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Earlier this week I wanted to do something special for Anson. He’s an awesome, amazing, wonderful and supportive husband and every once in a while I get the urge to do something nice for him.  This time, I decided to try to clear the spiders out of the garage.  Ah, romance.

I started by doing some research as to the best way to do this.  The internet told me that I should vacuum them out.  That way, I get all of the webbing and spiders out of the garage without having to touch/smash them.  Afterwards, I read that I should spray my garage with something to prevent the spiders from coming back.  To avoid nasty chemicals, I went with some lavender essential oil mixed with water.

So, I head into the garage with my vacuum and spray bottle and get to work!  After about 5 minutes (about 1/2 of the way around the edge of the garage), the vacuum sucks up something suspicious.  I don’t exactly know what it was (due to my fear of spiders, my eyes were closed for a significant portion of the work), but I heard a <clunk clunk> come from the vacuum.  It no longer had any suction.

There was a long mental battle over what to do next.  Do I try to fix the vacuum?  Should I try to clean up the rest of the garage with a broom?  Should I just give up?

Well, giving up was not an option (yet).  I tried to fix the vacuum.  By “fix the vacuum,” I mean I shook it, looked in the hose, turned it upside down and shook it again, then gave up.  I proceeded to pick up the broom and finish up the work.  Because my eyes were closed for the entirety of this portion, I can’t say for sure if I got every single spider, but the garage looked nice.  And, after spraying the lavender, it smelled nice too Smile

Now the question is, what do I do about the vacuum? Should I spend the money to go buy a new one? Or should I spend the afternoon taking it apart and trying to fix it…and then go spend the money to buy a new one? 

I’ve spent the past two weeks working on a program that stores and manipulates data in a binary search tree.  This, of course, means I’ve been up to my ears in recursive functions.

imageFor my non-techie friends, it’s the idea that you write a method (a little program that does something) and it calls itself over and over again.  And you just kind of have to trust that it works. Trust that a method calling itself over and over again will get the job done. Because you can’t actually see what it’s doing, that would just be silly.

And my point is this–I don’t like it. I much prefer writing programs iteratively. I like writing out all the steps so that I can see each and every one and know exactly what my program is doing and when. It’s the whole “just trust that it will do what you want it to do” that makes me a little edgy.

Hi, I’m Rachel and I’m Type A.

I like to think of the recursive function as the “trust fall” of the programming world. You remember those? In all office-type tv shows, there’s a company retreat where some overly sentimental counselor makes the employees turn their back on each imageother, close their eyes, fall back, and trust that a random person will catch them. All in hopes that people will get in touch with their feelings, bond with each other, work better as a team, and make the company more money. Humbug!

My recursive functions CONSTANTLY fail. And I feel just like someone who closed their eyes, fell backwards, and woke up with a concussion about 4 minutes later.

How does that happen? I was 2 feet away from the person. They were directly behind me. The instructions were clear—it’s not like they didn’t know I was going to fall into them. This is not supposed to be complicated! And yet, I somehow ended up on the ground.

Next step in the process: I have to look at the situation and try to figure out why this happened.  It’s not as easy as it seems. It’s not immediately clear because I had my eyes closed and couldn’t see anything. Also, nobody can talk to me about what happened—that would just be too easy.

You might find yourself saying “Rachel, clearly a gale force wind came out of the west and pushed you out of the way” or “Naturally, the person who was supposed to catch you was highly allergic to bees and they saw one on your back. So, of course they didn’t catch you.” Both of those scenarios are completely reasonable, I assure you. And so I do some research, try to figure out which of those completely plausible factors is the culprit–and then I have to find a way to make it so it never happens again.

Naturally, I do the only reasonable thing: I move the retreat activity into a hypoallergenic clean room with no windows. And if I do the trust fall here, I can trust that the other person will catch me, right? The answer to that question is a firm “maybe.”

And this is what coding is like (at least when I do it). 

Aaaaaaaaaand school is back in session. I already miss vacation.

I’m up late working on the first coding project of the quarter.  Sometimes I wish code were more like people.  When it throws an error, I want to be able to shake my head disapprovingly and say “you know what I mean” and have it laugh, say “yeah, I know,” and start working.

But, no.  Of course not.  It does silly things like print out my binary number correctly the first time I call it, but put a “0” at the front of it the second time.  Or it throws an error every time I try to delete memory I dynamically allocated. Every. Single. Time.

I can only assume this stems from my love/hate relationship with pointers.

Every time I think about my relationship with pointers, I imagine an actual coffee date with a human-sized arrow.  And the arrow always looks sad.  One time, it cried and said “The program ended and you just LEFT ME THERE!”  Yes—this is what I think about during class. I can only assume Anson had the same daydreams when he was in college. 🙂

So, I am up late trying to delete the memory and make my pointers happy—and thus far I’ve been gloriously unsuccessful. The problem with coding late at night is that bad decisions are made. Bad, bad decisions.  For example, deleting every occurrence of the word “const” in your code. Why, you ask? Well, that’s a great question.  I honestly have no idea. At the time, it seemed like a great way to make all of my addition and subtraction operator overloads work better.  And now my code “smells.” It has “bad code smell.” Which is apparently a real thing (trust me—I learned about it in college).

I’m sure I’ll get it eventually.  Still have a couple days left to get this all sorted out.  Add back all the consts, get rid of memory leaks, and-well-everything else in the requirements.  Should be a fun weekend! 😉

My life motto Smile

I’m almost done my first quarter as a Computer Science student—craziness!

I was so nervous heading back to school—I was certain I was going to be the oldest person in class.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I didn’t consider it much at all until a good friend told me she thought I was “so brave for going back to school at this age.”  After that, I was terrified!

It turns out that there are a ton of students of various ages in my classes, so I don’t stand out.  Unless you count the fact that I’m a girl.  In two of my classes, there are only two or three girls (including me).  But truthfully you don’t really notice it once you’re in the class.  Smile

This quarter I’ve been taking three classes:

  • Data Structures, Algorithms, and Discrete Math
  • Software Engineering
  • Technical Writing

Anson has been enjoying watching me learn C++.  It’s pretty amazing how much you can learn in such a short amount of time.  Though, I still feel like I’m playing catch-up on some “basic” concepts.  <all non-technie people should feel free to skip to the next paragraph>   For example, I only *just* learned that the copy constructor gets called every time you return a value.  Also, when you use dynamic allocation to create a new object, you make a pointer.  And upon learning that, my love/hate relationship with pointers evolved (we like each other, but we don’t like-like each other—we’re thinking of getting coffee next week to talk out some of our issues).

Technical writing is pretty awesome. I struggled in all of my previous writing classes because I’m not a very creative or flowery/poetic writer. So, when the professor said that all of the sentences should be only facts and that they can be structured the same way?  The clouds parted, the sun shined down, and there were rainbows everywhere!

Software Engineering is the wild card class.  We have a weekly group quiz that tries to prepare us for the real-world battlefield of <insert software company name here>.  The quizzes are all run in a software engineering model (waterfall, scrum, kanban).  Each team has one PM, two devs, and two testers. There are six pages of quiz questions; one page is placed on each of six tables that are located in the center of the room.  These quiz questions are “features.”  Our team’s goal is to ship as many quality features as we can in the time allotted.  Only two teams per table at any given time and only devs are allowed to write on the papers (design the features).  Welcome to Thunderdome.

There’s actually a group of us (about half the class) that meet for an hour every day before class to study.  Well, actually we started with that goal. After the first couple weeks of going over the concepts in the chapters, we realized that that information wasn’t necessarily on the quiz. So, we started trying to brainstorm questions we think the professor might ask.  We’re not so great at that either.  So, we decided to try to strategize ways to succeed in whatever model we’re working in that week.  This sometimes helped (and I have a suspicion these discussions may have been our professor’s goal all along). The past couple weeks, we’ve been plotting ways to have fun with the quizzes.  The thought is that, for the last quiz, we will all bring in sheets and create forts for our teams.  Maybe bring in andon phones and vests.  Ah, it’s great to be an adult Smile

Aside from school, life has been pretty normal (and by “normal,” I mean “awesome”).  Anson and I have been keeping busy with the usual—work, school, and trivial pursuit.  We’re getting ready for thanksgiving.  I just bought the turkey and now need to decide what kinds of pies to make. Any suggestions? Smile

Anson and I are preparing for Relay for Life by continuing our work to raise money for the American Cancer Society. 

This month, we’d like to challenge our family and friends to take one “extra” out of their life and instead, donate the money to ACS.  For example, instead of getting a drink from Starbucks, give the $5 to charity instead! Every little bit counts!

For those of you who are curious about what it is like for me to be in school for computer science, here is a snippet of a conversation Anson and I had tonight:

Me: Hey babe, will you check my code while I run to the store?

Anson: Sure!

<Anson grabs my computer and starts scanning the screen>

Anson: Huh.

Me: What?

Anson: Umm…it’s just that…uhhh….

Me: What? I’m going to need to know if I’m going to fix it.

Anson: It’s just that…well, it’s not written in java. I mean, you wrote it using Eclipse and it’s a .java project, but….it’s just not java. Did you not notice that none of the words are different colors—it’s all black.  I mean—I don’t even know how you got it like this.

<I lean over his shoulder and look at the screen>

Me:….but it works, right?

<Anson types something>

Anson: Well, yes…


I have been hard at work learning how to program this quarter.  It’s been a lot of fun learning to write Java—I’ve written a guessing game, computed the results of a personality test, and even drawn a rocket for my nephew Noah (though I’m sure his dad appreciated it much more than he did).

It’s been very handy having Anson around to check my code. He actually does all of my assignments along with me.  I think he enjoys writing programs using only a base set of skills.  For example, writing entire programs in for loops and println statements 🙂

Programming is staggeringly different from anything else I’ve ever learned, so I’ve studiously read every single page of the text book that has been assigned, reviewed every powerpoint, participated in every class discussion…well, you get the point. So, what is so special about page 549?

It. Changed. My. Life.

For years, I have shaken my fist at new technology.  I would scream at the computer every time I ran into an issue. Clearly, the program was not intuitive enough.  I’m a reasonably intelligent person, so why doesn’t it work for me? I started to think that I had a super power which caused my computer to bombard me with error messages (Haven, anyone?).  Up until now, I was under the distinct impression that it was the COMPUTER that was yelling at me—that didn’t understand me.  On page 549 of my text, as I was reading about (yet another) example of exceptions I can throw in my code, I realized that it’s not the computer that I should be mad at—it’s the PROGRAMMERS!  Anson was right all along.  Computer are not inherently good or bad.  It’s the programmers.  And I’m pretty sure they’re all evil.  Well, WATCH OUT TECH WORLD!  I’ll start writing my own code from now on, thank you very much.  From now on, I will only shake my fist at myself—but I’ll be smiling while I do it 🙂

DSCN1862I had never been to Salmon Days before.  I knew a lot of people who had gone and, for whatever reason, had assumed that it was an education-based event where people sat around and learned about salmon. Not exactly my cup of tea.  But, after chatting with my friends Dave and Karen Conley, I learned just how wrong I was!

Dave and Karen invited me to come explore Salmon Days with them this past Saturday.  Just driving to meet them I knew this was going to be a big event.  The streets were PACKED! 

There was so much to explore!  There were hundreds of local vendors there, each set up with their own tent.  We walked up and down each street and peeked in each one.  A few times, I would be drawn in—and I’m not someone who normally enjoys window shopping (just ask any member of my family).  I generally go shopping when I know exactly what I want and exactly where to get it.  In and out.  Done.  But this was really fun!

I was really impressed with a lot of the artwork, but sadly can’t share any pictures.  Taking pictures of artwork is frowned upon and I wanted to respect the artists’ wishes. I will say, there was some amazing glasswork available. I almost bought Anson a hand-crafted glass pumpkin.  They also had a FANTASTIC gargoyle made out of metal.  I’m a little glad Anson didn’t see it—I’m not sure it would look quite rightWP_20131006_001 on our roof 🙂 I really liked a lot of the photography they had for sale.  A lot of beautiful pictures of local nature—I will keep it in mind the next time Anson and I need something for a wall.

I ended up buying Anson a game called 9 Man Morris.  I saw the games in a tent and was so intrigued I just walked in, without remembering to tell my friends where I was going—I’m glad they noticed and waited for me :)  This particular game is a strategy game that dates back to the Middle Ages (so I’m told).  The people that make these games are pretty neat. I spent a few minutes in the booth learning about different games (almost none of which I was familiar with) and then choosing the game and the carving that I wanted for the case. I chose the salmon 🙂

There is an insane variety of food available. I wasn’t very interested in eating because I knew we’d be going out for dinner later, but we walked by a stand with free samples of toffee. I love toffee. There was no way I was going to turn down toffee, so I grabbed a small piece and then stopped dead in my tracks. I grabbed Karen and said “You HAVE to try this. It’s the best toffee I’ve ever had!”  Karen tried the toffee and she and Dave ended up buying some.  I was trying to be good (knowing Anson and I are planning on going to Hawaii and knowing that I would eat all of whatever I got), so I didn’t buy any—I just picked up their business card so I could buy some in the future.  By the end of the night, Karen and Dave ended up giving me some of theirs. Their generous gift didn’t survive the weekend. SO GOOD!  I recommend all of you indulge and buy some (if you need an excuse, the company donates part of their profits to charity): 

What else is there to do at Salmon Days? SO MUCH!  We spent a little time in the youth area. 

There was this crazy contraption that people were skiing down. I have no idea if it was a show or if random people were allowed up there, but I was far too scared to try.  They would ski down, do a flip off the end, and land on a giant trampoline/pillow/thing.  Brave or crazy?  Either way, it was super cool 🙂



There were also races in the giant hamster balls, pony rides, etc—definitely worth a visit if you have kids!


I also really enjoyed watching the Doggie Dives.  They had some dogs that were doing practice dives when we were there.  They were jumping for height off of a “dock” and into the water.  The last one we saw was a dog jumping 5’, but they were still raising the bar after we left.  Those were some happy, happy dogs 🙂



Now I know what you’re thinking—where’s the salmon?  We did see some!  We were walking around and heard a bagpipe. We followed the music into the free expression area (Long Live the Bagpipes!) and there was a bridge there.  Voila! Salmon!




I took this picture off the side of the bridge.  You can see the salmon in the picture if you look closely. Well, it’s either salmon or rocks. Or possibly just the sun on the water.  I’m not entirely sure now that I look at it.  I suppose I would know more if there were people there that were teaching about salmon.  🙂

Thanks Karen and Dave (and Arlene) for taking me to Salmon Days! I had a ton of fun and can’t wait until next year 🙂


To end this post, Anson would like me to update everyone on the puzzles:  He’s winning at puzzles. It’s not over yet though. There’s still plenty of puzzle left to do!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

We had a great celebration this year.  Lots of friends came over for dinner and I even tried out a few new recipes.  We had pumpkin soup (thank goodness people were willing to take home leftovers—I made WAY too much).  I have to thank Mike and Sharon for loaning me the immersion blender.  What a fantastic invention!

Dinnerdinner 2

Rach Thanksgiving 2012 2

As always, there was pie. This year, Cyrus came over early to learn how to bake them. He did a great job!  Though, people have been eating less and less pie every year.  I might only need to make one pie next year. I’m not sure how I feel about that…

Rach and Cyrus making pies 2012

And, as always, we played some games.  This year we played a new game—Quelf!  It was a hilarious game, but it’s pretty hard to explain. So, I’ll just share some pictures:

Veronica 2Phillip

Rach GameCyrus and Irfaan

Irfaan and lipstick. It was a very fetching color on him 🙂



Irfaan Lipstick

Yes, this is Cyrus. And yes, he is holding a toilet wand.  Like a said, the game is hilarious 🙂


Cyrus Toilet 

Of course, we played Trivial Pursuit. Team Purple (my team) got all the pips before Team Blue (Anson’s team) got even one. Go us!


All in all, it was a very happy Thanksgiving. Thanks everyone for celebrating with us!

Over the summer, Anson and I have tried to spend some time on the weekends rollerblading. We’ve owned rollerblades for several years, but I always seemed to end up in crutches after a couple of minutes skating. Needless to say, they were hardly ever used.

This summer we came up with a good solution. We would only skate on a completely flat surface that had no other people around—the top of the parking garage 🙂

anson rollerblade2Rach Rollerblade1

My form has clearly improved. You will notice that I’m not on the ground in these pictures.

anson rollerblade1Rach Rollerblade2

Maybe someday I’ll be able to skate backwards and jump around like my hubby.  Until then, I’ll settle for staying upright 🙂