Why I didn’t pursue Computer Science in University

I entered SJSU in fall 1983, with a declared major of B.A. Physics. But I assumed that I would probably go into computer science. I had spent much of my high school time with my nose glued to either one of the Apple II+’s in the computer lab, or the Atari 800 system (that I was able to afford on my paper route money) learning programming, computer technology, and lastly 6502 machine language.

So, when I began school, I took the basic physics and physics prep (Calculus, Differential Equations, Vector Calculus) and mixed into that introductory programming classes.  I started with Basic (and it was a lot different than the Basic on my Atari), then Fortran, and then I moved to Assembly language. It should be noted that at this time, there weren’t microcomputers on the campus, and all our coursework was done on the time share mainframes in the various CSU schools.

I actually did well until I hit assembly language. We learned it on a PDP-11/70, and the language was called Macro 11. I took it at the same time as I took Ordinary Differential Equations, and the second semester of the introductory series of physics, so it was a pretty heavy load.

I thought that my experience with 6502 assembly language would pave the way, but I was mistaken. Up until this point, I truly thought that my calling to computers would guide me to change to computer science as a degree, but that started the doubt.

The other thing that caused doubt was that a pretty foundational course was learning to program in Lisp. I took it upon myself to try to learn it myself, but it was pretty intractable. I just couldn’t get a grasp of the structure, or the logic of Lisp (List Processing). That was the final nail in the coffin of my aspirations of a career in computer science, and I meekly continued down the path of Physics.

Lately, I have again picked up Lisp, and am working my way through the MIT text, “Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs”, and I am finding that Lisp (as part of the Scheme environment) is not as intractable as when I first tried to self teach myself. I don’t hope to become a software engineer or a computer scientist, but it does keep me occupied.

In my career, I have done a fair amount of programming, mostly in Matlab, but some C as well, so my computer interest wasn’t entirely extinguished.

My first Android Device – Nexus 7

About 7 months ago, I splurged and bought a Nexus 7.  Ostensibly, I bought it to test the websites I work on in an intermediate resolution (I already use an iphone and an iPad to test different mobile sizes).  I figured that I would give Android a fair shake, but alas, I have used it sporadically.

Nexus 7 - Google's 7" tablet with ANdroid
Nexus 7 – Google’s 7″ tablet with ANdroid

Naturally, I used my gmail account to set it up, and I have done my best to set it up, and keep it up to date. It is still stock, I haven’t rooted it or sideloaded any apps or changed the rom’s.  I wanted to get a good feel for Android, and I thought that using a stock Google branded device would give me the best of the experience. (I hear that for those who want to keep Google at arm’s length, you can set it up without a Google account, but I am already in for a pound)

The Nexus 7 isn’t a bad piece of kit. It has a rubberized plastic back, and 16G of flash memory (32G was an option).  It was one of the first devices shipping with “Jelly Bean”, and it has had several updates.  I must admit that Google does a good job distributing updates, and keeping it current.

The Apps.  The Gmail application and integration is pretty tight.  Really easy to use, and I will admit that it is a hair better than on my iPhone.  It just “fits”. It comes with gtalk (now Hangouts), Google Earth, among other Google standards. Of note is the Music application. I liked the fact that it picked up on my collections that I sync’d with Google, so I had access to all my tunes (more on this later).

I did add some applications, a solitaire game (I tend to piss away hours playing solitaire, a weakness), an eBook reader (Aldiko) and applications for 1Password, Dropbox, some other games (angry birds space, monopoly etc), hootsuite for my Twitter use, and Facebook.  They all work OK, and I can’t complain too much for the integration and interface. However, one thing that was somewhat annoying is that at times, the UI gets balky.  What I mean by that is that it just becomes unresponsive. It can take 2 or three “taps” with the finger to get the application to respond. There are some threads out in the world on this, it is just different how Android prioritizes UI actions than iOS.  (Naturally, I am an Apple fan, and I have both an iPhone and an iPad, so there is definitely some bias here.)

The past week, I have endeavored to use my Nexus more. It does have a better display than my iPad, and it is a convenient form factor (my iPad is a second generation, non-retina display version). Of course, I could use it to be a little bigger. My eyes are not young anymore, so I would appreciate Google using their resolution to make larger text a joy to read, but that is hardly a fault of the device.

Unlike many Android devices, it lacks a SD card slot to increase memory. However, I haven’t found a reason to need more memory.

Google Play.

The music player, and media player are based on the Google Play service. It comes with a full length movie (Transformers 2, not really my type of movie) and it streams well (WiFi to a Cable modem with a business class bandwidth package).  I haven’t felt the need to rent or buy any more videos, and I haven’t bothered to figure out how to play a media file from my extensive collection on it (I am sure it is possible, but I usually don’t watch videos on my devices).

The music player is nice. I find that the navigation and creating/managing of playlists is a bit cumbersome, but that is likely because I have become immersed in the iOS (and iTunes) way of managing my music, so I won’t hold it against Google.

However, there is a wart. I have mentioned in other posts that one of my reasons why I don’t rely on Google Play to stream music to my work PC (since it is limited in storage, I prefer to keep it media file free) is that it stutters, stalls, and in general is a poor (and distant) second to my go to streaming service, Spotify premium. I gave it one more whirl this weekend with the launch of Google’s “All Access” streaming service that is similar to Spotify’s service. However, I am sorry to report that on WiFi, on a great cable connection (plenty of bandwidth and low latency) it still stalls, hiccups, and stutters.  It can go 2 – 3 songs perfectly, then it will be really crappy for a minute or two.

As a book reader.

The Aldiko application, combined with DropBox, and I have all my (DRM Free) ePub books on hand. I like that, no need to sync like I do with iTunes.  I have bought several books from the Google Play book store.  find their selection excellent, and the price fair. It uses the standard Adobe Adept DRM, so it is easy to strip (I use Calibre) and then I load them with Aldiko.  I also use the Google book reader application, and it is quite good (and it is just like the Google book reader on my iPad.)

Lastly, I was an early Sony Reader adopter, and I have probably 40 – 50 books I have bought from the Sony store. There is a Sony application that makes it trivial to access my library.

The hardware does quite well as a book reader. It is a good size and form factor, the text is crisp, and the applications let me scale the text to be friendly with my gradually declining eyes.

Observations.

The hardware is pretty solid. It is light, and easy to hold and carry. When you plug it into a PC (or my Mac) it is mounted like a file system so you can poke around. It does have a front camera, but I haven’t used it. With the new Google Hangout application, I suspect I will have some occasion to use it. Even with moderate use, I still have plenty of flash storage remaining. I am not missing the SD card slot.

Gaining root access is trivial. It is in the setup, and easy to find. I haven’t felt the need to allow applications loaded from stores/repositories other than the official Google store. I am at a point in my life where I can afford to buy my software, and I prefer to not have to worry about malware.

The battery life is so-so. On my iPad (now more than 2 years old), I get 4-5 days on a charge, using it a couple hours a day. Even light use of the Nexus 7 seems to drain the battery much quicker.  I haven’t timed it, but I figure that if/when I start to use it more I will be charging it every other day or so.

I hoped that using the Google app on a google device, with a good connection would make the music streaming much more robust, but alas, it is not to be.  I will probably not be replacing Spotify with All Access.

My iPad has the cellular option, so I can get data when I am traveling (it is disables now, but I can turn it back on), and I probably would have bought this with a cellular radio for that same access.

Summary

I have dabbled with the Nexus 7, now that I have spent some serious time with it, I can say that I like it. But I am probably not going to be giving up my iPad or iPhone anytime soon. I am probably not ever going to be an Android fanboy, but I now have a better appreciation of the ecosystem, and the charm.

Colour did in The Avengers

A joy from my childhood was watching reruns of the The Avengers.  Much later in life I bought the DVD’s on a whim, and I will admit to enjoying watching the old episodes.

I have two years form the “pre Diana Rigg” Avengers.  Honor Blackman (who was a Bond girl, Pussy Galore) did a fine job. It was clear that the production quality was a bit thin, and that showed through, but still they were enjoyable romps.  Starting in 1965, Diana Rigg took the place of Ms. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) in John Steed’s new partner, Miss Emma Peel, and the series was in full cult mode.  There were 2 years of Diana Rigg episodes filmed in black and white.  and they were awesome.

Then in 1967, they went to color.  While the production values improved year after year, and the writing, one thing was lost in the transition to color. Miss Peel began wearing colorful pant suits and similar attire. Gone forever was all the black leather that graced the show in the B&W era.

Pity, that was definitely one of the charms.

(For the record, like most cult classics, the plot lines were contrived, the action cheesy, and almost all episodes had Miss Peel in a catfight. Hence, I will continue to watch the episodes.)