The move to Hawaii

It’s been almost a month since our feet touched the soil of Hawaii. We had some craziness along the way, but, as only humans can, we have adjusted so well to everything that it is hard for me to even remember. It is surely a defense mechanism of mine to put a side difficult events (like all of our previous moves, or childbirth) and only keep a collection of pictures in my mind of the things that happened – with a somewhat disassociated feeling.

So what did we have? We had to scramble for the last few days in New Haven to pack what we wanted (or disassemble) and put it in our one relocation cube. This is a kind of service, where you are given a container, you fill it up by yourself, and they pick it up and send it over. It was the cheapest option for us, but only if we used one container, usually used to pack one or two bedrooms – we mostly wanted our books. Many of our things were thrown away, which was a whole logistic arrangement by itself (salvation army – it seems – don’t pick up almost anything at all.) We had to manage to clear everything, lock everything, make sure the kids don’t die, and various other things before heading to the airport. By the way, the kids didn’t die, but Tantan had a terrible fall and scratched his glasses terribly. We still haven’t fixed it for reasons.

The flight was long and boring. I am just happy they are not babies anymore and don’t throw up (I had a lot of that on the Chicago to New Haven flight). But the length of the flight was tiring, the airports were not vegan-friendly (for my husband), and at the end of the day it took my legs almost two weeks to stop feeling swollen.

So here we are in Hawaii. It has rainbows on the licence plates and stuff. I thought it was a silly symbol before I got here (not that there is anything wrong with it), but it actually a very apt description of the weather here. Especially in the Manoa valley where we are. Rainbows indicate sun and rain, and we walk here in the sun with a mist like rain around us (though, sometimes it is stronger) and rainbows crown the mountains around us. In Manoa, the rain is always coming, and the clouds are always moving, and the mountains are always green, and some houses climb the sides of the mountains in an impossible looking way. And between three sides of high-rise mountains is us and the the University. It is a pretty good setting for a life.

Humorously, we find almost everything around here similar to things from Israel of our childhood. Buildings, plants, and even the feel of places. Some things are a little bit stuck in the past, like public phone booths and old school VW beetles. Everything is full of Japanese signs and stores. Suprisingly, despite reading Hawaii is mostly buddhist, we see more churches than shrines (and one church that looks like a shrine.)

It is hard to know how the work life in the University will be. We will know soon, on August 20th. We have a positive view. My husband likes the math department he will be joining, as it is renewing itself with “young blood.” I am equally excited and terrified about becoming a PhD student, but this is something I’ve been working towards.

I can’t speak for the kids, but I believe they have a sense of life being better here. New Haven felt harsh and dangerous, with Yale being its only nice point. Here, we live in a faculty housing complex that is very large, green, full of children, when they can go outside and play. We find that Tantan needs supervision, due to tendency to walk into people’s homes. Did I mention that many people leave their doors open? So it is that kind of environment, and we hope it is a good payoff for them losing the huge playroom they had in New Haven. (We have settled everything yet, so we don’t know where the area that will substitute my office will be.) My father-in-law has been with us (and taken all the GOOD pictures I have to share, mine came out terrible) and it really helps Tantan get over this crazy experience that happened to him (he kept asking to go back home in the first week or so).

We have gone to a free public pool that is a walking distance from us, and both kids enjoyed it. The Supermarket is close and so is McDonalds, which we have frequented more than we would like – but hey, Tantan wants to, it’s difficult time, and it’s summer vacation. We went to the beach and to Target and to Ala Moana mall, which is the largest outdoor mall in the world (the world being everything at least an ocean away…) we are getting the hang of it’s confusing ways. It is so central, that I feel like we see it everytime we are around downtown or waikiki. All roads lead to Ana Moana. We got to see other shopping centers when Shonshi broke HIS glasses (Yay!) and we have yet to feel like we have explored even to center of Honolulu, let alone anything else on Ohau. The big problem is our car.

We are desperately waiting for our car to arrive. We have only bad things to say about the company we hired to transport it (and thank-yous to our friends who helped with the car after we had to leave before it shipped,) but we will wait to have it in our arms first.

On our todo list: Get the car. Get local driver’s license. Start school (kids and grownups, kids start next week.) Finish arranging the house (especially a swing for the patio.)

Our achievements: Got here. Got our apartment. Got our books and arranged them nicely. Got the kids registered to school and did a first special education meeting about Tantan (we have a good feeling about the school, they will be in two grades next to each other, and Tantan will be taken out just for special education classes). Visited the campus and saw lots of stuff. Feel comfortable.

And on that comfortable note, I shall leave you for now.

Playing Hearthstone

My husband and I have been playing the open beta of Hearthstone for a little bit now, and I have some initial thoughts:

1. This is a very successful game. We like card games and we like the World of Warcraft world, yet we weren’t sure about this game. Turns out that it is fun and quite addictive. Specifically, when I say the game was a success I mean that in the sense that it has already made us open our tightly closed purse and spend money on it. That’s impressive, because we really are cheap about these things, but the new cards are fun and it takes a while to get enough gold for a new deck doing game quests (there is only one quest per day, it usually grants the player 40 gold and a new deck costs 100).

2. There are 3 mechanics that we were really unsure about when we started to play. Every class has a special power that is associated with that character, for example a warrior will gain two armor for two mana and a priest will restore two life for two mana. This is a very nice way to keep the personality of the character as it is supposed to (though players can still build decks out of character if they want to, using the general cards). This is also, in an odd way, a way to map a type of player with a class. So far, I’ve done well with rogue, mage, and a hunter, and my husband likes the priest, shaman, and warlock. This is presumably an indication of my liking to “hit things in the face” (you’ll get it when you see the animation) and my husband’s disposition to suffering for a while and then have one magnificent blow. We haven’t figured out the idea behind the warrior, paladin, or druid.

One other mechanic is that of weapons that you equip the character itself, that allows it to attack. I do that with the rogue, for example, and I like it. The last interesting mechanic is of secrets – you cast a card, the other player knows it’s there but can’t see what it is, then when the opponent attacks or casts a minion you gain life or various other things depending on the secret. This is an odd kind of way to cast an “instant” spell, except your opponent sees it is there and may be more cautious. We are both not sold on this feature so far.

3. A super peeve – there is a known problem that affects people with one-button mouse on macs. There are no ways to chat with people during the game, so the characters are supposed to have 7-8 canned responses that you can activate by right clicking. Players use this to greet the other player at the beginning of the game, threaten, admit a mistake, and acknowledge a good game before they pommel you. This doesn’t work with the mac’s control+click. Since we don’t use a two-button mouse on my mac, we have been feeling rather rude against other players. I tried switching the mouse mode before the game, but frankly it confuses me, it is against what I am used to, and it makes me mad to change my settings for a game – so I don’t.

4. This is still a beta so I’m not sure if their interface is final, but some things are a bit weird. There is no “close” or “done” button in the store, you click away from the store area to return to the main area, but it feels wrong and a “close” button can’t be expensive. (It just occurred to me, they were expecting us to use the “back” button that it at the bottom of the previous menu that remains in the background while the store is opened. I don’t know. Still think it’s fishy). When we had enough gold for multiple packs, we weren’t sure how to specify the number of packs (you click on the button for buying one and it opened a window in which you could type a number…). In general, I wish you could pay for gold so you could decide by yourself if you should spend it on decks or the arena (right now, the payment for arena is separate.) Personally, neither me nor my husband like the way we access new decks, open them, and flip cards. I understand it is supposed to replicate the excitement of opening a real life bonus pack, but I don’t like that it has a weird area for it.

5. Another aspect I’m not sure they are done with is the card balancing. Though, I don’t know if they can change them now, will people be able to transfer their cards from the beta? It would be very interesting to see their research into this (and I’m sure the research was massive.) One example is the handicap they give those who roll to go first – the other player gets an extra card from their deck and a card for extra mana. These two items are well worth going second, in fact, I NEVER want to go first. The mana card alone is super valuable when I play as rogue (for example) and can use it for “combo” cards.

6. How come I’m the only one that likes to use Gelbin Mekkatorque? I know everyone who bought in the store has it, but I never saw it against me in a game, even though it summons an AWESOME invention. (It says so in capitals on the card.)

Overall, this is a fun run and I highly recommend playing it. But I don’t know what the business model will be when they officially come out.

Computational Fairy Tales (Review)

I’ve finished reading this fantastic book by Jeremy Kubica called “Computational Fairy Tales.” It’s a collection of short stories, each aiming to illustrate a different computer science concept with a very easy to follow and funny narrative. There is even an arcing story in which the Princess Ann has to go on a quest to defend the land from the “Darkness.”

It seems that all of the stories where first shared (and are still) on the authors site with the same name. It appears that he has also published a sequel, so I will be buying that in the near future. This book is an example for how creative teaching should be done. I am thoroughly jealous of the author’s ability to make these stories seem so effortless in this fantasy world, yet cover important concepts like data structures, sorting algorithms, and graphs. I wish that when I was working on my logic gate animation (link on my sidebar) I would have invented an actual narrative. Learning through stories make it easier to remember the material.

That said, this isn’t a CS class in a children’s book. Kubica acknowledges in his FAQ page that this is not a way to learn computer science but more of a way to get a taste of all kind of concepts. Believe it or not, the concepts are the fun part of computer science, and they become even more fun when they are explained by the wizard Marcus, for example.

This book is entertaining for people who have already learned about these topics, but I think it has potential for supporting material in a youth programming class.

Everybody can learn programming. This is particularly true today, when there are so many online classes for free about many different computer languages (Rails for Zombies is particularly entertaining). There are probably a million books about programming out there (at least, it seems that way every time I want to find one on a specific topic). So, programming how-to is available to anyone with motivation to pursue it. It is a different matter how to inspire youngsters to pursue it (but frankly, at this day and age, everybody should learn some kind of programming).

Along with the ubiquity of programming info, some people developed a viewpoint that studying for higher degrees is pointless as evidenced by the number of successful tech moguls who have dropped out. It is also probably true that you can get a nice tech job if you can prove your technical skills through projects that you’ve made, even without a degree (meanwhile – having just a degree may not be enough). It’s none of my business if people continue formal learning or not – life is complicated and different circumstances call for different deeds. But I do think it is problematic that autodidacts miss out on so many concepts. It’s not about whether or not you will ever use merge sort, it is about developing an algorithmic way of thinking. But also, you may one day need to use merge sort. (When I was learning Scheme in college it didn’t seem very useful, but it was fun and I learned the concept of anonymous functions which is common in modern languages.)

The material out there about programming is important, but knowing a language is just about learning some syntax. The core concepts are more important and help you 1- analyze and come up with creative ideas, and 2- switch between languages with ease. If you are a self taught programmer, this book won’t teach you, but it will help you realize what is out there.