Just wanted to let avid readers of the website (particularly Mental Math enthusiasts) that I have re-started posting practice exams into their appropriate repositories. I plan on posting a new exam about once a week, so check back here often! Here are the links:
In an effort to combat the planning fallacy, I went into 2018 with only a handful of goals (which are outlined at the end of my 2017 re-cap) in order to make achieving them much more likely. Now that we are about one-third done with the year, I thought I would give a status update.
Goal 1: Read 2 Books of Month. So far, I’ve kept pace with this goal and have completed 9 books. Here is a short recap with a Siskel and Ebert thumbs up/down review (note: you should be able to find all these books from your local library).
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer: A first-hand re-telling of a mid-nineties Everest disaster that claimed 8 lives when an abrupt change of weather caught several expeditions off-guard. What fascinated me most about this book was the in-depth look at the logistics of climbing Everest (from selecting the gear to navigating the route to the ins-and-outs of high-altitude acclimation). Additionally, Krakauer approaches the retelling of the disaster in a matter-of-fact, journalistic way that leaves you in awe how any rational person would willingly choose to attempt the climb (in fact, Krakauer mentions that in order to try the climb you probably are a little crazy to begin with…). <Thumbs Up>
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks: Breakout novel of the famed — and recently deceased — neurologist Oliver Sacks. The novel itself is composed of a series of interesting medical cases detailing some of the most extreme behaviors due to brain abnormalities (either through accidents, drugs, or other measures). Each vignette is interesting on its own and most provide some sort of insight into our daily behaviors. Of particular personal interest was the story of “The Twins” who, despite their significant mental deficiencies, could calculate large prime numbers. <Thumbs Up>
Welcome to the Club by Raquel D’Apice: A humorous look at “100 Parenting Milestones” that every parent can relate to. Ranging from the significant (“First Time You Hold Your Baby”) to the trivial (“First Time You Hold Your Baby Over Your Head and He Vomits All Over You”), each milestone is a hoot to read and, more times than not, is something that, if you are a parent, you have truly experienced. <Thumbs Up for Current Parents>
A Happy Death by Albert Camus: A precursor to Camus’s The Stranger, this book seems more ripped from a sketchbook than a finished project. Although I appreciate the parallels with my quest towards Financial Independence (after all, what could make people more happy than stripping away their dependency on money — albeit, I’d choose a better way than murder!), overall, I found the book lacking in impact. <Thumbs Down>
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris: This was surprisingly the first David Sedaris book I’ve ever read and I found it to be a delight. Similar to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, this book is a collect of stories loosely centered around two autobiographical eras: Sedaris’s youth and his move to France during adulthood. Each story seems to be more hilarious than the previous (with my personal favorite being his fascination with finding the French translations of some very specific words about anatomy) and, if you like witty dialog, you’re sure to like this book. <Thumbs Up>
What Do You Care What Other People Think by Richard Feynman: I liked famed physicist’s Richard Feynman’s previous book Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman a lot so I figured I’d give this one a try. Let me just say that if you are expecting a sequel you are going to be sorely disappointed. There are some interesting stories but they are few and far between. The majority of the book deals with Feynman’s work on determining the root cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger’s mid-air explosion which is very long-winded and filled with pointless conversations about minutia that don’t amount to much. (Tl;dr: the O-ring became misshapen due to the low temperature at launch which led to a faulty seal). <Thumbs Down>
The Sebastopol Sketches by Leo Tolstoy: Although the Introduction was a bit of a snooze fest, the actual writings of Tolstoy chronicling the Siege of Sebastopol during the Crimean War of the 1850s was surprisingly riveting. Detailing three distinct parts during the siege (December 1854, May 1855, and August 1855), Tolstoy goes from hyper-patriotism regarding the conflict to utter-despondency, questioning the whole point of the war. <Thumbs Up>
Despair by Vladimir Nabokov: Despair is probably one of Nabokov’s most straight-forward, plot-driven novel that he wrote. Centered around a bizarre case of insurance fraud, the novel is a fictional first person retelling (albeit highly biased narration) of a murder-gone-wrong. The book is pretty gripping (the planning and orchestration of the deed leaves you wondering how things could go so wrong!) and has an unusual ending. <Thumbs Up>
Mary by Vladimir Nabokov: Nabokov’s first novel is more like a short story chronicling a coincidental love triangle. What I like most about Nabokov is his inventive and descriptive language — and although his first novel possesses some of these features, it’s certainly better in later works (with my personal favorite being Ada or Ardor). <Thumbs Down -unless you are a Nabokov fanboy like myself>
Goal 2: Run 1000 miles: Definitely have fallen demonstrably short of this goal. The math works out that I should have logged about 295 miles so far, but my Strava shows I’ve only ran a total of 117 miles — a discrepancy of 178 miles! Part of this is due to my re-aggravating my groin injury earlier in the year, but it’s mostly due to my inability to find time to go out for a run. Recently, I’ve picked up the pace a little (running about 41 miles so far in April), but 1000 total miles by the end of the year might be a little out of reach.
Goal 3: Better Time Management: This is definitely not a S.M.A.R.T. Goal as it’s difficult to measure, but I feel like I’ve done a much better job this year. I keep a active note on my phone highlighting my weekly to-do list and recently every Sunday I physically sketch out the week ahead on a printed calendar that gives me a better idea of my available time for each day. I’d give myself a solid “B” grade when it came to improving my time management skills.
Goal 4 (Added): Math Practice: Came to this goal a little late to include in my year-end wrap-up post, but I wanted to become a better math test writer (either through my work with Number Sense or through other, more challenging, competitions). I’ve done a fair amount of work on improving my Number Sense Manual and have begun reviewing some math problem solving books I purchased long ago during my competition days in order to give me guidance (and inspiration!) for my own test writing. Currently, I am engrossed in Paul Zeitz’s The Art and Craft of Problem Solving which is a good book for any aspiring math competitors out there.
Well that about does it! Will check back in over the summer to detail my progress — after all, it has been shown in academic research that making public declarations of your goals (and subsequent progress reports) leads to higher probability that you will achieve them!
Without a doubt, the most trafficked part of this site is my auto-generated number sense practice tests, so I thought I’d give you an update on the project. Here is where we stand at the moment as well as some things I want to implement in the near- to mid-term:
- The process is almost entirely automated now. The only human component is the transcribing from .pdf to LaTeX code. This should reduce the number of errors you see on practice tests as everything else — from segmenting out a test’s LaTeX code to adding the questions to the appropriate database to generating the practice test itself — is entirely automated and, hence, error free!
- I have about 6,000 questions in my database. This equates to about 75 complete tests that have been translated in LaTeX code and are being used to generate the practice material.
- I’m adding at a rate of about 500 questions per week. This means I should hit my goal of having a 10,000 question bank by the beginning of May.
- As we approach the latter stages of the competition season, I will begin posting practice material more frequently on the repository page, so check back often.
- I’m going to try to begin making a separate database of regional and state-level type of problems (harder difficulty, multiple steps in order to solve, etc…) in order to gear up for the more challenging exams. I should be able to begin posting that material by late-March.
- I’m also going to start doing a series of youtube videos detailing step-by-step instructions on how to solve most types of questions asked on the exam. This should help out the more visual learners grasp the concepts.
- Over the summer, I am going to revise my Number Sense Manual in order to update the LaTeX code, add more sections that are applicable to the current exams, and include much more practice material. Because the manual is sectioned off into types of problems (e.g. multiplying by 11, squaring tricks, roots of polynomials, etc…), students can focus more easily on a particular type of problem they are having difficulty with and do drills to really solidify their understanding.
- Finally, beginning for the 2017-2018 school year, I’ll make it where students can generate their own practice exams through my website — thus eliminating their dependence on my posting on a weekly basis. You’ll be able to practice as much as you want, whenever you want!