University Life

February 17, 2015

I feel bad that I haven’t posted anything in the last two weeks.  I’ve had a lot of things in mind, but this semester I’ve taken a large load of “mickey mouse” courses (my adviser’s description, not mine), and they’re taking up all my time.  I’ve finished all the mathematics and physics courses that I’m required to take for my undergraduate degree, but I’ve put off my humanities, social sciences, and other things I’ve been dreading.  I decided to lump them all into one big pile and do them all at once.

It’s been a nightmare.  Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but seriously, I find them psychologically draining.  Take one of my classes I’m forced to take – an introduction to C++ programming.  I’ve won computer programming competitions and have spent the last fifteen or more years writing software, and they have me taking introduction to computer programming.  They won’t allow me to test out of it and I don’t know how else to get the stupid credit.  So I go to these programming labs where I sit in this big room full of students for hours and they go over how to do basic floating point arithmetic, while loops, and displaying text menus on the screen.  I can’t help but scream in my head, “Why am I here?”  On one assignment I used a function and the teacher’s assistant was freaking out.  “You’re not supposed to use that!  We haven’t learned about those yet. You can’t do that!”  I slumped down into my chair and just thought, “Whatever.  I don’t care anymore.  You want me to code this the long and hard way?  Fine.  This such a waste of time.”

For my humanities classes, I’ve just been taking whatever seemed easiest.  Another class I’m in is an introduction to psychology.  I haven’t learned a thing.  It’s mind-numbingly basic and boring.  We have a textbook and the teacher goes over these Power-Point slides which summarize things in the book.  Tests are multiple choice, rote memorization of bold-face terms.  So I make up these flash cards a week or so before each exam and cram my mind full of things, going over and over all the cards.  It really wears me down, but I’ve gotten 100% on everything so far.

I have to take an English class for my physics degree, and it’s proving to be my most difficult challenge.  Most of our grade comes from four papers we have to write and the papers are not really judged on content.  He seems to grade almost entirely on grammar.  He’s an expert on every single English rule and how things are supposed to be done. Needless to say, I don’t have any clue what he’s talking about.  The last time I took an English class was 1997, roughly twenty years ago.  He was going over my paper and was marking things, “You used the wrong injunction here”, “… ‘went’ should’ve been ‘gone’.  Didn’t you learn that in high school freshman English?”, “That’s not the proper antecedent clause in this blah blah blah.”  He might as well have been speaking Chinese.  He has these grammar lessons and I don’t have the slightest clue what he’s talking about.  Strangely, I got the highest score on his grammar test, which showed a bunch of sentences and we had to identify parts of them which were done incorrectly.  I guess I’m able to do so well because I’ve read so many books, but when I myself write, I apparently change “voice”, and do other things incorrectly.

We have a writing center and I took my first paper to those guys.  They went over it and thought everything was fine, but apparently my paper was a mess.  So much for them.  After the professor marked my paper all over, he looked it over and said, “Not bad.  That’s an 85.”  The score was just pulled out of the air.  I’ve managed to keep a 4.0 my entire time at the university, which I’d like to keep, so I’m working toward a solution to this grammar issue.  I need someone who really knows their stuff to correct my next papers before I turn them in.  It’d probably be more beneficial if I myself could learn all these grammar rules, but with all the other things I’m having to do at the moment, there’s no way that’s possible.

Another one of my classes is an introduction to philosophy.  After sitting through that course, I’ve realized that I’m not a philosopher.  If the things that guy talks about are philosophy, I really need to change my website’s header graphic.  For example, I don’t really care to get into extremely petty disputes about defining what is and what isn’t knowledge.

Let me paint you a picture of what that class is like.  First the professor went over all these definitions that philosophers have used over the centuries to define knowledge.  Then he gave an example of these farm workers who can look at baby chickens and tell with over 99% accuracy whether they’re a male or a female, but if you ask them to define exactly what it is about those baby chickens that tells them that, they’re at a loss for words.  So now the question: do they REALLY know the difference between male and female baby chickens?

The discussion begins.  This young teenager who sounds exactly like Matthew McConaughey slowly slurs out, “I don’t think he has knowledge.  I mean, there is a 1 in 10,000 chance he’s wrong.  We can never be sure.  He’s just really good at guessing.”  I turned around and almost fell out of my seat.  I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he hasn’t thought this through. It might be a good idea to write up a simple arithmetic exam.  On it, I’d put 10,000 simple addition and subtraction problems, like 19-5 = ?, 14+2 = ?, 5+3 = ?, and so on.  Then he’d get 9,999 out of 10,000 correct, and then I’d stand up and tell him, “If we’re as strict as you are about knowledge, you haven’t proved to me that you understand arithmetic young man.  I think we need to send you back to grade school.  You’re just really good at guessing.”  If those chicken farmers were simply guessing, they’d have a 50/50 chance of getting it right, and that’s roughly what their guess rate would be.

These elective classes have me so busy writing papers and pointlessly memorizing things that I struggle to find time to blog.  It all really wears me down.  But the end is in sight.  If next semester I take a full load of mickey-mouse courses (lol, that cracks me up) like I’ve done this semester, I’ll be done with them.  It will have taken me five years to get a bachelor’s degree, but who cares!  I endured!  I won’t have to leave the physics building ever again.  I’ll need to take our most advanced physical mechanics course, the graduate level statistical mechanics course, the third tier advanced quantum mechanics course, and the very last advanced electrodynamics course.  That’s it.  I’ll be done.  That will be most every physics and mathematics course offered there, absent one or two which aren’t offered very often.  Then I’ll have a masters degree and I just need to write a PhD paper.  How long will all that take?  Depends on how much I can endure, but the end is near.

I didn’t know how much I had left, but I went to talk with my advisor and he was telling me how I’d pretty much taken everything they had there.  Then he told me about how it all worked and basically said, “Well we can’t keep you here if we don’t have any classes to offer you.  Some transfer students come in and we make them take our classes here before letting them graduate, but you’re done with them all.  You’re near the end, man.”

For my PhD paper, I’m going to do a big computational project, simulating something on a big cluster of computers.  I don’t know what yet.  That won’t be bad at all.   Then you will all have to refer to me as Dr. Summers!  Hah, that sounds funny.  Let’s just stick with Jason.

Topics: Personal | 1 Comment »

Ex Machina Looks Great

January 29, 2015

I don’t watch many movies, but I really look forward to seeing this one when it comes to theaters.  Here’s the trailer.

Topics: Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

A World Frozen In Time

January 25, 2015

A friend of mine sent me a video that was really moving.  It captures the life of a 93 year old man living in solitude in a remote log cabin out in the forest.

At one point he mentions that life out there is the same as it was eighty years ago when he was a young man visiting there for the first time.  He built for himself a world frozen in time.  It’s a rebellion against the most powerful force of the universe.

Some argue that in life you have to learn to let go.  Change is inevitable.  The natural progression of things is dissolution and decay.  Each day has to be a new day, born from the ashes of yesterday.  I’m not saying I disagree with all of that, but if you’ve ever really loved something or someone, it’s not so easy to be flippant about it all.  People will tell you to go out and meet new people, find new things, and create new experiences, as if everything can be replaced by something new and better.  There are many things which are irreplaceable and some moments are so beautiful that they’re hard to ever forget.  You don’t want them to pass away, lost to time.

Seeing how old this man is, it got me thinking of my grandmother.  When she died, I remember sitting on the front row during the funeral, thinking to myself, “There won’t be many people in this world who will love me like she did.” Other than my parents, my brothers, and possibly a future wife (if I ever do get married), I just can’t see it happening.  Granny was irreplaceable.  You don’t get a second go. I can’t go pick up a new grandma at the grocery store, or download an app on my phone and find a new one with a few finger swipes.

The older you get, the more things you see come and go, and it has a lasting effect on you.  When you’re young, it doesn’t even cross your mind that things change.  You haven’t experienced it yet.  The transitory, ephemeral nature of this world hasn’t worked its cruel magic on you yet, but it will.  Once you see people you love pass on, when special places and landmarks which you’re attached to are torn down, and the world and culture around you rapidly changes, you’ll come to understand this for yourself.

But not everything changes.  I like how the video begins, showing these expansive landscapes, standing still, almost frozen in time.  It really captures the feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere. Unlike in the city, as the sun sets and night comes, the red sky gives way to this giant black dome of stars, a vast glimmering, seemingly timeless expanse.  Jack English lives in his own private castle.

As I’ve experienced more and more of this flow of time, seeing things around me change, I’ve been more drawn to finding a partner in life.  Though I may have to move around for different research positions, and homes would change, coworkers change, and everything changes, at least she’d be same.  There’d be someone who knew me, understood my story, and understood where I come from.  She’d know me and I’d know her and we’d look out for each other.  I’d have something which would be consistent.  That’d be nice, though it’s not easy to find.

Topics: Personal | 1 Comment »

Ten Years Of Blogging

January 24, 2015

Wow, I just noticed that come this March, I will have been blogging for ten years!  That’s hard to believe. I don’t really know what to say.

Today I found myself reflecting on all the years I’ve been blogging and then I asked myself why I’ve been at it for so long.  A lot of people start blogs, but very few people keep at it week after week, year after year.  So why do I do it?

I think that I want to let people know that I’m here and that I exist.  In my own experience, it’s difficult to connect to people.  I rarely have significant, deep conversations with anyone. I think a lot of you who read these blog posts know more about me than people who interact with me everyday in real life.  Most of the time, life doesn’t afford us moments to share thoughts like these.  We’re all familiar strangers.

I wish I could just walk up to people I don’t know and start up a deep conversation.  How is your love life?  Tell me about it, in detail.  What do you think of this place?  This world?  What’s it like living your life, as you?  What do you think of your job?  Your career?  What about the people around you?  What’s your relationship like with your parents?  Your coworkers?  Your siblings?  Your spouse?  Your children?  Did life turn out how you thought it would?  Would you rather be someplace else?  If so, where?  What are your dreams?  What did you have to give up in your life?  If I’ve been successful, a careful reader should be able to answer all of these questions for me.

Over the years, I hope I’ve managed to paint a vivid picture of who I am, what I think about, and how I feel about things, and that you all have seen how I’ve grown over the years.

Topics: Personal | 1 Comment »

Wise Men and Gurus

January 15, 2015

When I was in my early twenties, I spent a lot of my time reading philosophy books.  I admired wise men and gurus and wanted to be like them.  That led me to write up a collection of my own wise sayings.  I’m rather embarrassed to share them with all of you.  Looking through this list on my computer, I still agree with some of them.  Maybe I’ll share a few that are decent?

People who live lies tend to congregate together, and hide in their own company.

What is self-control? It’s not will-power, it’s a mind without conflict.

You don’t have time for something? Time management is about priorities. You want something more than something else.

Strange things people do often have much less strange reasons. All people are normal if you’re smart enough to see it.

Never glorify mediocrity. Some poor soul may listen to you.

“Clever” men tell you you’re stupid. Wise men tell you how to improve and give you hope.

It’s easy to give your life to something. The problem is determining whether your cause is worthwhile.

Many men sound clever. They talk and talk, and confuse everyone. Judge the content by what it leaves you in the end.

When searching for answers in life don’t be surprised when you find a world you least expected. Expect mental back-flips and 360 revolutions. Nothing is how you thought it was as a child.

Nothing is difficult or easy. Difficulty is not intrinsic to a task, but dependent on your approach.

You don’t necessarily have to be prepared for the entire journey, but only for the next step. You’re never completely ready for anything new you try.

Wisdom consists in seeing the invisible potential within what is seen.

Judging someone confines them to their past, and if you’re judging them to begin with I’m guessing you don’t like their past. This isn’t going to get us anywhere.

No one is completely responsible for their own life. The actions of others influence you as well.

I’ve met many nice people who promise a lot but deliver very little. I’ve met others who are irritable yet keep their word. Never judge someone at face value.

Ignorance is bliss as long as someone is watching over you. Otherwise, not so much.

But as I studied more and more, I came to realize that there were “wise” people advocating every possible mindset and philosophy.  No matter how you were living or what decisions you were making, there was always some “wise” person to come along and justify whatever it is.

Let’s dissect one of my own quotes.  Take the quote “Never glorify mediocrity.” There are a million different variations.  Here’s just one.

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You can easily find someone else telling you the exact opposite, to love yourself and be content how you are.  After all, why chase some subjective sense of perfection that doesn’t exist?  We’re all divine images of God, all perfect and beautiful.  And if you take that mindset to its full extreme, everything is perfect and beautiful.  See beauty in all things!  Then that warm fuzzy feeling comes all over you and you think, “Oohhh, this must be true!”  All we need to do now is write up a pithy quote infused with emotion, “A wise man can see God in all things. Everything happens for a reason.  We are all whole, perfect, and beautiful.”  It’s easy to produce and infinite number of warm, comforting, and accepting variations.

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I personally believe in excellence and shy away from of mediocrity.  If I do something, I want to do it well.  For example, when I take exams, I get A’s.  I study and master all the material.  I don’t accept myself if I barely make it by with gentleman C’s.  I tell myself, “I need to work harder and master this.  How am I going to contribute to my field if I can’t even master these university exams?”  But not everyone has ambition or a desire to create new things for the world. Many want to live simple lives.

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I believe that truth is a difficult thing to obtain and that a person has to really work to obtain it.  But let’s take a quote from Oprah’s favorite poet, the late Mary Angelou.  If I look her up on Brainyquote, within a minute or so I find, “I’m grateful to intelligent people. That doesn’t mean educated. That doesn’t mean intellectual. I mean really intelligent. What black old people used to call ‘mother wit’ means intelligence that you had in your mother’s womb. That’s what you rely on. You know what’s right to do.”  It’s the total opposite way of thinking.  Compare that to Richard Feynman, the Nobel laureate physicist.

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In the world of physics, you have to be wary of intuition and constantly question yourself and what you want to be true.  As a poet, you can write down whatever you’re feeling, and I suppose a lot of it is about expressing emotion.  Physics is not like that.  When you’re building satellite system and launching it into space, you have to know what you’re doing.  As Feynman said, “Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

To give another example, when I look in the mirror and see a pudgy belly, I don’t see beauty, I see a problem.  I find myself thinking about what I need to change, whether it be my diet, exercise routine, or lifestyle.  I relate to a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Strength does not coming from winning.  Your struggles develop your strengths.  When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”  Or as he put it another time, “If it jiggles, it’s fat.”

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Compare that to feminists with their body positive thinking.  They’ll say, “Self hate isn’t okay at any size“, or in more poetic terms, “When life throws you curves, embrace them.”  If we search the internet, we even find pop stars weighing in on the issue.  Take the singer Rihanna, “You have to just accept your body.  You may not love it all the way, but you just have to be comfortable with it, comfortable with knowing that that’s your body.”

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As I got older, I saw truth in both learning to be content where I am and striving to be better than what I currently am.  I wondered if they were both true in a way, or whether the “truth” was somewhere inbetween? Or maybe they’re true in some circumstances and not in others?  As I reflected on this dilemma, I eventually decided that there often is no truth when it comes to how you live your life.  That’s your choice.  You’re free to live how you want to live.  Every way of life leads to some outcome, and if you’re satisfied with your life, that’s all there is to it.  It depends on what you want. This is the meaning behind the other old quote of mine which I shared, “Many men sound clever. They say all kinds of things.  Judge the content by what it leaves you in the end.

Arnold’s mindset will lead you to change, grow, and get in the gym.  You’ll work hard and then get the body you want.  The feminist mindset strives for peace of mind and contentment.  They’re different strategies with the end-goal of being happy with yourself.

The key point to realize is that every way of thinking, every philosophy, every mindset will lead you to a different life.

I wanted to share a video from the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, which is pretty interesting.  Sometimes he annoys me because I feel he’s always trying to shock people, but he makes a good point when he states, “Wisdom is disgusting.”  By wisdom, he’s talking about all these different quotes, sayings, and cliches created by so-called wise people.

He gives several great examples.  If a person takes a big risk and succeeds, a “wise man” will come along and say, “You never get anything in life unless you’re willing to take risks.”

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If that same person fails, another “wise man” will come along and talk about having realistic expectations and not biting off more than you can chew.

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Take another example dealing with spirituality.  Wise men will come along and tell you not to get focused on this material world where everything is temporal.  We should instead focus on eternity.

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Another wise man will come along and say, “Don’t focus on abstract ideas like infinity and eternity.  Grasp what you can in the here and the now.”

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Then there’s variations on those themes such as, “Don’t take extreme positions.  There is a middle way!  Find eternity in the here and the now.”

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You can basically spin anything any which way.  There are so many mental strategies men have devised to emotionally cope with this life and the problems we face.  Very often people take up different philosophies depending on where they find themselves, what they want out of life, and what they need to get through what they’re experiencing.

For example, some philosophies and mindsets are geared toward enduring suffering with a smile on your face.  They’re perfect for underdogs and those who have had bad luck in life.  Some philosophies are geared toward explorers, venturing into new domains.  They’re well suited for a scientist like me, trying to discover new things about the universe.  Others are geared toward being happy at home, and building relationships with those around you.  Those are well suited for a housewife raising her young children.  Depending on a person’s genetic make-up and personal life experiences, some mindsets and philosophies are better suited to them than others.

In my case, I doubt any of you would like me to base my decisions on prayer and intuition when building a nuclear reactor in your city.  I have to be skeptical and base all my decisions on what’s been proven experimentally in the laboratory.  But what’s good for one person isn’t good for another.  Take creative types.  If a writer is working on the next Lord of the Rings trilogy, or working on a science fiction video game, a very critical, skeptical mindset, very rooted in reality isn’t what they need to succeed in their craft.  We’re all different.

I say all of this to simply point out that there is no “way”.  Nobody has the one true way to live life.  There are many.  Oftentimes there isn’t any meaning to “truth” when it comes to personal philosophies and lifestyles.  But that’s not to say that all mindsets lead to the same outcome.  They’re simply complex mental and emotional strategies.  Some are better suited to particular situations and lives than others.

Unlike Slavoj, I don’t find wisdom disgusting. I simply want to point out that there are many “wisdoms” and to always keep your mind open.

Topics: Philosophy | 3 Comments »

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