Sophomore College (1)

Stanford has a program called Sophomore College.  Fall term starts towards the end of September, and SoCo goes from the beginning of September until the start of fall term.  In  SoCo, you only take one class, and it meets every day of the week.  To do a SoCo, you have to apply – each SoCo has enrollment capped at 16ish, and there are only 10 or 20 of them, so there are always more people who want to do a SoCo than spots available. 

Mehran took over the CS SoCo, so I decided to apply for it.  It seems like it will be very fun and educational.  There are a bunch of things that the class has historically done than Mehran will be continuing – how do we know that some problems cannot be solved?  How do our computer security systems work?  What does it mean to describe a computer as “intelligent”? – but he’s also letting the people in the class drive a lot of the curriculum.  And there will be some field trips since we’re already in Silicon Valley.  And he managed to snag some of the Google Android developer phones, which I’m very excited about. 

It’ll also be nice to see how Mehran teaches a class that doesn’t have its enrollment in triple digits.

Living in Terra Co-op (1)

When I wrote my application to Stanford, I said that I wanted to live in Columbae, the hippie vegetarian consensus-decision-making change-through-nonviolent-action co-op.  When people were deciding on where to live for next year, though, I actually ended up in Terra, the orderly meat-eating non-consensus Queers-deserve-rights-at-all-costs co-op. 

Many of the considerations that went into that decision turned out untrue.  Originally, Nick Isaacs and I were going to be roommates again, and, while he claims he would have been fine living in Columbae, he would have been much happier in an environment where people cooked meat.  As much as I am anti-hippie (for me, hippie connotes laid back / self-help culture, and I believe that real change needs action.  In other words, I am anti-hippie because I am pro-green, pro-labor, and pro-equality), I still appreciate living in a hippie commune to an extent that many people would not.  Also, a bunch of my friends (like Brennan, the person who helped my with my ASSU campaign video) were talking about Terra.  Well, neither my roommate nor many people from my dorm will be living in Terra next year.  There is a sizable contingent, though: my room and the next two rooms down the line (we already chose our rooms) are all people from my dorm.

That said, I’m still happy to live in Terra next year.  First, I wanted to live in a co-op.  I like the idea of us being self-sufficient, making our own food, cleaning after ourselves, etc.  Everyone, especially affluent folks like me, should try it at least once in their lives.  Even though not a lot of the people from my dorm will be living there, I do know a bunch of the people who’ll be living in Terra because Terra is the unofficial LGBTQ themed residence and I’m active in the Queer community.  Also, Terra is where a lot of LGBTQ activism takes place, and I like being around activism.

The food’s good, too.  And there’s an open kitchen, so I’ll be able to eat even when it’s not a meal time.


The location, while much farther from central campus than before (and it’s basically the farthest dorm from the CS building that exists on campus.  ARGH.), is still pretty cool.  It’s right next to Vaden, the free clinic.  That probably means that I’ll be stopping by at the first signs of sickness rather than never (as was the case with my flu fall term) or after the worst part of my sickness has already passed (as was the case with my sickness in finals week of spring term).  It’s near my roommate’s apartment-style place (it’s still a part of Stanford housing, but each group of people has thick walls separating them from everyone else).  I’ll have to pass by the HAAS Center for Public Service to get to campus, which will hopefully incite me to be more active with HAAS events.  And it isn’t too far.

The actual process for getting into a residence is called the Draw.  Because there are 6,000 undergrads that all have conflicting desires on where to live, the Draw is a process where everyone ranks their preferences, then each person gets a lottery number, and each person gets into the highest ranked dorm that is still available when their number comes up. 

Since it can be annoying to enter into the draw, some people also preassign.  This means that you know where you’re living before the draw even begins.  I preassigned into Terra.  Because of changes in the rules regarding the draw, this might have actually not been the best idea.  Basically, each student, in their 3 years going through the draw, gets one good draw number, one medium draw number, and one bad draw number, and apparently preassigning uses a medium draw number even though I could have gotten into Terra with a bad draw number.  I’m not too worried, though.

You can draw (or preassign) with a roommate, but because of the aforementioned dropouts, I drew alone, and I didn’t figure out who would be my roommate until the meeting where everyone decides which room they’ll be living in.  My roommate for next year, Allister, actually didn’t make it to that meeting, so I just met with a friend of his that he sent as a proxy. 

When I met with him later, though, he seemed pretty cool.  Maybe a little less singing in the room than with Nick, but we can work on that.

Being a Computer Science Section Leader (1.6)

In the introductory CS classes at Stanford, the section leaders are undergraduates.  I think that I would be a pretty good section leader, and I think that I would really like teaching.  To be a section leader, you have to do an application, interview, and test.  Mid May is the second time I did the first two parts and the first time I made it to the final round.

The application was expanded this time.  They also asked some questions like “Explain backtracking recursion to your 10 year old cousin” and “Explain the benefits of decomposition to your friend who loves waterfowl biology.”  It was fairly interesting to spend the time thinking up metaphors. 

The interview was two parts: lecturing and debugging code.  The interview went better in some ways and worse in some ways than last time. 

The better: I had spent a lot more time working on my lecture skills, and it paid off.  I sat down with David Gobaud after an ASSU meeting, and he had me practice and gave me some tips.  I also practiced my lecture on some people in my dorm.  The two big improvements in my lecture skills: I used more and better pictures on the whiteboard, and I started abstract before going into the actual computer code.  The interviewers also asked some fake questions that I did a good job of answering.

The worse: for the first time since doing debate, I suffered from stage fright.  They asked me a question about how long a given piece of code would take to execute, and I failed to calmly step back analyze it even though I knew how to solve the problem.  I was on the right track, which they gave me credit for, but they had me move on with the interview before I was completely finished.  Also, because I was out of practice programming (my only CS class this term was a math/theory class, not a programming class), I was out of practice debugging, and it showed.  I fixed all of the problems with the buggy code before the time was up, but they gave me a few hints, and I should have been much faster overall.

Much to my surprise, I made it to the final round with the test.  It was an online 100 minute test.  I thought it was fairly fun.  In my mind, the test was basically aimed at seeing how good we would be at grading our students’ code.  In the test, they asked a lot of questions where it was something that I had never actually done before (and, with good programming practices, things that I should never do), but if I understood the internals of the programming language and the program that turns computer code into computer programs, I would know the correct answer.  In other words, the test had me doing a lot of critical thinking.  There were also some questions about things that I would get a lot more experience with in CS107, the introductory programming class that I haven’t yet taken. 

I did fairly well on it.  I got a few questions wrong, but my intuition was correct on most of them even though I hadn’t had any direct experience with a bunch of the questions. 

In the end, I didn’t get one of the spots, but I did impress them.  They said that my teaching was one of the best that they had seen, but they had found that people who had taken CS107 make better teachers, so they encouraged me to apply again after I take CS107.  Not quite the answer I was looking for, but it was one of the most satisfying rejection letters that I’ve gotten.  I’ll be taking CS107 in the Fall, and, hopefully, will be section leading in the Winter.

Other Classes (1.5)

I won’t have to choose my classes for the Fall until a few weeks into Fall term, but I have given them some thought.  I will be taking CS107, the next introductory programming class, and CS103, the CS math/theory class that I think they’re encouraging people to take before CS109 (the class I was in this term).  Between those two, that’s 10 units.

Apart from that, no definite plans.  I might take an intro voice (ie, singing) class.  There are some Urban Studies classes that I want to take – the 130 series has some very highly recommended classes on social entrepreneurship.  I might take a class or two from the law/business/education schools (probably not ready for med school, though).  There are a bunch of interesting classes in the Feminist Studies and Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity departments.  I have also been telling myself continuously that I need to take more history classes – debate has given me the critical thinking skills to put the pieces together once I know the relevant historical facts, but I still don’t know all of the relevant historical facts.

Oh yeah, there are some introductory math/physics/chemistry classes that I was planning on taking my frosh year, too.  What ever happened to those?  I should probably take those at some point in time.