Unedited Ramblings, Episode Three

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reduced echelon formI took linear algebra my last semester of college. On the day of the first exam, the professor entered the classroom and rhetorically asked us how we felt about the test, and the guy behind me said, “I can’t express my feelings in reduced echelon form.” He doesn’t know this, but I later quoted him on tumblr.  It was one of my most popular tumblr posts of all time, partly just because it sounds really deep and partly because someone who saw it came up with the brilliant idea of Echelon Poetry. I really wish that had caught on, even though I didn’t think much of the way some people interpreted that idea. Arranging words in a triangle is not the same as putting words in echelon form. I’m not sure how one would go about putting words in echelon form, but it fascinates me to imagine that there is a way.

But even if we are talking about actual matrices rather than poetry, I have an inclination to want to believe that it ought to be possible to describe emotions in reduced echelon form. There ought to be a way to notate feelings and then perform mathematical procedures to make sense of them.

My last attempt to do so lasted only two days, because there were just so many difficulties involved. How many different kinds of emotions are there? Is humor an emotion? What should the numerical scale be? One to ten? One to twelve? One to eight? One to six? Sixteen point twelve to thirty-nine and a half? Should the arithmetic be done in base ten or some other base? Should I use standard numerals or invent my own form of numerical notation specifically for the purpose of this exercise? Is there any logical reason to do so, or am I only considering that because I want my matrix to be nonsensical and enigmatic to everyone except myself? And perhaps most importantly, when I do the math and find an answer, what will that answer actually mean?

As it turns out, it’s a major inconvenience to carry around a notebook and commit to writing numbers in it every four hours. I could have changed my system so that I didn’t have to collect data so frequently, but I felt like that would compromise the accuracy. Between that inconvenience and the fact that I didn’t actually have any useful information to gain by proceeding with this plan, I ended it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try again at some point.

Maybe I’m just strange, but I find it horribly frustrating to be incapable of quantifying feelings. There are so many things in life that can be accurately and thoroughly described by little numbers written in little boxes. Those numbers are knowledge and power and safety; not only do they convey information, but they allow you to assume that the thing being described by those numbers is subject to all the normal rules of mathematics. But if something can’t be described in numbers, then it’s unclear what the rules are.

Once, I spent several weeks keeping track of my feelings on a one-dimensional scale from one to ten, while simultaneously assigning a numerical value to every noteworthy event in order to determine how much of an impact it should have on my mood. The point was to determine whether or not my mood was a logical and objective response to the events of my life. As you can probably guess, this experiment also ended mainly because it was absurdly time-consuming. But in the meantime, I noticed that, interestingly enough, my actual feelings corresponded very closely to what they should have been if they were in fact an objective response. This trend quite surprised me even though it was what I had hoped to discover.

As far as I can tell, there are three possible explanations. One is that I took such a subjective approach to the whole project that even the numerical values I assigned to events was determined based upon how I felt about it at that particular time. That is admittedly very likely, but given the fact that I made sure to keep those values constant when an event re-occurred, it would seem that the effects of this bias would have decreased over time, which wasn’t what my numbers indicated. The second possibility is that it’s actually true that my feelings are a rational and quantifiable response to external events. I’d like to believe that, but it seems extremely far-fetched. The third possibility is the really fascinating one. Maybe, the act of trying to quantify feelings is therapeutic in the sense that it actually regulates emotions to the extent that they actually do begin to function in a completely logical way. Maybe, by quantifying one’s emotions, one can actually make them follow an algorithm.

Whether the second or third of those possibilities is the correct answer, that’s a good reason to work towards the goal of finding a way to quantify feelings. But the fact remains that it’s mathematically ridiculous to do so, at least not without somehow taking neurological factors into consideration, allowing for differences between different people, and using an extremely well-informed psychology-based rationale for every aspect of the method of quantification. In other words, such an undertaking is well beyond my capabilities. I am forced to live with the annoying and frustrating reality that I cannot quantify my feelings.

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Math and Stuff

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The I Hate Mathematics! Book, by Marilyn Burns, copyright 1975. Yeah, it's pretty old.

The I Hate Mathematics! Book, by Marilyn Burns, copyright 1975. Yeah, it’s pretty old.

There was a book that I needed to buy last week, and I found that it would cost me less money to buy four books than just the one. Evidently, Amazon determined its shipping costs on Logic’s day off. I don’t know whether to thank Amazon or Logic for that, but someone deserves my gratitude, because I have frequently managed to save money by buying extra books, and over the years, that has really added up to a lot of saved money and a lot of acquired books. In this particular case, one of the extra books I bought was something random that I remember from when I was a little kid. If I recall correctly, one of us picked it up at a library booksale where everything was so cheap that my parents let us buy everything that particularly struck our fancies. It was called The I Hate Mathematics! Book and it’s awesome because it’s so completely relatable.

I’m not saying that just because of the title, although that is part of it. When I was little, I remember my mother telling me that she thought I actually liked math, I just disliked math class. The I Hate Mathematics! Book is clearly geared towards that kind of kid. After an introduction that bashes math, it goes on for more than a hundred pages to describe mathematical concepts in a way that has nothing to do with arithmetic or equations or anything frustrating like that. For example, a few pages in, it says, “Ever find yourself thinking about shoelaces? You might be minding your own business, doing nothing in particular, and all of a sudden you start thinking about shoelaces. Then you start noticing shoelaces. Strings tied to people’s feet! And the longer you look, the funnier it seems. That’s when to do a shoelace survey. How many shoes have laces? Half? More than half? Less than half?” The book goes on to recommend sitting near a busy sidewalk and counting shoes and shoelaces for a while, just for the fun of playing with statistics.

This is youThat’s exactly the way my mind worked as a kid and it’s exactly the way my mind still works. My little-kid self thought it was awfully cool to read that kind of thing in a book about something as frustrating and hateful as math. The tone of the book is humorous and light-hearted, the information is presented in a way that makes everything seem like a game or even a practical joke, and it feels like a very light and easy read because the text is fairly sparse. (The book consists largely of sketched drawings, some of which show people with speech bubbles repeating things that were said in the main text, which is for some reason very funny.) Besides that, it was helpful and motivational to read something that showed that there’s more to math than sheets of scrap paper covered in disorganized equations and crossed out numbers and dark, harsh scribbles that symbolized the agony of living in a world that is an evil, evil place, full of hardships and heartbreak and math.

Maybe it would be an overstatement to credit this book alone with the fact that I have more or less made my peace with the academic field of mathematics and even ended up minoring in it in college. (I say “more or less” because, dude, math is hard, and there was a great deal of suffering involved in certain homework assignments and exams that I endured for the sake of that minor.) I suppose it may be true after all that I always had some degree of appreciation for mathematical thought, and just didn’t realize it when I was younger. But this book certainly played a role in convincing me that numbers are actually pretty fascinating things.

Binary CodeWhen I got this book in the mail the other day, I stayed up late to read the whole thing in one sitting, and I noticed some things about it that hadn’t occurred to me when I was a kid. In particular, I noticed that it has an awful lot of question marks. It’s full of “What if”s and “How about”s. For every experiment that this book suggests, it encourages the reader to keep thinking about different aspects of the concept being discussed. For every magic trick or practical joke or bet that it describes, it expects the reader to figure out how to make it work. It doesn’t just point out patterns, it asks the reader to notice further patterns or to speculate about why that pattern exists. Even the section about strategic games, which promises that you can always win if you figure out how the strategy works, doesn’t actually explain the trick. You have to figure it out yourself. I didn’t have all of these answers figured out when I read the book as a kid. And that was okay; it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book and it didn’t make me apathetic about the subject material. It was apparent that these were deliberately difficult questions and that a reader wasn’t supposed to know everything off the top of his or her head. That’s one reason that this book was interesting and entertaining, unlike a textbook, which inflicts anguish and despair. A puzzling question is a game if you get to decide for yourself how much effort to put into it, but it’s an unwelcome task if you are required to find the answer and responsible for being sure it’s right.

Another thing I noticed is that this book has a lot of big words for something that’s geared towards kids. (I’m not sure exactly what age range it’s intended for, but if I had to take a guess, I’d say maybe nine through twelve. The mathematical content seems to be at a pre-algebra level, but it assumes competency with basic arithmetic.) For instance, I’m pretty sure that the first time I came across the word “topography” was in this book, and that’s not a word I come across very often even now. It mentions or alludes to exponents and exponential growth, probability theory, and numerous other concepts that you wouldn’t expect a little kid to understand until they’re old enough to officially learn it in math class. But when I read it the first couple times, I don’t recall minding that there were parts of it that I only was just barely capable of grasping. The point is that I did grasp those parts, and that it was pretty awesome. This book assumes that its readers are smart and thereby subtly compliments them the whole time they’re reading. Occasionally, the book is even explicit and direct in its high regard for its own readers; the introduction identifies the individual reader as a mathematical genius in disguise. That in and of itself does a lot to make this book enjoyable and effective. Everyone likes to be told that they’re a genius, especially if they’re accustomed to being horribly frustrated by schoolwork despite the fact that they do have some degree of aptitude for the subject matter after all.

I CAN SEE THE MATRIX!

I CAN SEE THE MATRIX!

I have frequently said that the problem with math is that the kinds of people who write math textbooks are the kinds of people who inherently understand mathematical ideas and don’t know how to communicate them to someone who just doesn’t think in the same way. What makes this book so great is that it’s written in plain English for kids who understand plain English better than confusing equations. But it does that without dumbing down anything. I’m not trying to claim that such a book can be used to effectively teach math. It doesn’t offer formulas or mathematical procedures for solving certain types of problems; those are things that have to be learned by effort and memorization, not through pleasure reading. But I would recommend this book in particular and this way of looking at math in general for any mathematical geniuses in disguise who hate mathematics.

Why Base Twelve Would Be Awesomer Than Base Ten

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If you think about it, it’s silly that people count in base ten. Yes, it’s convenient because we happen to have ten fingers, but it’s inconvenient in numerous other ways. For example, although 1/2 and1/4 and 1/5 and 1/10 can be easily expressed by decimals, other common fractions like 1/3 and 1/6 and 1/8 are just weird if you try to write them in any other form. To give a less abstract example, the amount of time that I spend at work is measured according to a decimal system. That means that each 0.01 hour of work is 36 seconds, which is a kind of random unit of time. On some level, the human race is clearly aware that units of twelve are logical. The year has twelve months, a foot has twelve inches, and many products are sold in groups of twelve. Yet we still insist upon counting in base ten.

handsI think it says something about the selfish nature of humanity that we just assume that numbers are meant to be used in base ten simply because we have ten fingers. The human hand, according to our subconscious thought process, is clearly the standard by which we are supposed to measure everything in existence. No source of authority and no rational point of view outranks the supremacy of the human hand. Or something like that. But, mathematically speaking, there are better ways to count.

The short and simple way to say this is just to insist that base twelve is better than base ten because twelve has more factors than ten. But I’m going to back up a couple steps and ramble about some other things first. In all fairness, I must acknowledge that there’s a book I’m currently reading (How Acceptance of a Duodecimal (12) Base Would Simplify Mathematics by F. Emerson Andrews, copyright 1935 and 1944) that basically says everything that I’m saying in this blog post, and I’m sort of drawing from that book in writing this. But I also would like to point out, just for the sake of being a know-it-all, that none of the information or ideas I’m repeating here were new to me. These were all things I had heard, read, and thought about a long time before I happened to notice that book on the library bookshelf and was drawn in by its awesomeness.

The first thing about which I want to ramble is that even the tally mark system is pretty cool. We couldn’t count very high if it wasn’t for the clever construct of splitting numbers into handy units. If you count on your fingers, you only have two sets of five at your disposal, and you’re going to lose count pretty quickly once you get past ten. And if you try to count by writing down one mark for every unit, that’s not going to improve matters much. But by sorting those individual units into groups of five and then counting fives, you can count an awful lot higher. There’s no particular reason that five has to be the base used or that the notation method has to be tally marks as we know them; it’s the system of individual units and larger group units that is so clever and useful. Even though we take that system completely for granted, it’s pretty awesome when you think about it.

Roman PIN numberEarly forms of number notation were basically always tally-mark-type systems. Even Roman numerals are really just a glorified form of tally marks. You’ve got the individual unit written as I, the group of five units written as V, the group of ten units written as X, and so forth and so on. As an added bonus, numbers could be written in a more concise way by putting a smaller numeral in front of the greater numeral to indicate that the smaller unit is to be subtracted from the bigger unit rather than added onto it. For example, nine isn’t IIIIIIIII or VIIII because that’s kind of hard to read. It would be easy to accidentally confuse VIIII with VIII. So nine is IX, which means I less than X. So the Roman numeral system definitely had its benefits, but it still is of the same caliber as tally mark systems, and it still is really bad for doing arithmetic. (Quick, what’s MCDXXIV plus XXVII?)

But then the world was revolutionized by the numeral zero, which is the awesomest thing ever invented by humanity with the possible exception of that time when some random person thought of the idea of grinding up coffee beans and filtering hot water through them. Of course, the concept of “none” had always existed and there were ways of expressing the quantity of “none” in words. But there was no numeral zero as we use it now, and so place value didn’t work. It’s difficult to attribute the origin of zero to a specific time or place, because various cultures had various different ways of mathematically denoting zero-ness. But the significant advancement was the use of place value that was made possible by the use of the numeral zero, and that came from India and then gradually became commonly used in Europe during the medieval period. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the current system for writing numbers finished becoming the norm.

I think we can all agree that the Hindu-Arabic number system is much easier to use than Roman numerals. It’s easier to look at 1040 and 203 and know right away that they add up to 1243 than to look at MXL and CCIII and know that they add up to MCCXLIII. And it isn’t hard to add 48 and 21 in your head and get 69, but adding XLVIII and XXI to get LXIX is a little messy. A numerical system that relies on place value is inherently simpler to use than a system that doesn’t.

But there’s still that whole thing about base ten. To say that we count in base ten means that ten is the number that we write as 10. 10 means one group of ten plus zero ones. 12 means one group of ten plus two ones.  176 means one group of ten times ten, seven groups of ten, and six ones. But if, for instance, we counted in base eight, then 10 would mean one group of eight and no ones, which is 8 in base ten. 12 would mean one group of eight and two ones, which is 10 in base ten. 176 would mean one group of eight times eight, seven groups of eight, and six ones, which is 126 in base ten. If that sounds complicated, it’s only because we’re so used to base ten. We instinctively read the number 10 as ten without even thinking about the fact that the 1 in front of the 0 could refer to a different number if we were counting in a different base.

I’m not really advocating for getting rid of base ten, because it would be impossible to change our whole system of counting overnight. It took centuries for Hindu-Arabic numerals to replace Roman numerals in Europe, and switching to a different base would be an even bigger overhaul. Base ten is a very familiar system and it would just be confusing for everyone to suddenly change it, not to mention the fact that everything with numbers on it would become outdated and mathematically incorrect. So I’m perfectly content to stick with base ten for the most part, but I still think it’s worth pointing out that base twelve would technically be better. And this brings me to my actual point, which is why exactly base twelve is the best of all possible bases.

It goes without saying that the only feasible bases are positive integers. But I’m saying it anyway just because I am entertained by the notion of trying to use a non-integer as a base. It is also readily apparent that large numbers don’t make good bases. Counting and one-digit arithmetic are basically learned by memorization, and the larger the base is, the more there is to memorize. But small numbers don’t make good bases, either, because it requires a lot of digits to write numbers. Take base three, for instance. Instead of calling this year 2013, we’d be calling it 2202120. (Disclaimer: it’s entirely possible that I made an error. That’s what happens when I use weird bases.) And it wouldn’t be a good idea to use a prime number as a base. Even though I happen to be fond of the number seven and have said before that the people on my imaginary planet count in base seven, I realize that’s weird. (That is, counting in base seven is weird. It’s completely normal that I have an imaginary planet that uses a different mathematical system.) In base ten, we have a convenient pattern; every number that ends in 5 or 0 is divisible by 5, and any number that doesn’t end in 5 or 0 is not divisible by 5. That pattern works because 5 is a factor of 10. Using a prime number as a base would complicate multiplication and division because we wouldn’t have useful patterns like that.

So the numbers that would work relatively well as bases are eight, nine, ten, and twelve, and maybe six, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen, if we want to be a little more lenient about the ideal size range. Eight and sixteen win bonus points for being 23 and 24, which is nice and neat and pretty, and nine and sixteen win bonus points for being squares. (Squares are cool, y’all) But twelve is the real winner here, because its factors include all of the integers from one to four. That means that it’s easily divisible by three and four as well as by two, and a multiplication table in base twelve would have lots of handy little patterns. Every number ending in 3,6,9, or 0 would be divisible by 3; every number ending in 4, 8, or 0 would be divisible by 4; every number ending in 6 or 0 would be divisible by 6. All multiples of 8 would end in 4, 8, or 0, and all multiples of 9 would end in 3, 6, 9 or 0. As in base ten, all even numbers would end with an even digit and all odd numbers would end with an odd digit. And obviously, every number divisible by twelve would end in 0.Basically, base twelve has the most convenient patterns of any base in the feasible size range.

Base Twelve Multiplication TableTo prove its convenience, I made this multiplication table myself rather than copying the one in the aforementioned book. (For the record, X refers to ten, because the notation 10 now means twelve, not ten, and ε refers to eleven, because the notation 11 now refers to thirteen, not eleven. I got those additional digits from the book. Part of me wanted to make up new ones, but there was some logic to the way it was done in the book, so I decided to just go with that.) I did double check it against the book just to be sure, and I suppose I ought to confess that I made a couple errors in the 5 and 7 columns. 5 and 7 are a little problematic in base twelve in the same way that 3 and 4 and 6 and 7 and 8 are a little problematic in base ten. But this didn’t take me very long at all to do, and the columns for 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, X, and ε were extremely easy. Since basic arithmetic isn’t exactly a great strength of mine, the fact that I found it easy to construct this multiplication table proves the mathematical ease of arithmetic using base twelve.

So, yeah, base twelve is cool and stuff.

Really Awesome Fun Things That I Would Do If I Had Time On My Hands

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I should probably start by acknowledging that, when I say “really awesome fun things,” I mean what other people mean when they say, “weird, pointless, and nerdy things.” In fact, people often respond to my “really awesome” ideas by giving me a strange look and saying, “But… why?” And the only answer I have for that is, “Because… awesomeness.” So keep that answer in your mind as you read this list and think, “But…why?” about everything on it.

Number One: Codify the language used on my imaginary planet

Here is the Cherokee syllabary.

Here is the Cherokee syllabary.

On my imaginary planet, they use a language that, unlike English and other Indo-European languages, has a syllabary rather than an alphabet. That means that each syllable is represented by a symbol. This system is not unique to the people of my planet; it is used in some Earth cultures, most notably Japanese and Cherokee. But it is much less widespread than a phonetic alphabet because it tends to be inefficient and more complex. That is, that’s the way it works on Earth. On my imaginary planet, they use a syllabaric language just because I personally think it would be more fun to make up. It actually won’t be too complex because there are only 100 different syllables in their language, and when I say 100, I mean 49, because they count in base seven. The 49 one-syllable words are one-digit integers, pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. Two-syllable words are adjectives and adverbs.  Three-syllable words are verb roots, (with a fourth syllable suffix determining tense, mood, and aspect) and five-syllable words are nouns. That allows for a vocabulary of as many as 10,001,010,100 words counting in base 7, which is 282,595,348 in base 10. (I should perhaps acknowledge at this point that there is a significant possibility that my math is wrong, because that is a thing that does happen sometimes.) Considering that there are approximately a million words in the English language, (an exact count would be impossible due to the nature of linguistics) it is safe to say that my planet’s imaginary language would not exhaust its capacity for vocabulary. With the exception of verbs and nouns, this language would have a more limited number of words than most Earth languages, and it is my intention for the grammar to also be simpler and involve fewer exceptions to rules. That’s as far as I’ve gotten; I haven’t formed the syllabary or made up any vocabulary yet. Once I do that, the next step is to translate the entire Bible into my imaginary language. And of course, the translation has to be done from the original Hebrew and Greek, because it is vitally important that all of these imaginary people have a scripturally accurate Bible. (Note: This translation could take a while, because I currently do not know Biblical Hebrew at all and only sort of kind of know a little Biblical Greek.)

Number Two: Memorize lots of Pi

I am a little embarrassed to admit that all of Pi that I can remember is 3.1415. Actually, I thought I remembered a few more digits, but it turns out that I had the 9 and the 2 switched. I was right that the next digit after that was a 6, but that was as far as I could get. I used to know a lot more Pi; I think that at one point, I had about 40 digits memorized. Of course, that’s not extremely impressive because there are some extreme nerds out there who have Pi memorized to a bajillion places. But the point is that I want to be one of those extreme nerds because that seems like a fun skill to have.

Number Three: Be an Artificially Artificial Intelligence

I'm pretty sure that's more or less how Cleverbot works.

I’m pretty sure that’s more or less how Cleverbot works.

This game would make use of an anonymous and random internet chat program, of which there are several in existence. Before beginning, I would make a short list of random phrases. In the first chat, I would enter each of these phrases and make a note of how the other person responded. From that point on, anytime someone uses one of my original phrases, I would respond in the same way that person #1 responded. When chatting with person #2, I would use the phrases that had been typed by person #1 in chat #1. Once again, I would keep track of the responses for use in any later situation where someone types those phrases to me. Over the course of hundreds or thousands of chats, I would build up an extensive list telling me how to respond to things that people say. The longer I do this, the more my chat messages would begin to resemble an actual conversation with an actual person.

Number Four: Organize my wardrobe

This is what I need to do. I need to make a list of every non-underwear article of clothing that I own and determine which of them “go with” which others, so that I have a specific list of every outfit I have available. For each outfit, I shall then determine rules for when and where it can be worn depending upon factors such as degree of formality and suitability in cold or hot temperatures. Finally, I shall make a complicated and convoluted chart that tells me when to wear what. The point of this is not to simplify the process of getting dressed or to save time; the point is to have the fun of consulting a chart. Because that’s a very entertaining thing to do.

Number Five: Finish the mancala algorithm

Mancala Board(I use the word “finish” because this is a project that I have started before. See this blog post from June 2012.) When a game of mancala begins, the first player has six choices, and only one of them makes any sense. It is fairly self-apparent that the number of possible moves increases exponentially for each additional move being considered in the calculation, and that the number of good moves also increases to such an extent that there is a very wide variety of possible outcomes. However, the game of mancala is a lot simpler than, for example, chess or scrabble, so it seems that it should be feasible, although ridiculously time-consuming, to create an algorithm determining what the best series of moves is. One goal of this algorithm is to develop a strategy that will always win; another goal is to determine how early in the game it is possible to predict beyond a doubt who will win. As far as I can tell, the best way to develop such an algorithm is to play lots and lots and lots of mancala and try out lots of possible combinations of moves.  It isn’t literally necessary to play out every possible game, but it will be necessary to try out a lot of them, to try out various ways of continuing the game after various sets of opening moves, and to take a mathematical approach to the outcomes.

Number Six: Learn how to talk in Iambic Pentameter

It seems to me that the ultimate test of quick thinking is the ability to maintain a poetic meter and rhyme scheme in conversational speech. One would have to count stressed and unstressed syllables and think of rhymes all while concentrating on communicating whatever it is that one wants to say in the context of the given conversation. I’m not sure if such a thing would be possible, but it would be so totally awesome if it was.

Number Seven: Continue my experiments on whether putting your hands on your face helps you think

Many people, myself included, will sometimes put their hands on their face while they are thinking, and I am curious about why. In the past, I have made up experiments to test the intellectual effects of this gesture. (See these two blog posts from Summer 2012) These tests have obviously been inadequate to answer this question for various reasons. For one thing, they were conducted in the same way, which measured intellectual activity by memorizing a string of random digits. But memorization isn’t the only kind of thought. It seems to me that a strategic game is a more thorough test of effective thought. Chess is the ideal game for this experiment because it has no element of luck and is more intellectually stimulating than certain other games like checkers. (In case anyone is interested, I dislike the game of checkers and am always glad for an opportunity to say so.) The next experiment would involve playing consecutive online chess games, all using the same time limit, for many hours on end. During some games, I would rest my face on my hands while I think, and during other games, I would make sure not to touch my face at all. This experiment would have to be repeated several times on different days in order to decrease the risk of confounding variables. I imagine that I would need to play a few hundred games before calculating the results. Even then, these results would be meaningless unless I came up with further experiments which would involve other people and other methods of measuring intellectual activity.

Number Eight: Memorize cool movies

Star WarsThis one is pretty self-explanatory. It also is quite obvious that the first couple movies that I would memorize would be Star Wars and The Princess Bride. Others that would be high on the list would be the other Star Wars movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Back to the Future trilogy, and The Matrix. You know, all those movies that cool people quote all the time.

Number Nine: Finish this list

This list is incomplete because there are a semi-infinite number of really awesome fun things that I would do if I had time on my hands. There are a bunch that I had intended to include in this partial list that have temporarily slipped my mind, and I’m going to go ahead and post this without them because what I have here is already sufficiently long. Then there are others that I thought of a long time ago and have completely forgotten, and many more that simply haven’t ever occurred to me yet. Just to finish the list would be an unachievable goal. But it would be entertaining to spend a lot of time working on it.

The Attack of the Evil Interdimensional Psychic Trains

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10:00 PM

Cups of coffee: 0

It’s horrible just how many all-nighters I’ve pulled this semester. What makes it even worse is that the real reason this is necessary is just that the middle of the night is the only time I can get a moment’s quiet. My life is essentially characterized by an incessant cacophony of train whistles, airplanes, sirens, people’s voices, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, running faucets, hair dryers, loud footsteps, and slamming doors. The lawn mowers are the worst. The train whistles are really high on the list, too, and they unfortunately are the one that is still present in the middle of the night. But at least the noise level goes down enough that it’s technically possible to get work done, which simply isn’t true during the daytime. So I’ve gotten into the habit of pulling all-nighters at least once a week, and I think I’m actually in danger of literally going insane. If for no other reason, I’m looking forward to graduation because after that, I’ll be able to sleep occasionally.

 

11:00 PM

Cups of coffee: 1

As long as I’m going to be up all night, I decided that this would be a delightful opportunity to do my laundry. Once upon a time, (until about a month ago, in fact) Saturday mornings were laundry time, but now the universe is falling apart and laundry time has become a movable occurrence. I cannot shake the conviction that Monday night is not a time during which one really ought to be doing laundry, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t do laundry last Saturday morning because I really, really didn’t feel like it, and so it is necessary that I do laundry early this week. So I put my laundry in a laundry bag and headed to the laundry room, only to find to my dismay that washer number nineteen had someone else’s laundry in it. Now, there’s nothing particularly significant about the number nineteen, (in fact, I happen to intensely dislike the number nineteen) but there is something significant about washer number nineteen. That significant thing is that I always use washer number nineteen. Except sometimes when it’s full of someone else’s clothes, and so I use washer number seventeen instead. But this time, washer number seventeen had someone else’s clothes in it, too. I settled for washer number seven, but this is not the way it should be. This is an even greater problem than the new uncharacteristically mobile nature of laundry time. In fact, the horror of this situation is comparable (although still significantly less) than the trauma of finding someone else in my favorite parking space. For the record, I am a Lutheran and a ballet dancer and I’m OCD which means that nobody had better take my parking spot. When they do, bad things happen, and considering that I’m the one to whom they happen, other people don’t necessarily have an incentive to stay away from my parking spot, which is really a problem. Granted, my parking spot has only been taken from me once in the last several months, but it was a very traumatic experience and will probably haunt me for as long as I live.

 

1:15 AM

Cups of coffee: Technically still one. I just poured the second cup.

This is a book I greatly enjoyed, and its title is very relevant to my life at the moment.

This is a book I greatly enjoyed, and its title is very relevant to my life at the moment.

I have no idea what has happened to the last three hours. Well, actually I do; they were killed by homework, a fate which I fear I may end up sharing. But while they were in the process of slowly and pitifully losing their battle against the overwhelmingly powerful army of my math homework, I was not aware how many of them had fallen. And now the three of them lie lifeless on the battle field, and I sadly stand here staring at their remains and thinking of all the potential they had. I could have used those three hours to read interesting books or to write Doctor Who fan fiction or to play many games of Settlers of Catan or to do any number of other delightful things. But instead, they gave their lives so that I might do my calculus and linear algebra homework, and indeed, they died in vain, for I still don’t understand math. Over the course of this semester, there have been times when I’ve hated calculus but been okay with linear algebra, and there have been times when I’ve hated linear algebra but been okay with calculus. At the moment, I’m not on very friendly terms with either of them. But if I had to choose one as a favorite over the other, I’d go with linear algebra. In calculus, I understand the concepts, but I somehow invariably get the wrong answers anyway, and I have no idea why. In linear algebra, I don’t really understand the concepts, which completely explains why I’m not always getting the right answers. It’s a much less frustrating situation, because it implies the possibility that there shall be a time in the future, perhaps the very near future, that I will understand the concepts and will find correct answers to the problems. Or maybe not. Because that’s just not the kind of thing that happens in my life.

 

2:30 AM

Cups of coffee: 2

I got this picture from Google, but it looks a lot like the train tracks I remember from when I was little.

I got this picture from Google, but it looks a lot like the train tracks I remember from when I was little.

I hate trains. This is a sad turn of events, for I once loved trains. That is, I loved toy trains. The wooden train track set that my siblings and I once played with, which is presumably still in a box in my parents’ garage, was a source of much entertainment and many good memories. I have not had many experiences involving real trains, although last year I read a very fascinating book on the history of the Milwaukee Railroad. That may sound like a somewhat dull subject, but I greatly enjoyed the book for two reasons. First, it was extremely well written, and I found myself admiring the prose in a way that one does not normally do when reading a book about the history of a railroad company. Second, as it turns out, the history of the Milwaukee Railroad is a riveting tale involving many interesting personalities, some very complex controversies, and probably a few illegal dealings. Unfortunately, I do not remember the title of the book and cannot specifically recommend it, but I do wish to express a general recommendation for books about the history of the Milwaukee Railroad. Nonetheless, I hate trains, for they seem bent upon preventing me from accomplishing anything tonight. The train whistles have been going constantly all night long, without so much as pause. I’ve been keeping track; it’s literally true that the train whistles haven’t stopped since I got back on campus hours ago. This has also been the case every other time I’ve tried to use the middle of the night to do homework. In fact, I have had this same problem for my entire college career, although it has been worse since I’ve lived in my current room, which has a window that doesn’t close and that looks out over downtown. It makes no sense for train whistles to blow constantly, so I can only come to the conclusion that this is a deliberate conspiracy aimed specifically at me. Unfortunately, it seems to be working, because I can’t do this anymore and will probably now have to drop out of college, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be graduating in less than four weeks. I can only imagine how odd it will sound when I try to explain to future prospective employers that the reason I don’t have a college degree is that the trains were out to get me. Alternatively, I could make an attempt to stay in college despite the train conspiracy, in which case “train whistles” will be the cause of death listed on my death certificate. This, I can only imagine, will both baffle and amuse many people. Many years from now, historians will have long
arguments as they try to guess what exactly happened to me. I will become famous as the only person to have ever died of sheer annoyance.

 

4:00 AM

Cups of coffee: 3 ½

This was the episode I saw.

This was the episode I saw.

They say that one of the main purposes of sleep- and of dreams in particular- is to organize and arrange new information. It’s an essential part of the learning process. Unfortunately, I’m too busy learning to sleep. This is a problem; college is making me stupid. Fortunately, I’ve recently come up with something that helps a little. Sometimes, watching an episode of Doctor Who is a reasonable substitute for dreaming. I tend to dream in Doctor Who fan fiction anyway, so the only actual difference is that it isn’t my own brain that’s making up this stuff. (Admittedly, that’s a pretty significant difference, but I don’t really have a better option.) Also, Doctor Who only takes about 45 minutes, while sleeping takes a few hours. And Doctor Who involves wearing earphones and deliberately blasting noises into my eardrums, which temporarily block out the train noises. (Which, unfortunately, I can now hear again. This is ridiculous; it’s been at least eight hours since they’ve been quiet.) In case it isn’t obvious by now, trains are not my friends. I prefer weeping angels. Maybe, when I go downstairs to get my laundry in just a minute, there will be weeping angels down there, and they’ll catch me and send me back to a time before trains existed. That would be nice.

 

4:30 AM

Cups of coffee: 3 ½

Pictured: An ordinary, harmless train

Pictured: An ordinary, harmless train

I have a theory. As you may have guessed, it involves trains. My theory is based upon two observations. For one thing, I don’t know where the train tracks are. In the course of my daily life, I drive a total of more than 200 miles each week, and I never ever cross train tracks. Yet these trains must pass quite close to where I am, since they’re so loud and disruptive. The other observation is that I rarely hear anyone else mention or complain about these trains. Instead, other people mention and complain about the birds. It’s true that the birds on campus are fairly loud and have a tendency to sing at all hours of the night. I’ve been hearing them for the past three or four hours now. But I am very baffled as to why someone would be bothered by the sweet, melodious tunes of a little bird when they could be bothered by the loud, mechanical bellow of a train whistle. Evidently, other people simply do not hear these train whistles, which is quite odd, considering the fact that they are absurdly loud and unbearably frequent. So I ask myself, why is it that there are trains without train tracks, and that other people can’t hear these trains? The answer is obvious. Well, not really, but I’m going to go with it anyway. These trains exist in an alternate set of dimensions. They are evil interdimensional trains that cross the void into my own dimensions for the sole purpose of antagonizing me, and their whistles of doom have properties that pull IQ points out of my brain, depriving me of intellectual capacity. That’s why I can’t ever get stuff done adequately. Maybe I should explain this to all of my professors and see what they have to say about it.

 

6:00 AM

Cups of coffee: 3 ½

sunshine‘Tis approaching sunrise, that time of day when the sunshine reappears on the horizon and says in its cheery early morning voice, “Good morning! I’ve just gotten back from having a lovely day on the other side of the world, during which time I provided light and warmth to billions of people and made all the plants grow and brought smiles to many faces. What about you? What have you done in the last few hours?” To which I respond, in my grumpy early morning voice, “Be quiet, sunshine. I’ve done my best, and it isn’t my fault it hasn’t worked out. Don’t criticize me unless you yourself have experienced the plague of evil psychic interdimensional trains stealing your brain from you.”

 

7:00 AM

Cups of coffee: 3 ½

At last, there is some progress being made on my linear algebra homework. In fact, I have suddenly found that I’m nearly halfway done. That’s after working on it for the past nine hours, and it’s due in about five and a half hours. Um, never mind, I guess this isn’t such a good thing after all. Especially considering that I have other homework to do during that time, too. Meanwhile, the city has woken up and the train whistles have been joined by their friends, the ambulance sirens and a lawn mower. Meanwhile, I’m pondering how ironic it is that I once loved the song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”. On an unrelated note, I think it’s about time for me to take a short break to get breakfast and, more importantly, coffee.

 

8:00 AM

Cups of coffee: About 4

My question is what the trains want with my brain anyway. I mean, they’re presumably from some planet with advanced knowledge and technology; otherwise, they wouldn’t be capable of mind theft. I doubt there’s any information in my brain that would benefit them in any way. Even I am not quite paranoid enough to imagine that an alien race would do things to mess with my mind for no other reason than to be evil to me. There must be some motive. If I can come up with a good one, this could be the basis for a decent science fiction story. I would call it “Train of Thought”.

 

9:30 AM

Cups of coffee: About 4 ½

I posted this on tumblr the other day for the purpose of complaining about math.

I posted this on tumblr the other day for the purpose of complaining about math.

I was finally starting to think I was actually going to get this algebra homework done, and even have a couple of hours to spare for other stuff, like, you know, calculus or something. But this last problem clearly just isn’t going to happen.  I hate eigenstuff so much because I have no idea what the camaduka any of it means, which probably is due to the fact that I was in Louisville, Kentucky, presenting a paper, during the time when the rest of my linear algebra class was learning what the camaduka eigenthingies are. Considering the fact that this was a couple weeks ago, you’d think I’d have caught up by now, but the book makes no sense and my notes from subsequent classes contain contradictions. I have come to the conclusion that eigenstuff, like trigonometric functions, have no purpose or definition and exist solely for the purpose of making mathematics more confusing. At some point, some evil genius realized that he was so much cleverer than everybody else that he could make up random things that sounded like math, and everyone would believe him, and some people would even pretend to understand it, just so that they could feel clever. And thus was born a branch of mathematics that doesn’t actually exist. Either that, or I’m too stupid to understand it, and I don’t like that theory much.

 

10:45 AM

Cups of coffee: About 4 ½

The morning has more or less come to an end, and I’m about to go to class. Therefore, I shall now wrap up this blog post with the acknowledgement that I have succeeded in surviving one more night without having my brain taken over by a sinister extraterrestrial psychic train. I can still hear them even now, but their power seems to be diminished slightly in the daytime, or maybe it’s just that I can’t hear them as clearly over all the daytime noises. At any rate, the fact remains that I still have at least some remnant of my mind more or less intact. One more alien invasion survived.

Homework, Coffee, Settlers of Catan, and Color-Coded Stuff: A Tale of a Night When I Didn’t Sleep

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9:39 PM

Cups of coffee: 0

M&Ms: 0

Homework done: None

Games of Catan: 0

 

The pattern is now familiar. I make a list of homework and a plan of attack, I get some M&Ms and make some coffee, and I sit down in front of my computer to document my sleepless night by writing random and rambling things about it, which shall then appear on my blog for all the world to see. Generally, these all-nighter chronicles begin with a remark that I wasn’t expecting to need to do this. That is certainly the case in this situation; I really thought that this semester wouldn’t call for any all-nighters. Academically, this is the lightest semester I’ve ever had. But around midterms, there’s no such thing as an academically light semester.

To be honest, this all-nighter probably isn’t necessary. I think that I could be ready to call it a night by about two O’clock or so. That’s really late for me, but it is much less drastic than pulling an all-nighter, especially since I don’t even need to be up at a reasonable time tomorrow. This semester, I only have morning classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, and tomorrow is a Tuesday. I prefer to be up at a reasonable time anyway, but I could make an exception to that habit if I felt it was necessary.

But, after giving the matter due consideration, I decided to pull an all-nighter. That way, I have all the time I need and don’t have to feel stressed about finishing by a certain time. Besides, it gives me an excuse to eat M&Ms, and it makes it possible for me to take the time for Catan breaks. Anyone who has been reading my blog regularly may have noticed a bit of a pattern lately, which is that I have a tendency to mention Catan quite frequently.

 

I didn't win. Life is tough.

I didn’t win. Life is tough.

11:26 PM

Cups of coffee: 1

M&Ms: 10 blue, 7 red, 3 yellow, 3 brown, 8 green, 8 orange

Homework done: All of my calculus homework and one single-spaced page of a paper that shall be double-spaced later

Games of Catan: 1. I lost. It wasn’t fair. I totally should have won.

 

I would say that I was making pretty good time, except that I’m supposed to have three pages of this paper done by midnight. That is, I’m supposed to submit a three-page draft online. Three pages really isn’t a big deal, especially because this draft isn’t going to be graded. The professor is just having us submit it to make sure that we actually have that much done. Originally, the paper was going to be due tonight, but now it’s due on Wednesday instead. Compared to certain papers from last semester, this will be quick and easy; it’s basically a paper on a project that was already presented in class today. But I’m a very slow writer. For me, any paper is a long paper. That’s a little ironic, considering just how much writing I do, even outside of schoolwork. I’m also very slow at math. I’m slightly proud of myself for being done with my calculus homework for tonight, even though it was a pretty easy homework assignment. It was on the partial derivative. Partial derivatives are pretty simple. Incidentally, I really don’t seem to have many yellow M&Ms here. That’s a little odd.

 

11:57 PM

Cups of coffee: Still just one

M&Ms:  12 blue, 9 red, 4 yellow, 3 brown, 9 green, 9 orange

Homework done: All of my calculus and that draft of that paper

Games of Catan: Still just one. I still think I should have won.

 

An incredible and very good thing as happened. As I logged onto the thingy to submit my paper draft, nothing went wrong. This is rare indeed. My college’s internet system doesn’t like me; whenever I try to log into something that’s through the college, it won’t accept my password the first few times I try. Sometimes, I keep on trying over and over and over and never even get in because it eventually blocks my access because of so many failed attempts to enter the password. This is extremely frustrating. But it didn’t happen tonight, which is good because I submitted that draft at 11:54, which was cutting it pretty close. The uncool part is that it’s a pretty lousy draft, but that’s not a big problem. I still have two days to finish it and clean it up, and I’ll probably be able to dedicate a significant portion of tonight to it. But I do have to concentrate on my algebra homework for tomorrow first.

 

Here's why the number of green M&Ms isn't a whole number.

Here’s why the number of green M&Ms isn’t a whole number.

1:57 AM

Cups of coffee: one and a half

M&Ms: 21 blue, 10 red, 8 yellow, 4 brown, 12 ½ green, 10 orange

Homework done: All of my calculus, that draft of that paper, and practically all of the computer assignment for linear algebra

Games of Catan: Just one. I really want to play another one now, but it isn’t time yet, according to my detailed plan for tonight.

 

Normally, whether I’m staying up all night or just staying up really late, I don’t actually leave my room in the middle of the night. Tonight was an exception, though, because the aforementioned computer assignment for linear algebra required a computer program that I can only use on the computers in the math building. So I headed over there a little after midnight and spent about an hour and a half on that assignment. It was weird being outside at that time of night; for once, it was quiet. There were a few people in the math building, because that happens to be a favorite late-night-studying place and all-nighter place. The assignment in question was actually pretty cool; it had to do with ciphering. I made a slight mistake on a cipher that I was supposed to be deciphering, so it came out correct except for one word in the middle, which said ‘rMOk’. This amused me greatly. But I redid the exercise anyway, and it came out with real words that time. I couldn’t quite figure out how to do the last exercise, though, so I’ll have to do that one later. I’ll probably do it right before class, because that’s the only way I’ll have a chance to ask the professor about it.

 

3:08 AM

Cups of coffee: Two and a half

M&Ms: 31 blue, 14 red, 14 yellow, 14 brown, 22 ½ green, 18 orange

Homework done: All of my calculus, the draft for that paper, almost all of that algebra assignment, and the reading for my postmodernism class on Wednesday

Games of Catan: Still just one. But the time for game number two is near at hand. First, I have some algebra homework to do, but Catan is next after that.

 

Colored index cardsThere are five greatly awesome things that are within inches of my hands right now, all of which I have used quite a bit within the past few hours. The list is as follows: coffee, M&Ms, colored index cards, sharpies, and dry erase boards. A few minutes ago, I was surprised and confused to discover that my fingers were speckled, but a moment’s reflection enabled me to realize that this was because I had been using my fingers to erase numbers off of my dry erase board in order to replace them with other numbers. I love using dry erase boards to keep track of random and inconsequential details of my life. ‘Tis an entertaining thing to do. The appeal of colored index cards and sharpies, of course, is that they allow you to color code stuff, and color coded stuff is automatically cooler than non-color coded stuff. As a matter of fact, this point also can be extended to explain the coolness of M&Ms, and to relate to my interest in keeping track of M&M colors on my dry erase board. But coffee isn’t colorful. The coolness of coffee is independent of its visual appearance. Maybe someone should invent colored color-coded coffee. By definition, that would be incredibly cool, but I can’t actually think of a good purpose for it. I’ll have to think about this.

 

4:06 AM

Cups of coffee: Two and a half

M&Ms: 31 blue, 18 red, 14 yellow, 15 blue, 26 ½ green, 19 orange

Homework done: See above, plus just a couple algebra problems. But those couple that I did took a really, really long time.

Games of Catan: Two and a half. The website’s down, so that last game was aborted. That’s okay; it was making me really mad because I was losing really badly because nobody was rolling fours, sixes, eights, or nines, which just shouldn’t happen. People were basically just rolling tens every single time, which was very much in orange’s favor and did me no good at all. It was really unfair, especially since I had had a very similar problem in the previous game. Sometimes I wonder if other people have discovered ways to rig the dice on internet board games. It seems feasible, since those are just imaginary dice anyway. Presumably, if someone was really good with computers, they could figure out a way to trick the system. I’m not necessarily saying that’s what happens, I’m just saying that it sure seems like it.

 

101_9851Aside from the Catan problems which I have lamented in the previous paragraph, I’m also frustrated that this algebra homework isn’t going well. I still have several hours before class, but I don’t want to spend that entire time on this one homework assignment. At the rate I’m going, that’s how long it’ll take.

The weird thing is that it’s almost morning now, and it really doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since I got back from dance class at around eight O’clock. It’s no wonder I always feel tired; apparently nights go faster than days, and so one doesn’t get a lot of sleep by sleeping through the night. But it wouldn’t be any better to sleep during the day, since I have just determined that nights aren’t long enough for doing homework.

The only solution I can think of is that days just need to be longer. Since the length of a day is determined by the amount of time it takes the Earth to revolve around its axis, we just need to slow the Earth’s rotation. I wonder what kind of an impact this would have on the Earth’s climate. Of course, in order to minimize these effects, it is important that the Earth’s orbit around the sun should not be changed at all. I think years are a pretty good length.

Although it would be nice if the number of days in a year was something a little nicer than 365 ¼. That’s such a random number. I would like to suggest 350. That’s close enough to the current year length that it wouldn’t make a big difference, but it’s easier to remember and it has more factors than 365 or 366. We could divide the 350-day year into ten months of 35 days each, which I think is a lovely length for a month to be, and ten is a nice number of months. And there will be exactly 50 weeks in a year, which would be convenient. It would also mean that holidays and birthdays would fall on the same day of the week every year, which is an appealing idea and would make it very easy to keep holiday traditions the same from year to year. And Advent would always be the same length, so Advent calendars could actually be Advent calendars instead of December calendars that call themselves Advent calendars.

It would seem that I don’t feel like returning to my algebra homework.

 

Between various math problems, you can see my M&M statistics.

Between various math problems, you can see my M&M statistics.

5:08 AM

Cups of coffee: Three and a half. Now my coffee is gone, but that’s okay, because I’ll be able to go and get some more from the cafeteria in just a couple hours. It is worth noting that, on days when I sleep, I hardly ever drink more than one cup of coffee.

M&Ms: 43 blue, 22 red, 19 yellow, 24 brown, 38 ½ green, 26 orange. This is a final count; my M&Ms are now gone.

Homework done: All I have accomplished since the last update was another couple paragraphs on that paper.

Games of Catan: Two and a half.

 

It’s still dark and will be for a while, but I hear birds singing. Some people on campus complain about how loud the birds are, and I am puzzled by their annoyance. Personally, I don’t mind the birds nearly as much as I mind the leafblowers and lawn mowers, which are also noises that one hears almost constantly on this campus, and frequently right under one’s window when one is trying to do homework.

I think I’m going to go take a shower now. After that, I have to get back to my algebra homework, and then I’m allowed to take a break to check tumblr.

 

6:26 AM

Cups of coffee: Still at three and a half.

Homework done: See above, plus a couple more algebra problems.

Games of Catan: Still at two and a half.

 

I actually didn’t take a shower shortly after five, like I said I would, because my roommate was in the shower. In my residence hall, we have suites, and each suite has its own shower. I definitely prefer that to a communal bathroom, but it’s more than a little annoying hearing water running when I’m trying to do homework. It’s weird how some noises, like showers and squeaky doors, drive me crazy, while other noises, like ticking clocks and the strangely loud hum of my desk light, don’t bother or distract me at all.

Right now, I’m a little annoyed at the world in general for the fact that it’s morning. I don’t know where all the time went last night. I was expecting that I’d get more done. Now I still have homework to finish and stuff to study for midterm exams later this week, but I have lost the quiet and solitude that the nighttime offers.

 

7:34 AM

Cups of coffee: A little more than three and a half. I just came back from breakfast in the cafeteria, and I brought back a cup of coffee with me. Coffee is good stuff.

Homework done: None since I last gave an update, actually. Unless I’ve done a couple algebra problems since then. I can’t remember how many I’d done before that point. I’m still less than halfway done with what I have due today.

Games of Catan: Two and a half

 

This is what one of my dry erase boards looked like by morning.

This is what one of my dry erase boards looked like by morning.

Today’s sunrise was disappointingly nonspectacular, but that’s okay, because now that the sun’s up, it’s a really beautiful day. Maybe it’s a bit chilly, but it’ll probably be really nice in a few hours.

Next on my agenda is the game I like to play where I use a random number generator to get twenty random digits and then try to memorize them in under a minute. Lately, I’ve only been doing this once a day. I’m on a good streak now, though. I’ve gotten a perfect score four out of the last five times. This may not be an achievement that means anything to anyone besides me, but I am rather proud of it. I just hope I can keep this streak going. Considering the fact that I haven’t sleep in over a day and I’m dead tired, my brain might not be at its best this morning, though.

I really wish I was playing Settlers of Catan right now. And I really wish I was winning.

 

9:13 AM

Cups of coffee: Four and a half

Homework done: More algebra, but I’m still not done with today’s assignment yet. I am actually making progress; it just really takes that long. Seriously, math is hard.

Games of Catan: Two and a half. But I’m getting close to my next Catan break. This excites me greatly.

 

Here is a picture of outside, despite the fact that the picture doesn't look as pretty as it really is.

Here is a picture of outside, despite the fact that the picture doesn’t look as pretty as it really is.

I just opened my window. It’s so ridiculously beautiful out there today. The thing about Alabama is that you never know from one minute to the next what the weather is going to be like. On Sunday, it was nice like this, but yesterday, it was gloomy and wet and rainy and just really ugly. But then it suddenly cleared up in the middle of dance class, very shortly before it got dark. And last night it was pretty chilly. As clear as the weather is now, there’s no telling whether it’ll rain again. For all I know, it could snow tomorrow.

I’m trying to remember what I normally write in my all-nighter blog posts. I seem to recall that they aren’t normally about the weather, but right now, the weather seems to be the most noteworthy thing. I tried to take a beautiful picture from my window so that I could show the beautiful weather, but it didn’t turn out looking very beautiful because most of the trees still don’t have leaves yet. I’m guessing that will happen soon.

 

10:28 AM

Cups of coffee: I’ve stopped at four and a half.

Homework: A couple more algebra problems

 

CatanOkay, I admit it, I just played several consecutive games of Catan; I don’t even know how many because I lost count. Most of those games were ridiculously short because one person got all the luck and won before I’d even had a chance to do anything. It was getting quite frustrating. I mean, here I’ve been awake all night, working long and hard in an effort to learn stuff. I feel like the universe at least owes me a few lucky rolls. So I just kept playing until I finally won.

And now, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to put this on my blog, then I’m going to finish my algebra homework (which is finally almost done), and by then, it’ll probably be about time for me to get all my books and stuff together, go to the cafeteria for lunch, check my mailbox quickly, and then head off to math class.

 

 

Why I’m a Math Minor

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knotsAfter the end of classes on Friday, I attended a riveting talk by a guest mathematician who was in town for some sort of conference. He was a knot theorist, and in his talk, he introduced us to the beautiful and extremely interesting mathematical principles of knot theory and topological graphing as related to knot theory. I admit that a good deal of it went over my head, mainly because of unfamiliar terminology, but I still found it fascinating. It was a great way to spend the first hour of my weekend. That may sound like sarcasm, but it isn’t. I truly did enjoy the talk, and I truly did leave it feeling much happier and much more motivated about life in general than I ever have after having heard an inspirational speech. (Inspirational speeches, in my opinion, are quite corny and fairly irrelevant despite the fact that they are specifically trying to be universally relevant.)Despite the fact that I didn’t understand everything the speaker said, I now am interested in finding books and online articles in order to learn more about knot theory. And I almost find myself wishing that I had another semester or two left after this so that I could take more math classes and become a math major instead of a minor.

The cool elevator in the math building at my college

The cool elevator in the math building at my college

People are always surprised when I tell them that I’m minoring in math. In part, this is because I already am a double major and I’m in the honor’s program, and this situation has led to the need to take ridiculous course overloads several semesters. Adding another minor on top of all of that does seem a bit excessive. Besides that, my two majors are dance and English, and both of those fields seem to be very distinct from mathematics. At my college, it seems like most of the English majors hate math with a passion, and most people who have non-humanities majors dislike English almost as strongly. The dance program is actually somewhat of an overlap area; I’m aware of several people who have graduated with a dance/English double major in the past few years, and I’m aware of several current or recent dance students who have also taken a lot of math classes, either as a math major (or minor) or as a business major. In fact, considering how few dance students there are, it’s interesting just how frequently I have had a classmate in an upper-level academic class who is also a classmate in dance. But I don’t know anyone else who has taken upper-level classes in all three programs.

My decision to be a math minor is even stranger in light of the fact that I myself am one of those kinds of English majors who hates math with a passion. I always have. When I was little, math was the bane of my existence, and it only got worse when I got into algebra. I couldn’t wait to get to college, where I could take classes only in things that interested me and never do any math ever again. If someone had told my little-kid self or my high-school-aged self that I would voluntarily take five mathematics classes in college, (not to mention a logic class and a couple of science classes that required mathematical knowledge) and that those classes would be among my favorite college courses because of their structure and objective logic, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Yet I somehow did become the kind of person who appreciates mathematics for its precision and its order and its sheer usefulness.

The cool stairs in the math building at my college

The cool stairs in the math building at my college

My hatred of math stemmed from the fact that I just wasn’t any good at it. This wasn’t entirely a case of stupidity; I was homeschooled and my parents used a very difficult math curriculum. They still insist that those math books are wonderful and that my siblings and I benefitted greatly from them. I still insist that those math books were evil and that they caused much emotional trauma in my childhood. I blame them for all of the problems in my life, from my social ineptness to my concerns about paying for college to the way my Achilles tendon sometimes makes a disturbing snapping noise in the middle of dance class because of an ongoing case of tendonitis. I’m not quite sure what this has to do with childhood mathematical trauma, but it surely does.

When I started college, I knew I was going to have to take a math class at some point, and I wasn’t happy about it. I took calculus I during the spring of my freshman year, and I went into that class expecting that it would be miserable and that I would do terribly. I resolved to put a lot of time and effort into that class, but I wasn’t optimistic that it would pay off. But it did. In fact, once I somehow managed to get through the first few weeks, it stopped being particularly difficult, and by the end of the term, I was consistently getting perfect scores on homework and exams. That semester was a very frustrating time for me in regards to dance, and it was very reassuring to be doing well in academics. That class ended up being stress-relieving rather than stressful. When I took statistics in fall of my junior year, it was just because I had to take one more math or social science, but it turned out to offer the same comforting stability in my life that calculus had. I didn’t do quite as well in statistics, but I still ended up getting an A with plenty of room to spare. In the meantime, I felt as if my dance and English classes were being graded on a subjective scale according to a secret rubric. It was at some point during that semester that I decided to get the math minor by taking three more math classes over the next three semesters. I took calculus two that spring and am now taking calculus three and linear algebra.

A cool wall in the math building at my college

A cool wall in the math building at my college

It’s too soon in the semester to be making judgments about how well these classes are working out for me, but I feel like things are promising. After struggling in calculus two, I’m not counting on getting spectacular grades in these upper level classes, but then again, my schedule is so much lighter now than it was then, and I’m a year older and smarter, and I’m sure I gained some mathematical proficiency by fighting my way through that course. In fact, my calculus two professor encouraged me towards the math minor because he thought that I was sufficiently competent to do it. So now I have found myself living in a world where advanced mathematics are a major part of my everyday life and I am learning to solve problems that would have terrified me out of my wits not long ago.

When I started studying from my linear algebra textbook for the first time, it struck me what it is that I’m doing. The book occasionally uses phrases like “later in your career”, as if anyone who’s taking that class will go on to be a mathematician or something. Of course, math majors don’t take that class in their second semester of senior year; they’re more likely to take it as juniors, and then they still have several higher –level math classes to take. Those are classes that I’ll never reach, and so my linear algebra book isn’t really talking to me when it defines its audience as future professional mathematicians. Still, these math people are my fellow classmates. I’m taking classes that would be well beyond the scope of my abilities or interest if it wasn’t for the fact that I just couldn’t resist the urge to take on one more thing.

The cool ceiling window (aka Solar Lumination Portal) in the math building at my college

The cool ceiling window (aka Solar Lumination Portal) in the math building at my college

That doesn’t really answer the question of why I would be a math minor. After all, my career plans don’t involve math, and if all I wanted was the sense of logical comfort that I don’t find in an English class, I would have been better off not taking the extra math classes and finding logical comfort in some aspect of life that doesn’t involve the stress of tests and grades. Maybe I was also motivated by the desire to get as many majors and minors as possible in order to feel smart and successful, but I don’t think that played a very large role in my desire to minor in math, because I am well aware of the fact that things don’t work that way. People who graduate with double majors are no more intelligent or accomplished than people with one major, and throwing a minor into the mix doesn’t really make me a better person, either. I think I had another motivation for going for the math minor. It’s that math is hard and it’s made me very unhappy at times, and I can’t let it win.

I would like to point out that this is an incredibly awesome book. It explains simple principles of interesting mathematical topics, such as probability and topology, that aren't generally taught at a grade school level, and it does it all with a tone that is sympathetic to the math-hating child who nonetheless finds it fun to play with numbers.

I would like to point out that this is an incredibly awesome book. It explains simple principles of interesting mathematical topics, such as probability and topology, that aren’t generally taught at a grade school level, and it does it all with a tone that is sympathetic to the math-hating child who nonetheless finds it fun to play with numbers.

I generally enjoy helping my younger sisters with their math. There are several reasons for that, including the obvious facts that they appreciate it and that it makes me feel like I’m clever. The main reason, though, is that I have survived those very same math books, and so I am glad for the opportunity to go back and gloat in their evil faces. My poor innocent sisters now must suffer the same hardships that I did, but here’s the cool part. When I’m helping them with their math, I have the privilege of saying that the math book is stupid, pushing it aside, and doing the problem my way. When I was little, I was never allowed to say that the math book was stupid, and my parents got mad when I insisted that the math book was to blame for my failure to understand certain concepts. But now I’m allowed to look at the book and say, “This doesn’t make any sense. No wonder you don’t get it. No wonder I didn’t get it when I was in this book.”  And then comes the part where I call the book stupid and explain the problem my own way. There have been a number of times that I have succeeded where the book has failed in explaining a concept to my sisters. In other words, by figuring out how to do math, I am defeating my old enemy, the odious math book. I think that’s good motivation for getting a minor in mathematics.