Looking back, the past two years began with a new year’s resolution to go back to school, with my first class in February of 2004. I wanted the practical education from an associates’ degree that I could get in two years’ time, without all the enriching classes and extra time of a four year degree. I would like a bachelor’s degree or higher in computers, but I wanted to take a step that would get me into the programming world in as short a time as possible, to ensure that was what I really wanted to do. I’ve learned a lot about programming, what I enjoy doing, and what I do not, and I look forward to working and honing my skills. My ultimate goal is still a job in the gaming industry. I’m not there yet, but I am much closer than I was.
Thursday morning, my mom woke up with trouble breathing, and the symptoms of high blood pressure. She went to the emergency room right away, and after several tests and hours of waiting, and a cocktail of blood pressure medications, she was stable that evening and improving all day Friday. The rapid improvement of mom’s condition, while very much appreciated, made arrangements for going on a four hour drive to a football game challenging. The good news was that the doctors wanted mom to continue her adjusted dialysis regimen at the hospital for another day, and would be able to come home on Sunday.
After confirmation of this plan by 9 am Saturday, dad and I were on the road by 10 am. We stopped at Country Fair for coffee and breakfast sandwiches, then took the non-Interstate, old school highway route to State College. I mentioned the fact the when I think of highways, I think of the Interstate system, while my parents, who grew up in the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, thought of the state routes as highways. I must say that the older system is much more enjoyable to drive through, scenery-wise, and the shorter mileage made up for the faster speed of the Interstate. Around 12:30, we got to the traditional half-way stop, the MacDonald’s and truck stop just off I-80.
We took I-80 the rest of the way to State College, and followed the electro-signage onto some new-to-us interstate, and cruised down nearly-empty roads to the parking areas near the stadium, arriving shortly after 2 p.m.
We sold the extra ticket we had to a scalper, wandered through the Centre County Visitor Center, dad bought a PSU hat with the ticket money, and we made our way into Beaver Stadium (*snicker*). Just inside the stadium, we stopped to inspect the curious nature of the stadium’s architecture. Back in the 70’s(-ish), the existing bleachers were jacked 10-15 feet into the air, and in place of the running track, new seats were built to meet the newly raised bleachers. Over the years, additional decks and suites were added, as well as two large end zone scoreboards.
We made our way up to our seats, which were in the corner of one of the end zones, not too far above the Minnesota cheering section, but far enough to be surrounded by Penn State fans; it made for some entertaining moments, though. We arrived early enough to watch much of the pre-game warm-ups, the two head coaches meeting and shaking hands, and the various and sundry exercises and drills both teams performed. I especially enjoyed the one where a line of players stretched across the goal line, who proceeded to maneuver in a cross between goose-stepping soldiers and the Rockettes. When the first line got five yards away, a second line began moving in the same fashion, followed by a third and fourth.
The game itself is a blur. There was much standing, and sitting, and yelling. It was truly inspiring to hear a stadium with over 100,000 people in it chanting, “WE ARE!… PENN STATE!” We probably did that a dozen times. It was an amazing game, with good offense, great defense, and opportune scoring. PSU won, 44-14, moving them to 18th in the polls (they’re 8th now, WooHoo!). After the third quarter, I was getting sore from being crammed into the bleachers, as well as repeatedly swapping between sitting and standing, so dad and I walked to the other end of the stadium, and stood at the base of the upper deck of the student section until there were about five minutes left in the game when we returned to our regular seats.
After the game, the Blue Band came back onto the field, having also performed during halftime, and performed again, a tradition at PSU and presumably at other universities as well. They were quite entertaining, and a good way to complete an official PSU football game. All that remained was to walk back to the parking field, err… lot, and find the van. The parking wasn’t as far away as I had feared, and was easy to get to after the game. What was difficult was finding a silver minivan in a dark field, among hundreds of cars SUV’s and silver minivans. After 15 minutes of patrolling the lanes of vehicles, we were able to find our car and make our way to the road. Traffic on the way out went as smoothly as I could have hoped, since the police here have been managing football crowds every fall for decades now, and had it down to a science. We drove into State College proper, looking for a place to eat that wasn’t packed to the gills, and found a little sports bar with outdoor seating right on College Ave.
Dad and I had cheese steaks and split an order of onion rings, and watched the cars and people go by on the street and listened to a guy argue with his girlfriend over a cell phone and drinks. I kept thinking about missed opportunities and how my life could have been different had I gone to college right out of high school instead of after a few years of diving a depressed and grief-stricken life. To get back on track here, I am glad to be where I am now, and look forward to my opportunities, but do feel that I missed out on a great collegiate experience.
After dinner we sought to make our way toward our hotel, some 30 minutes away. Due to the darkness of night, and the fact that we’d been on the road since this morning, then experienced the exhilarating event that is Penn State Football, road signs were misinterpreted, and we ended up a winding two lane road going down a mountain. An intersection was reached, which led to the proper road, and we were safely ensconced in our hotel room without further incident. Some teevee was watched, then we slept, for the road was beckoning us on the morrow.
Sunday morning we awoke to a dense fog, which made the drive back to State College and adventure. We intended to partake of the institution that is the Waffle Shop, among other stops. The location next to Scott’s motel was as packed as we remembered, but the dining area was slightly larger. I had a blueberry waffle and coffee; dad had a sausage and cheese omelet and coffee, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Once could taste the absolute freshness. After the Waffle Shop, we located a grocery store where mass quantities of the delicacy called Tastykake were procured. Our odd shopping selection was marked upon by the check-out girl, and was answered by my favorite traveler’s phrase, “We’re from out of town.” Our next stop was the Creamery, via a short driving tour of the campus, where three half gallons of ice cream were purchased, with complimentary dry ice to preserve our catch through the journey. Cones were reluctantly bypassed, due to the recent taking of breakfast. Our last stop in Happy Valley was Penn State Sub Shop #1 for three traditional classic Italian hoagies to eat for lunch as we drove and as needed later.
The Interstate was chosen as our route home, and the drive was begun before noon. Around two, we reached Cook Forest, where we ate our subs in the company of the park office cat. I slept for a time during the drive, and we got back to town at a quarter to four.
The end is in sight, for my programming degree. December 14th is my last day, with graduation closely following. I’m going out with a bang, language-wise, Advanced COBOL, and SQL, with Advanced Systems Analysis and Tech. Writing rounding things off. It’s not a bas schedule, but my COBOL class is and independent study course, which makes finding computer time a hassle, as only one room of computers has a compiler on it, and I don’t want to have to buy a suite of software for home, which I should at least give a little thought to, I suppose. I’m enjoying SQL, since it’s quite intuitive to code, and making charts and graphs for tech writing is fun. I’ve definitely seen my courses come together in the past year, using programs and skills from earlier courses to complete projects for later ones. It also seems that I could get a job with Erie Insurance as a COBOL programmer pretty easily. I should get a resume out to them soon, as a matter of fact.
Working as a lab monitor is going well so far. Fourteen hours a week at minimum wage. So, I’m not in it for the money, more to get experience solving computer problems, and to say that I held down a job while at school for at least one semester. As for the work itself, I’m pretty much left to my own devices, and get paid to do homework. We’ll see how that goes as time goes on, and more people are in the labs asking questions, and I’ve got bigger projects to do myself.
The Otters Season opened as well as could be expected, with a win on Friday, and a loss on Sunday. They’ve got a couple overage players too many, so the next few weeks or months will be exciting to see how the rosters shake out, and how we do with trades.
At on Monday, February 28th, I was woken up by my mother, whereupon she said that she was having difficulty breathing and dad would be taking her to the emergency room to get checked out. The initial thought at the er was that fluid had built up and dialysis would help settle things. In the course of coming to this decision, a CAT scan was taken, and after mom finished dialysis at the regular clinic, the hospital called, saying that a second doctor looked at the scan and thought he saw something on mom’s brain and would like mom to come back to hospital for an MRI. Mom and dad waited the rest of the day for the MRI, and when it didn’t look like it would happen that night, dad stayed at hospital with mom overnight, hoping to get the MRI in the morning.
Eventually, the MRI was taken Tuesday afternoon. I was called at home around , with nothing resolved. It’s now , and still nothing new to report from the hospital from dad. Monday evening, the words “mild stroke” were used to describe what the doc might have seen in the CAT scan, but no other symptoms of stroke were evident. Mom’s been oscillating between resting and vomiting at the hospital, though I think her breathing did improve.
As of Tuesday, no evidence of stroke was found in the MRI, the prime suspect now for what happened is excessively high blood pressure (like over 200, normal around 120). They’re giving her some new medication for that, and depending on how that goes, she may be coming home in the next day or two. So, good news: no stroke, blood pressure can be managed with medications. I’m feeling much more in control of the situation, now that I know a little more.
The expression “Couldn’t see the forest for the trees” may be clichéd, but it’s certainly accurate, and can be used in the reverse. Especially when you’re a beginning VB programmer and you’ve been asked to find and fix an error in a code sample. Two weeks ago, I was given a program that had a number of errors involving the logic used to navigate an array to display the array’s records. One of the bugs was the code to navigate the array, which improperly used the index numbers as well as used values outside the array. The program created a function to get the items needed to display, and used sub procedures to call that function when I issued a command to move to the next, previous, first or last records.
For the past two weeks, when I had class time, and time at home to work at this program, I kept trying to alter the code of the procedure to step forward and backward through the array. My brother, who is also studying VB and other programming languages, came home for this weekend, and I had him look through the code with me, to see what I had to do. We looked at the code for the function, and at the sub procedures, translating into English the code statements. It turns out that the line of code that needed changed was not in the function that displayed the array record, but in the sub procedure, that used the value determined by the function. The call statement to display the Next record displayed the record with an index number of the current record, and did not increment that value to get to the next value. The simple addition of a “+ 1” or a “- 1” to two lines of code fixed the bug, when I thought I had to rewrite the DisplayRecord function.
Having my brother there, to help decode what the program was really trying to do, helped me see which tree needed to be trimmed. I had been looking at a forest of lines of code, totally lost, and without a clue what needed to be done. Seeing what was wrong flipped a switch in my head that was so big that I’m still baffled by my earlier confusion. Anyway, this is a good example to remember next time, to carefully translate code into common language to diagnose what is happening and what should be happening.
Reading news like this concerns me about working in the game industry, but it also is a call to arms, to do my best as a programmer, and try to fight the good fight against the big quasi-monopolies like Electronic Arts. Companies like Cyan, which created the Myst series of games, began as a small entity, and changed the way people thought about computers and gaming. As much as I would like to work with a big, famous software company, I would relish the opportunity to work for a small, dedicated group of people who have a dream, and a desire to accomplish that dream.
The past week and a half to two weeks have been exciting on the weather front, with temperatures dropping into the single digits, heavy snow and winds dumping a good bit of snow, and when it wasn’t snowing, one day I woke up to freezing rain and a serious layer of ice to scrape off the car. Having the sun out and temps in the twenties for a change helped clear the roads quite a bit, so I’m ok with the weather for now.
School’s zipping right along, with week four wrapping up Thursday. I’m taking classes in C++, business communications, HTML, Excel, and advanced Visual Basic. I’m really soaking up all these programming languages, and the web course is tempting me to take the Web Development degree program after I finish my Programming degree.
I’ve been opening myself u and talking a bit more to a few people that are in my classes, but the guy I was talking the most with had to withdraw this semester. Hopefully, he’ll be back for spring term.
My desire to try to meet some more new people from online has been waning, enough so that I’ve completely stopped chatting with someone I began emailing a couple weeks before Christmas. I think I need to get some help getting over my fear of talking to people, and gaining confidence in myself so I’m not so afraid of rejection.
Maybe tomorrow, when I’m rested, I can put my thoughts on the Steelers’ collapse, and the Otters’ schizophrenic playing style into words, but that’ll have to wait for now.