28 June 2012

[NT] Learning and Life: a late mid, er, end-semester update

I haven't blogged about non-technical subjects in some time; in fact, readers have told me they couldn't understand what I was talking about in my previous few posts.

Classes have been going fine, well, not quite. I finally discovered my tolerance for code when I had four coding assignments (read: projects) due in a span of 27 hours. As much as I worked on them over spring break, I hit my breaking point come that period, so I ended up dropping a class. Luckily, it was only an elective.

6.005 Elements of Software Construction: On the surface, this is a relatively easy class for anyone with experience, except when you need to deal with the staff because a miscommunication resulted in automated testing disasters.

6.115 Microcomputer Laboratory (dropped): I walked in confident in my assembly skills, but as time went on, I got incredibly sick of writing assembly code. Who wouldn't? In addition, I found the labs to be incredibly contrived and boring. Luckily, I stayed in the class long enough to have learned a sufficient amount of EE approaches and skills for me to tackle decently nontrivial side projects.

6.815 Computational Photography: This class is incredible! You make sense of photography using mathematics and Fredo is an awesome professor :-) Sadly, my motivation for going to class is so that I can drool over his backpack of Canon L-lenses (read: expensive) since the assignments aren't too hard and lecture notes are posted. I really enjoyed the class because it isn't just pure coding; I had to work out the math of the algorithm to be implemented before I coded it up, which alleviates some of the pure-coding-related boredom.

18.06 Linear Algebra: This class solidified my fuzzy understanding of applied linear algebra. It was useful for understanding the algorithms in 6.815.

21W.789 Communicating with Mobile Technology: This HASS class is actually a programming class in disguise. Mobile apps aren't my forté, but it's still interesting to play with them, especially if you get credit for doing so :-) It's a three hour class that runs once a week in the evenings, but usually only runs for two hours.

The workload (erm, codeload?) about 600 lines of code a week (including 6.115; taking that out reduces it to approx 400), just for classes, sometimes more. Sometimes I feel that coding is dreadful.

At one point in the semester, I felt that I was losing focus -- especially in side projects, and thus getting extremely annoyed at myself. I think I had six or seven things I wanted to do, which is quite impossible given my time-constrained schedule. Thinking back to Steve Jobs' words:

Focus is about saying no.

I pared down that list to something more reasonable and stuck to it. I'm nearly done with the CAD of my scooter and the assembly of my scooter's hub motor. I am looking forward to finishing it before I leave campus. :-) Sadly, both NJ and NY outlaw electric vehicles (or registration of such vehicles is incredibly convoluted).

Another thing that's been really holding down my productivity was constantly worrying about my grades. Don't get me wrong; I realize grades are important, but recruiters only care so much, i.e. that you're not a miserable failure. In other words, think of it as a high-pass filter, with qualification on the y-axis and GPA on the x-axis. Once you hit a certain threshold, you're more or less fine in that respect.

After this term, I'll be halfway done with college. Incredible, isn't it? There's only two more years left! Goals (in roughly order of importance):
  1. Acquire diploma
  2. Finish my scooter
  3. Build KawaiiKart
  4. Attend motorsports driving school (sadly, this is starting to seem unlikely)
And then afterwards, I hope to obtain a Porsche 911 Porsche Boxter (and then maybe a 911), the dream car I've always wanted as a kid. (Speaking of which, I've driven a 997 GTS, albeit for half a mile). But first, I need to learn how to drive a stick in order to appreciate operate the Porsche.

To those who have not experienced driving: there's a magical feeling when you're behind the 911 (or any comparable sports car). You have an immense amount of tactile feedback from the road from the steering. It's weighted quite a bit more than your average car, so it's easier to select a turning angle without overshooting. Then there's the engine, which is tuned to make a sweet roar while accelerating without accompanying white noise, but nearly nothing while idle. Here's a more concrete example:

It's also a shame that I'll be leaving so quickly, as I don't plan on staying in the greater Boston area or the east coast. I never had a constant home, a constant set of friends, or similar. Prior to coming to MIT, I've lived in six places. When I graduate and begin anew, I'll have lived on average 3.14 years per place, whereas many of my friends have just grown up in one area. I've grown accustomed to ever-changing aspects, such as meeting new friends, exploring new areas, and going through hardware relatively frequently, for better or for worse.

However, the one constant has been the venerated Hamburger, who has been by my side for eleven trusty years. He's traveled over 50,000 miles (I kid you not -- China and even the west coast are far away!) in planes, boats, trains, and of course cars.

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