was a challenging year as my first as a matriculated computer science major. All of the classes I took this year were upper division courses and they do require a certain intellectual maturity. Just to give you a taste of the various areas my brain has been, here is a list of the technologies/languages I have used in school in the last twelve months. Keep in mind that for me, many of these were being learned and seen for the first time when I had to use them. C, C++, Java, XML, Scheme, MIPS Assembly, IA-32 Assembly, O’Caml, DFA’s, NFA’s, PDA’s, Turing Machines, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. If I had to say where most of the time was spent, it would be in the realm of low level C programs, IA-32 Assembly, Scheme, and C++. Of the most interesting projects I completed for school would be a chat server and client that works over the internet, a simple shell for Linux, and a simulated memory manager for Linux (malloc, realloc, and free). It has been an exciting time to learn and grow.

In August, I celebrated one year of, changed hosting companies, and wrote my own blogger template. I borrowed and learned a lot from those blogs that I admire, but had a great time putting this one together to give it a uniquely ‘me’ look. Given the time next summer, I think I would enjoy changing it again.

In November, I learned that I would get to do a photo show at a local library here in February. Photography has been a hobby for a long time, but in recent months it has been forced to the back burner, as I focused on school. In the last couple of weeks it has been fun to start preparing for the show. I have chosen 10 prints and the frames. I have to choose 10 more, and order the mats. Whether I sell a print or not, I think that the thought of actually hanging my work on the wall of a public place is pretty cool.

Throughout the whole thing, there has been work. Sometimes it is a bittersweet place to be. For the time being, I will just be grateful that I have employment and that is aligned with software development. They have been good to me this year, and I am glad that they are pleased with the work I do for them.

2005 was a big year. Though it wasn’t all roses, the lessons learned were worthwhile. Perhaps that is the real lesson of life. Though the destination has meaning, there is so much value in the journey and the struggle. Three steps forward, one step back. Progress may not always come as quickly as I desire it, but progress is made, and I am learning and growing as a person. Looking back on 2005, I am glad that I was able to do what I did, and am pleased with the progress I made. Here’s to 2005, a good, hard year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On Break (numb)

Fall semester has been over and done with for nearly two weeks now, and I am still somewhat numb to the whole experience. I did however pass my classes.

Christmas came and went with its usual fanfare, food, and entertainment. It was nice to be with the family, to relax, sing carols, think on the blessed lives we live, and try to focus more outwardly than I am usually inclined. Life has its comfortable moments, and though I am not perfectly content with every aspect of my life, I must say that things are hopeful.

The last week of the year is an interesting time. If one approaches it with the right attitude, it can be a great time to both reflect and look forward. Hopefully, if I can keep myself motivated, I will be able to have a post about the past year, and another about my hopes and aspirations for the year approaching in the next couple of days. There is something truly cathartic about the ushering in of a new year, and I am really looking forward to it. We should all be focused on self improvement continually, and certainly reaching one’s goals doesn’t happen just because they outlined them on December 31 of the previous year; but it is helpful to use the demarcation of a year as a good boundary for an in-depth checkup. I am looking forward to 2006 with pleasant anticipation, but more about that later this week.

Last night I was at a dinner party, and the conversation turned to journaling and writing. It was interesting to see how the different people around the table felt about what it takes to produce something that is worth sharing with the world. I must admit that in recent months, I haven’t felt much motivation to write this blog. It is not that I don’t enjoy it when I do write. And I really love reading comments (thanks Michael), but it seems like I haven’t had the time or desire to thing and write about anything meaningful, and the last thing I want to subject you to is something that is just the ramblings of my thoughts (much like this article is turning out to be). At least the topic of conversation inspired me to sit down and write, which is a task I haven’t felt up to in recent weeks.

As the title says, I am on break. Usually when I am between semesters, I have a large list of things that I want to get done; be it diving into my stack of unread books, a personal programming project, going on a day trip to take photos, spending a day in the darkroom to enjoy the analog process of photography, or working on any kind of project that just wouldn’t suit itself well to my life while I am taking classes. But this break is turning out to be just that, a complete break. As I explain it to people, I say that it is like being numb. Sure, I have been working 8 hour days for my employer (because otherwise I will be more destitute than I already am), but when I get home I have no desire to work on any side projects. I don’t know why, but that is the way it is. My numb Christmas break.

I would sill like to get out for a photo trip, maybe half a day or something of the like. But time will tell, and as it sits, I have 12 days before I have to face the rigors of school again. Optimistically when the time comes, I will be adequately rested and ready to go. Until then, I’ll still be on break.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Fall Semester Post Mortem

It has been over a week since I last blogged and not quite a week
since I finished my last final of fall semester. I have thought a
little bit about blogging, but I just have not had anything meaningful
to say. I am really enjoying this little recess from school. It is
fantastic to be able to rest, play games, participate more fully at
work, and hang out without the nagging "you should be doing your
homework" voice in my head.

Don't get the idea that this break has been all play for the last
week. Since finishing my last final on Thursday, I have been putting
in full days at work. I have been trying to get to the office between
seven or eight. It really feels good to make some progress on a few
projects that have not been getting the attention that they really
deserved for the last three or four weeks. Not to mention, it will be
nice to make some money, so that I am not paying bills out of the
savings account.

Fall semesters have the tradition of being unusually difficult for me.
I am not sure what it is about fall semesters; maybe the time change,
the days getting progressively shorter and darker, or perhaps that I
just happen to take my hardest classes in the fall. Whatever it may
be, I am so glad when fall semester ends. What I have learned this
time is that if you plan on working and going to school at the same
time, you really need to make sure that you can handle both the job
and the load of the classes. I under-estimated the difficulty of my
Analysis class last semester, and in the end, it made working almost
impossible. I have decided that the math minor can go on the back
burner for the time being. This will allow me to work, and finish my
bachelor's degree in three semesters by taking three classes each
semester. Three semesters sounds a lot faster than Spring of 2007, so
I will just keep thinking about it that way, that also means that I
only have to suffer through one more fall.

I suppose I should not say that school is suffering. I actually quite
enjoy being there, and I am learning many interesting things that I
probably would not have occasion to try in other settings. Fall
semester presented opportunities to learn about IA32 assembly, the C
programming language, how the 'stack' really works (and how to
exploit it), Turing Machines, DFA's, PDA's, and the basic theory
behind computability, the Scheme programming language, the Ocaml
programming language, BNF, how to build a basic interpreter and what
one must consider when designing a programming language, and what
makes a thorough and correct mathematical proof. Looking back on it I
now understand why life was so busy.

Things are good. The Christmas shopping is complete. I am working on
some side projects, and just enjoying the fact that right now I don't
have to do anything but show up for work each day.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Jingle Bells from 1997

School is still going strong. Two finals to go, but in the meantime, some entertainment.

I share with you a recording of Jingle Bells, as sung by the Highland High class of ’98 Madrigals. You can listen to it here. (I don't know why I can't get it to work when I try to embed it here in my blog, it just won't play)

Seven years ago I was a senior in high school. As a mighty senior, my thing was choir. Yes, I was a choir geek. As I look back on my senior year, I probably could have worked a lot harder. Had I known then what I knew now, I would have taken a math class instead of that AP Music Theory course. However, one thing I wouldn’t have traded was my experience to be a madrigal. From November 26 – December 23 we gave over sixty performances. As I look back on it now, I don’t know how we managed it. On our busiest day we had seven performances! Our group of 22 had one heck of a time. To this day many of us are still close friends.

Yesterday I was thinking about what makes Christmas special, and as I can best determine, it is when we are giving of ourselves to others. When I think of Christmas memories when I felt most fulfilled, I was occupied in serving others.

Coincidentally, I received an email this morning from one of my madrigal friends that I haven’t spoken with quite a while. It seems that our lives have just been exceptionally busy, and we haven’t had time to speak. My friend talked about listening to the Christmas CD that our madrigal group made that year, and about the memories that it conjured. Having had the day to think about the email, I also decided to pull that old CD off the shelf and give it a listen. We weren’t perfect, but there were some sweet moments.

Here’s to friendship, and to the season.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Reasonable Excuse...

...for not blogging, put as only my friend Curtis could:

"Yea, it's tough to blog when you can't hold a thought of your own in your head long enough to get it out before it gets crowded to the back burner by something more urgent."

I have had a lot of thoughts in the past few months, but not a lot of time to really develop them.

I finished my Models of Computation class yesterday. The exam was very reasonable, for the first time in the course, I was actually able to answer every question.

To go, I still have to finish my last Programming Languages assignment, and take two finals next week. Wednesday - Computer Systems. Thursday - Introduction to Analysis I.

Just a few more days here. I know I keep saying that, but I have to remind myself that this will be over soon.