Computer Science Stories

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DAVID EHLEY ‘18

I remember in my last semester, I took Compilers with Dr. Hansen . That was probably one of the more difficult classes I took at Parkside, but also the one I learned the most from. I was in Dr. Hansen's office almost every week, and I really learned a great deal from him. I also got to work with some great classmates, Aaron Diaz and Jesse Karakash. We had some very late nights in the lab, but looking back on it, those were some fun times.

I really felt ahead of the curve at my first development job out of college. While most grads hadn't worked on development projects with other people before, I had already been doing that for a year with the two Software Engineering classes at Parkside. The most valuable thing I learned at Parkside was not a specific technology, but rather how to collaborate with people.

IF NOT FOR PARKSIDE… I would not be the collaborator that I am today. 
 

 

RONALD WURZER ‘82

A friend who will remain nameless submitted their IBM 360 COBOL punch card job and - wouldn't you know it the system crashed! Picked-up the deck and resubmitted. What a coincidence, the system crashed again! I think the third time they figured out my friend’s card deck was causing the system crash. ; )

I discovered that I was computer literate by accident. I dropped by the HP computer 'lab' to kill time (and lots of trees!) playing simple games - 'Hunt the Wumpus', 'Star Trek', and decided to take a computer class (before there was a major?). I avoided the 'Geek' culture because I worked full-time. That culture troubled me (still does). I have a Master's Degree in CS (Washington State University) & a 40 year career in tech. I'm still programming.

IF NOT FOR PARKSIDE… I would not have gone to college. Local State funded institutions of higher learning are vital for a modern workforce. College must be affordable and available to all.  They also provide a vital resource to the local community. Most of my friends were heading off to college, I was the first in my family to go, and without Parkside I certainly would not have started college right after high school if at all.
 

KAREN SCARFONE ‘93

I remember when we had one room of dumb terminals with one huge, noisy line printer. To me it was heaven, just sitting there chatting with classmates while I did my homework and emailed with friends at other universities. 

When I graduated, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. Over the years, I've worked in software development, system administration, technical support, training, and security architecture and research. Now I'm a freelance cybersecurity writer. My computer science classes at Parkside gave me a strong foundation for doing all those things. In my work, I've used knowledge and skills from literally every CS class I took. Parkside's program also prepped me well for graduate school. I couldn't ask for anything more than what Parkside offered me.
 

MONA SIN ‘03

I really liked that certain assignments presented interesting challenges and competitions.   One assignment was about creating the fastest algorithm using column sort (like what!) - the goal was to figure out how to implement what's required as well as make it performant - the fastest program gets a prize. We had the freedom to choose which language to use and of course anyone using c family would be at minimum faster than anyone using Java. I was a 'native' Java speaker so I naturally used that. The first place student used c++ and he wrote 1000s of lines of code. The second place analyzed the test data and implemented ways to efficiently index and retrieve the data. I don't recall what was done by the third place. I was in fourth but was still pretty happy because it was the fastest program in Java (of course that could be true or just a narrative I've been telling myself all these years).  What I learned was that creative solutions can be had if we can see beyond the limitations of the requirements. Also it is important to have fun and love what you do.

The professors made a positive impact on me and I had so much fun even with all the hard work we had to put in. They were personable and not afraid to challenge us and at the same time, engaged in discussions with an open mind and an open heart to correct a mistake. The CS and Engineering department gave me an advantage in the work place because it not only gave me the valuable knowledge but also generated an interest for me to further my education in the domain.  I may not have realized how much it affected me then, that the positive experience had made me always strive to challenge myself and keep learning. I've stayed in touch with a couple of professors even after so many years. The Computer Science program and the Engineering department prepared me well for the work force.  Both breadth and depth of knowledge play an important role in my work today as a highly valued employee at Microsoft and a sought-after consultant.

IF NOT FOR PARKSIDE… I would not have had as much fun while I was learning in college.
 

TIMOTHY FOSSUM (FACULTY 1974-2005)

In the late 1980s, I got a grant from NSF to develop a dialup email connection with UW-Milwaukee to support my collaboration with researchers using my PC-Xinu operating systems material. With help from sysadmins at UWM, we converted it to a leased line. At that time, our CS Department had a VAX 11/750 that was housed in the Computing Center and that had direct twisted pair wire connections (25 pairs, I think) to terminals in our Molinaro Hall CS labs where we could get email access. Email those days was a hodge-podge of protocols (UUCP, SMTP, and fido were prominent). I remember having email contact with a researcher in South Africa where the messages were routed through several dialup hops that were explicitly named in the email address. (Nowadays, email messages are transported almost exclusively by Internet routing protocols.) 

I had a small amount of funding left over from my NSF grant, so I used it to purchase a 1500 ft. spool of coaxial Ethernet cable (affectionately called "orange hose") and an Ethernet modem so we could connect our leased line and Computing Center VAX to our CS labs across campus using Ethernet. My intention was to replace the slow-speed twisted pair cables with a single Ethernet cable having 10,000 times the speed capacity. More importantly, Ethernet supported high-speed Internet traffic, something that we needed to build our growing program in CS.  So we got the Ethernet cable and modem, but we needed to lay the cable from one end of the building complex to the other. Most of the route was easy to access: open top cable trays in the ceilings of the D2 levels, with a few enclosed conduits to deal with.

Knowing that the Physical Plant would charge an arm and a leg to do the job, I arranged for our lab tech, Paul Sorensen, to help me lay the cable, in the dark of night and on a weekend, with little chance of running into nosy parkers. I had key access to the Computing Center, and Paul had access to the Molinaro electrical closet. However, we did not have access to the electrical closets in the "Classroom Building", where the Computing Center was located.  Under the raised floor of the Computing Center, we discovered a hole in the floor into the level below with a few cables running into it. We surmised that this hole went into the music practice/rehearsal/office rooms below, so we scoped this out first. We found that an important part of our proposed cable route was behind a locked office door. Not wanting to break in, we managed to move some drop ceiling tiles in a hallway next to the office so we could see the hole from the Computing Center (which we used a flashlight to illuminate). We couldn't go across the ceiling tiles -- they could not support any weight -- so we hung a bit of stiff wire with a hook on the end down the hole and threw a ball of string at it through the ceiling access below. We missed a couple of times (the string may still be there above the drop ceiling!), but finally we caught it. That was enough to start a cable pull, and we were off to the races.  Needless to say, we replaced the ceiling tiles to cover our tracks. We started at about 11pm, and finished at about 5am. 

When we were laying the cable, we put a loop of orange hose into the area under the Library that I thought would prove to be useful once the Library started to take advantage of the Internet in its microcomputer labs. We did another loop into the Greenquist electrical closet area for the same reason. It turns out that this these loops played an important role in making it possible for the initial deployment of widespread campus networking a few years later. 

Once we had the Ethernet cable working and with an Internet link with UWM, word got out that we had "email" in our CS labs. I was agreeable to giving accounts to whomever learned of it through word of mouth. This distressed the folks in the Computing Center, who were "Big Blue" BITNET fans and, at that time, fiercely resistant to the Internet (BITNET all but dropped out of existence after it ceased to be supported in 1996). Their party line was: "we do not support email", even though the CS Department was providing it openly. Of course, Internet access has ultimately become an essential campus resource, supported in part by a fiber optic infrastructure built by a welcome collaboration between the Library and the Computing Center. But the orange hose started it all.

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