Day 17 and 18: SNCURCS – State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium

So I didn’t post yesterday because I was travelling. I was at SNCURCS this weekend (apparently it is pronounced “snickers”, which was news to me) to present some work that I did at my REU last summer. I was pretty nervous because I thought that I didn’t remember the work very well since its been a while since last summer.

As it turned out, the talk went fairly well, even though I had to speed through my slides and risk losing people due to the time constraints. I also realized that \today in LaTeX does in fact print the current date, but only at the last time you compile it. So it ended up the date on my slides showed up as the day before, but no big deal. The group of people that I was presenting with also did graph theory related projects, so I thought that was pretty cool. I saw an interesting presentation  about quantifying and mapping not only our social networks, but also our “meta-network”, which includes shared knowledge and the like. Network science sounds like pretty interesting stuff after hearing him talk about it.

My problem that I presented on was based on a variation of the game Nim but played on mathematical graphs. Instead of removing tokens from a pile we can remove a number of edges connected to a single vertex in the graph. The player that removes the last edge is the winner. We used these rules to analyze and determine the Sprague-Grundy number, or nimber of different states in the game and different types of graphs. I’m planning to do a whole post on this one of these days.

A side note: I’m realizing that this post-every-day schedule has led to some good ideas and writing experience but also has led to (in my opinion) a drop in quality. It was a learning experience for sure, but I’m not going to push myself to get out a post every day for the rest of the month I think. I have graduate school applications and school and work that I need to attend to. I’ll still be posting, I’ll just save up until I have a few good ones. Thanks for reading!

Day 16: Research Things

Tomorrow I’m giving a talk about my research. I’m cozied up in my hotel room, and ready for a good sleep and hot breakfast in the morning if we’re being honest. It wasn’t a bad drive down here (3 hours), but I felt like I was racing the sun the whole way, because I was arriving just as it had gotten dark. Nature always wins.

Things haven’t been going too well personally, but giving this presentation tomorrow will be good research experience. It’s called Champion Spiders in the Game of Graph Nim, and involves a modification of a classic game to give it a graph theory bent. It’s pretty interesting stuff.

Come back tomorrow and I’ll talk about it in more detail.

Day 15: Hangman?

Not feeling like writing much today either. It’s been a tough day.

Making a hangman solving program would be pretty cool. I guess its sort of like an anagram solver in reverse, if that makes sense. We don’t have the word, we are trying to create the word based on a few known letters. Determining what letters are most common in certain positions and finding patterns of words (“ing”, “ed”, “ion”) would be helpful. Compare the current game state with a dictionary to make guesses about the word. Not really a fleshed out idea. Probably coming back to this one.

I think its interesting to think of how we can implement computer programs to “solve” different types of games.

Day 13: The Rise of the Hipster Nerds

As someone who has grown up identifying with the “nerd” subculture, it puzzles and  even offends me to see the rise of “nerd” as a cool, quirky, or fashionable thing. If people were more accepting of nerds in general, that would be one thing, but I feel like the new concept of “nerd” is at best a misunderstanding and at worst a mockery of nerd culture.

I grew up being bullied, teased, outcast because I relished learning and did well at school. In university, I’m one of maybe 3 or 4 female computer science students in a department of hundreds. I’m not sure if it has to do with the hipster movement, but suddenly being “nerdy” seems to be the new hip thing. And not nerdy in the way that I think of it, you know, being intellectual and successful and ambitious. It seems to have transformed into a cutesy fashion statement that companies slap on to any product they can find and convince young girls its “cool”. There are several things wrong with this definition: first, it does not mirror the actual thinking that I’ve come to associate with. It has become reduced to a superficial stereotype. We’ve had the reality show Beauty and the Geek, where beautiful women try to make “nerds” into more “normal” people, and one of the most popular shows on television is The Big Bang Theory, which tells us to laugh at a group of nerds and their ineptness at tasks other people may find normal. We also have simplistic associations that anyone with glasses is automatically labeled a “nerd”. And that’s just not how it works. I’m not trying to be elitist, but I take pride in being a nerd and its weird to be to see these people trying to emulate “nerdiness” for the purposes of social approval or fashion.

Another disturbing example, addressing several facets of the problem I have with this, can be found here:

I doubt that this woman truly “loves nerds”. We can also see the sexualization of something as traditionally innocent as “nerdiness”. Comparing the men’s and women’s costumes is especially disappointing. Quoting the description for the costume, “They say men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses but in this costume you will surely prove them wrong.” Um…here’s a concept, how about we “make passes” at women with interesting personalities and intelligence, rather than base our opinions on what someone is wearing? Better yet, let’s just not make passes at all. Actually getting to know people is pretty cool.

Bonus nerd fashion:

It just seems sad to me. While some people might think that it’s getting more exposure and promoting the nerd image, I feel like its the opposite. But this fad will pass, as do all fads. When can I go back to being an outcast?

Day 12: Ethical Issues Concerning Artificially Intelligent Agents

If one thinks back as little as twenty years, or even ten years and considers the technology, it is easy to see that there has been an exponential increase in all sorts of technological research. Computers are becoming increasingly prevalent in our everyday lives. Most people have laptops, tablets, smartphones, or some combination thereof. Even cars and some refrigerators have small computers in them. With all of this comes an increase in our knowledge of automation and artificial intelligence. We’ve already got machines to do our laundry and dishes for us, so that begs the question: what’s next?

Google has created a fleet of self-driving cars that are slowly hitting the streets. Will taxi-drivers soon be a thing of the past as well? While all this innovation is great to see, one must step back and consider the effect that this has on the American workforce. In the self-driving car example, thousands of taxi drivers that depend on the job to make a living would be out of a job. But the same thing happened to many independent seamstresses and cobblers with the advent of factories. With even more jobs being automated by these increasingly “intelligent” machines, is human labor destined to be completely replaced by machines? Futhermore, if we can create intelligent robots to do our work for us, should we?

I choose to reject sensationalist views of AI researchers and enthusiasts who claim that the rise of superintelligence will usher in an era of fear and tyranny when the machines seek to overtake the human race. On the other hand, I believe that autonomous robotic agents can be beneficial to us as a race. If the robots do end up taking over menial labor jobs as some claim, then this opens up new job fields to program and oversee these new intelligences. We will have moved to a more technologically advanced way of life.

Day 11: On Burnout

So I was thinking about things this weekend. I came to the conclusion that I really have way too much on my plate. I’m stressed out and busy all the time, but I don’t know what I can cut or do better to ease this. I have a history of overcommitting myself, and its coming back to bite me in the butt once again. Let’s see, to start with, I’m taking 17 credit hours of classes, along with about 15 hours per week of work, I volunteer at the high school robotics club on Wednesday afternoons, I often drive my roommate to and from work because she can’t get around easily, and somehow I’m supposed to find time to study and do homework in there as well. Let’s not start on graduate school applications (I don’t want to talk about it…) Oh yeah, and having some time to eat and sleep would be nice too.

I’ve tried managing my time better, I’ve tried doing my most important work during my best hours of the day (I have learned I can’t get *anything* done if I’m sleepy). I just can’t seem to find anything that works for me. I guess I should probably drop the robotics club but I need something that seems relevant for my grad school applications that I’m having a miserable time completing. Everything just seems really overwhelming right now. I’ll get back on track tomorrow, or the next day maybe. I’ll be fine. I just feel like I am constantly going and going and I can’t seem to find a break. Winter break can’t come quickly enough.