Philosophus /blog Expanding your mind like a knife through butter. Sat, 25 Apr 2009 18:50:23 +0000 en hourly 1 /blog/2009/04/25/103/ /blog/2009/04/25/103/#comments Sat, 25 Apr 2009 18:50:23 +0000 Elembis /blog/2009/04/25/103/ I’m excited to say that I’ll graduate on May 15 (assuming I show up to my finals). Anyone who wants to come is quite welcome.

/blog/2009/01/29/102/ /blog/2009/01/29/102/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2009 08:06:01 +0000 Elembis /blog/2009/01/29/102/ School is going well — it looks like my course load will be an easy one, and I’m still enjoying some of my homework.

I went to the Lady Bears’ basketball game tonight and watched them lose narrowly to Oklahoma. I was surprised when it was announced that George W. Bush and Laura were in the arena, and when I picked them out in the crowd I was a little surprised to see a former leader of our country, one of the most famous and (formerly) powerful people in the world, a stone’s throw away. After a little more looking around I could pick out the secret service people at his perimeter, watching everything but the game.

Laura had a very polite, formal clapping style. W. didn’t clap at all — maybe he was too busy enjoying private life for the first time in eight years, or maybe he had something on his mind.

/blog/2009/01/15/101/ /blog/2009/01/15/101/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2009 18:42:48 +0000 Elembis /blog/2009/01/15/101/ While I was shopping today for vegetables for some scrambled eggs, I walked past a woman in an aisle who was using pen and paper to tally up the amounts of all the items she put in her basket. She was obviously making sure, before she checked out, that her purchases were within her budget. I realized I’ve never made or needed to make a food budget — all I’ve ever wanted to eat has been provided for me or has been well within my means to buy. I have a little more perspective and feel a little more fortunate right now.

My eggs turned out very well. I wonder what she’s eating.

/blog/2009/01/12/100/ /blog/2009/01/12/100/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2009 02:06:58 +0000 Elembis /blog/2009/01/12/100/ Today was the first day of my last semester. One of my electives is World Religions, and my professor, wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers jacket and hat, began class with a loud and dramatic recitation of “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. After some chatting and the obligatory syllabus overview, he started playing Darfur Now, a documentary about responses to the war in Darfur. All but three of the 35 students left 15 minutes later when class ended. Dr. van Gorder kept playing the video, though, and I watched it to the end, since it was both educational and stirring. He shook my hand and thanked me on my way out.

/blog/2008/10/07/99/ /blog/2008/10/07/99/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2008 00:41:43 +0000 Elembis /blog/2008/10/07/99/ I’ve decided I’m not going to graduate school — not now, anyway. That means I hope to start full-time work upon graduation.

The decision wasn’t easy. On one hand, I’m a pretty curious guy, and graduate school would present a significant intellectual challenge and an environment full of bright people. A master’s degree would be a nice thing to have on my resume, and statistics show that people with master’s degrees make more money than those whose highest degree is a bachelor’s.

On the other hand, I’ll be able to find stimulating work and bright people in the workplace, too, and a university isn’t the only place you can learn — I’m pretty good at teaching myself. The main area of computer science that I’d like to study more is machine learning (the process of getting a computer to “learn” something, like how to translate speech or recognize faces in images), so I asked for and received permission to take Baylor’s graduate-level machine learning course next semester as an elective. Finally, if I wait to get a master’s degree, I can do so on a company’s dime and not foot the bill myself. (Yes, graduate students can get funding. No, it’s not that easy.)

But what about those salary figures — will not having a master’s degree hurt my career? Not as far as I can tell. The impression I’ve received from recruiters, fellow students, and work is that a master’s degree, which takes about two years to earn, is no better than two years of work experience. Also, I’ve heard employers don’t pay much attention at all to your resume beyond the last couple years of your life. I’ve done very well at Baylor, so I’d have to do very well as a master’s student just to keep from hurting myself. Finally, I realized the other day that the salary difference I mentioned above may hide a subtle problem: the group of people whose highest degree is a bachelor’s includes people who didn’t make it into graduate school or who didn’t have a shot in the first place. If those in the master’s group are generally brighter — the top 10% of an undergraduate class, according to one of my professors — you’d expect them to have higher salaries regardless of degrees.

I’m happy with my decision. The world of the workplace just moved two years closer.

/blog/2008/08/03/98/ /blog/2008/08/03/98/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2008 00:01:01 +0000 Elembis /blog/2008/08/03/98/ My internship is coming to a close, and I’m happy to say that the company and I have met each other’s high expectations. I have one week left to wrap things up, give a presentation to a few managers on what I did this summer (and try to keep it under 20 minutes), pack up my stuff, and say goodbye, for now, to my friends here.

Friday my parents came down to see me on an afternoon the company set aside for interns to enjoy with their families. We had a nice lunch, toured the building, and met some of the people I’ve been working with (though both my managers were out of town). Later that day we had a fantastic dinner and visited the River Walk, and the next morning we had pancakes before my parents left. It was a perfect way to spend 24 hours and a welcome mini-vacation for all of us.

I’m kind of giving graduate school second thoughts, or at least making sure I’m serious about it. It’s a difficult decision because I know I don’t need a master’s to get a great, challenging job, but it could be a really good opportunity to stretch my brain and enjoy a little more of the college life in an environment in which all of my peers are my intellectual equals or betters. I plan to pull a couple of my professors aside the first week or two of school to talk with them about it and get their advice. Most of the people here at work have encouraged me to work full-time for at least a year before I decide on graduate school, and my professors will probably encourage me to go to a good school (or simply stay at Baylor) right away, but I know they’ll give me sincere advice, too. It will then be up to me to seriously evaluate the pros and cons and make a decision, hopefully by the end of the month.

For now, I’ve told my managers and the staffing department that I plan on going to graduate school and won’t be available for full-time work starting next year. I expect to be offered a second internship, though, and if I decide to not go to graduate school right now and work for them instead, I’m sure they’ll be able to find a place for me.

/blog/2008/06/21/97/ /blog/2008/06/21/97/#comments Sat, 21 Jun 2008 22:26:11 +0000 Elembis /blog/2008/06/21/97/ I’m now three weeks into my summer internship. The trip here was pleasant, if warm, and a stopover at my aunt and uncle’s house near San Antonio broke it into two easy pieces. The countryside is beautiful, and I doubt I’ll see it much while I’m here, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Our first day was devoted to orientation sessions for the 75 summer interns USAA hired. They served us lunch, let us socialize some, and stopped just after 5:00 PM. I hadn’t yet checked in (or paid my first month of rent) at my apartment, and I had until 6:00 PM, the office’s closing time, to do so. The 17-minute trip became a 30-minute one due to the long route I took and the heavy traffic, and when I arrived at 5:30 I learned that I could only pay with a check or a money order, not cash or a debit card. I don’t have a checkbook, and there wasn’t time to get a money order and return, so I was forced to find alternate lodgings. After getting a money order for the proper amount at a gas station, I ended up staying at the hotel that USAA had put us up in when we came down for interviews. It was a little pricey, but I was paying for a worry-free place to park my fully-loaded car for the night, not just a place to sleep, so I didn’t mind. Also, my rent for the month was reduced because I would be moving in one day later. My apartment complex is gated, and I’m now happily settled in.

I spent my first day at work tagging along with my manager while we waited for a computer to be brought to my bare desk. Once I had a computer, I spent several days waiting for the software development tools I needed to be installed on it. The IT department likes to make sure all the software on our computers is approved for business use, so they make us let them take care of all software installation, even when it means we have to wait. Meanwhile, I couldn’t do any actual coding, so I spent my time reading the documentation I would need to understand once my development tools arrived. The waiting periods were frustrating, since I like to be productive and to know that I’m earning what I’m being paid, but I don’t think I’ll face any more of them.

I can’t talk about my actual project too much, since it involves proprietary information and this is a public website, but I can say that during my first couple of days I was a little intimidated by it, mainly because I faced a barrage of unfamiliar acronyms and terms. Now that I’ve had time to wrap my head around them, though, I’m pretty confident about the rest of the project. I made a roadmap at my manager’s suggestion so I can know what my plans are for each week, and I’m currently a little ahead of schedule. I’ve also gotten my first round of feedback from my manager, and it was positive and encouraging. Work is going quite well, and I really like my work environment and the other employees I’ve met.

My sightseeing has included a visit to SeaWorld, a trip downtown for a local theatre production, lunches with other employees at locally-owned restaurants in the immediate area, and a San Antonio Missions baseball game. (The Missions are a AA minor league team, and they provide some of the city’s main sports-related entertainment when the Spurs aren’t playing.) My mediocre navigation skills also let me do a little extra driving everywhere I go, and I like what I’ve seen of the city so far.

/blog/2008/05/24/96/ /blog/2008/05/24/96/#comments Sat, 24 May 2008 06:19:52 +0000 Elembis /blog/2008/05/24/96/ A week and a half ago I finished juggling 18 hours of classes all the way to the finish line. I lost a lot of steam right before finals week — in fact, I felt like the semester had been exactly one week too long — but I survived and emerged with straight As. That’s a first for me at Baylor, and I’m proud of the accomplishment, especially considering that it looked unlikely as late as April. I thought my Fall semester would be hard to top, and I was right — it was hard.

I quit my internship in Waco, since I have other plans for the summer. The job was an excellent opportunity for me, and I was given a nice send-off. There’s a chance I’ll be offered the same position again in the Fall, and there’s a chance I’ll take it, but I suspect I’ll be too busy.

I’ll be in San Antonio in just over a week. I have new shoes and business-casual shirts, and while I haven’t yet lined up an apartment, I expect to have one soon. Meanwhile, my vacation has been a great opportunity for me to unwind and do what I feel like doing, all the time. At the moment that means catching up with friends and family from home, chipping away at my todo list, and examining my road to graduate school and beyond.

I’m not interested in spending 5 or more years of my life working for a Ph.D., since I don’t plan to do research professionally, but I am interested in a master’s degree, which will take about two years. Of the graduate programs to which I think I have a decent chance of being accepted, UT Austin’s may still be my top choice, but Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute has recently caught my attention as well. I also plan on applying to Rice, and I may apply to Georgia Tech, too. Baylor is always an option, but I’m setting my sights higher for now, since it’d be better for me and for the reputation of Baylor’s computer science department (which has definitely prepared me for graduate school) if I were accepted to a better program at another school. I’ll buy a GRE preparation book soon and take the exam in August or September as I round up letters of recommendation from my professors and prepare my actual applications. After graduate school, or beyond 2011, it will be time for me to enter the real world for good.

Finally, I was struck last week by an idea that might give me an opportunity to use my technical skills for something world-altering. The idea still needs fleshing out, so I’m not yet ready to discuss it, but I know that a lot of people dream about connecting their professions to the needs of humanity, and I may have figured out how I’ll accomplish that.

/blog/2008/04/11/95/ /blog/2008/04/11/95/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2008 04:59:36 +0000 Elembis /blog/2008/04/11/95/ This evening I helped Baylor host a UIL programming competition for nine local high schools. Each high school brought one team of three students, and each team member took a written exam on various programming topics before coming together for a two-hour programming contest. Each team’s exam scores were combined with their contest score to determine their rank at the end of the night.

Five other students and I helped during the programming contest, which was identical in concept to the one in which I participated in November. Each team had one computer and twelve problems to attempt to solve, and each time they thought they had a solution, they would put it on a floppy disk — yes, a floppy — and give it to an assistant to be taken to the judges. One student assistant was needed to join a faculty member as a judge, and I volunteered. I checked teams’ submissions, making sure that their program gave the right output for various inputs. Each submission was marked as correct or incorrect and then returned to the team by a runner.

One of the funniest submissions was for a problem which required the students’ program to read a list of even numbers between 4 and 100 and for each number print each pair of prime numbers that could be added to form that number. For example, for the input “18″, the output would be “18 = 5 + 13 = 7 + 11″. Rather than make their program compute prime numbers, one team computed them by hand and hard-coded their list into the program. The funny part is that their code was entirely correct, but their list of primes was not, so they kept getting wrong answers. Eventually they removed a number which didn’t belong in the primes list (91, which is divisible by 7 and 13), but they were still missing one (89).

I guess not everyone might find mistakes in prime number calculation funny, but it’s comedy gold for a judges’ room full of computer science people.

/blog/2008/03/20/94/ /blog/2008/03/20/94/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2008 03:49:17 +0000 Elembis /blog/2008/03/20/94/ Spring break is over and already sorely missed. I finished just one day of homework. Coincidentally, I think this is the best Spring break I’ve had.

Sunday night I took my brother and a friend to see a band I love, This Will Destroy You, play in somebody’s house in Dallas. The house was small and probably pretty expensive to rent, given its proximity to downtown. The band, from San Marcos, played their instrumental post-rock in the large, sparsely-furnished living room, which had brick walls and surprisingly good acoustics. I’d guess that 50 to 70 people were there. We spent most of the show sitting on the floor, and that had the nice side effect of making the bass and drums even more bone-vibrating than they would’ve been otherwise. I bought their newest album on my way out, and I like it enough that I listened to it all day Monday. But you can’t beat the experience of live music.

Tuesday afternoon I drove to Hulen to give blood with my brother, who had never given before. Later in the week, when his blood had been tested and he knew his blood type, I described the Japanese blood type theory of personality (which is analogous to belief in astrology in the U.S.) to him. Just for fun, I described the personalities supposedly associated with each ABO blood type, but I didn’t tell him which blood type was associated with each description — I wanted to see if he could pick out my type and his. The odds were 1 in 4 for each guess, so the odds of him getting at least one right were about 44% (since the odds of him missing both were 3/4 * 3/4 = 9/16, or about 56%) if you assume that blood type and personality have nothing to do with each other. The test was too small to be of any statistical significance, but he missed both guesses. The fact that I was laughing as I read each description may have introduced some bias, but I think I laughed just as loudly for each one.

Tuesday night I watched There’s Something About Mary for the first time and laughed so hard for so long that I had a headache for 45 minutes after it was over. I didn’t know much about it other than that it was a romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller that a lot of people liked, and my low-to-medium expectations were blown out of the water.

Wednesday I went to the dentist. That was the low point of the week, but that’s to be expected.

Thursday I had a fun lunch with a friend and didn’t do much else. I think I opened one of my textbooks and looked at it for a few minutes, but I really wasn’t in the mood.

Friday I spent more time unwinding and went online to buy tickets to see Spamalot in San Antonio for June. The cheap seats were about $33 each, but TicketMaster wanted $33 more in fees for “convenience” (as in, “it’s more convenient for us to sell tickets online than to pay actual humans to do it”) and “delivery” (as in, “we don’t actually deliver anything”). I decided against being ripped off, so I’ll have to find something else to spend $100 on with a friend when June comes around. The funny thing is that I would have paid $50 per ticket if I had been buying them directly from the theater — TicketMaster’s absurd markup cost them a sale.

I played frisbee three times during the week, and my unathletic condition made me wish for room in my schedule for regular exercise. I bike around campus, of course, but never for more than 8 minutes at a time. I slept very well, though, and I fully enjoyed all of my free time. In fact, I’m seriously considering using the three weeks between finals and USAA as a vacation. I could spend it at work, but I have a reading list and some personal projects I’d like to make some progress on, and I haven’t had a vacation for more than a week or so in almost a year. With the real world on the not-too-distant horizon, I suppose I’ll have to get used to that.