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An Alethia has an interesting morning

The most important day of Alethia's life is pretty ordinary, at the start. Oh, it's an exam day, but it's her last year of university, she's done that before. And it's just a midterm, and one she's been studying for all week at that. And, and, she has four hours of time blocked out after her last class of the day to get in some last-minute reviewing. She's not worried. 

She wakes up a few minutes before her alarm. Has her morning shower. Drinks her morning coffee. Heads out the door without eating breakfast, as usual. She'll buy a muffin during her first break. The chocolate chip one, it's less than two bucks for four hundred calories of deliciousness, and she's trying not to waste too much money on not having to prepare her own breakfast.

She is a bit exhilarated, though. It doesn't get in the way during her other classes, really, but on her walks between them she goes over the material in her head. She's always like this before a test. It's fun! And difficult! At the same time! She gets to solve puzzles in exchange for feeling good about herself! And the math is all so interesting. 

She knows most people don't experience schooling like that. She certainly didn't when she was younger. But she's so, so glad she does now. 

She hopes she can avoid getting anything wrong, it's always nice when she manages a perfect hundred.

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After her classes are done with she does the first three quarters of her last-minute studying in the library, and then heads down to the attached coffee shop to get some caffeine in her; she allows herself a second cup of coffee on exam days if she feels even a little less alert than she'd like. And the place is nice. It's a chain, but the seating is comfy enough and even if all the people mean it's loud the music she's listening to is louder anyway. 

She takes a table against the wall. It has seating for two, but the place is more than half empty- she isn't taking up space beyond what she should.

(She double checks every once in a while, while she studies.)

She goes over the entire first half of the textbook, everything they've covered so far. She carefully skipped a few questions in each chapter so she could do a compressed pass over all of the material at the last second and ensure everything was fresh in her mind. So she reads the major theorems covered in each chapter to help keep it all structured in her mind, one thing implying another in a great tree of knowledge built up from the axioms they covered on the first day, each theorem following from those proved prior.

One question after another is finished without stuttering, without slowing, and she feels a bit like she's slowly ascending a roller coaster.

She likes roller coasters.

She's going to do well. She can tell. All of this is- well. It feels easy. 

She has, in fact, studied enough.

That doesn't mean she's going to stop early, though. She still hasn't finished the questions in the last chapter. Two more to go. And then she'll head off to the room where the exam is being held and go over the material in her head while she waits.


It's a cloudy day, so Sable's having a walk past campus. It's always so nice to see people care about learning, care about growing their minds and selves. She's passing by the coffeeshop when she catches a glimpse of an incredibly pretty girl studying a math textbook. Double-take. Triple-take.

<I want a coffee, let's go get a coffee,> Ruby suddenly interjects in mindspace. 

<Yes let's,> Maya adds. <And maybe talk to that girl while we're at it.>

And so they step inside. People are muttering to themselves, and the girl is listening to some fun music as study-motivation. She's got good taste, another utterly lovely thing about her.

Sable orders a small coffee, as strong as possible so she'll still get anything out of the taste despite being a vampire.

And then she sits down in the empty chair across from the girl.

"Hello there. Impressive math you're studying. Got a mid-term?"


Person? Sitting across from her? Talking to her?

She thinks she could make out what Random New Person was saying? Something about math and a midterm?

She pulls her earbuds out of her ears, pressing the little button that pauses her music as she does.

"Yeah, I've got a measure theory midterm. Starts in-"

She takes a look at the clock.

"-an hour and twenty minutes."

She's a bit annoyed to be interrupted mid-question, honestly, but- well, it doesn't hurt to be polite, and realistically it's fine- she'd plausibly have ended up spending the last half hour before the exam talking with her classmates, she's just moving a little of that early, and it's Random New Person instead. If this even turns into a conversation and not just pleasantries.

It's a bit odd she didn't even ask whether she could sit there, though.


"Sorry for interrupting. I just... was absolutely struck by this impression of an incredibly pretty girl studying such fascinating math that's reifying basic intuitions, and clearly having such fun with it, and I had to meet you." She smiles at her, gentle charm mixed with eagerness and a bit of sheepishness.

"Could I get you a refill on your drink to make up for the interruption, or perhaps a pastry?"


She has finally come up enough from her Math Fugue to notice that the Random New Person is, in fact, a very pretty girl.

Who just. Said she was incredibly pretty??? And apparently noticed the fun she was having from a distance? Somehow? And decided to introduce herself over it?????

(Is this the moment where she suddenly meets an interesting pretty girl and hits it off with them and then it doesn't later turn out that they're Terrible?)

(No, it isn't that moment, somehow it's never that moment, even if it looks like it's that moment.)

(She has learned this.)

Mostly on autopilot, she says, "Oh, no, don't worry about it, it's fine. I'm nearly done with all my studying anyway. No need to buy me a pastry over saying hello. I don't charge by the minute in confectionery for talking to me."


WAIT. Did she just autopilot turn down something datelike? Maybe?

Probably not.

But also maybe.


(But what if it is that moment?)

"I'm glad it's not as much of an interruption as I feared, and it's kind of you not to charge me, but what if I value the smile of an intelligent, pretty girl at the taste of pastry several times more than I value the cost of the pastry? Won't you please tell me your favorite kind?"


Okaaaay, yeah, she definitely turned down something datelike on autopilot, it has ceased to be ambiguous.

The ambiguity is dead. It was shot out of a cannon into the sun. And also the sun was a t-rex and ate it.

My goodness, this girl is forward. 

It's honestly kind of charming? And definitely adorable. She's trying so hard to be roguish and dashing and it's approximately two thirds working.

"Well, if you insist, I wouldn't turn down a Boston cream doughnut."

She has enough coffee left to drink with it, so she doesn't need to make the mortifying request for also milk.

Why would it be mortifying? Who knows, she's sure there's some reason.


She smiles warmly and nods. "Be right back then."

She gets up at a normal human pace and walks over to the counter. She will not break the masquerade just to get the pretty girl her doughnut faster.

<Even though it is incredibly tempting,> Maya notes.

<We have it bad,> Hailey adds.

Acquiring a Boston cream doughnut is reasonably quick, even if it would've been quicker with supernatural speed. Soon enough she sits back down, setting the plate in front of her companion with a grin. "Your doughnut, milady."


My goodness, Strange New Person's stride is purposeful when she walks off to get Alethia her doughnut.

And then! The "milady" when she gets back! She's trying so hard and it's mostly not working.

Alethia kind of wants to- ruffle her hair? Tell her she doesn't need to try so hard?

Alethia's abstractly aware she's pretty. Sometimes people stare. But she hasn't been pretty for long, it's only been a few years since she lost the acne. She's never seen someone have to push through getting bonked on the forehead with pretty on her account before, and it's actually kind of really nice? Even if Strange New Person ends up being kind of terrible in some way Alethia expects she'll positively remember this encounter for a long, long time.

"Thank you ever so much."

Her eyes briefly flick up to the menu displayed behind the counter, and- yeah, the doughnut was cheap, if not quite a chocolate-chip muffin level good deal.



Was that an eye-flick to the menu? Was she checking... the price? To make sure it wasn't expensive? This girl is too considerate for her own good. They'll have to spoil her. Not today, not now, but have to.


"So what got you into studying the universe's native language?", she asks with a grin.


She glances down at her not-quite-finished questions, and then back up at Strange New Person.

Yeah, she can spare some time to talk.

"Well, at first it was because there were a few thorny theoretical problems in computer science I'd been convinced were really important for society to get to grips with, but, uh, I discovered I don't actually enjoy doing research and the field kind of got a bunch of new highly qualified entrants while I was studying. So instead now that I've fallen back on my backup plans it's because I desire to earn enough money to retire in, like, ten years, and not have to hate my job while I do it, and knowing math and how to code can help greatly with this."


"Ambitious, retiring in ten years, but smart. Definitely a good way to have a relaxing life, once the decade's up. And what about it inspires the delightfully exhilirated expression you were wearing when I came in?"


A request to infodump! One of her primary skills!

"So- there's a broad level and a focused level. A level about the shape of mathematical knowledge and a level that's about the fun of playing with that knowledge."

"So- on the broad level, it's all so ordered. So built. You start from axioms, statements that define what exactly it is that you're going to be talking about. And then you see some of the things those axioms imply about the thing you're thinking about, and then you use those new implications to build more implications that can be used, again and again until you have a tower of truth stretching up to the heavens, each step firmly planted on the one beneath it."

"On the more focused level, it's actually just really fun, for me anyway, to- figure things out with math? Pure math specifically, actually, uh, working with numbers is a lot less fun. But- starting from a few assumptions and building my way to conclusions- it's just viscerally fun."


Her grin just gets bigger as the infodump goes on. Infodumps are great, and this girl's infodumps are even better than usual. Goodness.

"Yes, that tower of truth, that's exactly it, it's this constellation of interconnected truths that give you a lens through which you can understand so much more. Gosh, it reminds me of Church numerals, just a bit, the ability to construct even numbers themselves out of something else like functions. It's all connected, built into and atop other pieces, and that's just beautiful."

She nods excitedly. "I'm glad you can find such joy in it. So many people bounce off of math, learn to hate it, and that just feels like a pointless loss to me. Maybe more of them could see the fun of the puzzle if they were taught differently. I especially feel the same way about logic puzzles. There's just so much fun in working your way out from the core facts you start with, and satisfaction in solving it just through thinking clearly and carefully."


"Yeah, exactly! The- it's kind of just- logic puzzles with slightly less tricky logic and more ingredients, honestly? Or, well, at least pure math is, applied math is thornier. Are you a math person too? Oh, also! Church numerals! I've never heard of those."


"Hobbyist at best. Been meaning to pick up more of it, because it's fascinating on top of being useful as a programmer, but I haven't made enough time for it. I know things like Church numerals because I absolutely adore lambda calculus. Church numerals are a method of representing numerals and operators using just functions and recursion, allowing you to use the fundamental pieces of lambda calculus itself to then build up the rest of everything."


Strange New Person is enthusiastic about math and math-related things! Honestly possibly more so than Alethia is, she has the enthusiasm to enjoy working with it, but 

"I know literally nothing about lambda calculus, I think. A blank spot in my education. It certainly sounds interesting, though-"

Wait. Wait.


"I, uh- just realized we never introduced ourselves. My name's Alethia. What's yours?"


"Sable. It is an absolute delight to meet you, Alethia. And do not get me started on lambda calculus unless you want me to start rhapsodizing about how much saner it is to build all of programming out of math rather than declarative statements and global variables."


"It's nice to meet you too, Sable."

It really is. She's cute. And adorably opinionated.

(It remains to be seen if any of her opinions are that evaluating charities based on cost-effectiveness so that you can help lots of people sounds vaguely sociopathic. She's, uh, not sure where that girl got her ideas about what "sociopathy" was, but it did teach her the valuable lesson that even when bright college students say they care lots about ethics this does not mean they don't somehow know literally less than nothing about what ethics even is.)

"I do in fact have an already-extant distaste for global variables! But- what's the problem with declarative statements?"


"Massively inferior when you start working with concurrency, which is increasingly necessary the more we switch to multi-core processors and networked software design, but nobody wants to turn their whole way of thinking about programming inside out to switch to functional programming."

Eee. She already knows global variables are awful!


"Oh! I've covered some stuff regarding how to avoid concurrency instantly killing you and also somehow destroying France, but we mostly just- well, described some of the problems. A few techniques to avoid accidentally having problems due to them. But not really- the idea of whole different programming paradigms to avoid them. We've only covered object oriented stuff, not really anything about other paradigms."


She bursts into giggles at the bit about concurrency instantly killing you and also destroying France.

"Oh that's perfect. Yes. It's like that."

Composing herself from the giggles, she hums to herself for just a moment. "The basic reason functional programming is better for concurrency is because it encourages you to segregate as many processes as possible into pure functions — functions that take data in, and spit different data out, and do absolutely nothing else. Pure functions are easier to write tests for, easier to model in your head, and best of all they can't break anything by being run in a different order. Just stick a pure function on the end of an inter-process or inter-thread communications channel, and it chews on whatever gets put into it, nice and easy. Fundamentally it makes separation of concerns easier to implement. Likewise with keeping your code DRY."

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