Author Archive

A Perspective on Math Education for Top Students

March 9, 2013 2 comments

How to Enable Dropbox Public Folder

December 6, 2012 3 comments

How to Enable Dropbox Public Folder

By James H. Choi
Source Link

Dropbox’s Public Folder is an incredibly useful feature.  Dropbox was going to eliminate that feature, then wisely brought it back.  For those who cannot find Public folder on your Dropbox folder can follow these instructions to install Public folder.

Step 1: Click this link.  Then you will see the following.  Click “Enable Public Folder” button.

Step 2: Then you will see the following.  Click “Send mail”

Step 3:  You will get an email that shows the following screen.  Click “Verify Your Email.”

Step 4: Now, click “Done” on the following screen.

Step 5: Last step.  If you see the following screen, your public folder was successfully installed.

Categories: Technology Review

Musicology Research with Mathematica 9

November 30, 2012 10 comments

Musicology Research with Mathematica 9

By James H. Choi
Source Link

Mathematica 9 has one important new feature that is not even mentioned anywhere in bold fonts.  It belongs to the “other” category of improvements that interests select few.  Well, I am that select few who have been waiting version after version for this feature.

This new feature is ground-breaking-ly for those who are interested in analysis of compositions.  For example, can you algorithmically recognize if a composition is by Bach?  Or more scientifically speaking, can you calculate Bach-liness score for a piece of music?

We know it can be done because, paraphrasing a Supreme Court Justice on an unrelated case: “We know it when we hear it.”

But there is the first obstacle.  How do we enter the musical score into the computer?  One can scan music scores and recognize the notes and rests.  That’s exactly what my student Hyunjoon Song did, and he won the 4th place at ISEF in 2011 with that research.  But, as his mentor, I know what he has done still needs a great deal of improvement before we can start scanning scores of different sizes/fonts/styles.

What is more intriguing is that most of classical music pieces are already in computer readable format called MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file format.  In other words Book↔Text File and Music↔MIDI file.  Every single note’s pitch and duration will be ready to be analyzed by your algorithm if you can import MIDI file.  “If” you can import, that is.

Mathematica has been able to export into MIDI for some time.  That’s how Hyunjoon Song above exported the result of his musical score recognition into MIDI and used a common media player to play it for the judges.

With Mathematica 9, finally you can import MIDI files:

This opens a wide gate for many research topics for those who are passionate about music and science at the same time.

Do you want to teach computers to measure your favorite composer’s greatness?  Now you have all the tools.  All you need is your insight and ability to teach the computer to act on your insight: algorithm programming.  The best tool for it is now clear.  It is Mathematica 9.

Korean version: Mathematica 9으로 하는 음악 연구

Mathematica 9 New Features

November 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Mathematica 9 New Features

By James H. Choi
Source Link

Mathematica 8 logoI just received an email from Wolfram Research with a mention (for the first time) of what is new in Mathematica 9.  I use Mathematica to teach data-driven science research for Intel STS, ISEF and Siemens level competitions.  Here, data-driven means medical image processing, brain wave (EEG) recognition, etc. where my students focus on algorithmically analyzing/processing data while the acquisition itself is left to the doctors, technicians in the field.

Thus, Mathematica’s built in curated data has been very useful to my students and so is its many other ready-made functions/features.  Every time a new version comes out, Mathematica expands our reach that much further, and that much closer to a winning research.

Thus, I am very interested in finding out what this new version of Mathematica has to offer, so that I can adjust my teaching strategy to fully utilize it.  This is my reaction to the announcement.  I will replace “reaction” with “reflection on experience”  as I start using Mathematica 9 for myself and teaching my students with it.

You can find more about it from Wolfram Research site.  The text in blue is the official descriptions and one in black is my comment.

Highly integrated units support, including free-form linguistic entry, conversions, and dimensional consistency checking across graphics and numeric and symbolic calculations

This is great for doing physics and chemistry.  I have seen MathCad having excellent functionality in this area which could be matched by Mathematica with some arm twisting.  It looks like Mathematica finally took over.  When doing hairy calculations in physics, one way to verify the sanity (not the validity) of your computation is by checking the units or dimensions.  Velocity should have some unit of distance in the numerator and some unit of time in the denominator, for instance.  It sounds like Mathematica 9 can do it.  Until now I have computed without units, carrying out the unit computation/coherence in my head.  Come to think of it, that’s how you carry the order of magnitude in your head while you work out the precision of the figure using a slide rule.

Major new data science, probability, and statistics functionality–including survival and reliability analysis, Markov chains, queueing theory, time series, and stochastic differential equations

I do not have any thing to comment on this.

R fully integrated into Mathematica workflow for seamless data and code exchange

“R” is a computer language, a functional language that is known for its strength in statistical analysis.  Many Innocentive specifies the project to be done in “R,” and nothing else.  I have been deterred from some highly attemptable projects solely by this “R” language requirement.

It is not that learning “R” is difficult or expensive.  “R” is free, and open source.  But I could do other projects that accept Mathematica with the time/effort that it would take an old dog to learn a new trick.  The waiting strategy — better known as procrastination — paid off.  I look forward to having nimble Mathematica speak “R” in behalf of an old dog. analog and digital signal processing

Analog signal processing to me is wiring circuits.  I am puzzled how you can do analog signal processing in a digital computer.  Maybe they mean they can handle continuous functions?  Laplace transform place of Z transform?I will update this page soon as I find out.  Follow this blog if you are interested.

3D volumetric image processing and out-of-core technology that scales up performance to very large 2D and 3D images and video

This is welcome news.  Volumetric processing is particularly useful in medical image processing.  There were many algorithms that were slowing down Mathematica to the point that interactivity required patience.  I especially look forward acceleration in the 3D surface rendering.

New graph and network analysis, including a built-in link for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more

The picture below depicts the connections among Facebook members.  My students could graph this only if they had the data.  The announcement sounds like we will indeed be able to access that data.  My students will be able to explore this human connectivity, or the “degrees of separation” in more depth, and win science competition prizes, then go on to MIT.

SabioAcademy teaches science research to bright high school students.  We teach students to use real data from research clinics and perform research with a goal of 1. winning at STS/ISEF/Siemens and 2. publishing in a scientific journal.  We have produced several ISEF winners and publications.

Categories: Mathematica

Science Competitions: Team or Individual?

November 27, 2012 1 comment

Science Competitions: Team or Individual?

By James H. Choi
Source Link


Many science competitions, such as ISEF and Siemens, let you enter as a team or an individual.   In case of Siemens competition, you must enter as a team unless you are a senior.  Neither competition restricts who your teammates can be; they could be from different schools and different ages.

So how should you enter?  Below are the pros and cons of entering as teams or individuals.  After reading these, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Team Pros:

  1. You get to hang out with your friends.  This is an obvious benefit, but the trick here is that no matter how much you enjoy working together and feel like you work well together, the competition isn’t how much you enjoyed.  It’s decided based on your research results.
  2. The sum of your combined skills might be greater than your individual ones.
  3. Teamwork is superior when each of your strengths are complementary.  If two people know exactly the same thing, there’s no reason to join the force.  One exception is if the research is so great that you need more hands on a team to simply finish the menial work, but this is unlikely in a science competition.  You could also hire someone to do the menial work such as cleaning up, or moving equipment, especially if there would be no point to add this person to your team officially.
  4. A selfish reason: If you don’t know anything about anything, you could fetch a free ride to glory on the backs of teammates who know a lot.  If a team leader offers you an opportunity like this, by all means get on the bus. Cons:

  1. But if you aren’t careful, free riders might get on your bus.  You end up doing all the work while others sit around chatting or don’t even show up.  You won’t have many options in mid course; it is important start with the right team.
  2. Science competition judges expect teams’ work to be higher quality.  It is not our instinct, it is how we are instructed to look at team projects.  When I judge at ISEF, often I see that team work that could have been done by just one person.  When only one member of the team answers all my questions while free-rider-looking members standby smiling, then my suspicion deepens.  The “teamwork” category counts as 20 percent of the score.  These free riders just cost you at least this 20%.  Teamwork being no superior to individual work will also cost you unspecified points at the whim of the judges.
  3. The more people you have, the less likely you’ll find a common time and place you can all meet and work together.  The sheer logistic nightmare could drag the project down.

I recommend first-time competitors start on their own to build these skills. Running into your limitation is a good way to know what they are, and to determine whether you should make up for it, or outsource it.  Great teams come only from great, self-sufficient, experienced students working together.  Team up with someone only if you see a clear gain only for yourself, and know the person either through some vetting process such as car wash, or through a long friendship.  Don’t worry about the others because they wouldn’t join you unless they also see clear gains for themselves.

Categories: Science Competition

How to Choose Your Summer Programs

November 26, 2012 1 comment

How to Choose Your Summer Programs

By James H. Choi
Source Link version: Summer Camp를 선택하기 전에 아셔야 할 사실

Summer programs for high-school students come in two categories: commercial and academic. Of course, both camps aim to teach students at some level, but their primary objectives are different.  Commercial camps are out to make money, whereas academic camps want to teach students.  The easiest way to know which group a summer program belongs to is to look at how you found out about it.  Did you receive advertising, like a colorful brochure?  If so, the camp is commercial.  Commercial camps spend their money on advertising.  Academic ones spend their money on scholarships for students, thus you won’t find out about academic camps by sitting in your house.  You’ll have to diligently search for them or else know someone in-the-know.

It is not that one type is good or bad, it all depends on your goal.  There are many reasons to take summer courses.  One could be to enjoy the summer.  If this is your goal, you could take any program that put an emphasis on the play side.  But if you’re doing the summer program to improve your chance of MIT admissions, then only the hardcore, top academic programs will be of use.  Attending a commercial summer program proves only that you have money and time, which are not qualities top universities seek after.

But even then, not all academic camps are equal.  Broadly speaking, some are academically passive; others are active.  Passive means classroom lectures, and the only students have to show for is a grade.  Active means students perform their own research, or create something that is uniquely theirs.

In passive academic camps (such as EPGY and CTY), you follow a predetermined curriculum.  These camps are basically an extension of your high school (except you might be in a different city).  Doing well in such programs proves you have the patience and ability to sit and take classes which is already proven by your school GPA, but it doesn’t show anything about your creativity or motivation to do things that are not required of you.

Active summer camp programs are different.  These camps can make the difference in being admitted to a top school like MIT or Harvard or not.  In active academic camps, you decide your own program and perform your own research.  Your study is not predetermined.  You pick a topic, and you explore it further with assistance of the local teachers and professors in the program.  The top programs are generally free, or do not cost beyond the student’s means because they provide financial support that includes round trip airfare.

Then why in the world would people join ineffective and expensive passive programs when there are killer free active programs?  Ah, there is a catch, of course.  The free active ones are furiously difficult to get in to.  The admissions competition is so fierce, it’s actually harder than getting into MIT.  In fact, among tens of graduates from those problems I met, I have never seen anyone who was not admitted to MIT later as well.

So how do you prepare for those programs?  If you go and read the application requirements you might be astounded to find the things they ask for.  The application process is just as rigorous as — and good training for — applying to college.  You have to meet academic requirements, you have to be a top-notch student, you have to have great teacher recommendations, and you have to have a great transcript and test scores.  But even all those credentials alone do not get you a spot.  Because everyone else has them too.

So what else do you need?  The thing that boosts your application, gives you an edge is your track record showing that you are the type, i.e., your previous research experience.  During summer vacations, you should join a camp that teaches you how to do research, or do it on your own.  Yes, it is the Matthew Effect all over again.  You need experience to gain experience.  Thus, in your earlier summers, you need seek out active camps  that will teach you to produce something: A research paper.  It’s level is not as important is its existence.  It must be your research — with your own ideas in it and your own name on it.  Chances are you will have to be mentored to take your first step into this world.  That explains why so many of these students are professor’s children.  But once the Matthew Effect kicks in, you can become ever more self sufficient and self propelling cruising not only through college and graduate school but also through your career.

If you must do it alone, then you are better off doing the activities I described in How to be Accepted to MIT 1 (How to get free passwords) than going to passive summer camps.

So, spend every one of your junior high, and high school summer with a goal of making into one of these free active summer camps that practically guarantees your spot at MIT.

When you do apply for these great active camps, make sure you take advice from those who have been through the camps before because there is no second chance.  The application process is lengthy and involved, and there are many ways to make mistakes that will disqualify you.  We know this well because we have an ex-admissions officer of a very prestigious active summer program on our staff.  Please note that most active summer programs end their application processes by early February.

Choose your summer programs wisely from early on.  It will change your life.

Categories: Summer Programs

The advantage of listening over reading

November 25, 2012 Leave a comment

The advantage of listening over reading

By James H. Choi
Source Link single one of my students is pressed for time.  Heavy loads of studying, reading assignments and other activities seem to be making their calendar bursting in the seams.  Fitting all these activities into a 24-hour day is simply impossible.  Is there anything you can do about it?

Yes.  I lead a busy life myself, and I’ve found a great way to cope with this kind of overload — a way to have an essentially free ride as far as time is concerned.  The secret is by listening to the books instead of reading them.  Learning to written passages has helped me leverage my “free time” and distribute my tasks more efficiently.

What exactly do you listen?  Take literature books for example.  Most of the books in high-school reading list are already available as audio books. You could check these out from a library free or buy many of them for about $20 on  The public libraries in my area (Glenview, Illinois) allow you to log-in and “check out” these audio books by letting you down them into your computer, then subsequently transferred to your mp3 player device.

Consuming books this way allows convert your auto-pilot time into book reading time .  When I’m faced with a long drive, the first thing I look for is audio books to listen to.  Many people will say reading is much better than listening.  I agree.  But do you read?  Do you have time to read?

The fallacy of this advice is that it assumes the choice is between reading and listening.  But the real choice is more often between listening and not reading at all, in which case listening is far superior.  I read five to ten books in addition to every issue of  The Economist every month through listening.  I do not know how much information I retain versus lose.  But I know I am retaining far more information than those who do not read at all.  Obviously.

Listening to books has some disadvantages.  For instance, it’s slower than reading.  So if you have a deadline for a book report the next day, you should read.  Additionally, you might miss some fine points depending on your circumstances.  For example, you may not remember the part you listened while you were evading a hostile-looking dog.  But the fact is that the alternative was nothing.  Even if you have to re-read a book after patchy listening, the audio book offers you a head start.  With one reading of the book, you will understand as much as those who read it twice.

Many people tell me they’re visual learners who cannot acquire knowledge aurally.  To these people, I ask, “Do you communicate over the phone?”  If so, then you must be aurally equipped enough to handle listening.  However, some people seem to be genuinely written-communication-oriented, and cannot learn much from listening.  Some go as far as offering an unsolicited reprimand on my listening habits, and declare that one should focus on the road only while driving.  He claimed that he forgets everything he heard on the radio soon as he leaves the car.  He is probably telling the truth.  But that’s his problem, make sure you don’t constrain yourself for someone else’s handicap.

In addition to literature, lectures are great to listened to.  A great company called “The Great Courses” offers all kinds of courses on all types of topics.  Some courses require you to see the content, but most can be learned completely by listening.  Truly great professors teach these audio lectures, too, far more engaging than than most professors you will ever see in your college campus.  That’s because all professors are there because they are good researchers.  Nobody is ever hired or fired at a campus for his or her teaching ability.  But these audio-lecture professors were selected because of their teaching abilities.  They make it exciting.

I got into literature, philosophy and history after I listened to The Great Courses lectures.  I am not sure if it was my aging (with assumed commensurate maturity) or the lectures alone, but I am sure this hard core science guy would not have reached this point of well-balanced-ness without those lectures and an mp3 player to listen to them.

So rather than pumping the same music into your ears, switch the channel and open yourself to new knowledge.  You’ll find yourself learning a whole lot more without having to allocate any new time.

Categories: How to study
%d bloggers like this: