Thursday, May 19, 2011

Brain Training in Prep for AMP

So, one other part of gearing up for the AMP program is getting your brain ready to be flogged mercilessly over the next year. I have to contend that my brain typically does not get stressed as much/fast as it did while in the AMP program. My job is certainly challenging and requires lots of thinking, but the 'drinking from the fire hose' encountered during AMP is a different animal all-together.

One of the things I did prior to AMP (and have started to do again) is to try to stretch my brain in ways which are different than what I encounter at my job. In the past I have periodically read brain-teasers or thought exercises, but this time I went a different route.

I am not sure how I was turned on to this site, but somehow I ended up at Lumosity. They have a free trial to let you explore the site and their games, which gives you a good sense of how their 'brain training' actually works. I am not sure I completely buy their propaganda, but I can tell you that it is both:
   a) a diversion (i.e fun) and
   b) a boost in confidence about your mental acuity (through improvements seen in the games)

Clearly a big jump in one's improvement is due to practice and a deeper understanding of how the games are structured. However, I found a few games very interesting. One was the fast-food name/order matching game, which attacks one of my weaknesses - name recall. I found that after focusing on that game, I was more apt to actively attempt to remember someone's name when I meet them, and therefore have a higher probability of remembering the name.

Again, I am not completely sold on 'brain training', but I think it does have some positive benefits. Give it a try and see what you think.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guest Posts

So JZF has invited me to post some of my impressions to the UVA AMP blog as full-fledged posts. As usual, I wanted to completely change the way he has the blog set up, and pushed him to add a Label list on the sidebar.

Since my posts will be out of chronological order, the easiest way to access my posts, in conjunction with JZF's posts is to use the labels to find related posts. In addition, all of my posts should also have 'Guest Post', if you wanted to view posts other than JZF's.

With graduation countdown at T-6 days, I am both excited to close the chapter, but sad to move on. As I have said to everyone, like most scholastic endeavors, AMP will return in proportion to what you put into it. It is hard to move on from something you have worked hard at, even if it was painful up until the final second. Alas, time marches on.

New AMP Student Prep

My decision to enter AMP was made a bit late, and therefore I did not get a chance to perform all the prep I wanted to before the first week in-residence. It had been ~14 years since my undergraduate degree, and many of my academic skills and knowledge had faded. My plan was to do as much as I could before I headed down to UVA, but I only achieved cursory refresher reviews on some subjects (and no refresher on others).

Prep review has three benefits:
1) It can fill any gaps or fuzzy areas in your knowledge base. (integration by parts? huh? ohh... yeah...)
2) It will kick start the academic habits (you forget that the discipline needed after ~14 years)
3) It will give you the confidence to undertake this journey.

Here is what I suggest reviewing, if you have enough time:

A) Calculus - Integration, double integration, differentiation, etc.
I had watched several of the seminars provided by MIT's Open Courseware, and I recommend the courses with video lectures. (Check under the 'Tools' for the course)

B) Probability - Discrete probabilities, PDFs, CDFs, etc.

C) Matrix Algebra - Representing a system of linear equations, matrix transformations and computation.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thus, it is done

I'm trying to keep busy, or at least keep the appearance of being busy, so I must make this brief.
AMP was awesome. The program is outstanding and very worth it IMO. If I had to do it over I would definitely do it again. I wish that I could get another Master's degree in this manner.

The last week was challenging. I explored the depths of how much sleep one can forego. But at the end of it all, much like with the program, the inconvenience was only temporary and I am left with knowing a little more about myself.

There is something to be said for finding something to do after the program to keep your momentum. I definitely recommend taking some time for R&R, of course. But how do you plan to reinforce all that you have learned? I've been reading books voraciously and have enjoyed the extra time I have to actually be able to workout.

Me and some of my mates from school will be trying to see how much more punishment we can give ourselves when we attempt tough mudder in Charlottesville in October. I think there is some degree of commonality between the race adventure and the program.

I'm attempting to keep a blog together at my site If you are so inclined you can check in over there to see what is keeping me busy post AMP.

To borrow from Gibson, Scherer, Gibson (or GSG as we say), thus it is done. I wish all the future AMP students all the luck. Drop me a line when you have a moment.

My Best
John Fields
AMP Class of 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Smart Grid Initiative

This is a pretty good article that reflects what the smart grid industry is all about. As you can readily see, the smart grid initiative is very applicable to systems engineering. My parent company owns both the hardware that reports the reads back in near real time as well as the software to make it go.  A classic systems problem.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Recording your Lectures, other miscellany

I'm embarrassingly late to this, but I am really keen on recording your lectures. It's also very realistic that you might be able to record your entire program from your laptop. This is yet another example of how different school is just ten years later. In addition to your first step for every assignment being google or wolfram alpha, the ability to easily make a high quality recording, I think, is a welcomed technology advancement.
Check with your professors first! I think some of them may object, so is a good idea to check first.

One of the things that I have been thinking about as AMP winds down is how to I retain what I have learned and how do I end game. This being my second graduate degree, I can tell you that I had very unrealistic expectations of what the world would be like as soon as I received my degree. People aren't exactly standing around waiting to call you up as soon as you finish your education and send you a huge check. Well, maybe they are for some people and for better schools but it surely didn't happen for me the first. I'm actually more concerned about retaining the skillset. I don't (fortunately) use probability every day.  Though I can speak to some of the topics I learned in network optimization, if I had to do a bellman ford I would have to go back through my notes.

That's a long winded way of saying listening to your lectures randomly after school is over might help you retain the information better.

"editor's note"
There may be a few more posts to come to talk about, openly, how it might be best to maximize the last stretch of classes. I can tell you that this semester has significantly less homework than the last semester.

That being said, I think I have approached the limit as to reasonable insight into the AMP program. If you are following along and are near this point in the program in years to come, you should have things figured out by now. I also don't want to completely remove any mystery that may be surrounding the program. I plan on giving insight into our capstone project, and I am very much looking forward to the last week in residence, if its anywhere as near as fun as the first week.

Aside from probability, I have been able to put in long enough hours to be reasonably happy with my grades. I'm clearly not one of the elite students in the program, but I have been able to get back up to speed and find the amount of (pain and suffering) study time that works for me. I still want another shot at probability, but at this point I know its best to let it go.