Thursday, September 25, 2008

Child Prodigy

Inspired by the word "Prodigy":
Juliette refused to call herself a child prodigy. Her parents despised the word, with its implication that she wasn’t on a direct path towards success, but was rather a bright shining star that would burn out soon enough and let the other kids have a chance.

“That’s not fair,” Andrea said, “plenty of child prodigies grow up to be successful.”

Juliette dried up that sanctimonious phrase with a single look. Stuck behind the Starbucks counter all day, making Espressos for young investment bankers, the last thing she wanted to be reminded of was what a bright child she had been.
Graduate school, so far, is full of Computer Programming Languages. (To be honest, it is also full of epigenetics, and genetics, and my wonderful genetics clique which is being broadened to perhaps include biochemists and developmental biologists, but mostly it is full of Computer Programming Languages.) This quarter will be the quarter to learn how to analyze data; I am learning both PERL and R for that purpose. Well, not exactly. I'm learning R because it's part of a totally worthless statistics course I have to take (mostly I sit in the back and pass notes with the rest of my genetics clique). I'm learning PERL in order to analyze a data set for my first rotation.

It's a very novel experience; being confronted with a massive data set. I don't rightly know what to do with it yet. I mean, I have a vague idea of what sorts of graphs I'd like to eventually have. But it's very vague and I have very little idea of how I would go about making those graphs. But what's awesome is that my job for the next ten weeks will be to analyze someone else's data set: I'm so used to doing benchwork for ages and ages and getting maybe 10 data points. This time, with no benchwork at all, I was handed an enormous data set: something like 5 million points. I'll likely do some benchwork as well to make a library (read: sample) or two, but it's all procedures I know well already (read: molecular cloning, PCR amplification. The hardest step? Gel purification. From a kit.) and even if I started yesterday, since the lab I'm working for sends out their libraries for analysis, and the analysis is backed up like whoah, I wouldn't get data back until the rotation will be over. So I'll do it to stay in practice, I guess, but the focus of my project will totally be analysing all this data. And since I have a lot of data to analyse, I am (finally) teaching myself PERL.

So far so good with that; I'm pretty comfortable with basic control structures, arrays, and hash tables (and since I picked up the book yesterday, and since I am a biologist, I count this as progress). I'm finding my biggest frustration to be 1) Vista, which has nothing to do with PERL, and 2) the fact that all variables are stored, basically, as strings, so I have to remind the program that any given variable is a number, say, by adding zero to it, every time I want to do a comparison -- or else 9 > 10 since it's sorted alphabetically by ASCII value. Say what?

Next topic to cover is file input and output.

On another, unrelated note, I am riding my bicycle faster than I ever have before. I know this because I actually passed someone on the road today. For the first time in my entire life. As in, when I said "I passed someone on my bike today!" my dad thought it had to be a four year old with training wheels. I still feel big, slow, and vaguely turtle-like: since I carry textbooks and my computer, lunch, and various sundries on the back of my bike every day, as I slowly wheel my way the mile-or-so to work. But at least I am not the slowest turtle on the road!

If only my textbooks would protect me the way a turtle's shell protects the turtle. That, indeed, would be nice.

And, finally (I mean it, finally), I found a market that looked like it has been designed for a specific short story I wrote, which basically made me run out of reasons not to submit the story. So I did. I am keeping my fingers crossed, but to be honest it would not be the end of the world either way.

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