I asked my roommate Shehzad to cancel the surprise party he was planning for me. I love his enthusiasm, but I was exhausted from spending the weekend finishing my STA 137 term project. If anyone is statistically minded and wants to give me feedback on my analysis or my R code, I'd gladly appreciate it (this was the first time I've used R and I picked it up in about a week). As a small side note, I spent the majority of that week struggling to manipulate the dates to use them as I wanted and then to coerce my data into a matrix to deseasonalize and detrend; I only found out about R's Date class and Time Series class on the second to last day. I find that amusing because last Thursday, I met with Professor Matloff to learn why he feels that programming is a skill that cannot be taught, but can only be acquired through perserverance; during that chat, I thought about asking him for help with my project until he said that he rarely (read: never) helps students with their code. If I was a little braver, or if he was a little more open, I might have saved a week. I'll talk about Matloff's perspective later after I've had some time to consider by what criteria we may determine whether a subject can be taught. Matloff also argued that teaching is a skill that cannot be taught. I mentioned this to my STA137 partner, a soon-to-be teacher with a strong interest in educational theory, and he laughed. His perspective is that while some may be more or and others less competent, teaching is most definitely something that can be taught, especially if practice is involved. It raises the question of why I was approved to teach next quarter, having never officially practiced teaching...
Speaking of which, CSUGA had an official vote and I was approved to teach! Lori is looking into getting me a day, time and location for my course. I'll post the info as soon as I know.
But back to the birthday celebration! Shehzad knows about my love of whipped cream, so he bought a reuseable whipped cream cannister and N20 cannisters to make homemade whipped cream. Since Elaine hadn't returned from the store with the cream, I thought that Shehzad was trying to get high at the kitchen table. We sat around huffing N20 until Kelsey read the warning label that advised against that. We're not very bright. When Elaine arrived with the cake and cream, Shehzad and Kelsey whipped it up. There's a tradition at Shehzad's high school that he showed me video clips of where the birthday boy is given a cake for his birthday and the other boys smear it across his face and rub it into his hair, which is what he proceeded to do. We also found out that the whipped cream cannister has a range of at least ten feet, when he shot it at me. As we got ourselves arranged to take a picture, Kabir snuck up on Shehzad and let loose a short-range blast. He fell to the floor laughing, causing Shehzad to retaliate by grabbing the whipped cream cannister and covering Kabir's face. Cleaning the walls and ceiling was a pain in the ass, but it was well worth it.
The Rain in Spain
I had a fierce debate with my mother over whether to include the My Fair Lady jokes in my STA137 project. She felt that California's water crisis is a serious issue and should not be spoken of lightly. I agree that our drought is not a joke, but the thought that two undergraduates spending two weeks researching an issue they know nothing about could make a serious contribution to the field is. I was reminded of Professor Aue's story in an undergraduate physics course. For the first few weeks, he worked with someone who was meticulous to the point of being an anal-retentive, measuring the positions and velocities of small moving objects repeatedly with high precision for lab activities. The point of an undergraduate education, he thought, could not be to become skilled at mastering a ruler, and so he found a new partner who was happy to jot down a few rough estimations and move on. The jokes in the paper, at least in my eyes, are a reminder that the purpose of the assignment is to learn the subject material.
I ran into an old friend from freshmen year, Connor Wilson, who now happens to be my grader for STA131B. He took the course with a different teacher, but he took the following course in the series, STA131C, with my professor, Wolfgang Polonik). What amazed me was his enthusiasm for Polonik, who he felt was excellent at explaining the course material. It's clear from Polonik's profile on RateMyProfessor that many other students feel similarly, whereas I feel that Polonik has unequivocally been one of my worst professors (at least in lecture) at Davis. Connor is a smart guy, so I see one of two possibilities. Either I'm too stupid to understand the material (which might be plausible, given that my last stats class was freshmen year and I skipped the course prerequisite STA131A), or there are different ways of lecturing that work well with certain students and work less well (or not at all) with other students. If anyone has good reading material on the topic, please let me know!
What Every Computer Scientist Should Know
is how dull David Goldberg's article "What Every Computer Scientist Should Know About Floating Point Arithmetic" is. Professor Nitta recommended reading it, so I committed to understanding it so that I could summarize it for others. The only thing you need to understand from the article is that it is a mistake to assume that computers can accurately represent and manipulate real numbers. This website gives an excellent explanation of why 0.1, a very simple number, cannot be accurately represented with a finite number of digits in binary, much like 3/10 cannot be represented with a finite number of digits in decimal. If your code relies on (0.1*10 == 1) or something similar, you might face a problem that is very difficult to catch.
Since leaving ASUCD, it has been fascinating to see which people have staying in touch. I'm not surprised by the majority of my former co-workers, but I am disappointed by a few and pleasantly surprised by one. Alexis Munnelly, if you're reading this, thanks for being such a friendly person! I truly appreciate it.
If You Need a Laugh
The Arrest of Jon Cruz
In case any of my old debate friends are reading this and haven't heard already, Jon Cruz was arrested for child pornography. Although the article doesn't mention it, several of his students have come forward claiming to have been sexually coerced by Cruz. I can't speak to the veracity of those claims, but it saddens me to think that one of the aspects I liked most about high school debate, that children could be treated as adults, would make those same children vulnerable to manipulation and abuse.