Life Goes on

Today marks two weeks since my arrival to Canada as a student. I had many questions in my head, most of them I could not find an answer before arrival. It might be a good thing to keep mystery to the experience.

Most important question I had was about the mathematical foundation required to survive graduate school in Computing Science field; Short answer is:

  • Linear Algebra
  • Set Theory
  • Probabilities
  • Statistics
  • Basic Calculus
  • Discrete Mathematics

Without basic knowledge in the fields above, you will suffer for some time until you cover the foundations and then recover whatever concepts you missed while learning above concepts.

I was lucky to have joined Khan Academy a little bit more than three years back, and started brushing off dust off such concepts I learned 15 to 25 years back.

If you are planning to join graduate school in Computing Science or Engineering, you MUST at least be familiar with Linear Algebra and Calculus.

Second concern I had while I was still waiting for both acceptance letter and my study permit, was the age gap. Yes, I was concerned about being nearly 40 years old, with rusty scientific background and saggy academic muscles among bright young men and women. I kept imagining myself in class surrounded by young people under 30 years old, and being the only grandpa in class.  It turned out that such gap is not that obvious, for one reason, in graduate school you will find people in their early twenties all the way to people who are actually older than me. As for campus itself, you will find teenagers, middle aged people like myself and people who almost reached 60 years or older.

Of course, there will be a gap in the way we think, like normal age gaps we have experienced in hundreds of occasions, but we did adapt to it, either by tolerating different cultures, or by clustering with people from the same culture sphere we belong to. Imagine you are in public transportation or shopping, will such age gap make any difference? I don’t think so.

As for the mental capacity dimension, there is a blessing of experience, where old people like myself, who have lost some brain cells, can rely on whatever we experienced earlier. Trust me, this does compensate for that. I recall a few events where young students struggle to figure out a solution for a certain problem, where it just pops out of my head naturally.

I am not saying that life as a middle aged graduate student from a different continent is a piece of cake. But with enough determination you can gain momentum. It is still too early to judge the situation, but I can see so far how far I have reached so far.

From the financial aspect, I went through two interviews with a professor to help her as a TA (Teaching Assistant) which will put some control on the monetary bleeding I have (we are living on our savings). I am just waiting for some approvals to accept me as a TA, as I am enrolled as Course Based Masters student, not Thesis based, which put me second in the priority list. (Pray for me)

From the academic aspect, there is a decent field of research where we join Artificial Intelligence with Medical research to come up with better prognosis and treatments. There is this project that I might join, to work on better personalized tests and treatments for Leukemia based on historical data.  I started reading about the different types of Leukemia and the standard procedures associated with it. I hope I could make it and join such program and come up with ground breaking results.

Here is something few people knew about me; Since my childhood, I always wanted to be a Medical Doctor, but always had engineering mind. I backed off from the medical career when I was about to graduate from high school, besides, I did not have enough GPA to qualify me to join medical school. It seems there was a certain path I had to go through to prepare me for such journey… Fate! It always follow an obscured optimal path no strategic genius would ever think of.

Enough for now, must return back to my assignments and study.

Towards Stability

It has been three days since the arrival of my family. Finally we are all here in Edmonton, all passed the jet lag, we did some shopping and our house is slowly becoming a home.

The children were introduced to their school principle, who introduced them to their teachers and class mates. (I am not sure if this principle is exceptionally good or if this is the trend in Edmonton)

We started browsing seriously for furniture, as we are still using mattresses and a borrowed chair. we were almost ready to buy a decent living room set and a bedroom set, but my wife cancelled the deal at the last moment for hygiene related reasons.

Aside from the above, University is becoming more serious now, I am getting more into math and programming details. So far I am coping, I don’t think it’s an impossible task. All we need to do is to give enough time for the concepts to sink in, and assignments to be resolved.

Instant learning is not an option. Especially that the concepts I am learning are advanced ones, and my brain is getting old.

Let it Snow

Yesterday was my first encounter with snow, I woke up around 7 AM, checked out the weather conditions and read what I was waiting for “light snow”. I rushed to the window to see the tiny snow flakes descending from heaven and melting as soon as it touched a surface.
I looked down to see a child in the garden next door who was obviously excited about snow the same way I was.
I had my morning coffee with a bowl of oatmeal,  dressed for this weather and headed outside to meet snow first hand for the first time. By that time the snow rate has increased and was accompanied with wind. It was a little bit painful when iy hit my face, yet “cute” as a baby trying to bite my fingers.
Note: if you wear glasses like I do, you might find it hard when you enter heated places after walking for some time in the snow. It will fog out for a considerable time,  unlike the case in our place, when you exit an air conditioned place into a hot humid street, the fog wears off after a few second. Here it lasted for around 10 minutes.
Anyway, I arrived at the University, I attended Thesis discussion,  and it was insightful,  the student was discussing some technology used in transliteration between English and Japanese.  It was really astonishing,  I kept wondering if this guy would work for Google afterwards.
Next was a meeting with my supervisor, who was kindbenough to spend good 40 minutes chat discussing different research fields. He was gald that I was interested in the medical field, in contrast to gaming for instance. It isn’t about money anymore, I told him, I am trying to do something useful to help humanity.
To my surprise,  he explained to me that modern medical procedures are based on macro statistical analysis, that merely rly on real scientific research. I thought medicine was based on understanding anatomy and physiology,  buy it turned out to be the opposite;  try something new, see if it works, try it on everyone else.
He then discussed the field of personalized medicine.
I am so excited and eager to enroll in one of his projects soon.
Pray for me

Settling down

It has been four days since my arrival, but feels like 2 weeks.
Since I came in, I’ve been finishing paperwork,  seeing people, applying for utilities and most importantly moving in our permanent house.  Well, technically it is not permanent because it’s leased.
Anyway, I spent the last night in this place, it’s still empty except for a matress and a sheet on top of it in addition to a pillow.
Weather has changed since I arrived, even the same day I moved in was so hot people would turn on thier ACs, yet by night the temperature dropped dramatically I had to go and check on the heater to see how it works.
Today was relativly colder than other days I’ve seen here in Edmonton so far, in addition to frequent showers.
On the academic aspect, I tried to study during this weekend and I think I am in an acceptable level, but will try to put even further effort to excel amongst my peers.

Jet Lag

Today was my first day at the University,  things were not that bad.  I managed to finish a couple of things then went to attend two classes, then went back to resume paperwork.
One major problem I have right now is the jet lag,  especially after that long trip of yesterday and the day before,  followed by waking up relatively early and returning home late.
Good news is that I don’t have classes tomorrow, but I still need to go to the University to finish more business.
I must get myself a new laptop and a mobile phone.  This is on my to do list for tomorrow

+9 – The Recovery, aka Exodus

One tough lesson we learned from day 0, is never to miss a flight,  no matter what the circumstances are. Today and yesterday were really tough, I would never go through this experience again.
It started September 2nd, in the afternoon, all packeed, and heading to the airport. This time,  more than 3 hours early not to give that flight control guy a second chance to prevent me from traveling.
It was quite crowded, and in 15 minutes in the road, I started freaking out. Yet the road cleared almost immediately after I had such negative thoughts (thank God). My wife was driving, we made it through the same security check point again (last time we spent almost 10 minutes there, this time a little bit less than 5 minutes).
Departure terminal was open this time, so no fights on trollies or using an elevator,  and to my lack, my first segment was a business class one, so I had a slight priority in check in and immigration.
First prblem I encountered was my excess luggage,  since I am traveling with two airlines, I had to pay for the extra bag twice, I had to leave the check in area and pay for it outside. I was on guard since last week,  I picked a useless fight with the poor guy from Turkish Airlines. He was nice enough to check in luggage and complete the process before paying for the second bag. I felt really bad that I lost my temper on him, and apologized before leaving the counter.
Second problem I encountered, and had to pay a huge price for later, is that I checked in with Turkish Airlines,  while I have two more flights with Air Canada. They would not give me bording pass in Cairo,  I had to go collect them from Istanbul airport.
Final problem I faced in Cairo, was a double delay in my initial flight, it was supposed to leave at 21:25, and the lady at the lounge reception warned me that it is my own responsibility to check for my flight. It ended up leaving almost at 22:15, but I had a long chat with a fellow passenger.
Side note about the security officers in Cairo Airport;  they were super nice and they were alert about foreign currency passengers carry with them. If you carry more than $10k USD, you will get in trouble.
Anyway, my first flight took off delayed 50 minutes, and I made it to Istanbul airport.  I was excited about the detour and had plqns to sleep for 6 hours in the Airport hotel and spend the rest of my time shopping. Alas, this didn’t work out as planned.
When I arrived at the airport,  and asked about my boarding pass,  I learned that the Air Canada staff will not be available until 6:30 AM, my flight made it almost 1 AM! I had to spend almost 5 hours in a deserted place in the Airport waiting for them to show up. Even after they made it to their desk, they couldn’t give me the pass right away.  It seems that student visas are treated suspiciously,   I had to wait 2 more hours for the boarding to be confirmed.
Finally, after almost 8 hours in what seemed like detention,  I made it to the civilized part of the airport. And spent something around two more hours, having a snack and chatting with a nice passenger on the same flight.
To add more tension to the trip, the guys at the gate could not easily board me on that flight, and asked for my passport and a proof that I am enrolled in a University! He took whatever documents he wanted, plqced me on the side, and came back in 15 minutes apologizing for treating me like that. He explained that this is normal,  and there is nothing intentional nor personal.
Now here is the side note about Istanbul airport,  most of the staff overe there are short tempered, and have attitude,  except few.
Anyway, I am now writing this post from my second flight, to Toronto,  and it has been almost 2 hours 15 minutes

I learned something really good during the past few days; The meaner we are treated by some, the nicer people we encounter in the very next occasion

Ok, battery is almost dead, and I need to stretch my legs

I managed to give sime juice to ghe tablet during the past few hours to kick battery level back to 40%. Slow charge better than nothing.
Somehow I anticipated this flight to give me claustrophobia,  and it did. I am seated in a Window seat, without a window! All blinds are lowered and on the isle, sits an old lady who is almost always asleep.
I hadthe chance to get off the seag only twice. I feel my body numb due to the long hours I spent sitting in the same position.
Anyway, it has been almost 8 hours now since take off. Big portion of it I spent asleep,  reading and having mh breakfast.
A little more than 3 hours and we rech Toronto.
Meanwhile,  I am trying to follow up with the slow progress of the little aircraft on the screen and counting down the remaining distance,  it’s 1635 miles for now.
I hope I do not get insane or suffer nervous breakdown by the time I reach my final destination 11 hours from now

Finally,  I made it to Toronto, through immigration and now I am waiting for my final flight to Edmonton.
Enough bloging for today, to be continued

Day +3 Almost out of steam

3 days after missing our flight to Edmonton,  moral regained but we are in the survival mode. It worries me to death that classes has begun already and I am still in Egypt.
We had to split the family trip, one urget trip for me leaving Cairo on September 2nd, but the route will take roughly 31 hours via Istanbul and  Toronto,  and the rest of my family will follow me one week later via London, in a 16 hours trip (Lucky them).
I will try to enjoy the trip and wonder around Istanbul’s airport, spend a couple of hours in the Airport hotel (TAV) and attempt to adjust my jet lag meanwhile.
Here is the tip, Istanbul airport (Ataturk international airport) has a hotel in the duty free area, with hourly rates instead of nightly ones. They have 0 to 3 hours rate, 3 to 6 hours, 6 to 9, 9 to 15 and 15 to 24 hours rates. I believe you need to pre-book before arriving and give in credit card information to reserve your room.
On another aspect, I have stopped reading in the past one week due to last minute pressure at work and instability in Cairo. Now I am trying to pick up reading steam once again because I am quite sure I will suffer in the beginning trying to cope with young graduate students.
I wonder what awaits me over there,  especially I should arrive in a late hour to Edmonton after that looooong flight. I am not sure I can make it to class next day,  but at least I should get my initial paperwork done.
Thank God, I booked a hotel within walking distance from the house we are supposed to rent, so I can go sign the contract ASAP, and try to get a piece or two of furniture to move in at the earliest. Next, is to drop by the school nearby and apply for my children to enroll whenefer they arrive.
Life is tough, but that’s the beauty of it.