Stanford CS experience

I have titled this post “..experience” because there is no real word for what “battle” I have fought to learn, complete assignments, and study for exams in the classes I am taking for Computer Science at Stanford.
Imagine a hike when you are making it up a steep hill, thinking that is the top, but as soon as you reach it, there is merely a degrade in elevation, and an even steeper hill ahead. Each such hill is like each assignment. And sometimes, there are booby traps along the way (the nearly forgotten lab assignment due on Fridays).

As you ascend each hill, there are many paths, and although more than one path leads to the top, some of them are multi-mile detours. In delirium, you sometimes take the wrong path, so absorbed in the code and how it runs, that you barely see past your nose. You sometimes just count the stars.. not above, but those that dereference the pointers in question. Where does this pointer point? Eyes watery, brain throbbing.

Delving deeper, it’s like walking through fog, where you’re using your sense of intuition, adding binary numbers in your head, recognizing offsets in hexadecimal which may or may not be correct, recognizing function addresses just by the sheer number of times you’ve gotten lost in the code, and seeing it over and over again.

At the end of each “hill”, the fog clears, you look around for booby traps, then look at the murky bog that is the next assignment. And then when you’re done with the last one… the last thing is left is the final exam. For which you have to turn around, run back down the mountain of hills, marking each twist and turn you have come up on, and all in one weekend, climb the whole thing back up. This time it is faster, as the path has already been laid out by previous work. However, it is far from easy, wriggling through all the material for the class, looking again at all the asterisks, the lecture details, notes, textbook. Checking again and again, writing questions on the message boards. tightening the ropes, getting ready for the three hour brain-torture ahead.

The day of the exam. The day of the last trial, where you don’t know what what is ahead. You have to blind fold yourself just until the precipice. Then the blind fold is gone. You have all equipment and maybe more that you don’t need: ice axe, water bottles, ropes, fire extinguisher (wait why did you bring that? it’s super heavy.. well it’s just in case). Coffee, a bar of chocolate, more coffee, some fruit, coconut water, and coffee. Wait, did I mention coffee? Perhaps it’s just a mental cushion, the placebo effect. A furious run through the tasks, sometimes mumbling out loud “you can do it!” and “come on!”.. the clock tells true the time is done. You are done. Done? Flashbacks begin. “What did I mess up? What will my grade be? Will I pass the class?”

But it has hit you, you are at the top. And you are happy, exuberant. The fog behind you is gone! Maybe the way up was not perfect, but you have learned many many ways of solving problems, lots of times the hard way, but it was such an awesome learning experience. But then you get chilly. What’s next? Looking out over the horizon.. there is another mountain. And it’s even taller. And even more covered in fog. The chill envelops you, one more week until the next climb starts.

..and quite literally. you get cold. You get A cold.
*sniffle* *cough* *groan* Awesome 🙁

Some thoughts

French don’t believe in soap

Or hot water. I think I should start carrying around my own little bottle of liquid soap in order to wash my hands after going to the bathroom. The hot water I can deal with… although it would be nicer if there were warm hand dryers, or at least paper towels so my pants don’t always have a permanent wet hand-mark on the ass. (and those of you thinking “hand sanitizer”.. my hands would turn to dust if I use that every time I can’t find soap)

I passed my Algebra final!

Barely.. but passed! ’nuff said.

Ran out of ink

In one semester, I exhausted 4 pens worth of ink. Never in my life has that ever happened… you know, I’ve kept the same set of writing utensils, sometimes I even had some small pencils from grade school even in high school. Not here.. Hello BIC cheap pens from USA, I need you now. Also paper is mad expensive. One pack of lined paper here = the price of 5 200 sheet packs back home. Plant them trees yo!

Exam week

Doesn’t really exist. Neither does reading week for that matter.. exhibit A: I have a class from 9-12 on the 11th of January, but coincidentally, they’ve scheduled an exam 10:30 to 12:30 on the 11th of January. I guess pretty soon I’ll need a time turner. Exhibit B: last day of classes: 17th of Dec, first day of exams Jan 3rd.. ok so reading week should be the week before the 3rd (27dec-2nd Jan). The days in the set “reading week” also include the days “the 31st of Dec and 1st of January”, which is coincidentally the intersection of the set of “reading week” and set of days “You should never have to study on.” That contradicts the definition of the second set mentioned above. Gotta love it.

Ok.. back to you Shannon (that is the lovely human who made my life a little more difficult with échantillonages and des fonctions du transfert) If you’re interested: a little metaphor.. then applied to signals.

3 Strikes, your out…

Well today was interesting, en fait, when I arrived to campus, I ran into one of my classmates, with whom I walked to class. But alas, the building was blocked from the inside with chairs and tables that were piled against almost every single door… except one – which we found and then finally could make our way up to class. Why the blockage? Well, the french are en greve.. basically having a strike against the raised retirement age, which of course effects students aversely I guess too. The class started a bit late, but pretty much everyone was there.
I’m sure in the US, there wouldn’t have been one person in class. The second class of the day was cancelled because the building was locked, then when we went to the secretary to ask if our last class (algebra) was to be held, the whole secretary building was closed. Being insistent, our class of 12 found the algebra professor’s office, and decided to leave a note asking him to phone one of us if there will or will not be class – which we would propagate throughout. It looks like I have to go home since the cafeteria is closed, and there’s no where else to eat really, unless I took a bus somewhere. I kind of hope there is no class anyways, since I have plenty of catching-up to do. Plus, I could take a nice nap which would suite me well.
Oh and ps, I don’t get why it is so terribly cold here. Seriously. I’m like 100 miles from the Mediterranean. and it’s only mid-october.

French Students

Today was the first day of classes for me… at least I’m trying the classes, but so far it looks like they are very accepting, and it may be good to “waste time” this way before I can find a job, and eventually do a masters.

First class started at 8am, there were only 8 of us in the class, all females. It was a class in Mechaniques (Mechanics). I thought I was going to cry after it because of the difficulty level, but in fact, it wasn’t at all bad.. most of it was very logical, and some of it I knew from previous physics classes.

Next class was supposed to be probability, but for some reason, no one showed up… so there are no more classes today. Instead, I got to know some in my class girls, and after showing me where the first class will be tomorrow, we entered the library, where the three of them are doing dictations in English. It is quite hilarious to listen to them think up these incredibly confusing and long equations that no one will ever need to know, then dictate their concoction to each other, for example:

“Four-hundred and fifty six thousand and eighty-nine, squared, plus 8 to the power of 2 divided by 10, all under the root of five, is equal to twenty four over forty seven, multiplied by open the parenthesis, the ninth rooth of seventeen minus the 7th root of 19, closed the parenthesis cubed.”

Also, what is really positively surprising is that the library is completely full at lunchtime on a Monday. I have never seen such dedication in the USA.

Ah, and one girl just lent me her notes from the past 3 weeks for all the classes… which I must copy and learn, because the first exam session is in 2 weeks!

Toulouse: The Chicago of France

Reason for that is not because it’s cold, but it’s windy… I feel like I’m a monsoon, without all the rain. But every day, i look at my watch, it says it’s into October, but it’s still very warm. Makes me happy. While watching french TV today, I found something kind of amusing: every commercial that was advertising any kind of fattening food (kinder chocolate, McDonalds, etc) had a marquee subtitle warning the viewer that one should eat a balanced diet, and exercise enough. AHA, so that’s why the french are so skinny – they are warned at a young age to beware of fatty food. Oh and of course becoming half anorexic too..
Otherwise, I’m getting many compliments from all french people I meet that I speak french very well.. I wonder if they are just being cordial or if it is actually true. I feel like I’m getting better but it’s not progressing as fast as I’d like it to. And when I’m tired, It is very hard to pull out the language.
I start classes on Monday, with a 3 week late start in the third year of a math/statistics/information studies license. For the first week I’ll be sampling the classes, but I really like the city of Toulouse, and if nothing else, I believe the fluency of French is a huge step forward – it would make me more internationally competent with a third language under my belt. It will be indefinitely hard, of course, but if I do manage to make a living somehow, and go to school it would be a really good feeling.