Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Family Vacation / More Programming

- I am still here in Utah.

If their flight left on time, they have been in the air for about an hour. This morning we all woke up early. As the siblings and parents made their last minute trip preparations, I shrugged climbed out of bed, showered, and got ready for my day. I knew there wouldn’t be time to shave, so I threw the electric razor in my bag, and it was off to the races. Yesterday started out as a beautiful spring morning, but when I got to my car at 1:30 AM, there was enough snow on it that I had to clean the car off before I could drive home. I figured there would be more snow on the car this morning, and indeed there was. I managed to get the garbage taken out, partially shovel the walks, and move my car. The family packed up the mini-van, and we were on our way. They are all going to Orlando for the next week, leaving me with the dog, cat, and house to take care of. It has been a long time since I have been “on my own”. Though I wish I were going to be in sunny Orlando enjoying the muses of Walt Disney World, I know that there is work here to be done.

Jon and I are still plugging away at our group project for Software Practice. We toyed around with MSXML last night for what felt like an eternity, mostly due to the fact that we were both being stubborn about the idea that ‘it must work’. We kept saying ‘maybe if we try this’, or ‘how about changing that’. I think we both had reached the flash point with the whole thing at midnight. I think the words uttered were something like “Screw it, if MSXML isn’t going to give us what we want, we will just parse it by brute force.” An hour later, we had parsed, working XML string to Object code. It isn’t the prettiest or even most efficient code, but it gets the job done. Still, I am wondering how the MSXML stuff works. With the help of the professor we were able to get some code that would parse out attribute values nicely, we were also able to query down to the node level, but if there must be a quick and efficient way to drill down to the value in a string that is XML encoded.

The project is due on Saturday morning at 8:00 AM, and the pressure is on. We are making progress, and last night some important designs finally came to light. There is still a lot to do, but a couple more late nights, and we should have it done. It is a lot of work, and at times you just want to throw the laptop across the room, but when you see your project compile and run, somehow it is rewarding, and it drives you to keep going.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A great flickr photo


NO CONTROL
Originally uploaded by seanhfoto.
Not mine, but this dude has an amazing photo stream. You should check it out. Total props to Sean. Not to mention the title and caption of this image really fit with how I am feeling today.

Work has been crazy lately, so I have less and less time to shoot for fun and visit everyone. Sorry!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Early Easter Morning



Yes, it is early... and I am still at the math center. Progress comes steadily, but not without a considerable amount of effort. The TODO list is still quite substantial. We just spent four hours re-building the project so that all of the DLL's would link correctly. We have one one week from today to get it done.

I think it is about time to go home.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Update

What a week. It isn’t that I don’t have things to say; it is just that things have been so busy that when it comes time to sit down and write, I am just too exhausted to do it. Spring break ended, and it was back to school. Monday I didn’t have class, but I did have a lot of stuff that needed to get done before I would be ready to go back to school.

Monday, I was at work just after 6 AM. Yes, it is rather insane to be at work so early, but it also has its advantages. First, no one else is at work, which means it is quiet and that there won’t be any interruptions. Second, it means that by two o’clock I will have put in an eight hour day, leaving the afternoon for homework. I don’t do it very often, but when I do, it is nice. I felt that I accomplished a lot at work on Monday, and though I was tired when I left at 2, I had plenty of time to wok on school that afternoon and evening.

Tuesday was my first day back after spring break. Class wasn’t too bad, but there is lots of homework. I think that the group study room (aka the "fishbowl") in the library is becoming a bit too familiar, but at least I am able to get things done when I am there. It is a good place with enough ambiance to keep me awake, but not enough distractions to keep me from getting things done. Last night the evening was spent beginning work on a Software Practice group project. I have forgotten what “fun” it is to fight with C++ compiler errors. We made some good progress, but I can say that I absolutely hate “LINKER” errors, there just isn’t a simple way to fix them… at least in my experience.

Today I went to work. It is nice to be trusted with projects. It is also nice that they care about my opinion. When I am involved with work the way that I a right now, I am reminded of why I decided to major in Computer Science. The only downfall is that getting everything done on my crunched schedule becomes a challenge, but it is better to be busy rather than bored. I should have gone to a Software Practice discussion this morning, but I completely forgot about it. I am not sure how that happened, but it did, so I will just work through the examples on my own.

That’s it for now. As you can see, there is a lot going on. Just a few more weeks and summer will provide a rest.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Yahoo and flickr

It was announced today that flickr and its parent company ludicorp are being acquired by Yahoo. As I have followed the thread of comments on a flickr message board, it has been interesting to note the way people are reacting to the news. Some mention that from a software development perspective, that being acquired by a large corporation such as Yahoo would be a dream come true. Others, worry about what a homogenized Yahoo/flickr would become. Will it be pulled off with the same spirit as the Google acquirement of Blogger?

As far as web applications and online communities, I have been deeply impressed with the show that the flickr folks have put on for the last year. They have built an application whose user interface is easy to use, and community is supportive and addicting. Oh, and did I mention that it looks good too?

Today’s announcement strikes me with mixed feelings. The developers at ludicorp indeed have something to celebrate, but after the contracts are signed will flickr still remain the great piece of software that they designed it to be? Yahoo certainly has the means to take care of flickr, I just hope that it doesn’t become too homogenized. I hope that the product remains open, clean, simple, easy to use, and community driven, but time will tell.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Back

Yesterday was a pretty good day. I have always enjoyed my meetings with my academic advisor at school. She has always been kind, professional, and informative. It was exciting to see that I now have a file with the school of computing, but more exciting than having a file was to see that I am completely finished with my general education. Everything I take from here on out is to finish my major. We spent some time yesterday discussing what classes I should take in the fall, and it looks like I will be taking my first CS electives. It will be fun to put some of my new knowledge to more advanced applications.

It seems that my love hate relationship with math is to continue, which really means that I really need to decide that I love it more than I hate it. I have taken so many math classes that finishing the minor shouldn’t even be a question. Settling with mathematics would be nice; I have fought it since grade school. I thought that I had conquered my fear last semester, but linear algebra is showing me that I didn’t know all that I thought I did. Can I still pull a salvageable grade out of it at this point? I suppose with some added dedication and studying it is possible, but I am sure that facing my exam score from the Thursday before spring break will not be a wonderful experience.

My academic advisor reminded me that I have made it this far, and that really it is just a matter of deciding that I will do it. Perhaps I should just take her advice. Spring break is almost over, I have procrastinated the homework long enough. Tonight, I will get going again so as not to be behind on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Must Listen Radio

Every now and again, you hear something on the radio that is completely enveloping. What a great story I heard on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon.

Give it a listen here.

I will write about my visit with my academic advisor tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Rant (small), Wired, and Rounded Corners

Two days on the Internet feels like a lifetime, at least that is what it feels like when I let the blog go for two days. It isn’t that I haven’t had anything to write about, but more that I haven’t had the desire to sit down and think about it.

Half way through spring break and I am still bitter about my pile of homework. I think the last thing that any person wants to do when they are on “vacation” is work. Yes, that includes work for and employer, and work for school. Spring break should be a time when you can recharge the batteries, but we have been down that road recently so I will just leave it at that. Suffice it to say, I am working on homework, but perhaps not with the gusto and attitude that I should.

Now that the obligatory gripe session is out of the way, I can tell you about my new favorite magazine, Wired. It is the magazine made to feed your inner geek; from articles about hybrid cars to the latest in what’s hot or not in all things tech Wired magazine has it covered. I am not as big a fan of their website, but in traditional print they do well. Not to mention it gives me the excuse once a month to visit Boarders while I am at lunch, pick up the newest issue, and enjoy it over Panda Express. Hey, I know I could save plenty of money by purchasing a subscription, but then I would miss out on the extended lunch break.

Of other tech news, at webgraphics, I came across a link to Alessandro Fulciniti’s tutorial called “Nifty Corners”; all about how you can create rounded corners in web design without having to create rounded corner graphics. This is a big deal in my book, as the traditional method seems like a royal CSS pain. I am sure that if I spent more time to study it, the mystery would resolve its self, however, Alessandro’s solution is simple to understand and easy to implement. If this kind of stuff interests you, check out the tutorial.

Tomorrow I get to meet with the CS academic advisor. It will be interesting to hear what she says about what classes I am to take in the fall, because of prerequisites and classes only being offered once a year, fall may be really simple. We’ll see.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Random Links JavaScript

With spring break being under way, and having the ability to put off the homework for an evening, I decided that I would take another look at writing a little JavaScript that would randomly display links and descriptions to three blogs that I read. About a month ago I started looking into this and was unable to find anything that had been written and posted to the web that did what I was looking for. Most of what I found would select one entry out of a list and display it. That script is really simple, but didn’t do what I needed. Building on what I found, I was able to write a script that would suit my needs. I am sure that the algorithm isn’t the most optimized piece of code, however, it does work, and serves as my first ever piece of home-grown JavaScript.

JavaScript is pretty easy to use, but it has its quirks. I am not a big fan of un-typed languages as it makes it harder to understand what is going on. Also, it seemed that browser side debugging is rather mystical. In IE, I never would have been able to figure out what I had done wrong. Thank goodness for FireFox, and its JavaScript console, it made debugging almost bearable.

I am reasonably pleased that I was able to figure out the simple script. Plugging it into Blogger was more difficult than writing the actual script. Now that I have an inkling of how JavaScript works, I am getting ideas for other interesting scripts that could be written to add functionality to this blog. When I find more time and desire, more scripts will be forthcoming.

As I wasn’t able to find a script that did exactly what I wanted, I thought that I would share what I wrote. Here is a link to a page with an example and source for the JavaScript that will display three random pieces of content out of a larger array. It is really quite elementary, but was a good first step for me with regard to JavaScript. Any feedback is welcomed.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Welcome Spring Break

Well spring break has arrived, though not quite with the exuberance that I wished. Yes, that means that there is still homework that I will be working on over the next week. Yes, it also means that I don’t think that I gave my greatest performance on the math exam that I took yesterday evening. As my tutor suggested, I should have studied harder, done more practice problems, and just done more to get the general understanding. I don’t think that all hope is lost for the class, but I do know that the return from spring break will be difficult. I am going to have to suck up the fact that my exam performance yesterday was less than stellar, and move on.

As an effort toward moving on, I decided that I would golf this morning. It was a pretty late night last night, but I still woke up bright and early. I was on the course by 8:30, and having not been golfing in several months, it was really a liberating experience. I only had time to play the first four holes, but that was better than nothing. Hopefully, I will be able to make some time to get back up there again in the next week.

It will be nice to take the next week to rest and recommit myself to my education. I will work on my homework assignments, and just submit myself to Linear Algebra. Perhaps, if I stop fighting it, I will better be able to study and get better marks.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Student Body Elections II

The polls are open today and tomorrow for the ASUU student elections. A week ago I wrote about how I couldn’t decide whom to vote for, mostly because the platforms looked so similar. An anonymous commenter to this blog told me that he voted for Pink(who happen to have a new website - still flash though), because they have been influential in lobbying for keeping tuition low. I suppose that lowered tuition is a worthy cause, but again, isn’t keeping tuition reasonable a constant on the ASUU platform? I still feel very much like I am just voting to give someone a full tuition stipend, along with a nice resume item.

It has been interesting to read the commentary in the Chrony about the elections. As on any university campus there are a lot of opinions. The ‘involved’ telling the ‘uninvolved’ that the solution is participation, and that if students want more choices then the ‘uninvolved’ need to get up and make something happen. Conversely, there are the voices of the ‘uninvolved’ saying that it is impossible to fight the machine of wealth and popularity. I can see it from both sides. I know that the student associations are well meaning, but perhaps the population is too segmented to expect full unity.

I thought that the primary election results were interesting. Four thousand seventy one votes, on a campus with enrollment exceeding twenty five thousand. Does that mean that the real vote is the vote of apathy? Can a student association that only has the support of sixteen percent of the student population really do anything? Yes, very black and white thinking, but I think that we need to do a lot more than say “We support you the students”, “We want to bring the campus community together”. HOW? I think that crimson nights is a step in the right direction, but it seems there is a lot more that could still be done.

I cast my vote this morning for the party that I would like to see in office. I just hope that they live up to their many campaign promises. However, if they don’t, there will be another group promising the same thing next year.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

On Break

It is time for a little break as I sit here in the “fishbowl”(more about the fishbowl sometime later) trying to muster the strength and courage to attack the pile of studying that I need to do. As one of my professors says “time is your most valuable asset”. One more day of classes and I will be on Spring break. It is about this time of year, when the weather starts to get nicer that students who have been walled up for hours and hours have to recommit themselves to their studies, and remember what it is all about. I think that spring break serves as a moment to bring sanity back into the lives of students who have been pouring their lives into coursework for nine weeks. With a week off, taking a much deserved break, and in my case escaping my “CS nerd tendencies” will give me just what I need so that I will be able to come back and give it my all again. As much as I would like to say that I have respected every minute of my "valueable time", if I didn't take some time to slow the pace occasionally, I think the efficiency of my work would decrease.

The classes today just seemed to crawl along, and the homework piles just felt like they were getting deeper and deeper. Sadly as I sat in the student union with some classmates after my morning class, I didn’t even want to open the books and start working on any of three assignments. The classes are still interesting, and the homework is doable, but I am just tired. Though I don’t have any fantastic plans for spring break, and no, I haven’t made a non-school to-do list, I am very much looking forward to letting life slow down a bit.

There are only three small issues that could throw a cog in the spring break relaxation plan.
- A CS group project that will be assigned on Thursday (with any luck we won’t have to work over the break, but if we do… so much for rest)
- A math assignment due on the Tuesday we get back from the break (finishing this is entirely within my control, I just have to make myself do it now if I want the break)
-A CS assignment about logic chip design. (again, if I finish this week I am home free, but it is due on Tuesday when I return from the break)

The constant is that life keeps going. We all have our moments; the goal would be to minimize the bad ones.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Documentation

This morning work was all about design/planning. It took nearly four hours to pare through one category of change requests, trying to determine what fit with our current set of goals and what didn’t. Leading up to today’s meeting I had spent a decent amount of time working to verify the bugs/changes, and come up with a preliminary idea as to what we should do. Though it took more of my time, I think it really helped with the meeting, having verified each change request/bug before it faced committee really made it possible for us to get more done.

I am beginning to understand why companies are willing to spend so much money on development suites. Not just individual solutions such as bugzilla, CVS, and the like, but total solutions like Rational. In an environment where documentation is nearly as important as the code its self, having a good suite of software to help with the organization would really save a lot of time. After having gone through all of the change requests, there was nearly another hour of work just making sure that various databases were updated with the appropriate changes.

To business owners/analysts, the documentation is the way that they come to understand the code, how it works, and what changes are being made with their blessing. That being said, it takes so much “extra” effort to keep the documentation up. I guess that explains why some dev shops have an entire team dedicated to documentation. Maybe in the future, we will have programming languages that are better at generating automatic documentation. JavaDoc has come a long way, but if a programmer doesn’t do it, it doesn’t work, and that still won’t cover the whole world of planning/design.

It would be interesting to see how other mid-large sized companies without the super expensive project management suites handle the whole issue.

One week until spring break, a minor to-do list remains:

- Chapter five in Linear Algebra
- Preparation for Linear Algebra Exam on Thursday
- Finish Software Practice assignment due Friday AM
- Computer Organization assignment – not due until after spring break, but it would be SO great to finish this week and then not have to worry about it.

I am really looking forward to having a week off from school. Work won’t be going away, but it will give me the opportunity to pick up some extra hours if I choose. Having the time to read recreationally, along with not having the stress of the project of the week will provide a welcome and needed rest.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Rant Blog

This weekend, I was informed that my blog here is a good “rant blog”. I hadn’t given it too much thought until then, but maybe I do complain about life, work, and school more than I should around here. Today, Slashdot linked to a CNN article about people who have lost their jobs over things that they posted in their blogs. I don’t think that I have crossed that line here, but on a couple of occasions I have probably gone closer to the edge than I should have. At this stage in my life the last thing that I need is to be expelled from school, or to loose my job over some comment that I made here on my blog.

When I started this blog, I thought that I would keep it completely private and unidentifiable, but there is enough information here to identify me. I don’t know who really reads what I write, but I do know that there are a few.

I guess the moral of the story for today is that there are many ways to say the same thing, and when publishing for the “world” it would be best to be on record with words that you can live with.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Thought - To Dream

Attributed to Dead Poets Society:

MCALLISTER
You take a big risk by encouraging them to
be artists John. When they realize they're
not Rembrandts, Shakespeares or Mozarts,
they'll hate you for it.

KEATING
We're not talking artists George, we're
talking free thinkers.

MCALLISTER
Free thinkers at seventeen?

KEATING
Funny, I never pegged you as a cynic.

MCALLISTER
(taken aback by the comment)
Not a cynic, a realist. Show me the heart
unfettered by foolish dreams, and I'll
show you a happy man.

KEATING
But only in their dreams can man be truly
free. 'Twas always thus, and always thus
will be.

MCALLISTER
Tennyson?

KEATING
No, Keating.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Campus Afternoon


Campus Afternoon
Originally uploaded by CodeFin.
While not my first published photo ever, this one certainly will get a lot of viewers. UEN picked it up as a "campus photo" to try and get people to click on their March newsletter. They are a pretty large site as far as education goes in the state of Utah. I do not know how long it will be there on their front page, but it is cool to see your picture on a site like that, even if only in thumbnail form.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Student Body Elections

Early in my university career I took a political science class taught by one of Utah’s more popular pollsters, Dan Jones. Two of the salient points in his class were that democracy is not for the weak hearted, and that it is one’s duty as a citizen to vote. Back in November, I took the opportunity to rant about why voting is important, but I find myself in a conundrum when it comes to the current student body elections at the University of Utah. Two parties: Pinc, and Students First. In the past, these elections were easy because I knew one of the candidates. This year, not knowing any of the candidates, I just don’t know what to do. It feels like a contest with popularity, a resume item, and a full tuition stipend as the reward. Yes, ASUU (associated students of the university of utah) receives a good portion of my “fees” each semester, and for that reason it is probably important to think about who I would vote for, but with essentially identical platforms, is there really a difference? Are we electing the best candidate, or just the person with the most friends, and “prettiest” campaign?

I spent some time on the two websites, and it just re-affirmed my dislike for flash websites. Sure, they look pretty, but they are hard to navigate. Does the person elected as student body president really change the operations of the university? I suppose that if he really wanted to, he could. However, I haven’t seen much of it in the last four years. A couple of nice leadership training programs, a new office for this that or the other, and bigger parties, all on the behalf of “the students”.

Maybe I should pay more attention to what is going on in the ASUU offices. Supposedly they are quite transparent. At this point, I just want a party to distinguish its self and give me a real reason to vote for them. Otherwise, on what should I base my decision? I read a poster that claimed only 9,000 students out of the 25,000+ voted in last year’s student body elections, only 36%. I really don’t want to be a part of the 64% non-voting student population, but at the same time, I don’t want to play multiple guess with the ballot either.

Ideas?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

March ?

Can you believe that March is already here? Time seems to just be flying by. Wasn’t I just starting this semester like a week or two ago? When you are occupied, it seems that time just does its thing; if anything it just moves too quickly. I feel that crunch every Tuesday and Thursday. Life in the library is good. At least there are good friends there to keep it lively when you are about ready to pull your hair out. The hours seem to be paying off, but it looks like I need to put more effort toward Linear Algebra and preparation for my Computer Organization exams. I have been working on an assignment for the Computer Organization class; it took most of Saturday and Monday night. There are still a couple of outstanding issues, but on the whole it is feeling pretty good.

March… Spring is just around the corner, and it couldn’t come any sooner. I am looking forward to the rest that Spring break will afford.