Hello World!

So…I am still alive. I have been rather remiss in my attention (or complete lack thereof) to this blog. I’ll try to post more now that I’m done with the GRE.

Yep, I took it! Today was the day, and while I would’ve liked my score to be just a little higher (just a hair! –read: 20 points on Quant), I did well. Well enough I’m about to go buy a bottle of Bailey’s so I can make a celebratory Irish cream latté. A tout a l’heure. 🙂

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Is originality merely the rehashing of old ideas?

This is my second practice attempt at the Analytical Writing Issue task. I finished this one in 45 minutes even (or is that “odd”? 😉 ), but I had to stop halfway through proofreading. Hope all my subjects agree with their verbs, and everything. The first two topics were ones I had decent examples for off the top of my head; I worry I won’t be so lucky on the real thing.

Originality does not mean thinking something that was never thought before; it means putting old ideas together in new ways.

An old dictum states that everything a person thinks has been thought before, that “there is nothing new under the sun.” And in many cases, this is true.

Witness the countless love poems that have been written: we express the same concept with myriad images and metaphors, always seeking new ways to depict a feeling that is common to all people in all times. Surely, in the context of love poems, originality must mean putting an old idea in a new light.

Even the modern personal computer was not a new idea when it was developed as a practical product; the idea of a programmable computing machine goes back at least to Charles Babbage in the nineteenth century. And his idea was arguably a ‘mere’ modification of adding machines that have been used for thousands of years. A long history of computing machines has led up to our current Macbook Pros, iPods, and touchscreen tablet PCs; the originality and innovation in the computer industry involves a great deal of modification to existing technology. We create new technologies by borrowing and improving upon existing ones.

But is all originality merely modification or recombination?

Einstein famously said that imagination is more important than knowledge. And he was a fit judge: a genius physicist, his Theory of Relativity caused a paradigm shift in the physical sciences, rewriting our model of the universe. He showed that Newtonian physics was deeply flawed (albeit useful on the scale of the everyday world), a feat that required no small amount of knowledge. But it required no less of him in originality: at the heart of Einstein’s theory is a redefinition of time itself. No one before him had imagined that time and space might be related, that they might be anything but constant.

It requires originality to express old ideas in novel ways, or to transform the idea of an adding machine into that of a Macbook Pro. But sometimes, someone does think a new thought; that kind of originality can change our world radically, well deserving the name we give it: “genius.”

GRE prep, two months in & three months away

Back in January, I bought some books so that I could start studying for the GRE. I wanted to take it mid-June; that gives me as much time as possible to prepare while still allowing a month in which I could retake the test (the current version) if I don’t like my first scores. I’m thinking June 13.

I’ve worked through the 80 sets of words (10 per set) in Barron’s Essential Words for the GRE. I knew some, vaguely recognized others, and had never even seen a few of them (like “contumacious”–rebellious or disobedient). Now I’ve begun the section on word roots. I feel more confident about those, but there are still some that I never quite knew (which now make embarrassingly perfect sense, like “ev,” as in “medieval”–“medi” = middle, “ev” = age/era, “al” = a suffix meaning “of,” “pertaining to,” etc.). Medieval. Belonging to, pertaining to, or characteristic of the Middle Ages. What a duh.

I recently noticed the word “vicious” as well. (Think “vice.”) Of course, now the phrase “vicious circle” sounds pretty strange. Somebody anthropomorphized the abstract concept of circularity?

On a diagnostic test in the Barron’s general GRE prep book, I scored 760 on the Verbal section, which is hopeful. (Should I have shown off there by saying “sanguine” instead? …Nah, would’ve just put my mind on Firefly.) I didn’t do so well at the Quantitative portion, but that was before working on any math. I haven’t done the stuff they’re testing in the math section for about ten years; instead I’ve finally begun to get a grasp on sines, cosines, and tangents (thank you, physics), found the tangents of some curves ( 😉 ), and briefly surveyed the terrain of discrete maths (sets, graphs, combinations and permutations, etc.). Those, and puzzles. I like puzzles. Give me a problem with a checkerboard and I’ll be worse than a dog worrying its favorite bone.

I’ve now worked through 200 pages of the Nova GRE Math Prep book. So far, so good. I’ve really got to stop making stupid mistakes, though–I made 2 or 3 in the set of 100 geometry problems–and I should probably start plowing through a couple dozen pages a day just for the practice. That’s the most important thing for me in math; I just have to use it so much that I can’t get it out of my head if I want to, so that it doesn’t take me so long to get to the answers. I can’t try to memorize math (it doesn’t work that way for me), but if I use it, I’ll remember it like remembering how to swim. It takes a little bit to readjust after a long break, but the memory’s there, in the muscle. And if I use math enough, I can begin to see how it works, how the numbers and shapes and equations relate to one another. I love that, and that’s what I need to do. Unfortunately, I’ve only worked on the math in fits now and then, so far.

So, I should go work on some of those roots and maths instead of rambling on about them. Cheers.

Testing for grad school

I’m thinking about taking the GRE next year – I started reading up on the format and it sounds like they’re planning to implement some significant changes around late summer. I would like to take it before that, if only because people know what kinds of scores to expect with the way it’s set up now, and major changes could affect what scores are average, good, or excellent. It won’t be clear until whatever new format they implement has been in use for some time – long enough to observe results for a representative sample of test-takers over at least a couple of years, or so I expect.

Of course, that means I need to get my ass on studying for it; I guess some people say that you can’t really study for the GRE, but while I don’t buy into the other end (that would be Kaplan’s end), I do think it would be good to familiarize myself with the format of the test and the types of questions asked. I suspect the analogies section will be the toughest – they can get tricky in a nasty way. E.g., they may use nonstandard – sometimes even questionable – definitions of the words on which the ‘correct’ answer is based; I saw this on one sample question using “equivocation” in the ‘right’ answer — they said it means “lying.” Pardon me, but the fallacy of equivocation is not the fallacy of lying, folks – it’s treating one word as if it’s equivalent to a word that means something different (generally involving homonyms). You don’t have to know that you’re equivocating to be guilty of equivocation. So, I get tripped up on the verbal section for…knowing the terms too well? Maybe. Sometimes I just don’t see what they’re getting at, though – you have to figure out which way they’re relating the first two words to each other, and sometimes there are multiple valid possibilities. Which one you choose can change your answer.

I should get in touch with a couple of my professors from L&C and ask what they recommend for GRE prep. I think I’ll ask my (hard-ass) philosophy prof who suggested I try law school (not exactly what I’m thinking for grad school, but clearly she’s willing to offer advice, and I have a great deal of respect for her) … and maybe my physics prof as well. Whether I do physics or computer science, I imagine the desired GRE scores will be similar, so good prep for one is likely good prep for the other, too. Both of those professors are ΦBK, as well, which means I trust them more than others to have suggestions that are good overall (not just for quant. or just for writing).

I want to take the GRE next year, and I want to kill it. I don’t just want to earn a good score, or a great score; I want to earn a score that’s stunning, no matter what subject I’m looking to study.

I. Am. Bored.

And I have been, out of my skull, for the past two and a half years — ever since graduation. It doesn’t help that I now know that the school I thought couldn’t possibly exist, my ideal school, really does exist.* I don’t think I’ll get over that.

But now, anyway, I’m excruciatingly bored. I want to do something interesting. I don’t have the money to go back to school. This stinks.

* At least until I transferred to Lewis & Clark, and maybe even for a few years after, I thought that all colleges must be basically the same, just with varying quantities of homework and degrees (and colors) of snobbery. I had no reason to suspect that there was a school out there that would let me choose virtually all of my own courses rather than dictate my curriculum, let alone a school that would do that and was at liberty to select only those students who seemed truly interested in learning as much as they possibly could about as many different subjects as they possibly could; and my greatest regret is that I never went looking, just in case. If I had known that there was an Ivy offering an open curriculum, I would have done anything to be able to spend four years there.