The Road To Graduation, Part I

I’ve been going to San Jose City College on a part-time basis for the last five years to learn computer programming. With Data Structures (CIS 55) approved to continue with only seven students, I’m finally on the road to graduating this semester. I did a lot of walking between the Technology building (Parkmoor Avenue and Bascom Avenue) and to Admissions & Records inside the Student Union building (Parkmoor Avenue and Leigh Avenue) to get the paperwork straighten out. The worst part was that I didn’t need to.

After checking with my instructor on taking Object Oriented Programming (CIS 59) under Directed Study (CIS 98) last week, I made an appointment to see the dean at the Technology building. He signed off on a note that I can make the appropriate substitutions to graduate this semester. When I file my graduation petition in a few weeks, I’ll get a substitution form from the counselor for the dean to sign off to approve the substitutions.

I made my first trip across campus to Admission & Records to sign up for the CIS 98 class to get that out of the way since was the third week of the semester. The clerk refused to do anything since I didn’t have a signed add slip for the class. When I pulled out the note from the dean, he reluctantly accepted that and put into the pile behind him. I pointed out that I needed the paper back, he told me tough luck that I didn’t make a copy as the original now belonged to Admissions & Records.

That’s not what I wanted to hear. I started thinking about if I could hurl 355 pounds of muscle over the counter to get my paper back. A desperate graduate-to-be in desperate times will do desperate things. Fortunately, the clerk’s supervisor stepped in to give me my back my paper. Since the dean forgot to put my name on the paper, Admissions & Records wasn’t going to accept it and I couldn’t register for my class until I have a signed add slip anyway. So double tough luck.

I made a second trip over to the Technology building to see my instructor to get an add slip, have the dean put my name on the note, and maybe have the department secretary make a copy so I didn’t have to stop by the library. Everyone was out of the office. Since I had business on the other side of campus, I made a trip there and back again. When I still couldn’t find them, I went out to dinner. Before class got started that evening, I showed the note to my instructor, who made an announcement to the class that I was graduating this semester, and he sent an email to Admissions & Records to add me to CIS 98.

I haven’t had this much fun chasing paperwork since attending San Jose State University during the 1994-95 school year. I could never find my major adviser to sign off on any paperwork. I’d managed to corner a drunken Russian mathematics professor in his office to get him to sign off on my paperwork, hoping that he wouldn’t keel over dead on top of them. The department secretary took one look at the signature and declared: “This doesn’t have a snowball chance in hell of flying through here.”

The department rejected my paperwork the following week and the university kicked me out the following semester. I’m quite certain that playing Magic: The Gathering card game until the wee hours of the morning with my roommates, running a BBS business on the side, and being depressed over a girl I fell in love with were not contributing factors in getting kicked out of school.

You would think that being in Silicon Valley that everything could be done over the computer without having students chase after pieces of paper. Unfortunately, SJCC is still using the same mainframe computer with the same slow serial connections when I first went to school in the early 1990’s.

Spring Semester 2007

My quest to complete an associate degree in computer programming at San Jose City College wasn’t dead on arrival when I showed up for Data Structures (CIS 55) on Monday night. Just on life support. No sooner than I stepped into the classroom, the instructor asks me about how many more classes I need for graduation. I told him this class and Object Oriented Programming (CIS 59) that haven’t been taught in a while. Since we had six students out of the 20 students minimum needed to run the class, we all wrote letters to the dean that we needed this class for graduation. Depending on what the dean decides, the class could continue with the instructor being paid per-student instead of per-class (which is against union rules), be taught under Directed Study (CIS 98) with a special letter provided by the dean to satisfy graduation requirements, or the class will get canceled.

The instructor gave us a nice overview of the usage of pointers in the C++ programming language when I voiced my confusion over that topic. Java is the default programming language for many college courses, fixing many of the pointer and memory allocation issues found in C++ with automatic garbage collection. The tradeoffs being that Java isn’t fast enough for speed sensitive code such as system drivers. We have a choice of textbooks depending on which programming language we prefer to use in class. I want to learn C++ since Java is the only programming language I have any experience with.

I’m seeing a personal counselor at school to talk about the 2004 death of my mother from breast cancer. The focus has been on helping me to recover my “lost” childhood memories since much of my forgotten childhood was in response to a series of traumatic events that I prefer not to remember. Prior to starting counseling last semester, household objects from my childhood had triggered specific memory responses. I started using Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Dial Gold soap that I haven’t used since I was a kid immediately after my mother’s death. The smell of Lava hand soap invoked memories of my father washing his hands and arms in a bathroom after coming home from construction work.

One of the reasons I’m taking Ceramics I (ART 46A) is because I had memories of my second grade and seven grade teachers spinning clay pots on a kick wheel during their lunch breaks before a crowd of students. I always wanted to do that as a kid, but never had an opportunity to do so. I could never fit ceramics into my schedule during my first tour through college in the early 1990’s.

Ceramics is taught in the 300 building, one of three rows of metal-sheathed buildings built after World War II. The temperature yesterday morning for the all-day Saturday course hovered at freezing point. Despite running the heat at full blast, the class work area was cold. Since clay retains coldness at a lower temperature point, everyone was freezing their hands off.

Our first project was to roll a lump of clay into a sphere, cut the sphere into two halves, pinch each half into a bowl, and combine the two halves into a hollowed out sphere. My sphere turned into an egg with a flatten bottom to stand on. The instructor asked me if I took ceramics before since I did a very good job with my egg. Besides plastering mud (brown clay and water) on the side of the house when I was three, forming the short version of my first name in blue modeling clay on a small chalkboard in kindergarten, and making mud (cement, sand and water) when I worked with my father in construction for a few years, I haven’t done ceramics before.

Finishing School Or Going Bust

Next semester at San Jose City College will be the breaking point for finishing my associate degree in computer programming on a part-time basis while working full-time for the last five years. I need two advance classes to graduate. If the two required classes don’t get cancelled for low enrollment next year, I can graduate. If the required class I need to take next semester gets cancelled, I just might give it up entirely.

This past semester was hard since I felt like I was spinning my wheels after I lost interest in the two classes that I took but didn’t need to graduate, and I pretty much took all the available optional courses that I can take.

I waited three years for the C++ class that was held up due to a lack of funding to renew the site license for Microsoft Visual Studio. Unfortunately, according to the head of the computer department, teaching C++ on Linux doesn’t represent “real world experience” as every professional programmer must know Visual Studio. Never mind that the textbook also has side-by-side Linux examples.

Meanwhile, my entire classroom programming experience was in Java. Unlike Microsoft Visual Studio, the school doesn’t need to buy a site wide license to teach Java. Although you can get a job with Java, knowing only one programming language can limit your future opportunities. I really wanted to learn assembly language and C++ before I graduate.

For the spring semester, I’m taking an unusual combination: Data Structures and Ceramics I. The first class is a graduation requirement. The second class is one that I wanted to take during my first tour through college in the early 1990’s. If that schedule works out, the fall semester will be similar with GUI Programming and Ceramics 2. Assuming, of course, nothing gets cancelled.

A Power Outage Without The Heat

After my Thursday night finite class, I stayed late to study for my Unix Administration II class since I had a midterm on Monday (yesterday). Creating a backup script using the tar command to excluding specific files from being compressed into an archive was a bit tricky to put together. It’s amazing how the clock can say 11:00PM one moment and 1:00AM the next moment. I got up late enough to miss my Friday morning commute that I had to work from home.

At midmorning I heard a familiar “ka-POP!” sound from somewhere outside the apartment complex, the lights dimmed and overall power significantly reduced. Unlike the last time something like this happened, the fish tank filter pump didn’t gurgle, the UPSes weren’t beeping their alarms, and it wasn’t hot as heck that morning. Had enough power to keep the low power stuff running without trouble, including my laptop and new DSL modem. I continued working until full power came back on a few hours later.

More Adventures In Unix Administration

The exciting adventures in Unix Administration II class continued after I had to abort the installation of Red Hat 7.3 Linux last week, as the two-disc textbook version wanted a third disc that I didn’t have and the hard drive partition table got scrambled after I rebooted the system. I was planning to install Ubuntu but decided to go with the three-disc Red Hat offshoot, Fedora, for consistency with the rest of the class. The full install went on for two hours before the installer declared that the third disc was no good. This computer did not like having a third disc for some reason.

Since Plan B got trashed, it was time for Plan C with a minimal install.

As the computer was rebooting, I pressed the button on the disc drive to replace disc three with disc one to start the minimal installation. The drive tray opened with disc three still spinning at high speed and it flew out with a loud zoom to the back of the classroom. The entire class was watching me as I was the only student having problems getting the operating system installed. The instructor told me to try not to destroy the computer.

The minimal install took 25 minutes and I finally had the operating system installed to do my class work on. If I need additional software, I’ll download it off the internet. I hope next week’s class will be less exciting than this.

The Rattlesnakes of Unix Administration

My Monday night class, UNIX Administration II, was the first computer class that I’ve taken in three semesters that wasn’t cancelled due to low enrollment. Unfortunately, it’s not one of the two classes I need for graduation. The instructor lives out in Redding, CA, a four-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area, and stays at motel from Monday through Thursday. He told us stories about the rattlesnakes on his property before the first class got started last week.

He scooted one rattler off his porch with the tip of his shotgun before blowing its head off into the flower bed. His wife told him to bury the snake head in the ground to avoid having the bees get into the venom that makes the stinger more toxic. That’s an old wives’ tale. As for the snake head, there was anything left to bury. The shotgun was two inches away when he fired. One student got up to leave because he thought he was in the wrong class. The instructor reassured him that UNIX Administration II wasn’t a rattlesnake hunting class.

This week’s class was interesting. I had the joy of installing Red Hat 7.3 Linux (released in 2002) on my class computer from the two-disc set provided in the Thompson textbook. Everything was fine until 25 minutes into the installation when the installer asked for a third disc that the textbook didn’t have. No one else in class had a third disc, but they were able to finish installing. I rebooted, tried to recover, and was so out of luck. The hard drive partition table got hosed.

I haven’t had that much fun since 1997 when installing Linux was more complicated than it is today. I later read on the Internet that some Thompson textbooks carry a sticker saying that the discs don’t work and had instructions for downloading the latest version. Next week I’m bringing a copy of Ubuntu to install. I’m starting to like this particular Linux distribution enough that I might make a switch from OpenSuSE on my file server.

Returning To School For Fall Semester

School started yesterday at San Jose City College. I’m two classes short of getting my associate degree in computer programming. The two classes I’m taking this semester I really don’t need except to satisfy my curiosity and pass the time.

Finite Math is a Tuesday/Thursday night class in the new science building that’s not quite finished yet, as only the upstairs classrooms is available for use. I’m not sure if I like the new building yet. The grey floors, white walls and ivory counter tops that are appropriate for a laboratory, but don’t work well for a classroom. Finite Math is one of the few math classes I didn’t take during my first tour through college in the early 1990’s.

Unix Administration II is Monday nights. This class might get cancelled due to low enrollment. An article in the San Jose Mercury News described how the state universities are overwhelmed by a baby boomlet of new students entering the system and some classes have a waiting list for the waiting list. Seem like more people are on campus now than last semester. That doesn’t change the numbers for the computer department since, as Steve Jobs once said about the product lines after returning to Apple, there’s no sex in those computers anymore.

Finding Classes, MacBook Upgrade & Getting Older

I’m two classes short of getting my associate degree in computer programming at San Jose City College. The plan was to take one class at Mission College in the fall semester and the other class at SJCC in the spring semester. The registrations numbers at either campus don’t look too good that I’ll get those classes.

When I started going back to school five years ago, I couldn’t get the classes I wanted because there were too many students. Now I can’t get the classes I need because there aren’t enough students. Never mind the long-term trends of the Baby Boomers retiring en masse over the next 20 years, and that technology growth in for India and China will require keeping their I.T. workers at home, the United States won’t have enough people to fill the technical jobs in the future.

I’m not sure yet what I’m planning to do next semester. I could take a class that I don’t need like finite math or photography, complete my Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification, work on becoming a published writer sooner rather than later, or all of the above. Decisions, decision, decisions. That doesn’t get any easier when you get older.

Speaking of which, I recently had my 37th birthday. I got myself two sticks of 1GB memory and a brand new Windows XP OEM disc for my MacBook. I had more trouble trying to get the memory modules out of the packaging than putting them into the MacBook. I did the upgrade at work because I didn’t have the extra small screwdrivers at home. Going from 512MB to 2GB made a huge difference—no more waiting on the beach balls! Installing Boot Camp and Windows XP was just about as easy, but the post-install of Windows took forever. Now I have the best of both worlds by running Mac OS X and Windows XP on the same laptop.

Talked To The Dean

I had a good talk with the dean at San Jose City College on Friday morning about being three classes short of getting my computer programming associate degree. The good news is that I got a substitution for one class. The bad news is that I’m stuck with the other two classes that I can’t take due to low enrollment this semester and not being offered next semester.

The game plan now is to take the Data Structures (Java) class at Mission College in the fall semester and the Object Oriented Programming (C++) class at SJCC in the spring semester. Assuming, of course, that none of these classes get cancelled due to low enrollment, I should have my computer programming degree next year.