Monthly Archives: December 2014

How to use the Christmas ‘vacation’

The Christmas ‘vacation’, a time for merriment and cheer as we celebrate the close of a fun, work-filled year and the beginnings of a fresh and unexplored one in a frenzy of parties and mass gluttony. Well, not quite…

Indeed, the Part 1Bs were tasked with the vital challenge of enlightening the 1As as to the true meaning of Christmas.

They laid down the main objectives of the holidays:

  • Understand the material you have learned
  • Learn how to learn (?)
  • Recover!

Then swiftly leapt into dispensing wise (?) words, detailing a select few of the particular ways of constructing plans (YOU do make one, right?) and explained how to “actually do the work.” This involves sleeping and rewarding yourself… as well as building in a consistent routine and building revision material including, but certainly not limited to,

  • Revision cards
  • Small one-liners
  • Massive A3 spider diagrams
  • Detailed notes
  • Writing a book on a topic…

The 1Bs emphasised the importance of working with each other over the holidays to alleviate the… fun, lest they overload themselves. Quizzing each other via skype or Google hangouts, discussing intellectual problems they can’t solve in the isolations of their rooms and maintaining motivation throughout the long weeks. The importance of passing their ticks, using their supervision work and attempting Tripos papers was emphasised in order to provide more time for studying in Lent term.

Continuing with the theme of solid, vital information, the 1Bs moved onto notes, indicating that notes should: be condensed, (potentially) visual tools, ready for the exams and that they should be made tactically. One of the 1Bs detailed their struggle with notes, having spent too long on them and so sacrificed precious time spent on those notorious Tripos questions. Her story concluded with tips on how to make notes by selecting key points and not aiming to perfect them.

After notes had been polished off, another of the 1Bs stepped into the breach and addressed that difficult topic of determining how you actually learn how you learn. His tips included trying visual aids such as diagrams, making notes, watching videos on the topics and working on a practical project or collection of small programs to solidify concepts.

Unfortunately, the best laid plans do often go awry and so another 1B took the stand to illuminate the 1As on why this is the case with a list of three:

  • Issue #1: Hofstadter’s law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law
  • Issue #2: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion
  • Issue #3: Real life is fun… Concerts/Family/Friends/Lunches/ Movies/Dinners/Writing an Operating System/ Lots of Alcohol/Travel/Rowing

He proceeded to describe a series of strategies that could be deployed to counter these problems. Which effectively led back to planning, rewarding yourself and to be as productive as possible when working (close that Facebook tab I know you have open!).

The address drawing to a close, the 1Bs finished with a typically computer scientist ending, because, as always, xkcd is right:


Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

What is the Internet?

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer in under two minutes. You can listen to me having a go on the NakedScientists radio show.

Here is a direct link to the particular segment of the show:

If you want to listen to the whole thing – including an description of the ‘dark web’ – this is available online too.

Matt spent his summer working with the NakedScientists building an Android app for their show. Its currently got a rating of 4.2 out of 5 on the Android Play Store. Well done Matt…