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Keep Your Head UP!

I’m pretty good at being optimistic (or ingesting the perfect balance of chemicals as required for the circumstances to induce a feeling uncannily similar to optimism). The last twenty four hours have been unusually tough… temporarily away from family traveling and then: late late night el station hang out with humanoid beings most certainly from another planet.. ever get that feeling your arm is grabbed while you’re sleeping and you wake up freaked out?? me neither – until last night!.. you know how when you are literally awake every 5 min all night long and then you have to be awake the next day (and professional!) and all you can do to keep going is eat continuously?? yup, been there done that.. oh, and know how you have to keep your sanity even when you haven’t slept all night and someone is continuously nitpicking your activities??… hello hot chocolate and chocolate covered graham crackers. phew.


Things certainly came to a head in the Fall of 2012.  Besides being overwhelmed with school work and little people (then 5yrs, 4yrs and 1yr old), work was busier than ever.  My engineering group was looking forward to launching our project that we had labored and worried over for nearly 7 years with one of the (THE) largest pharma companies on this planet in just a few short months.  So we were working night and day to meet those project management schematic deadlines, including setting up for and receiving auditors from our pharma partner.  To everyone’s surprise (by the abruptness anyway, if not the actual event), our work was halted suddenly by our long-time private investment group.  Lucky for me, I got hired about a week later by a really excellent Drupal development group.  But I hadn’t used Drupal during my Master’s work and I had little idea what to do with it at first.  Well it turned out to be a lot of fun and I got used to it quickly.  Thank goodness my new group was of the mindset that it is a worthwhile effort to spend time teaching new skills to those with some apparent technical aptitude but no professional experience.  Yay!  I worked there for almost a year and literally worked day and night at learning web development, partially to be an awesome employee and partially because it is so much fun.  I’m completely hooked on Drupal and PHP these days.  Of course, all the time put into learning this system took time away from other fun projects like Google App Engine (now supporting PHP!), Bioinformatics, and (more recently) Arduino.  However, I have been keeping notes and I have some great beginners tips for troubles and pitfalls configuring and using Drupal and other interesting and useful web dev tools.   The final issue to be settled is that I am now compelled to make my own website, however convenient the wordpress prefab template has been.  Please check back to find the link to Robot Mom’s new home, coming soon in the summer of 2014!    


I keep mixing up the weeks in the titles for the posts, which is mostly for my own benefit but may be confusing or annoying nonetheless… in any case I believe this is week 13 in my countdown to graduation.

Architecture class turns out to be the best class I could have picked as the last for my program. In the first four weeks many gaps in terms and concepts have been filled in (SOA, SOAP, REST, middle-ware, distributed systems, web services vs SaaS) and we’re practising with java and web services, two things I have some experience with and am in need of deeper experience and understanding. This is also the first class (well maybe second as we talked a lot about architecture in server side class this past spring) where i feel like I’m reinforcing the engineer in software engineer (MS Software Engineering). Doing is important, but planning and designing are the responsibilities I’ve acquired over time in materials engineering, and this is the level we’re at in ESA class too, which is where I want my expertise to lie eventually (what’s the good of awesome coding if you don’t know how to put the pieces together to grow the whole system) and where I want to go in CS eventually. I anticipate this taking awhile and taking place along the lines of backtracking once again in position and doing the execution and proof of ability processes as were necessary in transferring into engineering. Which is fine except that there is more pressure to reach a happy career place when it’s not just career satisfaction, but also family support that is dependent on the success and maturation time of the transformation.

Things I’m working with currently: JAX-WS, RMI, NetBeans (JavaEE/GlassFish bundle)

The initial NetBeans tutorials seem to work well the first time, but the Java RMI tutorial is good until the end, where the security details are a bit fuzzy and I have errors right now for which I don’t immediately have solutions.

Class is running right along.  Fortunately I only have architecture this semester.  I keep hitting a wall when it comes to staying up late and remembering to do a thousand things at once and processing the multitude of activities going on this August and September.  I’m usually good at doing too much and keeping every detail at hand.  What’s happening?  My hubby says my subconscious knows school is almost done and so my survival mode is wearing off.  Simple as that.  Unfortunately, in my brief experience to date with interviewing, I’m expected to already be a computer genius.  I couldn’t even get an unpaid internship I recently discussed with someone because I wasn’t ‘ready to hit the ground running’ and didn’t have any of my own work posted online to show ‘my passion for computing’.  Humph.  I thought going to school while working full-time and raising three small kids was an excellent show of passion.  I was also told ‘no!’ about an opportunity in my own company because they needed someone ‘ready to hit the ground running’.  Can people at least come up with a new phrase for ‘you don’t have enough experience’?  How about… ‘you don’t have enough experience’?  That works for me.  I stopped applying while I re-evaluate my strategy.  Which is what I’m supposed to be doing now, except reading several chapters a week and modeling computer systems has not allowed me to work on any side projects that require additional thinking.  I’ve been crocheting up a storm, but I feel like I could do this with my eyes closed.  Very little thinking.  And visually pleasing.  And real.  That’s the funny thing about computers and computer systems.  Our world is being incrementally virtualized.  Virtual friends, virtual followers, virtual stores where I do most of my shopping… even a virtual recreation of my daughter’s kindergarten class so I can ‘be there’ even though I’m not.  It’s great and odd.  So crochet is my physical, creative counterbalance for computers.  Meditative art therapy… ahhhh.  Relaxation, adaptation… I will give all my critics’ advice on how to ‘show my passion’ and get ready to ‘hit the ground running’ some serious consideration as I put the finishing touches on my cozy new red scarf…

My Big Red Scarf

W17:Back To School

Last week we went to Kindergarten orientation for our oldest.  What an eye-opener regarding how fast they’re growing.  She’s very excited, and so am I for her.  Lots of fun things to look forward to this year.  Her school teaches history, counting change, math and reading all at K level.  This is a lot more exciting than the cut and pasting I remember doing in K.  Kids are too advanced to start so slow now that they’ve been raised on computers, smart phones, ipads and computer-like toys from birth till the first day of school.  First week of September, her new adventure begins…

And I start school next week.  I feel really excited to be so near to the completion of my degree.  But I’m a little surprised it’s come up so fast too.  So many things I planned to have done between the end of summer class and now… but there’s never time for everything I plan..  I need to learn to be a little less ambitious and a little more on task.  It’s not fair that there are so many interesting things to work on… Just really getting into Python now and using it with Google App Engine is great.  Really would like to get more into Django… seems pretty popular right now too.  Was looking at some Microsoft programming related to a project I thought I was going to help with at work… (I’m a materials R&D engineer now but am trying to get some experience from our SE group, which is not as easy as you’d think.  They’re busy and don’t have time for my newbie presence right now.)  I have high aspirations and no time for robot projects.. 😦  But it’s not all bad news… this is my last semester, so for better or worse I’ll have a big celebration and more time both coming up real soon.. hello Christmas! 

If you were kind enough to check out my appspot blog, you’ll notice that I do not have any control in place for who can create an account and post entries.  It crossed my mind but I didn’t think anyone would be interested in trying it out… At least there were no explicit posts… that I saw anyway.  Thanks for that.  To be fixed soon.  🙂

Well it was W21 in that last week of class anyway…

This last week of summer camp/programming class went really well. We started with the demo I had wanted the kids to see last week. We talked a little about taking a simple instruction, combining it with another (and another and another) and creating a complex program, like the demo animation or a game or website. With this in mind, the kids went to their stations and started again with the projects they were working on last week. Some still were interested in again creating new characters are trying out backgrounds, but I went to each individually and encouraged them to try the ‘repeat’ and ‘forever’ control statements over the basic ‘move’ statements for at least one sprite. A couple kids wound up with multiple sprites moving, and one even went on to make a sprite say something within the activity loop, very similar to the demo! The oldest, and least enthusiastic of the group got mildly interested when I told her she should try to finish her animation this class period and then we could submit to the Scratch website. We did post her project and she actually stayed engaged for a little while. In the last ten minutes of class I let everyone have free time to play games if they wanted. Some still worked on their programs and some played games. In the end, the class stayed calm, focused and positive. Not bad for the third workshop ever. I did not get to bring a Spanish version of the project booklet to class, but hope to post it on the Scratch Ed site soon and bring it to class in the fall.

RobotMom on Google App Engine



This second week mentoring kids in the CS workshop was hectic.  I arrived late because of train delays, the lab was filled with adults that needed to be more or less kicked out, none of the kids really looked at the new project handout I wrote and assembled, everyone is at different stages this week in their interest and skill level (vs last week when they seemed closely aligned in both) and two girls, sisters, have decided to do whatever they want and see what I think of that!  Now I see that communicating principles of CS is not the challenge so much as gaining credibility with the kids and establishing a focus and pace for the classwork.  So next week I’m going to worry less about agenda and more about focus/pace.  The project presented last week is moderately complex given the age range, so we’ll work on that again.  And I have some tricks to win the kids attention and credibility… at least temporarily.  I’m going to start off with a demo of the project on my computer.  Next, provide a Spanish version of the project handout to the kids who are stronger in Spanish than English, and finally, give the kids treats at the end of class.  It is the last class of summer camp after all, and I’m not opposed to a little bribery to facilitate a positive connection with programming. 🙂

The project we’re currently working on is posted on the Scratch Ed site here:

Intermediate Level Loops and Event Recognition

Robot Mom is now live on Google App Engine… sort of!  One of the exercises for the U253 Web Application Engineering course is to make a blog site on app engine with some very basic functionality and meeting certain criteria that standardizes the submissions so they can use an automated testing system to evaluate the work.  So there are a lot of features missing and the appearance has a very basic styling applied, but it’s a start and I’m looking forward to developing the site into something unique and useful.  I will be posting parallel entries at both sites while developing the functionality of the app engine version.  First and foremost, the text for content on the app engine version doesn’t even wrap, there’s no buttons for navigation, no editing, and no dates posted.  For Pete’s sake…!  🙂 (permalink pages for individual entries!)

In exchange for going to a computer conference in August, I’ve volunteered to do programming workshops for kids at a Chicago area social services center.  This past Tuesday was my first visit.  Up until Tuesday, I hadn’t thought too much about the first session.  The kids were supposed to be at a beginner’s level so I printed out a demo card I found somewhere on the ed tech part of the Scratch website and brought copies of that with me.  I was pretty nervous just before the kids came in the room because I just didn’t know what to expect, what they’d be like and what they’d think of the class and how they would behave.  Funny, since I have three kids of my own.  Well, they weren’t disturbed (that I could tell) and they certainly weren’t slow.  They all easily surpassed the beginner’s level of Scratch proficiency and went straight ahead to intermediate level concepts.  I’d started out asking them to make or load a couple characters.  Then they experimented with the characters’ appearances.  Some kids moved straight on to adding movement and backgrounds, and I asked the others to do the same.  By the end of class, all the kids had some interesting scenes with some type of movement.  Besides being really quick, the kids were funny and friendly too.  And in true kid form, they were completely sweet and attentive when they needed help, but completely ignored me when they didn’t need or want help and instruction.  🙂  It was good to have that first class done.  Now I’m planning some more challenging work for this coming Tuesday’s session.  I’m hoping they’ll like to continue with their characters saved from last week but control their movement in a purposeful way to have the character either tell a story or play a part in the animation that has some meaning or direction.  This should involve using loops or nested loops with either ‘repeat’ or ‘forever’ statements.  Hopefully they will also be able to add a sensor function that allows one of the program characters to then react to an event, like a mouse click, etc.  I’ve gone through my own example and taken screen shots at each step.  I put the images together in a report-like format so I can give them each a printed out copy.  I’d also like to post it in the tech ed forum so other people can comment.

Otherwise just working on STATS101 and CS101 on Udacity.  I started four classes at different points from this spring to this summer and I’m hoping to finish all of them before fall semester starts the last week of August.  Just over a month away now…!

Well, I was also reading this interesting book about game design for a few days… Level Up!  I had Raspberry Pi and Pygame in mind while reading it, but haven’t fired up the Raspberry Pi yet or installed Pygame.  The line-following robot is waiting for a body and I figured making myself wait on the RPi until the robot body was finished would ensure the robot would be finished… Not that the line-following robot isn’t interesting, but it got postponed through spring and summer school work and I don’t want to postpone it forever.  Besides, the little people in the house demand that we finish it soon!

Summer Fun!

Isn’t summer supposed to be relaxing?  Not quite the idea you’d get looking at my schedule.  Talk about dual personalities…  While my intellectual self says that fun is not the most productive use of one’s time, my primal self is already outside in a bathing suit and flip flops!  Here’s to the latter half…

ImageBirthday Cupcakes!!

And fun with a purpose… best of both worlds…