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It's Not Always Math

USA | Tuesday, 16 June 2015 | Views [221]

Though we might all be math majors voluntarily spending our summer at a university for research, none of us wanted to have a review session on Friday night. I mean, a review session was probably necessary, since the example from earlier in the day hadn't worked. But none of us wanted to do it, so when we met around seven, it was for non-mathematical reasons.

Initially, it was just the girls. Delaney cross-stitched while Maram, Dana, Griselda, and I played cards. We played a game or two of Moving Man's, then separated the decks again to play ERS. After playing for a bit, we realized that although the sheep cards were cute, it was really hard to tell what was a face card (and, for that matter, what any of the cards were) so we restarted the game with another deck. After playing for a bit, Angelo showed up. So we explained the rules and started again.

ERS is one of those games that can seem to drag on and on, especially when it's down to two players. That's what happened to Maram and I after the others got out. (They had opportunites to come back in, but usually didn't last long.) So for a while, it was just Maram and I trading worthless cards back and forth. Then I realized that whenever someone else was telling a story, I was usually able to beat her. So I introduced topics of conversation and tried to get Maram to answer. And surprisingly enough (I told her exactly what I was doing) it worked, and the game was over (with me winning) before too much more time had passed.

Earlier, the others had learned a new card game from Hannah. It was an Austrian trick-taking game, and the rules were relatively straigh tforward, esepciallly if you were used to trick-taking games. Unfortunately, I was. I say unfortunate because I've never particularly enjoyed those kinds of games, and Austrian versions are no exception. But the others seemed to like it, so we kept playing. I didn't lose too many rounds.

Sam showed up a little bit (showed up literally outside the window staring at us until we let him in) and we taught him the game and played a few more hands. Then we decided we'd had enouh of the game and put the cards away. We talked for a bit, and made plans to meet up to go to Stellas for breakfast the next morning.

So “morning” was a bit of an exageration. So was “breakfast.” We decided to call it brunch because that sounded classier than “we're college students who couldn't decide if we wanted breakfast or lunch and didn't want to leave until 11.” Maram had the French toast I'd gotten last time we ate there, and I had the other kind of French toast. (Apples and cinammon as oppsoed to Banana Foster. The Banana one was definitely better.)

During brunch, one of the things we discussed was how we wished someone had brought an HDMI cable. It would have been such an easy thing to bring, even for the people with the weight and space limits that come with flying, but no one had thought about it. One week in, we discussed it, and decided it would probably be worth finding a place that sold them or else ordering one online. So as we were walking back, we stopped into the bookstore to see if there was any luck. There wasn't, and they recommended we go to CVS.

Around 1, Maram knocked on people's doors to see if anyone wanted to go with her to CVS and look for an HDMI cable. (By “people's doors,” I mean “the doors of the other SUMSRI students in the building,” so Delaney/Griselda's door and Dana and mine. Side note: I've forgotten how irritating it is not have access to other people's buidlings. It would be so much easier to invite the guys to thing or conversations if we were all in the same building.) To Maram's surprise, Griselda and I both said yess.

She was surprised because 1 in the afternoon is a kind of terrible time to be walking to CVS. It's a long walk, it was hot, and there wasn't much shade. But the entire last week had been a lot of sitting in desks, and then sitting in the evening review sessions, and I was finding it icnreasingly difficult to find a comfortable position. So a decently long walk seemed like a good way to avoid that.

So together, we walked to CVS. To our surprise, we did find an HDMI cable, and bought it. We also checked to see if there were any good games. (There weren't.) So we decided to keep walking a bit farther to a Walgreens to see if there was anything there worth buying. (There wasn't.) But by the time we were there, we were within sight of a Kroger, so we decided to go in.

It's only been a week, but already it feels like I've spent so long getting used to college convenience stores that I'd forgotten what a real grocery store looked like. And, since we had a kitchennette, we were able to buy things there. Important food, like a cookie sheet, cookie dough, and artichokes. Then we headed back to campus to sit in air conditioning and relax for a few hours.

At seven, we all met up in the guys dorm to go over the example from Friday. Dr. Farley had caught his mistake and sent out a version correcting it, which we had to refer back to, since when we tried to do it ourselves a different way, the numbers didn't quite work out. By the time we'd finished working through that example (and giving Sam a review on RateMyProfessor), we didn't particularly want to move on to a more complicated example. So instead, we took advantage of the newly acquired HDMI cable to watch A Beautiful Mind.

Most of the group had seen it before, but I and a few others hadn't. It had been on a vague list of movies I want to get around to watching at some point, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to. I though the film was very well done, and enjoyed watching it with other people who were familiar with the general outlines of the math involved.

After the movie was over, we sta around discussing in general terms the research, the program as a whole, grad school, and our home universities. I realized once again that I'm not ready to think about grad school, at least not in specific terms. Everyone agreed that we felt the seminar description they'd e-mailed us with our acceptance had been a lie, and wished that they'd warned us in advance that the research would require a lot of knowledge of topology. Then we would have tried to read up on it, and certainly brought some books as reference.

I also realized once again that I'm not ready to start thinking about grad school, at least not with any degree of specificity. I'm pretty sure I want my PhD, but beyond that my plans and dreams both get pretty vague. Fortunately, I have another year before I really need to start worrying about that, so...

At some point, one of the doors started beeping. It sounded like an alarmed door was open, except that when we investigated (by “we” I mean “everyone else.” I noticed that the fire light wasn't blinking and decided that I didn't want to move) we found that the door that was beeping wasn't open. We waited a bit to see if someone would show up (the beeping sounds like it should have triggered an alarm somewhere that wasn't just our building) and when no one did, we called conference services. They sent someone out to fix it, but they took a while, and the door was still beeping, so bit by bit people got sick of it and wandered back to their rooms.

The next morning was less eventful. Dana, Angelo, and I went to lunch around eleven. (Technically, I suppsoe we could have tried to call that one brunch as well.) We discussed what aspects of the program had surprised us so far, LaTeX, the maath department at our universities, and white boards vs. chalkboards. That last one can be quite divisive, with some people hating one form and loving another. Probably not for much longer, though, since the general impression I've been getting is that universities are replacing chalk boards with white boards. (I approve.)

After brunch, I searched for the BEST library. (Named for Business, Engineering, Science, and Technology, not for the fact that it is the best library ever. It's not.) I found it about 10 minutes before they opened, so I paced around the surrounding area and read. Finally, over a week after arriving on campus, I entered the library. (By contrast, the library was one of the few buildings I entered when I first visited Carthage, and within 24 hours of moving in, I'd already checked out a book.)

After a bit of aimless wandering around because I didn't know where anything was, but didn't feel enough like a real student to want to draw attention to myself by asking, I went down to the basement and found books.

Fun fact about me: for all the time I spend in libraries and bookstores, I don't remember call numbers. When I'm in a library I've been in before, I can find what I'm looking for pretty quickly just becaaue I've gotten used to their locations. When I'm in an unfamiliar library, I wander around and use my knowledge of previous libraries to identify when I'm getting close. Which usually works fine. It works less well when the shelves I want to wander through look something like this.

Bookshelves in the library

Fun though turning a wheel to watch the shelves might be, it does make the whole “wander aimlessly until I find a math book” much more difficult. I got lucky and only had to move two shelves before I found math.

The clever thing would have been to look at topology books, because I was having difficulty understanding the material, and none of the books in the reading room next to our classroom* seemed to give a good introduction to the relevant subject matter. (That I saw skimming through them. I kind of got bored after about 10 minutes of reading introductions.) Instead, I settled myself in the graph theory section and cooed over all the books that were available. (The reading room also had a dearth of books on graph theory. By which I mean there were about two shelves, but graphs had to share with the rest of combinatorics and the rest of discrete math, which isn't really fair to it.). I did find a book that managed to squeeze “graphs,” “groups,” and “surfaces” into the title and seemed decently related to the research subject. Unfortunately, although they defined all the graph theory terms you would need, they assumed a pre-existing knowledge of topology I did not have. I probably should have looked at that section instead...

A little before 2, I left so I would be able to make it back to our review session with Hannah. We spent more time going over the kind of examples we'd done in class on Friday, struggling over some of the problems and the theory before discovering we'd made our lives much more difficult than they'd needed to be. (I hate it when that happens.) By the end, the material was making a bit more sense, though I wasn't quite sure I'd be ready for everything new that he'd introduce on Monday.

After that, we went back to our rooms. Around 7, Griselda and I tried to figure out if there was anything we could do that night.We didn't come up with anything. Then I went for a walk and she went for a run, and during my walk I came up with an idea. So when she came back, we talked a bit about that. Dana left the room, and then I was blocking the door back in, so she joined the discussion. Then Delaney heard the conversation, so she came out to join us, and a bit later Maram walked out, saw all of us, and decided to as well.

It was about that point that I realized something else easy to pack that I should have brought- Set. (Maram was quite upset that I hadn't brought it, and to compensate for that I needed to get my laptop and order a copy.) I have a tendency to forget about games that people won't play with me. I think the penultimate time I played, I was trying to be nice, but the friends I was playing with could tell I wasn't saying the name of sets I saw, and got slightly annoyed. (The last time I played was with math majors about 20 minutes before Japanese class. I had not yet finished my homework for that class, and was trying to multitask. I didn't win.)

While I was at it, I looked for ther games that would be fun to play. Which was a challenge, because I'm not sur ewhat kinds of things other people like. Even when half of them were in the hallway with me, it still wasn't that easy. For the time being, I think it's best to stick with games that don't take too long, just so we can build our patience and get used to them. (I am, however, trying to talk people into Diplomacy. It's not like we have any plans for the weekends, and it would be a good way to kill a die.) Angelo had gone to the Walmart, and he texted us the games they had. We told him to pick up Clue, and he did. (Angelo also beat Amazon in terms of delivery time.)

We might have had a beter plan for future nights in place, but we were still sitting out in the hallway with no plans for that evening. Until someone (it might have been me. I don't remember) said she wanted cookies. And then Delaney pointed out that we might as well walk there. It would save us the delivery charge, give us something to do, and alleviate any guilt we might otherwise feel about eating them. So we invited the guys (Sam accepted, the otehrs did not) and set off.

Another advantage of walking there was the greater variety. They deliver warm cookies, but for obvious reasons, they don't deliver ice cream sandwiches. I ordered one with chocolate mint cookies and cookie dough ice cream. It was good, but incredibly messy. Definitely worth it, though I probably probably could have paired the ice cream and cookies better.

After we finsihed (and I washed my hands) we set back towards home. Until Delaney got distracted by a church. And then a side street. Then another church. And then a playground, but it wasn't a very good playground. But Maram wanted to go check it out, and then she was disappointed, because they ddin't even have swings ,and want kind of playground didn't have swings? As we walked away, she was musing about whether there was an app that could find swing sets near her. So Delaney and I both pulled out our phones and tried. I found a Montessori school about a mile away and decided it would be too far, and probably trespassing. Delaney found a park and started navigating us there.

A mile later, we were standing at the edge of an empty field and a railroad track. So “park” was a bit of an exagerattion. It did have a lot of fireflies, though, which, for Maram, was almost as good as swings. (Saturday night had been the first time she'd seen them, and she said that her summer was made. She's still nervous about trying to catch them, though.) We decided to head back after that, and ended up skirting the south edge of campus for a while. I tend to forget how huge campus is. It feels smaller when I'm just going from dorm to food to class and back again.

And tomorrow, that routine begins all over again.


* If it hadn't been for that, I probably would have found the library much earlier.

Tags: artichoke, cookies, games, library, playground

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