Saturday, March 24, 2012

Survival from Dave's Place

It's Friday night, and I survived the first week back from Spring break. You remember that time that I posted every night for a week? Yeah, that was because I had no school and no homework. This week has been awesome- I've had tons of work and haven't had a ton of time to relax. I really do value my time writing here, I just wish that I had more of it.

This week had a ton of grading for CS 1400. It's getting much easier and it really is a satisfying job for me. It's fun for me to try to help the kids in the class. I leave gigantic comments and try to teach stuff as I'm forced to take off points. I feel like it has helped me understand the basic concepts. I guess that it's a little unusual for an undergraduate student to have a grader position in the department. It's also unusual for someone who speaks English as their first language. We're working on a really cool research project where we document all the bugs that beginning undergraduate students have troubles with. It's tedious, but the end goal is that we understand better how to teach and help students. Computer Science has a huge attrition rate- somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of kids that start in the major drop out by the time they're through with CS3 (and yes, that 50% was just made up on the spot. It's still pretty high). Our goal in this project is to work on reducing that. I'm trying as a grader to help kids come along. I do love teaching and helping.

I'm attending a math conference this weekend. Yeah, you read that right, a math conference. Last week was the state math competition, and this week is the MAA conference. There was an awesome talk tonight on the pancake flipping problem. Tomorrow morning I'm giving a 15 minute talk on the Frobenius number problem, particularly comparing the lower-bound for sets of size 3 with their actual Frobenius numbers. I'm enjoying the conference a lot more than I thought that I would. It has been a busy week, and preparing for the conference added a lot of stress. Since it isn't directly related to my GPA it has been hard for me to justify delaying other things in order to get ready. It has been worth it so far. I've learned a lot and had a good experience.

I feel like things are going well academically. At the same time, I occasionally get this feeling that I've skipped a million steps and don't really belong here. I once felt like I knew calculus very well. That was years ago, and now I consider myself a complete n00b when it comes to calc. There was an integration bee at the math conference today. None of us from Utah State entered, but I would have got owned had I tried. I'm but a small lad in a big world. Like a little kid trying to wear big-boy pants. Same story for CS. I'm working hard and learning a ton, but I tend to surround myself with people that are way better at all this than I am.

Fitting Example: Last semester I had three math classes. Linear Algebra, Discrete Math, and Intro to Probability. So, there were three undergraduate-teaching-fellows that taught those classes- Scott, Dave, and Sarah. These people are awesome. So, there are four of us undergraduates that drove down to the math conference together today. I drove the tempo with Dave, Sarah, and Scott. It was way fun. In math we don't tend to separate ourselves too much. Last semester they were very clearly my superiors. They helped teach my classes, let's be honest. But today we're all just colleagues or contemporaries. I respect them a ton and they respect me as well. Given that I took a probability class, I'll just point out now that the probability of me driving a car from Logan to Salt Lake to attend a conference with the three undergrad-teaching-fellows I had last semester is pretty low. I wouldn't have seen this coming last semester. I'm grateful for the opportunity, definitely.

I've felt stressed this week, and I am way less friendly when I am stressed. My goal for this next week is to fall asleep thinking about something that is not math. I can't tell you how many times this week I've woken up in the middle of the night and can tell, despite not being more than 30% conscious, that I was working on math. Not that I'm capable of working on math when I'm asleep, but just that my brain was running all sorts of circles around the ideas. Yeah, this doesn't normally happen, and I'm taking it as a bad sign. Well, not the healthiest sign. But definitely nerdy, and generally that's a good thing for me.

Because of the stress level this week I don't feel like I've been making great decisions. I've needed to go grocery shopping since Monday. It is now Friday, and I never went. I've been out of milk since I left for Spring break. This has led to me not eating breakfast. I'll be honest- I don't love eating breakfast. I do believe it's important. I can survive without it, but I'm a firm believer that my days go better when I eat breakfast. Today I woke up, got ready, and threw down some oatmeal. Today was awesome. I need to take care of myself. In an effort to work uber hard this week I didn't take great care of myself, and that has led to me being unable to work uber hard. It's better for me to take care of myself.

I have found social life to be more difficult than I was hoping it would be. I am convinced that finding a girlfriend is NP-Hard. Maybe the fact that I have classified the computational complexity of finding a girlfriend is a good indication that maybe I should try a less nerdy approach to socializing.

Westminster has a pretty cool campus, by the way. We were there today and its pretty posh. I wouldn't attend, clearly, but I liked the old and classy feel that it had to it.

So what's the news? I'm glad to have made it through this week. I'm not quite through yet- I have several more hours that I need to dedicate to my optimization homework before Monday morning. Once I give this talk tomorrow morning, those hours of homework are the last things that stand between me and rest. I'm looking forward to that rest.

Well friends, I'm alive. Surviving. Here crashing at Dave's folk's house on the East side for the night before we all go back to the conference tomorrow. This should be a cool weekend. It's amazing we've made it this far. I hope y'all are doing great. This cat is going to get ready for bed. w00t.

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