Saturday, September 29, 2012

What makes someone "famous"?

Yesterday I went to a baseball game. We were talking about how the stats are posted on the board - "0 for 2" for the game, and then the overall batting average. Ryan remarked that "some baseball players must hate that...imagine if your CS stats were posted like, number of times failed to compile or hours spent debugging". We laughed, but at the same time baseball players are know for their stats. It's part of their sports player personality. They sign jerseys, and do promotions (think "Andino at the Movies", Orioles fans). They are, in a particular way, celebrities.

Of course, when you think of celebrity you think of Kiera Knightly, Johnny Depp, and the other people who get their faces plastered all over the "most beautiful people" covers (or sometimes the look-how-they-ruined-their-lives covers) of magazines in the grocery store. And they're celebrities too - the TV personalities from Glee, the Bachelor, etc. and the movie stars who have faces you can't mistake. Then there are the music icons - Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, (can you tell I'm a country music gal), Rihanna. Also famous, but for the voices more than the faces.

Then there are politicians - Martin O'Malley has one of those faces you recognize. Bill Clinton, Ronald Regan - you wouldn't mistake them for anyone other than who they are. They're up there because of what they do for the country, or the state.

Then there's this new class of fame - the people who are internet famous. Rhett and Link, Sam Tsui, Will Wheaton - we all have our favorite web personalities. Then there are the famous bloggers - Julie Powell, who got her blog turned into a movie, for example. (You should read the back issues of the Julie/Julia project blog instead of relying on movie/book, blog is more foodie).

What do all of these people have in common, if anything? Why do we recognize and follow them?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Office Hours

I'm dying to know what my professors are doing during their office hours when there aren't talking to students. This was brought on by my own experience as a UTA (Undergraduate Teaching Assistant). It's actually my office hours right this minute. Obviously, I'm writing on my blog. In addition to writing on my blog here, I've used this office hour time to do my math homework, to watch videos on youtube, read my emails, do my compilers homework, check Facebook, people watch (since my office hours are in the library, it's the perfect place to creepily people watch), do my great books reading, and...oh yeah, I've helped all of one person.

Anyways, with this list of the things that I've done during my office hours, I'm really curious about what my professors do. I noticed that they all close their labtop screens when I come in for office hours - the TA's don't (I don't, and my TAs never did when I was in the classes where the TA's have office hours). I suppose I understand why a professor might hide their screen - I mean, if I was a professor watching youtube videos, I'd lose some street cred. with my students. Since I'm only a TA and I'm still a student, it's a little more socially acceptable.

I totally understand why are large number of my professors have office hours by appointment only. As much as it annoys me to be forced to email them, it's pretty boring to just wait here, and it's actually kind of hard to do anything else, because you do get interrupted. So, why do we require them from course staff if they're so under utilized? Fellow college students - do you think we should keep office hours?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Power of the masses

Today in my Operating Systems class we got a tiny bit off track for a while. The professor asked which of us  primarily coded in Java, and then was surprised because not many people raised their hands, because our university primarily teaches Java. To which my friend Alex replied, "Well, they taught it, but I don't really like it". Others seemed to agree. The professor found this interesting and said. "you know, you guys get the chance to respond to the department in regards to the curriculum, and you should offer your feedback!"

The discussion moved back to class from there, and then we started talking about vending machines as an example. The professor kept referring to a "Coca-Cola" machine, then remembered that UMBC had switched to a Pepsi campus. Alex again remarked "which stinks" and the professor (at this point, sounding a bit frustrated) said "guys, use your power as students to influence the campus!"

Most of the things we discussed in class today I have heard students discuss in private previously. Some of it has been very publicly discussed on the discussion forums that UMBC provides for its students. However, those maybe aren't the proper places to officially address concerns, as my professor was so keen to point out. So, where is the proper place to voice these concerns? For the most part, I think UMBC is pretty good at listening to student concerns - the ProveIt campaign is a perfect example (if you're not familiar with the ProveIt campaign, you can find articles about it in The Retriever Weekly online). However I don't believe that the general student population knows how to voice their concern, nor do they believe their concerns will actually be heard.

Do the masses have power? Obviously, in some cases, the violent ones do (you can read posts by CultureTwined or 300 and some Omanian Nights for a better perspective on that). But I wasn't referring to that. Do you think students should have the power to change things?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Secret to Good Cooking

One of the most exciting things about living in my own apartment is experimenting with food. During the week, I usually go with my normal school routine of eating somewhere on campus between classes. On the weekend, however, the kitchen is my uncharted west, my unexplored seas, my...well, you get the idea. So far I've cooked pretty simple things, but eventually i'd like to try more difficult dishes. My roommate Katrina tried making a version of fried rice, and I'd like to try that at some point.

I actually already have a surprising amount of cooking prowess. The only issue is that all the things I know how to cook rely on having a large family to consume leftovers. So far, almost everything I've tried has involved a large amount of leftovers, so I have to be willing to eat it over a couple of days.

I also try to eat vegetarian while at school.  No, I don't particularly care about animals - I just think it's healthier, and it's actually better for the  world economy, because it takes less to grow plants than to groom meat for eating. However, I don't really know how to cook vegetarian, so that's been another adventure. Fortunately, Pinterest has come to the rescue there.

A secret to good cooking: no recipe is perfect. Try it, and edit it to your own choices.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Superiority Complex

Today in one of my classes I was reminded of something that bothers me. And, unfortunately, reminded that sometimes I have this problem as well. The thing I was reminded of is something I'm going to call the "Superiority Complex" (S.C. for short). I don't know if that's a good name for it, or if that name has already been taken to describe something else, so sorry any psych. majors if I got it wrong.

When I say S.C., I mean like this example: "professor: now, since you're all computing majors, I can say this - the general computer user is an idiot. And there's no patch or update we can put out to cure plain stupidity. *class laughs*"

That kind of scene plays out all too often in my CS classes. A ton of STEM majors feel like their education is somehow superior to others, makes them smarter. NEWS FLASH: it doesn't.

Our educations are, admittedly, different. And yes, we are like to get a higher paying job. However, a friend of mine (who reads this blog - hope she doesn't mind my using her as an example) is a music scholar at the same university I attend. She's absolutely chock-full of knowledge about music.

For example, there's this thing called Alexander technique that she explained to me once, and it was very much over my head. She's dedicated to her flute and spends hours practicing every day - probably the same hours I spend coding. Is she any less smart than me? Absolutely not. She's just passionate about different things.

I think, with computers especially, we have a tendency to assume people are dumb for not protecting themselves, for having open-profile Facebook accounts, etc. They're not dumb. They are just lacking the education you have about computer security. Just like I lack the education about Alexander Technique. Don't ever assume you're superior just because you are better at computers.

Now, before some of my friends get all on me for being a hypocrite - I am well aware that I often spout the "I'll have a higher paying job than you" line. And if I've offended anyone by that, I'm sorry.

I do think that if you don't know what to do, you should go for something that is likely to pay well. There's a difference between being passionate about music and studying it simply because you didn't know what else to do. There's a difference between truly loving Spanish culture (another friend of mine, studying in Argentina, meets that description) and studying Spanish because it was easy in high school. If you truly have a passion for something, go for it, and more power to you. But if you don't know, don't spend a lot of money on a college education you won't use. Spend it on something that will get you a high paying job. Doesn't make STEM better, it's just a fact that STEM fields are the fastest growing in the world.

OK. There are a lot of thoughts in that post. I'll get off my incoherent soapbox now and let some other people chew on that - comment with your thoughts. I was just irritated by my classmates today assuming they're the brilliant ones and everyone else is beneath them. But there are probably those kids in every class.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Famous First Words

Everyone is always famous for their last words. However, here are some promising/intimidating one liners from my classes this semester:

"most of you are probably smart enough to do bad things. Don't."
"operating systems have to work hand in glove with hardware."
"in this class, early intuition will quickly turn to abstraction."
"Colorless green ideas sleep furiously - syntactically correct, but doesn't make semantic sense"
"re-reading is one of the greatest pleasures of reading"

It promises to be a good year!