Chain Bridge, Budapest

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oh, That's Right, I'm Here for Math.

Yesterday was the first day of math class, the primary part of the BSM program. There was a buzz at the College International Building, as everyone mentally prepared for the start of actual schoolwork. If people still used regular pencils, they would have been sharpening them. I arrived at the school for my 10 a.m. class AL1: Introduction to Algebra. The class is scheduled for two hours from 10 a.m. until 12 noon on Mondays and Fridays. The professor informed us that there wasn't as much class time as there appeared to be, since the slotted four hours per week includes three 15-minute breaks and a 45-minute period for the professor's office hour time.
The Algebra class looks promising. Its the only class that I need to take; it's fulfilling my Algebraic Structures I requirement back at the University of Texas, which I dropped this past Fall semester after I couldn't follow the teacher at all. It wasn't just myself, either. That class started with 13 people and when I left it was at 8, and I don't think I was the last to leave. The other person in BSM who is a student at UT, Christy, took that Algebra class a year ago at UT from the same professor and got an A, though she is so uncertain about what she learned that she is also in the BSM Intro to Algebra class with me re-learning everything anyway. So I guess I had made the right call. This BSM professor seems nice, well-prepared, and matter-of-fact, which are all good things when you are teaching a course as fundamental and important to math majors as college algebra.
The other class that I had on Monday was MPS: Mathematical Problem Solving, scheduled between 12 noon and 2 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays. I had tried to rush to get a quick sandwich during the 15 minute break between classes, but showed up to MPS five minutes late. I walked into the small room filled with a dozen students and the professor, who handed me a problem sheet and asked me to work on the first three. Everyone else was hunched over the problem sheet also, working out the simple number theory problems. As I caught my breath, I thought back to Professor Starbird's number theory class at UT that I took my sophomore year. I thought about the prime factorization of numbers and wrote down some answers when suddenly the professor played a little tune on the tiny wooden ocarina flute that he had hanging around his neck on a string the whole time. Time was up. We went over the problems as a class, the professor keeping us transfixed on the math at work. While I had stared at the clock during algebra, I didn't notice an hour and a half go by at all. At first I had my suspicions about registering for MPS, since I'm a senior and the problem solving techniques would be more beneficial for underclassmen or juniors. I was so impressed that I've considered keeping it which means taking five math courses along with intensive intermediate Hungarian. Looking back after a day I don't think I can handle all of the schoolwork, and if I had to drop a class it would probably be MPS even though its by far the most fun, but I would at least try to audit it.
After MPS I went up to Anna's office to talk to her about my bed frame. My IKEA bed doesn't have attached planks to lay the mattress onto. It comes with loose "ladder" of planks that are laid onto the frame to support a mattress. The problem is that the planks on my bed have been whittled down and are falling through the frame onto the floor. Now my mattress is on the floor next to my couch. But I'm not complaining. It could be worse. I could be in Serbia. Anna will talk to my Hungarian landlady and have it fixed soon.
At the end of the day several dozen BSM students sat in on the optional classical algebra review course. The review is taught Monday and Thursday afternoons for the first three weeks of class and no grades are assigned. The professor described the material as "everything that Gauss knew when he was 19" and publishing some of the most important theorems in mathematics. I thought I know what was up, so I went. Plus my algebra is terrible anyway.
I went by the post office after school to mail in my Texas absentee ballot application to the Travis County Clerk. I had already sent one last Friday, but a subsequent conversation with my Uncle Ben Larry and Papa Max enlightened me that I had forgotten to write in which party's ballot I wanted to receive for the primary election. I asked Ben Larry if the county office would do me a favor and send me both ballots. He said "No way, Jose."

Tuesday, today, ran very similar to Monday. I got to school at 8 a.m. for my CO1B: Introduction to Combinatorics. The "B" signifies the normal pace of the course, as opposed to the other "A" course which is fast paced. I initially thought I should take the fast paced course, but then I realized that I might end up taking four or maybe five math classes instead of just three, so I'm opting for the slower scenic route that takes me around the mountain instead of through it. The class appears alright. The professor likes to illustrate how the theorems work instead of just showing us the formulas, which he had given to us in the handout anyway. This class meets from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The second class I took today was GRT: Graph Theory. I had heard that the class was very interesting, that the professor was great, that graph theory is really important and applicable somewhere, and that the class was really hard. So I wasn't surprised when it all turned out to be true. The professor walked into class, said hi to everyone, and quickly passed out his contact information. He said that "students always ask me 'how hard is your class?' but I don't like answering that question because I can't give an accurate answer. It's hard for me to think like I'm in your shoes. So, let's begin." and he started lecturing immediately. He didn't speak so fast as much as not take any rest in between topics. His chalk writing kept up with his speech and I took notes as fast as I could while trying to understand what he was saying. I've had teachers that move through material quickly before, but I don't think two months of slouching over winter break got me in the mood to focus. Once I've had a few days of math class, I'll be able to keep up with him. Plus the material is all new to me. I've never learned anything close to this before so its all fresh. I definitely want to keep this class even if it means dropping something else.
I only have two more new classes to take this week. Tomorrow I have NUT: Topics in Number Theory at 12 noon and on Friday I have my first HUN2A: Intensive Intermediate Hungarian at 2 p.m. Today Christy gave back my Literary Austin anthology that I had lent to her. She said it made her homesick and couldn't read it anymore. I looked in it just now and I completely understand.

1 comment:

  1. So you'd recommend Graph Theory? I'm deciding between that and Commutative Algebra... and I'm a little worried that I missed the first day of Graph Theory >.<