Random Pointers for New Cornellians

August 26, 2008

Again new students, welcome to Cornell!  I’ve made a little list of things that I think may be helpful for new students

  • Big Red BagBag in bag:  On one of my first days at Cornell it rained a lot (big surprise).  I got wet, which isn’t a huge deal as I don’t dissolve in the rain, but all the papers and books in my bag got wet, which is a big deal.  So I used a handy Cornell Store plastic bag to protect what’s in my backpack and have never had a problem since.  I suppose this could be avoided with a waterproof bag, but extra protection never hurts.  Water can be very destructive and in Ithaca you never know when it can show up.
  • Get good shoes:  Again with rain, but now I brag about my shoes.  My shoes are awesome, they are water proof (not just water resistant), breathable, comfortable, and they are better than yours.  When I by mistake step in a deep puddle (this will happen to you), my feet rarely get wet; there’s little worse than sitting though a boring classes for hours with soggy feet.  I suppose the moral of the story is that you should always be prepared for rain in Ithaca.
  • Schedulizer:  http://www.schedulizer.com is a very useful site for scheduling your classes.  The software that Cornell uses has a rudimentary capability of displaying your full schedule, but schedulizer is more powerful (and colorful!) and you can use it outside of the add/drop period. Just be careful not to rely on it as it’s not officially affiliated with Cornell and may not always be up to date with Cornell classes. Update: Schedulizer no longer has Cornell Classes because “Cornell has made it prohibitively difficult for us to maintain accurate course information” Update: Schedulizer is back up, but classes may be out of date.
  • NetID’s:  You should already know by now your NetID.  Besides being the your all important Cornell email addresses, they are often used for identification.  I recommend forwarding your email to another account since the Cornell interface for mail is pretty basic.  You can do this at http://whoiam.cornell.edu/. My mail goes to my gmail account, which I really like.  It’s also important to be aware of the personal information connected with your NetID in the Cornell Electronic Directory.  Through searching on Cornell.edu, you can find people by using their names or NetIDs.  By default, your campus address and telephone are displayed.  If you are concerned with privacy issues you can edit and remove information on jtf.cornell.edu although for me it took a long time for changes to take affect.  The Electronic Directory can be a useful tool for finding people, but I think that it is important for people to realize that the information up there is public for the world to see.
  • Workload:  Maintaining a healthy consistent workload is a difficult yet critical task. I have by no means mastered this myself yet, but I’d recommend experimenting to find how far you can go before it’s too much.  Go ahead a try taking classes that seem like a stretch, but know when you have taken on too much.
  • NUBB:  Stands for the Network Usage Based Billing System.  There is a charge of $0.0015 per additional MB of bandwidth you use over 10 GB every Month at cornell.  It’s a good idea to keep track of your bandwidth usage by visiting nubb.cornell.edu although it’s only updated daily.  You will get an email when you pass 10 GB, but with the speed of Cornell’s network it very easy to go way over quickly.  As to why there are charges for bandwidth and what I think about them, that’s a whole other article.
  • Cornell Planner:  It’s smart to keep track of everything with this little book.  It is a calendar with a lot of useful dates specific to Cornell University.  This year it’s a nice looking blue color with a picture of Uris library from west campus.  This is my third planner, I think I’m gonna start a collection.

Cornell Planners
I hope everyone is enjoying orientation, I know I am.


Work Work Work

April 17, 2008

Oh the slopeA common question about Cornell is “how is the workload?” The short unhelpful answer is that it depends, duh. Here is the longer answer:

If you really want to graduate with doing hardly any work, it’s possible. Take an “easy” major, just meet the minimum requirements; it isn’t all that hard. But then if you do that, why are you even bothering to go to Cornell, just to get a certificate that says that you’re smart? If you want to get the most out of Cornell, you will take the major you want to take independent of how “easy” or “hard” it is considered to be. Any major will be difficult if you apply yourself to it, but I can’t really talk about anything other than my own major, AEP, which has been extremely difficult so far.

My life at Cornell has been centered around doing work (especially this semester), I’m always thinking about upcoming tests and assignments; it’s the focus of why I’m here. But of course I don’t do nearly as much work as I ought to, there are always so many cool things to do and only so few hours in the day. Whenever a small break in work comes around and I slack off some, I’m suddenly behind in everything. It’s really tough to keep on top of everything all the time and sometimes I just get sick of the constant battle and need a nice break even at the expense of my work. It’s really hard now that spring has come just look how green it is! But somehow I’m surviving the battle and I enjoy being challenged; I think I’m getting a lot out of my hard classes.

I’ve found it extremely difficult to find the right course load that works for me. Too much, I can’t focus enough on each class, too little I’m wasting my time here. Taking full advantage of everything at Cornell is impossible and it’s hard to find how far to extend yourself without becoming overwhelmed. The following guide may help tell if you have too much work:
You are overloaded with work if you find yourself:

  • Trying to get some rest by closing your eyes while walking to classes
  • Telling time based on exam dates and when assignments are due, “When was March, like 3 problem sets ago? I forget”
  • Applying what you learn excessively, “Wow, I’ve been getting a lot of observations of photons at 510 nm lately” (trans: Wow, it’s been very green lately)
  • Being jealous of people reading newspapers during lunch, “Who has time for that, don’t they have work to do?”
  • Never posting on your blog as often as you should
  • Thinking late times aren’t that late, “It’s only 2:31 am, I have plenty of time”
  • Feeling uncomfortable, like something is not right with the universe, when you fully complete an assignment before it’s due
  • Trivializing things not so trivial, “After that it’s just algebra” or “After that it’s just Calculus” or “After that it’s just solving the differential equation” or “After that it’s just solving Laplace’s equation in a toroidal coordinate system” or “After that it should be easily solvable somehow”
  • Shielding yourself from being hit by an exorbitant number of photons on the rare chance you emerge from your protective shelter deep underground

Too Much Awesomeness Can Be A Bad Thing

March 2, 2008

Snowy TreesI have been super busy as of late. I’m always amazed by how much stuff there is to do and get done here at school, especially compared to when I’m at home. Anyway, last week I reached a point where the only way for me to even attempt to complete all of my work was to skip sleeping. It wasn’t because I was slacking off, I just had too much on plate. So because of my love of sleep I dropped MATH 413, I just simply didn’t have any time to devote to it. All my classes this semester are quite good, but it is pointless to take so many if I can’t spend enough time on each one. It is really hard to find the perfect balance between having plenty to do and being overwhelmed with work.

Despite this I’ve been enjoying my semester so far and I’ve already learned a lot. Here are a few random things that I’ve learned in the past six weeks:

  • Applying for internships is a pain, but there are tons of cool jobs out there. You might as well apply.
  • Even though every week of Mathematical Physics feels like it can’t get more difficult, it can and it does
  • If you go sledding down the slope, don’t go down the steepest part with the asphalt path in your way that makes you flip over and fly into the air…
  • I can’t survive without regularly consuming delicious Cornell chocolate milk and apple cider
  • Simple combinatorics are never that simple
  • When you can work with a partner on a CS project you really should, it helps a lot. This might have been why I was having so much trouble with CS 211 towards the end of last year. Speaking of CS211, there is a lecture up on Cornell Cast of 211 taught by Graeme Bailey, check it out. I’ve never had Bailey, but I always hear good things.
  • I finally understand Cantor’s diagonal argument
  • Astronomers are super clever in figuring out how to measure distances of far away objects
  • Functional programing languages are very compact and powerful as well as awesome
  • The physics of stars is incredibly interesting, difficult, and cool.
  • The methods of solving differential equations are endless
  • Being in the MSDNAA is quite awesome
  • Always have backup batteries, even the simplest of devices can lead to failure. That and the fact no one uses AA anymore.

Up the Slope @ Yahoo! VideoOh, and if you so desire, click on this picture for a short clip of one of my treks up the slope. I’ve been playing around with video a bit but wordpress really seems to dislike embedding video.


Switching Classes

February 6, 2008

Oh Ithaca, how you amuse meAlthough I wrote how I was enjoying MATH 311 (Intro to Analysis) a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t like the pace of the the course during the second week. I was liking the material, but the math just wasn’t as rigorous as I had hoped and anticipated for. Luckily there is an honors version of the class (MATH 413) this semester and it doesn’t conflict with my schedule. I talked to the professor and sat in on a lecture. Although this class is much more difficult, it was more of what I was looking for, so I decided to switch to the honors course.

I’ve actually never switched classes after they have started before, probably because I was just too lazy to change anything. In retrospect there was definitely some classes I should have changed or dropped after the first couple weeks, but oh well it’s in the past now. Anyway, switching was rather simple, it’s still within the deadline to add a class and I made the change in add/drop in 10 seconds. One problem was that the classes use different textbooks. I bought the honors textbook at the Cornell Store to do the homework while the textbook I bought used online for way cheaper was in the mail. The Cornell Store often doesn’t have a very good price for textbooks, but I love their return policy of 7 days after purchase or 3 days after drop for a full refund. So although it’s a little annoying, I didn’t lose any money from switching textbooks.

Being overloaded with awesome classes as I am, I hope I don’t end up regretting this decision. I love challenging classes, but I hate doing all the hard work required for them. It’s kind of a problem.


Classes Start Again, Initial Impressions

January 23, 2008

AEP 322: It’s like what I expected. There are a couple of new students who were doing co-op last semester, otherwise it’s with all the same people as AEP 321. Right now we’re doing differential equations (why is this topic so boring and yet so important?).

ENGRD 270: Wow this class is huge. I didn’t expect there to be well over a hundred students. All my other classes are around 30-60 students. The first lecture was pretty dull. The professor told us that he found out he is teaching this class only 4 days ago. Apparently the first couple weeks is very easy and then it suddenly gets challenging. I’d like to better understand stats, but this class is not going to be very fun.

The Cold SlopeASTRO 332: Seems to be kinda light on the work side of things with only seven short HW’s for the semester. The first two lectures have been fun and I learned some interesting things from them. It’s intended for Engineers so it will probably be the best intro space class for me. To really get into space stuff I would need to take General Relativity, which I hear is extremely hard.

MATH 311: This class is like a breath of fresh air. Even though I’ve been taking math for every semester I’ve been at Cornell, I haven’t approached math with this kind of rigor before; it is a nice change of pace. I suppose there isn’t that much practical use of this math in Engineering, but I enjoy learning it anyway.

CS 312: I decided to try this class out on a whim. Some people recommended it and said it was fun. Although I did poorly in my last CS class, I decided to give it another try. CS can be very frustrating and/or very fun. Although this is considered the third basic CS course (after CS 100, 212) the class size is much smaller and is made up of mostly CS majors. I was surprised to learn that this class doesn’t use OOP but instead functional languages. I never was very proficient with OOP so maybe I’ll be better with this style once I get familiar with it.

Course Load: So that’s 19 credits of science/math (270 is 3 credits, the rest are 4). The classes I’m most unsure about are CS 312 and ENGRD 270; I might drop one of them. Right now I see the difficulty order starting with the hardest being 322 > 312 > 311 > 270 > 332. I wonder what I’ll think at the end of the semester. I should be able to handle this course load without serious problems if I keep up with everything (which is very hard to do).

Spring '08 ScheduleSchedule: More spread out than last semester and now I have no labs and only one class on Fridays. My classes now are in many different buildings so I don’t feel cooped up like before. My day starts a lot earlier, which is probably a good thing and will help me get up and do my work. Downside is that I’ve already been very late to one of my early classes : (

Weather: When I left for my first class Monday morning, it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit outside. That’s as cold as it has gotten so far, now it’s around 20. It really isn’t too bad because all the buildings are warm and I don’t have to walk all that far. The big downside is that there is no snow to play with.

Blogging: I know I’ve been real lazy. I’m going to post every Wednesday and Sunday now so please email me an angry rant if I miss a day.


It’s Official, I’m AEP

January 16, 2008

By the end of Sophomore year, engineering students need to be affiliated with a major. To affiliate, a student has to apply and meet certain requirements for a major. I just found out that I’m now affiliated with Engineering Physics. I was pretty sure I’d get in, but it’s nice to know that I’m actually in. Now I won’t have to feel like I’m lying when I tell someone that I’m AEP when I’m not affiliated yet.


My Very Long Halloween

November 1, 2007

Ahh the best two drinks ever!Up The HillInto BaileyPsych 101Too many wiresDown the slopeHalloween McGrawSo today was Halloween. Boy things have changed from when I was little. Instead of a magical day full of fun, excitement, and sugar rushes, my day was full of the magic of mathematics and of physics. I took photos throughout the day so you could live vicariously through me.

I first started off the day with the two best drinks in existence, chocolate milk and apple cider. Nothing else comes close to their awesomeness (Thank you Cornell). After that I trudged up the hill to psych 101 at 10:10 where Maas talked about visual perception.

Then in physics at 11:15, to try to illustrate superposition of waves, half the class sang one note, half another, and the teacher a third one. Unfortunately all this did was prove that physics students can’t sing.

12:25 was mathematical physics where we continued on the exponential form of Fourier Series. Apparently this is the useful form of the Fourier Series unlike the sine and cosine form that I learned last year.

Then at 1:25 I was off to circuits lab. The last experiment that I have pictured here was pretty cool. We were able to switch among four different analog signals by using a two bit digital input. Although it only required some logic gates and a switch IC, it quickly became a behemoth of wires. Luckily our circuit worked right away and didn’t require any painful troubleshooting yay! My lab partner and I sneaked out of lab an hour early at 3:30 and I went back down the slope towards west campus.

After I did a fair amount of lounging, eat dinner, and starred at my prelab assignment, I went off to my second lab of the day at 7:30. The lab was about polarization of light, which actually had little to do with the class it was for, but it was interesting none the less. I finished at 10:00 and then saw the cool Jack o’ Lantern clock on McGraw Tower on my way back. Sorry for the poor picture quality, you can view a better picture of it here.

It was a long and fulfilling day and even though some may have found my day rather dull, I thought it was exciting with lots of cool new things going on. But it was a very long day and now I am tired. Goodnight.


Some Of My Favorite Places To Study

October 24, 2007

Here is a short list in no particular order of places at Cornell that I like to study. There are countless places to study here and I can only scrape the top of the iceberg. Please tell me what your favorite places to study at Cornell are.

The Fiske Room in Uris Library (The Fishbowl)

The Fiske Room in Uris LibraryWhen a deadline is near and I have to get some serious work done, this is where I often go. It’s rarely crowded and usually very quiet. I like how all around the sides of the room there are portraits of old men staring at me as if to make me get to work. There is not much to distract me here except for reading all the strange scribbles that are on the desks.

Second Floor Common Room of Becker South

Common Area

This is were I like to go when I have work to do and want to be somewhat social at the same time. It is nice talking to people, but this is not a good place for me to go when I have important work to do. It can quickly become too distracting and not conducive for studying. It is a pretty nice area although I don’t like the low lighting, which is part of the reason why my picture came out so strange (it really isn’t that blue outside).

The Tower Cafe in Uris Library

Tower Cafe This place has a really nice vibe. Filled with people doing problem sets and sipping coffee, it has a nice level of noise that isn’t too loud or too quiet. Good for having a snack while still working and getting away from the stiff atmosphere that many of the other study areas on campus have. Also, its location in Uris next to McGraw tower has a nice view of Ho Plaza.

My Desk

My Desk

Although not always my first choice, it can work out rather well sometimes. I have everything I need in my room, but I also have many things I don’t need for studying that will only distract me, the biggest distraction being my computer. Here I can shout at myself and make strange noises all I want and no one will think I’m a crazy except for my suite-mates, but they already know that. I didn’t use my desk much last year, but now I have a lot of desk space and a nice single; I think I will start using it more.

Duffield Hall and Atrium

Duffield

Duffield Hall is one of the new Engineering buildings (the one with the huge block coming out of its side). Duffield Atrium (pictured) connects Duffield Hall with many of the of the other Engineering buildings. There is an interesting industrial feel going on with the huge skylights and stone floors. Besides all the tables and study alcoves on the main level, there are lots of little study places all around on the balconies. And don’t forget the tables and chairs in the front of Duffield where everyone outside can see you. It’s a cool yet strange experience working up there on display, everyone should try it out at least once. Also there are some very comfy chairs around good for taking little naps. Dufflied is very convenient for Engineering students and there are always lots of people going in and out, unfortunately I am rarely around the Engineering quad this year to take advantage of it.


Psych 101

September 20, 2007

Bailey HallPsychology 101 is the largest single lecture class in the world, taught by Dr. Maas in Bailey Hall. At about 1300 students, the class is larger than many entire colleges. It has a good reputation and has been recommended by many people I know. My friend kramtark is also taking it, check out his post on psych 101.

The lectures are entertaining. There are lots of videos and pictures on the large projector. It’s really cool when Maas puts up a multiple choice clicker questions and there are over a thousand responses in only ten seconds. Also, there are students in Qatar watching the lectures live. I like the lectures, but I think they focus too much on specific examples and not enough on general trends and ideas. Fun anecdotes are entertaining and memorable, but they don’t usually do much to support an argument.

I tried doing the reading, but couldn’t get through it. There are huge amounts of text and practice questions with little substance. Also, if I am going to do some work, I am first going to work on my really difficult and really awesome classes.

The Psych 101 website is pretty bad. We are told to check it regularly for announcements, but anything up there has been said in class and if there is anything urgent I would much prefer an email. The site also has a bunch of “mailto:” links, which I personally dislike, and even a broken link. I do like the meet the staff page though.

According to the fall 06 median grade report, of the 1263 students enrolled, the median grade was an A. How can I take this class seriously with such massive grade inflation? Maybe I just don’t appreciate psychology in general. I don’t see where many of the arguments in psych lead to and what the significance is.


I Still need to do Better

September 17, 2007

I’m reporting back as promised in my post from last week. This week went okay, but it could have gone a lot better. I started off the week well, doing work well before it was due and this helped me a lot later in the week. But then as I feared might happen, I started slacking. I had plenty of time to do work, but I just didn’t feel like it. Maybe I should change my blog to “The Lazy Cornellian.”

I have a lot of extra time and I don’t have a huge amount of work, but my work is very hard. Sometimes I even enjoy doing it, but sadly I tire of it easily and by the end of the week comes, the thought of doing work disgusts me.

Overall I think that I’m on the right track. I know what I want to learn and how to learn it. What’s missing is the self-motivation to do my work even when I’m not up to the challenge.

I kept track of my time last week and graphed it using a spreadsheet in Google Docs. I split up my time into my most important activities, sleeping, eating, going to class, and doing work for my classes. Notice the general decline in work throughout the week and how on Saturday I celebrated my birthday by not doing any work. I split days at midnight so the amount of sleep each night isn’t necessarily all from that night. Also, “Other” is not entirely time wasted fooling around (although a lot of it is), it is the time spent not doing any of the other four activities.