bigmog: (Default)
The summer semester is underway but I'm really not looking forward to it. I suspect this will be painful.

The class is Java programming. As a professional Windows guy, I have never liked Java and I have my reasons (Don't get me started). Still, I'll try to keep an open mind going into the course. Maybe I'll come to appreciate Java even a little. Not off to a good start however. Just one chapter in and I dislike it even more. Ugh.

At least I snuck in a brief trip between semesters. I didn't have much time so I traveled to nearby Phoenix, AZ to visit an old friend of mine. There we reminisced over beers, good food, and sports.

One memory I'll mention here is my first attempt at betting on horse racing. My horse came in at Preakness. It was a great success so now I'll retire with a winning record. Always quit while you're ahead.

Semester 1

May. 7th, 2017 06:41 pm
bigmog: (Default)
I've just finished my first semester as a graduate student at Virginia Tech. Some thoughts so far:

The school itself is way big but online students are just a small part of the student population. They attempt to treat both types of students equally which can backfire.

A student ID can only be issued on the campus and they won't mail it so I have no easy means of proving that I'm a student. Although I do get a .edu email address which is occasionally useful for discounts.

Once or twice I got an email inviting me to attend an event that was only local on campus. I notified that the organizer that such emails made me feel excluded and that they shouldn't email remote students with such events.

The top moron award goes to the IT help desk that tried to call me at 6am for input on a ticket that I had submit. They assume that everyone must be on Eastern time despite my phone number clearly being from a Colorado area code. I raised hell on this mistake and I'm not done either.

I took two courses: Fundamentals of Computer Science and E-commerce.

The computer science course was super interesting and I challenged me to learn a lot about how computers work. The instructor, while certainly knowledgeable, struggled in using technology like WebEx for her lectures. She would have benefited from some capable teacher's assistants.

TA's are the real work horses in academia. In the other class, the instructor only did the first meeting and they left all the rest to his TA. Now, this TA was excellent but why isn't the instructor more involved? I'll raise this question with my advisor.

That course wasn't nearly as interesting perhaps because I've been a web developer in a previous career. The technical aspects of running an e-commerce site were reduced to configuring a hosted WordPress. Yawn. Sure WordPress is super popular and could be worth knowing but not very challenging.

Now I'm nervously awaiting my final grades. In order to have my tuition reimbursed by work, I need a 3.0 or higher. I kept up on the homework and projects throughout the semester so I'm hoping that will offset my poor scores in the final exams.
bigmog: (Default)
If you know me, then you'll know that I'm a homebody. Most nights and weekends I'm happy to just be home and relax.

Lately though I'm mixing it up a bit due in part to my student status.

A random image on the internet gave this advice to students:

Sleep more than you study.
Study more than you party.
Party as much as you can.

I recognize that I'm not a student in the typical sense. This advice applies less to online grad students than it does to undergrad, young, full-time students. Still, I can party a little.

That's what happened the last two weekends. Nothing too extreme here. Just stuff like board game parties, karaoke night, stand-up and improv comedy, local bands, and speed dating (not all on the same night).

I drink a little and socialize with people a little. I get home after midnight which is well past my bedtime so my sleep schedule is askew and Lefty is also confused (dogs like routine). I'll see how long I can keep this up. I'm already planning next weekend.
bigmog: (Default)
After nearly 14 years at LiveJournal, I've transported to DreamWidth.

LJ is a shell of what it used to be. Most of my friends have abandoned it over the years so the community aspect is lost. More accurately, nobody blogs anymore.

Even my own entries have slowed lately but I still try to post regularly.

The tipping point was LJ's full transition to Russia. The servers have been moved and the terms of service adjusted for the worse.

In truth, I would have preferred to switch to Blogger or Wordpress but neither has a reliable method of migrating from LiveJournal.

So, I'll settle in here for a while at least. See how it goes.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
I'm a homebody so I'm happy just to hang out at home most evening and weekends. Every now and then however I feel I should probably go out and do something worth blogging about. So on Saturday I went to the Denver Art Museum to see the special exhibition of Star Wars costumes. This exhibit has been a big hit for the museum with many weekends booked. I had to make a reservation! The crowd was mostly families with their kids but they were well behaved.

Going in, my expectations were low. Jedi costumes are plain brown robes while Queen Amidala has dozens of elaborate dresses. Indeed this described about half of the costumes on display. My favorites are the droids and the military costumes like storm troopers and X-wing pilots and they had those too. I wished they had more of the alien costumes however. There was Chewbacca and Wicket but little else. Still, it was a well done exhibit and great for fans.

Afterward, I strolled around the museum a bit more and ventured outside too to enjoy the nice weather. I had never been to the museum complex during the day and made a note to visit more often. Whenever I travel, I often visit museums so I really should visit local museums more.

Fast & Slow

Feb. 1st, 2017 10:36 am
bigmog: (moogle mog)
My first semester as a grad student is underway. Getting a good start is important to me so I'm being diligent about the reading, writing and other assignments. I suppose you should expect a reduction in blog posts as a result.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
For 2017, I'm cheating on resolutions. In fact I suspect I'll pick up some bad habits instead. Why? My primary goal is to survive grad school. I predict less sleep and more caffeine. I'll make 2018's resolution now too. Survive grad school.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
2016 was a difficult year for many but in my case it was quite good. I'll forgive you if you decide to skip my happy memories. Here are the highlights.

Resolution to cut back on sugar: mild success. I lapsed into my typical habits but not until summer time.

Places traveled: Las Vegas, Tokyo, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands

Shows attended: AC/DC, Metric, Weezer & Panic at the Disco, Rob Thomas & Counting Crows, The Legend of Zelda Symphonic, Huey Lewis & The Bangals & Kool and the Gang, Christopher Tidus, Nick Thune, Dave Coulier.

Accomplishments: Got a raise & a promotion (with another raise), AWS sysadmin certified, took a community college programming course and was accepted in grad school.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
I've owned my 1999 Ford Contour since it was new 17 years ago. During that time it's been remarkably reliable and trouble-free. Last weekend was the first time that it's ever broken down on me and it's my own fault. While out picking up parts for my other car, the temperature gauge on the dash moved to danger hot. The CEL also illuminated so I checked it on the spot with a OBD2 scanner. The error code was for a bad sensor so I continued on figuring that the gauge was just wrong. It was right.

I nearly made it home before the engine overheated and stopped running. I was stranded on the side of the road. Still, I wasn't quite beat. I happened to have a bunch of tools and more importantly, a towel. As any reader of Douglas Adams can tell you, a towel is a travelers best friend. Here's what I did with mine.

In a nearby runoff drainage, a small stream of snow melt made it way into the sewer. Placing the towel there soaked it with ice cold water. Perfect for cooling off an overheated engine. Doing this the engine cooled enough for me to get it home where I could troubleshoot further.

Had the issue been critical, I was decided to go out and replace the vehicle. Fortunately, it was cheap and simple. The belt for the water pump broke. A replacement was $7 and completed in 10 minutes. On one hand, I'm happy to have escaped a major repair bill. On the other hand, I was looking forward to replacing the car with something else. I'm attached to it too much to replace it as long as it continues to run.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
Ahead of my advanced education, I took a level 100 course in programming at the local community college. Fortunately, the language taught was python and not java. I enjoyed the class and did well enough to get an A. Programming is interesting and fun as a hobby. Coding as a profession however I cannot suffer.

The community college adviser called me and ask why I hadn't yet enrolled for any spring courses. Of course I have. Just not there. I've been accepted to Virginia Tech and start an online graduate program in the spring.

That leaves just a few weeks to finish up any leisure reading for the next 2+ years. After that, I expect to have very little social life. Not much of a loss to me.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
Last year I attempted to get a promotion at a foreign office my company has. The potential for a great adventure was deep in my mind. Alas it didn't happen. Now however, the chance has presented itself again and I'm still interested. Maybe even more so.

Not knowing how I failed the last time, I decided to reach out to the hiring manager and learn what I could. Based on that conversation, I came away thinking I could have a good shot at this. I shouldn't get my hopes up just yet but I'm certainly excited about it.

An image I try to remember is the old cart before the horse failure. In other words, put first things first and cross bridges when I come to them. I shouldn't concern myself with logistics of moving my life until it's a certainty.

Dog injury

Dec. 16th, 2014 01:07 pm
bigmog: (moogle mog)
Lefty tore a dewclaw on our walk last night and it was bleeding all over. I nearly went to the vet ER but the bleeding stopped after a lot of licking by Lefty. I cleaned and dressed the wound as best I could and went to the vet today. The doctor removed the damaged nail and bandaged his leg. Lefty is doing okay now but he was pretty stressed out. I was stressed too.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
This year I went to fewer concerts but instead saw more musicals. On Saturday, I enjoyed the modern hit "Jersey Boys". Basing a show on the lives of an iconic band ensure that at least the music will be a highlight. "American Idiot" uses Green Day music but isn't about the band itself. In contrast, "Pippin" was fun in all areas except the music.

"Jersey Boys" portrays the life of Frankie Valli and the The Four Seasons. This music was before my time but I still recognize many of their hit songs. I actually saw Frankie Valli perform in D.C. on the Forth of July. Although I didn't have a good view, I can see what I missed on youtube here.

The stage production was better than I expected. A complex plot is of secondary focus. The rags to riches of a music group is common enough premise for a story. Where "Jersey Boys" excels is the song and dance. It feels like you're watching the real band at their best and not just actors. The facsimile is spot on.

There's a new movie based on the show that I'm now interested in seeing.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
A few weeks back, I went to see a show at the improv theater as part of a date. The manager recognized me from when I took a beginner class there 1 year ago. That little greeting was enough to push me to enroll for level 2.

I felt the first course was sub-par due in part to an inexperienced teacher. My concerns were logged as feedback but I heard nothing more. Well in this case at least, the level 2 course is taught by the owner of the theater. He's exceptionally knowledgeable about all things improv with decades of practice in elite company. I feel quite honored to be learning from him. So much so that I plan to bring a notebook from now on (most students aren't so serious. There are no tests or failures to worry about.)

The course is all about making characters and I'm enjoying it already. Again my biggest challenge is to NOT think about it. My brain goes into overdrive as I struggle to be funny and this is the worst thing I can do. Improv that is planned is not improv. I should start volunteering right away in each exercise to keep myself from falling into this trap.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
A month without a post is too long and so I'm writing today despite not having too much to write about. Perhaps that lack of content is itself worth writing. As the end of the year comes to it's final 6 weeks, work seems to slow down. Everyone is made aware that all that time off they earned is about to expire and the office becomes noticeably more vacant. I too will take some days off but have no real plans outside of the usual homebody activities. An adventure may be in order here.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
Through some fortune at work, I was called on to attend a tech conference in St. Paul. As I had never been to the Twin Cities before, I arrived a couple days early for site-seeing. Here are some thoughts on that trip.

I learned a lot of history about that area during a walk around the St. Anthony Falls heritage trail.
Nicollet Island was very pretty with the autumn colors.
The Guthrie Theater is a neat building with great views of the Mississippi River.
The light rail is super cheap and convenient although the green line to St. Paul is a bit slow due to the route.
I got to see A Prairie Home Companion at the Fitzgerald theater. What a treat!
St. Paul Art Crawl is a cool event but I didn't have time to see much.
Lots of establishments have signs explicitly banning firearms. I guess this is to offset the state's gun laws.
Took a riverboat cruise down the Mississippi River. It was at night and very serene.
Visited the St. Paul Capitol building but it was under massive renovations so much of it was closed off.
Also toured the James J. Hill mansion. Railroad tycoons had incredible houses.
Enjoy local specialty "Juicy Lucy" twice.
Went to Mall of America during a cloudy day. I escaped without a single purchase. Take that capitalism.
So many churches. Big ones too.
Snoopy statues a plenty. Charles Schulz was a resident there.
My feet hurt after too much walking so I rented a bicycle through the city Nice Ride system. Quite a lot of bike riders there.

The rest of the trip was spent at the conference so I won't go into details there. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul are great places to visit. Thanks Twin Cities!

Bad caps

Oct. 8th, 2014 09:47 am
bigmog: (moogle mog)
My TV started to fail last week when it wouldn't power on at first. After a few minutes or so, eventually it would turn on. I learned this is a common problem so much that a class action lawsuit was filed against the manufacturer for the defect. They settled and offer to fix all the broken TVs. Unfortunately that offer expired last year so I was out of support.

A local TV repair shop quoted me $150 to fix it but as the issue is well known and well documented, I felt I could fix it myself. There are even kits sold specifically for this job. Capacitors on the power board had faulted and started to bulge and leak. I swapped these for 2 new ones and that solved the issue. The hardest part was taking apart the TV to get to the innards. Not because it's complicated, just big and heavy.

Modern TVs are made to be replaced more frequently than before. For a bit I considered just buying a new set. My current TV is 8 years old now which is is nearing a replacement anyway. Something I use almost daily might be worth upgrading soon. Well, it's working again now so I can continue to watch movies and play games.

The top right two capacitors are faulty as indicated by the bulge on top and the brown ooze.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
Having recently finished a novel that takes place in a circus (Water for Elephants), my curiosity for circus history was peaked. All of the various mergers were barely enough to keep the circus business alive and today we're pretty much left with one show: Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey.

So that's how I found myself at the Pepsi Center on a Saturday afternoon to see "The Greatest Show on Earth". I last saw this show back in 2009 and enjoyed it more than I expected then. The show has stayed mostly the same with typical circus acts: trapeze, acrobats, clowns, elephants, big cats, and the more modern motorcycles racing inside a metal sphere. Thankfully absent are the tight wire and human cannonball acts.

I guess due to all the consolidations, there is a lot of bloat. Let me give you some examples. One: they still have a full live band performing. Most people probably don't even recognize this. Recorded music would work just fine I think. Next, each troop of performers is twice as big as it needs to be. I seem to remember that a trapeze act used to be 2, maybe 3 brothers. Then they bring in their sisters and then add the cousins. Now such an act has 10+ performers. This applies to the Chinese acrobats and clowns too. I only need to see one guy do a triple back-flip with twist to be impressed. 9 more guys doing the same thing just cheapens it. Then there's 10 big cats, 6 elephants, 8 horses, plus the menagerie: goats, lamas, dogs, donkeys, pigs, and even kangaroos. Many of these are only on stage for a few minutes to do one trick. It's a wonder they can feed all these animals.

Well, I'm no circus manager so who am I to say this is all a waste? I guess the excess is part of the appeal. Us "rubes" don't want to see a scaled back show.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
My endeavors in expanding my horizons have been weak this year. I'm sure I could think up some excuses but I'll just recognize this and try harder.

As to be expected, I haven't played bass in too long so I used that to get back into studies. I stopped taking classes last fall which is about the last time I played at all. It is clear to say that I am a bit rusty.

An interesting class is being offered this term that is all Beatles songs. I learned a couple songs in my previous studies: "Come Together" and "Day Tripper". Through these I gained a greater appreciate for Paul McCartney. Now I'm learning a song that's been on my wishlist for a while; "With a Little Help From my Friends". I always considered this tune to be above my skill level but it's nearly perfect for me. Just don't expect me to post a youtube video of me playing it.

I can already see a future very soon that I put down the bass again and follow some other interest instead. That's okay. It's all just for fun.
bigmog: (moogle mog)
This summer, I made a donation to charity and was rewarded to a free back examination from a chiropractor. A marketing effort I saw as an obvious attempt to gain new patients. Still, after my lumbar injury, maybe I should at least take the complimentary exam.

The diagnosis was no major issues but they always want to find something wrong so they can sell you a treatment. Mine was an ailment called "Forward head posture", meaning my head doesn't sit perfectly on my back. Apparently more and more common in modern life as we spend hours looking down at books, phones, computer screens, etc. It results in tense neck muscles which have to work to keep your head upright. All of those could be resolved for $600. As I was in no pain, I passed.

Now months later, I hurt my neck somehow. Probably slept on it wrong as it started when I was doing my morning stretches. I couldn't move my head to the left easily without pain. Also, I would have a sharp but quick pain every hour or so. At this point I considered taking up the chiropractor offer but decided to take some ibuprofen and wait it out. 2 weeks later, my neck feels much better. The pain is mostly gone with just a bit of soreness. The worst is over and I'm re-thinking my neck health. Perhaps this information will be of some use to future me.

May 2017

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