Archive for March, 2009

TMA02 for M366 was released on Friday, so this weekend I’ve been making a start on the assignment, and oddly enough I’ve been enjoying it a lot more than I expected. Some bits of Question 1 are a little hand-holdy (we get one mark just for successfully copying and pasting the abstract of a journal article into the solution document!), but I did enjoy reading the article the question was based on. Which is a bit frustrating since I can’t talk about it in any great detail, in case I accidentally give away too much about the answer to the TMA question!

I think I should be okay to publish the name of the article and the journal, though, since they’re given in the TMA question: it’s Garnier, Gautrais and Theraulaz’s ‘The biological principles of swarm intelligence’ in No 1, Vol 1 of Swarm Intelligence. The case studies about honeybees and Messor sanctus ants are fascinating, and I am particularly in awe of the ants!

A Messor ant, being awesome. Photo by <a href="">macropolous</a>, under a <a href="">Creative Commons license</a>.

A Messor ant, being awesome. Photo by macropolous, under a Creative Commons license.

I’ve also really enjoyed the question involving the “Rabbits Grass Weeds” model that comes with NetLogo, particularly the special modified version that the OU supplies, which includes mutated red rabbits (it was difficult to resist the urge to shout “Go forth, my scarlet minions!” every time I set the red rabbits going). I didn’t enjoy the NetLogo exercises in the previous units or TMA questions very much at all, but I found running and re-running the Rabbits Grass Weeds model with varying parameter values, and then comparing the stats on the rabbit/grass/weeds populations absolutely fascinating. I was fiddling with that model for hours, completely absorbed – which bodes well for the rest of the course!

I like bees. I like burnets. I do not like M366.

I like bees. I like burnets. I do not like M366.

This week, M366 has been sucking the life out of me.

I decided on Saturday that, since I’m getting on well with Block B of MS221, I should spend some time on M366 to make sure I’m ahead of schedule enough to put both those courses on hold in May/June while I revise for the M257 exam. I was pretty reluctant to leave MS221 and go back to M366, but I didn’t anticipate just how tedious I would actually find Block 3, the Natural Intelligence block.

Theoretically, this should have been quite an interesting block for me: I love insects (which are the inspiration for some of the AI approaches discussed in the block), I’m interested in evolution and natural selection, I’m comfortable with the vector maths used in the block, and the idea of swarm robotics is just plain cool. However, for some reason, I just couldn’t get enthusiastic about the material in this block. I don’t know whether it’s the writing style of the author, or something about NetLogo that puts me off, but either way I’ve found this weekend’s study sessions to be actually less enjoyable than a day at work. Which frightens me!
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Chapter B1 of MS221 is a bit of an odd one. Most of the chapter is about iterating functions, fixed-points, etc, but the final section is about binomial expressions, combinations and permutations – much more interesting! Not that there’s anything particularly dull about fixed-points, but puzzles like “How many six-letter permutations can be formed from the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J?” grab my attention a lot more.

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I got my Exam Timetable mailing for the June/July exam period yesterday, and have been freaking out a little bit this morning about the prospect of fitting M257 revision in alongside M366 and MS221. The main thing that was worrying me was the fact that the TMA02 cut-off dates for both M366 and MS221 fall in the couple of weeks before the M257 exam (which is on the 17th of June). Last year during the summer exam period, I put MT262 on hold for about a month while I revised for M255 and M263, which seemed to work fairly well; but this year, I’ve got two courses to put on hold while I revise for a third, and that feels a bit trickier to negotiate.

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I spent a bit of time on Saturday proof-reading TMA02 for M257, but apart from that I’ve been mainly working on Chapter A3 of MS221, which has introduced me to the fascinating world of transformations and isometries. I found the accompanying “Visualising isometries” program on the course DVD a little bit overcooked, but on the whole I’m really quite enjoying this chapter. To be honest, I expected A3 to be quite tough for me, since I’ve always had a bit of trouble with trigonometry; I used to find it hard to visualise triangles and particularly the unit circle, so I ended up just learning a lot of things by rote rather than actually understanding them.

I’m not sure whether the MS221 course texts are better than the MST121 books, or whether I’m just better at this kind of maths these days, but one way or the other I found myself actually enjoying the trig section of A3! Having a printout of the Trig Cheat Sheet from Paul Dawkins’ very useful Online Maths Notes next to me is definitely a big help, too – I’ll probably end up writing an even further reduced version of it onto some blank space in my MS221 Handbook, along with some bits of the Algebra Cheat Sheet, ready for the exam.

It’s weird, really – so far, the MS221 activities and assignment don’t seem to be designed to get us to rote-memorise the material, they seem to be more about understanding how to apply various techniques and how to choose the right approach for a particular problem. But since I’ve heard that the exam is quite a challenge to finish in the 3 hours allotted, I wonder whether it might be worth putting some revision time aside to memorise various formulas, to save time, rather than looking things up in the Handbook? I suppose doing a few practice papers will give me the answer to that – I could well end up spending September memorising stuff from flashcards…