On Snow, As Viewed by a Texan

If there is one thing that differentiates Texas and New York, it is the word snow.

(I realize the timing of this post is ironic as some areas in Texas are getting snow or plunging into cold weather as I speak. But oh well, I hope you readers have learned to deal with irony by now.*)

*Actually, it’s not so ironic because Ithaca is getting a ton more snow tomorrow.

If you aren’t convinced, here is a picture I took at Port Aransas, TX (what the hell was I doing there?) dated Jan 2011:

Compare this to a picture of just outside the Mews residence hall at Cornell, also dated Jan 2011:

As you can  see, there appears to be some degree (no pun intended) of difference in temperature.

So there we go. Snow is cold, sort of annoying, but not too bad. Well, except that I get to climb up Libe Slope, a hill of gigantic proportions, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That is not mildly annoying, but extremely annoying. Also, I very much despise the crunching sound when walking on snow—it ruins my sense of inner ninja.

One more thing: In a lot of my posts I talk about earlier posts, but rarely do I ever talk about future ones. Here are some blogging topics I have planned for the month, not a comprehensive list, but just an outline:

  • Pavlovian conditioning on success, grades, and the circumvention thereof: Inspired by a chat I had with Yingnan about the “Chinese Parents” post.
  • Blogging:I figured that as a somewhat experienced blogger, I could talk about blogging itself, such as how to start a blog and what to write about.
  • Clarity in writing: I know an amazing (counter-)example of this.
  • A short story/article about qualifiers: Meant as a satire on qualifiers.
  • Infinity vs exhaustion: Inspired by both my philosophy and math classes.
  • Questioning things: And how/why people question different things.

And of course, there will be topics that I come up with on a whim.

Update: Even Cornell is canceling morning classes tomorrow.

My First Day Back in Ithaca: Cornell and Snow [Photos]

Despite some issues yesterday with US Airways, I am now back at Cornell!

Warning: For the high-res pictures, my camera captures in 4320 × 3240, so they may take a while to load.

1. View from New York La Guardia airport hotel, where I stayed last night. It was freezing, quite literally.

2. Cornell RPCC [high-res available—click picture]

3. Mews Hall (I live on the 3rd floor in the building on the left)

4. CKB (Court-Kay-Bauer)

5. Balch Hall

6. Rawlings Green, with snow [high-res available]

7. Thurston Bridge from North Campus

8. View of gorge from Thurston Bridge

9. Another gorge shot [high-res available]

10. Rockefeller Hall

11. Cornell tower and Uris Library [high-res available]

A Musical Project

This article is about the CS 1610 project that I alluded to in the last post. The idea was to do something creative with what we had learned in class + outside research. Given that it was a very multi-disciplinary class, and that it was Cornell, that meant just about anything.

My group members were Andy W, Drew W, and Joseph V, also first-year students at Cornell. Our idea was originally to convert images to sounds and vice versa. While we did end up doing this, we ended up focusing on music: a more important part of the project was two-fold: original instrumental synthesizers and a piano-roll reader.

Here’s one example of the piano-roll reader:

This one’s a bit longer:

Being a bit more artistic:

Here’s my favorite one so far:

Anyways, the YouTube channel we made is called ScrollingMusic. If you’re interested, you should go to the channel and subscribe; we’re still adding new stuff even though it has been long after the project presentation. If you want to suggest some new pieces to add, go ahead and do so on the channel. Enjoy!

My First Semester at College

Warning: Long but thoughtful post ahead!

This second topic of the day was chosen by Alex S at Cornell (a different Alex S than the one who chose the post on marching band).

Alex and I both took Math 2230 and English 1170 last semester. Two is actually a high number of classes to have in common with someone else, in a large liberal arts program like Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. There were two other people I know whom I had two classes with; one was in my History 2500 and CS 1610 classes, and the other in Sociology 1101 and CS 1610. But that’s it.

It’s not at all like high school. In my junior year of high school, for instance, I had 6 out of 8 classes the same with someone in the first semester, and 7 out of 8 in the second. (For Westwood HS people: If you figure out this person, you get an Internet cookie.)

At college my first semester went like this:

[more detailed schedule]

I’ll go through this reflection one class at a time.

Soc 1101: Intro to Sociology

Compared to my other classes, this one was a walk in the park. It was a really big park, but nonetheless a walk. The amount I studied for each exam:

  • Prelim 1: 30 minutes
  • Prelim 2: none
  • Prelim 3: 22 minutes, by myself, during the class right before
  • Final: 4 minutes, while trying to come up with ideas for this post just before the exam

Ended up getting an A in the class, though I feel if I actually tried (like studied for more than 4 minutes on the final…), it could easily have been an A+. Also, we had an extra credit opportunity worth 2 points on the total grade. I didn’t do it.

In spite of the easiness of the class, there was certainly much to learn. I gained a lot from most of my classes this semester, and this one is number 1 or 2.

English 1170: Short Stories (First-Year Writing Seminar)

Definitely one of my hardest classes. But overall, this course was truly able to improve my writing, much more so than any high school English class.

We also read some ridiculously good stories. I guess the class increased my appreciation for literature as well. My favorite ones were “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

Received an A-, but I’m definitely happy with this. Based on calculations with the grades I was getting on my essays, I thought I had a B/B+. (For example, in the middle of the term, one essay was handed back to me with the instruction to rewrite it. :/) And yes, I can do math. Moral of the story: Be on good terms with your instructor?

Math 2230: Honors Linear Algebra and Calculus


—Myself on the difficulty of Math 2230

The most difficult class I have ever taken, period.

  • First prelim: 47/92. That’s a 51%. Curved to B.
  • Second prelim: 61/134. Or 46%. Curved to B-.
  • Final: I don’t know.

Somehow, I miraculously got an A- in the end. I actually didn’t study much for the first or second prelim. The second was take-home, but I didn’t start until two nights before it was due. Silly idea. For the final, I DID study. I had the math textbook open in front of me for hours in a row. Which is quite ironic, as I managed to get through high school without studying for math. For instance, I remember going through AP Calculus BC without opening the textbook, except for once for an open-book test in which we were to look up a complicated integral form.

Now, just because I had the textbook open does not mean I was actually studying. (My laptop was open too.) But I did feel that I far better on the final than on either of the prelims. Oh well.

CS 1610: Computing in the Arts

The bizarre thing is that this class is cross-listed also as CIS/ENGRI 1610, DANCE 1540, FILM 1750, MUSIC 1465, PSYCH 1650 [source]. In other words, it’s a multi-disciplinary class. So, as someone who partly aspires to be an academic polymath, I found this to be the perfect class.


I do want to share a funny story about this. One major portion of our grade was a single written exam (the only one we had):

  • Total time I studied for the exam: NONE, ZERO
  • Total time my RA studied for it: 8 hours, she says (oh yeah, my RA was in this class with me)

It was a fairly large (~120 people) class, so the professor put up the stats. Here we go:

  • Max possible score: 31
  • Max actual score: 25.5/31
  • Mean: 18.9/31
  • Median: 19.5/31

My score: 25.0. I was pretty happy with it considering how much I had (not) studied.

The other major portion of our exam was a project. I told my group members that I would write a blog post on this like two weeks ago, but I still haven’t! It will come eventually though, and it will be very musically related.

History 2500: Technology in Society

This was my most academically fun class. We started at roughly the Italian Renaissance and progressed to the modern day. Professor Kline is my favorite prof at Cornell so far. His lectures included a lot of information, but he always created some meaningful arguments/conclusions with the information given.

How much I slept, the night before each essay was due:

  • Essay 1: None (all-nighter)
  • Essay 2: None (all-nighter)
  • Essay 3: None (all-nighter)

Sorry! But I had fun writing writing them! Other than the essays, there was very little homework. I am still shocked at how much I learned in this class for doing so little work. Of my classes this semester, this one taught me the most.

Funny moment #1: We were discussing machine safety in the Industrial Revolution, after having wandered off a tangent in the lecture. Wanting to move on to the next slide, he says something like, “Let us shift gears.” And then he just stands there for like 5 seconds. He adds, “No pun intended.” I didn’t catch it before that, and I don’t think anyone else had either.

Funny moment #2: This one isn’t really a moment, but when he was talking about our essays, he said he could usually tell apart which ones are the “3 am papers,” and encouraged us to plan them well ahead of time and ask him questions about them. I got an A in the class, even though I literally started each essay the night before it was due.

The third essay was the most fun. It was over the novel Neuromancer, on which I plan to write a blog post at some point. Don’t recognize it? It’s by William Gibson, the guy who coined the term “cyberspace.” Anyways, we were supposed to have read the novel by Dec. 1, as we had a discussion on it that day. I didn’t finish it until Dec. 13, the day the essay was due.

It was a pretty cool novel actually. I finished it at around 12:30 am, then lol’d around until 2 am, then did planning/outlining until 3 am. Then I took another break and chatted with people, including Linda I remember because I was telling her that a character in the novel was also named Linda and that she reminded me of her every time she appeared. I managed to finish the essay at around 11 am, in the math library. (After turning it in, I slept from noon to 10 pm. Felt so good.)

What Else?

I wasn’t involved in many extracurricular activities last semester, though I did do marching band, which makes up for it in terms of quality over quantity. Yeah, Cornell’s band is pretty epic. The experience of being in it is quite awesome. Here’s the link to the post on marching band.


Academic life was good. With 2 A-‘s, 2 A’s, and 1 A+, I had a first-semester GPA of 3.9250 (thank you Westwood High School for training me to recite my GPA to four decimal places).

Social life was a little less than it could have been. Perhaps due to a couple of experiments that took up October and November.

Alright, it has been good hanging out back in Austin, Texas. I had a great Christmas, and I hope y’all are (almost) ready for 2011. Enjoy the rest of your holidays!

On Marching Band

Trumpets pre-date history by three seconds.

—An Indisputable Source

Today’s topic was chosen by Alex S, who attends Texas State University.

By the way, all of the topic posts so far have been chosen by friends I know from Westwood High School. This one is no exception. Alex and I were both trumpet players in our high school marching band. And interestingly, of the 9 people whose topics have appeared up to this point, including this one, two were in band and four in orchestra. This means you’re largely getting topics picked out by a musical group. 🙂

Also, one of the links in the blogroll on the right-hand bar is to James F, a current drum major of my high school band and in the class of 2011. Here is the most recent video I could find of the Westwood Warrior Band’s 2010 show, entitled The Force of Destiny:

Y’all sound great!

Also, my last final (Math 2230) is on December 17, and I’ll be back in Austin by the evening of the 18th, EXACTLY one week to the nearest hour after this post. But I am actually a bit worried for this exam. High school math versus college math is like trying to tame a hamster versus trying to tame a velociraptor. For the latter, you really have to know what you’re doing. Anyways…

After high school I thought I would be done with band. But when I got to Cornell, I was persuaded to join much by an EXTENSIVE SIDEWALK CHALKING project that the band had done around campus. I mentioned it the last time I talked about band (outside of talking about road trips); it was in a blog post during orientation week. Plus, I thought it’d be a cool experience.

It certainly was. It’s WAY more lax. And we get free road trips. It’s also the only real marching band in the ivy league, as the other schools are all scatter bands, meaning they are utterly incapable of moving and playing their instruments at the same time. 😀

Here is the Cornell Big Red Marching Band performing the pre-game piece of the fourth and final 2010 show (the theme here should be easy to tell):

For something funny and actually ABOUT band, I will refer you to an article on Uncyclopedia. For the sake of maintaining a sense of decency, I will not actually quote it on this blog.

Some final tidbits:

  • For those scavenger hunters: There are TWO ironic things about this post.
  • This is a shoutout to all current members and alumni of the Westwood and Cornell bands!

WARNING: Do Not Yawn

The eerie part: my roommate is in this video. As is another person in my hall. The scene occurred in their business computing class HA 1174 (in the School of Hotel Administration) one month ago, but it went viral within the last week, suddenly reaching epic proportions today.

The class is normally filmed so that students can later review the lectures online on Blackboard, an academic portal site. Somebody who is enrolled in that class (read: with access to the video) had the knowledge apparently of how to rip the video off of Blackboard and upload it to Youtube. Yeah, it is not impossible to do, but it requires at least some level of computer-savviness. Which means that person definitely needed a refresher on the definition of a kilobyte.

For the record, I am in the College of Arts and Sciences as opposed to the School of Hotel Administration, and I do not know Professor Talbert at all.

Life at Cornell

Because of the experiment I mentioned last post, I haven’t been posting much, so with this post I’d like to return to my normal posting schedule. Well, a “schedule” never really existed, so what I mean, then, is a more frequent schedule. Until my next experiment…

Question Mark
Still looking for ideas for my next experiment...

Anyway, on to life outside of WoW in the last 20 days. I’ve been doing okay in my classes overall. Here are my courses my order of easiest to most difficult:

  • CS 1610 (Computing in the Arts): We still have not had a prelim or received any grades yet. The content is pretty straightforward.
  • SOC 1101 (Intro to Sociology): I’m at an A- right now, but we just had the second prelim yesterday. I felt I didn’t do as well on it as on the first prelim, but that seems to be the general consensus, so with the curve, it may be similar.
  • HIST 2500 (Technology in Society): We don’t have prelims, but instead, essays. We have three such essays that each count for 25%, and the other 25% is participation. I received an A on the first essay, but admittedly, I pulled an all-nighter for it, and the grade was very hard earned. In contrast, I do barely any work or studying for Sociology.
  • ENGL 1170 (Short Stories): This class has a lot of reading and a lot of writing. By the end of this semester I’ll probably have written more in this class than in all my other classes combined, then doubled. Plus, all the writing is in the form of literary analysis, which is not exactly my favorite style. I think I have a B in it right now, and I doubt I will be able to raise it by very much.
  • MATH 2230 (Theoretical Linear Algebra and Multivariable Calculus): This is by far my hardest class. The class median score on the first prelim was a 47, which I happened to get. It curved up to a B. Not bad, but it is so different from high school, where I was used to A+’s in math without doing any work. Plus, I used to be able to understand the concepts without doing the homework, and now, in college, I am starting to not understand the concepts even though I am doing the homework. My old theory: Math is easy. New theory: Math is tough.

I should probably mention some other aspects of Cornell as well. The weather has recently turned cold. For example, it is, at the time of this post, 40° F, and according to the Weather Channel, this will drop to 33° F later tonight.

Just one degree lower...

I hear that in Austin, the daytime temperatures are still reaching the 80s. Lucky! 😛

Moving on… One thing I love about Cornell are the libraries. My favorite ones so far are the Uris Library and the music library (in Lincoln Hall). Uris has the appearance of being old-fashioned, and for some reason, that makes my productivity increase dramatically (though the most important aspect is likely the quietness). On the other hand, the PCL at the University of Texas looks new and modern, and for some reason, I never had much productivity in it.

The music library at Cornell is quite modern as well (and despite the name, it is actually more quiet than say the Olin library). What makes it modern is, well, one day, I heard this mechanical sound, and saw, with my own eyes, one of the bookshelves moving! It was like a scene from a Harry Potter movie…

Andrew Dickson White Library
The Andrew Dickson White Library within Uris Library. It's not the one with moving bookshelves, but still...

I’ve probably spent more time in libraries in this semester so far at Cornell than during all of high school combined. I also find them very good for creative work.

Moving on again… Band! I will just have to say here once again that the BRMB (Big Red Marching Band) is amazing! It’s so much better than high school marching band. On October 8/9 (which was during the middle of my experiment), we traveled to Boston for the Cornell–Harvard game! Neither team was that great (I’m from Austin, so I am qualified to judge football competency), and we somehow managed to let Harvard catch two of their own punts. Seriously? (Harvard won 31–17.)

There are many things I would say about the trip, which was very interesting and eventful, but I am forbidden from saying anything about the bus ride. (What happens on Bus 5 stays on Bus 5.) I stayed, as did the majority of the trumpet section, with a couple (both in number and in marital relation) of Cornell band alumni on Friday night before the game. It was a fun night.

Wow, I’ve written nearly 800 words so far. It’s about time I get to the second, and what I originally intended as the main, subject of this post:

The Principles of Scientific Management

The what of what? Actually, most people whom I know in my audience have heard of this work before, as they have likely taken AP US History or a related history course at some point. When the course gets to economic progress the early twentieth century, the textbook mentions: Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor, the latter for whom the concept of “Taylorism” is named.

A refresher: Taylorism, or scientific management, is an economic theory that focuses above all on efficiency. It is concerned with maximizing productivity. That’s about all that’s mentioned in APUSH. (Here are Wiki links for Frederick Taylor and scientific management if you are interested.)

Frederick Taylor
Frederick Taylor (1856-1915)

In our HIST 2500 class, “Technology in Society,” we just read Taylor’s work that founded this theory: a treatise called The Principles of Scientific Management (1911). Near that period of time, labor and employers were generally not on friendly terms with each other. Remember all those labor strikes and unions you had to memorize for APUSH? Yeah…

Taylor was an engineer who proposed a solution, scientific management, to deal with this social issue. His goal was to resolve the management–labor conflict with a system that would be beneficial to both employers and workers. Scientific management, he argued, would enable workers to be much more efficient, and thereby more productive. This would allow a smaller number of specialized workers to produce much more than a larger number of normal workers, which would in turn allow the employer to raise wages and still increase profit.

We are not talking about minor improvements here. Taylor didn’t argue that 10-20% increases in productivity would solve the labor issue. His analysis in the book shows that in many industries the daily productivity of one worker could be doubled, and in some cases, tripled or even more. It means that not only were the employers gaining more revenue, but the workers were also earning higher wages. And, as Taylor implies, this increase in production would also lower the prices of manufactured goods, which helps the common people: they have more money and can buy cheaper goods. It’s a win-win-win situation.

So how exactly does this increase in productivity occur? The idea is to make every part of every task as efficient as possible. For a shoveler, a group of scientists carefully analyzed which type of person was most suited for shoveling. They also figured out the optimum load on the shovel (21 pounds—any more or less in one scoop would reduce the overall efficiency), which type of shovel should be used for different materials, and even what material the bottom of the container that is being shoveled from should be. They figured out how many rest breaks the workers should have, and for how long they should last, and when they are scheduled. And they analyzed each motion in shoveling as to figure out which ones are necessary and which ones are useless, which movements are faster and which are slower, and how to shovel as to move the greatest amount of material in the least amount of time.

The single most important tool in scientific management.

My crazy idea is to apply the theory of scientific management to other things. Oh wait, that’s already been done. Often with unremarkable consequences.

What I really should do is to have some degree of scientific management in my life, that is, have a schedule. At college I am going pretty much without a schedule. Then again, NOT playing WoW is probably much more significant in productivity-increasing than whatever I could I apply from scientific management. Plus, the application of scientific management requires at least two people, so if I were to try to apply this, someone would need to be my “manager.” Interesting, but no thanks.