Fun as in Fundamentals

When I think about my work or about my future endeavours, whatever they may be, I am struck by how important the fundamentals are in understanding new concepts through simple reasoning.

A good couple of examples hit me a few days back. I was trying to learn a concept in Data Mining. I ended up trying to learn or remember  fundamental theories from topics as far and wide as 3D geometry and Calculus in some form or the other. The same happens when I try to read some basic Physics or Information Retrieval topics like indexing.

It is possible to understand the concepts even without knowing these “pre-requisites”. But the expected time of understanding (the ETU) is around 3 times the time taken to learn something new where I know the pre-requisites. It takes much more time to actually have the confidence to use or implement the concept elsewhere.

So, I am going to start learning a few topics which caught my fancy in college and later, but I never really got down to learning in detail, for whatever reason. I have already started on some of them, but I’ll just list them out – not so much for you, the reader, but for me. As a check that I had written it down somewhere and told a few people about my aims :

  • Strang's Calculus

    Calculus and basic Mathematics
    By that I mean concepts like Probability, statistics, Series and Algebra to the level a normal engineering student should know. I’m not yet sure how to go about all of it, but I have started off with Gilbert Strang for Calculus. The final goal, which is quite ambitious, is to understand the concept well enough to to explain it from the ground up to someone who doesn’t know anything about it (Like my Mom). This is going to be by far the hardest part the ETUs will be very high for me here.

  • Java
    I need a weapon. This is the one. To me this language just seems a whole lot more difficult than things like python, so this is where I’ll start. I already know C++ and a bit of Java, but I can’t make something from start to end right now. So I downloaded a good fat text-book and skipped the intro chapters, learning only the parts which I don’t know. Dietel & Dietel : Java How to Program covers a lot of what I would like myself to know.
  • Algorithm Analysis
    This is something else which has been in the pipeline for a long, long time. I had downloaded the series of lectures by Lieserson for the MIT Open CourseWare a long time ago. I never really got down to going through them in a systematic manner. The course seems quite vast, and consists of 22 lectures adding up to around 2.5GB.

    I need to use the lectures wisely. Going through a lecture and following it up religiously with the text-book chapters and exercises and then cross-checking the solutions.

  • sed & awk
    When seniors in college had said that learning sed and awk would be really useful, I was too lazy to spend my time on it. After all, it seemed better spent on girls, food, petrol and sleep. I’ve downloaded some easy material and bookmarked a couple of tutorials which should cover more than what I need to know.
  • Information Retrieval Concepts
    I like IR. I like the concepts and I love explaining it to people and I like to think I’m quite good at it too. So, a reasonable aim is to make sure I don’t lose touch with the concepts and hopefully add to my understanding by learning mathematics and algorithms.
  • Quantum Mechanics
    Someone once said, “Growing up is about giving up things you like doing“.

    This happens for different reasons. I gave up my love for Geography and Geology after Class 10 because I was faced with a straight choice between that and Mathematics (though now I wonder if this was the CBSE’s or the School’s fault). Quantum Mechanics is another thing which I always found fascinating.

    I couldn’t do much about my fascination without the mathematics,but now that I know at least a part of the basics – like Eigen vectors and Hilbert Spaces (somewhat) I can attack it hoping to get something out of it.   – Its something I wanted to learn since 9th grade in school, but was never enthused to look into by teachers

Now All I need to do is find the time. Work takes up almost all of 5 days thanks to the schedule and my lack of enthusiasm to get up early in the mornings after coming back home so late at night. So what do I do. So many things on my mind, so little time to put it all together!

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