Monday, March 31, 2014

1 Adieu

It is finally the last day of March, which means that after this post, the Slice of Life blogging challenge is officially over, at least for this year. I probably won't do this again after this year, so unless you are one of the people who has access to my private school blog (probably anyone who is seeing this), then this will be a final goodbye.

I think anyone who has just taken a glance at this blog since the first or second day could have realized where two out of the three words in the name come from; obviously, I've been following the alphabet, adding five numbers at the end to compensate for the number of days in March. The color was originally random, my main rationale being that I like oranges, but just after creating this blog I realized that this year's Slice of Life logo is what looks like a half orange, which was a nice coincidence.

the 2014 Slice of Life logo by Two Writing Teachers

March is the month of projects and homework, the height of science fair season, and the time when I apparently lose my ability to not procrastinate. This blog was just the icing on the cake, causing me to stay up later than I usually do, for more consecutive days than I ever have before. As I used to go to bed at nine in the evening, the progressively later timestamps on most of my posts evidence my drastic changes in sleep schedule.

While still a burden and a chore, this blogging challenge has not been as tedious as I had originally thought it would be. Perhaps it's just the constant activity of March, but enough has happened for me to make a somewhat meaningful blog post on most days.

Also part of the challenge is to write forty comments on other people's blogs in the space of these 31 days. I'm so glad that of all things, this is one assignment I didn't decide to horribly procrastinate on, spacing out my comments throughout the month and finishing them on Saturday the 29th. I'm rather amused at the comments that are showing up on all the blogs I've seen, as well as the significant increase in comments per post, lately, on my blog (from ~0.1 to ~1.1 comments per post, by my reckoning).

A muddy, halfway "reflection" on the past month is all that is forthcoming from my fingers, it seems. By now, I have finished my orange alphabet soup, garnished with a sprinkle of numbers, and found it to be mostly salty, with patches of bitter or sour and hints of sweet, and not entirely unpleasant. The month has now ended, but my week and work have just begun.

With that, I bid you farewell.

~

Sunday, March 30, 2014

2 Pieces

Today, I had a piano audition for NJMTA. It was the annual spring audition, where students rated with "Honors" or "High Honors" would perform at a later recital, and where "Honorable Mention" is less an achievement than a failure, the other rating being "Fair." The funny thing about today was that the date is 3/30, my audition was at 3:30 in the afternoon, and one of my pieces was 3:30 (in minutes:seconds) long. Strange coincidences.

As usual, this year I have two pieces to play and with which to (hopefully) impress the judges, one fast, one slow. As I walked into the room, the judge gave me a tired smile and told me that "this piano is stiff" and bid me try the piano. Uncertainly, I did as she said and ended up playing an awkward E-flat major scale, with three octaves instead of my usual four, since I haven't played scales in who knows how long - not my best decision.

Off to a shaky start, I commenced with my first piece, Bach's Fantasia in C Minor. By the end of it, I was feeling pretty okay about it, even though I probably completely messed up the shaping and dynamics and whatnot. Even though the piano was more difficult to play, as the judge had told me, the Fantasia had a solid feel that is not a lot affected by keys that are more difficult to press. However, this was not the case for my second piece, Chopin's Nocturne, opus 15 number 2, in F-sharp major. Typical of the Romantic period, the nocturne was very expressive and had a more free rhythm; it also had a lot of soft sections with different voices, which I was not able to portray as well as I'd wanted to because of the piano keys being antagonistic.

By the end of it, I knew I had not done well on the second piece, but it was the judge's actions after the Bach piece that worried me most. Though I thought I had played it not that terribly, she told me to wait before starting the nocturne, while she furiously wrote comment after comment on the fantasia. It felt like an eternity waiting for her to finish expressing her opinions about my playing, on paper. I blinked and imagined the entire paged filled up with comments on the one piece. In reality, only half of the sheet had been filled up, but that's still a lot for one, compared to previous years. It makes me wonder how bad of an impression I'd actually given her, that she'd had to rant about me for half a page.

As I got up to leave, the judge gave me another tired half-smile, and, with an awkward smile in response, I walked out of the small room.

I hope I didn't do too badly.

~

Saturday, March 29, 2014

3 Attempts

Like many of my classmates, I have recently discovered the game of 2048. The game is played with tiles that fit on a 4 by 4 board, and each move, consisting of one arrow key press if played on a computer and one swipe if played on a touchscreen device, spawns a new tile of either value 2 or 4. With each move, the player can combine like tiles, which add to form the next power of 2. In other words, combining two 2 tiles yields a 4 tile, two 4 tiles yield an 8 tile, two of which create a 16 tile, etc. The objective of the game is to reach the 2048 tile, which is 2 to the 11th power. As almost a side feature, there is also a point system in the game, with the value of each new tile (created by combination) added to the score.

The concept is quite simple, but the game itself is surprisingly difficult. If the player runs out of possible moves, the game is over, and on a 4 by 4 board, this can happen faster than one might expect. Due to its utter simplicity, 2048 has become very popular. Everywhere I go now, it seems, I see people frantically swiping at their cell phone screens, playing this game. It is also apparently a very large influence on procrastination, but it has not affected my work levels much, probably because I've already "beat" the game.

Along with others who've played, I have found that a good strategy is to create gravity. I like to ground my tiles in the bottom right-hand corner, rarely using the left arrow key and almost never pressing the up key. Every player may have a different preference, but I just found this orientation easiest to visualize for me. Keeping everything on one side results in the heaviest-valued tile being on the side, which makes combination simpler.

I have heard of (and seen) people just randomly sliding tiles around, not working towards anything in particular. While the game might seem random at times, it does require a bit of planning. Using a general strategy is a good idea, but one must also seek to maximize the output of each move. As each key press spawns a new tile, the board can quickly become cluttered with tiles after a series of useless moves.

It actually took me just three tries to achieve the 2048 tile, but this does not mean that I'm actually good at this game, regardless of whether I'm giving advice. (Everything is easier said than done.) The first time I played, I reached the 1024 tile, with which I was pleasantly surprised. The second time, I got a 512 tile, and my third time I won with the 2048 tile and a score of 25744. I don't think this is a good indicator of my actual skill, though, because in the few times I played afterwards, I haven't come close to my previous achievement; I'm fairly certain that everything I've done so far is the product of luck and curiosity.

What do you think of the game 2048?

~

Friday, March 28, 2014

4 Letters

Today was the second day of MJSS, which is the abbreviation for Monmouth Junior Science Symposium. Half of my grade went to see it yesterday, and the other half went today. I happened to be in the latter category, so today I skipped all of my classes to go on the field trip with half of my classmates.

I had heard so much about how much fun my other classmates had had yesterday, what with free lemonade and lemon-shaped stress balls and lemon paper, as well as some other adventures of which I caught wind. Naturally, I expected my experience to be the same or very similar, but I was mistaken.

Apparently, the two days of MJSS are quite different, with entirely different schedules. This makes sense, though I did not previously realize it, as one is expected to attend both days. As a result of my going the second day, all of the "fun" icebreaker activities were over, and most of my day was just sitting in a lecture hall, listening to presentations.

That's not to say it wasn't a good experience. All of the student presentations were excellent and interesting, and I enjoyed most of them. The projects that were presented were all well done and the result of thorough research over a number of years. All were remarkable, and I only saw five, so I think I can list them here.

The first presentation was by a student who wanted to investigate the role of a particular chemical in and possible treatment for Alzheimer's disease. In a series of thorough lab experiments over several years, he tested the effects of the presence or absence of this and other chemicals cells and helped to demonstrate the complex pathways that exist among the chemicals, in the process effectively showing that this chemical may be a viable treatment.

In the next presentation, the student developed a computer program that allowed for efficient analysis of noninvasive images to determine whether a patient had melanoma, a type of skin cancer. The problem with melanoma is that, while ultimately curable at an early stage, it becomes much more difficult, perhaps impossible, to treat if diagnosed too late. Her algorithm was the complex result of research, and it is amazingly accurate, especially considering the images used as input.

The third presentation was an effort to quantify nutrient levels in water. High nutrient levels may result from fertilizer runoff, and while one may think that more nutrients are desirable, this imbalance actually has an adverse effect on the ecosystem balance and may result in patches of "dead" water. Though the student used little more than basic chemistry in this project, it is the application of these principles that has allowed this student to succeed in his goals.

After a short break, the next presentation was a new design for fusion nuclear reactors. Apparently, current designs are not very efficient, which is one of the reasons nuclear power is not very prevalent today. In an impressive explanation of technical jargon, I managed to comprehend that the student created a new design for the alignment of magnets, which would keep particles where the user wants them to stay. He has shown that his design is more efficient, by testing it both in a computer simulation and in the real world. (If I heard correctly, he actually built his own reactor using his design.)

The final student presentation was on nanotechnology. The student designed and created a mini-generator using materials at the nano-scale. The generator was to run on wind power, and he explained how he tested the generator's output at different angles and different wind speeds. As it turns out, this could prove to be a powerful tool in currently battery-operated devices such as pacemakers, making use of just the ambient air flow.

The session ended with a talk by a psychology professor. He explained various aspects of human behavior, focusing on the way humans form relationships, and talked about the different studies that have been conducted in this field of research. It was interesting, to say the least, but by no means not uncomfortable. Awkward chuckles broke out periodically, in particular when the professor was talking about attraction and, later, cheating in relationships.

Altogether, my trip to MJSS was a positive experience. My only regret is that I wasn't able to see the student presentations that were given yesterday and the other students' posters. Even so, I feel as if I learned a lot, however perplexed I may have been at times.

If you visited the Monmouth Junior Science Symposium, yesterday or today or at all, what were your thoughts?

~

Thursday, March 27, 2014

5 Fingers

Just an observation: We have five fingers on each hand, for a total of ten fingers (four and eight, if you don't count thumbs). I presumed that that was why we count in base 10, the decimal system, but that is not the entire truth.

Other civilizations have used different base systems. The Babylonians, for example, counted in base 60, which is why we have 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 360 degrees in a circle. There are many hypotheses as to why they chose this number system, but overall it made much of their computing easier and allowed them to make great advances in mathematics.

Base 2 (binary), base 12 (duodecimal), and base 20 systems have also been in existence, which shows that not everybody used the number of fingers to count. Joseph Simmons has a fascinating (if somewhat perplexing) article about possible base choices and what they entail. Apparently, the world now uses the decimal system because Rome, which conquered a large area, and the influence spread. "Mathematics, like history, is written by the victor."

Since this is a very, very, very short post, here is a rant on the number of days in a week: Why are there 7 days in a week? Maybe it's just me, but I think 7 is just a really annoying number to be a part of the calendar. It's prime, which is a problem, since that means it's coprime to every other number that isn't a multiple of itself. In other words, no numbers (except its multiples, obviously) share the same factors with it. Truthfully, I don't even think I'd mind but for the fact that I'm growing plants for a biology experiment, and I'm trying to have the plant lights on one day and off the next. Unfortunately, I can't accomplish that with an odd-day timer, such as the one I have, without resetting it every week. All of the timers I find are either 24-hour ones or 7-day ones, neither of which really suit my purpose. It's annoying.

All right, I'm finished now. Goodnight.

~

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Zone

Today was my school's annual Research Showcase, during which an alumnus comes to give a keynote speech and all the students who entered science fairs display their projects for other students and parents. The very first thing that struck me as the keynote speaker began was the ease with which she delivered the speech. As the talk went on, she spoke about her experiences through high school and college, and more notably how she participated in and became leader of several student teams at her college.

To me, she seemed extroverted, outgoing with good social skills, and responsible, leading a team to multiple wins in competitions. I thought to myself that I couldn't possibly be like her, this model of ease and elegance, social and smart. In general, I'm the very opposite of that, being socially awkward, inclined to silence around most people, and of questionable intelligence.

If my dad heard me saying that, he'd scold me and break out into one of his infamous lectures. According to him, there is no such thing as not being able to do or not being "good" at doing something. "Everything can be achieved," he says, "as long as you train."

A favorite line of his is that I have to "expand my comfort zone." Well, my comfort zone is a small rectangle on the surface of my bed - okay fine, no, not always, though that's definitely true in the mornings. My social comfort zone is pretty much just the people who I'm really good friends with, and people I say hi to sometimes are on the border.

Talking in front of an audience? Way out of my comfort zone.

My dad tells me that I have to experience uncomfortable things (such as giving a presentation or actually talking to people I don't really know) to be able to assimilate them into my comfort zone. I understand his point, and all of what he says is probably true, but...

It's just so awkward, you know?

Well, this probably wasn't a very coherent blog post, as it is late. Staying up late like this used to also be out of my comfort zone - or just highly unusual - and now look what's happened. Actually, this blog in itself is not something I'm entirely comfortable with. Going public? Me? You'd be better off with a turtle, in my opinion.

Anyway, I guess I should start working on widening my borders, being more open, expanding my comfort zone, etc. Before I do that, though, I'm retreating to the confines of my room, to lapse into welcome sleep.

Now there's a place in which I'm comfortable.

~

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Yuck

I do not like insects, and this dislike extends to other "creepy crawlies" such as arachnids. I would go as far as to say I hate them, except I don't - they haven't done anything against me, personally - and butterflies and dragonflies can be very beautiful. Even so, I generally react with dismay insects are spotted, especially indoors. Unfortunately, today I had a very unpleasant encounter with one.

After playing a game called "You Bet Your Grade" in biology a few weeks ago, I ended up owing my biology teacher 30 minutes of "laboratory servitude," so today during lunch I went to the lab to pay my dues. My task was to clean a sink and surrounding counter-tops, through which slowly but surely I worked. I was almost finished, just getting to the sink area, when I felt a whisper of something traveling up my arm. On a reflex, I grabbed my arm and yanked up the sleeve, revealing disembodied leglike structures inside. Against the green of my sweater, they looked orange. I could've sworn that some of them were moving and twitching.

My teacher, who had heard my slight shriek of surprise, came over to ask what the matter was. Frantically, I blurted out something about a spider crawling up my arm, rambling about the "legs." Doubtfully, the teacher looked at the yellow-orange structures and declared, "It's just lint." He proceeded to pick them off, and I, still doubtful, said a shaky thank-you when the bell rang a moment later.

In the class just after lunch, I kept feeling an itch or tickle around my shoulder. I told myself that the legs were actually lint and that my hair was tickling my arm somehow. Eventually, as I was working at a computer, I guess something fell out of my sleeve, since when I got up, my friend Chwang who sat next to me pointed out a dark shape on my seat. When I saw what she was referring to, I freaked out and just kind of leapt back. Someone pushed the chair to the teacher, who was curious as to what the commotion was about. She took a good long look at it before dumping it into the trash can, telling us that it had been dead.

a centipede that resembles whatever was in my sleeve

For the rest of the day, I was jumpy and antsy (haha get it no it's not that punny is it), and my right arm would shake uncontrollably, my reaction to this experience. Through French (and the French quiz I didn't know about), I would randomly burst into a series of shudders upon remembering the feeling.

I really don't like insects and such.

In other news, today I went to bed at 12:30 after creating a group project sans group, presented said project, learned how to phish, took an unexpected quiz, and found out that my average in a class dropped 18 points because of some things I forgot to or wasn't able to hand in. After getting home from school, I also somehow stubbed my heel, stabbed my eye, choked on some pecans, and accidentally whacked my hand against the table.

It's just not my day today.

~