Friday, January 20, 2012

Seven Quick Takes

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!
  The thing about living in a UCT+2 timezone is that by the time I see people posting about Friday, it's well into Saturday for me. Or maybe it's just a problem because I follow a lot of international American blogs. Or maybe it's just that I'm not organised enough. At any rate, the last couple of weekends have seen me scrolling through my feedreader saying 'Oh, I guess it's too late to write one of those 7QT posts'. But it looks like I might've pulled it off this time.

  It's not that I'm a perfectionist or anything. I completely accept that nothing will be done 100% right. I'd just like everything to be within a few standard deviations of correct. 3-sigma certainty, for example, is 99.7%. A 0.3% error in the posting time would give me, um, less than four and a half minutes into Saturday when I could post. See? Totally not perfectionist about stuff. Not whatsoever.

  The holidays are too long. Now, people will object if I advocate for more term time, but I think it would be cool if we could take a couple of weeks from the long summer/winter holidays and tack them onto the ridiculously short mid-semester breaks. It might be nice to have a more balanced kind of year, but it would definitely be nice if I didn't have time to realise that the sensible thing to do with my curriculum might be to pick up Operations Research and Numerical Methods and drop Real Analysis and Algebraic Structure. I think it's worth struggling to take the courses I'll most enjoy, though.

 It's not that the other modules are horrid, but it feels like switching waffles and ice-cream for macaroni and cheese. Macaroni cheese is yummy and good for you, but, well, it's not waffles and ice-cream.

Better than macaroni cheese? [Photo by Michael Kwan]
 It's kind of hard to justify that, though. The applied maths courses would probably open more doors for me in terms of postgrad studies and the fact that they don't clash with my required physics courses is probably also significant. The pure maths courses look like more fun. And given that I don't really know what I want to do next year, I can't base my decisions on that. But it's not worth stressing about till I'm back on campus. So really, the holidays should just be shorter.

 When I'm trying not to stress (for whatever collection of reasons) I read. A lot. In the last few days I've read Northanger Abbey as well as all five books in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief series. Riordan is awesome, but I couldn't help noticing that Percy dreams an awful lot in those books. Dreams are used as a really cool plot device, but given the number of throwaway comments the guy makes about his past dreams, he must have way more non-plot-related dreams than plot related ones. But he says he dreams way more at camp (where the action happens) than elsewhere. The epistemo-temporal maths doesn't work out. (It's still better than Harry Potter, where there are forty kids per year, but six or seven hundred in the school . . .) Despite such things, I love the books.

 No, I don't think epistemo-temporal is actually a word. But let's pretend and use our etymological detective skills, yes? Epistemo from the Greek word ἐπιστήμη (epistēmē), meaning "knowledge". Temporal from the Latin root tempor- meaning "time". That is, the knowledge Percy gains by dreaming doesn't seem to tie up with the amount of time he spends dreaming. And I feel totally justified in mixing Latin and Greek, since Riordan does it all the time, although we hardly noticed until it became the premise for the new Heroes of Olympus series.
Next on my (re)reading list (anyone who writes about classical mythology set today with a steampunk edge has to be pretty awesome, right?)
 There is a blog called Faraday's Cage is where you put Schroedinger's Cat.

 It reminds me of why engineering is awesome, as well as why it frustrated me. It makes me think it doesn't really matter that much which bunch of cool courses you take for your undergrad degree: you can still shift around a bit more later if you're willing to work. It's pretty cool if you're interested in stuff like Physics/Maths/Engineering/Science Education/Gifted Child Education/Homeschooling/Cute Fluffy Animals*. I saw it featured here and it's part of the reason The Lost Hero is still on the to-be-read list (rather than the currently-reading list).
*Actually, it's pretty cool even if you aren't, but you probably have to like some of them to enjoy it.


  1. You're ahead of me I guess, because I'd never even heard of "7 Quick Takes" until now XD

    How could I ever choose between macaroni and cheese or ice cream?!

  2. This picking a major business is terrible, I tell you!

    (I don't think either of us are in the usual 7QT demographic - I'm just a bit odd in my habits. ^^)

  3. "The pure maths courses look like more fun"
    huh? More interesting, perhaps, but applying maths is surely the fun part?! You do have a greater interest in maths than I do, though (I think), so maybe you like proving theorems...

    Anyway - I did Numerical Methods, and found it really interesting and fun, if only because we used MATLAB. I did Complex Analysis and my friends did Real (which is similar), and it just seemed like theorem after theorem. I would have found the Maths more interesting if I didn't have to prove it! My friends also did an Algebra course, which was apparently more interesting. But yeah. I would go with Applied courses any day!

    Oh - good advice though is to pick courses based on lecturers. I did every MATLAB course in undergrad, and the last one, Numerical Analysis, was interesting but I battled the whole way because the lecturers were very difficult to follow. (True, I was also triple majoring, so focusing on maths was tougher than usual...)

    Ok this comment is seriously long.. Well, whatever you land up choosing, for whatever reason, I think that with Maths it kind of turns out worth it in the end anyway. Heck, I only enjoyed one out of the four I did last year, and I most likely failed the entire thing. But as difficult and frustrating and boring at times as it was, I'm glad I did it, and that I did the sections that I did.

    All the best with your decision and with the year :)

    1. Thanks for all those thoughts! Sorry I didn't reply earlier - I read the comment and forgot I hadn't responded. I *do* like proving theorems, though . . . Not necessarily because I like maths more, I just like the shape of proofs. (If that makes any sense whatsoever.) I've ended up taking Real Analysis and D.E.s this semester, and Complex Analysis and Algebra next, so there's some applied work mixed in with the theorems. (Also, my other major is Physics, with extra Computational Physics electives, so I do a fair amount of Ap. Maths by other names and it's nice to have a change sometimes!)

      "I think that with Maths it kind of turns out worth it in the end anyway."
      - That's encouraging! Thank you! :)