system shock

I can breathe now, but not for long.

I sit here on a Saturday following five of the most strenuous weeks that I have faced so far here. I only have four classes, but they haven't been easy and show no signs of letting up. My most recent project was submitted about 24 hours ago, giving me this opportunity to regroup and take care of some other matters before the next one goes out on Monday. Even in the absence of any part-time employment this semester, I frequently find myself strapped for time. Of course, all this is just getting started.

time macromanagement

In past semesters, I micromanaged my time: with as many as two part-time jobs, club activities, and a variety of classes, I tried to devote a little time to each class every night. Now, most of my classes are project-driven, foregoing rote learning in favor of large projects and opportunities to demonstrate knowledge in a wider array of methods. For this reason, I devote much larger blocks of time -- from two hours to an entire night -- for individual projects. As expected, OS is occupying the lion's share of my time, but there are days when I can focus more on other classes. Sometimes it gets to be a bit much: I have pulled two all-nighters already this semester, compared with three combined in the previous five semesters.

Looking at my schedule from a year ago, intial experiences are highly deceiving. I did not include the 22 hours per week that I invested into two desk jobs. Desk work is certainly not the most grueling pursuit, but I gave up time that could have been used more productively to make some extra money per week. This semester, my schedule is much more relaxed in terms of work and classes: without any time sitting behind a desk or answering student e-mail, my official obligations are limited to just one class two days a week, and three classes on the other three days. This is further complicated by the fact that my first class on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starts at 10:30 AM, but my only class on Tuesday and Thursday starts at 3:00 PM. So far, this has led to two instances where a sleepless night is followed by twelve or more hours of sleep the next night. I honestly don't think I could handle a double- or triple-all-nighter, as trumpeted by students and faculty alike, and I certainly don't intend to try it out. There comes a point at around 3:00 or 4:00 AM when I feel that either I have the energy to go the distance, or that I'm completely drained and must postpone work until the morning.

single life

Last semester, I had a roommate who would often stay up until 2:00 AM along with me, although he spent most of those extra hours playing games while I took care of my homework. Usually at around 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning, he would announce that he was going to sleep, prompting me to either relocate to our living room or agree with him. In a sense, he helped keep me to a somewhat regular sleep habit. In December, he decided to move next door to take the place of a friend who was graduating after four and one-half years. As luck would have it, I am still occupying this double room all by myself, leading to no shortage of personal space and room for additional stuff. If not for the lack of sheets on what was once my roommate's bed, you wouldn't know that only one person lived here. Still, without anyone to inadvertently wake me up in the late morning or to encourage me to sleep at night, my schedule is becoming more and more erratic. Sacrificing sleep to study is never a good idea, but it is becoming a bad habit.

There's still the off-chance that Housing Services will place me with a roommate who, for some reason, found it necessary to move in the closing weeks of the academic year. From experience, this is unlikely to happen. Three people, two male and one female, found themselves alone in double rooms on my floor during freshman year. Only one was paired with a new roommate in the very last weeks of the semester, for reasons I still don't understand. Obviously, next academic year will be another story entirely. I can pull someone in as I did in this past year, but that's a decision that I can't easly make right now.

behind the times again

As mentioned above, I'm working later and longer on just about every class. However, my final Japanese class continues to be a struggle. As my other classes are shifting towards projects, Japanese continues to revolve around regular exercises. As a result, I have once again been devoting less time than I should, leading to overdue and eventually abandoned assignments. As long as I continue to do well on larger things such as essays and quizzes, this early struggle will be counteracted as time goes on.

the road abroad

Despite two exams and a variety of other commitments this week, one goal is key: get at least one study abroad application submitted. The six organizations that the Modern Languages department recommends for study in Japan are a veritable alphabet soup of choices: HIF, IES, ICU, IUC, JCMU, and PII. While chances of me applying to more than two of these are slim to nil, I need to get the paperwork moving while there is still time. With luck, I'll know where I'm going in a month's time. I'm very excited to be able to do this, and look forward to a great experience wherever I end up.

class by class

The early returns are mixed at best, but there's still hope.

15-412: Operating System Design and Implementation

As expected, this course is taking up an extraordinary amount of time, not surprising considering that it is worth the most units of credit out of any undergraduate course in the School of Computer Science. Fortunately, my project partner -- and also my TA from Algorithms last semester -- is always willing to work on the projects and certainly knows what he's doing. My biggest concern through the first two projects is that I haven't been doing enough to prepare for these projects, leading me to be dragged through the crucial planning phases. The homework problem sets are reasonable right now, but the infamous midterm exam looms in a few weeks' time.

36-247: Statistics for Lab Sciences

Dropped. I didn't need this class, and it didn't need me: in the first lecture, the professor expressed concern at the number of computer science majors forcing humanities majors onto a waiting list. Of course, most of those computer science majors are taking the course to satisfy a requirement for a humanities minor or double-major. In any event, this course requires a couple of hours a week for homeworks and labs, and that is time that would be better spent on classes that actually matter for my core curriculum.

80-311: Computability and Incompleteness

Every semester, I tell myself that I won't be bothering with any more modern mathematics or theory. Then, I discover that I still need to. This course features weekly problem sets about concepts that I don't fully understand, dry lectures in a cramped lecture hall, and abstract subject matter that does not interest me personally. This could be the biggest question mark on my schedule this semester, but there's still room to drop it and stay at the minimum courseload to remain a full-time student.

82-372: Advanced Japanese II

Still as difficult as last semester, but the schedule is much clearer this time around. The professor is still willing to help, and often sends out helpful e-mails with reminders about upcoming events and assignments. I failed to complete a few assignments last week, but none of them were major. With luck, I can finish out the first unit successfully.

82-374: Technical Japanese

An interesting course: so far we have tackled subjects like computer history, artificial intelligence, and bio-engineering -- all in an immersive Japanese learning environment. The class is very small: just eight people, nearly all of them at the advanced or higher level of Japanese. This is the longest native-Japanese course that I have taken so far, at 80 minutes per class, and the discussion-based nature of the course makes it necessary for me to be alert and contributing for the duration.

an early finish?

My minor is finished after this semester, and I only have to take two computer science electives to finish my B.S. in Computer Science. This means that I face an unlikely decision: do I stay for the full year in 2002-03, or will I declare myself finished after a mere seven semesters? I could also take additional courses in computer science or modern languages, or even three additional physics courses to gain a second minor. The final decision on this won't come for another month or so, but I'm surprised just to see the opportunity present itself.

Back to work I go.