Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Flexibility at work

When I started working again this January, all I was told is that I'm starting off at 25 hours a week and that I can make that amount go up or down (between 20-40 hours/week) as I personally needed it to, which of course is awesome. But I never signed any document or contract or anything that said "we offer you this position for this amount of money working for this long", which is odd. So basically, I had no idea how long my internship was going to last for (I thought it would end in May). In the past few weeks my team has been interviewing candidates for a summer internship. I was worried about that, because I thought that they were going to hire me as their summer intern, like they did last year.

So at work today I confronted my boss and asked him how long my current internship is for. His response? "However long you want." I was like seriously O_o ? He told me that he felt he could pretty much convince his boss to continue letting me work there on this internship for however long I wanted to, especially since I've already signed my full-time offer to work there. Its just crazy (but in a good way).

Also this week I've bumped up my official load at work to 30 hours a week, partly because of money and partly because I was already starting to drift to working more than 25 hours a week. It means I have less time in the week for school work, but I honestly don't give a crap about school right now. Also my manager is mandating that I start attending a meeting on Monday mornings now (I have been working TWTh so far this year, and I have classes on M and F). I told him that it would be very difficult for me to make the meeting, so he forced the meeting to be pushed back half an hour earlier just for me. It makes attending my Mondays much more difficult, but whatever.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A long rant

There's something that I want to bitch about tonight, and that is my theoretical/computational neuroscience course. It is pissing the hell out of me. Why? Well first of all the lecture slides provided by the prof suck. And I mean they suck hard. He introduces variables into his equations everywhere and doesn't explain them. Some are just constants, but he doesn't give us any clue what the values of those constants typically are! This is frusterating as hell when it comes time to do the homework. And half the time I can't figure out what the crap his equations mean. Normally you'd think x^2 would be the square of a value y, right? Oh no no no! x^2 is the second input vector to a network. Where's the damn bold-face font or little arrow thing that clearly states "Hi! I'm a vector!" And since when did superscripts get used for things other than exponents? This is just the tip of the iceburg people. Not only are his conventions non-standard and lacking vital information about the equation, but his conventions aren't even consistent either! In the same context as the previous x^2 I talked about, there is also a y^2 which isn't a vector, but rather now the super script is supposed to indicate that that is the second element in the vector y. You can not even fathom the pain I have to go through just to understand a simple equation in this course. There is no reference text either, and Google/Wikipedia usually doesn't help much since the stuff we're studying is so esoteric. I've complained to the professor about this once before, and today to the TA, but I don't think the prof realizes how serious of a problem this is. (The professor himself isn't a bad guy though and I don't hate him, although sometimes I wish he was a bad guy so I could hate him). The homework assignments are also disgustingly vague. For example, one particular problem was "code a BCM neuron with 2 linear independent inputs". Okay.....but what the hell do you want to see for the output? A graph? A truthtable? A weight evolution? WHAT!? I hate assignments that have such vague problem statements like that.

I think the material in the class is actually kind of cool, but I feel so frusterated when I do the homework or study for it that I hate it. I hate this class! This morning when I was working on a homework assignment I was beginning to consider dropping it just out of sheer frusteration, even though dropping it would make it even mroe difficult for me to graduate in August than it already is. My procrastination and complete-ness of the work I do has been going downhill for a while now, but they have sunk to an all time low with this class. I just hate doing the work so much. It's no fun when I spend 80-90% of my time on a homework trying to figure out what the hell the professor is saying in his lecture notes, or what he wants me to do in the homework. I've been putting off these homework assignments until late the night before, or the morning before it is due. And it's not like I'm too busy. Hell, I had my entire Spring break to do it, and it was in the back of my mind, but I never did it. It's so bad now that it's almost like I physically can not get myself to do it until the last minute, or even after the last minute!

On the subject of procrastination/motivation, I've been thinking about that a lot lately. In high school and while I was at Purdue, I was (usually) very motivated and rarely procrastinated. My first semester at UT (Fall 2004) I was the same, and I studied hard then. And now thinking back to it, it was sometime in the first quarter of 2005 that my motivation/procrastination for school work began going down hill. But what I don't understand is, why? What changed me? Is it because I started working at Freescale in January 2005 and somehow that unconciously began lowering the amount of time and effort I devote for school work? I can't think of what else it might be. Why didn't I get back into doing well on my school work in August last year after I became a full student again? Was it because I was so burnt out, or maybe even if I wasn't burnt out the same thing would have happened? I mean, I don't feel burnt out right now, and my school work ethic is lower than ever. That might partially be because I realize now that grades aren't that important for grad school, and especially since I already have accepted a job offer with Freescale. (On the other hand though, these neuroscience classes are important if I want to apply for a neuroscience program again in the future).

I want to get it all back. I want to be like I was in 2004 and earlier in my life. Those were the times where I worked hard and enjoyed it (at least to some degree). I felt happy and I was content with my life. I had a good, healthy amount of self-confidence. I felt like I was really learning, and I felt like I was an intelligent person. Now it's all upside-down. I still work hard, but not as hard as I used to. I get no enjoyment out of any of the work I do now, except for working on Allacrost (although lately that isn't as much fun for me either). My self-confidence hasn't been this low since my early days of high school. I feel more and more stupid and that I'm unable to design solutions to problems in a timely/efficient manner that used to be a piece of cake for me. And one thing I really don't like about it is even now people keep telling me I'm smart. My boss at work tells me that. A lot of my relatives gave me that kind of praise over winter break. NO! No I am not! Not right now anyway. I know that I am where I am now because I used to be intelligent in addition to being a hard worker, but now it's like I'm trapped in a hell of mental anguish. Imagine what it would be like if you were an average or below-average student in elementary school, and then suddenly got thrown into senior high school classes. This is often how I feel these days, and it is a horrible feeling. Even the nice girl I met at the sleep clinic said that to me at one point when we were sharing with each other what we do (I wasn't trying to brag or anything; I never brag about myself).

Actually, meeting that girl helped me realize something. She made me realize how lonely I am. I mean I have people I know at school, at marathon practice, and at work that I talk to and occasionally meet for lunch, or play a game of volleyball or something. Technically I guess they are my friends, but this girl made me feel like I didn't have a friend in the world. I think I feel this way because I can't just call up someone and say "Hey, want to go see a movie?" or something equivalent. My weekends I spend hole'd up in my apartment working on Allacrost, or just reading/watching random things online (I'm an official Wikipedia addict, and lately I've also picked up the habit of watching tons of videos on Google video). It's not that I don't want to go out, it's that I don't feel I have that kind of relationship with anyone. I've never been very good at making friends, and after moving to a new place it usually takes me a long time (several months to a couple years) before I can find some friends that I enjoy hanging out with. But a day or two after meeting that girl, I was just so pathetic. I was so lonely and desperate for companionship. I was checking facebook, myspace, and craigslist looking for random people I thought I might like. I don't think I've ever felt that lonely before.

But anyway, back to the girl. Yeah, I guess I must really like her more than I thought I already did. It's not that she's on my mind 24/7 (she was for a day or so). I don't know. I guess it's because she was incredibly nice and I felt so connected to her. I've been thinking about calling her when she's at work and asking to see her again. I'm afraid to though, for several reasons. First, I know she already has her own friends and I guess I'm just intimidated by that. Second, I'm afraid that she might not turn out to be who I think she is. I mean I don't know that much about her, so after meeting her I kind of built up a model and filled in the missing parts with what I would like her to be, and I'm afraid of finding out who she really is. For example, if she's a smoker, heavy drinker, or one of those girls that likes to party and go hang out in bars/clubs, that's a huge negative thing for me (she doesn't seem like she would, but you never know). One strange thing though is I can't remember her face. Honestly. Even though we were together for a few hours and I saw her sitting there talking to me. All I can remember is she had thick, long black hair, she was hispanic, and she had a necklace with a cross on it. There are other people that I met there and I can't remember what they looked like either. Forgetting names is one thing (and I did forget her name at least 20 times), but not remembering a person's face is totally different. Honestly, it's scaring me.

Okay, I should shut up now. Sorry this was such a long rant (if you read the entire thing, you are either really bored or..... really bored). I just wanted to say some of those things.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

ERROR: No signal

So this week I had my sleep study, and some rather interesting things were learned from it. I had two tests scheduled: one where they monitor my sleeping habits at night, and another where they monitor me as I take several 20 minute naps throught the day. I went in on Tuesday night at 9PM and got all wired up. It was rather...odd I guess. I had about 10 electrodes attached to various places on my head. 5 on the back in my head, two behind my hears, and a few on my face. I also had two placed on my legs to check if I have restless legs while sleeping. And then they placed two more on my chest as well to monitor breathing I think. I also had to wear two belts, one around my chest and another around my stomach. Finally, I had a "flo" device strapped around my face and put just below my nose to monitor whether I breathe through my nose or mouth, and I had another device (I forgot the name) taped to my finger tip to monitor blood oxygen levels. With all this stuff they could monitor my EEG, EKG, EMG, EOG, and maybe some more E*Gs too.

Anyway, so after I was all strapped up they had me lay down and attempted to callibrate the equipment. But surprisingly my EEG signal was incredibly weak, almost as if it wasn't there at all. At first they suspected a loose ground or reference wire ('ground' in a human is the bone by the way) but messing with that didn't help. Then they suspected it might be the computer of the room I was in, so they asked me to switch rooms. That still didn't help. Then they tried replacing the electrode box, the electrodes themselves, the wires, practically everything and *still* couldn't get an acceptable signal. They called "the big boss" trying to figure out what the heck was wrong, and after a while they moved me to a third room. After messing around a little, they finally got a signal out of me. Relieved, they started the calibration experiments (where I had to do things like look up and down, clench my teeth, move my legs, etc). During one of them my signal went dead again though. :( They scratched their heads and speculated that it would stabilize again after I layed down and tried to fall asleep, but after 10 minutes they still didn't have a signal at which point they said that we were going to have to re-schedule for another night. I got unwired and spent the night there since it was already 1AM at that point (and the beds were really comfortable). It took some scrubbing in the shower to get all of the electrode paste off of my hair though. They told me they thought it was some major equipment failure and apologized, and told me that nothing like this has ever happened before.

The next day (Wednesday) I got a call from "the big boss" who said that he went through and tested all of the equipment and computers and that everything should be working 100% now. So I agree to go in at 8PM that night to try again. After getting all wired up, the same problem occured (very weak signal on my EEG). They try everything they could again, switching rooms and everything and still couldn't figure out what was wrong. They asked me if I've had any surgery or any metal plates in my head, because I had so much artifact (read: noise) in my signals. I told them I didn't, but that I have had severe cranial trauma and brain damage back in 1996 (I was 14 at the time). After hearing that they tried removing my laptop from the room to see if that would help. Strangely enough, the signal did improve a little after it was moved to the opposite side of the facility (even though it was off!), but it still wasn't enough. They moved me back into my original room and attached an additional two electrodes to my forehead (as if I didn't already have enough). They finally got a signal after that, but it was strange. So they had to try attaching different wires to different sockets during the calibration experiments and finally got a solution. I had trouble falling asleep that night though and didn't sleep very well at all.

The next morning they woke me up at 7. Actually I was already up at that point and they could tell by my brain waves (is that cool or what!?). Then I started the next round of testing and they removed the two belts, the flow, and the blood-oxygen monitor thing. These tests consisted of having me stay awake for an hour and fourty minutes, then attempting to nap for 20 minutes. Even though I was pretty tired, I couldn't fully fall asleep during any of the 4 naps I took. At about 3:30 on Thursday (today) I finally finished all the tests, got unwired, and finally came back home.

So what did I learn out of all of this (about myself)? There were two interesting things:
1) I am extremely sensitive to electromagnetic devices. In fact, I also discovered that I can sense/hear certain devices when other people can't. I have a sixth sense! :D
2) My brain is wired "differently" than most humans. Fear my newly discovered power you mortals!

Despite that expereince sounding like a pain in the ass, it really wasn't that bad at all. I mean, I was laying in bed most of the time and got to watch TV during a lot of it (I overloaded on the History channel :D), and the people were really nice and friendly. There was one girl there who I really liked a lot. She was also an undergraduate at UT and we had a lot in common. She was the one who worked with me the most on the first night, and she was there the second night but I didn't get to talk to her as much as I would have liked to. She was super sweet though and also really smart. Not to mention she was very beautiful as well. :) I didn't properly get to say good-bye to hear the second night so I left her a note before I left this afternoon thanking her. I also left her my phone number because she told her she was apartment hunting and I told her I lived in a great place that was close to campus and affordable, but didn't tell her the details. But honestly, I left my number more for the reason of wanting to get to know her more, so I hope she calls. (She called me earlier yesterday before my study to ask if I setup an appointment and if I would be coming in that night). Mmm yeah. She's really nice. ^_^ Too bad this is real-life, because otherwise I might be able to e-pimp her. >_>

Monday, March 13, 2006

Me so sleepy

Lately I've been feeling very...dizzy. The other day I was thinking of what my typical week is like. On Mondays and Fridays I take neuroscience classes. Tuesday thru Thursday I develop software for a microprocessor developement company using advanced data analysis techniques from machine learning. And on Saturday and Sunday, I manage and develop an open source RPG. No wonder I'm so dizzy. All this context switching is screwing with my brain. I'm getting all these concepts from across all these different fields mangled together. Yeesh.

Anyway, so on Friday last week I saw a neurologist about some problems I've been having. I officially cited: difficulty with high-level cognition, problems with concentration and memory, "time distorion" (things that happened yesterday feel like they happened a week ago, and so on), and constant sleepiness and over sleeping. The initial guess was that I have narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. They did a quick test of my somatic nervous system (the part of our nervous systems that controls vital functions like heart rate, breathing, etc.). The test was pretty lame actually. It was just a bunch of different breathing exercises that lasted for 15 minutes. But the interpretation by the computer suggested that my parasympathetic nervous system is overpowering my sympathetic nervous system (both are part of the somatic nervous system). To put it in layman's term, parasympathetic is the breaks on a car while sympathetic is the gas, and my body is putting on the breaks too hard.

I am also going in for a sleep study tomorrow, where they monitor my sleep waves with electrodes attached to my head. That will be cool. :) I also got a call this morning from the neurologist and the medical doctor in charge has suggested a third test (I forget what they called it) that will examine the extent of the brain damage I have or something. When I was 14, I had a near-fatal accident that left me with severe cranial trauma and messed me up royally for a few weeks. The neurlogist speculates that being under the constant period of high-stress tha I was under for so long last year might have combined with my previous damage and caused me all these complications. They gave me two kinds of drugs: one to keep me awake and one to put me to sleep. I haven't tried them yet though because I have to wait until my sleep study is over. I can't wait to give it a shot though, because half of yesterday I missed out on because I took 4 naps in a row. This is starting to really suck, because I'm losing productivity (on many things) since I'm tired all the time. :(

I'm on spring break now anyway. I took the week off of work as well, so I'm just trying to relax during this period, get caught up on a few things, and try to prevent myself from getting stressed like I was last year. So far so good. Yesterday I spent almost the entire day (that I was awake) watching random videos on the internet. I'm starting to get addicted to Google video. I watched a bunch of magician tricks, a bunch of Japanese stuff, and I also found a goldmine of World War II propaganda videos from the national archives loaded up there. They were really interesting to watch.