Three months ago, I posted my tentative schedule for this semester, my final one in
undergrad. At the time, I was very optimistic about taking Systems Programming because I had been recommended the
professor, Brian Russell, by my roommate. In the end, I switched it out for a seminar in Gender and Sexuality in Judaism. Here’s how.
Overlap Between Systems and Network
Originally, I signed up for both Systems Programming and Network-centric Programming,
both of which are low-level programming courses in the
C programming language.
Although they both involve programming at a similar conceptual level, and involve writing programs of similar size and complexity,
I decided to go with Network-centric instead of Systems because I feel it covers more advanced materials in
addition to the basics already covered by Systems.
Systems, as the name says, is mostly about programming for systems, which in plainer terms refers to studying
fundamental program operations such as process manipulation, memory management, and multithreading.
Although it’s hard to describe what this means in layman’s terms, the gist is that it involves writing programs
that exist alongside the operating system.
(Nonetheless, one would probably want to take this class before taking a class in Operating Systems.)
On the other hand, Network-centric is programming for networks, and it is slightly more clear that it involves
writing programs which communicate with other computers, possibly across the world (IE over the internet). In this
class, one could (conceivably) write programs like (the backends of) Skype or Internet Explorer. In doing so, much of
process manipulation and memory management is covered, although multithreading is not covered to quite the same extent.
Quite simply, Systems Programming (at least how it’s taught at Rutgers) is a sophomore level course to teach the
fundamentals of programming, while Network-centric Programming is a junior level course which glosses over the same
fundamentals in order to teach their applications to programs which allow communication between machines. As a senior
who already knows many of the bare-bones basics, and is primarily interested in the applications of the tools at my
disposal, Systems simply wasn’t worth taking at the same time.
Dabbling in Philosophy
After realizing that I was not going to stick with Systems, I started scrambling for alternate classes I could take
that didn’t have prerequisites and wouldn’t interfere with my other classes. Oh, and which met between noon and six. And
never on Fridays.
One such course was Introduction to Philosophy. I’ve always had somewhat of an interest in Philosophy, although not
enough to make my own individualized study. It met on Tuesdays and Thursdays around 2, which was a pretty good time,
albeit on Douglass campus, which is kind of out of the way for someone living on College Ave. After getting into the
course website, I immediately did the first two weeks worth of reading and took extensive notes in anticipation of the
second week of class (having fortunately missed the first week).
I was immediately underwhelmed. Although the ideas “discussed” (lectured by the professor) were all
interesting, they weren’t anything which I couldn’t gain by just studying the readings. As I had already done so, I was
left to sit in lecture as the professor reviewed some of the salient points of the readings in abstract, as if nobody
had bothered with the readings.
It was then I realized I had signed up for the wrong class. Nobody had done the readings. I was in a first-year
course, and who is going to put in extra work in studying for a course where all the material is presented on a silver
platter? That is not to say that the material is not interesting, or valid, or that there are not advanced ideas taught
farther into the course. But I am an engineering student, damnit! I am accustomed to being challenged in lecture
with concepts that are so mind-bogglingly difficult that my head spins ‘round a half dozen times before I realize that
I’ve already missed half the slides and the professor has already moved on to the next topic. I wasn’t going to
sufficiently stimulated in this course to even justify going to class, let alone stay awake. (Those who’ve taken classes
with me know that I can rarely stay awake through a full lecture, due to a combination of lack of sleep, short attention
span, and ease of understanding.)
On to Gender & Sexuality
At the same time I was struggling to decide which course to end up taking, my roommate was also switching around his
schedule. He had originally signed up for a seminar on Gender & Sexuality in Judaism a sort of combination of a
traditional Gender course with aspects of Jewish popular culture and the inclusion of various Jewish texts, but had to
drop it in order to take another class (ironically, Operating Systems). Although I don’t have a vested interest in
gender studies beyond a slight sociological curiosity, I am very interested in the ever-changing role of women in
Judaism. Specifically, I’m intrigued by the persistent question of whether Orthodox Judaism is inherently chauvinistic,
and how women have been perceived in Judaism through the ages. (I’m somewhat leery about the dogma of millenia-old
religions, with there being such vast room for retconning, especially when many of the primary texts are rather arcane.)
Therefore I decided to sign up for the class.
Although I’ve only been to one class (because today’s class, which would have been my second class, was canceled due to
snow), I was fully engaged by the one I attended. The class size is small, students in the course are more prepared, and
the material is rather interesting (although I’m glad it’s not longer).
I’m also somewhat excited (and also anxious) about the prospect of the term paper required by this course. Being an
engineering major (along with a rather fortuitous series of events) allowed me to not take a single writing class in my
time at Rutgers until now. However, I’m thinking that I would actually like to cut my teeth on such a prospect, if only
once, before I graduate. Especially if it gives me the chance to flex my LaTeX skills.
My final schedule is posted below.