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Spring Semester Reflections and Impressions

14 January, 2016

Reflections on the past few weeks

For the past few weeks I have been immersing myself deeply in the essential core of my 5 classes and studying diligently day and night.

Was that convincing enough? I hope so. Its what I keep telling myself that I'm doing.

In reality I've been panicking, mentally sprinting to keep up, and trying to juggle work, school, and home life (buh-bye social life and hobbies!).

Its okay though. This is only initial panic. After I get myself into a good rhythm, I become a school-attending, homework-doing, class-acing automaton (again, this is what I tell myself; still hope I'm convincing). Finding that ever important balance becomes imperative to achieving what I want and to achieving at least a semblance of happiness. And I think that finding that balance is important in everyone's life in every aspect. Personally, I'm acutely aware that I have been neglecting my health. I finally caved and weighed myself yesterday -- and it wasn't pretty. However, I didn't cry, or gnash my teeth or anything (maybe a little). I accepted the reality of the situation. It was difficult to stomach (body puns) but I believe its important to recognize there may be a problem and face it head on; author/commander of my own destiny and all that. I've been living my life with health outside of the scope of balance, which quite frankly, is ridiculous in retrospect. These past few weeks my wife and I have also been engaging in meal prep (check out an awesome subreddit here). For those of you that don't know, its essentially preparing all or a majority of your meals for the week on a particular day of the week (usually Sunday). Its only been a couple of weeks, but its been drastically helping my eating habits. It has enabled me to eat less candy, less fast-food, less soda, and partake of less binging (which is a huge problem for me). It has also reintroduced me to fruits! I was never one to eat fruit but now I eat two every day. I know its not good to get excited about something so early, but I think this is a good thing. In theory, it should cut down on money spent on food, lower overall calories consumed while increasing quality of food, and make both my wife and I feel better; we each have a not-so-good relationship with food and eating in general.

I guess my point is that balance is important, and even though one may not be living their life in balance at the moment, steps can always be taken to rectify this and tip the scale (more weight puns).

According to my Software Engineering professor, creating quality software is nothing but a balancing act. On one hand, one needs to be able to please investors, bosses, and stake-holders. On the other hand, a realistic and working product needs to be delivered in a timely manner. The forces involved often contradict each other and threaten the integrity of the project as a whole; when a proper balance is achieved a quality product that makes people happy is definitely possible.

According to my Principles and Patterns of Software Design professor, (what a mouthful!) a pattern can be defined as:

A solution to a problem in a context; or in other words a three part rule: a problem, a system of forces, and a solution that balances those forces

Balance then, often achieves the best possible outcome. The hard part will always be finding the balance, achieving that balance, and maintaining said balance; its not impossible, but it does take enthusiastic and engaged action.

Ending on that note, let's break down my classes this semester.

Spring 2016

Spring is in the air...

I guess? Its actually the heart of winter; the sun is a warm gray, snow crunches underfoot, glasses fog constantly, and car seats without a heated seat are anathema. The only 'spring' part of this season can be found on official university banners, forms, and letterhead that simply state (perhaps inaccurately) 'Spring Semester 2016'.

This semester I'm enrolled in five theory and math heavy classes. I'm excited but apprehensive, as is the rule. Here's a breakdown of my initial impressions.

Calculus

This is my first Calculus class; my first real exposure to the complicated weavings and churnings (and magic!) of Leibniz and Newton. I understand that there is a bit of controversy as to who actually invented Calculus. Luckily, my class is taught by a German mathematician and he put their contributions like this:

Newton did all the hardwork and calculations; this was his magnum opus. And yet ironically, with someone that had such a brilliant mind, he had no notion for notation. Leibniz is responsible for being able to capture, translate and notate that language that Newton discovered.

Calculus really does feel like magic and I'm thoroughly bewitched by it. Math taught in the traditional sense always felt disjointed and in disarray; I understand why, but math as a subject was never my favorite. Its generally accepted that math is taught in such a way to provide a base and foundation for the pillars that are Calculus. Those pillars converge and tie everything together. I don't think I'll ever pursue a career in theoretical mathematics, but there are so many cool things to learn!

Statistics

This is my second stats class. My first statistics class was taken in the hazy, lazy days of yesteryear in high school -- pre-2010. It was an AP class, and it was one of my favorite classes; learning about the principles of probability, counting, correlation vs. causation, relationships, associations, regressions, and more, profoundly clicked. Statistics was a separate and self-contained math; unsullied from the poor foundation I had in traditional math.

I can't say much about my current class. We're mostly dealing with defining terms and rules for general statistics at the moment; real stats 101 stuff. The professor is great; she is a super enthusiastic Chinese woman that speaks English just well enough for me to catch the overall gist, and she is fantastic. I don't think I've had many professors as involved in their student's learning and the subject as she has been. I'm sure this class will go splendidly.

Database Theory

I've been a SQL and NoSQL layman for years now. I know how to execute a query, and I often know how to find and process data in a database to my advantage. However, I've never actually had to architect one.

Its an entirely different ball game.

I'm being introduced to entity-relationship diagrams, relational databases, object-relational databases, foreign keys, data redundancy in both a good and bad way, and the importance of crafting efficient databases that sanitize input.

Always sanitize your inputs.

bobbytables

Courtesy of XKCD

Patterns and Principles of Sofware Design

Again with the mouthful. Besides the long and syllable-full name, this class has been catching my interest. For the past two weeks we haven't done anything technology, math, or computer-science related; its all been focused on what patterns are and how they are applied in various facets of the physical world. Examples we went over primarily had to do with architecture and how patterns in architecture can be applied to improve human spaces and quality of life. A book referenced many times in this course thus far is A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander.

Advanced C++ Development

C++; that great and terrible language. Which I happen to enjoy quite a bit. I know people hate C++ and I totally understand why. On the first day of class, the instructor quoted that fabled father of C++ Bjarne Stroustrup as saying:

C makes it easy to shoot yourself in the foot; C++ makes it harder, but when you do it blows your whole leg off.

From this we can conclude 2 things;

  1. C++ is powerful, even incredibly so.
  2. C++ is like a jaded and spurned ex-lover who you bump into from time to time who tells you how great her new yoga instructor Chris is, and how she is really getting into her career, and how she finally got that Bichon Frise she has always wanted and is training it to shake hands; but as soon as you let your guard down she follows you into a dark alley and you wake up with her recreating the infamous shin-shattering scene from Stephen King's Misery.

misery

No really though, don't let your guard down.