List of Lists: Effective Time Management

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What I used to think effective time management was:

  1. Making a list of everything that one was supposed to do
  2. Blasting through every task with no breaks, in no particular order. Finishing one task meant starting the next
  3. After finishing it all, starting ahead on something else.

Things I did in pursuit of good time management:

  1. Making to do lists.
  2. Crossing off things I finished.
  3. Transferred things that I hadn’t done to the next day.
  4. Starting using a Bullet Journal.

What started happening:

  1. Since I’d rely on my list to figure out what needed to be done, everything that didn’t get put down was not done
  2. Sometimes I’d forget to transfer a task over, and it’d just never get done.
  3. If there were a bunch of small tasks (And I mean tiny– “get form signed”, “tell ____ about ____”), I’d get those done first. By getting those done first, I mean only get those done.
  4. There were tasks I’d write every day for months (literally MONTHS) that would just never get done
  5. Longer tasks would always get pushed to the end of the day – “when I could get them done faster anyways”
  6. I wouldn’t get enough sleep in pursuit of finishing more things
  7. Self perpetuating cycle

What I tried instead that worked better:

  1. Scheduling time- literally making a hour to hour schedule of what I was going to spend each hour of my day doing.
  2. Using multiple to-do lists for extracurriculars, school, personal life, and college. Transfer a few tasks into each day.
  3. (Trying to) sleep and wake up at the same time every day
  4. Setting timers for everything
  5. Making routines for: a) waking up b) after school c) before bed
  6. Google Calendaring stuff in the future (no matter how petty)
  7. Acknowledge that the environment in which you work DOES matter and that turning off WiFi DOES keep you on task

The two things that distracted me the most:

  1. Twitter/social media (That includes reading blogs on WordPress)
  2. Talking to people online.

More personal observations:

  1. Winter break is a fantastic time to try out these things. Not so much once school starts. (Morning plans currently take up an hour of my morning- am I willing to wake up an hour earlier during the school year?)
  2. Paper or digital???
  3. Before, I would generally only get the tiny things done. Now, I tend to get more big things done while leaving the smaller tasks unfinished.
  4. I need to find a better way to handle more flexibility + unexpected things
  5. How much is me actually scheduling stuff badly (aka 5 straight hours on the computer with no breaks) and how much is just me being lazy?
  6. If I stick to a schedule, it generally works…until it gets to the last 2 items– usually slow, long term stuff (COUGH COLLEGE APPS)
  7. The biggest thing that determines whether I stick to my schedule or not– whether my notebook is 1) on my desk and 2) whether it’s open to today’s schedule. Literally. The tiniest things prevent me from getting stuff done sometimes.
  8. LEARNING THIS EARLIER WOULD HAVE LITERALLY HELPED ME IN EVERY CLASS EVER.

“Bibliography”

Readings:

  • The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
  • The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman
  • How to be a High School Superstar, Cal Newport

Blogs:

  • ZenHabits
  • Essena O’Neil’s daily plans
  • Cal Newport’s blog
  • The Prospect

Other stuff:

  • Shia LaBoeuf
  • Nike
  • Stories of people constantly talking about managing their time well. And then realizing that I had 0 idea what managing my time well ACTUALLY meant.

Learning shorthand

I like to pride myself on learning things that have absolutely zero practicality just because I think it’s cool. (Well, also for the bragging rights). Over the years, this is what I’ve picked up:

  • Pen spinning
  • Juggling
  • Freehand drawing 7/8/9/any number point stars. (But really, all the credit goes to Vi Hart)
  • Origami
  • Speedreading
  • Solving Rubik’s cubes

Halfway through English class last week, when I was frustrated at not really processing the notes that I was typing, and not being able to handwrite my notes fast enough (even in cursive), I got the burst of motivation to learn something new: shorthand.

I heard of Gregg shorthand in this Atlantic article last summer, but I didn’t really know how to start learning. I guess searching the Internet never really appealed to me at the time. But now I was in English class with a laptop in front of me. Time to start Googling.

After reading all the articles I could find about the various forms of shorthand, I went for Ford shorthand. (I should stop being persuaded by articles written by people trying to promote a product.) Most other shorthand forms were made for transcribing speaking and involved learning a special set of phonetic rules. They were also harder to read. Ford shorthand was just a simplified alphabet–no special rules or indistinguishable letters. I didn’t need to write at 200 words a minute –I would be perfectly content if I could write as fast as I could type.

With a one minute test, my normal writing speed was about 35 words a minute, and that was barely legible. I would need to double that rate with shorthand if I’m to see any benefit. Anything less than that, and I’m just wasting my time.

I’ve started writing random stuff in my notebook in shorthand in class to practice. I’ve also started taking class notes in shorthand, but it’s awkward when I’m having to read my notes and spell our words in the middle of an open-note quiz.

Here’s my progress so far:

Warning: This is just my homework copied. It's nothing interesting.

Warning: This is just my homework+ the alphabet. It’s nothing interesting. Decipher at your own risk

Sure, I want to learn shorthand so I can write faster, but it’s also kind of cool to be able to write in code that anyone can decipher through Google.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to write proficiently in a few months. If not, this’ll be just another random thing to tack onto

Meanwhile, I already know what I to learn next after this:  notebook spinning. I tried learning it over winter break, but it didn’t go too well. (Also, my notebook was falling apart because I kept dropping it on the ground. Whoops.)

Stories from Middle School: Mathcounts

This is related to one of my earlier posts: Partitions and the Quadratic Formula, but written from a broader perspective. Also, with more nostalgia. 

incorrect derivation

Yes, I know this is wrong. And that’s the point.

One of my most vivid educational experiences dates back to a middle school math competition– Mathcounts. After months of hard work, our team of four students were ecstatic to have qualified to compete at the state level in Austin.  In the weeks leading up, our sponsor had one goal in mind: beat St. John’s. This sentiment had been building up throughout the year. St. John’s was the local private school whose team had beaten us at the regional competition.

In preparation for the competition, we worked through lunch for a month to solve math problems in our coach’s classroom. Anyone who walked in would have seen four people huddled around a table talking numbers, but like children mesmerized by magic, we didn’t care what the others thought. Together, we had found something greater.

When we were able to solve a hard problem without guidance, the happiness was contagious. That is, until we realized the multitude of problems ahead of us and that many before us had already solved these problems. Nevertheless, to us each solution was an element in a series of epiphanies. As a team, we explained difficult problems to confused team members. When we were truly stuck, our coach would pull out the solution manual, and we would try to make sense of the official explanations.

As we pushed ourselves through problem set after problem set, we developed a mutual respect for each other. Like four legs of a table, our team was built on the idea that in order for the group to succeed, we needed support from all members. During the team rounds, we split up problems and learned to settle disputes quickly and effectively (though not always accurately). We shared our victories and failures, our laughter and frustration, our stupidest mistakes and grandest insights.

Through solving hundreds of different problems, I gradually learned probability, analytic geometry, and number theory. This was before I had taken Algebra 1. By comparison, my math class seemed dull (though I didn’t tell this to my sponsor, who was also my teacher at the time).

One day of practice in particular stands out. It was the Friday before spring break, and we had finished reviewing a set of problems with nearly 20 minutes left. One of our team members, Alex, decided that the logical thing to do was to go to the chalkboard and write ax^2+bx+c=0 followed by the statement “I’m going to derive the quadratic formula.”

When I was in kindergarten, my brother had made me memorize a sentence starting with “x equals” that included a bunch of a’s, b’s, and c’s. That was about all I knew of the quadratic equation. Deriving this mystical formula was a big deal for me, something complicated and important, though it had no bearing in our preparation for the state competition.

So I watched in awe as he rearranged and factored terms, until we were left with something that looked suspiciously like the quadratic formula.

Wait no. One thing was missing. An “a.”

For some reason, this mistake made us crack up and start repeatedly exclaiming “WHERE’S THE A?”.

The end of lunch bell rang. None of us left the board.

The students from our teacher’s next class began trickling in. They saw the four of us freaking out over a board of algebra searching for some mysterious “a” and silently stared at us.

After balancing our laughing with serious efforts to find our mistake, we found the “a” lost inside a fraction.  Alex quickly filled in the chain of mistakes that the  ‘a’ had created and we excitedly proclaimed to all within earshot, “WE FOUND THE ‘A’!”

The tardy bell rang, and we were officially late to our next period.

That didn’t stop Alex from exclaiming, “YES! I FINALLY GOT IT! I HAVE TO WRITE THIS DOWN!” Meanwhile, I knew I had to get to my next class. So while he was scribbling down the slanted rows of algebra onto a sheet of notebook paper, I packed my stuff and went to my next class, still feeling the euphoria from deriving a long complicated algebra equation and hoping that my 4th period teacher wouldn’t mind that I was late.

Two weeks later, we had to leave school right after lunch on Friday for the state competition. This was my first time staying away from home overnight with friends. As fun as this sounds for a middle school student, there was still a sense of pressure. This was when we were supposed to beat St. Johns. Something had to result from the loads of math problems and unfinished lunches.

After busting our brains through three intensive rounds of math harder than anything we had practiced, we were a bit demoralized, but still hoped for the best. Fortunately, we ended up placing 7th in the state, beat St. Johns, and all individually ranked in the top 25% of students.

There have been few days where I have felt as happy as I did when I clutched that right-triangle-shaped trophy on stage alongside my team members. But that happiness was mixed. At the same time, I knew that the state competition marked the end of our lunchtime practices, and that the sense of unity we felt as we worked towards a common goal was coming to a close. Two of our team members would be going on to high school, and I knew that the team I had grown accustomed to working with would soon change.

Math is easily the most stigmatized subject in America, even more so amongst girls, but within our 3 girl, 1 guy team, none of that mattered. I was extremely lucky be a part of this amazing experience with such a group of talented people who shared similar interests in middle school, and I’ve carried this motivation with me throughout high school.

We weren’t going through intensive training like the top schools and students did. Our sponsor merely sat back and let us learn from each other. There were no textbooks, no curriculum, no formula memorizing, no technology (even our calculator use was minimal)–we simply had problem sets, their solutions, pencils, and lots and lots of scratch paper. We were doing what we considered to be important in our learning, and we had the freedom to explore the topics that truly piqued our interest.

How to (not) Focus

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I have trouble focusing a lot.

Writing a blog post often takes longer than it should because the allure of multiple tabs on Chrome pulls me away from writing.

I read a book for fun yesterday, only because my internet went out for 4 hours.

I have trouble convincing myself to do anything I have labeled as busy work. Sometimes I try to play music and try to enter “mindless copying” mode as I do my work, but that’s unsustainable for more than 5 minutes, unless it’s the night before an assignment is due.

There are some exceptions though. Sometimes I can focus on a post for an entire hour and churn out a good 400-500 words. If I’m really lucky, two hours.

Sometimes I find a book that’s actually interesting.

Sometimes I reach a late-night stage of euphoria where I can do mindless work and be completely content.

More often though, I find this sense of focus when doing math, or anything that gives instant feedback, whether it be online homework (I’m looking at you UTHW), or simply working through textbook problems and checking my answers in the back. The satisfaction of getting previous problems right gives me enough motivation to keep going, and occasionally, I’ll get a nice fuzzy feeling inside from solving a problem correctly.

However, I’m also prone to fits of throwing my pen down and near screaming “NO ONE CARES” in the middle of problem sets, most notably in chemistry. I don’t have a problem with dealing with the tedious calculations of 1 question. I do have a problem with doing 20 questions that are identical except the numbers are switched. It’s a delicate balance to find that optimum level of stimulation.

I don’t find subjects sufficiently interesting enough unless they’re hard, and frankly, I expected some of my self proclaimed “college level” classes to be more challenging. When my English teacher states that our tests are “testing rote memorization, the lowest level of learning”, I don’t feel particularly motivated to study. When I can get through an entire chemistry test by formula plugging PV=nRT and remembering assorted facts, I don’t really feel like I’ve learned much. I like the feeling of barely knowing enough information to solve a problem. I get a sense of malaise when I can get through an entire set of problems effortlessly– I spent all my time doing something I already knew how to do.

An aside on multitasking

Whose idea was it that we could (and should) learn 7 subjects at the same time? Are we supposed to focus on all of them equally? And how have I become used to this?

There are schools where students only take 3 subjects every semester and take different classes every semester. That’s still a total of 6 classes every year, but students would have less to worry about at any given moment, and they could cover the content more in depth. Then again, if you ended up in a class you really disliked, you’re kind of screwed.

However, most of us don’t go to that school and aren’t getting out of the 7 (or 6) class schedule until college. So how do you deal with it?

  • Monotask when possible. Even if there’s multiple things to work on, pretend like there’s only one and temporarily forget the others.
  • Do things in the order in which you find most productive. The generic advice is to do things in order of urgency. I disagree. It doesn’t matter what order you do things as long as you eventually get everything done. (How many of you go to sleep if your homework is incomplete?) If saving the fun work for last will motivate you to get through all the grunt work, do that. I don’t have that self-discipline. I do whatever assignment I find most interesting first and rush through the rest of the assignments as my productivity wanes throughout the night.
  • Find ways to minimize distractions. Turn off the computer screen if you just want to listen to music. Install StayFocusd for Chrome and block all the time-consuming sites for an hour with Nuclear mode. Do your writing on Word or OneNote instead of Google Docs so you can’t just Ctrl+T your way to a distraction. Work in fullscreen (F11) so you can’t see all your tabs and Ctrl+tab your way to a distraction.

These are random strategies that I’ve picked up throughout the years. Any that I’ve missed?

If you’ve never failed a test, you’re studying too much

Inspired by a chapter in How Not To Be Wrong, more specifically the chapter described in this article: “If You’ve Never Missed a Flight, You’re Probably Wasting Your Time.

One of the really nice things about junior year is that the teachers expect you to be more self reliant, which translates to a lot less busy work. This also means that there’s a greater responsibility to figure out how to study and learn, as most classes are extremely test heavy.

I’ve noticed that I’d rather understudy than overstudy for a test. For English, which I have at the end of the day, this means I’d rather cram vocabulary in my other classes the day of the quiz instead of studying over the weekend. For my other classes, this means I don’t study at all if I feel like I learned the material well enough in class. On the other hand, I study like crazy if I have no idea about the information. Whether “failing” is defined as below a 90 or below a 70, I’m trying to minimize unnecessary studying as much as possible.

How Not To Be Wrong does a mathematical analysis of how many “utils” you gain by being on time for your flight versus how much time you spent at the airport.

Say you arrive at the airport 5 hours in advance. (0 utils) You’d never miss a flight (~5 utils), but is all that time spent waiting really worth it? What if you got there only 1 hour in advance (~2 utils) and missed your flight 15% of the time? (85% * 5) It’d be a hassle occasionally, but what couldn’t you could accomplish with the extra 4 hours?

What if you applied the same principle to grades? Is a 100 on a test really worth it if you spent 10 hours studying for it? Some people would say yes. I wouldn’t. There’s other things I’d rather do than study. Like sleep. Typically, I stop studying for a test once I decide that sleeping would be better for my grade (and health) than additional studying.

Grades don’t work on the same binary scale as missing a flight though. Studying an hour for a test more would have a tangible impact on a grade, while getting to the airport an hour early would still result in making the flight on time. Also, more studying= more learning. How can that be bad?

My best answer is that once you learn the core of the information, any additional content is easy to pick up if necessary and not always worth your time.  Applying the Pareto principle here (aka the 80-20 rule), you’ll spend 20% of your time learning 80% of the material. Conversely, this means that 80% of your time will be spent understanding 20% of the material. Not the best use of your time.

(Ok maybe this entire post is just an elaborate excuse not to study for my calc test tomorrow.)

Reading comprehension and memorization

After the first quizbowl tournament last year, I wrote this lovely tidbit about the ridiculously good player on our team.

As he spit out the names of foreign authors and places and works of art that I didn’t even know existed, much less could remember, I realized the hours of studying that must have went into building this massive wealth of knowledge and how focused he was on the activity.

The point wasn’t cramming facts into one’s head just for the sake of Quizbowling well, like some other players would do. There was an energy of learning things for the sake of learning, not for grades or for impressing people. Perhaps Quizbowl was the only place that was mentally stimulating and challenging enough, with only seconds to recall information and milliseconds to buzz in before the other team.

I then went off about how I sought an activity that I could pour my mental energy in and feel a strong sense of accomplishment. Quizbowl is one of the few extracurricular activities I’ve stayed with since freshmen year, and I want something to show for it, especially as the first tournament of the year is coming around again. 

With my random bursts of motivation, I’ve been using this flashcard app called Anki to study. 

“What? What’s Anki? Quizlet is obviously the best flashcard app out there!”

I used Anki for art vocabulary, but it was clearly overkill for something I only needed to remember for an hour. I went back to familiar ol’ Quizlet.  Generally, I use Quizlet to cram for a short period of time. However, for larger decks with varied content that I need to remember for a longer time, Anki has two major advantages:

1) Spaced repetition. Anki keeps track of how well you know each card to decide when to show it to you again. For instance, if you rate a card as “good,” Anki’ll wait 2 days until it shows the card again, and if you rate it “good” then, next time it’ll wait 5 days, then 10, then 3 weeks, etc., based on an algorithm developed by SuperMemo, another software for maximizing memory retention that’s more complicated than Anki. Multiply across a thousand card deck, and you’ll be reviewing fewer and fewer cards every day, until it gets down to about 15 cards a day, assuming that you review every day like I did second semester sophomore year, thanks to the convenient Android app that I used everyday while waiting to be picked up. However, due to my neglect, I now have hundreds of cards to review. 

2) More flashcard formats. Asides from the generic front back flashcard formats, Anki also allows for cloze deletions (think fill in the blank) and three sided flashcards (for Chinese learners, pinyin, hanzi, and english) , and you can even design your own format of flashcards. This article from SuperMemo (another software that promotes spaced repetition) explains how to format information so it’s easiest to remember. 

Anki has a relatively steep learning curve in terms of usability, but hands down, it’s the best flashcard app ever created.

However, reviewing a stack of virtual flashcards everyday isn’t the most glamorous thing ever, and sometimes I question the utility of all this memorization.

Anki isn’t something easily applied to the rest of my subjects, since not everything can be neatly categorized onto a flashcard. Asides from that, most AP classes prioritize “application” over content, which makes me feel like knowing all the cold hard facts is unnecessary. The fact that we have so many open-note quizzes in school doesn’t help either. Just copy down the right information and you can figure it out later.

This conflicts with the entire basis of quizbowl. The point is to have all the information IN YOUR HEAD so you can show off how much you know, not to see how fast your smartphone can look up facts. This article from the SuperMemo site answers the stigma against memorization pretty well. 

Myth: Hypertext can substitute for memory

An amazingly large proportion of the population holds memorization in contempt. Terms “rote memorization”, “recitatory rehearsal”, “mindless repetition” are used to label any form of memorization or repetition as unintelligent. Seeing the “big picture”, “reasoning” and leaving the job of remembering to external hypertext sources are supposed to be viable substitutes.

Fact: Knowledge stored in human memory is associative in nature. In other words, we are able to suddenly combine two known ideas to produce a new quality: an invention. Hypertext references are a poor substitute for associative memory. Two facts stored in human memory can instantly be put together and bring a new idea to life. The same facts stored on the Internet will remain useless until they are pieced together inside a creative mind. A mind rich in knowledge, can produce rich associations upon encountering new information. An empty mind is as useful as a toddler given the power of the Internet in search of a solution. Biological neural networks work in such a way that knowledge is retained in memory only if it is refreshed/reviewed. Learning and repetition are therefore still vital for the progress of mankind. This humorous text explains the importance of memory: It is not just memorizing

Memory and Learning: Myths and Facts, SuperMemo

When you “memorize” something, most of the time you actually learn it anyways. Rarely do you ever “blindly memomorize something,” maybe with the exception of vocabulary. I dislike it when people describe Quizbowl as remembering a bunch of random facts. Sure, you can somewhat get by in Quizbowl by mindlessly remembering facts (or in my case, by formatting Anki flashcards badly), but the best quizbowlers master a single subject and learn as much as they can

Also, one last quote:

I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they’d seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends.

Which is an uncomfortable thought. If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that’s one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy. If these guys were able to do what they did only because of some magic Shakespeareness or Einsteinness, then it’s not our fault if we can’t do something as good.

I’m not saying there’s no such thing as genius. But if you’re trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right.

What You’ll Wish You’d Known.

If one gives you an excuse for being lazy…

Being anti-memorization is an excuse for being lazy

…then the other is probably right.

Suck it up and do the work. 

The Joy of Discovery

Fact: I can’t art.

Maybe this is the result of a lack of motivation rather than a lack of natural talent, but the few times that I’ve drawn something on this blog, I’ve made disclaimers, [1] and my high school art class isn’t going particularly well.

One would think that I’d ask for a lot of help in the class to make up for my deficiencies, but I’m reluctant to approach the teacher. Even as other people in my class move on to other projects, I’d rather struggle with my own creation, where everything’s been drawn over at least 3 times and the paper’s become grainy, than ask for help. Someone at my table has already condescendingly told me, “Amy, you’ve spent the entire class period on that one area drawing the same thing, over and over again. See, what I would have done is, do it right the first time, and then moved on.”

Yeah, I would have done that too if I had any idea how to art. [2] A stubborn part of me believes that I can figure everything out on my own given enough time, and I generally don’t ask for help unless it’s “absolutely necessary”, whatever that means.

Relating Math and Art

To be honest, I think I’ve adopted this philosophy of learning through self-discovery from doing math. Yes, that lovely subject that involves numbers. Some of the best epiphanies I’ve had were from solving a math problem after struggling with it for hours and trying multiple methods that just didn’t work. Similar to art, I believe that it’s possible to teach oneself how to solve math problems.

A common feeling when I’m doing math problems is the feeling of failure, stronger than the shallow school pre-test feeling of “oh geez this is hard, there goes my GPA,” but rather a gut-retching sense of “Who am I even to claim that I can do math; I’m exposed. Just give up already.” Sometimes this feeling is true (The problem was actually too hard); sometimes it masks the greatest epiphanies ever (Just 20 different strategies away). I can’t distinguish between the two beforehand, which makes the ambiguity all the more frustrating, but the success all the more sweet.

On the rare occasion where it all “clicks,” where everything makes sense, I get all fuzzy inside, and I have this urge to share what I’ve found out with everyone. That is until I realize that no one cares. Most of my “discoveries” are pretty basic and un-impressive anyways, but that’s irrelevant compared to the sense of euphoria from finding something out. And if the result means being labeled as a nerd, So B. It.

This must seem so obvious to an outsider–When you do stuff on your own, sometimes you succeed, sometimes you don’t, and it’s nice when you do. Duh. However, this realization that success can come even after the utmost feeling of failure is extremely motivating and even mind-blowing in a sense.

Problem Solving

The journey of self-learning isn’t glamorous or efficient, and reaching the end is never guaranteed, but all the motivation is purely intrinsic (at least I like to think so), and there’s an immediate sense of accomplishment at the end–finding the right answer. [See: Problem Based Learning] However, since there’s no easily testable outcome or definite timeframe, this probably won’t be coming to schools anytime soon.

When people ask for help nowadays, I feel like they’re depriving themselves of the experience of discovering something on one’s own. Teachers encourage questions in class, but students often turn to them upon the slightest misunderstanding, essentially making them a search-and-enter function machine. While this does speed up learning, it also reduces the amount of struggling one has to go through in order to learn the material, which is an important skill for when there is no teacher around. [3]

On the other hand, I was listening to a district board member speak, and she said that “by the time a student asks for help, it’s already too late.” In a school system where there’s little stopping for individual setbacks, I guess this makes sense, but perhaps this just exemplifies the problems with the system today, not accepting failure and struggling and giving “try-hard” a bad connotation.

Someone once told me that math class was stupid because “you’re solving problems that other people have done over and over already.” While that’s true, independently creating other people’s discoveries is a important step in making new advancements. The bigger problem is that math in schools has become being told every step of a process, and merely applying it to different numbers, instead of creatively synthesizing mathematical skills to solve complex problems. (I promise I’m not trying to sound like a curriculum writer.)

Our mathclub presidents have made it their mission to “teach non-school math,” and aside from the intelligent boards of math they’re written, they’ve also imparted with us some advice:

R: “You should read more math proofs–for fun. They won’t make any sense at first, and you’ll cry, but eventually you’ll get it, and it’ll get easier.”

P: “No, it doesn’t get easier. You just get used to the crying.”

We all laughed at the time, but looking back, it really showed a willingness to suffer for the sake of math. This was something I noticed at most math competitions, and I really admired those (ugh) mathletes. Pouring in hours of sweat and tears just to be able to spit out the right number to some abstract questions. Ah, the essence of math.  [4]

Non-Math

Even if problem-solving is the core principle behind math, can this be applied to other subjects? High school has taught me that I don’t learn well through osmosis, which explains why the humanities have trouble processing in my brain. [5] So far, I haven’t experienced any intellectual highs that can compare to the sensation of solving math problems, yet I feel like the humanities portray some vital facet of being human that mathematics just doesn’t have.

I like to justify my ignorance by claiming that the “applications” are the only important part of the humanities. From what I’ve learned, the overarching themes of history are that we’re not invincible, that all civilizations will eventually fall to become a chapter in a textbook, but also that we’ve come a long way from the cavemen and attempted political, social, and economic organization many times and failed. History is the record of everything mankind has tried so far and how it’s turned out. However, I can’t recite many specifics, which is troublesome because it’s impossible to understand the big picture without knowing the details as well.

Maybe it’s because I have the AP exam looming over me in May, but I’ve recently felt this need to learn history, even if I don’t see any direct use for it or have any interest in it. I’m sure other people derive the same sense of euphoria that I get from math through other subjects, but that’s something I’m incapable of understanding, just as most people can’t understand what makes math so interesting to me. I can’t imagine a stronger motivating factor than the internal excitement achieved at discovering something new, and if anyone wants to call them a nerd. So. Be. It.

Back to Art

This entire piece stemmed from my lack of skill at drawing, and somehow turned into a tangent about math and then history somehow. What a surprise. I’ve spent the entire post justifying my self-teaching philosophy, but my unwillingness to ask for help could be attributed to many other factors. Maybe my upbringing has taught me not to inconvenience others unless it’s necessary, even when it’s my teacher’s job. Maybe I’m just embarrassed to show my horrible art to anyone and face the direct criticism. Maybe I’m just a slow worker. Maybe I’m just stubborn. Whatever the cause, the result is the same–I’m going to have to deal with learning on my own. [6]

~ ~ ~

[1] I was a conference last year where one of the speakers had us partner with a complete stranger and draw their face in front of them. The point was to see how many people apologized even before they started drawing, and the moral of the exercise was to stop making disclaimers for everything you did in life. Too bad.

[2] Throughout much of elementary school, I thought my art skills would improve as I got older. Turns out, that’s not the cause. Even though my handwriting has improved over the years (slightly), indicating better hand control, I have resorted back to stick figures for my drawings.

[3] This is a distinctly Asian value–that suffering is necessary to success. To bring it up one more notch, perhaps the people that can handle the most suffering will be the most successful because no one else can reach their level of self-discipline. On the other hand, people say that discipline is overrated and that anything important will self-prioritize itself.

[4] One of the things I like about math is that it’s nearly impossible to BS. Either you have the right answer, or you don’t. Math demands excellence in every answer, and it’s very unforgiving, similar to a good teacher. In a world with no effective BS detectors, this is extremely important. And before anyone pounds me with the sketchiness of some math research papers nowadays (cough Mathgen), this is referring more to school and competition-y math.

[5] in this respect, I group art in the same category as math, considering that both subjects require building up on a basic skill set. That doesn’t help with my abilities to draw though.

[6] Yes, I’ve started using footnotes, adopted from Paul Graham’s Writing, Briefly. Aside from allowing me to ramble off on irrelevant topics and make my writing seem more formal than it actually is, I like having a place for snatches of ideas that don’t interrupt my writing. Also, this post is longer than my CCOT essay. (Yay for more WHAP references.) What.

2014 Resolutions

Read 50 books.

I’ve begun to approach reading with an almost religious attitude recently, especially non-fiction. The sheer amount of work that goes into writing a book is admirable, and writing is the most concise form of transferring knowledge. As much as Goodreads wants to claim that I’ve only read 4 books this year, the actual value is somewhere around 20, including books for school. Reading more than twice that amount is going to be a challenge, but a book a week doesn’t sound that bad.

No. Go away. This is depressing. Sorry if I didn’t mark the date of every book I add.

Have more deliberate relationships. 

I almost wanted to put “make more friends,” but that seems like a statement from the the playground days where everyone was your friend.  As our relationships with others become more and more complex, with more and more strings attached, I’m not even too sure as to what “deliberate” means. Sophomore year has made me a lot more introverted, and although this means less socializing and inside jokes with people, that’s becoming less and less important to me. Someone outright asked me once if I thought I had no life, and I responded with something along the lines of “Probably, but I don’t care.” Almost all social interactions are  based on school now, and winter break has left me with about two people to talk to.

The idea of raw talk versus small talk has constantly been at the back of my head, and perhaps more meaningful raw talk is what I seek. Sure, inside jokes and laughter with friends is nice, but certain sites on the Internet can easily provide me with that. Aside from reading, talking to people is one of the only ways to gain new insights and learn new perspectives, and if anything, I desperately need to learn more about people.

Coincidentally, seattlechunny wrote a post on his hatred of small talk a while back, and it pretty much coincides with everything I’ve been thinking.

Do what I say I’m going to do. 

NaBloPoMo has taught me the obvious lesson that nothing’s going to get done until it’s actually done. However, in a school environment where the only things we “have” to do are low-risk and repetitive (“AHHH MY GPA” is about as scary as it gets), I feel like this is saying more than what it sounds like.

Take more risks. 

Generic, but still being in high school is perhaps the only reason I forgive myself for being so awkward and unintentionally inconsiderate. Armed with the knowledge that we are irreparably broken, I don’t see any reason not to try everything out. That is, until I actually am offered the chance and become scared out of my wits. Hence the last point.

In particular, there was a quote near the end of The Drunkard’s Walk that stuck to me:

What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success. Or as the IBM pioneer Thomas Watson said, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”
 
I have tried in this book to present the basic concepts of random-ness, to illustrate how they apply to human affairs, and to present my view that its effects are largely overlooked in our interpretations of events and in our expectations and decisions. It may come as an epiphany merely to recognize the ubiquitous role of random processes in our lives; the true power of the theory of random processes, however, lies in the fact that once we understand the nature of random processes, we can alter the way we perceive the events that happen around us.

Write more in-depth posts. 

Last year, my goal was to write shorter posts , but to post more frequently. Is 70 posts enough? Even if 30 of those posts were written in one month?

This year, as I’ve figured out roughly where I want this blog to go, I want to start writing more analytical posts to see if I can actually stay on a topic for more than 1000 words without any filler and force out some pseudo-intellectual thought.

Some of the best articles I’ve read have had a greater impact on me than entire books, and as I’m trying to figure out how to write better, something tells me that writing what Paul Graham calls “essays”  (not the same thing as traditional school essays) will be pretty beneficial. Of course, this entails creative thinking and not simply formula plugging, which is something I’m not quite ready for yet.

STOP PULLING. 

I feel like this is a futile shout into nothing-ness, but my trich has gotten noticeablely worse recently, especially over finals week, and it shows no signs of improving. Perhaps it just seems that way because I’ve had to learn how to cover the bald patches up better.

One half of my brain is screaming, “YOU’RE THE ONE DOING THIS TO YOURSELF. YOU CAN CONTROL IT.” while the other half is doing the actual pulling and blocking off everything else. The logical half of my brain can’t exactly wrap around the idea that I should stop, mostly because I know it’s not fatal and because “you’ll be bald” isn’t enough of a threat, especially at 2AM when there’s more urgent things on my mind. (The back of my head is starting to itch already)

The only notable memory of The Perfect Pull that comes to mind in terms of stopping trich is the mantra “one day at a time,” an excellent rule of thumb for attaining any goal. (NaBloPoMo comes to mind. Then again, my main motivation for finishing that was bragging rights.  Could the same idea be applied to curing trich?) I’m hesitant to even include this resolution on here, but perhaps there’s no better motivation than publicly broadcast one’s thoughts to the wide open interwebs?

Exercise more.

I don’t even care about losing weight at this point. I just want to be healthy. School probably doesn’t help with that. Meh, at least I can try.

Learn more.

Despite all my complaining about school, I’ve started looking at acquiring knowledge completely differently this year, especially since “learning for learning’s sake” wore off after middle school, and I needed some better motivation for doing well in school. Now, I can’t see any excuse for choosing not to be educated with all the resources available to us. Often times, there is  a “right” belief, and not believing that is just being ignorant. I’ve been discussing the idea of our lives being a delusion with others, and it seems that the best way to cope with that is just to keep learning and exploring the world as we can perceive it. Hence the more reading resolution. Hence the more writing resolution. Hence the more actual doing resolution.

…And last but not least,

Talk to Annum and Soma more. 

Because they asked.