Monday, April 30, 2012

you win by finishing - end of semester study advice

My niece, the world's most adorable human being (seriously, look it up), is finishing her second semester as a biology undergrad at a small state school in Northern California and she complained on Facebook "Why is it that the last two weeks of school are when I lose all motivation?" I believe this is a common complaint this time of year.

I gave her my advice for how best to finish a semester strong and now, I give it to you:
  1. Sleep well (seriously, lack of sleep will kill motivation worse than anything else).
  2. Eat healthy (junk food will cause spikes in energy that lead to crashes in energy).
  3. Surround yourself with people who are focused.
  4. Study in the library, not home.
  5. Form study groups.
  6. Don't cram, moderate your study.
  7. Slow and steady wins the race.
  8. Don't faux-study for three hours with your mind wandering.
  9. If studying at home involves too many distractions beyond your control, see # 4.
  10. If you're having trouble concentrating, revisit 1-5 above (be honest with yourself).
  11. Take short breaks (not 2 hours, more like 20 minutes).
  12. Walk (seriously, people don't walk enough).
FWIW, my end-of-semester-advice-bona-fides:
  1. Finished my BA from a small state school in Northern California in 3 years (not the same one as my niece is attending, to my disappointment).
  2. Completed my first Master's in 3 semesters from a good but not great school in New York State (yep, got as far away from home as my mediocre GRE scores would get me).
  3. Completed the coursework for a second Master's in a slightly different subject (didn't write a thesis, long story) at the same small state school in Northern California (brief return home).
  4. Completed my third Master's in a brand new subject at a good university in New York state (not the same as # 2, same as #5)
  5. Completed all the requirements for a Ph.D. save the dissertation .
  6. Taught college courses in 4 academic subjects for 12 years at 5 different colleges.
  7. Helped about a 1000 college students finish semester requirements.
I add my bona fides because I was never a great student, nonetheless I was a finisher. I found college courses, particularly undergrad courses, fairly easy. In particular, I found completing courses easy. Writing graduate theses, okay, not great at that. But that's not what undergrad is about. My advice is not based on being a whiz kid. It's not based on being exceptional. It's not based on super-human intelligence.

My advice is based on finishing. Cross the finish line. It's right there, in front of you. You don't have to be the first to cross, just break the plane of the goal line, and you score a touchdown (forgive the mixed sports metaphors). You are an academic running back. Your job ain't to be the pretty one. Your job ain't to be the elegant one. Your job ain't to be the clever one. Your job is to punch the ball across the line and score. That's how you win games. You win games by finishing.

You win semesters by finishing. Focus on finishing. Take it a step at a time. Just finish.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The QHImp Qhallenge: Working memory in humans and Chimpanzees

The kids at Replicated Typo have launched an interesting new game for us all to play: The QHImp Qhallenge: Testing the semantic hypothesis. Money quote:
We’ve extended the QHImp Qhallenge to test Matsuzawa’s theory that semantic links are overloading our working memory and making the task difficult. You can now play the QHImp Qhallenge with letters of the alphabet, novel symbols, shades of colour and directional arrows.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hunger Games & bad camera work

Let actors act! I finally saw Hunger Games with my sister and neice. I became a Jennifer Lawrence fan after seeing Winter's Bone and I love the Hunger Games concept.

Unfortunately, they hired a truly inept director who was wayyyy out of his depth. He used shaky camera technique through the whole movie and it was nauseating. So many moments that could have been beautiful, touching, or glorious were, instead, dull, unimaginative, and cliche.

The district 12 imagery was evocative of the brilliant and haunting photos of Dorothea Lange's depression era photos. I loved this and think this is where the movie shone its brightest.

But otherwise, everything was rushed. Nothing given time to germinate and evolve. With such talent like Lawrence, Tucci, Harrelson, and the sadly under-used Toby Jones, why avoid acting? Let actors act!

One of the most disappointing choices was the cliche Stalinesque architecture of the capitol city. Large concrete blocks. This is what people thought fascist regimes looked like in 1953. True fascist regimes of the 21st Century use glass buildings with picturesque gardens, greenery, trees and flowers (well, all except North Korea and Burma... point taken).

This movie is so devoid of any true creative spirit, it's hard to justify a sequel (...uh, I mean besides the $300 Million gross, that is...of course, there WILL be sequels).

Apparently, there is ambiguity regarding who will direct the sequel. FWIW, my opinion is that Gary Ross should never ever be allowed to direct anything, ever again. Not even an oatmeal commercial.

Might I suggest the one person who could do this content justice? Namely, Mr. Quentin Tarantino?

A linguist asks some questions about word vectors

I have at best a passing familiarity with word vectors, strictly from a 30,000 foot view. I've never directly used them outside a handfu...