Friday, December 17, 2010

Part the 4th: Carnegie Mellon

Yes, my lovely pastime, being a student. I was a little worried going from real life working and the transition back to student life. Turned out to be ok. I was a little weird when on the first day I realized that I was 5 years older than some of the other students on campus, but Ill survive. Carnegie is a very interesting place. I am certainly humbled every day. Every person I talk to seems to exude intelligence, being to top of your class is the normal at CMU. There is certainly a reason for it being one of the number one schools in so many fields. It amuses me that on one side of campus exists one of the greatest computer science departments in the world, and on the other is top of the line and talented music and fine arts program.

When I first got here, I commented on the overwhelming international population. My feelings are just about the same. From conversations with Skanda, these students were trained just for this sort of thing. In high school, many Indian students take collegiate level math and science. They are expected to be proficient at things that most American students loathe. The flip side of this, is that there is overwhelming pressure. This idea of academic excellence is so strongly upheld that if you do not make it to a technical university, you might as well pack up and go home. Interestingly, Skanda’s (who is a rather proficient and capable computer engineer) dream job is to own a book store. When I asked him why he was not pursuing this, he said: “Yeah, you know what they said about Asian parents… well I gots Asian Parents.” This level of pressure causes some interesting results. It is obvious in some students that this newly found freedom from oppression gives way to an adoption of the lazy frat boy life style. In other cases, students are so unbelievably dedicated that nothing (sleep, food, or cleanliness) can stand in the way of academic excellence. Another interesting note of this focus on technical ability is the lack of all liberal arts training. I accept that I am not the most formal writer. I am not a pro essayist. I don’t get to read as often as I wish… but some of my classmates have no idea what is going on. I was amazed at some of the writing that I ran across.

I have greatly enjoyed my classes… nope let me change that. I greatly enjoyed Ethnography and Computational Photography. Let me start with what I did not enjoy: Machine Learning. Ugg… that was rough. Forever more, Machine Learning will fascinate me. Yes, it is amazing. It can do powerful things. But the people who work in that sort of thing are on a new level of geek. Take a super programmer, someone who dreams in binary, and throw them in to a blender with a math genius, someone who talks in equations, and eats vectors and eigen values for breakfast, throw a bit of probability and some learning theory: and you get this weird person who will never operate on the same level as us mere mortals. I am not one of those people. So me, talking 10-701 aka Machine Learning for Machine Learning students, was a little rough. Lots and lots went over my head. I did learn a ton! It is a little creepy to think about a program that can ‘learn’ and when applying learning theory, which is basically the same if you are applying it to programs or children, gives me the willies.

As for my other classes, highlights include: Professor Efros, in general; Learning how to passively observe people, and how this will forever change my people watching skills; Working on code that changed pictures not just ascii characters; enjoying one of the greatest TAs; listening to Steinfield go on tangents about his work. So for those of you who may not know, Ethnography is more or less technical studying. It can be boiled down to technical people avoiding the age old: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” It has been observed that engineers tend to come up with a sweet technology, then try to force fit it to a situation. Ethnography is about looking at a situation, and truly understanding the situation and how technology can best be adapted or developed to help out. Other than the 3 hour long Friday lectures, it was a great class. Now for Computational Photography: So cool! Hopefully you have all check out my projects, and you might be able to see why it is awesome. This class dealt with things that I had never messed with, things that were way out there. And the professor is super excited about the field, and after looking, I found out he is one of the top guys in the fields as well. Yep, it is true, this class can be boiled down to the workings of photoshop. The basic idea is how to manipulate photos (or videos) as to give more meaning, or more understanding of the image. I know you all know this, but in a TV show, when they see an image, and someone says “Enhance that image…” yeah, not possible. There are techniques, but nothing comes even close! So far out of the three that I have taken, Computational Photography is by far my favorite, sort of like Digital Logic, or Embedded Systems at GU.

(so same girl who was falling asleep earlier, is now watching The Hangover… and the ending credits. If you have ever seen the ending credits, they are more or less softcore porn. Interesting choice for a plane… I guess I was not any better watching Walking Dead, with tons of gore…)

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