Monday, October 11, 2010

Back to School

My son started at RPI as a freshman majoring in Computer Engineering this past September.  Reflecting back on my time in school, I noticed that some things have changed dramatically while others are pretty much the same.  Dorms now have WiFi and cable TV, but they're still dorms, and students still sleep until noon (or later) on weekends.  One exciting difference is the use of the Internet for managing classes and course work.  All of my son's class materials are posted on-line, so I've been "going back to school," following along with some of the courses as time allows.

When I took my first computer science class at UCONN, we learned PL/I, typed programs on punch cards, and stood in line waiting to put our cards through a reader to run on some mysterious IBM mainframe that we never saw.  Some time later, a printout with your last name on it came rattling out of a line printer the size of three washing machines.  When the printer ran out of paper, the cover opened up automatically, sending any punch cards on top up in the air and fluttering to the floor completely out of order.  Many of us learned not to put our cards on top of the printer the hard way.

I'm following Computer Science I at RPI, reading all the lectures and doing the labs and homework.  The course is in C++ and students work on  laptops using either Visual C++, Cygwin, or native Linux.  I work on my laptop at home, download assignments from RPI's website, edit with emacs, compile with g++ and run on a virtual remote Linux desktop using an NX Client.  Sure beats the heck out of trudging across campus at night to the computer center to wait in lines, type punch cards, and debug programs reading one print out at a time.

So far, it's been a great way to refresh my programming skills and learn emacs, which I've wanted to do for years but have never found the time to do.  Best of all, there's no (extra) cost!

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