Sunday, June 02, 2013
I wrote in my blog yesterday that I was taking a philosophy course this summer. I have transferred my college credits to a new university, but I need to take a few core classes that weren't required at my previous university. Philosophy was an option for my humanities requirement, but there is another reason that has to do with someone who inspired me.
I graduated high school in the top 10% of my class, and like many of my classmates, I went directly into college. I chose to go to an engineering school for computer science, but I experienced some difficulties right out of the gate. For one, I discovered that not all public school education was created equal. I went to one of the poorer districts, and even though I graduated at the top of my class, I was behind when I started college. Many of my classmates who went to other school districts already had college credit through AP level classes. I was shocked to discover this; it was never an option given to me. I was very disappointed that I was never given the chance to even try for it.
I took a number of difficult classes: Intro to Chemistry, Economics, Pre-Calculus, Earth Sciences, and EPICS (which was our school's version of English, and did not transfer to my current university). I wish I had cut back my course load so I could devote more time on fewer subjects.
Then I hit bad luck when I got chicken pox in my second semester of my freshman year. I missed three weeks of school. I should have withdrawn from the semester and started over, but I was too stubborn. I thought I could make it up. I finished the semester, but it set me up badly for the remainder of my years.
I was doing really well in my computer science courses, though. My database structures professor took a great interest in my class project, and invited me to work with her on a paid project with the local police department to modernize their record keeping. After that project was completed, I was referred to work with the Computer Vision graduate department managing their computer infrastructure. I gained an interest robotics, and took courses in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.
My robotics professor was (is) one of the smartest women I have ever met. She held a bachelors in electrical engineering, a masters in mechanical engineering, and a doctorate in philosophy. Philosophy? It seemed out of place with her technical degrees. The more I learned about robotics, though, the more it made sense. In order to emulate intelligence, we first have to go back to the basic question: "What is intelligence?"
I started encountering difficulties in my personal life. That coupled with the rocky start at the beginning of college sent me spiraling into academic trouble. Both my database and robotics professors pulled me aside and asked me what was going on. They noticed a decline in my work that they both said they knew wasn't because of lack of ability. I was touched that they both cared enough to take this personal interest in me. I'm not going to explain it all here because it is personal, but I was clearly not in the right mental state to continue my studies. Unfortunately, both my professors ended up transferring to other colleges because of a very ineffective department head, so I was without my mentors.
It was a very painful decision, but I ended up leaving school. Some might ask, why not just press through? I couldn't. I was quite literally at the end of my mental rope. I needed to leave, so I went into work. With the great luck of my work I did with my database and robotics professors, I was able to good paying jobs even without a completed degree. I was able to pay the debts I had accrued and rebuild my internal spirit. I started taking a few classes at a time at a much slower pace as I could manage it. I took classes remotely, and also certification courses.
My last job ended when when my husband and I moved across country three years ago, and we thought this would be a good time for me to wrap this up. It's annoying that I am having to repeat a few things, but I have learned from my impatience from past experience. If I hadn't been in such a rush the first time, I might not have driven myself into burnout to the point where I could go no farther. But, things happen the way they are supposed to. If I hadn't crashed and burned, I would not have moved to Seattle to rebuild my life. If I hadn't moved to Seattle, I would not have met my husband.
So why philosophy? It came up as an option for my humanities requirement. A professor who had a great impact on me is still inspiring me. She thought it was worth getting a doctorate in, so I can at least complete the introductory course to see why. We have to write a research paper on a philosophical topic, and I am choosing to explore machine intelligence because of her influence.
Saturday, June 01, 2013
A few months ago, a Spark friend asked me to write about how my second spin at college is going. I wrote about why I'm going back to school in a previous blog, so I won't go into it in detail in here. In a nutshell, I've been working on my degree off and on for a long time.
I recently transferred my credits to a local university and have been taking classes since January. I'm obviously not the typical student. I actually have 95% of my Junior and Senior level classes completed. Because I transferred to a new school, I'm having to take a few core classes that weren't required at my old school.
I'm also 38, but at the school I'm attending, that actually isn't quite so odd. There's a guy in his 50s in my philosophy class. Most students are the traditional high school grads, but there are also more mature students who are seeking degrees for various reasons.
Last January I signed up for Calculus and English Composition. I couldn't convince the department to accept my English credit from my previous university. I completed Calculus a long time ago, but I haven't done it in so long, I decided I better take it again since I need it for my Physics credit remaining. I chose to look at it as a primer for getting back into the school mindset. I have taken mostly online and distant learning courses in the past decade with independent study, so returning to lectures took a little adjusting.
There were only a couple of instances where I felt uncomfortable or a little out of place.
On the first day of class, my professors made an adamant point that cell phones and texting were not allowed in class. This caught me off guard. Was this really a problem? Why go to class if you can't unplug for a 50 minute lecture? I found that this really was a problem, and several times I was annoyed by ringing or vibrating phones. The worst was when this happened during an exam.
In my Calculus lecture, my professor broke us up into groups for a mini lab at the start of the semester. When I sat down with my two teammates, the girl asked me in a very accusatory and unfriendly tone, "So what's your story?"
I said, "Excuse me?"
She said, "How long has it been since you've had a math class?" Very blunt and rude.
I replied, "A while. You?"
She said she received her psychology degree four years ago, decided to travel after graduation, and was now back in school for her Masters.
I said, "Oh. Good luck."
After her abrasiveness, I was underwhelmed by her achievements.
The professor gave us our project that we were to work on together. It's been at least a decade since I've formally worked with algebra, but surprising to me, I remembered what I needed to know about factoring a polynomial. I even showed the guy on my team a few details. The psych girl was staring off into space, and wasn't writing anything down. I asked her if she was doing ok. She said no. So I tried to help her out, but it was obvious that her algebra skills were non existent. Since her first words to me were very unwelcoming, I wasn't inclined to help her any further. Tough luck - better get a tutor. She ended up dropping the class after the second exam. I finished the class with an 'A'. (I thought I got a 'B' because I didn't think my final exam grade was high enough, so I was pleasantly surprised when I got my official semester grades!)
On the opposite end of the spectrum was a high school student who was taking the class for college credit. She sat behind me, and we worked together during lecture. We both showed each other mathematical tricks for working the problems. It was very collaborative. Interestingly, she was youngest person in class, and I was the oldest. I discovered that my memory of trigonometry was VERY rusty, and she was very helpful with reminding me of things I had forgotten. Trig was still fresh in her mind. She was exceedingly bright, and delightful.
The English composition class was easy. It was just reading and writing essays (little time consuming, but not hard). If we did the reading, the tests were a cakewalk. However, I was dismayed by some of the students, one girl in particular. You might remember me writing about the research paper we had to do. Some students were told to rewrite their papers. They were supposed to use five peer reviewed sources. Wikipedia is not a valid source! Well, that was this girl. She basically cried on her way out of class that she didn't think the grade was fair, with my prof yelling after her she was welcome to talk to him privately about it. I showed up to all the classes, did the readings, and turned in assignments on time. She had an excuse for almost all of the due dates on why she couldn't get it done. The printer jammed; her cable was down; email wasn't working; etc. In each case, my prof seemed to be over accommodating in allowing her to make it up, which really irritated me. I'm singling her out, but she wasn't the only one. There were a few others as well. I facepalmed on more than one occasion overhearing these excuses as I packed up my bag to leave class. I was an old lady thinking to myself, "And these are supposed to be the college grads of the future? Lord help us all." I ended up with an 'A' in this class, too.
I didn't want to take a three month break from school, so I'm currently taking a philosophy course over the summer for my humanities requirement. It has turned out to be a lot more difficult than I expected! I *almost* dropped the course because I panicked. We have daily quizzes, and I had no idea how to answer a question that was asked over our reading assignment. Yes, I had done the reading, and I thought I understood it, but I still couldn't answer the quiz question. After class, I immediately went to the registrar to pick up a drop slip. I was informed that I would not get a refund because the last day to drop was two days prior! I was ticked off! I decided to wait until after the first exam to decide whether I was just going to forfeit the money and bail. After I took the exam, I contemplated what would be the lowest grade I would accept before dropping. I settled on 75%. If it was below 75%, I would drop the class because even with doing all the readings and attending lecture, I still wouldn't be able to understand it. I got my exam back, hesitantly turned it over, and... it was a 92%!
Well, I guess I have to finish it now! I still don't think I understand it, though!
That's how things are going to date. I'm not taking a full course load, so I do have more time to work on the subjects. Part of my difficulties the first time through college was I took too many classes, and I wasn't able to do as well as I wanted. I'm not making that mistake again.
"Never avoid doing something because of the time it will take; the time will pass anyway." That is how I view my college work now. This is about me, and what I want to do for myself.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
I just noticed I wrote my last blog about needing to keep writing...then I stopped writing. Oops.
As you may remember, I am a big fan of Michael Pollan. I've been reading his newest book, "Cooked." As usual, Pollan's writing is invoking self reflection and chock full of concepts to think about. I mentioned in my last blog that I'm taking a philosophy course, and Pollan's book is surprisingly dovetailing with my class. The age old philosophical question, "What makes us human?" is usually something along the lines of "I think, therefore I am." However, Pollan uniquely suggests that "cooking" sets us apart from the animal kingdom. Well, it's true! No other animal steams, broils or bastes their dinner.
The book is really about how our declining health as a nation corresponds with fewer home cooked meals. I could not agree more.
I grew up a young girl as the heir apparent to the women's liberation movement from the 60s and 70s. Women marched, burned their bras, and changed American society to accept women in the workforce. We weren't going to be wards of our husbands anymore. Women tossed out their aprons and frying pans and traded it for a three piece business suit and a briefcase. I saw Dr. Sally Ride become the first woman astronaut, and Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman vice president nominee. My supermodel Barbie was a doctor or a lawyer, and she earned the pink Corvette herself, gosh darn it. My Barbie was no Paris Hilton - in my world she was a self made woman.
Somewhere along the way, I took this to the extreme. Since the saying "Women belong in the kitchen" was an archaic pejorative, I never took an interest in cooking. Embarrassingly, there was a time when I seemed to think being a terrible cook was a badge of honor.
So I became obese eating chain restaurant food. Cooking took 'too much time,' or 'cost more money than eating out.'
I don't think it was ever a conscious thought, but I wonder if there was a subconscious aversion to cooking as beneath me as a feminist. (BTW, I mean feminist as a female who believes in equal rights, not as the slander that it has unfortunately become.)
Would a home cooked chicken cause me to set back the women's rights movement 60 years? Well, I had roast chicken last night, and we all seem to be doing fine today!
After I gained 40lbs, at some point I realized home cooking was my only path back to good health. I bought a set of knives and a frying pan.
The rest, my friends, is history.
Even while holding my corporate jobs, I cooked. It didn't need to take nearly as much time as I once believed. 15-30 minutes on most occasions.
And no, a box of macaroni and cheese is not cooking. A perfect grilled steak takes practice, but there's not much easier or faster to cook than beef stir fry.
If thinking makes us human, then THINK about where your food comes from and how it relates to your health. When I cook, I make food with ingredients, not formulas.
I lost the weight and regained control of my health. Cooking was my salvation out of obesity.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
I survived my finals, and I'm back! I'm getting an A and a B for my classes, and I can't complain too much about that. I have a short break until I start the summer sessions next week. I'll be taking philosophy and global economics courses.
I have to admit that I didn't do so great sticking to my routine in the past few weeks. My eating is the same as always, but I fell off the wagon with my exercise. I've been feeling like a blob. Yesterday I got into my workout clothes and took a bike ride. I felt energized and my spirits lifted almost immediately. So I'm back in the saddle again!
I've been doing some introspect regarding why diet and exercise blogging seems to keep me on track with my goals. I have not followed the Spark nutrition plan in over two years, but my writing keeps me on the straight and narrow when it comes to fitness. I think it's because if I put it out there, then I feel some obligation to follow through. Although I've never met any of you, I don't want to let anyone down. I really want my message to be, "Hey, I lost 40lbs and kept it off! And you can do it too!"
But in a less infomercial kind of way.
I have lost and kept it off, though. I really dislike how the media seems to portray weight rebound as inevitable. I don't think there is anything special or different about me compared to anyone else. I have failed as much as I have succeeded in trying to get here. But every positive change I made I have carried forward with me.
Reading blogs from other Spark members also seems to build enthusiasm. For those who are succeeding, it makes me want to join them. For those who are struggling, I want to encourage them. Though I'm going to practice more thinking before writing as I suffer from chronic foot-in-mouth disease.
Starting this week, I'm back on track with food and fitness. I have a few topics that I've been itching to write about.
Let's go Summer!
Monday, April 22, 2013
Things are going great so far with my body reboot. I've only been able to get two strength training workout days in per week, so it's going to take a little longer to see gains there. However, my low intensity cardio and low grain diet are doing a good job of trimming fat off. Lift heavy things and lots of slow movement, ya know? The scale hasn't changed much, but I have seen a noticeable change in my measurements.
I'm going to be off Spark for the next couple of weeks, though. This is the last week of classes, and I have finals next week. I have A's in both of my classes, but now isn't the time to take anything for granted. I'm going to have to put in the work to finish strong.
I'm going to continue working on diet and exercise, though, because lifestyle habits means it happens no matter what else goes on in our lives. If I want to keep what I have gained so far, then I have to keep doing it.
So see you all in a couple of weeks!
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