Category Archives: school

Things pertaining to my education.

hubrisWhen I saw that the various things I was working on and talking about with people brought a Tennyson poem, Doctrine and Covenants 45, a book about pre-Columbian civilizations, and my own poetic musings together in one place, I was filled with intellectual vanity.

At his request, I started telling my professor my thoughts about a thesis topic. He started to seem bored and anxious for the conversation to end—I guess he just doesn’t dig computational approaches to decipherment? Well, he asked and I answered so he can only blame himself, I suppose.

Sometimes I think I have a real contribution to make. Other times I feel like the poor, freaked-out kid in PhD Comics who is always getting dumped on and put in his place. Maybe both are true.

Fall Semester

I blame my lack of blogging in recent months on being busy with my first semester of graduate school. In the interim before I start the next semester, I want to let you—oh loyal reader—know what was going on in my life during that time.

1. Per my stake president’s counsel given more than a year ago and which I sadly only barely got around to heeding, this semester I went on a date a week. This was a fabulous experience. Going on more frequent dates made me less nervous about going on any particular date. It gave me more opportunities to get to know some really amazing girls. I’m often amazed at how such excellent girls are willing to give me some of their time. It’s been a pleasure learning about them and getting better at letting them learn about me.

2. I worked really, really hard doing data mining for the BYU bookstore as part of a class project. I got to be really passionate about this, as boring as it might sound on the surface. The bookstore gave my group a large amount of sales data from their website over nearly the past decade. Our task was to turn that dry data into actionable knowledge about the bookstore’s customers. That challenge is somewhat akin to an archaeologist being trying to reconstruct the daily lives, beliefs, and values of an entire civilization given a site full of pot shards and millennia-old garbage. The only way to make the bookstore data really useful, it seemed to me, was to leverage every possible datasource in existence. To that end, I augmented the bookstore data with the following datasources:

I also worked on using weather data to determine what the weather was like at the place and time an order originated from, but this was too time-consuming so I had to drop it. Yet I still think it would be interesting to see what correlations you would find between weather conditions and people’s desire to shop online. If the NOAA would make their historical observation and model data available via their web services this would be trivial.

Anyway, our final report is here. It’s not the best-written thing, but the pictures are at least interesting!

3. I kept up a fairly full schedule with my dinner group, poetry club, Institute classes, some running, tennis, one game of racquetball, hiking, camping, helping at a school, playing trombone in a pit orchestra, occasional family history research (that has certainly suffered since returning to school), reading about all kinds of random things in the library, and generally being really bad at replying to phonecalls.

Overall it’s been a really happy time. School’s stress has usually been manageable, the projects and homework often enjoyable, and the material just plain cool. Dating, for perhaps the first time in my life, became more enjoyable than overwhelming. Things unmanageable became manageable because there was usually somebody to talk to when life was perplexing me. My bishop has provided sound counsel and inspired blessings, helping me feel more connected to God by means of one of his servants. And, as if things couldn’t get any better, the price of cheese went down, small children kept on bravely facing the world, and the sun returned from its absence every day. Boy, life is good!

So Far, So Good

Of course, having a good first day as a graduate student is bound to be a poor predictor of the whole graduate experience: everybody knows that nothing but syllabus-reading ever happens on the first day of class. Nevertheless I am glad to have had a good first day in the computer science MS program today.

I was more excited than I thought I would be to be on a crowded campus again, watching the students bustle around, listening to freshmen try to find their classes, smelling slightly more than the usual perfume on passing females. I was little better than the freshmen though, since I found myself looking for a nonexistent room 3718 in the Talmage building (it was actually in the library).

My bag was very light as I walked to campus, since no textbooks yet weighed it down. I thought to myself how nice it would be if it could be so light all semester. But alas! For textbooks are almost invariably spine-bendingly heavy.

But, miracle of little collegiate miracles, my professors announced today that they will not require us to purchase any textbooks. This is certainly one of the perq’s of studying computer science. Is any other field so easily accessible on the Internet? My databases class, for example, will rely on a combination of Wikipedia, book chapters in PDF format (provided with permission of the publishers), and other articles and websites. So it is my wallet, not my bag, that feels a wee bit heavier than it otherwise would have!

So, the rest of the semester entails learning about databases and machine learning, deciding on a research area and advisor, and getting started on some research. As of right now, one day in, I’d say things are looking pretty good.