That’s me! A better first post is forthcoming.
Hm, my mind is kind of wandering. Maybe I’ll check up on reddit. Hey cool, some new links. I’ll just open all of them in tabs and read them, making sure to skim or scan through the comments sections for any insightful analysis or funny jokes.
Alright, I’m done with that. Still don’t really want to focus. Maybe I’ll take a quick glance at my Facebook news feed. Nothing new there. What to do now? Nothing new is going to be on reddit yet.
Hey, when did it get to be 1 AM?
I’m sure I’m not the only person who tries to hold ten ideas in his head and work on as many tasks simultaneously as a matter of habit, as if jumping around from idea platform to idea platform will keep my mind from falling into the infinite idea void. As I write this post, I have three windows open that I’m actively paying attention to: this browser window, an instant messenger window (with three tabs), and an ssh session in which I am on an IRC channel. That’s if you don’t count iTunes, which really should count for half a window at least.
When I’m at school, I hate working alone in my room. It’s partially wanting to socialize more, but I feel that this urge to multitask factors into it as well. Multiple people remarked last year that they had never seen me doing work, probably on the assumption that the time I spent in public lounges was not spent doing work (despite staring at a computer screen much of the time).
(Aside: The fact that this lack of focus happens with people in person and not just the Internet means this isn’t a rant about these “newfangled gadgets”. Technophobes can now stop readying their comments.)
Whether the multitasking is digitally or socially assisted, it means that tasks that should take n hours now take kn hours, for some nontrivial constant k. It’s not even restricted to tasks that I dislike. The other day I was reading a book on my Kindle—which is amazing and excellent and great, by the way—and I felt the urge to pull out my iPhone and check my e-mail or maybe Facebook. This happened while I was having a pretty enjoyable time reading a book that I found interesting. Even writing this post took me about a week to finally get around to doing.
In general, I remain functional despite my ability to focus. My work gets done, I get some sleep, and in the end everything is okay. Maybe bouncing around between ideas so quickly even helps me come up with creative new ones, but that’s probably just a weak rationalization. Sometimes, I feel like I’m missing out on something by not sitting down and doing only one (or maybe two) things at once. Perhaps if I spent more time alone in my room doing work, I’d have more real free time to socialize, during which I wouldn’t have to be constantly doing work. However, if doing everything I need to do takes too long and I work only in my room, I could suddenly find myself with no social interaction at all, which isn’t acceptable to me. I’m tempted to try it out for at least a week or so this term; I’ll report back if I do.
Anyway, this post is more of a musing than an attempt at a coherent solution, because I don’t really know what a good solution looks like. Maybe you do? You should let me know.
Expect the next post to be a little more technically oriented, as I slowly attempt to diversify from autobiography.
My name is Ilya, and I am a sophomore at the California Institute of Technology. Before I went to college, I attended the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. I’m currently double majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics. I like and play music. I like to take photographs, when I have the time. I’m a very social person. I stress out a lot. These are all generally meaningless things.
Recently, I’ve noticed that there are a few themes evident in the things that I enjoy doing or thinking about. I like finding patterns, structure, and beauty in the world. This is why I enjoy thinking about mathematics and computer science, why I play and listen to music, and why I work on becoming a better photographer. Some of my favorite pursuits have involved problems similar to visualizing how and why one can turn a punctured torus inside-out, demonstrating that some questions simply cannot be decided by computers given our theoretical models of how they work, finding connections between seemingly unrelated constructs in mathematics, hearing how the chords of a piece change and somehow just knowing what to play over them, and “teaching” a computer how to “learn”. I like learning and I am fascinated by the process of learning, especially as it relates to machines. It is incredibly satisfying to write a piece of code, and then watch it take a set of data and intelligently perform tasks based on this data. I haven’t yet learned as much about learning (machine or human) as I would like to, but I’ve found myself extremely curious and plan on learning as much as I can. My currently life goals involve becoming a professor when I finish school, and at the moment I am leaning toward researching something in Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence. Finally, I just like feeling smart, but then again, who doesn’t?
Since coming to Caltech, though, the feeling smart moments have been much fewer and further in between. I’ve met people who are leagues ahead of me in any particular subject or activity that I’m interested in. I’ve met individuals who are better than me in almost every subject or activity that I’m interested in. After the initial shock of discovering this wore off, I began to be thankful for having these people around (most of the time), because some of them (more than you might expect) enjoyed taking the time to give me advice and teach me how to be better. Life has since become a journey of making myself better at things, with excellent role models around to show me what I could theoretically be capable of.
Hopefully as time goes on, I can also become one of those people for someone else. In high school, I really enjoyed helping others with math and science-related sets. Last year, before he graduated, there was a student in my house who would hang out in one of the public areas much of the time. He was known as the guy you could go to if you needed help on any math set. This was not only because he was extremely skilled at math, but also because he was willing to teach people and was very good at doing so. I know I have the willing to teach part, so I hope to be like that by the time I’m a senior.
Since coming to Caltech, I’ve realized that four years is actually a very long time. In the year and a half or so that I have been going here, I’ve never felt immediately like I was learning anything that difficult, just that I’ve spent a lot of time trudging through very difficult problem sets that occasionally made me lose more sleep than I’d like. However, comparing myself to when I entered, I’ve noticed that I have become much better at both mathematics and computer science (and probably physics, music, chemistry, biology, and other subjects as well). I guess the education here is so good that it just sneaks into your head. Are there parts of it that are lacking or less than satisfactory? Certainly. Do the good parts outweigh all of the frustrating parts? Most definitely. I may often be frustrated at immediate things like a difficult problem set or a poorly-run class, but when I step back and look at the big picture, I notice that both the things I’m learning and people I’ve met here make me more happy than I could see myself being anywhere else for my undergraduate education.
This blog is intended to be a weird eclectic hybrid of things, spanning multiple subjects, fields, and interests. It is a chronicle of my journey as I become better at things. It is a blog where I tell you about cool things I’ve learned, discovered, or done. Maybe I’ll relate an old story or two. It might be that umpteenth site that I started and then forgot to ever update. I guess we’ll see. This post will hopefully be the last post in which I tell you about myself directly. I hope enough of that will come out in my writing about my passions.
So for now I bid you au revoir, Tumblr-blogo-sphero-blogs. Go out and do something you really enjoy today.