So I guess a few things happened to me recently. I will not be a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research at UCSB this year. This doesn’t surprise me. I consider the research that I have done so far to be rather low-quality; certainly I was capable of doing much more and much better research, and probably without giving up very much other stuff that I did as an undergraduate except possibly playing solitaire. I think the math department nominated me for it because I had done a bit of research, and they didn’t really have anyone else they could think of. (But they deny this of course!) The professors think I didn’t get it because a math student got it last year, and they don’t want to give it to the same department too frequently. But the other problem for me is that I’m a terrible salesman. It’s difficult to try to convince other people that I am intelligent or am deserving of awards when I do not believe it myself! Anyway, the math department is giving me one of their own awards (Raymond L. Wilder Award). I suppose I deserve that one since I certainly believe that I have worked much harder than any other math major here.
I also had the pleasure of completely failing the last exam I will take as an undergraduate (in my quantum computing class). Actually the last sentence is a lie; it was not a pleasurable experience at all. Apparently this professor has a habit of giving very challenging exams, but I didn’t know that (having never taken a course from him in the past). It does feel strange that I believe that I understand what we discuss in class, that I can make meaningful contributions to the lectures, and I can solve the problems he posted on the website, but yet I was not able to demonstrate a satisfactory level of knowledge on the exam. I guess recently I have been spoiled by exams in which I can easily answer everything (or nearly everything) confidently once I have mastered the subject matter.
I keep getting roped into giving talks this quarter, so I have four of them to give next week. Two are in combinatorial game theory (as usual); I’ll talk about games with entailed moves and then some stuff with infinite games and ordinals and surreal numbers unless I suddenly come up with a much better idea. Then I have a talk in the analysis class on the prime number theorem (go figure!), and then I should give one in cryptography on something in elementary number theory, possibly but not necessarily related to cryptography. Right now I’m thinking about doing quadratic Gauss sums, but that could change if I suddenly get a better idea.
Today I watched two of Conway’s videos, one of which played a large part in preventing me from getting as much work done as I would have liked. The aforementioned video was on lexicographic codes (lexicodes). You can watch it following the link from here, but I suggest you not do so if you have work you need to get done! After watching it, I tried surfing around on the web for more information about lexicodes, with minimal success, and then headed over to the library to look at Conway and Sloane’s book on some related topics, and again I was not pleased with the lack of information on lexicodes. After that, I headed over to CCS and managed to find a paper the two of them wrote on the subject. I then tried, as a test, to give the same lecture that Conway gave in the video on my own (sans anecdotes, but including the gimmicks with lexicode theorem/non-theorem/very non-theorem), without any notes, and I found I had no difficulty in doing so. This stuff isn’t really appropriate for the CGT class, but I might check if there are any slots open in the discrete geometry seminar for me to give a talk like this; I’d fill the rest of the time up with cool stuff about nim and nim fields; it is hoped that I will get a better reception in such a seminar than I did in my class.
Now I ought to go to a location free of computers to prepare my talk on the prime number theorem.