Finally

The long wait is finally over, after more than five weeks. With the exception of business administration (part I) in the first term (we got that result more than half a year later), this is the longest we ever had to wait for any grade, and this term it was three that were this late. As I said before, the exam administration system is inexplicably unable to notify its users of updates, so whenever we’re waiting for grades I am in the habit of logging in and checking whenever the thought occurs to me, which is often–busy waiting, my programming partner once quipped, referring to an infamous technical term from the sphere of operating systems design. I know I am not the only one doing that, but I may be doing it more stubbornly than most other students. Yet this time even I got tired of staring at the same unchanged entries for more than a month on end.

Yesterday I finally resigned myself to accepting that undoubtedly we would get the grades one day, but not any time soon, and decided to stop checking all the time. Probably no great surprise that within 24 hours from that moment we got all three remaining grades! The one for graph theory appeared yesterday, and today, within a couple of hours, we got both business administration (part II) and operating systems. Particularly business administration was a surprise because the deadline for handing in the written versions of our presentations is today, and the lecturer had been so late even entering our PVL in the system that we thought he would take at least another month after the deadline for the actual grades. Someone in the administration must have asked our professors to finally get their act together. Probably because officially the term ended today.

I got an A+ in all three exams, making this the second term in which I received an A+ in every single course. I was reasonably certain of an A in graph theory, and I had expected a very good grade in business administration (reportedly the lecturer never gives a grade lower than A-), but operating systems kind of surprised me. I had answered all the questions, but certainly not without minor errors, and the professor had announced there would be no bonus questions, meaning you needed to have more or less everything correct for an A+. Maybe he later lowered the grading ceiling at least some, because it’s next to impossible, unless by chance, to get everything right from an area as large and diverse (and technical) as operating systems. We shall see.

Some people just care about their own grade, and the grade only, but I am always intensely curious about the general outcome of an exam and how it has been graded. Our math professors are in the habit of making the grade distribution and grade average public. The graph theory exam had a nearly perfect bell curve, with 19 people each getting a C and a D, respectively. There were 5 A’s, 12 B’s, and 14 people out of 69 failed. In machine-oriented programming last term I asked the professor to publish the stats, and he did. But other than that the only way of finding out about the outcome of an exam is asking people. In the first term there was always somebody asking the question in our short message group, because I suppose we were all of us somewhat curious about how grades were given in this study program and what they meant. But over time I noticed less and less people replied, making the replies increasingly irrelevant. I am not sure what it means, and I find it a pity, but today I myself refrained from even asking. For whatever reason people are reluctant to share this information–or are themselves not interested in knowing it about others–, if it’s always me being curious, I suddenly thought, it might start looking odd. Particularly since my grades are very good. People might think I am asking to boast, or even to gloat. So I have no idea about the outcome of the operating systems exam.

What I do know is that I feel a lot better today. In some way the term isn’t really over for me before I have all the grades. It’s not that there were any question of my not passing, but as long as the exam is still out there, ungraded, it’s constantly in the back of my mind. And I feel somewhat in limbo in the term break anyway. Now, at last, I can really start looking forward.

And none too soon, for it’s less than three weeks now before lectures will resume in the last week of March. We have had a provisional schedule for a couple of weeks already, and it looks like I have been rather lucky with my “compulsory choice” module, for I will have no lectures at all on either Tuesday or Friday, leaving me free to concentrate on projects two days a week. The professors for three out of four courses in the coming term are unknown quantities so far, so there will be a lot of new things to digest both in terms of content and style. Only in software engineering will we have the same professor as last term.

Personally I feel it’s about time the term started because I feel tired of sitting at home reading and preparing but not actually doing anything. In earlier terms in the same situation I would have programmed something, just for the practice and the fun of it, but in the face of the bigger projects we’re doing now, or are about to do, the kind of programming we used to do feels like child’s play, and starting something big (with Spring, Angular, and REST, maybe) conversely would be rather overwhelming and certainly not fun.

Fact is, I have tried to make good use of the term break, among other things learning Git (I finished that book this morning), reading a very long book on Angular, and in the last couple of weeks reviewing Prolog, working with the classic Prolog Programming for Artificial Intelligence by Ivan Bratko (4th ed., Harlow: Addison Wesley, 2012). That felt like a really bad déjà-vu, for I had done the same thing in the spring term break a year ago, back then in anticipation of the second term logic lecture in which we then did no Prolog at all. It is certain to figure, however, in the fourth term lecture on intelligent systems. I do like Prolog, in a way, and I think I got about a couple of chapters further than last time, but with mixed results. Difference lists (a very abstract, very unintuitive, very Prolog way of defining collections) consistently defied me, and tail recursion in Prolog is still something that needs a lot of trial and error. On the other hand I had no problem at all with the exercises on sorting algorithms and balanced binary trees. In fact, implementing merge sort in Prolog took me about a minute and I got it right on the first try. So the algorithms lecture last term was at least good for something!

I couldn’t warm to Angular at all, however. All that frontend stuff, HMTL and CSS, is simply not my cup of tea. I can see the necessity for it, and I can even see some elegance in certain Angular solutions as compared to more pedestrian approaches, but overall as a technology it still seems ugly, laborious, and extremely counterintuitive. I am not looking forward to using it in our software engineering (II) project. I suffered through the book and could mostly make sense of it, but that doesn’t mean I can do it.

Speaking of projects, I also spent a couple of days researching concepts, technologies, and approaches for the research project in which I will henceforth be participating together with the other guy from our study group – Microservices, Docker, C#, GIS, OpenStreetMap etc., a whole bunch of new things, and quite overwhelming for a start. As I mentioned earlier, we got some sort of introduction from the assistant who is for all practical purposes running that project, but it was sort of brief and mostly conceptual. It appears that we will be more or less on our own defining our approach and implementing our part of the project (getting open source city map data into the simulation). I found that slightly discouraging. Afterall, we are only third-term BA students and have never yet worked on a larger project. We could have used some more guidance. But of course we will try and make the best of it.

Last week I bravely went to the project room one morning, set myself up with my laptop computer and a large screen, and enthusiastically greeted all those experienced MA students working on diverse parts of the project, saying I was the new guy and had no idea what I was doing here. Then I dived into the internet for several hours trying to find out where we might start, but ended up completely bewildered (Agent-Based Modelling? PostGIS databases?). I also reviewed the project code, to get an idea what they have been doing so far, but as it’s several hundred (or several thousand?) files, in four different programming languages, it’s realistically way beyond my comprehension. So I feel totally lost right now. But of course I’ll try and soldier on, and with the help of my co-student/project partner, I hope that, with time, we will find out what we ought to be doing, and eventually start doing it. And probably learn quite a bit in the process.

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