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.