I Can Do This

Today was the first day of class, and what a long day it was! I’m still a little unsure of what courses to take, so I audited one of my options from 10-11am. I then had three classes back-to-back in the afternoon from 1pm to 4pm, followed by my choir rehearsal from 7-9:30pm. Rather than walk all the way back to my apartment during each break, I stayed on campus the whole day. I didn’t sleep very well (anxious about classes?) and my right shoulder has been sore all day (no idea why), so I was already exhausted near the start of my twelve hours on campus.

I don’t have much impression on how difficult my classes will be yet, as the first day of any term is usually all about class logistics, but my statistics class on data mining sounds intimidating. I have a feeling all of my classes , even the applied linear algebra one, will be challenging. What I have to remind myself (constantly, it seems) is not to become paralyzed by fear. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.

Side note: Yes, I chose to take applied linear algebra instead of real analysis. Linear algebra is directly applicable to classes I need for my master’s degree, since my program is meant to prepare me for finding jobs in industry. On the other hand, real analysis is a foundational course for theoretical/mathematical statistics that would be more suitable for staying in academia. If I ever decide to continue on for a PhD, I’ll have time to take real analysis then. Also, as it’s been nearly ten years since I took a linear algebra course, I can use the review.

The first rehearsal of choir was great. I forgot how intense rehearsals can be, but singing in a choir again really brought back a lot of memories of my previous choirs. Quite a few sopranos were initially confused when they saw me sitting in their section (something I’m used to), but the woman next to me was very nice and accepting.

Having been away from proper singing for a few years, my voice hasn’t built its stamina back yet. If I’m properly warmed up, I can sing a high A (A5) with no problem. Towards the end of the two and a half hour long rehearsal, I could barely sing the F (F5). I need to drink more water, less coffee (no small feat), and keep throat lozenges with me at all times. As my high school choir director used to say: “Singing is a physical exercise!”

It was a little disheartening for my voice to give out during rehearsal, but I know I’ll get better as I practice more. I can do this.

Finite Simple Group (of Order Two)

I was listening to my iPod nano today and stumbled upon this song I haven’t heard in a while. I first heard this song from my old roommate in graduate school. It’s called “Finite Simple Group (of Order Two)” by The Klein Four. Years later and this song still makes me laugh. The lyrics are only funny to math geeks like me, though.

I still reminisce about the days when I was math graduate student. I had a lengthy phone call with my two best friends from graduate school yesterday, so I’ve been in a nostalgic mood. I definitely need to visit them.

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I had a conversation with one of my friends from graduate school about a week ago. I told her about how well I’m doing in my classes but that I still had reservations about going to graduate school for statistics. I feel like my experience in graduate school made me lose confidence in my mathematical abilities. By the end, I didn’t feel like I had what it takes to be a mathematician. I don’t want history to repeat itself. I’m very afraid that going to graduate school for statistics will only show that I’m not cut out to be a statistician either.

My friend, however, sees things differently. She doesn’t think I lost my confidence. She thinks I never had it to begin with.

As an undergraduate, I had very good grades in my math classes, but I never did anything on my own. Whenever I had problems with homework, I would ask my professor, my TA, or my classmates. I never built the confidence to do the homework on my own. If I got stuck, I shut down and waited to ask for help. Once I got to graduate school, I was in a different world. Graduate students often collaborate, but confidence in your own abilities is necessary for success, and that’s something I never had.

My experience with statistics so far has been very different. I do all my homework on my own. I’m the one who helps others rather than the one who others help. I have always had self-confidence issues, but my confidence in being able to do statistics is pretty high (at least for now). My friend thinks I will do better and go further in statistics because of this one fact. She always thought I had the brains to do math but that I never had the confidence.

This time around, hopefully I have both.


It all started two years ago.

I had just earned my master’s degree in mathematics, and I was still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I spent three solid months studying for the first actuarial exam. Even though I passed the exam, I wasn’t really sure that the actuary path is what I wanted. I soon became sidetracked by Target (and eventually started working for my current company), so I dropped studying for the second exam.

Throughout college and graduate school, I shied away from studying applied math. I didn’t do applied math. I was a purist. It wasn’t until I studied for the first actuarial exam (on probability) that I discovered how interesting applied math could be.

Since then, I’ve noticed statistics (the discrete application of probability) arise in all sorts of situations, conversations, and problems. Nearly every industry has some need for statistics, so there definitely seems to be a demand for statisticians.

So this is the path, for now. I actually took the day off from work today to check out a local university to see if I can take certain undergraduate courses through their concurrent enrollment program. The classes seem to be (beyond) full, but there’s a chance I could get in if I go to the first day of classes and get approval from the course instructors. If I can take undergraduate prerequisites now, I should be able to apply to graduate school for admission in Fall 2010.

My decision to pursue this statistics path/idea was tentatively made less than a week ago, so I’m still wrapping my head around everything. I keep having pangs of fear and hesitation (like “I can’t believe I’m going back to school,” “what the heck am I doing,” and “do I even have what it takes to get a degree in statistics”), but the few friends I’ve told so far are supportive, which helps a lot.

The first day of classes is this Friday, so I’d have to take another day off from work (two days in one week). If everything goes well, I’m not sure if I can keep my job; I’d basically have to take off three days a week. Breaking the news to my boss and big boss will be difficult but ultimately necessary.

Like In Entourage

Over the weekend, I went to a club in Hollywood with my sister to celebrate her birthday. She invited a large group of her friends and invited me to come too. I’m not a big clubber (and I’m usually against parties where I don’t know anyone), but I said yes because I’m trying to hang out with my sister more.

The club we went to was very fancy. It was like I was in an episode of Entourage, except that I didn’t see any celebrities. I had told my sister that I don’t really dance, so she made me her photographer for the evening. It worked out: I didn’t know anyone anyway, so being a photographer was less awkward than just standing around being a quiet observer.

I ended up drinking more than I was planning to (partly to save my sister from drinking all the drinks that people kept buying for her), but I think that helped loosen me up as the night wore on. I had a good time. We stayed at the club until closing (2am), and I went home with my sister; I zonked out on her couch around 4am.

As fun as the club was, I was exhausted from it. I didn’t have a hangover (I’ve never had one actually), but I felt tired all day Sunday and even Monday. I don’t know how party people do it; I can barely handle one night, let alone every weekend.

By the way, Happy Square Root Day! I had to throw that in to show off my nerdy math side. Square Root Day only happens nine times every century!

18 Times 6

Last night, I helped count some inventory in the warehouse at work. Somehow though, I thought that 18 times 6 equaled 72. I remember multipying 18 and 2 together and then doubling it as a way to make the calculation easier. I didn’t realize that it was also a way to make it wrong.

I was so convinced that I had done the math correctly that I thought our inventory count was short 36 units. It wasn’t until this morning when someone else counted the items again that I saw my completely embarrassing mistake.

Given that I have a masters degree in math, I should be a lot better at math than most people. And yet, I constantly make careless arithmetic mistakes. It’s terrible. How could I not realize that 18 times 6 is 108?

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Futurama Math

I spent the day with a good friend from high school. We went to the mall so he could go shopping for summer clothes. Afterwards, we hung out at my house and watched the Futurama movie Bender’s Big Score on DVD. I’ve always liked Futurama, and the movie was definitely true to the series. I highly recommend any fans of the show to check it out.

Included on the DVD is a math lecture called “Bite My Shiny Metal X,” which points out some of the references to mathematics throughout the movie and the entire series. The lecture mainly references spherical geometry, topology, and number theory. My favorite references were to Klein bottles, the number 1729 (the famous Ramanujan taxicab number), and \aleph_0.

I like Futurama even more now than I already did now that I know there is real mathematics in it! Just because I’m not pursuing math anymore doesn’t mean I’m not still a huge math nerd.

For more about Futurama and math, go to the official website Futurama Math. Math rocks!