Wednesday, January 03, 2007

He tests, he passes, he graduates!!

Okay, most of the 2 million daily readers of this blog know that I was recently graduated from the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG), and know that I owe a debt of gratitude to my lovely bride for supporting me through the process. But few of you know how close we came to December 14th being a date of woe rather than woo-hoo! Let me fill you in.

I am embarassed to admit that I have failed a course in college (Intro to Fingerpainting? No, 3rd semester Calculus. I retook it and made a C) and was treacherously close to failing a 2nd, very critical class. CSC 553 Theory of Computation sounds like a simple class for a computer science student, but at the end of the semester, with one homework project and one test remaining, I was failing. Not "Oh I wanted to get an A but I'm stuck with a B" failing, but "I am failing and it is not mathematically possible to pass without a curve" failing.

I had been to speak with my instructor. She was cautiously optimistic. She said that she grades much more heavily on your later work than on the early work. If she sees an improvement that indicates you understand, she will forgive past grades. But essentially it came down to my last test (not technically a final - she gives 4 tests and no true final exam - but it certainly had an air of finality all over it). Oh yes, a final - pun fully intended - piece of the puzzle. This course is a core requirement for graduation and it is only offered in Fall semesters. Meaning a failure would set graduation back a full year!

I was mortified to tell the bride about my predicament. With each test, I thought I understood the material and was prepared for anything that she could throw at me, except what she actually threw at me. With each test I sank lower and lower. In my defense, several of my classes had no assignment graded and returned prior to the drop deadline. This class had only one. So I didn't have a chance to evaluate the course before I was stuck with it.

So here we are. The bride's company Christmas party was on Friday, Dec 1. My test was Monday, Dec 4, 9:00 am. We went to the party and spent the rest of the weekend studying. Yes, I said we. On our large whiteboard, we evaluated and drew Turing machine diagrams all weekend. There were about 60 probelem sets that she could draw test questions from and we made it through about half of them.

I went to the test confident, I felt pretty good during it, but the points just didn't add up to a passing grade. I went to see the professor (Dr. Francine Blanchet-Sadri, one of the world's leading researchers in the area of Combinatorics on Words, studyer of Algebraic Theory of Languages and Automata, impressive, eh?) on Wednesday, but the tests were not graded and would not be until the next week. Considering the difficulty of what she had to grade, 8 complex problems, with each student completing a unique solution, she was offering a pretty quick turn-around. So I passed the time by taking the other 4 final exams that week. By Friday, I was burned out and didn't care.

But then came Monday, and I cared a great deal. Other classes started posting results. I was in a computer lab just around from Francine's office, checking email. She walked in to pick up a print job. I didn't want to pester her, so I even avoided making eye contact. Then she approached me. And she was smiling. She had not completely decided on a final grade, but she had been impressed by the last test. She said I had done very well, completely solving some of the hardest problems. I had passed the course, she assured me.

Eventually all grades were posted and I received a C (not even a C-, but a solid, bona-fide C). We had done it. So, now you see how much my degree has really been a joint effort. Thank you dear!

The Lump moves!!

I have been gently prodded by someone and encouraged to post.
So, how about an update?
Since I posted last:
I attended a grid computing workshop at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Great gig - they put me up in a hotel, fed me and PAID me, plus taught me some fundamentals about distributed computing. Geeks with money to burn, gotta love it.
I spent Thanksgiving at home with my wonderful bride.
I nearly went crazy studying for finals.
I passed said finals and graduated from the University of North Carolina Greensboro.(More on those last two in my next post.)
I spent Christmas and New Years with my bride and some (newly) close friends. I hope to have many holidays doing the same.