School’s out, let’s read books.

At some point, I’m just going to have to accept that blogging is not my forte. Or, that it’s an infrequently-done activity ’round these parts. For now, though, I’m reveling in this fact: I have fulfilled the requirements for my Associate of Applied Science in Computer Programming degree and have graduated this week from St. Paul College. Next week, I become a full-time web developer over at Room 34.

Life is good, and I’m reading a lot of books. In fact, I’d been working on another blog entry about that which never came to fruition, so I’ll just mention it here. Last year, I participated in the Goodreads reading challenge and surpassed my goal of reading 24 books in 12 months (I read 28). This year, I upped the ante a little bit and am aiming to read 35 books. With 7 1/2 months still left to go in the year, I’ve finished 19 books, and I’ll likely be at 21 or 22 by the end of the month. Some have told me it’s time to up my goal, but I say what’s the point of setting reasonable goals if you can’t complete shatter them? I’m not threatening to double my book count, but hey, who knows how the rest of this year will go now that part of my free time doesn’t have to be dedicated to higher education?

If you’re curious what I’ve been reading (or what’s slated to be read), you can head on over to http://www.goodreads.com/jmichaelward. So far this year it’s been a pretty mixed bag of programming and web design books crossed with some fiction novels and an occasional memoir or non-fiction work. At some point, I’m planning on digging into the Goodreads API to hopefully integrate my reading list onto this site. There are other things I need to take care of first, though, such as updating the home page (since hey! I’m not a student any more!) and fleshing out the rest of the content to better reflect what I’ve been up to.

Tomorrow, however, I’ll be digging my bike out of the basement, because it hasn’t seen daylight since two summers ago.

Here’s to new beginnings.

Five Things

I’ve been wanting to write, but the words just haven’t been coming to me each time I’ve sat down to do it.

Here is a list of things I’m excited about:

1. Graduation Day

It’s only six weeks away! As I mentioned in my last entry, I’m building a message board application for my Client Side Programming 2 class, and I’m learning some of the ins and outs of the Debian distribution of Linux in my Networking class. Both of these items have been entertaining, and although I’m greatly enjoying myself, I’m ready to move on from the obligations of collegiate life and back into full-time employment. There’s so much I still want and need to learn, and I’m finding my remaining time at school to be more of a distraction from my longer-term goals at this point. That said, I will be very happy to have a degree and to be able to build off of the things I’ve from my time in college.

2. Baseball

Yesterday, I attended the Minnesota Twins vs. Detroit Tigers opening day game at Target Field, and you’ve probably heard enough by now about how cold it was (apparently, it was the second-coldest home opener in Twins history). The Twins put up a good fight against Justin Verlander and the Tigers, but ultimately came up short of clutch hits that would have given them the win. Honestly, though, I thought they looked pretty good. I’m still expecting them to stink this year, but that gives them an opportunity to exceed my (and others’) expectations, and in the meantime, I get to sit outside and soak in my favorite game. I’ll be back at Target Field on Thursday.

3. Hangouts

Last September, I deleted my Facebook account. In essence, I felt that the quality of my social interactions had greatly diminished over the years, and the world’s largest social network seemed like an easy scapegoat. Since then, I’ve talked to so many people who have expressed interest in doing the same thing, but the lure of being able to keep in touch with seldom-seen friends and family is too great to follow through with their desires. Maybe it’s my own overall climate of “chasing my dreams” that is letting me view this time of my life through rose-colored lenses, but getting away from shackles of Facebook has been one of the best things I’ve done. I’ve been getting together with friends and former colleagues left and right, and I’ve been loving every minute of it. Because I don’t know the minutiae of their everyday lives, we have things to talk about! We’re glad to see each other! We learn that we like one another, and that we should do this again soon! What’s not to love?

4. Hockey

Okay, okay, another sport. This time, though, it’s not about the Minnesota Wild (though it would have reason to be – has anyone looked at the standings lately? Minnesota might actually be a presence in men’s professional sports playoffs again [qualifier added with all due respect to the WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx]). I grew up in Minnesota, and though I haven’t always been the biggest hockey fan, I’ve enjoyed an occasional game of the floor or street variety, and I like to lace up some skates and go out on the rink every couple of years. Now that I’ve got my career interests sorted out, I can start pursuing some other interests in my free time. A few of my high school friends have been playing some rec league hockey for a little while, and I attended one of their events two winters ago. It looked like a lot of fun, so this fall I’m planning on getting some gear and getting involved as well. They recommended that I join JMS Hockey, and it’s what I intend to do.

5. Dave Attell

Because a list with 5 items seems more real than a list of fewer items, I’ll just add that Dave Attell is coming to Acme on May 31st and June 1st, and I snagged a pair of tickets for the latter show. I was an occasional viewer of “Insomniac” back in the day, and I’ve never seen him live, so it seemed like a fun thing to do. I can’t wait!

And there you have it – a random list! And now I have freed some writer’s block so I can go think about something else…

Spring is Almost Here

Historically, March is the second snowiest month in Minneapolis behind only January. I thought last winter was far more bleak and depressing, because we got fewer than two feet of snow, when the Twin Cities traditionally gets around 50 inches. I’m grateful for the snowfall this month, but naturally understand that most everyone else is ready for spring. I’m antsy for spring to arrive, too, but my impatience comes from a source more closely tied to calendar dates.

Graduation Day at St. Paul College is on Thursday, May 16th, which coincides exactly with my last day of class and the completion of my AAS degree in Computer Programming. Spring Break just wrapped up yesterday, which means there’s only eight weeks between now and the achievement of a goal that’s been put off for far too long. I can’t wait to be finished with classes (for now?) and to step full-time into my new career. That said, I am still pretty excited about two remaining topics this semester:

  • Getting an introduction to Linux networking
  • Using everything I’ve learned over the past few years to build an online message board application

On the day of this writing, I consider myself to have few brand loyalties when it comes to computers and operating systems. Although I’m writing this particular post on a three-year old Apple iMac running OSX Mountain Lion, the system has a dual-boot setup with Windows 8 installed, along with a virtual machine that can run pretty much anything else of interest to me at the time (currently, I can boot up Linux Ubuntu, but have also tried out Linux Mint and the Chrome OS in the past). I also have a budget Acer Aspire One laptop that I purchased at Target two summers ago for $230. It came with a full version of Windows 7, 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, which I’ve since upgraded to Windows 8, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD drive, respectively. I don’t really store anything on the machine, and thus could just as easily purchase a Chromebook or other comparable device, if I wanted (though, actually, I do have a desire for more processing power along with the portability, so I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a refresh on Ultrabooks this summer…). As long as we’re going down this path, I may as well mention that I’m also a user of Android mobile devices, but have used a litany of other brands and models on every single network in the past – iPhones, Blackberries, RAZRs, Sidekicks, Nokias on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon – the whole nine yards.

That’s a long way to say that I don’t know much about Linux right now, so I’m looking forward to classes starting up again tomorrow and being able to give it a proper go.

As for the message board, it’s something I’ve been wanting to build for awhile, but haven’t set aside the time to do (and until now, didn’t necessarily feel confident that I could figure out how to do it). This weekend, I put the primary structure in place – one can sign up for an account, look at existing topics, create new topic threads, and reply to existing threads. It’s enjoyable to see it take shape, and it will be a rewarding process to build out the feature set I want to have as well as meet the requirements of the assignment (which to be honest, are pretty vague, so I’m doing this out of my own interest as I want to have fun with it). I have so much to learn about the application design process, and I know there is much to be done to protect the system from invalid data, scripting attacks, form spoofing, and someday in the future, trolling users and other unwanted results. This project is a baby step in the larger journey.

All that said, the next couple of months are going to fly by, and before long we’ll all have forgotten about the snow and we’ll instead be booked with outdoor plans, get togethers, and trips to exotic destinations. For me, I’m eager about newfound employment in my chosen career field and a plethora of exciting projects to work on to help make me a better programmer.

2013 Midwest PHP Conference

I’ve been meaning to jot down some thoughts about the inaugural Midwest PHP Conference that was held on March 2nd and 3rd at the University of Minnesota’s Continuing Education and Conference Center in St. Paul, but the words fail to come out every time I sit down to do it. Perhaps I assign too much value to the importance of words. Here’s a picture:

aaronsaray

That’s Aaron Saray, a PHP Developer from Milwaukee who gave a riveting presentation about using PHP design patterns and modularization for enterprise applications to a packed room on Saturday afternoon. As a relative newcomer to the world of PHP and computer programming in general, I’d contemplated whether Aaron’s talk might be over my head. After all, he was presenting what seemed like an advanced talk about object oriented programming at the same time as another presentation that offered an introductory look. Afterward, I felt great about my decision. Aaron’s delivery was fast-paced and hilarious and his presentation introduced just enough basic information upfront to help others like me understand the overall concept of the topic before digging deeper into the details.

Following Aaron’s talk, I made a decision to attend a presentation entitled “Backbone.js in a PHP Environment,” and I think these two sessions together encapsulated my impressions of the conference as a whole. During the course of the weekend, each session ran concurrently with three others, and what you learned in one, you gave up elsewhere. The “Backbone” session was offered during two other presentations of interest and relevance to me (“The WordPress Hacker’s Guide to the \Galaxy()” and “JavaScript’s Difficult Concepts Explained”), and based on real-time reactions on Twitter, I was missing out.

In many ways, the enormous impact of these tradeoffs speaks to the quality of the offerings at this first-year conference. At one point (the last session of day 2), there were four different presentations all running concurrently that I wanted to see. Essentially, I threw a dart and landed on Josh Broton‘s presentation called “Embrace Your Inner Designer” where I saw his hilarious introduction to the “value” of the HTML marquee tag, along with many far more insightful tips and recommendations. Unfortunately, this was at the expense of seeing Chris Hartjes speak about PHP unit testing, Mike Stowe‘s “Introduction to Zend Framework 2”, or Jesse Donat‘s presentation about PHP command line scripting.

Essentially, it was a terrific conference and an amazing first-year effort by the aforementioned Mike Stowe and co-collaborator Jonathan Sundquist. I feel fortunate to have finally found my career calling and to live in the backyard of such wonderful programming talent. I’m already looking forward to next year, and I’m optimistic that some tweaks will be made to the scheduling to attendees to catch more of what they want to see.

Annnnd….we’re back!

Testing, testing, is this thing on?

Oh, good! Hello! It’s nice to be back and have a presence on my own site again. Pardon the mess while I get things in order. I have all sorts of news to talk about, including:

  • a run-down of my experience at the recent Midwest PHP Conference that was held last weekend in St. Paul
  • things I’ve learned about web development since beginning my internship with Room 34 Creative Services
  • this new band I’ve been playing with
  • and more!

Spring break officially started for me this afternoon, and I spent some time today building out this very ugly, very broken, and very incomplete theme (chances are highly likely that if you attempted to visit this page from your RSS feed, you got a message that there was nothing here) and putting my site into a content management system. I’m looking forward to working on it some more over the next week or more so it’s not so hideous (and not so broken, and so there’s actual stuff to share!). In the meantime, I’m headed off to hang out with a long-time friend, but I wanted to write up this quick post to say that I’m back and that I’ll be posting again and cleaning up real soon.