Archive for September, 2008

The student’s life… pre-mid-term

Sunday, September 21st, 2008

I’m up to my neck in OO concepts like polymorphism and Java interfaces. I bombed out big time on my last two quizes in my Java class. I got behind in my studies (for that class) by about two brisk weeks. Catching up sucks. But today I have an inkling what the hell polymorphism is. A little more than a day or two ago you could have hit me over the head with a polymorphic array and I wouldn’t have known what the fuck it was. But having an inkling and being able to whip one out on command are two different things, so I have at least a couple hours of coding every day to do until our (early) mid-term on Thursday. So of course rather than code, I’ll update my blog. 😉

O yeah, the books. Book one, Lewis & Loftus “Java Software Solutions” 5th edition (now in 6th ed, but no way I’m giving those guys any more money). The book starts out good with lots of the mechanics of the procedural aspects of Java programming. But I feel the book has seriously let me down on helping me (a student with some but very little high level programming experience) to learn some of these concepts. I mean, they hinge your whole concept of understanding the creation of Java classes on this silly Dice program that lets you reach in and change the face value of the dice (among other things). This program has some cool aspects in it, but they need to flesh these concepts out with some more examples. And who needs to set the face value of the dice? Same goes for the chapter on polymorphism. There’s a pretty good employee app that has many of these concepts contained in it. But I’ve read the sucker a couple times now and I didn’t start getting it at all until I read the chapters in O’Reilly’s Head First Java about inheritance and polymorphism.

The 2nd book in this course is “Algorithms and Data Structures in Java” by Joyce, Weems, et. al. I am positive this book is only used because Daniel Joyce works at Villanova. The book is dry, written by academics, not by people in real world (read: production for money) coding jobs. I’m sure it’s tough for any one book to be all things to all people of all levels, but when I’ve fallen short on a couple of key concepts (mostly when tests or projects were staring me in the face and it was too late) I can’t help but feel the book has also fallen short on some level. Also, to be fair, it’s hard to know what catalyzed the proverbial coin drop of understanding an non-intuitive concept when you’re taking a class, reading out of 2 books for the class, and out of as many other books as you can find when you’re not getting it. It’s possible that the concept becomes clear for any number of reasons (lecture, reading, breaking and fixing your own code, etc.) But some of these books that students are forced to pay upwards of $100. for should kick the shit out of the $30. books from the aforementioned publishers. Alas, they are written by academicians who are good at writing theses, not at working in a crazy business with insane deadlines, bad co-workers, and PHBs breathing down their necks.

Latin class is going well. I got 118% on our last test (she gives extra credit questions, which put me 18% over). That too has proven to be quite a demanding course of study. To get that grade I had to study my ass off (during a really nice weekend in the Poconos with my wife). We’ve learned 10 tenses (indicative & subjunctive active), 1st and 2nd noun declensions, First-second adjective declensions, macrons, pronunciation, and a few other things I would probably rather forget. Putting all that together has been rough. I’ve been disciplined about flash cards, but I’m starting to have so many that it’s getting hard to cover them all in a day.

O yeah, BTW, if you haven’t thought of this already, you can take standard 3″x5″ flash cards and get a hold of one of those guillotine paper cutters and cut them into quarters, which make for excellent one-word vocabulary cards. One side the Latin word, the other the English meaning, shuffle them, go through them by translating one side, then the same for the other side. I tried to buy a guillotine paper cutter for home so I didn’t have to use the crusty, dull one at work. But the good ones are at least $60. and I see industrial ones in the range of $7500. I enquired about getting Kinkos or Staples to cut them for me. But they want $1.50 and $2.00 respectively for one cut of about 50 cards. How can they ask this much? What is their maintenance cost on the blade? The labor can’t be so bad. Shit, a deck of 50 index cards is about $1.04. I can’t justify $3.00 dollars for a clean cut. Anyway, cutting them down is a good way to study without wasting so much paper. One word per 3×5 card is a total waste. The quarters are even big enough for smaller grammatical concepts as well.

Post scriptum, hey wordpress, WTF is up with paragraph formatting? I had to go into HTML mode to make paragraphs that were clearly delimited in the WYSIWYG view show up in the final post. I’ve noticed this before too. I don’t dick around with fruity mods and skins, so it’s not like my wordpress install’s all b0rked up or anything.

Back to school… Fall 2008

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

It’s been an insanely busy couple of weeks. Working for a university during Fall startup can be a real bear (if you’re one of the ones who actually gives a shit 😉 — I think anyone who works at a university or maybe even anyone who has been to one will know what that means). This Fall was no exception. I spent most of my time supporting a fragile and poorly documented web CMS and its main users who pretty much always operate in freakout mode. I’ve pretty much vowed to never support something that isn’t well-documented. Yeah, like well-documented home-brew software, –or my being in a position to choose what I support while still being able to pay the mortgage– will ever happen! Anyway, that took up a lot of time. And while that has been going on, I’m taking two classes this semester (first semester in part-time studies taking two instead of one).

In the eves I’m taking the follow-up course to the Introduction to (Java) Programming course, Algorithms & Data Structures. Aside from finding out when I showed up on Thursday (thinking that the class met one day a week) that I had missed the first class and that the class really met two days a week (great first impression!), it’s been going well. The teacher’s a real-world programmer for Red Hat, so he’s definitely got a lot more real-world experience than the I-moved-over-to-CS-from-the-math-department-because-I-had-to academic programmer types who know tons of stuff but don’t really ever have to work on big software projects under timelines and to keep their bills paid. It might seem subtle, but to me it’s a big difference in knowledge and skills. Anyway, this teacher seems really fired up and is someone who genuinely loves the technology, so I’m thinking this class will be a really good opportunity to learn stuff from a programmer who can impart some real world experience and knowledge. I’m repeating myself, methinks. (Give me a break, it’s 04:30AM and I’ve found myself wakeful)

The second class is an introduction to Latin. This is the one I’m most excited about right now. I’ve been wanting to learn Latin well enough to read and write it for at least 12 years now. I can date it to the time I picked up “Teach Yourself Latin” at “The American Bookstore” in Amsterdam when I was living there, it had to be in 1996. I had been studying English vocabulary (as I’m generally naturally inclined to do) and the etymologies piqued my interest. I got fired up about it again in another class I took at Villanova where we read some Augustine and The Aenead. So I decided to burn up some electives on Latin (first, then after a couple years, on to ancient Greek). The class seems to be moving at a reasonable pace. There’s a ton to know. I feel so lucky to have spent some time learning German at Santa Monica College back in the early ’90s. Even though my German is still pretty weak from atrophy, various grammatical concepts seem to have remained and things like the case system don’t seem so daunting. The teacher seems nice and has a sense of humor. I hope to do well in the class. Here’s to hoping that work won’t get in the way and bork up my attendance, since this is also the first class that I’m doing that happens during my work hours. My new employer’s been great about OK’ing the schedule shift, so it should be fine. We’ll see how it goes if there are any big emergencies though. Anyway, my state of sleeplessness feels like it is going to come to an end very soon…. I’m signing off.