On Calculus

Calculus! I watched an MIT lecture on Calculus on YouTube, the full course is there and I watched the first lecture. I watched the whole thing uninterrupted.

Uninterrupted?! I never watch things uninterrupted, I’m always pausing, jumping around, checking what else is going on, checking my mail, and so on. What about this held my attention?

Well, it was interesting for one, I took Calc 1-3 in college and really struggled with them but did extremely well. I spent so much time on those classes. Watching this took me back to that time… the class was from 2007, so it was still a dude standing at a blackboard and writing, pulling blackboards up and down. There was something so… comforting in that? That’s how it was when I took calculus.

It also reminded me of a time in my life when I was fucking laser focused on learning. I’m not like that anymore, at least not to that degree. I feel like I spend the majority of my life trying to find the best way to spend my time. I start watching a movie and my mind starts drifting to “hmmm maybe there’s something better I could be watching” so I go hop around and waste time looking for this mythical “best thing to watch at this moment” which is a waste of time.

Before all the internet streaming stuff I had constraints. I remember going to Blockbuster with friends and wondering around for a while trying to find something to watch. Sometimes it took a long time. But eventually we’d rent something and watch it. Making the decision of what to watch was a discrete event. It’s not like that anymore. I kind of miss it.

I guess I could put constraints on myself but I find that reallllly hard to do. I’ve tried. The fact that everything is free and available fucks up my brain. I never walked into a Blockbuster and said “oh man look at all these movies I need to watch” because I had to pay to watch them so I was choosy. I’m not choosy anymore, the price barrier is gone and everything is up for grabs, so why commit to anything?

It’s not just movies, it’s also technologies, music, etc. Everyday on Hacker News / lobste.rs there’s some new thing someone wrote that I feel the need to check out. I just spent some time looking at the Astro web framework and thought maybe I should move my blog to that from Hugo. I played with it for a little bit and then it dawned on me that maybe I should actually write content for my blog and not worry about these dumb distractions.

I’ll probably keep watching that Calculus course. A lot of that stuff has totally fallen out of my head except some really basic derivative and integration techniques. Really though I just want to be less of a tumbleweed tumbling across the internet.

More personal history with Calculus

I was a mediocre student in high school, I didn’t do bad but I was just not interested in many topics at school. I went to high school in Golden Colorado, the home of Coors beer and Kip Winger. I was a computer nerd, I taught myself how to program in high school and worked a part time job. I used the money from that job to build a computer and geek out on the 28.8k baud internet. School just ate into that time.

Math was my favorite subject, but even in that I wasn’t great. I didn’t take calculus, the farthest I got was pre-calc since I wasn’t on the fast track. When it came to college, I knew I wanted to study computer science. I applied to two colleges, both nearby: University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado School of Mines. School of Mines rejected me, and University of Colorado at Boulder accepted me so I went there. There was a problem though: I got into the school but I didn’t get into the College of Engineering because my grades and prerequisites weren’t great. Without being in the College of Engineering, I couldn’t major in computer science. To get in, I needed to take Calc 1, Calc 2, Physics 1 and Chemistry 1 and get good grades. I forget how good, probably at least a B?

Ok fine, I’ll do that. I treated college mostly like I treated high school, expecting to skate by and not have to work too hard. Then came my first Calc 1 exam. I got a 63, or a D. Definitely not good enough! This totally shook me. If I couldn’t study computer science I don’t know what the fuck I would have done, I probably would have studied Math since that was in the College of Arts and Sciences. I started spending crazy amounts of time studying. I lived at home with my parents while I was in college and commuted from Golden to Boulder up Highway 93. Not a fun drive in the snow, one of the reasons I hate snow.

Since I lived at home, I had long breaks between classes so I would sit in the library and just study study study. It’s so weird to think about that now, I had no laptop, no phone, nothing, just a calculus book and paper. Oh and I had MY BRAIN. When I needed a break I either walked up to Wax Trax on “The Hill” to look at records, or I went to the arcade in the student center to play Galaga. I played a lot of Galaga, this is where my love of shmups was born.

My grades got better, the second exam I got in the 80s which beat the curve, and on the third exam I got a 99 which crushed the curve. I probably should have argued with the graders to get a 100, they dinged me a point because I didn’t write the integral limits on a intermediate step, but I had them on subsequent steps and got the answer. I didn’t care about being perfect though, I was so insanely happy to do that well.

I got an A in the class but more importantly I became a serious student and not a slacker goofball. I got into the College of Engineering, majored in Computer Science, minored in Applied Math, and got into the 5-year program to get a combined Bachelors and Masters degree. I’m proud of that. Calculus really drove that change in me.