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MIT student blogger Evan B. '10

More Psets! by Evan B. '10

This starts out artsy, but I promise it's going to go downhill really fast.

I woke up this morning at 8:15, 45 minutes after my alarm was going to go off. I go and look at my computer (which is supposed to be my alarm clock) to find that the power adapter askew enough that my laptop’s battery had completely drained. I wait 20 minutes for the shower, and then trudge through the rain to Sunny’s, the greatest breakfast joint in Cambridge, to meet some friends for breakfast…only to run into them walking to campus on my way there.

And thus began the second of the dreariest, grayest, rainiest first two days of school I can remember.

Fortunately, I was intentionally getting up well before my classes started and the breakfast was tasty, so it all works out in the end.

Anyway! Enough of that. I think of my “list of potential blog entries” as a stack, not a queue – I do the most recent things first. So today I’m exploiting that property to put off writing about last semester even longer in favor of the classic what-classes-am-I-taking-this-term post.

I’m signed up for 66 units of classwork this year. In theory, one unit corresponds to one hour of work per week, be that in the classroom, in lab, or at home. In practice, the correspondence usually isn’t so great, but it’s still a good indicator of just how hosed you’re going to be. To put this in perspective, for the last two terms I’ve signed up for 51 units. This should be an interesting term.

(Additionally, courses are broken down by how the expected distribution of hours, to give you a sense of how you will be spending your time. These are usually written A-B-C, which means A hours in the classroom, B hours in lab, and C hours doing out of class work. I’ll go ahead and put those in, too.)

6.003 Signals and Systems (4-2-9): This class covers basic signals analysis, how to build filters, and analyzing things in the frequency domain, instead of the time domain by using Fourier, Laplace, and z-transforms. Lots of cool concepts, but the class has a reputation for being “grungy math part II” (to 6.002’s “grungy math part I”).

6.004 Computation Structures (4-3-8): Alternatively titled by the instructors as “The Way Digital Things Work”. This class starts at the level of MOSFETs (basic electronic switching devices) and moves up through gates, modules, integrated circuits, processors, and a basic operating system. By showing you how to take some small thing, build something bigger, and then stop caring about the smaller thing, you learn how to build very, very complex components with millions or billions of individual MOSFETs. And in the process, you do actually build each of these pieces in simulation, using software that was designed for the course. 6.004 has a reputation for being one of the best classes in Course VI, and many people (Jessie included, I believe) count it as their favorite class at the ‘tvte. This term, 6.004 is being co-taught by Steve Ward and Chris Terman. I’m really excited about having another class with Chris, who was the professor for 6.111 last term.

6.033 Computer System Engineering (5-0-7): According to the Underground Guide Course Evaluations, covers “everything you ever wanted to know about computers, but didn’t know to ask.” Things from how the X Windows System works to why Worse-Is-Better is a better development philosophy than Do-The-Right-Thing (the jury’s still out on that one, for the record, or at least I think it is). It should be a good class, and the lecturers are supposed to be excellent. This class is also a CI-M, a “communications intensive in major” course. I have to have two to graduate, so this will finish off that requirement (6.111 was one as well).

18.440 Probability and Random Variables (3-0-9): Many of the EE-related classes require a probability class, either 6.041 or 18.440, which is supposed to be a little more mathematically rigorous. A friend of mine just changed his major to 18, and has to take 18.440 as one of the requirements, so I figured I’d take that, because classes are always more fun when you’re taking them with people you know.

(Ok – I wrote that blurb this morning, but having actually been to today’s lecture, I’m actually really excited about it, because while I usually hate probability, Professor Kelner seems to be a really good teacher who gives very well prepared lectures. He’s a recent MIT graduate student, so he also seems to be fairly understanding of students’ needs – for example, he’s planning to hold one set of office hours the night before the psets are due.)

17.42 Causes and Prevention of War (4-0-8): The only reason I signed up for this class is that lots of my friends were as well. I’ve never taken a political science class before, so this should be interesting. It’s a CI-H (“communications intensive humanities”). I need two of these as well, but I already have 2, so I’m actually taking this one because it counts towards the HASS-D requirement (you have to take classes in a certain variety of disciplines. Please don’t ask me to explain the various HASS requirements. I honestly don’t think anyone really understands them).

Hmm…well, I wrote just about everything up above this morning. Then classes happened, I got distracted, and am only just now finishing.

It turns out that the end of my day made the perfect counterpart to the start of my day.

First, some background. My room doesn’t get much circulation, so as a general rule, I leave my window opened a few inches when I leave in the morning so that it’s not uncomfortably hot when I get back from classes. This is normally fine – even when it rains – because Burton-Conner has the interesting property that it always seems to be at a higher pressure than the outside world. That, combined with the screen in the window, seems to keep my room cool and dry.

Of course, today I leave W20, where I had been doing homework, to walk home. After a day of fairly clear weather, it’s raining again, and harder than before. So I get back to my dorm soaked, and walk up to my room to find the third of my bed closest to the window nicely doused by the rain.

But that’s ok. It was a good day. My classes are interesting. My professors are good. It should be a good term.

25 responses to “More Psets!”

  1. Akshay says:

    Hey Evan!
    This was very informative post you wrote.

  2. Piper says:

    How do you use your computer for an alarm clock?

    And yay for overloading yourself! I’m taking too many classes and doing too many activities on the side this term to remain sane. It’s a good thing I’m already insane to begin with.

  3. Karen says:

    Just search “online alarm clock” and you’ll find plenty. It’s pretty useful if you think you’re falling asleep at your computer. Just in case.

  4. Evan says:

    Not exactly what I do, actually. I have an AppleScript that sets the volume on my computer to something really loud and then plays the most annoying alarm sound I could find. Then I use the OS X atq daemon to set the time it should go off at.

    This usually works beautifully – with the added benefit that I have to get out of bed and type my password to turn my alarm off. Except for this morning, though – for some reason the alarm I set to go off at 8:00 AM instead went off at 11:15.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Out of curiosity, are you majoring in 6-1, 6-2, or 6-3?

  6. Evan says:

    I’m majoring in 6-2, (which is the blend of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science). I think I have a strong leaning towards 6-1 (pure EE), but I also really like some aspects of CS too.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Oops…I think I should have checked the blog overview/bio thing before I posted that. Well, I have learned my lesson.

    6.033 sounds really fun, although I am puzzled as to what aspect of it makes it satisfy the communications requirements. Is it just the class structure or is there something in the class curriculum that makes it a CI-M class?

    Also, is 6.004 a part of the general Course VI requirements?

  8. Evan says:

    Hehe. No problem.

    For a class to count as a CI course, it has to assign at least 20 pages of writing over the course of the term. This can be divided up differently depending on the course. In the case of 6.033, there are 2 one-page papers, a proposal for a design project, and the design project itself.

    6.004 is one of the core classes for the old curriculum, which means that all Course VI students from the years before mine (and many of the students from my year) have to take it (including me, since I’m taking the old curriculum). Under the new curriculum, you have to take 4 of 6.002, 6.003, 6.004,…6.007, which are all designed to be “Foundation classes.”

    You can see the various requirements and classes from the new curriculum on the EECS website.

  9. Nihar says:

    Go EECS!!

    Hey Evan, Do any of 6.033 or 6.004 cover programming concepts too?

  10. Sam says:

    One of my profs related it to me this way, which I thought was clever. Every class has a vector (a b c) associated with it. You take the course listing for number of hours, (3 0 9) or whatever, and take the dot product with (a b c), and you get the number of hours that you’ll be spending on the class. a isn’t negotiable, and b usually doesn’t matter since most classes multiply it by 0. It’s c you have to worry about.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hi Even

    Are there a lot of MIT students taking like 7 or 8 classes plus an UROP at the same time?

  12. Kemian says:

    I like your blogs the best because they are very and truly informative.

  13. Snively says:

    @Anonymous February 7, 2008 03:53 PM
    *cries a little*

  14. Anonymous says:

    Are you one of the 7 or 8 classers? Is it humanly possible to take 7 and above classes at MIT, let’s say, 4 engineering classes, 2 math and/or physics, 2 humanity classes? Sincerely, I want to find out if it is quite common to take that many calssesat a time at MIT.

  15. Evan says:

    That’s not really common at all. I know very few people who take more than 6 classes. This is my first year where I’ve taken more than 4 classes, and I’ve had more than enough work.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Oops, Snively, I just read your blog about the classes you are taking this semester. I like the toy class too.

  17. Alexander says:

    I want to do the course 6-2 thing with the bias towards EE as well! Also EEVVAAANNN I want the invention blog thing!!! Oh and great post I was really wondering what course you do as a course 6-2 student.

  18. Ram says:

    Possibly, Berkeley EE has a tad bit fewer geniuses at the U/G level, but at the graduate level, I would say they are on par with MIT. But regardless, the EE curriculaum at Berkeley will be just as hard and challenging at Berkeley. You will get your money’s worth in both places grin, perhaps twice the money’s worth at Berkeley since it costs only half as much as MIT.

  19. asm says:

    In my opinion, any class that involves X11 automatically wins awesomeness status. =D

    Speaking of that, how general is 6.033? Is it more like general systems design theory and such, or is the focus on more specific/practical things (like designing window servers, for that matter)?

  20. Evan says:

    You do know that the X11 Windows System was developed here at MIT as part of Project Athena, right?

    My understanding is that the class starts with general design theory and then focuses in on case studies, although I’m not entirely sure yet.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hi Evan,
    I’ve got admitted through EA, but I seriouly think I might go to UC Berkeley instead of MIT. I have heard that MIT has quite a few geniuses of genius each year. The guy living down our street told me it is fairly common to take 7 or 8 classes at the same time among his friends, by the way, he is an MIT ’09. Wow, he might be in the genii club of MIT if there is something like that at MIT. I agree with Kemian. I like your posts very much and they are very informative.I like to major in EE too.

  22. Anonymous says:

    @ 7:08pm poster:
    If you’re planning to major in EE at Berkeley because you hope to find fewer geniuses there, you are in for a big surprise.

  23. asm says:


    Yeah, I knew the X Window System originated at MIT…as did Kerberos and a slew of other open source software projects. Heck, W3C and the Free Software Foundation itself were founded at MIT, which is how I found out about MIT in the first place. (Well, I guess the FSF wasn’t technically founded at MIT, since Richard Stallman severed all his ties to MIT, but still…)

    Oh, and by the way, all my Unix explorations were on Mac OS X. I was overjoyed to find out that you’re a Mac fan too, and was actually pretty surprised by how much support there is for Macs at MIT. I also enjoyed your alarm clock solution. I wonder how many people on these blogs know what AppleScript is…

    Just curious: have you ever programmed using any of the native OS X APIs, like Cocoa or Carbon? Cocoa is very, very fun, I must say.

    (This is another reason why I would love to go to MIT and why EECS rocks — so many awesome people! ^_^)

  24. Hawkins says:

    Evan! Thanks for writing about your courses; they sound like just the sort of thing I’d be interested in taking! EECS, FTW!

  25. Evan, you have the best classes ever, especially 6.004. I did an independent study Computer Organization/Architecture class that talked about all those things .. but didn’t really apply any of them (except for my 4-function 4K assembly calculator .. but hey .. it actually uses infix notation .. so its not entirely trivial). 6.004 sounds like the class I dreamed that that class could have been.. it sounds like a dream class for a 6-2 person, particularly.