What Almost Was

What the hell was I thinking?

We are often the architects of our own destruction, haplessly knitting away, creating just enough rope to hang ourselves.

Luckily the universe (or God, or Karma, or chance) takes pity upon us and intervenes, saving us from our own self-destructive tendencies.

Here is what almost was.

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I. Am. AT 56%.

Do you remember Occupy Wall Street?

There was (and is) so much helpless rage surrounding the financial crisis of 2008. This boiling caldron of human frustration and despair inevitably boiled over giving rise to the Occupy movement.

People took to the streets across the nation and stayed there. They protested against a system that seemed to reward the very banks that caused the crisis while simultaneously leaving the hard hit “little guy” to suffer.

This movement had no clear leader, no political organization (in contrast to the Tea Party which has successfully had several of its candidates elected to congress) and only one quixotic creed: CHANGE. They wanted a better, different world even if they didn’t appear to know how to achieve it.

I watched on TV as Occupy camps began to pop up throughout the country like over zealous fans doing the wave at a baseball game. The people were well meaning if haphazard and I was deeply enchanted by their signature chant:

WE. ARE. THE 99%

WE. ARE. THE 99%

I am the 99%. As a teacher I barely make enough money to be considered above the poverty line. When the economy is humming along, most of the gains flow to a small part of the population. The rest of us wait for it to trickle down. The Occupy protesters captured all of that sentiment in that one punchy chant.

Well today I have a different percentage that I would like to celebrate: 56%. I finally finished my crash course on using the command line interface (CLI) on my Mac computer. The crash course that I completed can be found here. This means that I have completed 56% of the PreWork that I must finish before web development Bootcamp starts on March 23rd.

I. AM. AT 56%

I. AM. AT 56%

I am very excited to have made it this far. According to the author of the course, I am now a “barely capable shell user.” Admittedly that does not sound like much, but two weeks ago I didn’t even know how to find the command line on my computer. I really have come a long way.

Of course I want to be more than “barely capable” on the CLI. As a result, I have also begun working through command line tutorials on YouTube. These videos are even better than the initial course I completed in many ways and they go into more advanced detail which is great.

According to my PreWork curriculum the next topics  I am supposed to learn about are Git and GitHub. These two concepts are completely foreign to me. All I know comes from this post from fellow blogger Moirai who writes the Algorithmical blog.

I am definitely swimming in uncharted waters now. Wish me luck.

PS: I am curious how many people use the CLI regularly. Take this poll! 🙂

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.



Swift cats lick soft paws.

This “cat” prints out all to screen.

Don’t blink. You’ll miss them

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.


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


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 Gap

So there is this gap. On one side, non-techies who really want to understand computers, learn to program and potentially land a wonderful, high paying job with benefits in tech; on the other side, employers desperately searching for passionate, curious, ready-to- hire, entry level developers.   The two sides are often unaware of each other and the gap seems insurmountable.

Software boot camps act as a bridge over the gap. They are popping up all over the country like flowers in a desert after a rain. I am not exactly sure how or where it all got started, but someone took a look around and realized that there are a lot of jobs in tech, and not a lot of qualified people able to handle those jobs. The next bright observation was this: just because a person does not have the skills, it doesn’t mean that they do not want the skills. Finally someone realized that most adults willing to transition into the technology field do not have the time or the resources to go back to college and get a degree in computer science. The solution? Short programs for those willing to commit to learn the fundamentals of web development: software boot camps.

That is the good news. The not so good news? They are intense. Really intense. Most claim to be able to take a person with zero tech savvy and transform them into a junior level web developer in (on average) 4-6 months! It must be a scam you say? They are not. Graduates from these boot camps are getting hired and starting jobs as junior web developers. I do not have figures for the entire country, but for the camp that I will be attending 100% of their first graduating class have jobs or job offers.

Are these graduates perfect? I am sure they are not. I am sure the learning curve is still quite steep for them and I imagine they will do some struggling during their first couple years on the job, but they did get a job. They are developers like it or not.

So here I stand on one side of the gap. I really want to learn how to program computers. My dream is to build something useful that other people will use. To get to the other side I must take my first tentative steps onto the bridge. It is time for phase 1 of my boot camp journey. The Pre Work.

A Life Without Challenge…

smallmer1The new year dawned with chill wind and grey drizzle.  I watched the sun creep up with my epileptic cat MaryGold who often wakes between 4 and 5 am for some as yet unknown reason.  I often keep a close eye on MaryGold even though her seizures are controlled, so when she stirred on the morning of January 1st 2015, I woke up.

The first thing I thought about was the camp.  Fear and excitement churned in my stomach as I once again wondered out loud, “Did I make the right decision?”  MaryGold did not answer, though her eyes always seem to suggest some deep wisdom.

My decision to sign up for a web development boot camp will strike anyone who knows me as odd.  Quite odd.  I am NOT tech savvy.  I barely know the difference between a router and a modem.  If my computer does not work, I sacrifice a chicken to the computer gods and hope the animal’s blood will be suffice.  Just kidding about the chicken, but you get the idea.  Computers are a complete enigma to me.  They might as well be powered by some kind of dark magic.

This. Is. A. Problem.  I use a computer everyday.  I am using a computer right now to type out this very sentence.  I feel that it is somehow wrong to be completely ignorant about something that has revolutionized the world and is so vital to my everyday existence.  For me, computers represent a challenge.  The gauntlet has been thrown.  I wish to understand how to program computers and how the internet works.  In short, I want to become a web developer– from scratch. (Perhaps less that scratch.  If there is something that comes before scratch, I am actually starting from there.)

The camp that I signed up for starts in March.  The purpose of this blog will be to chronicle this (mis)adventure.  It promises to be…(painful, embarrassing, frustrating, potentially deadly) interesting to say the least.