Friday, June 15, 2012

Portland State: achievement unlocked

Yesterday, with back-to-back finals in Calculus III and IV, I finished my most excellent first year as a math postbac at Portland State University. It is so good to be in school again.

With this first year under my belt, I am now ready to start taking what my advisor calls "real" math classes—the ones in which you do proofs rather than calculations. Although everything has been tremendous fun so far, and I have learned tons, I think I will welcome the shift in focus. One regret that I had about this most recent quarter was that we covered so much diverse material so quickly that I often ended up having to memorize algorithms without understanding their basis as thoroughly as I would have liked. I do want to know the algorithms, but I also want to know why they work at as foundational a level as possible.

Of course, it may turn out that I have absolutely no aptitude for this new kind of material, but nothing is lost in the attempt. The worst that can happen is that I learn what my own limits are.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A confession and cautionary tale

On my most recent excursion to Powell's City of Books—a store so densely packed with books that it threatens to turn into a neutron star—I chanced across Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries. This number immediately struck me as altogether too many curries, and I am ashamed to say that I inwardly laughed at the book. But if my studies in science, philosophy, and math have taught me anything, it is that even our strongest intuitions often turn out to be false. And sure enough, on more careful reflection, I realized that in fact I had no good reason to believe that 660 curries was not after all a perfectly good number of curries, or even far too few curries. Thus were exposed, with humiliating finality, all of my fashionable, sophisticated pretensions about curries.