Tuesday, December 31, 2013

here's to 2013.... a great bunch of months

So on the morning of January 1st 2013, I climbed out of my igloo and said "this is going to be a good year". I can't say everything has gone to plan. In fact quiet a bit has gone wrong this year. But looking back I think there are more UPs than DOWNs. And that's the way life goes. You have to take the good with the bad and no matter what still come out smiling because that's the only way you'll make it to the next year.

This year I've lost some friends and family and gained some more. Some people have drifted away and others have drifted closer. I've had successes and defeats, happiness and sadness. But each and every moment in 2013 has made me the man I am on December 31st 2013. I have much clearer idea of where I am and where I'm going (but still with a good bit of room for surprises).

So here I am, counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until 2014 knowing that 2014 will be a good year, just like 2013 was before it. So as I look back on 2013 all I have to say is "Thank You". Thank you to everyone who made 2013 the year it was. If you're still with us, I look forward to our worlds colliding in 2014 and to those who have passed on I can only hope you have found peace from suffering. All I ask of my friends is to stay in touch with each other. In a world where everyone is connected, it can easy to get isolated.

I'll finish with a nice quote by Neil Gaiman:
'May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.'

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Confessions of a jobbridge intern

So last year I finished college and off I went off into the world looking for work. I applied for job after job after job. In the rare cases where the company bothered to give me feedback, I was told that I was lacking experience (the viscious cycle of working to get experience and need experience to get work). After a few months on the dole, I decided to start looking at Jobbridge - the much critized National Internship programme.

Why you might ask? Well for one I needed the experience and I wasn't going to get it while I was on the dole. Secondly I was bored sitting at home doing the odd bit of freelance work and emailing off CVs. An internship would get me out of the house, build up my experience and give me a small bit more money in my back pocket. And if something better came along in  the meantime, I could easily take up that offer.

I've finished my internship with Avvio at the end of last month and I must say it was a very positive experience. I got to work on some interesting projects that helped me develop my skills (both development and design wise), I got back in a daily routine and I got to work with some amazing people who accepted me as part of the team. They didn't look down on me for "just being an intern". At the same time, they gave me the guidance I needed to improve myself, I got to sit with coworkers in other departments to get a broader view of how the company works. They respected the fact that I didn't get paid that much (e.g. I wasn't expected to pay for things like Sports & Social nights-out) and I was given a bit flexibility in regards my work hours.

At the end of my nine months, I was offered a contract which I accepted. Before the offer I was asked if I would be disappointed if I wasn't kept on. I replied that while I would miss my coworkers, I had gained a lot from the placement and that I was in a better position to find work than I was back in January so I could be happy about that.

I'll admit, the scheme isn't perfect. In fact there are a lot of problems that need to be fixed but from my point of view it worked. I got the experience and a lot of the knowledge that was holding me back from getting work. I can now apply for jobs and feel a lot more confident about my application. 

The Poker Project [coder dojo]

I recently set the older kids in CoderDojo limerick a project to work on. I picked the poker project I did in first year of college because it covers a lot of the concepts of programming. I'd noticed a lot of the kids were coding without really understanding what they were doing so I decided to stear clear of OO for the time being and concentrate on the basics such as loops, conditions and arrays.

The challenge is create a one player, text based poker game that does the follow:

  • Create a deck of 52 cards
  • Deal a hand of 5 cards
  • Sort and display the hand in a user friendly manner
  • Allow the player to make a bet and then compare the hand to traditional poker hands (royal flush, straight flush, two pair etc) to see if the user has a good hand
Originally we were working in C++ but I told the kids they could work in what ever language they wanted. I've now got kids working in C++, java, php, javascript and phython. Mentoring simultaneously in 5 languages is an... interesting challenge to say the least

I've broken the tasks down into blocks to be covered during the weekly dojo sessions but we're moving at the pace of the group. The aim is to get the kids thinking of how to solve the problems rather than just tell them what to type. Every Tuesday I'm going to put up a review of the concepts covered and then on Friday I'm going to post the code I've put together. To get access to the code, the kids must email in their work. 

When the above steps are complete, each kid will be challenge to modify the code in a way of their choosing. Suggestions so far include adding additional (computer) players, a GUI or using ardunio to add hardware element. 

After that's complete we're going to move on to tackle Object Oriented Programming and all that goes with it.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mentoring @ CoderDojo

My name is Barry (or Baz to most people) and i’m a 25 year old Computer Systems graduate. I’ve been mentoring at the Limerick Dojo since I attended DojoCon last October.
I made my first webpage in 2001, it was a simple webpage with just a few html tags and probably said something like “Hello World” or “This is my first webpage” but I was excited as I rushed from notepad to Internet Explorer to click refresh and watch my webpage come to life. To me it was the coolest thing in the world. Here was something that I had created myself and I could put it on the internet! This was the start of my voyage into the world of coding. I had days when I was excited when my code compiled and days when I was pulling my hair out over a misplaced semi-colon.
Unfortunately I was never the most academically minded person and I did struggle through University. By the time I finally finished my degree in April 2012; my love of technology had waned. I wasn’t sure what I was doing anymore and had no enthusiasm to code.
But then in September of that year, I got talking to a 14 year old kid that I knew and (knowing I was a Computer guy) he started asking me questions about code.. He told me was part of something called CoderDojo and that every Saturday morning, he and some other teenagers were working on a C++ text based adventure game project called Zork (the bane of most UL Computer Students’ life in second year). I was intrigued. Like most mentors, I wished this had been around when I was a kid.
So I did a bit of searching online and found out there was a conference on in LIT. So I went along to find out more about CoderDojo and by the end of the day I volunteered to mentor. So next Saturday off I went to CoderDojo and was immediately tossed in with the “Advanced” group helping with C++. After a few minutes of observing and answering questions, I noticed one of the boys in the corner of the room throw his hands up in the air shouting “I did it, I did it”. And then I remembered why I started coding, the joy of realizing that I made the computer do that, the trill of watching your code compile and even the agony of the misplaced semi-colon.
Each week, I can’t wait for Saturday to come around again. Every week I love watching the kids overcoming their bugs and glitches and challenging themselves to improve their projects (be it a scratch game, a website or C++ application). And as the kids develop, so was I. I started going over my notes from college to keep up with the kids but soon I noticed I was learning for me. I was inspired by the kids to code again. I started making website and apps again. I started doing the CodeAcademy courses, watching the New Boston videos. I started reading techblogs again and going to community events. I’m now working as web developer and loving it.
Being a CoderDojo mentor has had such a positive effect on my life. If you have any time at all, I’d strongly recommend you get involved.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Barry Gets Fit - week 3

I know it a cliche if you told me back in December that during January i'd be going running three times in one week, i'd have laughed  But today i'm after going for run number three and I feel fantastic! On Wednesday I started the Couch to 5k running plan, a 9 week programme that uses "interval running" (a mix of walking and running) to turn you from coach potato to running 5km.

During week one, you have to do 30 minute three sessions (with a rest day in between). Starting off with a brisk 5 minute walk you then alternate between 60 seconds of running and 90 seconds of running followed by a 5 minute warm down walk. I won't lie- it's not easy especially the first few runs but as you push on your body eases into it and by number number 7 you're flying. When you finally finish the 8 and final run, you get a great feeling of accomplishment.

To help me, I'm using the NHS Choices c25k podcasts in which a chirpy English woman named Laura tells you when to walk and run and occasionally says "well done you're doing great" along with some music with the right bpm for walking and running. There are plenty of podcasts available so look around and find the one that suits you.

Wednesday's running took place along the canal bank by UL. Friday morning saw me visit the equally impressive Phoenix Park in Dublin. On Sunday I was running through hail, rain AND shine, along Limerick's North Circular Road. Next week i'm on to Week 2 of the C25k and starting the first week of the NHS "Strength & Flex" plan, a five week exercise programme that fits perfectly into the rest days of the c25k.

So three weeks into my fitness attempt and despite making I'm feeling fantastic. I can't get over the amazing physical and mental benefits in such a short time. When I started this three weeks ago, I'd didn't think beyond improving my fitness and being able to hike again but the benefits have far surpassed that goal and improved several other areas of my life. Earlier in the week I decided that a definite end goal would be beneficial - more on that one to come.

Thanks to everyone who's supported me so far. I couldn't have done it without ye. I'll leave ye with this:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Barry Gets Fit - Week 2

Another week done and dusted. I wrote last week about how I didn't think I'd get much walking done this week due to my wisdom teeth. The surgury didn't happen due to a family bereavement  Despite the craziness of the week I managed to get out walking on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Due to the miserable weather, my pace slowed down to 10mins/km on Monday and Wednesday but by Friday I was back on 9 mins. Didn't make it to the climbing wall this week and it'll probably be two weeks before i make it there again unfortunately.

On Saturday morning I was off out on the hills of Tipperary to climb Keeper Hill with my Scouts. Great day out. Not only did I do the hike with no bother, I managed to help a young scout who was struggling to make up the mountain with I was really happy with. And when I got home, I still had enough energy to hit the town for a night out

Two weeks into my fitness attempt and i'm feeling great. I'm sleeping better, I have more energy and confidence and I'm able to enjoy a night out again with feeling wrecked after one pint. This coming week the bike comes out and i'm started the Couch to 5k plan. I've also signed up for the Castleconnel 10k walk next month. Onward and upward.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Barry Gets Fit 2013

I've never really been on for new year's resolutions. Usually because I know I can't be bothered keeping them. But 2013 is different - it has to be.

My fitness has always been a funny thing. I've never been the most athletically fit, running was never my thing. I like to walk and to hike, its one of the few physical activities I was good at. But during 2012 I became a couch potato and my fitness hit an all time low. I had no energy and (for the first time ever) I started to put on weight. Not only was I unfit but it was starting to feel the mental effects as well.  I could blame a lot of external factors such as the stress of college or job hunting but I won't. I'll admit I dropped the ball big time.

I spent new years at the incredibly amazing Kandersteg International Scout Centre in Switzerland. Being out in the Alpine fresh air, trying out all kinds of new activities with some amazing new friends, I regained my lust for life. I spent new years night sleeping in an igloo and that night I decided that in 2013, something needed to be done. To quote one of my favorite films "Get busy living or get busy dying".

So I can home with a new sense of direction in life. I was going to get fit, fitter than ever before. My fitness wasn't going to be a barrier in my life anymore. So the day after I got back (Saturday 5th Jan) I downloaded the RunKeeper app for my phone and I started walking again. RunKeeper was great in that it kept telling me how far I had walked and my pace. After two days I had settled back to an average pace of 10mins/km which i decided was a steady pace to keep for the week. If i could maintain that pace for the week i'd be happy.

One week later, I've walked ever day (with the exception of Friday), I've gone for a walk. Some days this has only been a quick 30 mins but other days I've gone for over an hour. By Thursday I had reached a surprising average pace of 9 mins/km which I was very impressed with. This morning I had a nice change of scenery by going for my walk along Galway bay at 8am.

On Thursday I spent two hours at the Nevsail Indoor Climbing wall doing a beginners lesson and from here on in, I'm going to try make this a weekly activity. Thanks to Dave for his help so far.

Next week will be a challenge as I'm going to be mostly bedridden from dental surgury on Monday so hopefully I won't loose the momentum. On Saturday i'll be going hiking up keeper hill with my scout troop. Going to try get out on the hills once a week where possible.

In the next few weeks I'm going to added cycling to the mix and I'm even contemplating giving a "Couch to 5k" running plan a go (this is going to be the hardest part I think). From February I'm even going to look at my diet to see what changes can be made (although this might give my poor mother a heart attack)

I;m going to try keep a weekly record of my progress here as well as updates on facebook and twitter (hastag: #BarryGetsFit) to help keep things on track. Let's see how this works out