Posts Tagged ‘School’

Montana, a Fond Farewell

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I wanted to start off with my first memory of Montana, but I honestly can’t recall. That’s not to say the state is dull and boring, just that my first imperssion came when I was nine or ten years old, and it wasn’t all that impressive. If it didn’t involve dinosaurs or Ninja Turtles or outer space, I probably wasn’t interested. Back then it was all just forests and mountains and miles of highway from the backseat.

So in all honesty the first thing I remember about Montana is not wanting to move there. I’d lived a decade in Washington, and had friends and family there that I liked. There was snow in the winter and enough heat in the summer to dry off after a run through some sprinklers just by lying on the pavement. What about this remote state (a million miles or more to my preadolescent mind) so excited my parents? I had no say since I was just a kid and half the time I didn’t know that sometimes the things ‘for my own good’ really were.

Thank goodness I moved at a fairly young age. It was harder on my siblings when they changed states while in high school. We easily make friends when we’re not teenagers; as teenagers we find it easier to make enemies. Luckily I was still young enough (and without obvious flaws) to make friends. I did it twice, in fact, since we went first to Billings and only two years later to Corvallis.

Having moved back to Washington, I often consider how things would have been different if I’d never left the state. My two greatest passions sprouted in Montana: computers and music. Who’s to say that things would be the same if I’d gone to Wa-Hi instead of Corvallis High? Obviously I can thank my dad for helping me grow to like technology, but my interest in music may never have taken root without the friends I had in Montana. Without Chris and Josh rocking out to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, would I have ever taken a keen interest in music, or picked up a guitar, or started learning about music theory? It’s hard to say. Maybe if I’d stayed in Washington, I’d be into music, but I’d have come into it via country and western, instead of rock and punk.

Montana embraced openness like no place I’d ever been. The sky was big and wide, and so was the friendliness. I knew several families who never locked their houses at night. The people there have an independent streak a mile wide and it shows through, in the libertarian sensibilities of the electorate and the bohemian tendencies of the music community. I’d like to think that warmth of the state rubbed off on me, if not some of the conservative political views.

So many things about my life would be different if I’d never lived in Montana. Probably the thing I’m most thankful for is my wife, but the list goes on. I made so many friends there, in high school and at college. Childhood friends and friends made later in life are subtly different. As kids you most often make friends due to convenience of location, or preschool class assignment, or other, more superficial factors. We can’t judge personalities as children. Friendships made later in life tend to stand the test of time, having been made due to strong personalities or shared interests. Most of mine fit the latter categorization. I can remember my childhood friends’ names and one or two quirks of their personalities, but not much else. I have a feeling that forty years from now, I’ll still be able to tell you many of my college friends’ favorite songs.

It was a complex and difficult decision to leave, but we saw the chance and had to take it. Our move to Washington isn’t necessarily final; we may be back some day. My parents are considering retiring there, and my wife thinks it’s a good place to raise kids. It’s got a lot going for it. In my own biased opinion I think I turned out fine. When I drive to Walla Walla for a visit I have a certain set of nostalgic steps that must be followed. These include stopping for ice cream to help battle the vicious summer heat of eastern Washington, and listening to Tom Petty. In time, I’m sure I’ll cobble together a similar set of rules for going back to Montana.

Behold the Glory that is Object-Oriented programming!

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

So, for my final project in CS 365 (Databases), I’m designing a Wikipedia-style encyclopedia. Not very original, but it gets the job done. And it’s kind of fun to code.

Until today, however. Since this is finals week, I’ve been concentrating on other things until today. The project is due tomorrow. I already had a lot of it done (strange for me, I know, but I’m trying to get out of here), and had seen a lot of e-mails over the weekend about how the DB server we were using was going down and back up as it was fixed. I didn’t worry too much, because as of last night it was supposed to be up and strong.

Imagine my horror, then, as I logged on to the site to see what needed to be done, and got all sorts of errors, most of them involving the MySQL server’s refusal to connect. Some pages, mostly display pages, were still working. So I could browse to articles, list them, and so on, but I couldn’t create or edit them. I was understandably upset, because I also couldn’t implement the access controls or categorization features that my proposal said I would.

After some investigation, I determined that the problem arose when I requested more than one SQL connection at a time. In theory, I only needed one at a time, but my architecture was designed around a Database class, which you could have more than one of. One class for one connection. I also had some static classes for doing things like manipulating articles, categorizing them, linkifying them, and so on. All the edit pages would usually verify that the article in question exists, then call these static classes to do what they needed to do. So the calling page was creating a DB connection, then the static classes would, in order to do what they had to.

My options were looking pretty grim. Do I switch DB servers, and troubleshoot that nightmare? Do I change my whole engineering scheme with T-minus 20 hours and counting?

After some general freaking out, I realized that my pages revolved around a static call in the Database class called getConnection(), which returns a connection to the default database. The wheels in my head started turning, and I realized that since every one of my requests for a database connection go through this method, I could somehow use it to save the day.

The trick was to create a static class member called $working, which held the connection to one, and only one, database. So I changed my code. From this:

public static function getConnection ()  
   return new Database();  

To this:

public static function getConnection ()  
   if (self::$working == NULL)
    self::$working = new Database();
   return self::$working;  

Since I essentially had a factory method to get the database connections to begin with, I merely needed to change this method so that it created the first connection, but didn’t do so on subsequent connection requests. Instead, it returns the already-existing connection. Since all my pages use this method, it means that they all use one and only one server connection. I changed the code, uploaded, and… voila! It worked perfectly.

Imagine the trouble I’d be in if I hadn’t done this to begin with. This is why I love OO programming. Because if you start with well-engineered code, then a major change like this can fix everything, and break nothing. Long live Object-Oriented Programming!

Update:I would be remiss not to mention that this is the Singleton design pattern, which my buddy and classmate Dylan pointed out I had omitted from the original post.

Kudos to the University

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

Whenever I mention the University of Montana, I’m probably in rant mode. But this time, I’d like to take a moment to give them some mad props. What’s the opposite of a rant? That’s what this is.

First, a little history. I’m starting my twelfth semester here at UM, and for ten of those semesters, I’ve had trouble with the financial aid office. Now, sometimes the trouble has turned out to be my fault: late FAFSA, reaching my credit cap, and s on. But most other times, something’s gone wrong on the University’s end. I don’t know how it works, but each explanation in those instances has sound unnecessary to me.

But this year, they got it right. By the spring ’06 semester, I had learned to be a hardass about getting my financial aid done — including visiting the line and asking if everything was going okay. No exception this year. My RTA room award, Pell grant, and SMART grant left me with a refund coming. I even finalized in December, way ahead of time. But when I checked my account around the new year, CyberBear told me (surprise, surprise) that I owed the full amount.

I guess it turns out that once you finalize your bill, all the financial aid on it disappears until the money really comes in. This is strange behavior and bad design, but I’m really trying to be appreciative here so I’ll avoid pressing the issue further. So I hit up financial aid, and they explained it. I got a little worried because I was told that the aid would come in after the deadline for payment, but they reassured me that I had finalized so my classes were locked in. This is my last semester (and I’m taking some low-level requirements like Technical Writing), so I need all the classes I’ve registered for. The day rolled around, and my registration stuck.

Then I worried about the aforementioned refund. I’m not complaining about my financial state by any means, but I’ve definately been scraping by since New Year’s Day. Once the financial aid appeared (just yesterday), I clicked the ‘request a refund’ link, only to be rudely told that I can’t request one. So I called the cashier and they told me that it would be handled automatically. Suffering from the ‘fool me once, shame on you…’ mindset, I worried. But today I checked my account and it was at a $0 balance, with the refund check listed as a ‘charge.’ It might even get here on time on Friday, so I can have some popcorn while watching Cloverfield. All in all, a good alternative to the usual drama I must deal with to continue for another semester here.

So I did a lot of poking and prodding, but it was all needless. Everything went off without a hitch this semester, and I’m glad, because now I’m leaving the school on a high note. This definitely makes me feel better about maybe taking Grad School here someday.


Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

I constantly find reasons never, ever to trust technology enough to become an astronaut.

Reason #1: The iPod-cum-brick. Today, there was an Adobe User Group meeting. On the way across the oval (which has recently become an uncrossable sea thanks to constantly freezing and melting ice sheets which once were snow. It’s pretty neat, because your shoes simultaneously come into contact with 1) water 2) ice and 3) mud, which means that you can get your shoes muddy, soak your feet, and fall on your ass, all at the same time!), I was listening to it just fine. Full charge, no problems, no skipping, nada. I put it away for the meeting. On the way back, the damn thing wouldn’t do anything! No apple screen, no iPod-sticking-his-tongue-out, nothing. I tried to fix it at home, first plugging it into its power adapter. No dice. Then my laptop’s USB. Still, nothing. Reset, reset, reset — zilch. The ‘5 R’s’ yielded no results. So now I apparently have a dead iPod. The worst part is that this isn’t the first time this has happened! About a month ago, I actually had to call tech support. For some reason (and this is before I got through, so the tech-guy-gadget-fixing-auro wasn’t in effect yet), on my twentieth attempt at restarting it (hold-on, hold-off, Menu and Center pressed and held together), it started working. Oh, yeah, and this isn’t even my first iPod! My first one died one day for similarly inexplicable reasons. Gee, Apple, you’d think for a grand total of $650 dollars I could possibly not by an unreliable piece of crap… twice.

Reason #2: Retarded torrents. For some reason (possibly the alignment of the moons), every time I’m downloading sweet TV shows via BitTorrent, nothing works. Usually, setting my client’s encryption to forced or enabled (whichever it currently is not set to) cures the problem. Not tonight. I tried four or five times, then snagged a torrent I knew would have seeds, all to no avail. So I got started on Reason #3 (see below) and came back to it after half an hour when — voilĂ  — it started downloading. Of course, my episode of Heroes was going at 100 k/sec last night, but now, with only a third left, it was going at 20 k/sec, despite having the same number of seeds.

Don’t you love that? It seems that, regardless of your method of illicit p2p download (BitTorrent, Gnutella, even ancient Napster), you always wind up having 5 minutes left on your download for at least an hour, often more time. I assume my seeders are all d-bags who coordinate their efforts to frustrate me just enough so that I come back for next week’s episode.

Reason #3: Tried to write a paper about Python (the language, not the aeronautical beast). Finished it. Tried to upload it with the shitty Blackboard upload applet (that’s right! Start the JVM to accomplish something that can be done with a plain old HTML form!). Guess what? FireFox crashed! Tried in IE — now the whole box crashes! And I’m not running a bunch of crap software, as far as I know. After the restart, it went right up. But I found it amusing that submitting the paper took about 3% of the entire time spent on the damn thing.

Wait. It wasn’t amusing. It PISSED ME OFF.

By the way, while writing this I must have clicked out of the form text area and tried to delete something, because I hit backspace and immediately navigated away from the page. My blood boiled for half a second as I realized I might have lost this entire rant. To Blogger’s credit, it did warn me. But I’m so used to irritating popup messages that I typically click through familiar ones without thinking them through. Thankfully, I’m paranoid enough to copy and paste (
just did it) after ever sentence as a poor man’s save.

And I was going to try to install Windows Vista on my computer tonight. With my tech karma right now, the setup would probably error out so immensely, so enormously that I’d wind up reformatting my Mac’s hard drive, too.

Back From the Bo-Zone / inside

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Just got back from Bozeman a few hours ago. Jesse, AJo, Andy, Cullen and I went there to check out how their ResNet program compares to our DirectConnect program. It was informative, despite the fact that we spent twice as long traveling (eight hours) as we did doing what we came there to do (four hours). They’ve got complete control of their network (we don’t), so they can do stuff like VLAN switching and bandwidth control much easier than we can. Their web-based tools aren’t as pretty as ours, however. This is a result of my design-first, code-second philosophy.

We stayed at the Western Heritage Inn, which sounds like a front for a white power group (“Free racist mint on every pillow!”). We all played Mario Kart 64 until the wee hours of the morn; this includes my boss Jesse, which pretty much makes him the coolest boss ever.

On an altogether unrelated note, last weekend I finished vocals for inside, the new record that I’ve been working on for two years. Tracks:

  1. I Miss You – slow, moody homesickness song.
  2. This Could Be Any Day – uptempo piano pop with strings.
  3. Fret – a worried dirge.
  4. Temperamental – frenetic song about changing moods at the drop of a hat.
  5. Mary’s Plea – A synth-folk number about abortion.
  6. Jenny Lewis Will Never Go Out With You – The name says it all. Power pop.
  7. Here There Be Monsters – A riff-heavy song with horns and strings.
  8. Let’s Get Away – Lolling folk about hitting the road, Jack.
  9. Written Off – An angry folk song about cowardly homophobes.
  10. Soap – A peppy song about a shower (more philosophical than prurient)
  11. Torn – A synthy yet rocky song with beats.
  12. Polarize – Quasi-raggae horn-infused polemic.
  13. Glut of Food – Synthy
  14. The Highway – Folk-rock about Interstate 90.

It sounds pretty good. I’ll probably have CDPrintExpress run up copies again, considering the fantastic job they did on Pick Your Poison. I also have plans in the works for an EP by Page Fault, my hardcore pet project. It’s an EP called Two Minute Hate.

But first, I plan to record some B-side vocals over the weekend while I’m visiting my parents. A country song about finding god (“Lifted Up”) is first on my list. I haven’t really found him (perhaps he’s hiding under the covers), but I find songs like it beautiful. I would also like to re-record the vocals for “Synth Pop” (not its final title), a former album cut for inside but now relegated to B-side status. I might also do a ‘stripped’ version of “Written Off”, with just vocals and acoustic guitar.

Missoula Sold Its Soul (For Adult Contemporary)

Friday, October 6th, 2006

Well, the Rolling Stones are finally gone, having sucked the life out of our great city Wednesday night. They turned our quiet little campus into a madhouse of 40-somethings looking to recapture that ineffable feeling of youth and 18-somethings screaming “I can’t get no sa-tis-fac-shun!” out of their dorm rooms and reminding those 40-somethings that, hey, it’s okay to be old. Everybody was grabbing for a piece of the pie, and nobody’s hands were greedier than our very own University. It’s not enough to wash our credibility down the drain by signing an exclusive contract with ‘Killer’ Coke, they now sell our campus down the drain, too, just so some geriatric old fucks can waltz in here, play a few songs they penned 40 years ago, and make off with all our money and most of our pride, to boot.

From what I can tell from the reviews I’ve read, the Stones managed to do what everyone expected — they played a lot of hits, one or two new songs to remind us that yes, they’re still making records, and fire off a lot of fireworks to distract us. From what? From the maddening realization that the Stones hadn’t written a song that was actually relevent in two score years. It was all part of the show, the six story stage, the roaring spotlights, the old chestnuts, not new to anybody’s ears in decades, and we all suspended disbelief. Where the hell was the emotion? Somehow, these dangerous boys, who had the gall to declare their Sympathy for the Devil, were nothing short of… familiar. It’s hard to seem dangerous when half your audience is made up of people who have to be up at 7:30 A.M. so they can drop their kids off at school.

The emotion died a long time ago, along with the danger. It’s been replaced with glitz, with 70 tractor trailers and a six-story stage. It’s been replaced with 20,000 screaming fans, not screaming because they might share a moment with Mick or Keef, but screaming for the sake of… screaming. Real rock ‘n roll died a long time ago, certainly before I was born, and even the fringes — punk rock and death metal, for example — are gasping for air. It’s not rebellious anymore. It’s packaged. It’s merchandised. It’s $80 tickets. It’s 70 tractor trailers. It’s withered old farts, appealing to something they helped create, but not letting sleeping dogs lie, making a joke of the very thing they helped to create.