Putnam and Beyond // Putnam Exam

Came across something cool today searching for some test writing material for math contests. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things with creating problems for middle/high-school aged competitions that are medium in difficulty (similar to AMC/AIME type of difficulty). Anyways, I stumbled across this preface to the book Putnam and Beyond, written by my former math instructor at Texas Tech University, Razvan Gelca.

One of my biggest regret after graduating college was how I did not push myself harder to try earnestly at the Putnam Exam. At the time, I overextended myself with my coursework (trying to pull off a Mathematics and Engineering dual-degree, all within four years time) while neglecting some of my extra-curricular activities. If only I knew then what I know now about how classes are, effectively, pretty useless when it comes to the “real-world,” I would have focused more on qualitative accomplishments (like discovering new ideas, the value of research to find answers, etc…) rather than trying to maintain a high GPA. Although I never truly embarrassed myself on the exam (I didn’t ever record the dreaded final score of “zero,” for example), I certainly should have focused my attention more and worked longer hours practicing.

The Putnam Exam is one of the few math contests I feel genuinely strive towards recognizing inventiveness rather than regurgitation of math concepts. This “flicking on of the light bulb” of new ways of approaching problems is really what I cherished most about my Putnam sessions with Dr. Gelca. Although, without much consistent practice since, the math has probably laid dormant in me for a while, I still try to approach problems I come across in my work from multiple perspectives in order to determine the best course of action. There is and will always be high value attached to thinking of things in novel ways.

Anyways, discovering that I was mentioned in the Acknowledgements Section of the book Dr. Gelca was working so hard to compile while I was with him in the mid-2000s made me feel exceptionally proud and provided me a window to reflect on all life lessons I learned during that time.

And if you are math competitor, I highly recommend the book as well (I just ordered a copy myself as I have only a marked-up manuscript in my possession)!

University of Utah Business Alumni Association

Earlier this year I was selected to be a board member for the University of Utah Business Alumni Association (or UUBAA, for short). This is an incredible honor and I can’t wait to help give back to an organization that has given me so much over the past two years!

One of the primary responsibilities of UUBAA is to foster mentor/mentee relationships with undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of business-related majors. I decided to join the SMART Start Committee as it is one of the more established programs within the David Eccles School of Business and one that provides direct one-on-one mentoring.

Most people don’t know this, but the University of Utah churns out some of the highest rates of entrepreneurs in the nation — especially in the fields of science and technology. Because of my background in engineering and now business, I feel like I can be a valuable voice in assisting the program. My first committee meeting occurred this past week and I feel incredibly inspired by all the participant. Can’t wait to get started!

PMBA Ambassador // University of Utah

PMBA Ambassador

Just saw on the University University of Utah Eccles School of Business website that they had my photo and details listed under the Professional MBA Ambassadors list!

PMBA Ambassadors is a program where alumni can mentor prospective and current students over all facets associated with the program (career guidance, coursework, networking events, etc…). By being am ambassador, my personal goal is to provide helpful guidance to students to make it a little more easier — however minuscule — for them during their time at the University of Utah.

Receiving my MBA while working full-time was one of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever had to overcome in my relatively short career, but it was also one of the most rewarding things. I knew after I completed the program I wanted to give back as much as possible as a way of saying “thank you.” So if you have any interest in going back to school to get an MBA, feel free to shoot me an e-mail or contact me through the website — I’d be happy to give you my opinion!

Eugene & Janey Heath Engineering Endowment // Texas Tech University

Two years ago I started an effort to memorialize my late grandparents, Eugene and Janey Heath, by creating an endowment at Texas Tech University’s College of Engineering. You can read my testimonial concerning the gift, and my motivation behind it, here.

Although the endowment became fully funded after the first year because of the generosity of my family, today marked the completion of my initial pledge amount as I sent the university the last of my obligated donation. I am incredibly proud to have seen this project through its entirety and look forward to contributing, unencumbered, in the future!

For those looking to make an indefinite mark at your alma mater, I highly recommend establishing an endowment. With dollar-for-dollar employee matching and the lowering of creation thresholds, starting a fund has never been easier for a graduate. The amount universities (and their conferred degrees!) give to their graduates extend well beyond the price they recoup through tuition. I’ve had incredible experiences and created lasting relationships through my time at Texas Tech — so giving a little bit back after graduation was something I always knew that I wanted to do. Today marks a personal milestone for myself, my family, and my university!

50-Mile Running Training Plan

So in about 2 months I’ll be running the 50-Mile Buffalo Run on Antelope Island. To better prepare, I’ve switched to using Hal Koerner’s 50-Mile training plan — lasting a grueling 16 weeks — as my loose guide which has become very challenging both from an effort and time commitment standpoint. This is my first time to follow a a regimented training plan (my typical “training” just consisted of my running as long as felt like, whenever I felt like it!) and, like some fellow ultra-marathon redditors have mentioned, I have mixed opinions.

The pros of following this training plan are:

  • Uses the power of guilt as a motivating factor (have you kept up with what you are suppose to keep up with?)
  • The back-to-back long runs help you experience what it’s like to run on tired legs
  • Running 50 miles (or more) requires putting in a hefty amount of miles per week; this training plan helps you schedule it as best as humanly possible

The cons of following the plan is:

  • Like one redditor mentioned, I think it is extremely difficult to keep up with 60-70 miles per week and not get injured. Most of my more recent miles come in the form of trail running in snow. One false move and you can easily turn an ankle leaving you out an indeterminate amount of time in recovery (which, of course, happened to me)
  • Needs more hills. A lot more hills. I feel like 5 miles of uphill is comparable to a half marathon of flat running. Additionally, most long distance trail races encompasses a lot of elevation, so having hill training is crucial
  • More rest days after back-to-back long runs. I feel like one day is hardly enough recovery time after running up to 50 miles (Week 12) in two outings.

I must admit that after following the plan thus far, I am in the best shape I have ever been prior to a race. I’ve grown accustomed to the daily 6 to 10 mile weekday runs — enough that it isn’t much effort to accomplish anymore. The second of the long runs are still killer and I’m relatively weak on the uphills, but I feel that I can close that effort gap before race day in a few months. Will keep you posted!

BYU Math Contest + Number Sense Tests // Update

Received word back from the BYU Math Contest organizers that the problems I submitted a few weeks back made the cut and will be used in the problem pool for this years test!

In other news, I crossed the 3,000 question threshold for my automated Number Sense Tests which will mean less test-to-test repetition. My goal is to get a bank of 10,000 questions before I begin work on having user-generated exams via the website so students aren’t beholden to my weekly posts.

Anyways, 2017 is off to a great start!

2016 Re-Cap

Not to get all high-and-mighty, but I believe that self reflection is one of the most important things an individual can do. Turning a critical eye on your  accomplishments as well as your personal failings give you a sense of achievement and can help motivate you towards improvement. I wasn’t always a believer in this idea; however, my MBA courses — where I had to deal with my personal shortcomings often — led me to realize the power such reflections can provide. So with that in mind, here is a listing of the major things, both professionally and personally, I was able to complete in 2016 as well as some goals that I fell short on (but hopefully can remedy in 2017).

Professional Achievements

  • Submitted patent for unique improvements to our facility’s linear accelerator (it was our facility’s first patent submittal in recent memory)
  • Submitted late news article, suitable for poster presentation, to the Hardened Electronics and Radiation Technology Annual Conference detailing extensive characterization efforts of said linear accelerator
  • Completed all work efforts to the facility’s and customer’s satisfaction (intentionally vague, I know…)
  • Was involved in higher-level business efforts concerning our facility such as constructing and refining RFI answers and determining lab usage rates
  • Began incorporating python and MATLAB learning into work tasks
  • Reacquainted myself with LaTeX and have been championing it’s use in the creation of technical documents
  • Graduated with my Professional MBA from the University of Utah (GPA of 3.90)

Personal (+ Family!) Achievements

  • Birth of our first child, Eleanor
  • Improved photography and photo-editing skills
  • Keeping up with training plan for 50-mile race scheduled in March
  • Created a personal website and re-evaluated my own personal value
  • Went to Seoul, South Korea for MBA International trip which was not only immensely informative but was personally rewarding in a lot of ways
  • Became a Professional MBA Ambassador which entails mentoring incoming students and promoting the program to prospective students
  • Became a board member for the University of Utah Business Alumni Association
  • Become contributors to a variety of personal causes

Where I Came Up Short

  • Did not take the Project Management Professional (PMP) Exam and receive certification which complemented some of my MBA coursework
  • Did not become a staple at regional IEEE events and volunteer opportunities
  • Did not become certified National Instruments LabVIEW Developer

Anyways, here’s to a very fulfilling 2016 and the hope that 2017 will be equally as beneficial!

50-Miler Ultra // 3 Months Out

We’re three months out from my ultra-marathon, so I thought I’d give a quick update on the training:

  • I’ve been using the Boise Foothills 50k Frenzy training schedule (speaking of a race I want to run…!) as a “loose guide” — I’ve never been one to follow strictly to a running regiment, but it does give you a little insight that you are (or aren’t!) at a point where you should be.
  • Been consistently running 5 – 6 days a week; averaging 25 – 30 miles per week. So according to the schedule, I’m a little ahead of what is required for a 50k trail run, so I’m feeling pretty good.
  • Longest run has been a 13.0 miles where I did it in 1:45 (it was under optimal conditions).
  • Lately, conditions in Salt Lake City have been snowy/rainy, so my trail times have slipped from ~8:30 min/mile to ~10 min/mile. I think I’m going to upgrade my YakTraxs to Microspikes to provide better grip on snow as this seems to be a reoccurring problem with my running.

Here’s a screengrab (since Nike makes it impossible to share your Activity Page) of my latest trail run on the Bonneville Shoreline Trail:

12-10-2016 Run

Anyways, looking forward to hitting the trails more in the winter!

UIL / TMSCA Auto-Generated Number Sense Test 2 // Future Work

The question pool that my auto-generated Number Sense test relies on has swelled to 1200 questions and is growing at a rate of about 500 questions per week. There might be some weird artifacts — like two Roman Numeral questions or three integral questions within the same exam — but these are attributable to fact that you are randomly selecting problems from the pool and is not indicative of some problem with the program. As a whole, I’d say I am about 90-95% accurate in replicating a competition exam.

Here is the second exam and its answer key. As always, you can find all the practice exams from my repository here.

Currently, the difficultly in the auto-generated tests are comparable to UIL Invitational through District exams. I plan on, separately, creating harder practice tests that replicate Regional and State competitions for those who want more advanced practice. (I didn’t want to discourage novice competitors by incorporating very challenging problems into the question pool that could be randomly incorporated into the practice tests).

As this project moves into the “auto-pilot” phase, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do next. One topic I am very passionate about is personal finance and the journey towards Financial Independence (or more commonly know as FI). One thing that has been helpful to both myself and my friends is a more “real-world” mortgage amortization table that I created which aids a future-homeowner with their decision of finding the right house to buy and the type of loan to buy it with. I’m beginning work on developing python code to generate this table from basic loan/house information as well as output helpful statistics (e.g. the amount of time where a 15-year loan is preferred to a 30-year, assuming a particular market return, etc…).

UIL / TMSCA Number Sense Auto-Generated Practice Tests

Note: If you’re looking for the results of the auto-generated Number Sense practice tests, you can find them in the repository here. If you’re interested in some of the background behind the project, read below:

So I had a couple of free hours this past week so I whipped up some rough python code to auto-generate UIL Number Sense tests based off a database of questions that are sub-divided into 10-question buckets (e.g., I pooled Questions 1-10, 11-20, etc…, and randomly selected ten problems from each bucket and assembled a test in rough order). This would ensure that you don’t wind up with weird results like an integral question as Problem #1 or an easy multiply by 11 question as problem number #75.

You can download the first auto-generated practice test here and the answers here. For the time being, I plan on releasing a new practice test every week and setting up an archive on my website so you can view and download all auto-generated practice tests that have been created.

The formatting is about 98% there — occasionally you’ll have some quirky typesetting based on the conversion to LaTeX — and I only checked randomly selected answers to make sure they are coinciding with the problems asked, so there might be some mistakes on that end. For future tests, I’ll do a quick scan and correct any obviously wrong typeface.

All that’s left now is to write LaTeX stubs for more practice problems and increase my database of questions. I plan on contracting out that work through Fiverr in order to better optimize my time. I’ll be sure to release a “final” version of my python code as well as periodic updates to my questions database on this website so that coaches and students can run the code themselves and generate as many practice tests as they want.

So stay tuned for any updates and, if you are a competitor, check back every week for a new test!