dinsdag 14 juni 2011

Presentation for the institute

Since I had done a little "research on research" :-) I was asked to give a presentation for our institute's gathering the other week. I used the title "the road to my first publication" since I had mainly looked into the writing side.

Some of my points:
- It takes a lot of focussed work, more than we probably realize or are organized for at the moment. Looking at myself, I can't really make the time to write my article on the IMLVG project, let alone start new research on my own.
- It is fun however to learn new skills while taking the little steps.
- There is a lot of tooling out there to use. I showed the following:
- Finding literature: databases, catalogues, etc. These take some time to learn. Despite the librarian's disapproval I find Google Scholar very useful (investigate the different functions and options!) I also discussed some search techniques.
- Managing references: I use RefWorks since it's the RuG standard, but would prefer to use Papers if I can get my hands on an iPad.
- Reading and annotating: I prefer to read electronically, but taking notes is bothersome. I replaced the bloated Adobe Acrobat with a lightweight PDF annotation tool, but still....
- Keeping a journal: I am very pleased with the discovery of Microsoft OneNote, an largely neglected application in the MS Office-suite.
- Writing: academic writing is a speciality on it's own. I stumbled upon a course at the Hanze, but it mainly showed me that there's a lot of work to do in that area as well.

And now we have won an Interreg grant for a large international project. Will this mean I have to change track again?

woensdag 6 april 2011

Visiting Madrid

I was invited by UPM again to visit Madrid for some lectures. Just like last year it has been an enjoyable experience. I had to work hard to prepare a 3-hour lecture on Lean and Kanban, but the work paid off.
I'm also constantly comparing UPM with our own university. How are the students? Which topics are taught and in which way? This afternoon I had the opportunity to learn more about the way they do research. Interesting. Every time I talk to people about research, my own view of it keeps changing...

woensdag 16 februari 2011

Swimming at sea

Now I know what a student feels like. My lector asked me "to do some research next semester". I'm free to choose a topic as long as it is within one of the topics of the research group (eHealth, ICT & Energy, offshoring, ...). At this point I'm still wrestling with my topic of choice. What will I do? What will I do about it? Is this feasible? Is it too big a topic? I'm not coming to a conclusion just yet.

What I *am* doing is training myself in the necessary skills. So if you're in the same position, here's what I did:

- I searched enough literature to find out that I wasn't skilled in searching it
- So I went to the library to get some instruction. In 2 hours I was up and running. Part of the efficiency came from my direct questions based on my unsuccesful searches.
- I looked at reference managers. IF I had a Mac I'd go with Papers, but for now I'm sticking with RefWorks. It's not as nice as Papers but it's the standard at the RuG with which we have some agreements.
- I'm getting myself organised with Microsoft OneNote which is part of Office. That's a brilliant product for a filer like me. I can organise my notes, logs and all my other workrelated stuff.
- I went to the library to skim some books about research. There are too many titles to mention. How to Research by Blaxter was a nice one with a lot of practical checklists. But research can only be learned by doing...

donderdag 6 januari 2011

Train hard, win easy

In order to keep up with IT my next challenge for myself was to become Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP, CX-310-065). I took the exam yesterday and scored a nice 95%. I'll share some observations about the whole process.

I first took a two day exam training (utilizing some special HBO-fund ). Looking back this wasn't really necessary, but didn't hurt me either.
I already had an impressive exam book by Rasmussen but the book I got at the training was even better. The Rasmussen book is very comprehensive but the (for me) difficult topics of generics and inner classes were too dry to get through. The Sierra/Bates book was just more readable.
At the end of the training we took a mock exam and I scored 60%. The current pass norm is 58% (used to be 65%). So I decided to study my weak topics and all should be ok. After studying my weak topics I took the 2nd mock exam: 60%! Hmmm, shouldn't I be scoring higher?
After about 30 hours of going through the entire book during the christmas holidays I took the 3rd mock exam. 61% WTF!? I never had so little return for so much study.

I was starting to get pretty annoyed with the whole thing. The Sierra/Bates questions were often about nitty gritty details, or contained tricks within tricks within tricks. I'd study a whole chapter and the first test question was about the exception to the exception in some small corner.

The last day of study I toyed around with live code, instead of just reading the book. This also helped and I could have done more of that.

Then the exam came. It turned out to be way more easy than the Sierra/Bates mock exams. One big difference is that Sierra/Bates phrased most questions as "choose all that can apply". On the real exam most often the number of options to choose was specified ("choose the 3 correct answers"). That made a huge difference. The other big difference was just that the questions were less tricky. There were some, but most questions were straight about testing your understanding on the topic at hand.

Another weird thing was that I identified 3 (out of 60) questions to have clear reproducible errors in them. And these were unintentionally since the answer "will not compile" was no option. One was a declaration "private name;" (missing String), the other was "private void() methodName{}" (parentheses misplaced). The other was "choose the two correct options" but then providing a radiobutton . I find this pretty astounding for an official exam taken by thousands of people.

Then came my score: 95%! At first I was happy, but then felt a bit disappointed. If it is this easy and the norm is 58% then everyone can to this. The certification isn't very exclusive and I could have saved a lot of studytime. Oh well, I'll just make sure to mention my score to everyone ;-)

So does this whole experience make me a better programmer (/lecturer)? I'd say that 50% of the effort was useful in seeing things about the Java language in which I didn't have much experience. The other 50% is more a testimony of determination, concentration, focus and study capabilities. But I could also have shown that by learning Spanish or how to play the piano (oh, if only a day had 48 hours... :-)

Next stop is to educate myself more on research but I'll be back for the developer exam (SCJD) in the future.