Saturday, May 23, 2009

1 in 6,720

Well it’s been a while since I last blogged, and so much stuff has happened to me. I wish I could write about it all, but there just isn’t enough time. So let me first give you a quick recap of what’s been going on, and then I’ll describe a particularly crazy awesome experience that happened to me. Do first, the quick recap about what has been going on in my life: I finished my junior year of college! (Wow, I can hardly believe it either), I survived Organic Chemistry with an “A” first semester and a “B” second semester, I was released from my calling as Secretary of the Stake Young Men’s Presidency and subsequently called to be the 1st counselor in our Singles Ward’s Elders Quorum, and lastly I moved to Philadelphia for the summer to work full time and “earn some serious coin” (thanks Sheena and Jay for letting me crash your place for the summer, you guys are the best!).

Now for the crazy cool once in a life-time experience. This past semester I took a course called Digital Signal Processing. This class was essentially a computer programming class that utilized the program MatLab to generate, filter, and isolate biological signals. It sounds confusing and hard and…well, it is! To make matters worse my professor, while a he was a very jovial and friendly Asian man, he was…well, I’ll just say that being from China, English was not his strong suit. In fact, I’ll say it frankly, his English was atrocious! He would mumble and jibber on about this and that, and whenever he would get stuck linguistically he would break out into unexplainable laughter. Learning the subject of Digital Signal Processing (DSP) was as you can imagine quite the challenge for me. The first exam did not go as well as I expected; despite my best efforts I scored 72%. I was determined that my 2nd and final exam would go much better (it had to if I wanted to have any chance at getting an “A”).
As the 2nd exam approached I made sure to study as much as I could so that I would be thoroughly prepared. The day of the exam arrived, and I felt confident that I would perform well. But as I opened the test booklet and scanned over the exam, my heart raced and I began to freak out at all of the problems on the test that highlighted principles and topics that I hadn’t expected.

I took a second to calm myself down, took a deep breath, and methodically began to work my way through the test. As I worked my way through the test I began to feel more and more confident that I was actually doing the problems correctly, but I was working at too slow a pace! Only 5 minutes remained in class and I still had an entire section left to complete! It was a matching section that included 8 equations. 6 of the 8 equations had to be matched with their corresponding graphical output; sounds easy right? Well maybe it sounds easy, but when you have no idea what you’re doing and you’re playing “beat the clock” it’s a lot harder and more stressful. So there I was, no earthly idea what I was doing, with a completely bank page in front of me. What was worse was that this matching section constituted 25% of the total test! So there was no margin for error! I could drop from A to C without even blinking an eye. I worked feverishly, trying to figure out at least one of the problems, but the more I tried the more confused I got. Soon the professor was calling time, and I had still only answered one of the questions (and I wasn’t even sure that I had gotten that one right!). So having consigned myself to lose an immediate 25 points on my test, I thought, “What the heck.” and randomly matched equations with plots. I made the long walk up to the front of the class to turn in my paper and asked the Teaching Assistant to have pity on me, and then I left disgusted with my apparent failure.
A few days later I was in my professor’s office asking a homework-related question when I noticed a stack of graded exams on his desk. Curious, I asked if he had gotten to mine. In his broken English he said that he had, and then he said, “You do very well.” I was completely confused. I had to be misunderstanding him. How could I have possibly gotten a good grade?! I was sure that I couldn’t get anything higher than a C, so how could I have possibly gotten a good grade? But as I picked up my graded test, I about fainted as I saw a big fat 85 on my paper! I was elated. How could it be? I had guessed on the entire matching section! Could it be that I was lucky enough to have guessed correctly? I looked at the matching section…I had done the unthinkable…out of 6 answers I had correctly chosen 5 of them (at random I might add). My good fortune would eventually prove to be enough to allow me to get an “A”. Without my lucky guessing I’m not sure whether or not I would have been able to get an “A”.

Maybe you’re not impressed with this story, but let me crunch some numbers for you. The odds of me doing what I did on this test were astronomical! Choosing the correct answer from a list of 8 possibilities is in it of itself amazing, but to do it 5 times is down right crazy improbable. I calculated the odds: it’s 8 factorial for all the possible choices I had, i.e. (1/8) x (1/7) x (1/6) x (1/5) x (1/4) = (1 in 6,720). Basically, the odds weren’t in my favor! But it must have been my lucky day. Thinking about it now I probably should have bought a lottery ticket or something. If I were to have this kind of luck every 6,720 days I’d have to wait another 18½ years before I have another day like the one I had the day of my test. Hopefully I didn’t use all my good luck prematurely. I’ll probably need it again someday soon!