The Value of Choice

I guess it only really makes sense to do this whole blogging thing if I’m going to be open about the stuff that went well and the stuff that… well, didn’t.

If I’m honest, my first foray into academia couldn’t really have gone worse. I spent a fair bit of time before starting my first module reviewing my knowledge of sets, functions and stuff like that, as I understood from the pre-requisites. I missed the bit where I had to know something called first order logic inside out, so it came as a bit of a shock when I turned up on my first day and within two hours we’d flown through the subject – and it’s a lot bigger and more complex than I thought. I suppose the problem was that in order to know what I didn’t know, I needed to know more than I knew.

Rather bewildered after the first day, I  figured I’d grab the recommended texts out of the library, and read up on the subject. After spending the whole weekend trying to teach myself, it was pretty clear that I needed a whole lot longer than I had to get a good understanding of the subject.

Maybe I could cram the bare minimum and blag my way through to scrape a pass, but that’s not really why I’m doing this. I want to get a much deeper understanding of these fascinating subjects; formal logic leads to reasoning, and reasoning leads to AI. Scraping through isn’t the way.

One of the advantages of doing the Modular version of the course, as opposed to the Part-Time version is that I have options when something unexpected happens during a module that jeopardises my chances of doing well. I’m paying about a 25% premium on the cost of the course for the privilege, but hey – at the time I figured I didn’t really know what to expect, so I guessed that having options in the face of is worth a lot.

Right now, I’m glad I have a choice.

I have to admit, even though it’s a move borne out of risk mitigation, it does feel like I messed up. I think it all went wrong because when faced with a subject that doesn’t really infringe on day-to-day practical applications of IT, I had no experience or knowledge to call on for help. I think I’ll enjoy learning formal logic a lot more on a realistic timescale! It’ll give me a chance to explore and learn Prolog, something that’s apparently a staple of undergraduate CS courses.

My advice to anyone in a position like me is to make absolutely sure you understand the pre-requisites – if the subject isn’t one you’re completely familiar with, get the lecturer to walk you through the pre-reqs with plenty of time to address any deficiencies.

My next module, starting in January, is called ‘Semi-Structured Data and the Web’. The only pre-requisite is knowledge of the W3C standards around XML, DTD, XPath etc. Now that stuff does have very practical applications that I’ve seen and used in the past. If I find myself in the same position in January, my last blog post will probably be a single phrase, repeated over and over again.

Something like ‘I am a fish’ should do nicely.

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