Amazing Grace

“To me programming is more than an important practical art. It is also a gigantic undertaking in the foundations of knowledge.”

~ Grace Hopper aka “Amazing Grace”

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The Scent Of Lavender

I have never known why, but the soothing scent of lavender always makes me sigh. I gulp the aroma by the lungful. Its storied calming effects act on me immediately. As the tension leaves my muscles, I sit in front of my computer and begin again.

As I learn my next command, mv, gorgeous sunlight is pouring through my window making geometric pools of warmth on the barely beige carpet. I learn that mv doesn’t really move a file anywhere as I originally suspected. Rather it is simply a way to rename a file.

I practice with eager, fingers-flying-across-the-keyboard delight and concentration. Down the list of commands I fly adding cp, less, more, cat and rm to my repertoire. I stop right before the section entitled “Pipes and Redirection.” This title intimidates me. I come up for air and regard my surroundings with astonishment!

The sun set while I was working! The sun’s geometry left my carpet degree by whisper soft degree. I was enveloped in darkness! The only source of light in my silent living room was the white glare of my computer screen and the muted flick flicker of my lavender scented candle. Everything else was black. My environment had completely changed. I was largely unaware of it because I was so absorbed in my command line training.

Sun rise. Sun set. Sun rise. Sun set.

The only way to get good at something is to put in the hours.

I will end this post with a few more haikus I wrote to summarize some of the new commands I learned today. It is ridiculous how much fun it is to turn computer science into poetry. I think I have found a new (albeit obscure) hobby.

 

What’s In A Name?

To rename a file

“mv” is the way. Now smile

File one is file two.

 

Less is More

Type “less” to see more

And “more” to see less. Don’t stress!

It’s there on the screen.

 

Cat

Swift cats lick soft paws.

This “cat” prints out all to screen.

Don’t blink. You’ll miss them

Haiku

This week I have been inching through a crash course on using the command line interface (CLI.) Inching because with a full time job, I only have a moment to work on my burgeoning computer skills at night. Some days I have so much to grade and prepare for my students I do not get a chance to work on my prerequisite skills at all. According to its author, this crash course was supposed to take 1-2 days. One week later I am half way through.

This causes me to panic a little bit. But then I remember that software camp does not start until March. I still have time.

I have noticed while working through the course that two things make using the CLI difficult. First you have to be aware of where you are. The directories (folders) of a computer are like the branches of a great tree. You must be adept at swinging from branch to branch. But it is all too easy to forget where you are and where you were trying to go. It is almost as if you must swing from branch to branch, keeping a log in your memory of every branch you swung on so that you can get back home in one piece.

The other thing that is difficult about the command line is remembering all the commands. Some are intuitive and obvious. For example mkdir will make a directory. But some of the commands are not obvious. For example popd and touch do not give any hint at their function.

So what’s a girl to do?

Answer: Make mnemonic haikus of course!

I’ve decided to make a series of haikus to help me remember the trickier commands. The process of writing these haiku forces me to engage with the commands and summarize them in 17 syllables. This process really encourages me to think about the essence of the command and what it does so that I can distill it into the rarified form of haiku.

Here are the three that I have written so far. More will follow as I complete the crash course. Enjoy.

Title: Vista

The forest for trees!

You need directories to

Find the path and see.

Title: One Step Forward…

To move through the stack

Push and pop d will do that

One moves, one brings back.

 

Title: Touch

Type touch to make new

Empty files that bring you,

A place for your thoughts.

Puss In Boot(Camp)

I came home and Mom was already there.

Recently I was challenged to recall a moment when I felt perfectly happy. Before you read on, I ask you to do the same.

Surprised, I regarded her with uncertain eyes. This was out of the ordinary.

Did your mind go blank? If you are like me (and deep down who isn’t like everyone else) your mind was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. Perfectly happy? What does that even mean? Jumping up and down and screaming happy? Or warm cup of tea and a good book happy? Are these two kinds of happiness ultimately the same?

Mom’s dark eyes locked on mine. Her demeanor was strange, as if she had been caught somehow off guard.

If you are like me (and we have established that you are) then a bit of panic is on the heels of this mental vacuum. The cold anxiety stems from one icy thought, what if you have never been “perfectly happy.” What if something is always amiss however slight? What if the best you can hope for is only an approximation of this ideal?

One second. Two seconds. A beat of silence. 

“Mom”, I said. “What are you doing home so soon?”

If you are like me (dear reader we are so much more alike than we are different) this question causes you a mild depression at first. Mentally you are hopping from memory to memory like an obsessive-compulsive frog searching for the perfect lily pad. Nope. Nope. Nope. Every memory lacks perfection.

“Don’t move”, Mom commands holding both arms out in front of her with her palms facing me. The queerest little smile kissing the corners of her mouth. 

Then finally, at the exact moment you stop searching for it, dawn breaks in your mind. Your perfect memory (or memories) is suddenly present and playing before your eyes like a beloved movie.

I take a single step back.” Mom turns her back to me and begins to call out to absolutely no one. 

“Come one out”, she sings in a high pitched voice. “Come one, she is here now.” Come on out!” 

Mom is walking down the hall using little petite steps. She is looking down and not ahead of her and I know in that instant that my mother has lost her mind.

You see moments of perfect happiness do not announce themselves as such. They often begin mundane or even miserable. Then a miracle occurs and we are wrapped in a beautiful experience. I have found that my happiest moments were completely unexpected, total surprises.

“Its OK Mom”, I say. I am sixteen years old today and my mother has clearly lost her mind. I’m not a child anymore and I need to remain calm until I can get her some help. 

“Oh where are you”, scolds Mom in her strange, playful sing song.

“We practiced this all day!” 

I take one step forward and then stop suddenly. My heart speeds up. I just heard something.

“It couldn’t be”, I thought.

Then I hear it again. It is heart beat faint, but unmistakable.

“Meow!” A tiny black ball of fuzz emerges from the hallway. Mom stoops down to pick him up and hands him to me. 

Speechless, sparkling tears pouring from my eyes I take my new forever friend into my arms for the first time. 

“Happy Birthday”, Mom says. I think you should name him Puss. 

Puss as a kitten, sitting with our Beanie Babies.

Puss as a kitten, sitting with our Beanie Babies.

Almost fifteen years later, Puss and I are still together.

Puss all grown up.

Puss all grown up.

When I was struggling with the essay portion of the application to Bootcamp, Puss kept me laughing with his crazy feline antics, which include running back and forth across the living room at top speed. (Cat people, you know what I’m talking about. Non-cat people go get a cat and become a cat person.)

When it is after 1 am and I am still awake studying HTML and CSS, Puss is often in my lap keeping me company with warmth and soft purring.

And when I was accepted into the camp, Puss was the first to know, as he was asleep in my lap when I received the acceptance email. I jumped up with glee, disturbing his nap and he shot me a look that only a cat can give.

As I work through computer programming, Puss will be right there with me. I view him as an honorary member of the camp.

In my first post A Life Without Challenge you met my epileptic calico MaryGold.

But this post? Well, this one’s for Puss.

What The Hell Is Water?

First, a story.

Perhaps you have heard it?

It is attributed to the American author David Foster Wallace. I will paraphrase it for you. The story goes (more or less) like this:

One day two young fish are out swimming in the ocean. They often school together discussing pertinent fish matters great and small. By chance they encounter an ancient sea turtle just back from laying her eggs on land.

“Good morning boys”, she says to the fish.

“How’s the water?” she inquires politely.

The fish swim on in silence for some time after their encounter. Finally one fish turns to the other and asks, “What the hell is water?”

This story is meant to illustrate the invisibility of the ubiquitous. In other words, some things are so constantly present; we take them for granted to the point that we are almost completely unaware they even exist.

What is your “water”?

For example, when was the last time you really thought about the air that surrounds you and allows you to exist? When was the last time you took a careful inventory of your beliefs.  I’m willing to bet you have some beliefs you are not even aware that you hold.

But it doesn’t have to be quite that metaphysical.

As I was working through my Bootcamp prerequisites yesterday, I came face to face with my “water”. It is something that is so omnipresent to me as computer user, I don’t even think about it. I just reach for it when I need it.

I’m talking about the computer mouse!

Imagine for a moment sitting down to use your computer, but suddenly you have no mouse or track pad whatsoever! How do you open a file? How do you get to the folder where you store your pictures? How do you launch a browser so you can check your blog online? Are you feeling like a fish out of water yet?

This is exactly what happened to me. I am currently learning how to use the command line interface (CLI) on my computer. To make a long story short (too late?) I’m learning how to navigate through my computer without using a mouse.

ALL ABOARD!! This train is leaving the “point and click” station.

It turns out when you use your mouse to point and click on a file, or button, or link, or icon, or whatever, you are using what is called graphical user interface. (GUI-pronounced gooey. Isn’t that fun:) But these GUIs didn’t always exist. In the old days, when only genius wizards could use computers, the command line interface was the only game in town.

So if you wanted to open a file, you had to know the command to type into the computer. If you wanted to change to a different folder, you guessed it; you needed to know the command. Hence the name command line interface.

To get to your command line, you have to open a terminal.

Here is what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 8.12.48 PMIntimidating right? It just stares at you like a cold dead eye unless you know the magic commands to make it come to life.

So this is the next skill that I need to be comfortable with before camp starts in March. I need to know the magic commands. To help me remember I am making flash cards.

IMG_1327

pwd = Print Working Directory. This tells you what folder you are in.

IMG_1325

Four more examples of commands that can be used on the CLI

And you know what else I discovered? This is actually pretty fun! You feel so much more powerful on the command line than you do with the mouse. (I mean does the word mouse really compare to the word COMMAND!) Further I am developing a deeper understanding of the way my computer structures its files.

Still I find pointing and clicking to be much easier and user friendly. But of course that is why it was invented in the first place. It is so much easier to simply right click and select “new folder” than to type mkdir foldername and pray you don’t delete your computer’s hard drive or something.

Of course, the first animals that emerged from the oceans to brave dry land probably found that to be pretty difficult and not very user friendly. However, it turned out to be very much worth the effort in the end. With that in mind, I will continue to drill my flash cards and use resources to learn more commands. Maybe one day I won’t need the mouse at all?

Doubtful. A fish always needs its water. But at least I am now aware of my use of the mouse and how it makes my life easier.

The Joy? Of Hex

I enjoy my own company. At least I think I do. Of course I do. Don’t I?

It seems that I am getting mixed signals from myself.

A majority of the time I want to be alone, swaddled sweetly silent in a caressing blue robe so soft it is like a whisper to my skin. These crystalline moments of perfect isolation are priceless to me. Within them, womb-like, I am free to recharge, think, grow, change. Aloneness is a state like non other. It creates the necessary space for deep thought to occur.

In my aloneness, I am free to work through the programming Bootcamp Pre Work at my own pace. Lately I have been fixated on converting base 10 numbers (like 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.…) into base 16 hexadecimal (hex) numbers. This is my new pass time. I like to pick numbers that are significant to me and convert them into hex. For example:

My Age: 30 years = 1E in hex

My Weight: 105 lbs = 69 in hex

The year I was born: 1984 = 7C0 in hex

When I am alone I am free to contemplate my cats and their softness, the cold and its harshness, the world and its vastness, the air and its freshness. (With apologies to Madeleine L’Engle)

My quiet, private world is secure. It is comforting. It allows me to rejuvenate from the rigors of a day spent crashing against extroverts.

However, a worm of dissatisfaction has crept into my introvert’s haven, which was once as pristine as freshly fallen snow.

The thoughts come unbidden:

  • “Should I be interacting more with other people?”
  • “Computer programming is another largely solitary task. Am I simply reinforcing the walls of my cave?”
  • “Should I heed the persistent advice of friends and family and ‘go out’ more?”
  • “I am alone, but am I growing lonely?”

I see a forked road opening in my mind’s eye. One branch is peaceful, still, quiet but potentially lonesome. The other branch is chaotic, loud, lightening flash bright, but harbors potential relationships.

I stand before this bifurcated road and hesitate. Peering down one fork I see my cats, my nice warm bed, my Pre Work and the undeniable joy of hex. Squinting down the other road I see sights unfamiliar and scary.   Fantastic and exhausting. Dramatic and new.

I hesitate. For the moment I am overwhelmed by this introvert’s dilemma.