Thursday, December 23, 2004

"The Call"

My wife Sandy and I got "the call" yesterday. Adam Jefferson, the infant boy we are adopting from Guatemala, made it through PGN, which I think is the office of the Attorney General. Now, we are told, it will be 2 1/2 to 3 weeks before we can go get him. We were getting concerned because I have to go to Falls Church, Virginia for the work week beginning January 24, 2005 to be trained on electronic folders, part of the Social Security Administration's strategy to go paperless, and am scheduled to go to San Jose, California to give the training on the following week. Neither Sandy nor I want her to have to make the trip to get him alone.

Because of the uncertainty about when we would get "the call" and therefore when we would have to leave for Guatemala, I plannned not to go to Indiana to see my mother and (older) two children over the holidays. This will be the first time I have done that and miss Thanksgiving in the same year since I moved to Connecticut. Sandy and I plan to take A.J. to Indiana in March.

The Acting Chief Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge sent me an e-mail message at home criticizing the way I have been citing exhibits in hearing decisions for the past 20 plus years. I was not happy, and said so in my reply. It represents the worst kind of upside down priorities and nitpicking. During my vacation, no less.

I am using two weeks of vacation to catch up on my programming degree. I submitted the last assignment in computer organization the day before yesterday and began working with Visual Basic.NET. I need to schedule a final exam in computer Organization before I forget what I just learned. I mean what I learned other than that Boolean algebra can be very confusing because it is and is not (at the same time) like regular algebra. The Visual Studio.NET compiler is a huge monster, eating up a good share of my hard drive, and I suspect a lot of memory when it is loaded. I also found the instructions for installing it confusing. However, when I started working with it, I was impressed with how easy it appears to make it to create a Windows application.

I was also elected chair of the American College of Computer and Information Sciences student chapter of the American Association of Computing Machinery. Great, just what I needed - something else to do.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


It has been a while since the last post, but I have been keeping busy. I am working like crazy to finish the course in Computer Organization and ordered the books and software for courses in Visual Basic, Java, and Software Engineering. The Computer Organization course is great, because it gives an understanding (kind of) of how the computer works and what it actually does with the code after I write it. I really enjoy it, but even though Boolean logic is so simple that even the dumb machine can understand, it the symbols and the equations in Boolean algebra that it takes to dumb things down even more for the computer boggle the mind. I need to do a lot of example to get a good understanding.

I just found what looks like a lot of MSN groups that specialize in programming. It might be good to look at some of them as see how much is wheat and how much is chaff.

Meanwhile, I saw a good TV program on PBS YOU ("Your Online University" - Channel 129 on the local cable system) about Entrepreneurship (no guarantees I spelled it right). If I had known it was so good I would have recorded it. What I got out of it was that the number one quality of successful entrepreneurs is persistence. Therefore, I end with the following quote, which has been attributed to Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Update on Progress (or lack thereof)

Yes, I know. The whole point of a web log is that regular posts are supposed to be made, but I've been busy. My wife Sandy told me that she thinks that if I want to work on a software project, it should be one designed to help online adjunct professors. The fact that she is herself an online adjunct professor is probably coincidence. I asked what the course management software that the colleges she teaches at use (WebCT, Blackboard, Prometheus) don't do. She said that they all focus on one course at a time. She still has to use many paper documents to coordinate all of the classes she teaches. Sometime, we will look at all of the forms, spreadsheets etc. that she uses and see if they can be integrated into a software project. Meanwhile, I am continuing with computer programming studies. I got my grades for the final exam and the course in Data Structures. I got an A on each. However, I never really got polymorphism working on my last assignment, and the program did not do what it was supposed to do. I could have made it work without object-oriented programming, but the whole point of the assignment and the class was to teach me object-oriented programming, so making the program work without it would miss the point of the assignment. So, now I am working on Computer Organization class and have asked for authorization to order the materials for Windows Programming with Visual Basic, so that I will finally know how to create a progam with a graphical user interface. I am not going to give up on getting the program for the last assignment in my last course working, but I have to make some progress in courses that I haven't finished before going back to one that I have finished to finish learning it. Obviously, I believe that there is more to education than getting a grade.

What else is going on? We are still waiting for the call to let use know that our adoption of our infant son has cleared the Guatemalan bureaucracy so we can bring him home. Several other parents who began the process at about the same time we did are completing it, so it looks like it should be soon. I also found out that I will be going to Falls Church, Virginia on the week of January 24 to learn about "electronic folders" that the Social Security Administration is going to use in its efforts to go paperless. It is a "train the trainer" event. For several months thereafter, I will be spending a week a month going to other hearing offices to train the people there about electronic folders. I was asked for a "wish list" of locations. I put Indiananpolis and Fort Wayne, Indiana on my wish list to have the opportunity to visit my son Robert and daughter Rebecca at taxpayers' expense.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Getting Organized in a (Slightly) Disorganized Way

The same issue of the magazine that finally led to my starting a blog contained an article entitled "Democracy and Filtering", the theme of which is that it is good for a democratic society and good for the individuals themselves if individuals are exposed to content and opinions that they would not have sought on their own. There is a growing tendency, with many cable channels supplementing a few broadcast channels, people getting news from their favorite Internet sites, etc. for people to get information from other people who think like they do. Whatever prejudices that existed before are reinforced to the extreme. Not a lot of compromise can be reached, and not a lot of learning and growth can occur unless one is at least occasionally exposed to an idea that one wasn't looking for.

There are two reasons why I bring this up. One is to explain why I resist the notion that a web log whould be tightly focused on one topic. If you come across something on this site that you weren't looking for, then good for you. I hope you find it valuable. One of my favorite words describes that. Serendipity means finding something valuable that you weren't looking for. I am not going to keep this blog tightly focused on one topic; get used to it!

The other reason is to introduce the idea for a software project that I would like to launch. I want to create something that resembles a personal information manager or project manager that throws in an element of randomness to keep it from getting too predictable and boring. For example, I would like to finish my degree in computer programming, keep myself physically fit, and learn Spanish. Learning Spanish is important to me, but just low enough in priority that I spend my time doing something else. If I knew I was going to study Spanish for a fixed amount of time on a certain day of the week, I would not end up doing it. However, if I had a program with some goals read into it with priorities assigned, and tasks broken down into segments of a few minutes each, I could tell the program in effect that I am tired of what I am doing and would like to do something else for a few minutes and ask it to find me something to do. Knowing that the program was going to find me something that advances my goals, but which isn't predictable would keep my interest. If there are others out there whose brains work the same way mine does when I finish it, then I have a market, and a means of meeting one of my goals - which is to find a way to supplement my income when I retire from my job.

For the record, the magazine is the December 2004 issue of Communications of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), and the author of the article is Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago.