Thursday, April 28, 2011

UNT Grand Chorus and Symphony Orchestra

Yesterday I went and saw UNT's Grand Chorus and Symphony Orchestra perform at the Winspear Performance Hall. This particular concert hall is inside the Murchison Performing Arts Center - although when I refer to it to my friends, I call it the "Armadillo Building". I wonder if the architects appreciate me calling it that.

I'm not supposed to take pictures during the event, but then how would I blog about it? Besides, this was during an intermission and they were tuning their instruments ;)

It was pretty interesting. I love orchestral pieces. However, I found out I'm not too big on opera or grand chorus performances. I'm biased, though, because when I was in middle school, I played violin for 3 years. I'm going to have to add Violin to my list of things to buy, right there next to HD projector, pet dog, and new house. Yeah it'll be a while I suppose.

Anyway, you always hear that UNT is a big music school? Well look at their performances page. There's got to be 30-40 performances going on just this week! Somehow I've gone my entire UNT undergrad career without making friends with a music major. I know RTVF, Kinesiology, Language, and of course Engineering majors, but no music. At least not that I remember. Please if you're a music major and you're my friend, don't kill me for forgetting you!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thunder Storm!

I've had some bad luck with storms in Denton. You may remember my past blog post about my dorm getting struck with lightning - and thereby frying the Ethernet port on my computer. It seems the ethernet ports on everyone's machines in the Santa Fe dorms back then got fried. I never knew ethernet was capable of Gigabit transfer, 100 M attenuation range, AND carrying enough electricity to destroy the ethernet interface in my computer's motherboard. I'm honestly surprised that that's the only thing that was destroyed. I mean literally - the device manager shows no ethernet port anymore. The only network connection I have now is a USB Wi-fi dongle I have.

I bring this up again because north Texas in general has been going through some pretty rough winds lately. It happens yearly I suppose - after all, April showers bring May flowers right? All weekend we were under a tornado watch and even Monday while I was on campus the sirens sounded. I mean these things get loud - especially if you're on campus. There's got to be several scattered around the campus. In fact - here's a map of Denton County and its storm sirens:

I sort of wish they labeled I-35 on this map

As you can see, they aren't shy about the sirens. In fact, I had the misfortune to walk home on a Wednesday afternoon from class last semester - the first Wednesday of the month mind you. It sounded like we were under attack... by mother nature.

Monday I was actually in the physics building going over some lab material when we were hit by a storm system. The storm alarms sounded and professors came walking briskly by all the classrooms and labs shoving all the students into the basement of the physics building - which I was hardly aware it existed. It was neat - it was a little underground den where you can hide and study physics. Lots of reading material down there too. It's own little miniature library.

Anyway, if you're worried you won't hear the sirens, you can also tune into KNTU 88.1 FM - a local radio station in Denton that a lot of UNT RTVF students work for. They intermittently inject weather alerts (about every 5 minutes or so) during their regular broadcast. I think I also heard them say "To help you remain tranquil in the face of certain death, smooth Jazz will be deployed in three, two, one *queue Jazz*." ...Or something like that ;)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Strategies for Successful Coding

If you want to study Computer Science, Electrical Engineering (Technology), IT, Computer Engineering, BCIS, computer networking, etc., you are going to have to program. A lot. In fact, programming a lot is the only way to get better. That applies to everything! In order to get better at anything, you have to practice! If I want to get better at tennis, baseball, ping pong, swimming, riding a bike, tying shoes, etc., I have to practice. The same applies to coding.

However, while coding, your brain assumes a certain state of mind. Nothing to be alarmed of or weary of. Your brain assumes another state of mind while driving, playing games, etc. The "programming" state of mind is unique though. Not everyone likes coding. There are some EE students I know that absolutely despise coding. Maybe it's boring, hard, not applicable to their studies, or what have you. I personally don't mind coding, especially when my script works well and does what it's supposed to (and gets me an A). Anyway, your mind will become fatigued while programming for an exorbitant amount of time. The process becomes worse if you are tired, stressed, or distracted. When I code, I function best on a nice buzz, while sitting on either my work computer or my laptop. When I say buzz, I mean caffeine buzz, mind you. I've actually never tried coding while slightly inebriated, but that's beside the point. I CANNOT program on my home desktop computer. Oh sure it has all the system requirements and a nice screen, comfy amount of desk space, etc., but the thing that ruins it for me are all the distractions. Seriously my desktop machine is a pretty good rig - it can run any type of game out there and has a 1920X1080 display, so I am always tempted to play a game, browse the internet, open up that new tab, check my email, Steam chat with a friend, fire up Portal 2...
But with my laptop, I don't have too many distractions - which is why I am oh so much more productive on my laptop. What I'm trying to say is:
Rule 1: Limit your distractions
It's ok to play music or occasionally facebook chat with someone in the background, but personally I work best when the option for distraction isn't even there. The smaller screen and resolution also keeps me concentrated on one screen at a time. Also - there are no games installed onto my laptop. It may be capable of playing games, but I choose not to install any since that would just present an opportunity for distraction. Admittedly though, my laptop isn't any good for gaming. Sometimes though, a distraction may be just what you need - bringing me to rule 2:
Rule 2: Take breaks
I can't program for 3,4,5 hours at a time - especially when I'm tired. Just last night I was trying to fix a TCP communications algorithm dealing with RSA encryption, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing -- because it was 6 in the morning. I had been trying to fix this for about an hour now. I also had a project due that day (today). So I ended up taking a 1 hour nap, and upon waking up, found a solution within 10 minutes. Sometimes taking a break from programming is all you need to clear your thoughts and take a fresh perspective on a problem. The same applies to other critical thinking homework assignments - perhaps in your math classes, physics, etc.
Rule 3: Utilize your resources. I know this one is probably pretty obvious but I think it's worth mentioning. If you have a friend taking the same programming or math class as you, don't be afraid to ask them for help or to study together. Your friends in your degree are your most valuable asset, because they are taking the same exact classes you are. Make friends with people in your classes and you can troubleshoot with each other and help each other out.

Anyway that's 3 - that's good enough for a list. Besides I'm getting fatigued from writing this blog entry - time for a break ;)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

DCTA University Pass Program

Today I went to a DCTA Public Meeting. This informational meeting in particular was about the upcoming A-train service that is opening in June, and how students can take advantage of it. The rail will connect to DART's GREEN Line, and will connect Denton to the ongoing web of rail networks throughout North Texas. This PDF contains the proposed fare structure and their reasoning behind it.This is the brochure they handed out.

A lot of conversations were brought up during the informational meeting. Part of what was brought up was the possibility, in the future, of using student ID cards as a sort of pass card to ride DCTA rails. The issue, however, was the costs associated with implementing that sort of system and the funding is simply not there at this time. The outlook is somewhere in the 5-8 year range, and even that's a maybe. With no subsidies provided by UNT/TWU, it makes it harder. Subsidies are a cost that would fall on us as the students, which would ultimately just increase our tuition rates I'd imagine.

Something else that was brought up was the fact that Commuter Express, will be phasing out. It is in essence being replaced by the railway.

Other random things: The rail will not operate on Sundays
The Downtown Denton station will be located at Hickory St. and Bell Ave.

Some other interests that were expressed by attendees included letting UNT students pay "discount" rates, providing faculty/staff the option of a salary deduction to pay for the fares, offering per-semester fares, setting up a bulk package to UNT for a discounted price to provide to students at UNT to pay for, and much more.

I found out about the meeting through UNT's eaglemail. If you are a UNT student, don't neglect checking that email!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

UNT + TWU Degrees

Denton is the home of two colleges - University of North Texas (UNT), and Texas Woman's University (TWU). Each a mere 10-15 minutes from each other, both great academic communities. Recently I found out that TWU works closly with UNT's College of Engineering to offer dual degrees in Mathematics/Electrical Engineering, Chemistry/Materials Science, and Math/Materials Science. The program started in 2007.

Allow me to say that from personal experience, it is exciting to be a part of a new program. When I was at Collin College, I studied and worked for a center called Convergence Technology Center. It was a new degree at the time and it was a study in computer networking, voice over IP, CCNA (Cisco Certified Networking Associate), CCNP (Cisco Certified Networking Professional), project based learning, and case studies. Being a part of a new and growing program really insured that I would get all the attention I need. Not only did I want to look good by learning these things, getting my degrees/certificates, and graduating and getting work, the center itself wanted to look good. What I mean is, in order for a degree program to have any merit, its graduates have to perform well and "make it" in the world. To clarify my point, at the university level, every degree program strives to be ABET accredited. That's "Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology". In the state of Texas, an Electrical Engineering major cannot be legally called an Engineer unless they have a degree from an ABET accredited engineering school - in which UNT's EE program is ABET accredited.

Anyway my point being that with new and growing programs, you have the full attention of the professors in order to help you do well and succeed in the marketplace. As a side effect, there are smaller class sizes most of the time, and your professors will know and address you by name. Most of the time, your professors can be your most valuable assets when seeking work, references, employment, internships, and opportunities just about anywhere. So get to know them, and be sure to make yourself presentable. Try hard in your classes and show up, do your homework. Your professors have a lot more connections than you do.

Original university story
More info about UNT/TWU Degrees