...Prove Their Worth...

"Problems worthy of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back." - Piet Hein

A kind of running diary and rambling pieces on my struggles with assorted books, classes, and other things, as they happen. You must be pretty bored to be reading this...

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Oh, and another thing.

My summer job officially rocks. I'm finally doing the kind of stuff that I've been reading about since I was ten years old.

I'm a typical, know-less-than-nothing undegrad, and yet through some spectacularly good luck, I'm actually working on a theoretical physics project. And I'm talking pen-and-paper work here, not being a code monkey. What's more, the specific project I'll be working on just as soon as I learn enough to understand it (like I said, I know nothing) is actually really interesting. It somehow manages to involve most of my self-study topics over the past two years, as well as hit most of the stuff I've been learning in the year I've been back in school.

AND I'm working with the professor who's the best teacher I've seen in the department. OMG.

I can't believe how lucky I am to be working on this stuff. Despite my generalized malaise about my further career prospects*, I really am quite cheery these days.

* - which may or may not be a bullshit thing - I don't really know how grad schools run admissions, or whether most will pulp my application on receipt based on GPA cutoffs. Maybe they'll be overwhelmed by my raw animal magnetism, which will somehow reach them even through a written medium, and immediatly offer me a full ride. Or maybe not.


Well, the semester's officially over, and I actually did well! I got an A- in my experimental physics class, mostly because I couldn't use a ruler to measure the length of a stick (!) in front of the professor on the lab final.

It feels nice to be able to whine about getting an A- in one class (oh noes), 'cause it used to be I'd be sighing mournfully at C's and worse. But hopefully I've now learned how to do well academically, and can keep it up. Sadly, my GPA will retain a certain eau-du-toilet fragrance no matter what I do, since my first two years sucked so much goat. My only real chance when I'm applying to grad schools will be to point and repeat over and over "look, look, upward trend!". Even so, I suspect my application will be passed around the admissions office, with "Check this out - hilarious!" post-its. Ah well. Such is life, and I think it's a good thing that people who actually demonstrate outstanding performance on a consistent basis have a much better shot at not being laughed at when looking for grad schools.

Happens to suck for me that GPA's important, but it's a pretty good system regardless. And anyway, I did well this semester, so I should be cheery. And I am, damn it.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

It's not easy being green.

Whoa. This thing is gonna fuckin' photosynthesize from now on!

Or not.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

You know, it's funny. Objectively speaking, field theory really shouldn't be any harder than group theory, at least at the undergrad level. And yet while I can handle field theory stuff, I have a far easier time with group theoretic things. For instance, since we're now covering Galois theory, I've found the homeworks to be radically easier and more pleasurable - it's stuff about groups again, normality, solvability, commutator subgroups, and so on.

Weird, no?

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Wow, it's been a long time. I've been busy. Hmm. I wonder if this thing still works.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Ah, I finally figured out how to get japanese to show up on blogger. Hurray. Not that I know enough to write about anything save negotiating the proper price of pants and pens, but it's still neat.



Saturday, November 22, 2003


Well now. It appears that blogger is doing something amusing with multibyte characters, or something. Or perhaps I'm doing something wrong with encodings/charsets. !$^#^%$#%^&#,!!!!11one!

Oh, sweet. I've learned how to write in Japanese in Windows XP. It's really really cool, but highlights just how pathetic my �ɂق� skills are (�킽���͓�{�ꂪ�킩��܂���?B)?@... Also, turning on Japanese language input crashes Mozilla-based browsers very reliably. I don't know wtf is their problem. But all in all, being able to type in such bon mots as �킽���̓o�J�ł��� blows up the coolness barometer. Hurray!

Oh, and if any of you other pasty white boys ever wondered if Japanese is fun to learn, wonder no more: It's a whole lot of fun. It's also quite challenging, but not horrifically so, and it's a wonderful change of pace from math and physics classes. And yeah, you'll have to deal with a class 60%+ full of anime freaks, but that's really not so bad - they don't bite, much. And at least so far, on the JAPN101 level, it seems that while the language actually has grammar rules that it follows, unlike some languages I could name...

I wonder if this next means what I want it to mean (namely "watasi wa nihongo ga hotondo wakarimasen" - I understand almost no japanese). I'm playing with XP's auto-kanji conversion thingy, at least the nihongo conversion looks right, in that I've seen nihongo written as ��{�� before. Trouble is that I'm taking JAPN101 right now, and in my school's program we don't start learning kanji until JAPN102. Bummer, eh?


Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Today's physics class was fun, in a roller coaster-of-death sort of way. The professor who teaches our class is out of town this week, and asked a postdoc of his to substitute for him. The professor is a fantastic teacher. This postdoc was ... well meaning, clearly personable, and will probably make a good teacher eventually.

The trouble started in the first minute of class, where he announced that today we will be solving the Poisson equation, which is fine, and that we'll be using Green's functions to do so, which would have been fine if we'd known what those were. Then he gave a five second definition of Green's functions, and started using them. After people, including me, started wailing for mercy, he revealed that he had been under the impression that this was a graduate class, which it ain't. Or perhaps it was a joke, and he has a very sustained, deadpan sense of humor. I dunno.

In any case, I got entirely lost about ten minutes in, and stayed lost till the end of lecture. I suspect I was not alone, though there were some people who claimed that they followed things ok. Perhaps they weren't lying ;).

In any case, when I got home, I hit the books, specifically Redheffer's Differential Equations and googled 'till I dropped, and just got more confused. At which point I gave up, and started some serious studying for tomorrow's Japanese oral. Then, while Commanding All that I Surveyed upon the White Throne of Power, lighting struck, as usual. That is, I now think I understand why the hell Mr. Postdoc did what he did. I don't quite understand how he did what he did, however. So far as I could tell while taking a dump, there was a way more direct/intuitive way to get the solution, instead of ending up with complex integrations and rather horrific algebra. But probably I just don't actually understand it enough - I doubt he'd have gone through that much trouble if it didn't have a point.

I'll write up the plan of attack for the problem as I now understand it, to organize my thoughts, and then I'll ask if I'm right or wrong at the beginning of class on Thursday, setting myself up to look like a complete 'tard. Since I'm probably wrong.

Friday, October 24, 2003

For some reason my math homework was somewhat hard this week. It was on automorphisms of groups, and conceptually it's pretty straightforward material, at least at the level at which we're working at. An automorphism is just a one-to-one and onto homomorphism of a group to itself, and everything falls out from that. Most of the homework problems were straightforward, except for two of them. Those two fell into the evil category of exercises which are hideously frustrating to work on, as what they assert is intuitively 'obvious', yet each attempt at a rigorous proof falls apart in a flurry of tautologous algebra and definitions. Until that magic moment when a light goes on in my head, and I see _exactly_ how to do it. Then I feel conflicted, as on the one hand, I did it, yay, and on the other, the answer looks so simple that I feel stupid for not having thought of it much faster.

Anyway. I'm trying to decide what to take next semester. If I was King and I had superpowers, everything would be simple and I'd just sign up for all the classes that I want - miraculously, they don't even conflict with each other, time-wise. Unfortunately, that would make for a 21 credit semester, where 15 of those credits would be in rather serious upper-level math and physics courses, and 6 in a japanese course. That would be really, really hard, as I don't actually have superpowers. But oh, it's so tempting.

The trouble started when I found out that the university's offering a course on Differential geometry in the spring, with a special focus on differential forms and whatnot. This is nominally Part II of the two-semester differential geometry sequence, and since I haven't taken part I, normally I wouldn't care. This time, though, the flyers for the course take pains to point out that the Diff. Geometry I course is really only a 'mathematical maturity' prerequisite, and you don't actually need to have taken it to enjoy the course. If you've had some other upper-level math courses, you should be fine, or so the leaflet claims. This is very tempting. Also, I've asked around, and the guy teaching it is supposed to be fantastic.

On the other hand, I'd planned to take statistical physics/thermodynamics in the spring. It's a required course, and generally useful, though I can't say I'm especially excited about it - but people tell me it's pretty cool. Also, the guy teaching it next semester is reportedly good. All the other courses I'm considering are lock-ins for various reasons, so it's between thermo and diff. geo. It's a tough choice. Next week, I'll try to find who's teaching thermo next fall, and I'll go chat with the diff. geo. professor, to see if he thinks my background is appropriate for his course.

I'm beginning to have fun in school for a change. It feels pretty good.

(And I hope this doesn't jinx it, knock wood and plastic)

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

So I had a fun time in my Japanese class Monday morning. Every day, we're supposed to memorize several so-called 'core conversations', and act them out in front of the class. Each conversation focuses on some aspect of the grammar/vocabulary we're supposed to be learning, and it seems to be a nice learning tool. Anyway, as the semester has progressed, the conversations to be memorized have gotten longer and longer, and they're now becoming a bit challenging.

Anyway, Monday's conversations were pretty serious, but I buckled down over the weekend and memorized them really well, and could regurgitate them at the drop of a hat. Ahem. Anyway, at the beginning of class the professor called for volunteers to be the first to go through the nastier core conversation. I raised my hand - first, I'd done an awesome job memorizing it, and second, I wanted to get it out of the way.

I delivered my first line prettty well, and then while listening to the response, something in my head decided to momentarily reflect on the fact that my partner for the conversation was actually quite a pretty girl. Unfortunately, as soon as I thought this, I somehow forgot the rest of my lines. Well, sort of, as I just said them really slowly and with mistakes.

Anyway, the lessons learned are 1) Don't volunteer, lest ye look like a total 'tard! 2) Memorize harder, and 3) Henceforth try to force self to view the people I recite stuff with in Japanese as hideous tentacle beasts, so as to minimize the chance of distractions. Anyway, what's curious here is that I don't normally blue-screen when confronted with pretty ladies. I'm not sure what the fuck happened in this case. A case of the Mondays, I guess.

Monday, October 20, 2003

A snippet from Tennyson's Ulysses:

The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.