Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Half way through our Colorado summer

We're now entering our sixth week living in Boulder. My family is getting more accustomed to apartment living. It's ironic though how we thought we were escaping the Arkansas heat only to live in an apartment lacking air conditioning! At least the temperature drops each night.

We had a little scare a few weeks ago. Becky had developed a large lump on her thyroid, and after meeting with a surgeon, she was strongly encouraged to have it removed in case it was cancerous. My sister (who is now eligible for sainthood) flew out here from Chicago so she could watch the kids while Becky recovered from surgery. The surgery went well, and praise God the lump was not cancerous! Becky is still healing from the surgery, but she is doing really well. The kids were pretty oblivious to the whole thing since Aunt Sass kept them busy with swimming and museums and making pizza. Have I mentioned how awesome my sister is?

Since the surgery, Becky and the kids have been occupying themselves with all kinds of activities like tennis lessons, swimming lessons, and now karate classes while I toil away at Flatirons each day. wink When I arrive home in the evenings we often eat and go out to a park or discover some new part of Boulder. On the weekends we have visited Red Rocks, Estes Park, and a few other places. In the photo below we hiked around Bear Lake at the Rocky Mountain National Park. As you can tell from our Chacos, we were not expecting to see snow!

We've gotten to see a number of old Colorado friends which has made our time out here very meaningful. Some of our best friends from Searcy also stopped by to visit for a couple of days, and we were able to dine at Casa Bonita and see a Rockies game with them.

Next week my brother and his wife will be visiting from Texas, and some more good friends from Searcy will be coming up July 4th weekend. Becky has some college friends coming up to visit the last week of July. Lots to look forward to!

I'll conclude with a note of thankfulness for the Boulder Valley Church of Christ. They have really taken us in, and we are so thankful for the many ways they supported us during Becky's surgery. One of the ladies watched the kids for us before Aunt Sara arrived, and one of the elders came to the hospital to pray with us immediately before the surgery. These are people who truly love the Lord.

I'm also thankful for the incredible VBS they put on. You would not believe how much effort they expended to entertain and teach about 50 children about God's love for a full week. Ethan and Braden absolutely loved going to VBS each day. I think it's really great that the body of Christ can be found nearly everywhere you go.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Week 2: Finally making some contributions

Last week at Flatirons was admittedly difficult. I really like to learn new stuff, but if I'm not contributing much and all I'm doing is trying to take in lots of information, time can pass by very slowly.

This week I finally was able to write some code and fix some lingering bugs in our web application. We are using AngularJS which is new to me, and our code base is quite large, so I was a little on the slow side. By the end of the week I felt like I finally had a good idea how the application was designed and where to go to modify the app's functionality. My speed should start improving.

It really felt good to write code again. I really enjoy teaching, but I seldom have time to contribute to software that others are using. It's amazing to me how quickly time goes when I am programming and getting things to work right. Each bug fix makes me say "YES!" inside (and sometimes outside!).

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Tale of Two Cities: Searcy and Boulder

I've just finished the first week of my summer position as a software developer at Flatirons Solutions in Boulder, Colorado. My family and I drove up from Arkansas on Sunday, and I started Monday morning. Everyone at Flatirons has been very friendly and helpful, but it's been a sharp learning curve getting up-to-speed. I spent the entire week getting familiar with the system I'll be working on, reading system documentation, learning about 10 new technologies or tools, and figuring out how things are done at Flatirons. I have yet to contribute anything, but hopefully next week that will change.

Our living situation has also been a bit of an adjustment. Moving from a house to a small two bedroom apartment has had its challenges. We got spoiled living in Arkansas in our own home where our kids could be loud and play in our back yard. Now we have to be quiet or anger the neighbors below, and there's no yard to speak of. We also have a very busy street just 30 feet away from our front door, so we've had to get used to much more noise and foot traffic.

What has been most notable is the change in culture from Searcy to Boulder. Both cities have that college town feel, but that is about where the similarities end. Searcy is small (population 20K), conservative, largely Christian, and enjoys a low cost of living. Boulder is large (100K), very liberal (some call it "the San Francisco of Colorado"), religiously diverse, and ridiculously expensive (49% higher than Searcy). Searcy is hot and humid, Boulder is a mile above the ocean and very dry.

Boulderites are a very healthy bunch whereas Searcians like their fried Southern cuisine (Colorado has the lowest state obesity rate, and Arkansas has the 7th highest). In Searcy you are lucky to see one person a day riding their bike; you will easily run over a biker in Boulder if you blink. I've never seen so many people walking, running, or biking.

Boulder is also well-known for their environmentalism. You will get a "look" at the grocery store if you show up without your own bags, and many vehicles are gas-sippers. The Searcy grocer will double-bag practically everything, and SUVs and enormous trucks dominate the roads in Searcy.

What I really enjoy about Boulder is the beauty. It lies just east of the Flatirons, a beautiful range of mountains that can be seen from our apartment. We went hiking this morning beginning at Chautauqua Park and soaked-up the beauty that God has created. Searcy has its beautiful places as well, but it's not quite in the same league.

One week down, nine more to go!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Off to Boulder

This summer I'll be working at Flatirons Solutions in Boulder, Colorado. I'm very excited by this opportunity to take a break from doing research and spend some time developing software and learning new tools and techniques that I can incorporate back into the classroom. I grew up in Denver, so I'll have the opportunity to see lots of old friends; my kids will get to see where their dad grew up.

I hope to blog some about my experiences in Boulder, so stay tuned.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

An Andrid app that logs into Pipeline

As I stated in an earlier post, I taught an Android course this semester, and one team created an app called HU Pal that gives students access to their class schedule and chapel attendance information. This info is normally locked in an online system called Pipeline which requires users to login with a username and password. Once you have given HU Pal your username and password, it logs into Pipeline automatically and scrapes the information from a couple of web pages.

Brent Ward, one of the developers of the HU Pal app, wrote a document detailing how they created their app to login to Pipeline and screen-scrape personal information from web pages using jsoup. You can download the document here. Although the information in the document is specific to Pipeline, the techniques they describe can be generalized to any online system that requires user authentication.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Android Showcase 2014

This semester I taught an Android App Development course for upper-level computer science students. This is the second time I've taught this class. Nineteen students were placed into six teams. Each team came up with their own idea for an Android app and created a final beta that was evaluated by their peers:

CrashPad: Rent an apartment or check your apartments that are being rented.
EatSmart: Track your dietary intake in the Harding Cafeteria.
HevaHavoc: Unique paddle game that uses the accelerometer to control the paddles.
HU Pal: See your class schedule, check your chapel attendance, and show a campus map.
Puzzle 15: Customize the background of a 15 puzzle game with any photo.
Pentago: Play the game of Pentago against the computer or another human.

None of these apps are currently available to the public, but a few students said they were going to work on them some more and eventually make them available on the Android Play store.

Last night we had an Android Showcase in the Rhodes Field House along with the CS and Engineering Capstone courses. Thane, David, and Brent (pictured below) were given the award for the app receiving the best peer evaluations (HU Pal).

Overall I am quite pleased with how the projects turned out. I think most of my students would say they learned a lot about developing a successful app, even if their app fell short of what they hoped it would be. Most of the teams worked well together although there was a little friction which is to be expected. This is the only class where I force my students to work in teams, but I think the experience will prove valuable to them as they are forced to work in teams in their future professions.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Back from SIGCSE 2014

I attended SIGCSE 2014 in Atlanta last week. It's the fifth Symposium in the past six years I've been able to attend. There were over 1200 attendees (mainly computer science educators) at the Symposium this year.

Getting females engaged in computing remained a huge focus as usual. Interestingly enough, I would gauge that close to 50% of the conference participants were females (education is generally not short on females). There was also a big emphasis on getting computing into K-12. Hadi Partovi of code.org (you know, the Hour of Code guys) gave a keynote one morning on this topic which really pumped up the audience.

Big Data and Data Science seemed to be two important and related topics that received quite a lot of attention. Scanning the conference program, there were two papers on Data Science, and two posters and two papers about Big Data. I'm surprised no one offered a workshop on either topic.

One topic that seemed less important was mobile programming. There was one paper on using Android projects in CS1, and a workshop on App Inventor, but this topic is not nearly as hot as it was a few years ago when I offered an Android workshop to a packed room of CS educators in Dallas. I think it's because mobile programming is so ubiquitous today.

On Friday evening I manned a poster entitled Resources for Teaching Web Science to Computer Science Undergraduates by Michael Nelson and myself. (You can find the resources here.) I was somewhat surprised that only two of the twenty or so individuals I spoke to that evening knew anything about web science. One individual had been teaching a similar course but didn't know it could be called "web science". It was nice to see a lot of interest in the topic.

The next morning was my favorite session: Nifty Assignments. But this time I was one of the presenters! I introduced Schelling's Model of Segregation using some history of the Little Rock Nine as back-drop. The other presentations were pretty fantastic.

One thing I love about SIGCSE is being immersed into new ideas that I will use to make my teaching better. The thing I don't like is the feeling that I'm not teaching as well as some of my peers! Equally good motivation to keep on improving.