The Perfect Morning Run

Being injured for so long I had forgotten the feeling of a Sunday morning run.  Like coming out of hibernation, through cool air and fog, with just enough sunlight to contrast the surroundings in a washed light, the kind that photographers literally shoot for, and I did pass a few this morning.  I passed a few runners too, with a brief nod, we knew what a gift we’d been giving, winter would be here soon, but for now we shared in this perfect morning run.

My lungs were tired but my mind willed them on.  They had forgotten their former glory but on a day like today, they soon remembered.  At every fork in the road, I took the longer path, to delay my return home.  The town still slept but would awake soon.  The fog would be gone and the pedestrian day would begin.

A few days into my 36th year and I feel alive, and in my best Latin, “Ego curro, ergo vivus sum.

What were these instructions?

“These instructions were never to lament casually, and if one is to express the great inevitable defeat that awaits us all, it must be done within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.”  — Leonard Cohen

A Journal of Daily Activities for a Week: Day 5, Friday, October 11th

A better day

Got an early start.  Was at the library promptly at 8:30pm.  I had two assignments due this morning, one in Latin, the other in Advanced Linear Algebra.  I had my usual oat cake and coffee in the library cafe and proceeded for the next 2 hours to crack out the assignments.


I struggled with language my entire life.  First in french, then in spanish.  I wish I could read my childhood writings in english, I probably wasn’t so good then either.  I see my daughter learning to read (english) and I think, how does anyone decipher this mess?  At least spanish is written phonetically.

On the other hand, latin is coming quite easily.  The verb conjugations and noun declensions are not without their exceptions but the patterns and rules make sense.  I like the structure.  It feels intuitive.  I’m sure my previous struggles have helped me pick it up quickly.  Looking back on some french and spanish now it doesn’t seem so bad.

The Tom Thomsons


When the light hits these trees a certain way it reminds me of a Tom Thomson painting, so I call them the “Tom Thomsons”.  I walk by them everyday.  My favourite trees on campus.

After my last lecture of the day, at 1:20pm, I watched some student research presentations.  Then went home at 3:00pm and relaxed.  I was on the verge of an afternoon nap.  Something I never do.  I always struggle with sleep during the day.

4:30pm:  Fridays with Steve @ Sweat Sackville.  I have been coaching the 4:30-5:30pm workouts at my wife’s gym for the past 3-4 weeks.  I used to go everyday and do a workout but with my current schedule it’s down to 1-2 times per week.

Friday night with the kids.  Evey fell asleep at 7:00pm on the couch watching TV.  Eamonn went to bed shortly after.

I’m catching up on my blog posts, social media, and listening to some music via youtube.  I’ll finish the night off with a quick round of studying.

I’ll leave you with the music stuck in my head:

A Journal of Daily Activities for a Week: Day 4, Thursday, October 10th

Zombie mode

It was a rough morning.  Off to a slow start.  Almost forgot about a physiotherapy appointment but my phone calendar reminded me 10 minutes before.  The great thing about living in Sackville is that nothing is more than a 3 minute bike ride away, literally.  The progress on my ankle recovery is coming slowly but surely.  The physio is certainly helping.  I was hoping to be back in the saddle, back to my pole vaulting and decathlon ways, sometime this winter but at the current rate I am probably looking at next summer as most likely.

Back to my day.

After physio I hit the Black Duck for my coffee and breakfast.


The full coffee (cappuccino) in the picture is my second.

Luckily I only had 1 class today, Cryptography.  We covered DES/Feistel.


I did some surfing and studying in the afternoon.  Not the most productive.

4:30pm: hit the swimming pool for Evey’s practice.  While Evey swam I met up with the cross country team to set them off on their workout/intervals.  Over the past 5 years I have coached the team but this year I only planned their training/workouts.  With my impending departure next year, along with my busy schedule this year, I have decreased my involvement and handed off duties to other volunteers.  The team is having another excellent season.

After swimming I was in parenting mode until the kids went to sleep, by 8pm.  Finished up an assignment (for Linguistics) and went to bed by 11pm.



A Journal of Daily Activities for a Week: Day 3, Wednesday, October 9th

The day that never ends

Wednesdays are marathons of lecture and study.  I am writing this a day later and it’s all a blur now.  The day promptly started at 7:00am and didn’t finish until 2:30am.

Morning classes:  Latin and Advanced Linear Algebra.

Afternoon: 2:30-5:20pm Linguistics lecture.  This one lecture per week, nearly 3 hours long, is a format I am not particularly liking.  Kudos to the professor who does a pretty fantastic job of keeping us engaged for that long.  Some days are better than others but it mostly depends on the material.

If it stopped there it would be a busy day.  At this point my brain has turned to mush.

But immediately after the linguistics marathon I have a math “practice”, id est, prep for the Putnam math competition.  After an hour of this is a 3 hour Computer Science “practice” to prep for the upcoming coding competition.  A lot of the material in both the math and the coding work is review for me.  Though much of it I haven’t seen in a while.  In both, I feel like I should remember a lot of the details better.

When I get home after a difficult practice my mind is still swimming in problems.  It took me a long time to wind down afterwards and I didn’t fall asleep until 2:30am.

A Journal of Daily Activities for a Week: Day 2, Tuesday, October 8th

7:00am wake-up.  It was one of those mornings where you can’t find anything.  I have a bowl of yoghurt before leaving the house to make it to my 8:30 Latin tutorial.  Rainy day, no coffee, not a great start.

I spend 9:30-11:00am in the library.  I spent a bit of time debugging some inane BibTex errors in my research proposal.

I walked to school in the rain this morning.  Wasn’t too bad with a raincoat and umbrella.  Though I made a quick trip home at 11:00am, after the sky had cleared, to grab my bike.  The 10 minute walk to school quickly becomes a 2-3 minute bike ride.  So most days I bike.  I’ll soon be winterizing my 15 year old Gary Fisher with studded tires, some extra splash guards, and a tune-up for good measure.  I plan to bike through the winter this year.

Cryptography class

My only official class on Tuesday and Thursdays is my 11:30am Cryptography lecture.  This is quickly becoming a favourite.  It gets especially interesting when the professor goes off book.  Last week he paid some extra attention to Claude Shannon, “the father of information theory”.  Pictured here:


Information theory is an area of Math/Computer Science that I might possibly pursue in graduate studies.  One thing we share in common is our success at Blackjack.  Back in 2005, if I remember correctly, I went on a $7500 run over the span of about a month playing Blackjack.  Might be a good topic for another post.

Back to divergences in Cryptography class.  Today was especially interesting.  We started off discussing the AES cipher (id est Rijndael) but quickly got off topic and spent about half the class talking about prime factorization, RSA, the RSA factoring challenge, computational complexity, P=NP, et cetera.

The general rule of most lectures is the off-book topics tend to be the most interesting and fun.

3:30pm:  I leave Sackville for Amherst to pick up my son from the Montessori school.  I wrote about my son’s education in a previous blog post.  So far he has been adjusting quite well and is getting a lot from the program.  The hands on nature of it, the activities, classroom materials, seems to fit with him quite well.

4:30pm:  We arrive at the pool for my daughter’s swim class.  While she swims, Eamonn and I head to the track for a short run and a few games.

5:15-8:00pm:  Parent mode:  supper, Wizard of Oz with the kids, cleaning, baths, bed-time.  Our bed-time story tonight was Dinosaur: 123 ABC, by Jan Lewis.  Evey particularly likes this one.


10:00pm: The internet is lovely, dark, and deep, But I have promises to keep, And lines of code before I sleep, And lines of code before I sleep.


A Journal of Daily Activities for a Week: Day 1, Monday, October 7th

I’ll start with the routine stuff and finish off with some thoughts and things I’ve been thinking about.

7:00am wakeup. homemade cafe-con-leche (espresso and hot milk 1/2 and 1/2).  Get the kids dressed for school.  Make scrambled eggs and toast with the kids.  They are off to school at 8:00am.

8:00-8:30am check email. surf hackernews, twitter, Google+.  Plan my todo list for the day.

Todo list for today includes:  Latin and linguistics study in the AM.  Review some advanced linear algebra (Dual spaces).  Review a few algorithms for the upcoming coding competition (afternoon).  Finish linguistics assignment: IPA transcription.  Phone call for work-related (software consulting) stuff this afternoon.

11:30AM: Coffee & snack @ The Black Duck:


By 4:25PM I drop Cristina off at the gym and I head to pick up my son at school 20 minutes away.  Supper and the evening up until 8:30pm, when the kids are in bed, I am in full parenting mode.

9:00PM – 11:00PM: review coding algorithms for upcoming competition.  Reviewed Floyd-Warshall and Dijkstra this evening.  Looked over a few Catalan numbers related problems.

Upcoming Assignments

I have a linguistics assignment due Wednesday.  A phonetic transcription of a comparable news report using one from Canada and one from the UK.  Comparing Canadian and British pronunciations.

I have a research proposal due Thursday for Cryptography.  My research will be an analysis of collision attacks on SHA-1, focusing mostly on the 2005 paper, “Finding Collisions in the Full SHA-1″, by Wang, et al.  I will make an attempt to introduce a new collision vector to decrease the complexity of the attack from the current \(2^{61}\) (iirc).

Study habits

This seems to work well for me so I’m sticking to it as best I can.  This is cut-and-pasted and paraphrased from an email I got from my intro psychology professor:

  1. Study in short spurts with lots of breaks.  You’ll retain more information from three 20-minute study sessions with 5-minute breaks between each than you will from a single 60-minute session.  Why? Look up “serial position curve,” “primacy,” and “recency” effects.
  2. Avoid cramming if you can. At best you’ll remember basic surface material. At worst, you won’t feel prepared or will “blank out” when you want to recall info.
  3. Make something memorable about your study sessions.  A crazy-coloured paper, a silly rhyme that you hum in between questions, a funny doodle.  Why? If you feel that “blank” happening in the exam, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and picture the paper, the rhyme, the doodle, etc.  It will help you make the links you need to recall.
  4. AVOID studying to music.  Most people THINK it helps them but many, many studies show that it is a distraction to encoding the information.  If you must have music, choose something non-vocal and repetitive that won’t grab your attention.
  5. Stay hydrated.  Really!  Even mild dehydration can affect concentration.  If you have a cold, this is especially important, because decongestant medications, runny noses, etc. can dehydrate us quite quickly.
  6. Sleep! Have you ever been thinking about a problem right before bed and when you wake up, you’ve figured it out? We don’t know exactly why, but sleep seems to help us consolidate memory.  Even if you are cramming, it’s better to do a quick review (perhaps all the chapter summaries), then get some sleep than to pull an all-nighter. If you stay up all night and use caffeine (Red Bull, coffee, 5-hr energy, etc.) you’ll be doubly worse.  Overtired and dehydrated!
  7. To avoid panic & frustration, mix up your studying.  Review/retest some of the material you know well, then tackle a tough session.  Review another easier part, then tackle the tough session again.  It will keep your attention longer and help you retain more.  This can be really helpful if you are studying for two courses at the same time.
  8. The order of the material really doesn’t matter. Go with what feels best to you.
  9. Seriously.  Don’t cram! Two hours a day for six days is MUCH better than 12 hours all at once.

A Journal of Daily Activities for a Week: Day 0

I have good intentions to blog everyday this week.  To keep of journal of daily activities.  I am quite busy at the moment and when I’m in this sort of routine I feel I need to lift my head up and look around now and again.  So at the end of the week I can take a look back at the week with a bit of objectivity and look at how it went and what I did.

It might seem a little narcissistic or self indulgent, and it probably is, but outside of my daily university studies and activities I have been writing very little.

How Far We’ve Come: Literacy and Beyond.

In the late 19th century global illiteracy was around 85% or more.


Today, in 2013 we have completely flipped that around to 85% global literacy.

If you are curious, the sea of red, the lowest literacy rates for women and the lowest for men are listed on Top 5 of Anything.

“Everybody’s acquiring a beautiful vocabulary, beautiful tools to communicate with others regarding his own experience, and that’s something we didn’t have yesterday.” (Buckminster Fuller, 1972)

This little Udacity “coffee break” about learning and mindset really comes into perspective considering the above.


“…we really need to get rid of those myths about some people being smart and some are not…” — Professor Jo Boaler, Mathematics Education at Stanford University.

This comes back to what Buckminster Fuller said, “I find that everybody is getting to be an Einstein or a Christ”.  Humanity is coming to the fact that everyone has genius in them and the capacity for enlightenment.

Fuller goes on to talk about communicating in context with this new-found understanding:

“I expect that we’ll come to a point where humanity will spontaneously do the logical things together. It will find ways of understanding a little more about what others are thinking. We’ll have ways of really voting our convictions. Very soon we’ll have little devices on our wrists and we’ll be able to say “I like it” or “I don’t like it” as we go along, and there will be an electronic pickup and computers will tell us what everyone around the world is thinking about each problem. We’ll be able to act reasonably in relation to one another.” (Buckminster Fuller, 1972)


How about an Elon Musk Boost-Glide Electric Glider Launched From A Reusable Rocket?

In the context of an all-electric jet?  Elon Musk during today’s Google Hangout, “I wish somebody would do that.”

How about combining technologies from SpaceX‘s Grasshopper (reusable rocket) with an Earth-based electric glider or jet in a boost-glide system?

The glider is launched on the reusable rocket and carried up to an optimal point in the upper atmosphere. At a point where the glider can use both the rotation of the Earth and the electric engine.  Obviously it would require less rocket fuel than a full orbital system.

Such a system may closer to Virgin Galactic‘s sub-orbital vehicle: SpaceShipTwo. In the case of SpaceX, a full-scale reusable rocket could manoeuvre back down to the launch pad and be fitted with a new glider aircraft for multiple launches in a single day.

This brief conjecturing on my part doesn’t answer the most important question:  Can it be made cost effective?  How big can the vehicle be made and how many passengers can be carried?