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I should probably talk more about my exchange experience

As the title says, I should probably talk more about my time here in Norway. Between my work on the project and being overwhelmed with…a lot of things that really set of my angry social justice activistey side (would take a while to explain) I never really got around to it. Well, it’s on my mind now, and I managed to get all my work done for this sprint (good old agile programming 9_9), so I figured why not?

Anyways, there are a couple of things worth pointing out.

1. Easter is SRS BUSINESS around here. Most schools and places close the entire week leading up to easter. The school was open for people until Holy Thursday, but the cafeteria staff and other such workers weren’t there. From Holy Thursday until Monday (with the exception of Saturday), no stores are open (AFAIK, I heard some of the international students went out at night, but my sleep schedule was so messed up I couldn’t joint them to find out, also like every other spring break, I had work to do T_T). It’s best to shop before Wednesday, because on Wednesday it’s like people are storing up for the apocalypse. I thought it a byproduct of Kristiansand apparently being the bible belt of Norway (that being said, it has nothing on how crazy the bible belt in the US is). However, one of my group mates (whom is a local) told me this is true for all of Norway.

2. Exams are very different here. At the risk of sounding like I am bragging, I am a pretty decent test taker back home. My strategy usually has the following qualities.
-Treat the test as though you only have half he time alloted. This will enable you to go back and fix any mistakes later.
-Do tests in pencil if possible for the same reason
-Try to answer the question intelligently, and sufficiently. No need to “show off”, as that is just a waste of energy (besides, a smart answer has more impact if it is concise). However, do not be above BSing if need be to shield weak points. Showing off also eats the clock right up.

However, none of these do me ANY good in Norway. Tests are in pen (because they are all essay questions you write the answers to on carbon paper). Also more importantly, the grade for 100% is not an A, it’s a C. Any grade above a C has to not only be all correct, but the answers have to be superior quality (basically, that showing off thing that I try not to do). I spent a week preparing and even now, 20 days later (as of the time I write this down) I feel like I could do decently on an exam. However, I didn’t know it was quite like this.

Honestly, I don’t feel too bad. While I think had I known these things prior to the exam (I was told the grade thing afterward by my group) my strategy would have changed for the better, I honestly feel I did the best I could with the knowledge and expectations I had going in. Part of my time here is meant to be a learning experience about the Norwegian education system, so I have that much more under my belt. Also, call me idealistic and old fashioned, but my primary purpose in college (even though I started so late in life) is to learn. Some say the purpose is a grade and a prestigious degree, others say it’s networking. Both are infinitely better to ensure ones future. However, I love learning and am one of those weird creatures who enjoy learning for its own sake. I learned a lot about both the subject material and the Norwegian education system, so I’m good.

On a more practical “thing’s aren’t so bad grade-wise” note, as one of my group-mates who studied abroad in the states (in my home school, actually), it’s MUCH harder to get a “good grade” in Norway (of a class of 33 people, only 2 people got an A). My group and I did excellently on the report (got an A, balances the final grade to a B for all of us, since we were all C students on the exam). Also, the question on the test were easy. I have no doubt that had I known how the test works, I would have gotten at least a B.

3. This is unconfirmed, but I have heard from one of my group-mates that for any school project involving a company (like the one I briefly mentioned at the very beginning of this post), you aren’t allowed to use any letter of recommendation you receive from it when you seek a job. If this is true, my guess is that the school wants to remain neutral or something like that. Even if this is true, I don’t know if it applies to jobs outside of Norway. I’m going to have to ask the inbound exchange coordinator for more details.

ETA:

One thing I noticed when I got here is that my old strategies for getting work done weren’t as viable. I used to work my butt off when I was awake at night but everyone else was sleeping. It worked well and I could balance my social and scholastic stuff that way (with the right timing of interim naps for the longer days). However, now that I am 7 hours ahead, most people aren’t available to converse with back home until 2PM (7AM at home) at the VERY least. It’s usually people are available at 4PM (11AM) on weekends and 8PM (3PM) on weekdays. Either way, that turns that plan on its ear. Now I’m used to being social late and working up until that point. Makes it easier to do group work. I wonder if I am going to have trouble adjusting to the idea that people aren’t at their social peak what to me is the evening anymore? We shall see.

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I figure it’s time for an update

It’s been a while since I wrote here (nearly a month). I’ll just touch on some brief but important updates to my experience here.

-My project is going very well. Last Friday my group had a steering committee meeting. The majority experience from those who have done this class in the past is that they were “slaughtered.” However, our group was complimented for how far we have come in a relatively short period of time,

-Our report in our other class is going well too. While there are some minor updates, the teacher looked over it recently (at our request) and said it was “very good.” This is a good sign.

-We’ve done all of our lectures for the year! We have a 305 test on the 03/20/2012. When that’s done, that’s the last thing outside of the 304 project to do during this school year…ever.

-The first half of this month was…tough for me, but around the midway point, things turned around in a BIG way. Many things are awesome now.

-It is currently 16 C (~56.6 F) outside. It’s been warm lately, but even for this particular warm weather this is awesome (the first day since I left the mild winter back home I could go outside without a coat).

I pray that I continue to get this benefaction and that my luck continues to be awesome. It’s not going to be easy, but I definitely appreciate how things have been for me lately (from November up until my luck turned around, it had been a series of mistakes and unfortunate events that made things unnecessarily difficult). Not much else to say beyond that. I hope all is going well back home and all that.

The mental adjustments are complete I guess

2 weeks ago, I fell into the habits that I would somewhere I live. Not things I would do if I was taking vacation or visiting. These are habits only engaged when I truly -live- somewhere. In retrospect, that was only phase 1.

Now, after a month of being in the country (a month as of last Tuesday, actually), the environment seems so…default to me. Norway prices, while they still are a big bag of blerg, have lost their initial sense of sticker shock. With my sleep schedule returning to normal, I find I need to remind myself of the time difference over there. The time here seems to be the one I am used to now. Even the fact it doesn’t start getting light out until 8AM (it used to be 8:30 or so, the seasons are more extreme up here) just seems normal, when at first it was really surreal.

A different, less beneficial kind of mental adjustment has taken place too, but this one happens every semester. Around this time, the initial “I have to do as good as I can in this new class” zeal has passed. Now a kind of “the semester is trudging along” apathy has kicked in. I almost always do the worst in my classes in February then any other month (although that is probably in part a coincidence of class booking). I’ll re-center myself a month, if I hold to pattern. Like many other things, we shall see.

Well, as someone who “lives” here, here are a few basic things that people take for granted that might interest outsiders (things that only someone who truly lives here could know).
-The main grocery stores in the area are Coop, Kiwi, ICA, and Rema 1000 (I prefer Kiwi). There is also a convenience store called Joker (seriously).
-NOTHING is open on Sunday (well a few things are, but the city is mostly dead)
-They stop selling Alcohol (in stores) after ~8 PM or so.
-There is only one shop to buy non-beer booze in the city (and the prices…even for Norway this is…yeah).
-The busses are alright (they give change to pay-on passengers), but they aren’t that reliable, best just to walk (and holy hell is there a lot of walking).

I could talk about my week and all that normal blog stuff, but that’s a separate entry (LONG WEEK WAS LONG). Well, I’ll probably get to writing that once I am taking a break from pseudo-homework (I don’t have any “homework” per se, but our projects are very hardcore and I am going to try to dig down and see how I can smash some of the workload for my group early so we can give ourselves time and breathing room).

The net was down because of bureaucratic dumb

I was told there was a solar storm that would have let me see the Northern Lights even down on the south tip of Norway. That’s all well and awesome, except that last week (ALL of last week for that matter) it was terminally overcast. Ever since the start of that week, it had been snowing (Sunday, Monday, Thrusday-Next Sunday it snowed). With this week looking to have a day that has a high of -9 C (about 18 F), winter is finally here in Norway “for real” (although I am told that the winter last year was a real beast here. It’s like Kristiansand’s winters are “one year behind” the ones back home).

Anyway, that’s but a minor point. As the title implies, my net was down for most of last week. Because of the nature of my academic work, as well as the nature of important personal things I need to get done relatively soon, this is very damaging. The real irony kicker was the day leading up to it was looking pretty good. Class was only an hour long (normally it’s 3), and there was no group meeting (one person was sick and the other was at work, leaving only half the group left).

At first I suspected my computer, I cleared those suspicions in exactly these steps.
-Walked to school again (keep in mind it’s a little over 2 miles between my place and school), got a different ethernet cord, that didn’t work.
-Walked to school again, talked to some people and did some research about what to do next.
-Walked to the southern part of “the center” (about ~4 miles away), got a USB ethernet adapter, returned home. It didn’t work.

All was not entirely crappy. I treated myself to a trip to the game store in honor of my perserverence during that ordeal. Unfortunately, none of them had The Last Story or Terranigma (the girl shopkeeper at Gamezone.no did know what both of those were though, which was cool). They did have Xenoblade Chronicles though, and if it wasn’t coming out in the states that in March, I would have gotten that. I forgot to ask if they had an old-school DS charger. Oh well, I tried.

It turns out the SiA had lost my internet contract (you sign individual contracts to get internet to your rooms, that way they know who has paid the extra fee for it). As a result, they cut my net access off. I gave them my customer copy of my contract and they said they’d turn it on (I even e-mailed the net specialist for my building), but they didn’t until the next day. So from Wedensday through Friday, I was netless at home. It makes me appreciate just how much I use and rely on the net (especially with this computer, since I refuse to install anything right down to the tiniest song that might make customs think I pirated somethign even if I didn’t). Oh well, it’s back now, and that’s what’s important right?

After I got it back, I took a day off from project-ing (on the not-classified project, I had made significant headway on my part of it), and then gave myself a day off on Saturday. I just geeked out over Shenmue all over again (long story as to how that came about) and talked to GF when she wasn’t out volunteering. On Sunday, I just talked to GF a lot and then I just CONKED OUT. Seriously, I must have been up only 5 hours that entire day. My motivation and energy seem to have been snagged. Blerg. Interestingly enough, both of my groupmates were really sick over the weekend. I find when I’m tired like that, it is sometimes my body taking out a sickness before it hits me too. It may have been that.

Well, I was going to talk about how nervous I was about my classified project…well, here’s the ultra short bullet point version
-Nervous about personal ability
-Extreme time constraints
-We’re still stuck on the theoretical after over a month (although we will probably get past that soon).

Well, that’s all for this edition. Life is looking to be dull for a little while until it kicks into high gear once the classified project finally gets past the theoretical stage.

Time for a boring old update

(this entry was “pre-recorded” last weekend)

I haven’t been updating nearly about this whole Norway thing nearly as much as I was the previous few weeks. I should rectify that…is what I would say, but I honestly don’t know what to talk about. Apart from a few exceptions, the weeks have been relatively normal. I have done the following things last week.

-Had group meetings, clarified one project and got started on the other
-Protested SOPA and PIPA on line
-Made a presentation for the United States for when we’re up at the international presentation thing at the student pub
-Practiced ASP.NET MVC framework (glad I trained myself on basic C# beforehand, it let me do some “tricks” that seem off the beaten dev path, which is good).
-Researched change management in ITIL
-Talked to people back home.
-Resolved a financial situation*
-Indirectly ordered a few things
-Went to a house party that was being held at the dorm/apt complex I live at (not my room, it was on the floor above). Helped a friend out who partied a bit too hard.
-Ran myself ragged in the week and just slept all through the weekend.

I suppose it does seem more full when you look at it like that. However, I’m not doing anything major or super Norway cool. I’m not going on next week’s skiing trip (I never learned to ski and I am needed with my group), I am not learning the language in the free class (I felt that class would be too disruptive, I need to be on the same academic schedule as my group). I didn’t see anything new or significant in Norway, and I probably never will. I could be back in Omaha doing this project, and assuming all things (classwise, groupwise, and projectwise) are equal, then apart from a few subtle changes it wouldn’t make any difference. It kind of makes me mad that I am in such a position, but I am a student first. If my friends take me back here years later, they’ll ask about all the cool stuff and tourist traps in the country. I’ll just tell them “I don’t know, I spent all my time getting my group project done. It was too intense a semseter, I couldn’t afford to do anything else.” Then agian, this is EVERY semester for me. I just feel like I am losing more then normal because of it this time. Ehh, oh well, I’ll gain more then enough to be usable for my future, and that’s what counts in the end.

Join me next time when I panic and complain about the non-classified parts of my project(s).

This group project is going to be hardcore

As I have probably alluded to earlier, I have two major group projects this semester. These are going to take up the majority of my time. However, the way this is going to be handled is a bit different then I am accustomed to.

As a group, we are probably meeting every weekday (class or no class) to either discuss this and that about our project, or to proceed forward on it. We are going to dedicate the majority of our time to working on these projects. I might propose a lull period between project 305 and project 304 when it comes close to exam times so that we can study and manage to dominate those (depending on when we get done). That being said, it isn’t utterly all consuming. We have agreed that our “work days” are from 8AM to 4PM, and we don’t formally “work” on weekends unless we agree to it in advance.

There are some advantages and disadvantages to this method
Advantages
-We will all be in the same place working on what is presumably the same task
-Clearly defined hours of when we do and don’t “work” will keep things sane
-It allows us to have lives outside of our project provided it doesn’t interfere with the project proper.

Disadvantages
-It is a (very) different methodology of programming then what I’m used to. I usually just slam code at home when I am awake, with my resources (pop and snacks) nearby, awesome music in my ears to help facilitate my “programmers trance.” I often push myself extremely hard
-Programming in an environment I feel less comfortable and accustomed to doing that kind of work in might be detrimental to the results.

Would I recommend all my group projects in the future do this? Not in the slightest. While it does seem like an optimal method in this case (even if I would have to get up early on MANY days I have no class…), there is one very important factor that makes this possible. Academically, every one of us has the exact same schedule and class loadout. This makes keeping in communication about what we’re expected of outside our projects and in our other classes a non-issue. I can’t count the number of times I wanted to help people with assignments/study-groups/etc, only to have to reject them because I had homework or other such things in other classes. This time it’s a non-issue, because our entire scholastic existence is more or less synched up. This is a rather rare scenario in US education IIRC (not sure how common it is here. It seems this way by design in this specific course, but doesn’t seem to be common as a system wide phenomenon). This has NEVER EVER happened with any of my other classes (then again, I am doing two majors, so it’s even less probable for me then it is for others). This is the reason I, with the utmost reluctance, rejected that free norwegian crash course class. I felt keeping my schedule aligned with my group was the highest priority.

I would give more “Norway-esque” reports about the my experience here, but there’s really nothing to say. My days have been relatively dull and repetitive (not in a bad way though). Go to class (or group meeting), go home, sleep, wake up, practice IT skills for project, try to sleep for next day class. Rinse-lather-repeat, etc. Granted, tomorrow’s class doesn’t start until rather late (AND THANK FUCK FOR THAT), and we as a group don’t have a morning meeting (one of our group mates is going to the dentist I think), so I can actually get enough sleep not to go home ragged and not thinking “I have crap to take care of, but I’m TOO DAMN TIRED” like I have the last couple of days. Oh well, there are things to be said about predictability. It’s controllable, it is (in my case) affordable, etc. Still, there are things I do really need to do at school before the week is out, and a day where I don’t have the severe fatigue that prevents that from happening would be optimal.

What have we learned so far?

Last Saturday, I was sitting at home. I was turbo-ing pop, eating snack foods when needed, and deeply engrossed in getting my C# program done (it was a duplication of the 1400 “numerology” assignment, with a twist that it could optionally output the result to a text file). It was at that moment I took a look at myself and realized that I was no longer “visiting” Norway, I now truly feel like I -live- here. Granted, I miss doing the tourist like stuff (visiting the center, etc) and having the time to do the same. However, I feel that this is proof that I have truly settled in to my spot here. I feel I’ll miss a lot of things people who are back at home would see if they came here right now. However, I also feel a kind of acclimated familiarity. I feel I could with at least a minimal amount of authority, say what it’s like to live here from the perspective of someone who is currently doing it.

With that it mind, it should come as no surprise that my days are probably going to be a lot more boring compared to the previous ones. “I met with my group, I came home, did grocery shopping, practiced C#, and made a blog post” is not exactly an interesting thing to write about (that was also my day today in its entirety). Since I can’t talk about the only other major interesting thing I’m doing (my project), I’ll go with the primary reason I’m here. What am I learning from my classes (either directly or indirectly).

IS-304:

First off, I learned of a classic agile programming methodology that comes highly recommended. It has the…seriously weird name “Scrum” (that sounds like either pirate jargon or a cleaning product). What it entails is daily meetings discussing progress, quick spurts toward immediate goals, and frequent meetings with the product owner to meet with any potential changes zie might have. Comes highly recommended from the teacher. The opinions of the corporate contacts are…more varied on it.

Also, some things I learned about project management as a process.
-Sometimes those above you might not really grok that you aren’t as familiar with the assigned task as they are. Ask them specific questions that force concrete answers when seeking clarification
-Concentrate on the user-design first rather then the technical stuff. Find out what user X wants to do with it before deciding the best way to get that done, no matter how cool the ideas you have to do that are.
-Even in the most blindingly abstract conditions, find the right starting point and you’ll have some idea of how to conceptualize, model, and eventually solve the problem before you.

IS-305:

The lecturer here reminds me of Azad. Of course, this is probably in part the circumstances in which I attended Computer Architecture class (which he taught). The class is 3 horus long, and there is one 15 minute break in the middle. He goes through a lot of concepts, but he goes slower then you’d think, explaining everything along the way. I’m trying my best to retain what I think is a priority of what he’s saying. Some factors make it tough, but I’m trying to write them down as best I can. Hopefully, his exam isn’t as tough as Azad’s assignments (THAT was what I disliked about his class). I don’t know the nature of the project in this class yet (we have some idea of where to proceed, but I don’t know what he wants us to DO for this project, so it’s awfully tough to proceed beyond a concept). We shall see what’s going on there. When the IS-304 project picks up and that one (and studying for the exam in Mid March)…that’s going to be mega-crunch time. Hopefully, despite how the 304 project will be on full steam, it will feel good to concentrate on one thing.

Personal learnings.

During this relative moment of downtime for home tasks, I have decided (for many reasons) to learn C# and SQL. Granted, these weren’t on the TOP of my list of languages to learn (they both were up there though). However, since I am going to be taking a databasing class when I get back (which inevitably uses SQL somehow), and I will try to take game programming as one of my electives (which uses C#); I figured it’s best to get a leg up on these early on. There are (many) other reasons for this, but those are the ones on the forefront of my mind right now.

C# learning notes (keep in mind I have prior experience in C, C++, Java, and Perl)
-Why is the input always read as a character or string? Why do I have to parse the raw input EVERY TIME? Doesn’t that make an unnecessary extra step?
-Structurally, this is a lot more like Java then any “classic C” based language I am familiar with
-csc.exe (MS’s compiler) packs everything into one windows EXE file. Makes classes less easily portable between file collections, but it does make applications more compact.
-The C-style string non-literal (char array’s without need of an API), Java style appending, perl style regexes. I gotta say, I like the way it handles strings so far (even if it is the default input data type despite variable styles).

SQL
-This is EASY
-…REAL easy
-…I’m talking learning HTML easy
-I’m sure there are a lot more complex and skillful ways to do this, but MAN. I was slightly intimidated by the ubiquitousness and power of the language only to find that it is the second easiest language (after HTML) that I have EVER bothered to pick up.

Well, I’ll leave it at that. Time to crash before my 8 AM class tomorrow (blerg).