Another New Year! (sort of) and Other Sources of Reflection

Happy Year of the Goat!  For the first time, I was part of hosting the Chinese New Year celebration rather than mooching food and butchering my knowledge of Mandarin to say thank you.  Much food happened, we made the best spring rolls of all time, then we ate them all with friends and family.  Everyone was happy.

This allowed me an experience I typically have twice a year.  Once during New Years Eve and again on my birthday in August, I typically have this moment where I reflect on where I was this time last year and realize what an idiot I was.  Without fail, I think about myself a year ago and always know that I’ve grown a lot and that if I met myself in the past and had a conversation, I would stand in disbelief staring at myself and my actions, regarding myself as ignorant, naive, and childish in comparison to the present iteration.  This is one of the many reasons I’m incredibly against any attempts at time travel and time travel movies just make me uncomfortable while I suffer through their infinite plot holes.

If I had to meet my past self, we’d inevitably get into a fight.  My present self would be frustrated that my past self didn’t know what my present self does even though they’re technically the same person, and my past self would feel my present self was awfully sure of herself and borderline arrogant.  This most likely would stem from the fact not enough time had passed that I feel like there should be a significant difference in our awareness, and given that it is essentially me who isn’t living up to my standards, I’d get irritated, where as with anyone else who doesn’t live up to my standards I’m generally pretty supportive and encouraging to help them improve.

If, however, I was able to meet up with a past self that was a significant amount younger, say a decade or so, I imagine we’d get along quite well and spend the time figuring out what age I actually was when something happened rather than assuming I was 8.  My present self would admire how dorky and awkward my past self was, feeling accomplished that as an adult I had managed to cover it enough that when I announce it to people who know me at a professional level they don’t believe it is true, but as soon as that boundary crosses into friendship they can’t help but be awestruck at how long I managed to cover and compensate for my social flaws thanks to a large amount of confidence making it appear as though everything I did was normal.  My past self would look up to my present self, proud of the fact I had a dog and finally started studying coding rather than hesitantly colliding with it before running away over and over again.  They’d be a bit perplexed about how the husband happened, but probably accept it if they happened to meet present husband as well.

So, yeah, time travel should never be a thing.

On Chinese New Year, I briefly thought back to where I was last year, and I, as always, just ended up feeling sort of weird about myself.  This time last year my husband and I had been engaged for a couple months and felt sort of weird about it (as a former commitment-phobic who didn’t like spending more than a week with someone), had a sinus infection thanks to one of my dear students snotting all over me in the most epic sneeze in the history of mankind during a math lesson, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything in my career that wasn’t teaching.  This year, I’m married to my dear husband and feel amazing about it, have a shoulder injury I spend hours each week at PT to resolve due to a very angry student, and really want to become a programmer.

Those are all some pretty big changes.  I’m especially grateful that my husband has been as supportive as he is about my desire to change careers, though I know the news has been very shocking to a few of my colleagues since I am very good at my job.  The reasons for it are pretty strong too.  With my injury, I’ve no longer been able to look away from the severe problems in the education system that when you’re working with students on a day to day basis you come across and bump heads with trying to get resources or assistance needed to work with severely impacted students with emotional and behavioral disorders from district administrators who do not respond to phone calls or emails.  I was pretty much shoved directly into it, both figuratively and literally, staring at it and observing it for hours on end every day with no way to ignore it, and those issues are ultimately what lead to the injury in the first place when I received no response.  I could write a novel about these challenges and their implications for the safety of children and teachers let alone the education of students, but I’ll save that for another time.

Since I was eventually placed on actual light work duty, the work I was asked to do was mostly paperwork and on the lucky days helping teachers improve their paperwork to make a positive impact for students.  This meant I was doing a job I no longer took home with me, and the hours extra beyond the typical day were nearly nonexistent aside from attempting to compensate for hours missed due to physical therapy.  I had a lot of time to think about and explore interests, particularly ones I could do without intense use of the right side of my body.  I tried something I had spent most of my life avoiding fully exploring: programming.

I was hesitant at first when I realized I loved it as I gained very basic knowledge of C++ and made silly little programs that did very basic things such as a calculator that no one but me would ever use.  I knew myself well enough to know what when I learned anything new my instant gut reaction was blind love and adoration but that this was caused largely by the novelty of the knowledge and when you first start learning something you see great improvement without much effort.  As I kept going though, even tuckered through scripting in HTML and CSS which were very less mentally stimulating, I still found I enjoyed applying what I learned to actual projects I could improve, make more efficient, and see the changes almost immediately.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for delayed gratification.  I love teaching where I wouldn’t see a student’s behavioral growth for at least a month after the initial intervention had been implemented, but that month was hard and often involved multiple instances of unsafe behavior in the mean time.  But the quick way of being able to test and  compile your code, find test cases that would potentially break it and making sure you’ve worked around it, it’s almost like the whole game-ification movement in educational websites.  You get little rewards for your success, but rather than being entirely superficial like the badges on those sites, your reward is simple, functional code.

I love it.  I love everything you can do with programming, the possibilities that can be unlocked, the way computers can do so much that as a human being would take me exponentially longer to process and compute.  I love thinking about a problem then making a simple solution and writing a program to implement that solution then addressing cases that break it.  I love the constant improvement, and adore talking to other people about solutions to problems to learn from what they have to share and how they explain their approach.  My poor mentors have no shortage of me staring at them with love and adoration as I show them my horrible scraps of code and searching the internet for other ways people have solved similar problems with their explanations to the approach.  The constant learning and problem solving is something I loved about teaching, and I similarly love it about programming.

Ultimately, one of the aspects I love most about coding is the fact you get to have that “New Years” feeling of looking back and thinking, “I KNEW NOTHING!  I WAS SO FOOLISH!” on nearly a daily basis – sometimes even multiple times an hour.  In a world without time travel, who doesn’t love a feeling of constant growth every time they figure out a problem they were stuck on?

Some very good news: my physical therapist last estimated that we were just a few more weeks away from me never needing to see her again.  I like the lady, but I really would love not seeing her more than I see most of my friends and family.  On my last progress report day, I scored a “4 to 4-” on a 5 point scale, with 5 points being normal and no need for any interventions.  When I first went in back in December I was at a 2, meaning I had limited range of motion and couldn’t move my arm against gravity very well.  A 4 to 4- means I have most of my range of motion back and can handle some resistance, but still not quite the normal range.

Also the application for ADA closes tomorrow at 5PM.  It’s a web development bootcamp for ladies that would start up in May.  Their programs used to be 6 months in class and 6 months at an internship, but now it’s 7 months in class and 5 months at an internship through one of their sponsoring companies.  I think the extended class time in comparison to other boot camps would be beneficial since typically short term cramming doesn’t lead to long term retention for anyone.  On top of that, I like the fact they have an internship tied directly to it in order to get some experience in a work environment where it’s pretty well accepted that you’re there to work but also very much to learn.  After all, that’s why programs like University of Waterloo’s are so effective.  They place their students in internships constantly so they can apply what they know to real-world scenarios, or in my case work with legacy code.

I submitted my application last week after accepting that talking to a web cam was not my strong point and something I gradually grew worse at doing the more I practiced.  This was disconcertingly similar to my attempts of learning how to dance in middle school prior to our first school dance.  I hope ADA will find it in their heart of hearts to find out I’m actually marginally articulate in person.  If not, I’ll resign myself to continuing to explore other options.

Complete self-study is supposedly a reasonable option, but I would rather have more experience coding with people instead of in isolation since that’s more what the work environment is like in my experience, and I know you learn more from others than you will ever learn alone.  Other boot camps are on the table as well, but the Seattle-local ones typically advertise that in the same time frame it would have been to attend ADA’s classroom only portion but without support or colleagues for half of that time, you will be work ready.  In the mean time, I intend to continue independently studying as I have been in my free time after work and hope I will be contacted for an interview.

There isn’t a doubt in my mind that I will become a programmer; it’s really just a matter of how I’m going to get there rather than if I will.

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Another New Year! (sort of) and Other Sources of Reflection

Chinese New Year (Goat version) & JavaScript Slide Shows

This past Saturday was Valentine’s Day, and I have to tell you, mine was quite wonderful.  I went on multiple walks by the beach since it was sunny and dry in the greater Seattle area, wore purple PJ pants with polar bears (there’s that alliteration again!) while working on my website so the “Father’s Photos” section would actually lead somewhere, and played some League of Legends with the husband where we died repeatedly in the most epic fashion possible until his little brother joined us to end our losing streak.

All in all, a very productive day, topped off by trying to figure out what exactly I’m supposed to cook for our Chinese New Year party after deciding my dear husband and I needed to establish a new tradition.  So far I’m at jiaozi (potstickers or gyoza for my Japanese-culinary related friends) for prosperity, oranges because it sounds like the word gold and tangerines for the word luck, long noodles for longevity, pomelo because it sounds similar to the words prosperity and status, spring rolls for wealth, tea eggs for fertility since I know a couple just had a bun in the oven, and a whole fish for prosperity again I believe.  I briefly thought about making jai, but it’s such a complicated recipe with ingredients I’m not familiar with that I’m a bit hesitant to try making it for the first time with a bunch of people coming over since it’s not very kind to feed guests mush!  Even if it looks amazing and would appease my vegetarian friends.  We’ve also made jokes that since it’s the year of the goat we should play the screaming goats videos in the background the entire time to set the mood.

On a nerdier note, following dedicating 4 days to completing my application to ADA (and accepting the fact that I was just getting progressively worse at talking to a webcam rather than improving so deciding to submit it), I had been struggling more than I anticipated at resuming learning JavaScript on Treehouse as part of their front-end web development track.  I think my biggest issue was that it’s enough repeat from what I’ve learned of Python that I felt like I could probably figure it out with some internet time instead of video time, but enough new material that I worried the end result would be slower.  Instead of avoiding it any further, I decided to see whether or not I was correct.  I had 2 sections on my website I hadn’t added yet – Father’s Photos which was intended to be a gallery of the pictures my dad has taken since he’s gotten his new camera for Christmas, and then another section which was either going to be a wedding photo gallery or notes from friends and family that fill me with warm fuzzy feels.  Currently it just has a place holder image while I decide what I want to do.  My issue with the track on Treehouse was that it wasn’t directly tied to what I wanted to do, and it didn’t look like I’d be learning the skills necessary to do it any time soon, and in the mean time it was a lot of repeat of basic programming knowledge I’d already gained elsewhere, so motivating myself was significantly harder.

So I plunked down, googled how to make a slide show or gallery, and came up with a bunch of options that were way over my head or were just downloading a script that used jquery rather than doing it myself.  Where’s the fun in that?  Finally, I found something that was a good starting point at Webmonkey.com.  This possessed a few issues, though.  One, while I understood the code while I went through it, I really didn’t want to type this line 32 times:

imageArray[imageNum++] = new imageItem(imageDir + "01.jpg")

Also, I knew about loops.  Beautiful, simplistic, time-saving loops.  I didn’t know how to do them in JavaScript, so I guessed at first and found out it worked without needing to look up syntax.  So while I mostly used the code described there, I made a few changes.  1) I used a while loop to make my image location array.  2) Instead of putting the script inside the HTML, I changed it slightly so it would locate the folder for the image files through the root directory and I could put my little JavaScript in a JS folder.  3) I wanted responsive image sizes instead of a set width and height, so I kept it set to 100% of its containing element.  After I finished, I stylized the CSS a bit so the options below the image for pause, play, previous and next where were I wanted them, rounded the corners on the photos, and called it good.  It didn’t take too terribly long, and I could definitely improve it with some buttons for the pause/play/previous/next buttons, but I sort of like how simplistic the text looks since it doesn’t distract from the photos.  I enjoyed this project since I learned a lot about how the script interacts with the HTML, and that was something that until doing this I didn’t quite understand – how to integrate purposeful scripts across html/css/js.

By the way, does anyone know if when you use Google as a verb if it’s supposed to be lowercase?  I feel like the answer is yes, but if you make a verb out of a proper noun, it feels like it may be appropriate to capitalize it.  Oh, linguistics and colloquialisms, I love you so.

Now, off to figure out what I want the last section of my website to be so I have another goal to independently study as I continue to improve the gallery section.  After finishing, I found the motivation to continue with Treehouse since I don’t feel like I’m avoiding working on something productive while I go through it.

Chinese New Year (Goat version) & JavaScript Slide Shows

Problem solving is an addictive activity

Did you see that alliteration in the title of this post?  My high school English teachers would have all taken some deep meaning correlated with that alliteration and tied it to problem solving, but in case anyone was wondering the author’s purpose, it’s just that I enjoy alliteration.  It feels right on my brain while I narrate what I type in my head.

Ahem, onto business.  So, life is pretty great for the Lady Liu currently.  Whenever I am looking at a new job, school program, etc…I always decide to google myself to see what’s out there.  My husband and I discovered that I am very likely the only white Stephanie Liu on the planet after spending an hour of trying to google myself on the internet and coming across an adorable Chinese Stephanie Liu who did informal modeling and was all over the first half of our search, a varied assortment of Asian ladies with the name Stephanie Liu, and finally a few white ladies named Stephanie who were photographed by a man with the last name Liu.  So, I went from having the most specific name in the history of mankind where I was the one and only to having a very generic name that only belongs to one of my race.

Now, my dear husband also had a multitude of theories about why this was probably true.  A few months ago we had gone to the jeweler where he bought my engagement and wedding ring, and while we were waiting for it to be cleaned and inspected, a young Asian American man came up to us to tell us how amazing it was to see another “Asian Male White Female” couple since he was convinced he and his fiance were the only ones.  He was absolutely adorable and ecstatic, and my dear husband and I were a bit thrown off, then immediately curious.  Our only regret was not chatting him up more about this.  So, my husband is also convinced that the reason for the uniqueness of my name with my race is due to the same observation the guy at the store made.

It’s possible, but more likely it was just hard to find due to the quantity of people on the planet named Stephanie Liu, and we didn’t try hard enough.  I couldn’t help but feel, though, that somewhere out there there was a computer program to help me resolve this issue and find another of my kind.

Why did I decide to google myself, you ask?  What job or school program was I looking at?  Well, as I’m sure you’ve noticed if you’ve read this blog more than just today, I’m trying to learn how to code, and then I gradually realized I love it because problem solving is addictive.  For example, I spent a few hours making myself a lovely abacus program in Python that would take any number through the billions and print out an abacus replication of that number.  It was likely incredibly inefficient, but after getting it down to 8 lines of code, I felt pretty good.  Trying to think of a simple solution to a problem that you can explain to a child then make a program based on that solution that’s equally simple to code is a fun activity – especially since I’ve noticed prior to this my brain had a tendency to make things far more complicated than necessary by taking in too many variables all at once.  Thinking through a single variable and its impact at a time before additionally complicating things is oddly fun for me.

So because of the above described love of problem solving which was still present prior to learning basic coding, I was drawn to it.  I think this is something I would really enjoy as a profession, especially after having a few experiences of working on my code with a couple other people.  It simulates a lot of my favorite aspects of teaching or even better it accentuates those aspects I love and makes them the focus.  Consequently, I’m currently applying to ADA, a year-long program for ladies with 7 months classroom instruction and 5 months of internship at a local Seattle company.

I’m enjoying the application so far.  Making my resume in markdown on Github was fun, and I finally put something on my Github account I had sitting there for quite a while and hadn’t spent the time to learn how to use.  The hardest part was likely that I had no idea what kind of information to include on my resume.  For example, on a traditional teaching resume, you are expected to include all your work history since you were 18 on some part of your application or resume due to background checks to make sure you aren’t a creeper.  Furthermore, for teachers with less than 5 years of experience including all your practicum and internships is typical.  Given I’m applying for a program I don’t technically have any related experience for, which is sort of the point, figuring out what to include was rather challenging.  Discussing this problem with a variety of people, I decided to go with my most recent experience, teaching, and technologically related experience, tech support from undergrad and a bit after.

The part of the application I’m currently working on involves using a CSV data file to get different pieces of information then explain how you did it.  The one I’m having some slight difficulty with, likely because I’m over thinking it, is a portion about whether the market is on public or private land.  Now, after consulting with the internet, apparently no one agrees what is considered public or private land, aside that it’s generally accepted that roads are public and some parks are.  Given this was a problem, I decided to contact a couple lawyer friends of mine.  Turns out, they also had no idea and after one checked in with a buddy who did land law, he came back saying the response he got was that whoever could BS better would win in court, which told me they were likely uncertain themselves.  So…yeah.  More research, I suppose?  If more research doesn’t solve that problem, I will do what many teachers do when asked to answer a question they suspect could use slightly better definition – define it myself!

Another bonus – the application motivated me to get the basic, basic website I’ve had on my hard drive finally uploaded to the internet.  Head over to stephanieleighliu.com if you’d like to see a very, very simple sample of what I’ve been dinking around with between Treehouse, Udacity and the rest of the internet.  It’s pretty simple for now, but I’ve definitely learned a bit about different features by making it.

Also, robots are amazing.  Mine is currently vacuuming my floor, and it feels right watching it work while I sit and type rambling blog posts.

Problem solving is an addictive activity