Monday, October 31, 2005

Solitude isn't all that bad. is my new homepage. I dump my RSS feeds here, google search here, keep my to-do list right on there... ach, it is lovely. Now I want to understand the technology behind it.

After Suzanne's singing audition (she's directing a lovely Rachmaninoff vocal piece that I cannot spell the name of), I barricaded myself in my room today, leaving only to take out the trash and briefly watch Mary Poppins in my suite lounge. Once in a while, a little isolation is good.

I'm nearly done reading McLuhan's Understanding Media, which is mildly old-fashioned in tone and content but has some interesting insights anyway. McLuhan was, as I understand it, the first person to study the effect that media (clocks, newspapers, phones, telegraphs, radio, the lightbulb) has on society rather than focusing on the content they transmit. "The medium is the message" was a phrase coined by that book. Reading it is like listening to a grand-uncle tell you the discoveries of his old days by the fireside; you nod and smile politely on occasion, but it's genuinely interesting stuff for the most part. For instance, McLuhan classifies media as "Hot" or "Cold," depending on how involved they make the individual feel. Does a media make a society more individualist (radio) or more tribal (print)? What does it mean for the social structure when information suddenly flows orders of magnitude faster than it ever has before? I think McLuhan would have gotten a kick out of the internet. I wonder if someone's written an equivalent book for the modern age.

One thing that came up in conversation when Chris and I were driving back from Bikes Not Bombs on Friday is the idea of just... living. Which I've never done. I spent my entire teenage life away from home working my brains out in magnet schools (IMSA and Olin). I'm not entirely sure where my childhood went. I had fun, but... well, math textbooks aren't entirely subsitutes for normal 12-year-old peer companionship. Between the ages of 14 and 19, I celebrated a grand total of one birthday at home, and that was only because I decided not to go to prom. I've never gone on a random road trip or seen a good night sky. I've never biked past the borders of my town or had a crush or pulled a large-scale prank. I have cried, for very short periods of time before regaining control, finding a solution, and laughing for real again, in front of a grand total of two people who were not my parents (and I a small child).

I have never really let myself be vulnerable to anything. (Even the act of writing these words in this blog, which might make some people vulnerable, does not make me uncomfortable, because I see it as an objective analysis, a sort of self-audit, and not particularly a revelation.)

There have been moments where I know I've lived: I've danced in the dark on a frozen lake, sat on an ice-covered tree for hours, played soccer in a warm downpour, and yelled poetry into a blizzard because it felt like the right thing to do at the moment. I live when I design, when I teach, and when I learn about lovely ideas like I mentioned in a previous post. I have painted cardboard armor and run down the hall in war stripes and played guitar in string-blistered fingers. But even now, too much of my time is spent attempting to observe life and analyze it rather than participate in it.

I don't take my academics obsessively seriously, and I have a lot of fun with what I do, but I've never actually stopped and had time to have a life, had space to have a life, or let myself... have a life. No overloaded classes, no crazy job, no family obligations. Just kind of being there. Appreciating things. Reading good books. Eating good food (when have I last cooked a full dinner from scratch with truly good ingredients?) Going where I want to go when I want to go there. I've always sold my time to somebody else, and I don't want to any more. I need a vacation. A very long vacation. *slips on ring of power, vanishes*

Kidding aside, I do need to take some time to step back and be still and quiet for a while. Knowing me, "still and quiet" means going off on some ballistic rampage quest o' fun, but the lack of obligations, attachment, and responsibility are what I"m going for. I'd like to take a year between Olin and whatever-comes-after-Olin to do something for myself. Options include volunteering somewhere like City Year, the Peace Corps (I know that's two years), Teach For America, shipping myself off to China or biking to Mexico or heading to the Philippines to do what I can, or sticking around Boston and trying to find something.

There's also the idea of heading across the country on a low-budget tour to learn about the American educational system. I'd like to write a book. I'd like to watch classrooms, see how they're being taught, see how local, state, and federal mandates affect education, see how they're supported. Talk to teachers, talk to students, talk to parents, administrators, government officials. How does a country help its children grow into good adults? What's out there? What's going on? It's a vague idea, and I'd need to find a more specific focus for it, not to mention a way to feasibly carry it out well.

I'm far too much of a dreamer for my own good.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.
Now put foundations under them.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


There's nothing like a nonfunctional laptop power cord to make you realize how dependent you are on it (and how much it limits your motion to be plugged in). I'll talk to IT tomorrow morning. In other words, I'm seriously considering getting a PocketPC, a Palm, or something else handheld - my laptop is great, but sometimes I just need... a small computing thing that syncs with Outlook and has wireless. I think the battery would last longer on those, too. (I can just imagine people with handhelds laughing at me now. "The fool! She thinks they have good battery life...")

It was not altogether a terrible day, by which I mean it was actually quite nice. The Wellesley book fair is awfully tempting to be at, especially when stuff is going at $5 a bag. Frell yeah. I hadn't planned on going until Karen and Beth showed up at my door, but now I have a sack of educational psychology books I didn't have before, along with such classics as Hume's "An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding" and a Bible (New American - the official Catholic translation). I should actually read, with good depth and seriousness, the central book of the religion I was raised in. I also got a translation of the Book of Job, which is one of my favorites because of the way it hits home. It hits home painfully, but it hits.

There's also an old, slim copy of Romeo and Juliet in the bag. I have to finish writing that Rhomeo and Julihat script from freshman year, and this will hopefully provide impetus. I want to have it complete before the seniors graduate. I shudder at sappy things, but I actually love some of the passages in there between Romeo and Juliet; they're beautifully written and not just gratituous sugar. Sometimes that's how I feel about math and other beautiful ideas in math and science. I think Shakespeare captures the reverent awe very well.

But soft! What flux through yonder plane doth break? It is the E, and Julihat is the source!

When I understand a deep idea for the first time, the feeling I get is kind of what I imagine other people feel like when they fall in love with a person. Except this is a more distant and sort of reverent awe, a walking around with your feet floating off because you're seeing that concept everywhere you look. The first time I saw calculus, it happened. When I understood the evolution of the monetary system (when the phrase "time is money" began to truly make sense), it happened too. When I learned about formal visual balance in artistic compositions, I ran around framing the world between my fingers. When I learned there was more than one kind of infinity. When I saw that integrators and differentiators weren't just calculus concepts. I don't need alcohol because I can get drunk on ideas.

The appreciation of that sort of beauty used to be my subsitute for people. It still is my subsitute for people when I don't know what to do in a social situation or when I'm afraid of venting something that'll become a burden to someone else. Books are very safe friends. When you read them, nothing changes between you and them.

End that tangent. Then we had our first Better Bags meeting for Team CHASM (Chris, Herbert, Andrew, Stephen, and Mel; it works out nicely) during which we brainstormed ("Let's have tiny ninjas cart their groceries home!") and then headed to Whole Foods to observe customers. And, er, do some shopping. I brought back rice cakes, jam, and salmon patties.

Revelation of the day: Shopping bags can actually hold up to 60 lbs without breaking at all.

Second revelation: Anything beyond 20 lbs in a grocery bag is really uncomfortable to carry for an appreciably long period of time.

Conclusion: People totally underload grocery bags.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


How to have a good Saturday:

1. Stay up reading and talking to friends 'till 6.
2. Wake up - no alarm - at 10am. Decide blankets are warm. Snuggle back inside bed.
3. Wake up - no alarm - at noon. Decide blankets are still warm, and very comfortable. Re-nap.
4. Wake up - no alarm - at 2pm - to big, fat snowflakes drifting slowly down from the sky. Rejoice, take a hot shower, and lounge until you
5. Go to dinner at your aunt's house and play with small children.

(to be completed shortly)

6. Returning from dinner, have some good productive work time until
7. ExpressO jamming practice with Kristen and Eric, followed by
8. More happy productivity that makes a huge dent in your to-do list.
9. Hot tea and conversations, then
10. More sleep.

Holy Overdue Work, Batman!

After drilling plywood for several hours, Chris and I finished up the aluminum crate for Bikes Not Bombs and got back on campus at 8:30, an hour later than usual. I love volunteering at BNB; there's something great about the rumpledness of the shop, the hackishness of what we do, the grease and sawdust that find their way into your hair, your clothes, everything. We also got another old steel bike frame for our matsci project.

Anyway, this made me late for our Batman costume prep. Suzanne was Batgirl, Mark was Batman, I was Robin, and Andrew was The Riddler. Considering our costumes consisted entirely of a mad scramble to the garment district, a trip to Jo-Ann's Fabric, and a last minute hack, they were beautiful. I'm biased, but really - you need to see for yourself. If I get pictures, I'll post them. Apparently with my hair parted and gelled, my glasses off, and a mask on, I look like a teenage boy (says Jeff and Alex). To appease them (and stop scaring Alex off), my hair is now very rumpled (still gelled, no longer parted) and my glasses are back on.

There were even more awesome costumes at the dance. Notables include the Winnie The Pooh group which had something like 30 people, Joe with a crowbar and a Half Life costume, Brian and Dan as a prox card and reader, Kat (resistor), Kristen (diode), Simon and Eric VW (capacitor), and Gallimore (PCB) as a circuit, and Jon Tse as Mark Chang (the resemblance was eerie). I go to the Halloween dance to see the costumes, anyway. The actual dance + music + crowdingness part isn't something I enjoy all that much.

I have trouble functioning in normal society's recreational activities, particularly parties and dances. I have a hard time having fun with no point. Not that I think dances and parties are worthless, because they definitely let people blow off steam. It's just that I don't really feel like I fit in them. You know what it's like when you belong somewhere, but you don't just quite fit there? It's like being a puzzle piece wandering around looking for its spot. It's somewhere there; it's definitely part of the picture - it's just not... in it yet.

So what do you do then? Make your own fun! After I upload my HFID homework, it's off to the lounge to sit in on the last half of Shrek.

Friday, October 28, 2005

More memes.

10 years ago . . .
- Cried because the first English paper I really let myself write was so different from everyone else's. (This is the paper that gave me the pseudonym "Mouse.")
- Had never heard of abstract math before; I thought calculus was just a more complicated form of multiplication that was Really Hard for grownups and that I shouldn't even dream of tackling it yet.
- Started piano lessons with Mrs. Budilovsky, who taught me over the next five years what it really means to play music.
- Took home the maximum number of books allowed from the school library every day and read them all after dinner every night instead of going over to friends' houses most of the time.
- Didn't hang out with the girls much at recess. I played football, wall-ball, and chicken (wrestle your opponent off the monkey bars while hanging from them yourself) with the boys instead.

5 years ago . . .
- Improvised in front of a stage of people for the first time at Pseudo.
- Played the cello every day in orchestra; had stopped playing piano, and was too afraid to sing.
- Carried a sketchbook in my backpack continuously and drew in it every spare moment. Became known as "The Kid Who Does Art."
- Taught for the first time. Fell in love with teaching.
- Was (at 14) the "kid sister" to all my IMSA friends, who formed a somewhat protective (if eccentric) family.

1 year ago . . .
- Slept in a cave behind Kristen's desk.
- Worked all night most nights in the 4N nook grading ICB papers, doing homework, and arguing with Alex and Mark.
- Wrote my first a capella arrangement.
- Decided to become an ECE by using the Dartboard Method of major-picking. (Seriously.)

Yesterday I . . .
- Slept through my morning classes for the last time this illness
- Went to the first two user interviews for the human-powered vehicles team
- Started work with Team CHASM on a sustainable grocery bags competition (BetterBags)
- Found that kielbasa and cornbread are a great lunch combo
- Was only supposed to be in more than one place simulatenously twice

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

20 things

Wow. Planet Olin is awesome. I'll cave to the meme.

20 things you probably don't know

20. I was on the verge of going to art school three years ago. I've actually got an IM conversation recorded in which I tell a friend "Oh, I'm pretty sure I'm going to a liberal arts school - there's no way I could actually study math, or science, or anything like that..."

19. I was born with perfect hearing, but traded it off in order to survive a bout of pneumonia at age 2. It took three more years for my parents to realize I couldn't hear high frequencies any more. They then worried that I would fall behind.

18. I had a sign language interpreter from 3rd to 8th grade. Despite this, I can still not carry on a fluent conversation in ASL.

17. There are only three things I wish I could hear. Consonants (in spelling bees, I had to continually ask for definitions and whether words were plural or singular, since I can't hear the 's' at the end of plural words), the melodies in flute concertos, and birds. I don't mind playing the right hand of the piano by sight - I transpose it down an octave the first few times I practice, and then things are fine.

Right, so enough talking about my ears.

16. My parents speak English, Tagalog, Fookien, and Mandarin to each other at home. Trouble is they speak them all at the same time. Consequently, I speak... English.

15. As a small child, I once asked Santa Claus for a precalculus textbook for Christmas. By the end of January, I had finished reading it.

14. My favorite Filipino dish is diniguan, or "Pork blood soup," which sounds gross but tastes wonderful. (My family immigrated from China to the Philippines, then from there to the US.)

13. There's a betting pool among my high school friends as to when I will have my first boyfriend and my first beer. Answers range from "freshman year at college" to "never." Currently, "never" is in the lead.

12. However, Tesch and I pulled an April Fools prank on my high school buddies our first year at Olin, wherein we managed to convince the folks back home in IL that I was dating him, thereby massively freaking them out. It was wonderful.

11. I have never TA'd a class beyond the middle school level in which all my students were younger than I was at the time (I have been a TA since high school).

10. I have a small brother. His name is Jason and he's 2.5 years younger. He hasn't actually been smaller than me since he was nine or so.

9. When I was in middle school, I was convinced for some reason that I would never live past the age of 19. I hope I was wrong.

8. My mother is a retired dentist. To her chagrin, I have had more cavities and dental work than any other child in my extended family. (To be fair, the extended bout of pneumonia left the enamel of my then-developing adult teeth severely weakened.)

7. My father works for a medical supply company. He once dressed up as Captain Electrode to make a presentation to his sales reps. I have a photo of him next to my brother and myself as children, striking a noble pose dressed in a mask, a cape, and a gigantic thunderbolt insignia.

6. I once tried to use cold cream to condition my hair because the ad copy on all the shampoo bottles was telling me that "moisturizing" was good. It took several rinses with dishwashing detergent to get it all out. More than ten years later, I am still extremely skeptical of beauty products. (Then there was the time I shaved my forehead because I'd heard that women shaved but couldn't figure out what they shaved...)

5. My laptop used to have a painting of a phoenix on it. Then it collided with a falling desk backstage during a play.

4. Before we got a closed-captioned television, I used to sneak downstairs at 6:30am every morning to watch TV. I muted the sound and lipread the actors so I wouldn't wake my parents.

3. Until I was 15, I had no idea that you could learn to program computers; I thought it was highly specialized work that required a PhD or something (my family wasn't incredibly computer-literate).

2. When I was 12, I told my mother that when I got married (if I got married), it wasn't going to be in a dress. White tennis shoes, white t-shirt, jeans - and no flowers. At this point, my father encouraged me to become a nun (I was raised Catholic).

1. I once spray-painted my sneakers black so I wouldn't have to wear dress shoes to a dance.


I spent about half an hour last night picking stiches out of a polarfleece jacket to turn it into a vest. For the record, polarfleece jackets are sewn together with no less than three rows of stitches, all done in a different way; they're a bit of a pain. On the other hand, my halloween costume is almost done now.

The book that Kristen gave me for Christmas, Once Upon A Number, got me thinking about how technical nontechnical stuff is and how nontechnical technical stuff can be. In the weirdest, fuzziest, most emotional and qualitative human reactions, there's some underlying mathematical model. (Why do people buy SUV's? Game theory's minimax.) In the hardest-nosed, most black-and-white math possible, there's all sorts of personal baggage. (Newton vs. Liebniz in the development of calculus, the ways statistics are pitched as legal evidence in a courtroom...)

Last night's Social Justice Reading Group started me thinking about the balance between our duty to try to change the world to our version of "good" and our duty to accept the version that others have of "goodness." Do we tolerate intolerance? If we don't think anybody should be able to enforce their way of thinking on anybody else, aren't we enforcing non-enforcement? How do you change the world without being either very narrowly focused or a hypocrite in some way?

I think the answer has something to do with changing ourselves first before trying to transform others. The trouble is that we'll never be perfect ourselves.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wow, my brain is so broken.

I've been getting an amazing amount of sleep lately. Usually I can wake up after 4 hours and be nice and refreshed, but since I got sick, I've been pulling 7, 8 hours a night. I can feel my health drastically improving after each very long sleep, though; when I was sick and pulling 2, 3 hours a night, my lungs were miserable. Now I can climb a flight of stairs and not start wheezing phlegm! This also means that soon I'll be able to go back to 3-5 hours a night, since I think I'll be better in a few days (and won't need healing time further). Ah, immune systems. How I love thee.

On the other hand, the lost productivity from being sick last week is going to take a little longer to fix. I feel sort of bad for my ECS tutorials - just when they need the most (right before orals), I'm least able to give it. I've been pretty out of it for the last week or so, and completely not teaching up to snuff. Must fix. Hyarr.

Thanks to a mini-project Natalie and I did for Bio last year, whenever I sleep I think of my brain being bathed in a happy, calming fluid. The synaptic clefts between neurons are filled with conductive seratonin when you're awake, but it accumulates charge over time and the signals in your brain start transmitting messages strangely as a result (noisy signal). When you fall into deep sleep, nonconductive melatonin replaces the seratonin, giving your neurons a chance to rest; when you wake up, a new round of seratonin replaces the melatonin, and you're good to go again. At least that's how I understand it. This would explain sleep inertia and why you think differently when you're really sleep-deprived. I'm frustrated by the lack of completion of this picture, though; where does the seratonin go (is it metabolized? does it drain off somewhere? eh?) and from whence does it come, and the same for the melatonin? Where, for that matter, do the electrical impulses that travel through our brains originate - what yields the actual electrons to kick off that first tiny surge of current?

Traveling further off topic, how does something become encoded into muscle memory? I don't have to think of hitting keys as I'm typing this post, but I did when I was 7 (and when I was 14 and learning dvorak). How do short-term memories transfer into long term ones, and where are memories stored? I need to abandon my metaphor of brain as a computer; I realize it's a terribly restrictive one and blinds me to much more - but I have a hard time going with no metaphor at all. All my understanding and explanations are stored in terms of stories; I'm trying to find an alternative file format (see, the analogy again).

Idle thought: I wonder what Olin expected of me when I first got here. When they read my application, what did they think I'd be like? (What on earth posessed them to admit me?) What did they think I'd do? Have I met those expectations, or am I a disappointment (or, at least, not quite what they expected)?

I'm really typing this blog to stall on the grading I should be doing. Bad Mel. No cookie. Finish grading now. There we go.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Parents' Day Orphan

Parents' Weekend without the parents today. I slept past my alarm (I vaguely remember turning it off with a "five more minutes" thought in my head) and was woken by a knocking that was indicative of my lack of presence at OVE's pre-rehearsal. With a slightly phlegmmy throat and almost no warming up, I somehow didn't mess up the entire Alto section of "Build Me Up Buttercup" in our (mostly in-tune, mostly together, but extremely exhausted-sounding) performance. So that went well.

I was somewhat more awake for the UOCD presentation, which I do think went quite well. There were lots of parents there (!) that asked lots of questions (!) and stayed afterwards to talk to us (!!!). We're getting better at this impromptu-presentation thing.

Question of the day: Do we accomodate different learning styles and modalities as much as we should? (At Olin? In general?)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Yee Frickin' Haw.

The New England Mobile Book Fair is a beautiful place. I picked up a book on Tai Chi and John Forester's Effective Cycling for dirt cheap. I'm actually getting more enthralled by bicycles the longer I spend with them - they're wonderfully mechanical, biomechanical, manufacturing-happy, and useful in so many different ways. Carl, the guy who runs Bikes Not Bombs, is awesome. He really knows how to work well with volunteers, get you involved, let you really do something. I need to learn how to mentor like that.

Had a neat talk with Allen today about the availability of census data and our (Andrew's, now expanded to Mark and myself) idea to make statistical information easier for the general public (but more specifically, policy researchers, debaters, and the like) to access.

Thanks to my rash of bloody noses for the past few weeks, my favorite set of bedsheets (mostly the pillowcase) is now permanently stained with ugly brown spots. Or maybe not permanently. I shall have to see. I mean, there are a lot of solvents out there.

Supposedly the play was great - I got back late from BNB, helped set up the food (I'm supposed to be an usher), got some food and missed the first half of the selling-of-the-food, and... generally tried very hard to make myself useful, although I don't think I actually was. But I did what I could. And Mark finally gave me his copy of the script so I could read it and follow the dialogue for tomorrow. So now I've read it, I have my pre-closed-captioning in my brain, and I shall be able to enjoy the show. Thank you, Mark. (It took you long enough!)

Vow: I shall be more utilitarian for the musical. I harbor a secret desire to try out because - well, I've never really done anything on the stage, just stuff behind it - but I know that I am not that great at acting, singing, and dancing, all three of which are required in some amount for a musical. I could probably do something, but I would be much more useful doing... props. Or music. Or something I am better at. I don't know - there seems to be this "drama-ness" that makes theatre or acting good or bad, and for the most part, I'm unable to pick up on it.

Phone conversation with the mother today. Apparently I need to act more feminine and let boys do more things for me, like pay for dinner, or ask me to the Snow Ball. ("You should take advantage of being a girl." "Mom, I armwrestle people for the check.")

In the same conversation, she's commenting on how much my little brother (who's sixteen) has to spend on his date for homecoming (lots). This is, by the way, fulfilling one of my predictions from elementary school - namely that Jason will go on a date before I do. (Right, so it's not a date-date, but he's taking a girl to a dance, and this counts in my book.) Yes, I'm 2.5 years older than him.

Disclaimer: My parents are really cool and supportive and not gender-role-y (heck, they loved that I was going into engineering). However, they are my parents. And they're conservative, Catholic, and Chinese. So.

This is not my life plan:
0. Grow up
1. Settle down
2. Marry a nice Catholic Chinese boy
3. Have nice Catholic Chinese children
4. The end

I wonder just how much my family (extended, too) worries about my eligibility for marriage in the future. To nice Catholic Chinese boys, of course. Of which there are lots in the United States.


Then again, if I'm wondering how much they worry, they're making me think about it, thus rendering any "Make Mel think about BOYS! like other girls her age" plans successful in the end. Henceforth, end conversation on topic in this post.

DENIM is a spiffy prototyping system - it's basically "Sketch your webpages! Whee! Make your images into HTML! Whee!" It's not Photoshop with lots of tables, though; it's actually designed for graphics tablet users and lets you show the link relationships between several pages as well. It's kind of like incredibly limited paper prototyping for webpages. I'd love to examine prototyping tools. You could do a whole semester worth of IS on that. DJ and I might just do that.

Just found out that Blinder needs a sub for the UOCD speech for Parents' Weekend tomorrow, so Andrew drafted Mark and myself to help him out (why? I don't know). We hacked together a skit. Mark's a user, Andrew's an Engineer, and I'm an Olin Engineer. Script I just wrote runs something like this... (we won't necessarily use it)

The Script

/AC209, Olin College. The room is full, the lights are on, and ANDREW, 20 and very professional-looking, stands at the front, addressing the audience. Several chairs are placed at the front of the room between Andrew and the door./


/As he speaks, MARK, 20, and under the burden of accumulated sleep debt, comes in and starts carrying the chairs out, one at a time. He's clearly not thrilled about this job. As he turns to remove the first chair, we see a sign labeled "USER" on his back.

/Andrew: Aha! An opportunity! (To Mark) You, sir, have a problem. I am a highly-trained engineer; I will fix it. Here.

/And with that, he snatches Mark's hand, measures it several times with a tiny ruler, and dashes out of the room as Mark stands slightly stunned. Machining noises from offstage, Andrew rushes back in with a prototype in his hand, and...

/Andrew: There you go. Automatic chair tracker, should solve all your problems, no need to thank me, you're very welcome, good-bye.

/Strolls off, very pleased with himself. As he turns away, we can see there's a sign labeled "ENGINEER" on his back. Mark pokes skeptically at the newfangled gadget, sighs, hands it to an audience member, and continues moving chairs. On his way out with the next chair, he almost collides with MEL flying in through the door. She's mildly hyperactive from having stayed up late writing a script the night before. Pinned to the back of her shirt is a sign labeled "OLIN ENGINEER."

/Mel: Mark, what are you doing? Go back to sleep.

Mark: I can't. I've got to move these chairs down to the auditorium for the play tonight. .

Mel: Huh. Would it be easier if we built something to help you move all these chairs?

Mark: Not really. This is a one-time thing to set up the auditorium. The real pain is getting all the actors in the same place at the same time. Or all your singers, for that matter.

Mel: How do you do that now?

Mark: Call them, email them, hope they show up.

Mel /scribbling on post-its and sticking them copiously to the walls/: What if you had something that'd let you gather your singers together fast? Like a handheld... pager thing. /She begins scratching out things on the whiteboard./

Mark (as Mel draws): That'd be nice. A big "ACTORS COME HERE NOW" button - yeah, that's good. It doesn't need a volume control; I can talk loudly. Can you make it telepathic?

Mel: I'm... pretty sure that's beyond our technological capabilities, but how about an automatic notification for rehearsals you've already scheduled?

Mark: Okay. As long as it tells me when it's doing that. And then...

/Reenter ANDREW, all action halts. Insert further spiel here./

It's late.

I need to do the bedtime thing early tonight. Ahh. Bedtime.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Ahead in two classes, behind in two classes. I'm going to try to change that to A:3, B:1 tonight (and then A:4 over the weekend. I sunk a good four hours of my morning into reading about aluminum for matsci - I think I went a little overboard (the "introductory background paragraph" for our proposal was a page and and a half of dense text) but it's good stuff, and now I'm motivated to learn more of the textbook theory behind metals and processing. Motivation to learn textbook theory has been sorely missing from my matsci life. Now I care again. W00t for PBL!

Gill said something today to the effect of "Life is the art of knowing which things you can let slide." It's true. What things are important to me right now? Let's see. ECS NINJAing, HPV, CompArch, AlSCa (my Matsci team), Gorgonzola (my HFID team), my music, my startups, and not failing AnaDig. Which ones are important out of obligation, and which ones would I do out of love even if they weren't required? All of them except not failing AnaDig. (I'm trying to change that one. I really do want to care.) The CompArch lab is the second thing I'd drop, but it's fascinating stuff and I want to learn it someday, so someday == now... it's just the "I can't think in Verilog when I really don't feel well right now" thing that's getting to me at the moment, but it will pass.

Trouble is when you try to keep everything, everything ends up sliding. I'll probably never learn focus, but I do need to learn better resource management. While I would never want to live forever, sometimes I wish I wasn't so finitely human. Roads not taken gnaw on me, even if I know I'm better having taken the other fork.

Jelly belly jelly beans are wonderful.

Passionate people are too. I don't know what I'm going to do when I graduate and go into a world where not everyone cares. Maybe I'll get a house for grad school and convince other Olin alumni to live with me.

Sudafed is great!

Woke up this morning and felt like my head was packed with cotton balls that had been saturated in mucus. Not a pretty picture. Didn't feel so hot either. But Eric gave me some cough drops and I took (repeated) hot showers instead of going to my morning classes in an attempt to not have all my bodily fluids drain out my nose, which is what it felt like (especially when said nose began to bleed). I'm now probably severely dehydrated. Must... get... water. On the up side, my throat's only mildly sore today. Problems in that area have migrated upwards (sinuses!) and downwards (it feels like someone's welded my sternum in place, thus forcing my lungs to heave mightily against it every time they'd like oxygen).

Now that I'm done being melodramatic (thanks to Sudafed kicking in), on to actual content.

Got a email from my cousin Barby in the Philippines. She's finishing up high school and getting ready to college, and visited Olin with her sister last spring. I think she liked it. :) At any rate, I'm enjoying the email exchange; she brings up all sorts of random observations ("why are highlighters called highlighters?" "why do people respond to diasters the way they do?" "how much friction is between a bow and a cello string?" "I went golfing today and thought about parabolic motion...") that spark off my brain and keep me mentally young. I used to wonder how grownups could fail to stop and notice so many weird little things - now I know it's far too easy to do so. So I'm trying to take more moments to go random-happy.

IBM visited campus today. It sounds like a great company; from everything I've been hearing the last two years, they really take care of their people, care about them growing, learning, and being happy, and look out for their interns instead of just milking performance out of them. I'd like to work for a large company at least once in my life to see what it's like; I've only really worked in academia so far. Sure, I want to come back as an Olin professor - but that's after some time in industry so I can bring that experience back here in my old (or not all that old) age. (Assuming they want me back, that is. I need a lot of improvements first before I'm up to the snuff that is the Amazingness of Olin Professors. Sometimes I don't think I'll ever get there.)

Aside from the sickness, it has not been an altogether bad day. In fact, I'm very happy now - just had a conversation about discrete math with DJ (who is sitting next to me on the couch reading Turing, which is not a biography but a novel) and told Aasted (mid-backrub) that his shoulders needed more ductility, and explained to Becky how humanoid-form upgrades got more expensive as you aged (for those who don't know, I'm not actually human - I'm here for my planet's equivalent of a PhD in anthropology). Plus I got a book on Tai Chi and a book on biking. If I could only get the CompArch lab done, I would be the happiest kid in the world.

Er, young adult.

I'm actually not quite sure about what I wrote yesterday any more. It still does vaccilate - just in a different way than it used to. That's what you get for writing stream-of-consciousness.

This blog is a good indication that the consciousness stream should stop and go to bed right around now.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My throat hurts.

I'm probably coming down with something. Woke up this morning and my throat was in serious pain - it was hurting yesterday, but I sang Buttercup anyway. That, combined with the postnasal drip and swollen lymph nodes, made me go on my first trip to Health Services. Now I'm feeling the other symptoms kick in - runny nose, burning eyes, tiredness, slightly tight lungs. Wonderful, considering that I'm supposed to be singing this weekend.

I'm breaking my 2am rule today to blog this reflection, since I think it's important (if I don't look back, I get very confused). It's costing me $2. The kitty is filling with money (nearly $3 now). I'm much more conscious of when I cuss and when I don't sleep. This is interesting. I hate to have finances control me - but this is something more than the monetary value compelling me. At the same time, if I was penalized jelly beans or something, it wouldn't have the same effect.

Er, that was a bad explanation. What happens, I believe, is that the money stands for something in my mind - like a math book I really want to get, or a package of new post-its (so I have strange gift requests, okay?) and putting in the money is a reminder that I'm counteracting my wishes to get such things. Not because I put the money I would have used to get it into the kitty, but because I waste the time I could be working towards Better Things to do... something else. So when I consciously decide that what I'm doing instead is better than whatever (sleep, work, not swearing) I'd planned to get otherwise, then that's okay. Like tonight. Giving myself a chance to reflect is worth more than $2 progress towards a decent computer keyboard. It makes me weigh the value of things I'm doing.

What they say is true, then. Time is money. Money symbolizes (supposedly) the value of what you do with your time - if you think about it, everything's free; you just need to put in the time to do it. For instance, my flashlight cost $20. I could have gone and mined the metal, built the equipment to make the LEDs, made the LEDs, molded the metal.... it would have taken forever, though. But the $20 I paid for it symbolizes the value of the time that all the people down the line took to make it.

Corollary to this: Why do we pay athletes/actors/musicians/really-good-people so much? Because we want them to do what they do, and we cannot - no matter how much time we put in - do what they do. I will never sing like Rockapella, so I am happy to shell out $30 to hear them. (Some might argue that time, not talent, is what makes genius-level skill - Perlman isn't necessarily more talented at the violin, he just spends his entire life playing it. There's truth to that. However, there's also the fact that if I spend my entire life singing, I will still never be a bass.)

End sidetrack. What happened today? Ah, yes. Health Services. After which I held practice-orals for half of my ECS crew. They did really well - I'm proud of them. It's not so much that a higher percentage of their answers is right (heck, I don't think I get a higher percentage of answers right now as opposed to what I did first year), but that they're learning how to move through things more rapidly, not be afraid of asking questions, how to make educated guesses, how to communicate their thoughts clearly, how to... learn. Without being afraid. Without a rubric or a textbook or a handy checklist or someone else telling them what they should put into their brains.

Sure, there are the rough parts and the times where I feel completely incompetent to teach things, times when they probably feel really confused, or bored, or that I'm an idiot, or they are, and times when we all really ought to work harder. It's one of those things that happens when you put a bunch of humans in a classroom. But despite all that, I'm very proud. And my hope in the future of humanity is renewed, in a really weird way, when I see that people can learn to learn like that.

Actually, one of the larger realizations I've come to make through teaching is that I am really not a good student. Most Olin kids come into Olin as folks who are used to being at the top and completely not confused, but they learn very quickly how to deal with not being that. I never really have. I feel an obligation to be - and a pride at being - SuperMel, she who can read textbooks in classes she's never taken and solve other people's homework problems, she who never listens to lecture but can still explain the topics to other people with silly stories later on, she who can... I hate being smart, but I like being smart. I hate that other people think that I'm smart (I'm not). At the same time, I like that they do. (I'm not.) I like looking smart. (I'm not.) I want to think that I'm smart, and sometimes I do. (I'm not.) And I hate that I like to look smart (because I'm not).

Hubris, anyone?

Anyway, because I'm SuperMel, I can't ask for help. SuperMel doesn't ask for help. SuperMel helps other people. Most idiotic thing in the world right there. When I ask for assistance - assistance, not help - it's got to be because I don't have enough experience, or I'm asking for clarification on stuff I've gone above and beyond on, or... a question that makes me "smart" and not "stupid." It's got to be something that isn't indicative of me having trouble keeping up or being lost with "normal stuff." Because, you know, SuperMel just sort of automatically gets the 'normal stuff.'

I've got to learn to look stupid. Truly stupid. Not just smart-person-taking-risks-that-temporarily-make-them-appear-dumb-but-are-actually-learning-experiences. Is my pride really that high?

If you take the "throw into deep end of ocean" phrase you hear so often at Olin and beat the analogy to death with a large stick, I'm totally cool with asking people "Hey, what happens if I swim there?" or "Can I make this stroke more efficient?" or "Look, which was the fastest way you found back to shore?"

However, I can't be rescued. If I sink, I will sit at the bottom and slowly drown as I stare at the sunlight filtering through the water. I won't ever let anyone save me. Some strange little part of my brain still thinks that if I let myself be saved, then I will not be able to save anybody else, when in fact it should be the other way around.

If I let myself be saved, that makes me fallible. Fallible people can't swoop down all godlike and help others. They might fall apart themselves. There will be that danger of having a limit and hitting it.

But SuperMel doesn't do that.

So SuperMel needs to die. Or change. Or grow up. Whatever.

In slightly better news, I'm doing quite well with Temperance and Silence (the sore throat helped with the latter). It may be time to start thinking of a third - but I'm focusing on the first two still.

Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

This one will take a while. I'm spontaneous, chaotic, and... consequently very inefficient. But I did clean my room. And I am going to sleep soon.

Oh! And I'm quite impressed by Ginneh - she saw the Buttercup arrangement for the first time today, and after three times through she was bolstering up the soprano section very nicely. And she's picked up on more Japanese in half a semester than I did in three years. And she's just a wonderful person to be around. Some people don't know how amazing they are, honestly.

Last thing before I go to sleep. I think I've grown up. Or at least reached a new level of being adult.

Before, even if I did crazy things and acted competent and helpful, I was still a scared little kid inside (because I was a little kid, and I was terrified). I would logicize my way past this, face those fears, and do it anyhow - but inside, there was still a scared little kid that wanted to just hide under a nice warm blanket.

I don't think that kid is there (or scared, at any rate) any more. I think of it - I expect it to be there. I almost want to be afraid, since that would mean I'm still a scared little kid at heart. But I'm not. It's a strange realization. I'm still afraid a lot, but it's in a "I want to run and hide" manner. Instead, it's in a "I wish I wanted to run and hide" manner.

Weird how we want so badly to hang onto old habits.

For me, I was the young'un all the way through high school, everyone's kid sister. I think I was the only one in my physics class without a driver's license. I wasn't even old enough to have a learner's permit. (I had just turned fourteen). I've never taught a classroom full of my peers and had every student there be younger than me. Even when I taught high school kids the summer after my first year at Olin, I was barely 18, and there were some kids there that were nearly a year younger than I was. (I just didn't tell them that. All the other TAs were in their early twenties, so I think they assumed I was 22 or something.) So it's always been "Mel: Young But Competent Anyway." And I'd always think "Yeah, I'm a kid. But I'm competent anyway." And now that becomes just "competent anyway." (When I am competent, that is.)

I'm not sure if this happens to everybody when they turn 19, or if I'm late or early or what.

The other factor in this is slightly more disturbing to me. It would be scary-disturbing not too long ago; now it's just interesting in a mildly unsettling way.

First, background. I don't do the "guys" thing. (Yes, I'm female, and yes, I'm straight.) I still hold vestiges of the "BOYS HAVE COOTIES!" phase. I don't fathom relationships - though I can appreciate the wonderful power of love - because relationships just are Not Logical. (Yeah, I know they're not supposed to be.) I think kissing is gross; I think it's a bad idea to fall for someone, especially if they're your friend, because I've seen friendships get messed up that way. (At the same time, I do think that once you fall for someone, you shouldn't deny that. I'm just not clear on how that boundary, logically, gets crossed. Or at least I never saw - and still do not see - how I would cross that boundary of illogicity myself.)

Basically, I have an intellectual understanding of love, but it makes no logical sense, and therefore I have had no inclinations towards it. It's like a very smart 10 year old's view - everything they say is absolutely correct, and they aren't omitting any facts, but they don't know what they're talking about. And they can't know what they're talking about. They're not emotionally, mentally, spiritually - whatever it is - ready for it. I have expressed this view several times to different people.

End background. Begin disturbance. Today SAC sent out that email saying hey, we're having a Winter Formal, you all should come, there will be food and music and dancing and stuff. Normally I'd go "Yahhh, formal dance. Dresses. Ew." Run away. Or if I went, I'd go because it would be funny to see Mel at the dance, because that's very uncharacteristic of her, right? In a dress and all. (I couldn't pull this off at my high school prom because all my friends had dates, and I would probably have ended up with my sketchbook in the corner, and it was my 17th birthday anyhow, so I didn't go.)

So I read this email. And I go "Ew, formal!" And I go "Ew, dress!" And I go "Ew, having to look nice and behave properly and stuff!" All par for the course. And then the "But it would be fun/funny if I went, so maybe I should go." Still normal. "Because, you know, nobody would ever ask me to the dance." Still normal here too.

"But you know, that might not actually be so bad." (What?) "In fact, it would be nice - sort of weird, but kind of nice - if someone were to ask me." (Are you insane? Stop it. You're saying you want to be interested in the opposite gender. And - evenn worse - VICE VERSA. Stop now. Baaaad idea.)

More disturbing: Brief fleeting moment wasn't entirely fleeting. I can still go *poink!* into my brain and ask myself "Do I still think it would be - if not necessarily nice, not entirely All That Terrible?" And the answer is still yes.

At the same time, I still hold by all my previous ideas about the illogicity and the intellectual understanding only and the It's Just A Bad Idea thing. It's just that those ideas, commonly thought to be set in concrete, are actually not as permanent as they once seemed. (Well shoot.)

And I don't think this scares me nearly as much as it ought to scare me.

And that scares me. (But it also scares me that I'm not as afraid of it not scaring me as I'd like it to be, and... here goes another infinite regression.)

Oh - beautiful thought of the day: Integrators are low-pass filters, differentiators are high-pass. This still makes me very happy.

It sounds dumb, but I appreciate people that can appreciate those things. Some ideas are beautiful to me in the same way that a sunset or the moon shining on a frozen pond are beautiful to most people. They give me that still, quiet feeling of energized, peaceful and calm awe. Like you could just bathe in it forever, and like you want to explode in it, and go inside it, and be very little and just watch it go by.

While I have this feeling in my mind, I'm going to bed.

Monday, October 17, 2005

New books!

MIT SwapFest + MIT Press Loading Dock Sale = Happy, yet broke Mel.

Woke up with a sore throat, which didn't help in our Buttercup rehearsal tonight. I was running between the soprano and tenor parts. It sounds surprisingly... not... bad.

Cleaned room instead of blogging tonight. In bed by 2am will happen! Next up: Awake by 7!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Me + Lectures = Incomprehension

That does it. I can't follow lectures. I can not, as of now, follow lectures. This is not set in stone; I'll reevaluate periodically, but for the most part, it's more worth my while to find some other way to get lecture content instead of trying to find a way to compel myself to focus on them.

The previous comment is being written in - and inspired by - Harvard's Science Center Lecture Hall B, where I'm sitting in the middle of Startup School right now (and as per previous paragraph, not getting anything anyone is saying). To my right are a whole lot of people, mostly young techie males (mid-twenties-ish). To my left are not quite as many people. Specifically, Mark, and then Andrew... though they're also twenties-ish techie males. It's just a curious note. I'm not surprised and don't mind particularly, but I wonder why that is, and how that might be changed (the gender and age and techieness ratio here, I mean). Not that it should be. But I like playing with parameters.

I sound like I'm trying to be a geek right now, don't I? ("When I get my own place, I'm going to get a protoboard and some old electronics parts and solder together a 1337 sign.") (I will, too.)

Anyway, back to lectures. The way it seems to work best is if I get a book and read it during the lecture - that way, I can occasionally catch snatches of things, watch what's being written on the board (or powerpoint), and generally be able to participate if I so choose; I learn material, can take notes, and know who's getting what. Later on, I can debrief with classmates - we'll both know the same basic stuff, but they can fill in the gaps that I missed in lecture, and I can give them additional background and show them where to find things in the book. So this is the protocol I'll be using for the remainder of the semester.

Andrew, bless him, had business card paper and insisted that I take a few sheets. So I have business cards. I feel weird having such things - I do not feel professional in the least, and think that competent people (not teenagers pretending to be such, like I am) should have cards - but he does have a point; we give out our contact information to people a whole lot, and this makes it more efficient.

Next semester's list of Big Things:

HPV. This will get pretty intense as we ramp up to competition. I plan on learning lots of MechE stuff from this.

Next semester's list of things I want to be into - none definite, most probable.

HFID#. DJ and I want to do an extension of the class focusing on prototyping technologies (him) and how they change the way programmers think about design (me, though there is definitely plenty of overlap in both directions).

Political Issues IS: Mark, Andrew, and I - if schedules permit - would like to have a weekly discussion/debate on a different political issue every week... with lots of background reading and research prep before each meeting, and something to show for it (I miss writing) afterwards - and talking to other people on the topic is a completely valid form of research as well.

Chinese. I'd love to audit the Wellesley class. If not, I'll keep up my completely informal independent plugging in the morning, and the cocurricular, and happiness.

Stat!. If our startup goes well, I'll be sinking a lot of time into it.

Work? A part-time job - in industry, preferably - and (very hopefully and preferably) dealing with knowledge management, interfaces, knowledge management interfaces, or how technology influences a work culture - would rock my socks off. I've never formally worked in industry - just academia - and would like to see what that's like before I graduate.

Art. I really want to take Prof. Donis-Keller's drawing class. I loved Seeing and Hearing - it did more for my art knowledge in that one semester than I'd gotten out of anything the previous 17 years - and I sorely miss drawing.

Advertising. I've always been curious about how to make good ads, since I debated between engineering and graphic design years ago - I'm not sure how to go about this. Maybe just make some stuff and ask Duncan what he thinks.

Philosophy or Psychology or Educational Theory. I'm cross-registering, darn it. For a humanities class, darn it. I'm taking AHS, darn it!

ECE Elective. Might as well wrap up my degree while I'm at it, neh?

POE. Auditing, taking, or just peeking in - I'm not sure which. But I'd dearly love to learn how to program a PIC better, and how to hook it to something mechanical.. and to see how the class has evolved (and improved) since us guinea pigs took it sophomore year.

Things I will not be doing next semester:

100% Tech Classes. Never again will I let a semester without humanities pass. Three times is far too much.

Teaching. I'm limiting myself to one semester of formal paid teaching positions a year - I love it so much that I put a ridiculous amount of time and effort into it, and it really drains me. Absence makes the heart fonder - plus I'll be a better teacher if I give myself room to grow, too. Semesterly sabbaticals make sense, if not for the mildly disturbing fact that I'm an undergrad and I'm taking teaching sabbaticals already. I do love ECS NINJAing, though.

Back to the normal discussion.

So at about 8pm tonight, I found myself running through the Alewife garage after a tow truck in Andrew's shoes. Almost forgot to tell this story. The plastic ring on my key snapped off, and since I'm used to keeping it on a ring and forgot to put it in my pocket in the interim, I left it on the front seat. Of the locked car. Which we - Mark, Andrew, and I - found out when we got back to the car to go home.

We tried the coathanger-pick-lock solution, I ran around asking the T attendants, parking lot attendants, and Bertucci's people for the AAA number, realized I couldn't understand the phone's voice prompts... in the end, the tow truck came and stuff worked out. But it was an adventure when it happened (we were on the verge of carrying-out from Bertucci's and eating on the roof of the car, since AAA said two hours - but took 15 minutes). And I was wearing Andrew's shoes because my dress shoes are a size too small (I grew) and it turns out that when they get wet in the rain, they leave huge blisters over the backs of my heels that make movement agony. Thankfully, he'd just come back from Paper Bike and had extra socks and shoes in his luggage. Go Andrew. And Mark was the one who actually called AAA when I couldn't understand stuff over the phone. Go Mark. I'm very, very thankful my friends were around.

Andrew and I had an interesting convo snippet during one of the Startup School lectures. One of the participants asked a question about how we could increase the number of engineers produced by the US.

Andrew: *points to his notebook, on which he has scribbled the word "OLIN" in response to the question*

Me: "The question shouldn't be 'How do we make more engineers?' It should be 'How do we get more people to do engineering?' How do we get people that aren't necessarily engineers to do engineering things?"

Andrew: "It ought to be 'How do we get engineers to enjoy engineering?"

Me: "Not just engineers, but everybody. It's like coding - before, it was this specialized academic thing, but now it's -" (and I get cut off by the next speaker at this point, but what I intended to say was that now programming is spreading to the masses; people that aren't professional CS geeks are doing programming stuff as a tiny part of their daily lives. A more extreme example - writing used to be a specialized skill. Look at literacy now.)

My teaching philosophy

Don't give a man a fish. You'll only feed him for a day.
Don't teach a man to fish. You're only telling him what to do.
Give a man a leatherman. Tell him there are these things called fishing poles and nets, that he knows the stream better than you do, and can he help you figure out a way to pull this fishing thing off for his village.

Or put another way - don't help yourself. Don't help people. Don't help people help themselves. Help people help other people. (In order for one person to help another, that person must first be stable and well-off themselves - so you will still have to help yourself, other people, other people to help themselves, etc - but with this end progression in mind.) Viral helping. Yay!

I definitely have a problem with wanting to be The One Who Helps People - I want people to need my help, and I don't want to ever pull help away from someone too early - so I don't push people to be as independent as I ought to be (sometimes I keep them from becoming independent, in fact - it's bad, and I need to fix this tendency before I even think of becoming a mom someday). So I am trying to fix that.

The Swear Jar

Cursing is a recent habit I've picked up - I swear very rarely and only when I'm terrifically upset, but it's still a habit I do not want to continue. Hence...

5 cents - d**n, s*ck, scr*w, h*ll
10 cents - c**p, s**t, holy s**t
25 cents - f**k

All proceeds to go to some good cause I haven't determined yet. It counts when I say it out loud or when I write it down. I may use these words in a non-swear context (for instance, "can you hand me the Phillips? I can't get this screw out" or "in this religion's view, hell is a place where...") without penalty. I have cost myself 70 cents today. (Most of this occured when I found I'd locked my keys in the car.)

And back again.

After getting my car unlocked, we went to Sweet Basil. Good stuff. This weekend is essentially draining all but $10-ish of my Fun Money for the month - which works, since next weekend is Family Weekend and I have no time to do anything anyway.

Okay. I need to sleep. I'm waking up in 3 hours. Time for bed.

Freezing rain

Not quite freezing, but at least very frigid. That's what the rain's been like all tonight, and we walked over two miles in it.

Let me back up. The Y Combinator Startup School is running in Cambridge this Saturday. On Friday night, they had a pre-SS event, and me and some other Olin students decide to take the T in, then walk the mile or so from the station to the stop. It begins to rain. We begin to run.

(On the way to the Alewife T stop, I went off on a spiel on how human communications is an inefficient protocol - why waste time with pleasantries when you can assume a default state of "How are you, yes I'm fine" and just say otherwise? We also missed the parking lot for the T station not once, but twice - and had to turn around both times.)

Aside from the freezing rain (which was, now that I'm warm and dry, entertaining - especially having to wring out my sodden jacket before stepping into Pho Pasteur), the night was good. There were more people in the Y Combinator headquarters than I'd expected. I'm an introvert (according to Myers-Briggs), am aware of this, and attempt to compensate by acting like an extrovert on social occasions - but tonight I was really tired, and it showed somewhat. It helped that a lot of other Olin kids were around. It didn't help that the place was crowded and noisy - on the up side, I was very grateful that I lipread. I'm not entirely sure what to make of all of it yet; I'll have to wait for Startup School tomorrow to see.

Other news: CompArch lab is not grinding our souls into the dust. It turns out that we were supposed to use a 32-bit bus for the registers we're building - Mark and I had been piecing together a clock to cycle through the bits in a selected register so it could read and write one bit at a time (we thought it was a one-bit wide data stream that sent each bit successively instead of PHOOMP, 32 bits all at once). Whoops. This makes Verilog much easier, and explains why other people actually finished their lab in less than 10 hours (as opposed to our last week of "Look, I'm going to work on this until I fall asleep at the table" nights).

Other other news: My Matsci soul is at peace. So is Becky's. (Not Duc's yet, but that's coming.) Becky and I went to talk to Rebecca (our professor) today about our last project, which... to put it mildly, failed miserably as a scientific study. Equipment broke around us, samples wouldn't cut or grind or - you name it, we couldn't test it. That plus our lack of background research plus the impending sense of despair that crept up as the semester wore on plus - in any case, we ended up with a terrible final project and a lot of good lessons from the school of hard knocks. Becky and I know what lessons we learned. We know why we messed up. I learned more from doing a horrible, unfocused, overambitious project than I would have from doing a functional one the first time around ("if you haven't failed yet, you're not aiming high enough" sort of principle). This means we'll do much better for our second lab. So we didn't do badly in the grand scheme of things, because we learned.

Fail as often as possible as early as possible. I keep telling other people this, but I haven't started letting myself fail until very, very recently. How to fail well is one of the hardest things I'll probably ever have to learn.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ah, academia.

During this last week, I've watched two good movies about mathematicians: Proof and A Beautiful Mind. Both deal with the border between insanity and genius, and both manage to catch - more (for me) in Proof than Mind - that feeling, however fleet, of what it feels like inside your brain when you have a beautiful idea inside it. As much as I hate and complain about the teeth-grinding theoretical work in math and physics classes, I also love it. I miss it. There's something different about the world while you're looking at it through the experience of ideas like that, once in a blue moon when you actually understand a little.

I'm not very good at it, but I think sometimes I can see why the really good people would like it. Not that I understand what they understand, but I might understand why they appreciate understanding it. Occasionally I wonder what it would be like to have a brain that worked that way. True genius is something that I can't even start to conceptualize.

Today I do not feel smart. Today I feel like somebody that is wasting her potential. Someone that doesn't have much to begin with - or did, maybe, but managed it poorly. Today I have gotten one assignment - CompArch - done. Today I have one lab - CompArch - late. Today I have one report - MatSci - late. Today I have slept through class. Today I am trying not to fall asleep so I can work, and spending more time trying to stay awake to work than I am actually working. Today I am feeling unsustainable and stupid for bringing unsustainability upon myself. Today I know that I have far too much pride, don't ask for help, fall behind and stay quiet because I like to look smart by not having to have a hand up. I don't want to have to be saved. I can ask for help, but it's always in such a way that I'll appear competent while doing so. That any questions I ask stem from lack of information, not lack of responsibility or ability.

I want to be smart and responsible. But I'm not sure that I always know what that means.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Drop one thing

It's amazing how having things to do can make you so productive on everything else you don't have to do. I'm writing emails and doing work that isn't my matsci lab report with as high an efficiency as I'll ever have.

An update on the Franklin front: I'm not doing so great with the Temperance. I'm managing myself fine when I actually make it to the table and not glutting up on a whole day's worth of food at one go. On the other hand, this might be worse than what I was doing before, since I'm still not making it to the table more than once a day. I'm hoping that the knowledge that I'll only eat as much as will make me full (instead of how many calories I know I need) at each sitting will encourage me, with a few days' time, to actually come in for more sittings.

Silence is coming along much better. I'm supposedly a Myers-Briggs INFP, meaning I ought to be thinking before I speak. I do. The trouble is that I think too much, then feel obliged to blurt out every coherent (or not so coherent) sentence that makes it into my brain. I've attempted to become much more conscious of this, and it does make a difference. It reminds me of being a painfully quiet 13-year-old, except this time I know I'm quiet by choice and not by timidity; I can still speak up if I really, really have to. So I'm learning, slowly, when I absolutely have to talk - and that such times are much rarer than I'd thought previously. I'm happy.

It's 2:41 in the morning, and I'm once again in the Fishtank (what we call the study room here in East Hall since two of its walls are huge windows). As noted in the first paragraph, I should be writing a Matsci lab report. Our lab was so terrible, it's almost funny - you see, while other teams did things like coffee pots and water bottles, we decided to be ambitious and pulled out CD drive instead. Yep. With the integrated chips and the heatsinks and shock absorbers, silicon diodes, neobium magnets and more - and we tried to test them. All of them.

This wouldn't have been so bad had the lab equipment actually worked for us. The X-ray diffraction refused to give us sane answers for our magnet (of course it's made of gold!) The heatsinks absorbed heat so well that it took the better part of an hour and a giant solder gun to get them off the circuit board. The actual diode was coated in some mysteriously resilient substance that refused to dissolve in Hf. We sputtercoated it and cranked up the accelerating voltage on the scanning electron microscope (SEM) hoping to peek through the cover - no go. Duc ended up spending a good part of one lab day with a grinder and the diode, wearing down the top millimeter laboriously until we could see the silicon peek out through the corner. The most amusing was probably when we tried to do composition testing in the SEM for the magnet. It wasn't until I looked at the screen and saw a gigantic black hole that I remembered that magnetic fields deflect electricity, and that a scanning electron microscope works by... yeah.

Couple this to half the computers in the lab failing right before we'd decided to use the particular piece of equipment they were hooked up to, and you have a pretty good idea of why our presentation today consisted, roughly, of Jon saying, slightly sheepishly, "Er, our data... is mostly scattered... and [expletive deleted]." (Yes, Becky, Duc, and I explained exactly why in more detail.) Even Rebecca, our professor, asked if we were cursed. "Yeah," we replied.

I'm TAing for a freshman class called Engineering of Compartment Systems (ECS). It doesn't correspond to any other class I've ever seen, but the general idea we're trying to teach is that every system has an analogue in every other system - for instance, mechanical systems have electrical counterparts, and both of these can be modeled mathematically, in code, with Simulink...

Exciting developments on the ECS front: the freshmen have oral exams coming up, so we spent the day talking about the big picture instead of going into lab implementation (which I promised we'd cover next week). That's not the exciting development. The exciting part is that Gill liked our hydraulic model for the op-amp. I'm tremendously proud of the way the freshmen are picking up on things. They came up with a water analogy for the op-amp with positive feedback, and they've been using it to explain their lab to people not in our tutorial session and it's worked great, so we shared it with Gill, and he likes it!

So, tutorial sessions. Backtracking a bit. Once a week, I run two tutorial sessions with groups of 6 freshmen (it's a little strange - since I'm 19, some of my students are the same age as me... but last year when I TA'd the freshmen math/physics class, nearly all my students were older than me, so I'm used to it). They have a large 77-person lecture and smaller 25-person labs, but I'm effectively their tutor for the semester and get to do assignments, lessons, grading, and all that other stuff short of giving large lectures and setting the syllabus.

It's the first time I've had a classroom to myself like this, and I love it. I think they're having a good time as well. We have whiteboard markers flying across the classroom, give nicknames to the parts of our circuits (Van Morrison the Voltage Divider), and generally have a great deal of fun. Two weeks ago I got up and did a revival-style mini-lecture on op-amps (usually I don't give lectures, but they asked for one for this) - it went something like this.

Me (in best sermon-giving voice): This is an op-amp!
Freshmen: This is an op-amp!
Me: It has a gain!
Freshmen: It has a gain!
Me: And I say unto you, the op-amp gain is dependent upon the frequency -
Freshmen: The frequency!
Me: ...of the input signal!
Freshmen (throwing their hands in the air): Amen!

Times like this make me feel not quite incompetent. In fact, they make me feel pretty darn good. I love teaching. I know I've got a lot to learn about it and that I can always get better (especially with my time management and staying on top of things), but when I teach, and teach well - that's when I feel on top of the world.

Some other notes, and then I'll get back to Matsci. EHOC - that's a cocurricular, Engineers for Humanity at Olin College, is picking projects to work on for the semester. I'm cowriting a proposal for AHS + EHOC with Will and listening in on the Brian-Jul-Ben conversation about POE + EHOC + Ocean Enginerering + Sensors - there's a museum in California that asked if we could build an exhibit for them. I'd actually like to retake POE, or at least audit it; I'm not satisfied with what I did when I actually took the class and would like to be not-slackerly and actually get a good project made.

I need to learn how to be in the here and now.

"Master Yoda said to be mindful of the future!"
"But not at the expense of the present."

The other happy thing is that there's a new reading group on campus; it's a social justice reading one, a small mix of students, faculty, and staff. It seems like it'll be a wonderful group that tackles tough issues in depth. I promise now that in this group, I will learn how to listen well to other viewpoints.

To top the happy off, I've borrowed a book on Multicultural Education; I'm going to try to read at least one nontechnical book a week (and I'm sure I'll put notes up here).

All right. End procrastination, write paper, wake Mark (he took a nap and hasn't come back yet). Go, Mel, go!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sit down and shut up

I've decided to start blogging again. My writing skills are atrophying with lack of practice, and I'd better start typing if I'm to be ready for NaNoWriMo in November. More pragmatically, I'll be more accountable to myself if I record the things I've done every day (and I won't feel so bad about not finishing it all because I can at least point to some productivity).

It's looking like an allnighter tonight, which is okay because I've gotten way off track with my sleep schedule lately and want to get myself back to a normal cycle. Currently, I'm going to bed about 6:30am and waking up somewhere around 10. I'm aiming to sleep somewhere around 1am and wake up at 4. The idea is that I'll have a few uninterrupted hours before class in which to do work - I can't be distracted because there'll be nobody there to distract me.

Bad idea? Maybe. Well, probably. We'll see. I took a nice long nap this afternoon instead of working on the ECS textbook (which I should do sometime before Tuesday), so I should be all right.

There was something I read a long time ago about Benjamin Franklin and thirteen virtues that he lived by. The first one is Temperance. "Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation." I have a tendency to take my meals in a bang-bang fashion - it's easy for me to skip meals and then eat a lot. The worst one was my first year of high school, where I just forgot about food for three days (sleeping through breakfast, working through lunch and dinner) and then broke the fast by consuming Kit Kat bars. It's not the healthiest habit in the world to get into, and my friends have been on my case to get some sort of regular mealtimes going. It seems so much more efficient to not eat and then eat a lot - you know, chunk all your food into one gorge every other day - but it really isn't good for me.

Same thing with drinking. I don't do alcohol (that's a discussion we can get into later, but I am nineteen years old and live in the United States) and I no longer do caffiene (I'm hypersensitive), but I do the bang-bang thing with liquids as well, and that's even worse. I go from dehydrated to "Ooh, two gallons of soy milk!" in an evening.

Franklin's second virtue is Silence. "Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation." We all know what sort of problems I have with that.

So I've got some things to work on for this week.

This weekend is actually turning out to be marginally productive, despite the huge amounts of fun I've been having. Saturday night was Christie and Alex's double birthday party; we orchestrated it so they planned each other's surprise parties for the same date, and that both plans involved surprising the birthday person in question in the dorms, then heading out for some restaurant in Hahvahd Squahr (Finale and Veggie Planet, though the latter was changed to Crazy Dough when Planet couldn't fit us all). It was beautiful, and everyone had a great time.

(For the record - because I'm sure someone planning a party for me will read this at some point - I don't need large, elaborate parties or expensive presents or anything. Small, simple, just knowing people care - that's more than enough for me. Though food really doesn't hurt, either. But generally speaking, I'd rather have time and thought than coolness and money.)

Tonight I'll be working on a Verilog tutorial. I'm attempting to revise an existing one that someone else wrote; it's very good, but leaves a lot of things out and could explain some stuff more clearly. It's my way of trying to learn Verilog myself. Somehow, before Tuesday morning, I've got to get a CompArch lab done (build a register file in Verilog with my group), write my Matsci lab report and come up with a presentation segment for my team, review the 4th lab assignment for the ECS class I'm TAing so I can hold session later that evening, fine-tune my HFID paper prototype and come up with a protocol for testing it, and figure something out about AnaDig, as I've been sorely ignoring that class for a long time. That doesn't even start in on my HPV duties or my StartingBloc application, studying Mandarin or looking for Away programs in China this summer, doing my social research reading for the PBL survey - my todo.txt list is a little scary, but I'm trying to get through it.

All right. Finishing Verilog tutorial now. No more stalling through blogwriting, Mel - back to work.