Sunday, July 2, 2017

If Only New York Wasn't So Far Away | San Diego Chronicles, Week 2

Well, that's it. I've been in San Diego for twelve days. On Wednesday at 9:00 AM, I'll have been a San Diego resident for two whole weeks. I've spent my first week at the San Diego State REU learning what I'm going to be researching ... since applied math is way the heck more complicated than I ever knew. I think that division between pure mathematicians and applied mathematicians needs to dissolve stat (even though I joke about the superiority of applied mathematicians all the time now because I like to give the number theory team grief). I warned you that these posts weren't going to have the same format every week, so ... welcome to the  “lately, I've been thinking” edition of the San Diego Chronicles. (If you have a more inspiring name for this series, please leave suggestions in the comments!)
Lunch spot with Phoebe, Ben, CB Thomas, Original Chris, and Jessie (Friday, June 30th)
ON PAST INSECURITIES AND THEIR USELESSNESS. Maybe the few people reading now don't know this, but I used to be super into fashion. In fact, I planned to become an image/wardrobe consultant after obtaining my associate's degree (then in true Hannah fashion, I did a 180-degree turn and decided to study math instead). Even while I ran my fashion blog, I felt super insecure about not being the perfect size 4, 110-pound fashionista, and I was always embarrassed about being a style blogger. Looking back on those posts, I realize they weren't actually that bad -- and did I really think I was ugly!?  Thinking about my 18-year-old high-school senior/college sophomore self made me realize how much time we invest in thinking we're not as good as we're supposed to be or not as pretty or not as thin or not as smart . . . and how futile those thoughts really are. In ten years, are you going to look at yourself in high school pictures and think you were ugly and fat? Heck no! In fact, in all likelihood, you're going to think, “Why am I not that pretty and skinny now?” Why spend so much time pondering these things that will have no bearing on you in ten years? (Why don't we think about Fourier analysis instead?)
I think I'll try defying gravity. (Ocean Beach, San Diego, Friday, June 30th)
ON THE AWESOMENESS OF GYMS. Laugh at me all you want, this week was the first week I'd ever visited a public gym. In Goldendale, good gyms aren't available, so working out meant using a Jillian Michaels DVD, YouTube videos, going for runs/walks/bike rides, or running the stairs in the house. When I moved to Ellensburg, I was hyper terrified of working out in front of people and admittedly resented all the people who wouldn't shut up about going to the gym (I have a hard time with people who are super trendy, and these days the trend is going to the gym--if you don't go the gym, nobody thinks you work out at all). When I moved to San Diego (it's still tough for me to believe that I can actually write that so casually -- like “ oh hey by the way I'm just living in San Diego” whaaaaaaaaaaaat and yes the way I write is my thought process most of the time), I really wanted to be able to improve my cardiovascular fitness and do something other than Hatha/vinyasa/Ashtanga yoga. So I bought the $80 gym membership at the Aztec Recreation Center and have been finding going to the gym SO much fun. Although the SDSU gym is ridiculously hard to get to. And it's highly touted but its rock wall isn't nearly as impressive as Central's.
Ocean Beach (Friday, June 30)
ON MAXIMIZING OPPORTUNITIES. Doing a few touristy things here and there while I've been in San Diego has made me understand how important it is to get out of the house and explore. I mean, life is an opportunity -- why do we not make more of it? I am tremendously lucky to be here. One of my research teammates told me a little about the process of selection for the San Diego State University Mathematics Research Experience. Apparently, the program director scoured each application, reading each letter of recommendation three or four times, and if he found something he didn't like the third go-round, he'd toss out the candidate. In fact, below a certain level of mathematical aptitude (where aptitude was rated by the professors who recommended us), he wouldn't even consider the applicant. I realized almost for the first time how completely competitive the REU process of selection is. (In fact, the SDSU REU has, in years past, had students from Fordham, Brown, Princeton, and Yale -- all in the same year.) To be honest, I'm in awe that I even got into the program, and I really want to make the most of my time in San Diego.
The panoramic view of Ocean Beach.
My first fish taco! It was super spicy ... but I'm from Washington, not SoCal ;) (Friday, June 30)
Some of our REU team (representing the number theory and hydrodynamics projects): Jessie, Alec, OG Chris, Ben, CB Thomas, Everyone's Thomas, Phoebe, and Katie. 
That's all for this installment, folks :)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Week One in San Diego | Hi, my name is Hannah (because Hallie said that's what I should title this post)

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I was awake most of Tuesday night freaking out about moving to San Diego for two months. I cried when Dad prayed for me in the hotel room on Wednesday morning at 4:45 AM, I cried when I went through security at PDX, I cried when I sat on my Alaska Airlines plane, I cried when I sat on the trolley, I cried when I called Mom at Trader Joe's, I cried when I sat at the dining room table writing this sentence. I didn't really expect this; I had already lived in Ellensburg for nine months, gone through that whole homesickness phase, and learned to be independent.
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But I knew that the homesickness would pass within a matter of time, and that once I got busier and actually started the REU and got to know more math people (because math people are the bomb), I would be as close to fine as I could be, and would be able to enjoy my time spent in San Diego. Mercifully, I'm feeling a little bit better about things the last couple days. I still call and whine at Mom every night (but let's face it, that happened in Ellensburg too for pretty much nine months straight) about wanting to go home, but at least I'm not on the verge of tears almost all the time anymore.

Wednesday, June 21st: My flight to San Diego was short (2 hours 3 minutes) but we took forever to taxi out of PDX. There was very little turbulence. I had an aisle seat and was sitting in the same row as a service dog, who wasn't a huge fan of the sound of the engine, which I'm pretty sure we were sitting right over. I forgot how cramped airplanes are (it's been four years since my last flight out to Indiana with our Momentum group). I also was hit with a wave of claustrophobia and motion sickness, which I didn't expect but maybe should have since my stomach has always been sensitive. Once we hit the ground, I had to navigate my way to the bus and subsequently to the trolley. On the bus ride, I got to see the marina and (from a distance) the Star of India, a tourist ship attraction. Then it took a long time and I lost Mom's water bottle and felt really guilty even though she was nice and said it didn't matter, but I finally boarded the Green Line trolley headed to Santee. (Also, the trolleys do not look like the trolleys in Mr. Rogers. I was sad.)
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Then I went to my apartment (gosh it took forever getting there and it was sweltering hot -- 75 degrees and 68% humidity and I was in a denim jacket carrying tons of luggage), signed the sublease papers, and got my stuff unpacked. I went to Trader Joe's and bought a few groceries. I tried to take a nap because I hadn't really slept the night before and was consequently suffering from kill-everyone irritability, and I walked around campus a little bit and called Mom and went to bed.
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Thursday, June 22: I toured campus, I went to Walmart, I got accosted by a skateboarder who asked me out (I was creeped out and have been judiciously carrying my pepper spray ever since . . . well, mostly judiciously I guess), and I called Mom while sitting at a table at the Conrad Prebys Student Union Building adjacent to a group of Christians who apparently use the time from 6:30-8:00 on Thursday evenings to pray for passersby and share the Gospel. So if you need prayer and you live in San Diego, go to the Conrad Prebys SUB at San Diego State University at 6:30 PM this Thursday I guess.
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Friday, June 23: I was really lazy. I think I watched more Glee episodes in a day than should be allowed in several days. (That sentence probably didn't succeed in making the hyperbolic point I wanted it to, but I'm not much into hyperboles these days. It's probably something to do with forcing myself to be as clear and specific as possible 6-15 hours a day for the last three months.)

Saturday, June 24: Today, I was a tourist, and I spent about five hours waiting for the bus, riding the bus, walking a mile and a half to Balboa Park, walking in Balboa Park, waiting for the bus, and riding the bus. I was seriously unimpressed with Balboa at first, because I hiked up to it through a desert-y looking trail and bracken, and I thought the desert-y looking trail and bracken was Balboa because that's what my new-as-of-Monday Smartphone told me. Turns out the property was probably on the park, but the park most people actually tour was another quarter mile uphill and up the road. I should probably let the photographs speak for the Balboan beauty, even though I was too tired from heat and humidity and already having walked around a bunch just to find the park to really appreciate many of the sights. I hope to go again (especially since admittance to the park is free, and I need to hit the San Diego Zoo while I'm there anyway) to walk around more of the trails and see if I can find any cool birds.
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Sunday, June 25: I walked to the College Avenue Baptist Church, a mile away according to Google Maps, and spent an hour sitting in a pew (I've never really attended a pew church before), and enjoyed beautiful worship music (they had a violinist and a black grand piano!) and a sermon on the eternal nature of God (based on Exodus 3:14 and Psalm 90:1-6). The church is huge and essentially has its own campus, but there couldn't have been more than 150 people in attendance. They seemed like a caring bunch of people even though no one actually approached me to talk (but to be fair, I didn't stick around because I thought that would be really awkward), so I think I'll go back. After that, I walked to Trader Joe's and bought groceries, and then had a meeting with my TA and program director for the REU that begins tomorrow (!!!). I'm extremely excited and ready to get back to thinking about math for eight hours a day. And ready to sit with math people and goof off for eight hours a day. (Okay, we do get some math done too. . . .)

Hopefully I will get one of these posts published every week. I doubt I'll follow the same format every week, because I get bored easily and there's a strong possibility I'll have some topic on my mind that I need to really write about (like this). Also, hopefully these get less boring as time goes on. I'm mostly writing for the benefit of a friends and family, but if you want to follow along more closely, I'll probably be posting almost daily on my Instagram, where my handle is @hannahelisebarta. See you there!
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Sunday, May 28, 2017

King Oscar, August 2002 - May 25, 2017

Oscar (also known as King Oscar, Oscar the Grouch, and Oscar Pipsqueak Boofit) at approximately four years old (late 2006)
  • Let your memories grow stronger and stronger, till they're before your eyes. -Regina Spektor ******
    When I was five, I decided I wanted a black-and-white kitty. My older sister had her own fluffy orange Lenny, and since I did everything Hallie did, I must have a cat, too. On September 22, 2002, two days before my sixth birthday, I walked up the sidewalk to our newly-built house after coming home from church, and Mom and Dad said there was something in the utility room for me. I went in and found my little black-and-white spotted kitty, a clumsy, silly, crazy kitten with oversized ears and way too much energy. We named him Oscar. He was a naughty little freak: I remember chasing him around the yard late at night, trying to get him to come inside so the coyotes wouldn't eat him. But he was our miracle kitty: when he was a few months old, he got caught in the fan belt of my cousins' car. My mom didn't think he would survive the night, but he did, even though the jet-black tail that used to stand straight up as he pranced through the grassy fields was now broken. A few days later, he disappeared for the whole day, and no one could find him. We thought a coyote might have gotten him, but he came back. When he was five, he had such bad kidney stones that he had to go have surgery, and I thought he wasn't going to survive, but he did. His kidneys continued to worsen as he got older, and in October 2014, he took so ill that when I left to go housesitting, I sat by his little bed and cried and didn't expect to see him again, but I did. In September, when I left to go to Ellensburg, I found him, my fourteen-year-old, arthritic black-and-white kitty, outside in the grass, and I told him to live until I got back. None of us knew if he could get through another winter; he had such trouble moving around and the cold made his arthritis so much worse. But he was still alive when I came home in November, and when I came home in December, and when I went back for spring break, and when I went home for Amy's twelfth birthday in May. And then he broke his leg, and Mom called me on Thursday morning the 25th, and said he had gangrene, and this time I didn't get to say goodbye.

  • People say cats are independent little buttheads, but Oscar loved everyone and probably purred more than any other cat I've spent time with. He always knew when you were talking to him or about him, even if you were talking to him from the dining room window while he was lying on the porch in the sun. It's still so hard for me to believe that he's gone. I miss you, Katze 💔

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

a pro at imperfections, and best friends with her doubt

It's a Friday in May, maybe half past noon. I'm sitting in a lecture hall that holds about sixty students at full capacity, but this is an upper-division mathematics course, and only roughly a third of those seats are taken. As I watch my Advanced Calculus professor lecture on the Cauchy Condensation Test and try to follow the multiple concepts with my red pen, my thoughts are half with the lecture, a fourth with the midterm I'm about to turn in, and another fourth with the linear algebra midterm I have to turn in my 2 p.m. that has a proof on it that I just can't figure out. Oh, what a joy it is at 10:30 in the morning to find out that one of your proofs has a major flaw, and you doubt you'll be able to fix it with two classes in between the 10:30 a.m. and the 2 p.m. deadline. Maybe it doesn't help that I can't get the phrase “infimum of a set” out of my mind, and it's not because I need to figure out what the infimum of any given set actually is. I even had a dream on Wednesday night that Jesus was talking about the infimum of a set in the Gospel of Matthew.
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As I'm sitting here, I start wondering at the fact that I'm sitting here at all. This is an upper-division mathematics course. I hated math in middle school, tolerated it in high school, and randomly decided to pursue it as my major when I took trigonometry. At this point, I had never had any logic, I had never seen a fully developed proof except for the ones in my calculus textbook that I didn't understand more than 1% of. Why am I sitting in a lecture hall with a score of other students -- one or two of whom I might classify as genius -- in front of a similarly genius professor, listening to a lecture I don't understand much of and probably won't understand much of for the rest of my undergraduate career? I should be sitting in an English class, because that's obviously where my real talent lies. My coworkers at the tutoring center used to tell me that I'd make a great proof-writer; I am the only person in Learning Support Services who's taken both upper-division mathematics and upper-division English courses. My grades on the recent homework assignments and the fact that I can't keep up with the homework revisions most of the time tell a different story about my proof-writing skills, and having to admit to various people that I'm really struggling in all my classes this quarter doesn't help my self-esteem. For the first 130 credits of my college career, I never got anything other than an A. That included a graduate-level biotechnology course and five college-level mathematics classes. And then the minute I came to Central, my perfect 4.0 GPA was slashed down to a 3.99 by my sophomore-level linear algebra instructor.

After I leave class, I ruminate that day, and the next, on how I should quit this thing they call the math major, how I should drop out of university. I know with a sickening certainty that I failed my junior-level linear algebra midterm, and I don't understand why linear algebra just isn't my thing. I don't understand why I had no trouble getting straight As until I came to Central, and suddenly I'll be lucky if I pull out of Linear Algebra II with a B.

I have trouble sleeping over the weekend because I'm afraid to get my midterm scores back. When my professor hands me my linear algebra midterm, my awful premonition is realized, and I don't know what bothers me more: the fact that my score doesn't even meet C level or the fact that I have trouble feeling anything about it. I don't really have the energy to cry, and all I feel is a weight tugging down all the hopes I had for my career in math.

But I go talk to my professor, even though I don't want to, and leave his office feeling relieved that I finally let someone know the struggle I've been having with every one of my classes all quarter. A couple days after, my instructor is proving that the countable infinity of every irrational number in the set S := [0,1] exceeds the countable infinity of the natural numbers (that is, the counting numbers). Finally, I can see why some infinities are considered larger than others! But then my instructor talks about Cantor -- or maybe it was Hilbert; he can't remember -- and how one of these mathematicians was committed to the insane asylum for the concept behind this proof about countable infinities, because mathematicians didn't want to accept the proof as fact. My instructor inserts into the story, “At one point Hilbert proved something existed by contradiction; that is, he said something could not exist and came upon a contradiction, thereby showing that it must exist. And mathematicians were angry, and said 'That's not math! That's theology.'” And the sheer beauty of logic, of mathematics, of God so overwhelmed me that I wanted to cry, and days like this show me how privileged I was to have stumbled upon the math major to begin with.

The mathematics major is a lonely business, and often an unforgiving one. Mathematics is inexorably precise. Mathematics means sometimes spending ten hours a day working on proofs, three or four days in a row. Mathematics means being wrong, a lot, and sometimes it means looking really stupid. There aren't a lot of people who understand what you're going through or the insecurities and anxieties you face. There aren't many people who understand your sense of humor or your math puns or why you're socially awkward. (I guess the good thing is that I've found a place where being socially awkward is considered socially acceptable.)

But there do exist some people who do understand, because they also have fought and tried to overcome the insecurities and anxieties that curse you. There are some who laugh at your silly math jokes and think your social awkwardness -- that is, the fact that you laugh uncontrollably about absolutely everything -- is charming. They've spent hours writing and refining proofs; they've probably spent a couple of those hours crying over those proofs, too. They're socially awkward. They don't shut up, they never speak, they make weirder noises than you've ever heard, they tell more jokes in sixty seconds than most people hear in a month, they freak out about anime and a cappella and theology and philosophy, they jabber in Elmo's voice, they tease so seriously you'd believe anything they say.

Yeah, the mathematics major is a lonely business, and often an unforgiving one, and no, my linear algebra midterm score probably isn't going to make it past C level (it's a shame my score can't hike). But there are days like today, and there are people like my classmates, and there are gifts God created like laughter and smiles and spring, . . . and when morning rolls around, it is, indeed, another day of sun.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

courtyard photoshoot + quarter goals and life update

Hallie came for the weekend after finals to see my cute one-bedroom apartment for the first time, check out Grocery Outlet (which I gush about all the time) and Winegar's, stroll about campus, and watch Beauty and the Beast. On Thursday, Hallie was nice and helped straighten up my house (studying > cleaning during the last few weeks of school . . . or always), made cottage cheese pancakes, and we walked to one Winegar's and then the other and were disappointed both times by the crowd of people for Free Pastry Day. So while Hallie complained about all the walking (even though her Fitbit cheered her excessively for making 10,000+ steps), we went to the SURC to use the Internet so I could answer a professor's e-mail about a scholarship.

On Friday, we went shopping at Maurice's, checked out Grocery Outlet, and visited Stephen at Ace. For dinner, we went to The Palace and had burgers and sweet potato fries.
On Saturday, we went out to the Barge Hall courtyard, where Hallie took these photos. We also had some taken together with the D7000's self-timer, and one of them was so hilarious that I screeched in laughter and had tears running down my face (see below haha). After the photoshoot, we went to Beauty and the Beast at the Grand Meridian and were pleasantly surprised at the fact that it was almost or on par with Cinderella (2015). (I wasn't impressed by the trailers/sneak peeks/even the soundtrack I'd seen and heard before I saw the movie.)
Then on Sunday we drove home to Goldendale, where I spent the past week trying to do scholarship prep, taking care of my horse (who is nineteen and still as feisty as ever . . . maybe even more so), writing thank-you notes, doing yoga, and discovering Poldark.
I am ready to go back to school, though, I think. I know it's going to be a tough quarter, but the nicer weather should certainly help me maintain a more positive outlook (January in Ellensburg meant a foot and a half and more of snow, snowfall nearly every day, freezing rain, icy sidewalks, subzero temperatures, and eight o' clock classes in the freezing cold). Gaining other tools to help me stay more positive (such as taking time for myself and setting aside specific time to do homework) has and will also help.

goals for spring quarter - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  

  • stop being intimidated by people and needing their affirmation for my happiness

  • keep up with my improving time management skills by maintaining a clean apartment and keeping up with daily activities -- especially prep for the exciting announcement below

  • spend more time at legitimate social activities, like concerts at the music building, movies at the SURC, and other campus stuff (90% of my present social activity is sitting in the library study lounge with my coworkers)

  • hang out with more women (I spend a lot of time with men because of my department)

  • be a better friend
  • be as active as possible; do yoga daily and go for walks in addition to walking for transportation

big news - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

On Friday, March 17th, while I was showing Hallie a dress I had tried on in Maurice's, Dr. Vadim Ponomarenko from San Diego State University called me and offered me a job on San Diego State's summer research experience for undergraduates (REU)! Two days later, I officially accepted the offer, which means I will be spending this summer in San Diego, California! I am so supremely excited. 
On the REU, I will be researching vorticity in hydrodynamics alongside applied mathematician Dr. Curtis and a few other students from all over the nation (there's one from Marquette University in Michigan, one from Baylor University in Texas, a few from University of California [Davis and Santa Barbara campuses], and one from University of Oregon -- and others I haven't even mentioned). The subject matter deals with fluid flows; calculations of fluid flows consist of a lot of vectors, since fluid flow has both magnitude and direction. I legit just learned the math I need for this REU winter quarter, in Multivariable Calculus II. God has impeccable timing. 
This was one of eight REUs I applied for from about February 10-March 3. REUs are a little different from internships in that we're not going to a company and learning about what they do and figuring out how to do it ourselves; we're actually being given the opportunity to research new mathematics, which is a pretty big deal as an undergraduate. After we finish our research, we'll be encouraged to present at various conferences and at our home institution. Another goal of the REU is to be published in a mathematical journal, which is also a big deal. REUs are a fantastic experience to have on your CV/resume when applying for graduate schools, since they mean you have already researched math in a competitive academic setting.
Before I leave for San Diego, I have to get through this quarter, of course; I also have to get a plane ticket, figure out housing, correspond more with my fellow REU peeps, and possibly get someone to sublet my Ellensburg apartment while I'm gone. I also get to go shopping for San Diego summer clothes -- yay! -- like shorts and capris and sundresses. 

That's about all for this blog post, so I'll sign off -- and mentally prepare myself for stepping into my advanced calculus classroom on Tuesday!