Belated ramblings

When Mood Music
2011-10-08 15:54:00 content The Convalescent – Manic Street Preachers

Where to start? I know I’ve been silent since early August. So what follows is probably far too long-winded!

 

August

I don’t think I did anything productive in August apart from subscribe to CrashPlan, an online back-up system. (There are two back-up devices in Servants’ Quarters but I fear losing them to theft or fire, and I don’t like carrying all my data with me – this requires a physical device which might be lost or stolen.)

 

MSc studies

On 5th September, I matriculated into Napier University to start an MSc in Information Systems Development. The first week was full of getting-to-know-Napier activities. In one of these, aimed at mature students, my team won a poster-design competition – the prize was a 2GB memory stick. I hope that’s not my only prize during this course.

I’m officially studying part-time but I find that I need to put in almost a full working week to keep up. I’m currently studying

  • A full module on software development – so far, it’s been a from-no-prior-knowledge introduction to programming in Java. It’s based on the lecturer’s ‘Java genius” teach-yourself website and the practical programming is done in the Eclipse IDE.We’ve covered variables, primitive data types, input and output (using the
    JOptionPane system
    ), arithmetic expressions, flow of control, arrays and methods (subroutines). So far, there’s been no mention of object-orientation or any real mention of theory, which I find a little frustrating: I want to understand how and why things work. In fact, concerning the start of any Java program,
    public class MyFirstProgram {

    public static void main (String [ ] args) {

    // actual code for main program

    }
    // code for methods

    }
    the lecturer has said ‘you don’t need to know what public, class, static and args mean yet.’) I do know what a String is and have just been taught what void means, while a little reading around has informed me about the other terms. Still, we’re only 4 weeks into the course.

    The coursework so far has been to do the tutorials on javagenius – no real problem except remembering the vocabulary. For example, is it import.javax.swing; or import.swing.javax;?

    There’s a class test, which will be an open-book programming task, in two weeks’ time. Then the remaining part of the assessment for this module will be a 5-week programming assignment.

    As well as the tutorials, I’ve written a program of my own to calculate body mass indices (BMI) for an arbitrary number of people, then work out how much weight each should gain or lose. It could be much simpler (for example, using a 2-dimensional array rather than three 1-dimensional arrays) and is currently monolithic because we hadn’t been taught about methods when I wrote it. My self-imposed tasks for this week are

    1. to re-write my program using methods
    2. to add some more functionality – calculating the minimum, maximum, mean and standard deviation of the BMI results
    3. to allow the user to choose whether to enter data in metric or imperial
    4. to allow the user to enter the names of each person, so that the results are given as ‘Bruce’s BMI is…’, rather than ‘Person 1’s BMI is…’.

    I’d like to be able to format the output – you don’t need to know BMIs to more than one decimal place – and to store results in a file so that a later set of results can be compared with an earlier set of results, so that each person could know how their BMI has changed. However, I’m relatively proud – I wrote my program, it wasn’t a set task and it does what I meant it to do. It has also shown me just how much planning you need to do before you write a single line of code and the addictive joy of late-night coding.

    Despite these lacunae, I’m enjoying this module – the lecturer has a great presentation style, is approachable and takes time in lectures to make sure we all understand – and I’m learning stuff – hooray!

  • A half-module on computer systems. This comprises three chunks:
    1. computer architecture: innards of processors and their links to the rest of the hardware (buses and hubs); fetch-decode-execute cycle, interrupts and similar. It’s been fairly basic, again assuming zero prior knowledge, but I’ve learnt or firmed up quite a few concepts, so I’m pretty pleased. We sat the class test yesterday. I’m pretty sure I’ve passed but my exam technique and handwriting leave a lot to be desired!This chunk has been taught by another good lecturer with a slightly dryer style but he’s been very approachable and supportive and I’ve enjoyed this chunk.
    2. operating systems, namely windows and linux.
      Wot no MacOS? I wonder if we’ll be taught that every OS sucks (video). Yes, every OS sucks (canonical list).
    3. computer networking
      I’m looking forward to this. In practice, networking macs has been easy and idiot-proof from the moment I tried to do so. (This is not my experience with PCs!) However, the basis of how it all works is pretty hazy – I’ve read snippets on the OSI model and similar but I want to get to grips with it, and maybe later do a CNAA qualification.
  • A half module on database systems.
    The old adage is ‘if you can’t say anything nice, say nothing’. So I’m saying nothing in public.

The rest of the course will be

  • Spring 2012 – a module on either more software development or web-enabled business.
  • Summer 2012 – nothing officially timetabled, so I will be looking for work experience.
  • Autumn 2012 –a module on information systems engineering.
  • Spring 2013 – modules on
    • web design and development
    • choice between
      • a group project
      • management of software projects.
        I’ve done some line-management and hated it – I think I’ve been quite good at managing publishing projects where I’ve been in charge and the contributors have all been external I’m not sure about working in a peer relationship with other trainees but, since that’s the way I’ll most likely work in the IT world, the group project seems the less unappealing of the two options.
  • Summer 2013 – a dissertation.
    I’m nervous about this – I’ve not done any original writing for ages and my PhD thesis left a lot to be desired. I have a mentor who is studying for a PhD in information visualisation in Napier’s computing department – she’s been a great help not least in that, by promising her that I will do certain things each week, I have a great impetus to do them. Her first degree is in philosophy – she then did a computing MSc at Napier and has now started extending this work into a doctorate.

Until now, I’ve not believed the saying ‘the more you put into something, the more you get out of it’. The more I’ve put into anything at work or at home, the more frustrated I’ve been when it didn’t work or didn’t attain the standards I wanted and took up time I wanted or needed to give to something else. However, I currently believe that this saying does apply to this course and that I will be far more proud of, and will have enjoyed attaining, this qualification than my BSc and PhD.

Whether it will lead to employment in the IT world is unknown – I still have great fondness for educational publishing. However, so long as I end up doing something that is tolerably challenging, doesn’t involve commuting (except by bike within Edinburgh), doesn’t contribute to the meat and pet industries, the military, right-wing politics and capitalism, and me to make a real contribution to people’s lives and keeps a roof over my head, then I’m not that bothered. (Ideally I’d earn enough to keep my hostess too, since she’s well overdue a sabbatical.)

What else has been going on? My hostess is on tour, aiming to speak directly to all of her staff about the future of her organisation. We recently spent a long weekend in Worcester, visiting my parents. My mother is still suffering greatly from having broken her hip in March. There’s a lot of pain as the replacement joints haven’t yet bedded in and she still has great difficulty walking upstairs – driving isn’t really worth considering yet, so she’s housebound unless dad or Ian can take her. I’m going to visit again in a couple of week’s time, mostly for an IT call but also to take them an exercise bike inherited from my hostess. Each time I visit, I feel it’s not long enough and that maybe I’m not doing enough for them.

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