Friday 15 February 2013

Double or Quits

2011:  M257 Putting Java to Work
2012:  M256 Software Development with Java

Having cemented in my head where I was going and what I was doing towards my degree, the OU decided to throw in a curveball, with an impending change to the curriculum and qualifications.

So I figured that somewhere along the way I needed to achieve 2 'big courses' in a single academic year in order to get the required number of points for my degree within the time limit.  The only problem was, this involved a period where the 2 courses overlapped for a few months.  Gulp!!

So - M257 and one fell swoop.

M257 (known in my head and thus on this blog as 'the practical one') introduced me to new ideas to fuzzle up my brain, namely Java Swing components (the layouts used in a user interface) and concurrency/threads (how to allow multiple things access to the same program simultaneously).

M256 was a whole different ball game..(the theory one).  This one dealt more with the software development phases, and producing object and class diagrams.  Eeek, this is all starting to feel very very real all of a sudden.  But too much theory and not enough practical to keep me properly entertained methinks.

Having had a change of job in March 2011 I have to admit I struggled through the 'double up period', I was in a day-job where I didn't need to think - so having to come home and start thinking was doubly hard.

Ironically, my old enemy the washing basket didn't seem so bad, it was something I could control in the midst of the chaos of 2 courses (and, lets be honest, a great tool when assignment procrastination periods hit double-time).

I often have a period of 'post assignment slump' for a couple of weeks, but didn't quite know how to deal with myself when post assignment slump hit 'pre-assignment angst' and then 'pre-exam angst' all at the same time.  Particularly with a car-crash 3 days before the exam.  I was pretty glad when the 2 were both over.

So I decided a change of scene was necessary for a few weeks for the next 10-point interlude...

Oh the Games People Play now....

2011:  T151 Digital Worlds: designing games, creating alternative realities

Wow!!  This has to have been my favourite 10 points so far.  I learned about what makes a game a good game, not just in the realm of computer games but in games in general.  And throughout the course we got to design different levels of game from the bottom up, dealing with how the sprites collide etc.

Simply playing with the GameMaker software ate up so much time!!

For my final assignment I made a maze game where a fireman would have to rescue people from a damaged building while being chased by flickering flame 'ghost' characters a-la Pacman.

I've learned more on other courses but I have to say this one sticks in my mind as the most FUN, and it did exactly what I had hoped for as a break from the intensity of the web courses before starting back to 'proper' (in my mind) 30 point programming work.

Washing basket?? What washing basket?

Thursday 14 February 2013

Where are the spiders?

2010:  TT280 Web Applications: design, development and management
2011:  TT281 The client side of application development

No spiders in the washing basket thankfully.

But as the course titles show, a foray into web application development.
These were interesting 10-pointers intended to build into a 'Certificate of Web Applications Development' along with a further course TT282.

However, they didn't feel like 10-pointer filler courses, they felt like 30-point courses crammed into too short a period of time.  Unlike the Frogs and Toads of old, I remember very little about what I actually learned on these two courses, because I did the learning to pass the assignments but didn't have time to actually take them in properly.

This led to a lot of angst going round in my washing-addled head, and after a bit of soul searching (cos they were a good 'career related' choice) I decided that, if I was going to pay lots of money to progress towards a degree that I didn't have to do, I wanted to like what I was doing along the way.

So I abandoned the idea of the full Certificate, and moved on to more Java - but with a brief 10-pointer that felt like a 10-pointer to fill in the time between them.

Basically good stuff

2009:  MT264 - Designing Applications with Visual Basic

The washing basket was settling down a little now, Phillip was a toddler and starting nursery, which gave me more time back to concentrate on reducing that never-ending pile.

This was a relatively new course on offer for the OU, and I had done lots of VB work at the office during the 'down times' at work, in fact it was helping a lot for me to cut my 'coding teeth' on.

I was starting to relax into the idea of software development as a path, and figured this was a good place to go as it would be something I could use at work and home to give me lots of practice.

That idea didn't quite work as the VBA and coding environments turned out to be quite different in places.  But it was a great course, which I finished with a result just a modicum short of distinction grade.  Drat and Yay at the same time eh?

After taking advice from my developer 'mentor' at work 'Bazman', I decided web development skills were probably a good thing to get in my arsenal next.

2009:  S151 - Maths for Science

Well - I decided to try a slightly different route for my next 10-point 'filler' course.  Something in me called out for maths, as I used to love it at school and then fell 'out of love' during the 2nd year of A level when it all got a little too theoretical for my tastes.

But this course sounded more like the physics and first year of A level maths.

Unfortunately what the 'blurb' had failed to explain was that a massive percentage of the course seemed to concentrate on how to calculate with scientific notation.

I found the whole thing (again) too theoretical and not enough practical to love it.  But I did at least pass it, submitting on the 2nd allowable date as I prepared a cross-stitch wedding sampler for my Big Little Brother Joe's wedding to Sara which seemed to take up all of the time I should be studying (hmm methinks not loving the course had more to do with it).

So back to programming again for the next course, returning to my new found 'comfort zone'.

Frogs and Toads...and scary Level 2

2008: M255 Object Oriented Programming with Java

Well, it was time to step away from the comfort zone of Level 1 for a while, and go play with the big boys in Level 2.  All of a sudden it felt like I was really doing a University level course - dunno what I had thought I was doing in Level 1 but this was for real now, and was I up for it?

'Frogs and Toads' (along with Accounts (don't ask)) were how we were introduced to how object oriented programming works - and to classes and hierarchy of objects (A Toad is a special type of Frog - they both have similar behaviour and react to similar messages but in different ways)..  By the end of the course I never wanted to see another Frog or Toad in my life - but, do you know, 5 years later and they are still how I sometimes explain object oriented programming to myself or others.  Go figure eh?

I really enjoyed the practical emphasis of this course, and learned absolutely loads.

Oh yes - and as my first Level 2 course - this was my first experience of exams for a good long time, but the first of many more to come...

But what about the washing basket you ask?  Well, it rose, it fell, it filled up fast at assignment times when I would study and forget to do mundane things like housework.  Some things in life never change though and the washing basket is one of those things.

Along came the break between courses (having passed M255) and I thought I needed a 'filler' to keep my brain occupied.  Having read some of the maths stuff online and thinking it looked a little like maths did when I enjoyed it at school, I thought I would try something different next to try and rekindle some of that love for maths.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Back to work...and back to work...

2007:  Am I ready for this?

OK - the washing basket was bigger, so was I, but still the burning question - is there life beyond all that?
And more to the point - was I indeed ready to go back to it all?

As far as work went, well there was not a choice to be made, it was go back or don't eat - which would have solved the weight issues but not really helped in the long run.

For my OU studies though, there was now a decision hanging over me - could I cope with the demands of a baby, a husband and an ever-growing washing basket (you anticipate the extra washing of the baby clothes, but never the amount of your own stuff that gets wee, poo and other unpleasant stains on it).?

So I decided to start slowly again, with T183 - Design and the Web.  I got to create imaginary websites for my imaginary craft club, based on my stitching evenings spent with my best friend Deborah.  I had great fun doing it, and almost as much fun imagining the things the club would do.  I learned a lot about how we view web pages and where to stick stuff so that people would look at the most important parts.  And a little HTML coding skill into the bargain.

And I also decided that yes, I was ready for the return to bigger courses.  So on to M255 - Object Oriented Programming with Java.

A new course...and a couple of new challenges

Sep/Oct 2005:  next steps, and a reason to take a break

Having successfully passed Y154, and regained a little of my sanity into the bargain, it was on to the next step with M150 - Data, Computing and Information.

Oh yeah - did I not mention I am a bit of a geeky girl?  I discovered an enthusiasm for computers and making stuff work automatically a couple of years before this.  So this was the beginnings of 'maybe get some formal IT qualifications so I can move on from the job I hate'.

Having just begun the can of course guess what happened next - having stopped focusing on getting pregnant, planning other things to take up our time for the next year, and thinking about a fabulous holiday - we then discovered I was pregnant.  And this time round it stuck.

I think the stress of assignments etc helped take my mind off the stress of the pregnancy a little.  And I adored programming and watching the code make things happen on screen.  Finally a niche that I fit in!!

So I went off on  maternity leave, finished my final assignment in the June, and gave birth to Phillip in July 2006.

So no more studies for a short while, as we adjusted to all the other new challenges we'd been sent.  But definitely not the end of the journey...

There must be more to life than this...?

Feb/March 2005:  The journey begins..

Every journey begins with a single step they say.  Well for me it began with a trip, over a pile of dirty washing  and a seemingly never-ending battle to the bottom of the washing basket.  And a chance comment in a magazine that 'taking a bath does not constitute a viable hobby'.  Oops - who knew eh?

We'd been through a very traumatic time personally, after 2 miscarriages and no sign of another pregnancy in the offing.  So I needed something else to focus on other than the struggle to get pregnant that threatened to consume my life, my sanity and our marriage.

Enter - the Open University.  And an aptly titled course Y154 - Open to Change.  I think it was the very nature of the course that first drew me in, as it encouraged me to focus on changes throughout my life and how I chose to deal with them.  Obviously having such recent struggles to use for raw material was useful, and the course proved to be truly cathartic for me, giving me a sense that there was something else out there even if we never got the chance to be parents.

But it also awakened something dormant in me, that love for learning and the need to learn more, within 2 weeks of starting that course, I had signed up for the next part of the journey - this time a 'full' course...

M150 - Data, Computing and Information.

And so it begins....

Well, I  have been procrastinating around this idea for quite some time, but lately I have been feeling the need to share with more than just myself in my daily (well technically my 'when I remember') diary entries.

So I thought I would start a blog that I could share with fellow students and friends and well, who knows who else?

The idea is to share my own O.U. experience, how it began, how it progresses currently and my  hopes for the future etc.

So let's see how it goes.

The Open University