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Posts tagged 'memories'

  • The Curse of Memory.

    My first year in college, I was best friends with someone whose entire existence has since been reduced to a single anecdote about spoons.

    This isn't to say that I never think of him in any other context, nor that he didn't have any other effect on me. However, the only reason I ever have to bring him up to other people is to mention the following: I knew a guy who decided to steal a spoon from the cafeteria every time he went for a meal, to the point that they no longer had enough to make it through the day without constant washing. Meanwhile, he had an entire desk drawer full of spoons that he brought with him when he moved out of the dorms.

    It's not a particularly interesting anecdote, and I can't recall a single time someone has requested a follow-up. "Oh, that's interesting; why did he do it? How many did he accumulate in the end? He sounds like an interesting guy; tell me more about him…" When I'm reminded of it, I could probably chuckle quietly and reminisce to myself rather than inflict the non-story on another person, but that never happens. I can't say why, precisely, but I have some theories.

    When I arrived in my dorm, the college hadn't opened "officially" yet. Due to the nature of the residence community—we were two floors within a four-building, twenty-floor complex dedicated to people from overseas or who had an interest in international "stuff", for lack of a better word—we were allowed to move in early. For the students who chose to take this option, it was an unparalleled opportunity to explore the college in that golden moment of perfect anticipation, where everything is open and available but not ruined by the pressing crowd.

    The beginning of the semester is defined by people exploring themselves, trying to start anew. This is doubly true for the beginning of the academic year, when the light and warmth of the summer are still making their presence felt, and the clarity provided by three months' vacation meets the promise of all new courses untainted by the anxieties of years past. While the beginning of the spring term is defined by resolutions to do better—the gyms and dining halls are full-up with students trying to make up for past failures, by eating right, working out, waking up early, and so forth—the end of summer is an explosion on all fronts. Freshman are learning what it means to define oneself in the vacuum created by the absence of authority; sophomores and juniors are seeing the world with the veneer of experience (and taking advantage of freshman naïveté), making up for missed opportunities by exploring those places that went ignored in earlier years; and seniors break in the old favorites for the first time of a new year. The end of August is the true spring in a college town: no venue goes unvisited, no random adventure goes untaken, no resource or club goes unconsidered.

    Moving in early allowed us to get a jump on the lines. In the first days before move-in, the international students (real and fake), gained the jaded veneer that only occurs during mass transitions. "Student rate football tickets? Yeah, me and a bunch of the guys bought a block of ten consecutive seats a while back" (yesterday afternoon). "

  • Week 5 Day 1 - Making my peace

    Today's partner: Ben

    The project today was sort of forgettable, like the last couple days. It's been good to get so much practice with Rails, and today was fun - we used Capybara to write integration tests, then wrote code to build the appropriate elements and views to pass those tests, learning a lot about how Capybara and integration testing work in general - but it was another one of those days where ultimately I'll forget what, specifically, we did.

    Everything is just forming into a big ball of stuff in my head called "rails knowledge". It's kind of cool in one way, but in another: we're halfway through the curriculum, and a lot of it is a blur.

    Story time. When I was in AP Calculus, I had a hard time keeping up with the class, but the AP test was a solid wall in front of me that was a) well-defined, b) had plenty of information available and c) had important consequences. So, the week leading up to the test, I gathered as much practice material I could, and then in the two nights before the test, I cherry-picked the problems I was having the most trouble with and did them over and over until I could do them easily.

    The repetition drove the ideas into my memory, and to this day I can understand the concepts of calculus due largely to the intentional practice with a clear goal provided by that exam.

    In the past year or so, I've come to understand that my primary advantage compared to others is my memory. When I have sufficient context and sufficient reason, I can remember just about anything quickly. When I don't have reason, context, or practice, I'm just an average person, sort of.

    So with this rails stuff, I spent most of last night—the parts where I wasn't doing readings or tumblr posts or whatever—doing parts of the practice assessment, and came in this morning ready to graft more knowledge onto what I had been getting comfortable with. We were still slower than others today, but the difference is I didn't really care. We worked well together, our tests worked well, we wrote the auth model in under an hour (give or take), and we got a lot of knowledge, both core and ancillary, out of the lesson.

    Sure, I can look at the bonus work and look into "completing" this project perhaps over the weekend, but really what will I gain? If I am able to do the things that these projects ask in a more synthetic context - creating polymorphic associations, writing tests with good coverage, etc - then what am I really missing? It would be like going back to try to re-do the test you failed in the third grade… of course you'll be able to pass it now.

    This program, and TDD in general, really make me consider some things about how we educate in this country. You don't generally test every possible route through your application; instead, you perform unit tests on individual models, then you perform integration tests on inter-related structures. The former model would involve something like n^m tests, whereas the latter demands n+m tests - where n is the number of "objects" and m is the number of "relations".

    When educating, you don't need to test to see if someone knows how to multiply on a boat, how to multiply with a goat, how to multiply nine digit numbers and ten digit numbers and eleven digit numbers… you need to see if they know how to multiply digits, then to perform carry rules, then to do more complex operations… perhaps curricula should involve unit and integration testing, like TDD. It certainly feels like a/A is doing this with us.

    Tomorrow's another solo day, but more importantly it's the day of the assessment. I plan on doing it at least once end-to-end, and maybe focusing in on re-doing a couple hotspots before 9 am, but I'm feeling remarkably comfortable with myself at the moment. Let's see if it lasts.

    Two more days until the weekend, and more studying. :)

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