Sunday, December 19, 2010


I'm going home!

So there may not be anything major posted today.  However, I will leave you with a piece of interesting news, that also fits in with the fact that I'm flying today-- researchers may have found Amelia Earhart!  Or at least what's left of her.  She did disappear quite awhile ago.

Researchers in Kiribati found a bone that they think may belong to Earhart and are hoping to run DNA tests that will prove it.  You can check the article out here.

If you're also traveling today, have a safe trip!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writing A Paper that Will Be Graded

I am currently grading final papers for a class and was reminded of all the small things that make being a teacher or grader just a little bit more difficult than it has to be.  Here's some advice on things you can do to make life easier for the people that determine how you do in school.  Might want to pay attention.

(Note: These suggestions do not all come from the papers I'm grading now, so don't think my current class is terrible.  They come from combined experiences as a grader, editor, teacher, and Model UN Committee Director.)

1.  When submitting papers electronically (either on a classroom website or through email), don't just label your paper "Final Paper" or "Class Name".  We're getting dozens of papers, and it's really hard for us to keep them straight if they're all called the same thing.  It's not difficult to change the name of your file when we download it, but it starts to add up when you have to change 30, 60, 100 different file names.  So try something like "Last Name_Final Paper".  I know I at least use a roster sorted by last name to make sure I have received and graded all papers.  Therefore, if your file name starts with your last name, you will make me very happy, because that's how I store them all anyways. 

As a side note, a late shout out to some members of my video game class.  It you changed the way you named your files because you noticed that I always added your last name to the label, you are awesome.  You really don't know how much easier that made my life.

2.  I know a lot of you have newer computers, so you don't even think of this, but if you're working in Word, it's really helpful if you take the extra second to make sure your file saves as a .doc rather than a .docx file.  Not all of us have the newest version of Microsoft Word, because we have older computers and are too poor to justify updating something that works perfectly well, but .docx files don't open in the older version.  This requires us to do one of two things-- email you for a new copy of your paper or do a complex work around using something like Google Docs to convert the file through a series of (again) somewhat time consuming steps.  When we just want to start working our way through grading the stack of 600 pages your class just sent us, we don't want to have to do this.

3.  Even if we haven't seen it, we can tell you what was on the rubric your professor gave you for your paper.  You know how?  Because the majority of you will go through each element that the rubric listed, in order, to make sure you don't miss anything.  We know you think you're doing the right thing here, but when your paper and everyone else's reads like a to-do list, it's hard for us to make it through a whole class's worth without wanting to die.  I want to give you a good grade.  Really, I do, as much as you might think otherwise.  You can make it easier for me to do this by including transitions between paragraphs and words like "therefore", "as a result", "on the other hand" or "in addition".  All of these help us see that you've managed to connect the ideas of the class both in your head and in your essay, and a lot of times, that more than makes up for forgetting one small thing that was on the rubric.

4. Expand on your ideas.  I should never see a paragraph that takes up only three lines.  This tells me that you don't remember what the purpose of a paragraph is (to present and explain an idea) or you just completely neglected to provide any evidence for what you think and why.  This is also really easy to fix.  Before submitting your paper, look at it in print preview format.  From this view, all paragraphs should be roughly the same size.  If one is too short, see if you can just drop it into another one or expand on it.  If one is way too long, try to split it into two ideas.  This makes your readability much higher and my life much easier.

5. Please, please, please at least pretend that you proofread your paper and have some grasp of basic grammatical rules.  Know the difference between "their", "they're" and "there" and use them properly.  Same thing with "affect" and "effect", "less" and "fewer", "you're" and "your", and "its" and "it's".  Even if you capitalize things incorrectly, do it consistently.  You should not have a word starting with a lowercase letter in one sentence, an uppercase in the next, and another lowercase in the third.  That being said, proper nouns are always capitalized.  Same thing with commas-- you can choose whether or not to use the serial comma, because both are grammatically acceptable, but make sure you use them consistently.  One list shouldn't have a comma before the conjunction if the next list does not.  Check your spelling and grammar-- those tools exist for a reason.

6. Use a normal font, font size, and standard margins, especially if you're submitting electronically in Word format.  We know these tricks.  You're not fooling anyone.  Frankly, it's a little offensive that you think we're dumb enough not to notice that you changed all your punctuations to size 16 font, and I'll admit I'm much more likely to grade you harder when you try it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Presidential Pardons

I'm so overwhelmed with finals work and grading that I didn't even put something up yesterday.  Eek!

In lieu of that, today you get a link to some work by my little brother, who's been spending this semester writing for his college newspaper.  Check out his newest article here!  Gives you some illuminating insights into the powers of the presidential pardon.

Pretty good writer for a freshman!  (Good job, Dave!)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Gender in the History of Video Games

For today's post, I don't really have time to grab anything out of my old notes-- the end of the semester is packed with things that need to be done, and as fun as it is to keep my blog up to date, it's not really essential to progression in my Ph.D. program. But fear not! What you get instead is an excerpt from a paper I'm writing for my qualitative methods class. A lot of people write about video games and gender, usually not in a complimentary way. They dislike the way female characters are represented and the fact that video games tend to have more male than female players. I'm interested in seeing if these academic perceptions of gender and video games translate to gamers themselves, so I decided to do my research and the required interview for this project around video game consoles, to see if they were conceived of in terms of gender. In short, do gamers view some consoles as more acceptable for girls than others?

I'm still hashing out my own conclusions, but the following is an extract from my textual analysis for the paper, where I address what people have said about gender and games, what is going on now, and where my work fits in. This is the "Gender in the History of Video Games" section, focusing specifically on the narratives academics construct around games. Enjoy and let me know what you think! Sorry if it's kind of long, but I couldn't think of a better place to cut it off.  The formatting is also being all wonky on me, so sorry for that.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Mayans and the End of the World

December already!  Hard to believe.  In honor of how fast the year's vanishing on me and how much this week totally escaped me, today we're going to discuss calendars.  Specifically, the Mayan calendar.

Now the notes I'm using for this post come from Astronomy 341, Archeoastronomy, a class that unfortunately sounds far more interesting that it was.  Therefore, my notes are not the best, but we should be able to get something good out of them. And it wasn't boring because of the material, just the way the class proceeded, so hopefully you'll enjoy this!

The Mayan calendar has been very popular lately, because everything thinks it says the world's going to end in 2012.  I hate to burst your bubble if you were looking forward to this, but it's not really true.  The only thing that will happen in 2012 is the end of the current Long Count, one tier of the Mayan system of calendars.  As this has happened before and the world is still here, I think we're safe.

What we term the Mayan Calendar is actually three separate but related calendars.  There is a religious one (the Tzolkin), a solar one (the Haab) and a third one, which is known as the Long Count.

The Long Count was the Mayan method for keeping track of dates with regards to one another over a long period of time.  The other two calendars reset every fifty-two years (more on this later), so they are only able to track things that occur within a single generation or so.  The Long Count, true to its name, provides a longer view of things, lasting for 5,126 years.  The current Long Count, when matched up to our calendar system, began on or around August 11, 3114 BC-- there is some debate on this among academics and other interested parties.  In a way, the Long Count is kind of like our centuries and millennia.  We say that the current year is 2010 AD/CE (two thousand and ten years since the birth of Christ or the beginning of the Common Era, whichever you prefer), while the Mayans would say that it's a certain number of days since the Long Count began.  Both situate the current moment in a historical context surrounding a past event.

The Long Count date consists of five parts- the kin, uinal, tun, katun and baktun.  The kin is the smallest unit, equivalent to a day.  A uinal is similar to a month, but consists of twenty kin.  A tun is eighteen uinals or 360 kin, so about equal to a year.  One katun is twenty tun (twenty years) and a baktun is twenty katun (about 394 years).  A full Long Count cycle has thirteen baktun, to make up the 5,126 years.  Dates in the Long Count were written in glyphs by the Mayans but can also be translated to numbers, with the largest component, the baktun, written on the left and the smallest component, the kin, written on the right.  The day of this post has a Long Count date of  As you can see, these numbers are all relatively high (remember that there are a total of thirteen baktun and twenty tun in a full Long Count cycle), showing how close we are to the 2012 date when it will reset.  Today's date in glyphs can be seen at this website.  The textual content of the page is questionably accurate or just plain wrong (i.e. the author's claim that Mayans are extinct), but the date is correct and kind of cool to see.  The glyphs represent the components of the dates, with baktun on the left and kin on the right.  The bars and dots next to each represents its current number, with bars standing for five and dots standing for one. 

The next section of the Mayan calendar, the Tzolkin, is arguably most important.  It's a 260 day cycle created as a way to track and decide on dates for religious ceremonies and events.  Like the Mayan calendar in general, the structure of it is rather confusing.  The Tzolkin has twenty different "named days", and each of these has 13 different segments (what we would call a day).  So, for instance, the first named day would be Imix', designated by the glyph below.
Say Imix' started on a Monday for us.  This means that Monday would be 1 Imix', Tuesday would be 2 Imix', Wednesday would be 3 Imix' and so forth up to 13 Imix'.  Then it would become Ik', and proceed from 1 Ik' through 13 Ik', then the named day would be Ak'b'al.  For a full list of the named days and the Mayan glyphs associated with them (which are pretty cool looking), check out the Wikipedia page

Each of these named days and their corresponding numbers has a different meaning.  For instance, Imix', the day I was discussing above, is associated with the waterlily and crocodiles.  While the way ancient Mayans used their calendars is often under speculation, modern Mayans use these meanings to choose good days for different actions and ceremonies.  "For instance, a low-numbered Ak'ab'al or B'en would be a good day for a wedding, whereas K'an would be a good day for building or maintaining a house, " says Wikipedia.

Why a calendar of 260 days made sense to the Mayans when it has no association with astronomical movements, the key factors is our calendar, is unclear.  Speculation is that it was created due to the ritual importance of the numbers twenty and thirteen (the Mayans counted and did math using a base twenty system, rather than our base ten.  This was one of the hardest things for me to conceptualize during my archaeoastronomy

The last major component of the Mayan calendar system is the Haab, a 365 day cycle that was based on the solar year, similar to our calendar system.  The Haab has eighteen months of twenty days each, and then fills in the end of the year with five "nameless days".  Like the Tzolkin, days are numbered, although they start with zero (also known for some reason as "seating").  This means that the first day of the first month is Seating Pop, while the second day is 1 Pop, the third is 2 Pop and so forth.  That month proceeds up to 19 Pop, then the next day is Seating Wo.  The five nameless days, also known collectively as the Wayeb, are similar to our All Hallow's Eve, with the belief that they were a dangerous time with weakened barriers between the mortal world and the Underworld of death and gods.  The days were filled with rituals to protect people, and Mayans would generally not leave their houses during this time.

The Haab and the Tzolkin together make up what is known as the Calendar Round, a system of two calendars that resets (the two sync up and have their first day together) every 52 years.  Dates in the Calendar Round are listed by Tzolkin day, then Haab Day.  For instance, according to calculations from this "Maya Links and Calculators" website, the date of this post is 11 B'en 6 Mak, or the eleventh day of the thirteenth named day on the Tzolkin calendar and the sixth day of thirteenth Haab month..  The day when the Calendar Round resets would be 1 Imix' Seating Pop.

If these three major components weren't confusing enough, there are a number of smaller, less significant calendars and ritual cycles, such as the Age of Moon (the current date within a cycle of six lunations  or lunar periods) or the Nine Lords of the Night (a nine-day cycle similar to our week in which each night was associated with one of nine different gods).  But I think I've thrown more than enough ancient calendrical information at you for now.  The last thing I'll include is an image of what a full date in glyphs looks like and a cool chart I found online that shows what each glyph means.

ISIG just means Initial Series Introductory Glyph, a glyph meant to explain why the following glyph was important.  Remember that the bars and dots next to glyphs mean numbers (i.e this image shows a Long Count date with a baktun of 10).  This particular glyph image has a number of glyphs for the smaller calendrical components we didn't go over, but hopefully you get the idea.  The Mayan calendar can be a remarkably confusing one!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have a ton to do before I bring my friend to the airport and pick my little brother up from it today, so I'm afraid there's no real post today.  If you're really disappointed about this, I did save this photo to cheer you up--
It came from a website I use often to cheer myself up when stressed-- That Cute Site.  Their caption references the classic Merrie Melodies short "I Love to Singa", so I contend that the owl is dancing.  My friend Will believes he's doing kung fu, so go with whichever explanation you think works better!

Don't forget to fill out the poll before it closes tonight and have a great holiday!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just Breathe

Looks like randomness is winning!  Which is good, because today, we're going really random.

This past weekend, I was competing at the Ohio Star Ball, the National Collegiate Ballroom Championships, in Columbus, Ohio.  While I'm exhausted now, with homework to do still, it was a great weekend.  Our team is incredible; although I left after my dances and haven't heard the final verdict yet, I'm pretty sure we won the competition for the 7th year in a row.  We also got to see some professional shows, which are ridiculously awesome.  My partner and I did pretty well too, so that's another benefit.

The downside of this all is that I'm now slightly sick.  I always get stuffy from the recycled air in hotel rooms, and I'm sure the lack of sleep didn't help.  What's worst about this isn't that I feel awful, because it's really not too bad, but that I hate breathing through my mouth.

This led me to discover that it's actually bad for you to breathe through your mouth regularly.  There's a whole Wikipedia article on it.  Not a legitimate source, I know, but I also found some articles by doctors on the subject.  Wikipedia is just easier to read.  It says, "Mouth breathing in children can be a cause of abnormal facial growth primarily in the upper and lower jaw shape".  What is that, you ask?  Long face syndrome, as far as I can tell, is an imbalance in the growth of the jaw that results in an overbite, an inability to close the mouth fully and even a small chin.  To illustrate, check out the photos here, and the video on how this issue can be surgically corrected here.  Neither the condition nor the corrective surgery look like fun to me.

Mouth breathing isn't just bad for children though.  In adults, it's known to dry out the mouth and lungs (as air isn't warmed or filtered the way it is when breathing through the nose), which contributes to halitosis.  In ballroom, bad breath is the last thing you want your partner to have, so watch out if your ever looking for a partner!  It's a good thing for all of us that the competition is over, as I wasn't the only stuffy one on the team.  Mouth breathing is also comorbid with (has an effect on, is affected by or both) sleep apnea, asthma, snoring, and obesity.  Not pleasant.

And it gets worse!  I was unaware of this, but in addition to these physical issues associated with it, the term "mouth breather" is apparently an insult, meaning that the person is stupid.  I can see where this comes from-- breathing through the mouth necessarily requires a slack jaw, which we tend to associate with stupidity (i.e. the phrase "slack-jawed idiot).  I didn't know it was officially considered an insult, but if Wikipedia says so, I'll listen, at least in this case.

With all this negativity, I can only hope that I'm reacting poorly to the hotel's ventilation system, rather than actually being sick.  Wouldn't want to be a mouth breather for too long if it's so unhealthy!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


This blog has now been around for a bit, and thus far, has actually garnered a small number of readers, if my Google Analytics are to be believed.  So first, thanks to all you lovely people who take the time to read this.  I hope you enjoy it.

That being said, I'd love to have a better idea of what kind of things you like to read most.  Do you enjoy when I pretend that I still know science?  What about politics?  Video games? Cooking and how tos?  Or do you just enjoy the randomness of whatever I happen to think up that day?

I'd really like to know, so please take a sec to fill out this poll.  If you answer other, I'd love you to explain what you mean by that in the comments.  This poll will be up for a week, so give me some feedback.

And remember, Google Analytics is creepy-- I know how many people come here and what town you're accessing the blog from, so I'll know if you don't bother to help me out here!  Besides, it's all for you anyways.

Thanks guys!

What would you like to read?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Squirreled Away

You know what one of the funniest things about fall is?

Squirrels.  (They're also funny in these clips from Up.)

They are everywhere in the fall, running around, stealing stuff, burying it, and stocking up for winter.

But did you know that squirrels don't actually remember where they bury their nuts?  Well, at least red squirrels (the enormous ones we have here included) don't remember.  Scientists still aren't sure about gray squirrels, although I'm tempted to side with the scientists who believe they don't remember-- according to this article in the New York Times, gray squirrels don't find over 70% of the nuts they bury.  They're not going to be getting a call from Mensa any time soon, that's for sure.

This is not to say that squirrels are completely stupid, although the running-in-front-of-cars thing might say otherwise.  According to the same article, gray squirrels at least know which nuts last longer buried and which they should eat immediately.  And if nothing else, at least they're a helping hand in spreading acorns, acting as fluffy little agents of reforestation.

So try not to run them over next time one dives in front of your tires.  And if one looks lost, maybe you can help him find a place where he might have thought it a good idea to bury food, since your guess is likely as good as his.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Modding "Fair Use"

As I've mentioned a few times, my main area of interest is in the study of video games.  My undergraduate thesis, however, was about the Internet and some of its many legal issues, so an article that came out yesterday on Wired really caught my eye when I saw that it dealt with copyright law and video games.

The article, "Citing iPhone Ruling, Xbox Defendant Says Mod Chips Are Fair Use", deals with the case of Matthew Crippen, who is scheduled to face copyright violation charges in court any day now.  He could receive a sentence of three years in prison for-- get this-- modifying an Xbox.  Well, a couple of them, but it's still quite a novelty.

 The prosecution is arguing that Crippen's console modding violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)'s clause against hardware circumvention.  Which seems pretty cut and dried (although I am not an expert on this act by any means)-- he definitely was circumventing Microsoft's attempts to keep the console limited to their approved games and software. 

The whole case just got complicated, as copyright issues normally do, by Crippen's defense, which hopes to get him off on a "fair use" claim.  Fair use is a special caveat in copyright law that says the way in which you are using copyrighted material does not infringe upon the copyright or require special permission.  For instance, using a film clip for educational purposes in a classroom generally does not require permission from the copyright holder.  Parody and news reporting are generally covered as well, as are a few other things.

To support fair use as a defense for Crippin, his lawyers have cited July's iPhone discussion (Wired article here), where copyright lawyers were all trying to determine whether or not it was legal to jailbreak an iPhone, allowing it to operate on a different network or to use unauthorized apps.  Eventually, it was determined that this was allowable.  To quote a court filing, "The Copyright Office cited the fact that the only way for consumers to exercise their fair-use rights by running non-Apple endorsed applications was through circumvention of access controls."  If the court allows the defense to use this, Crippin might be off the hook.  However, he was charging people to mod their Xbox for them, which might mean he's still in trouble-- non-commercial use is generally considered "fair", but making a profit off circumvention might be going too far.

I'm probably going to follow and see how it turns out, and I recommend you do the same if you're interested in either video games or copyright.  This could be a landmark case for console freedom in particular or technological freedom in general.  Giving the growing trend of proprietary technology that comes with limitations built in, this could be remarkably important.  But perhaps I'll detail that trend a bit more at a later time.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Why the US Sucks at Foreign Affairs

I’m sure that the title of this post seems inflammatory at first glance, and I suppose in some ways it is.  However, I spent a lot of time in politics classes as an undergrad, and while this doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch of the imagination, I think one of my professors made a very good case as to why the US is, in fact, not very good at managing foreign affairs.  The notes that prompted this post are actually the same as those that led to my earlier post on isolationism and come courtesy of Professor Allen Lynch and his class Domestic Politics and US Foreign Policy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Everyone's A Little Bit Racist

Alright, before you get all mad at me for the title, you need to do two things.  First, watch this awesome clip from Avenue Q.  Second, you need to hear me out on this one.

My first year at UVa, I took an anthropology class called Racism, Nationalism and Multiculturalism with Professor Richard Handler.  In one of our very first classes, Handler based his lecture off a Los Angeles Times article by Michael Shermer titled, "He's a Racist.  So Are You.  So Am I".  The article deals with comedian Michael Richards' racist outburst during a comedy show, when he was being heckled by the audience.  Following this incident, he appeared on various talk shows to apologize and said, "I'm not a racist. That's what's so insane about this".

Shermer and Professor Handler disagree, instead arguing that, at least unconsciously, everyone is racist.  The reason why is because we are preconditioned and trained to sort things, including people, into categories.  To quote my class notes, "we think of the world in terms of a certain system or set of categories we have been trained to."  To illustrate this, Handler used a non-racially based example; there are only so many movie plots available in American cinema because American movies cannot have an unhappy ending.  In contrast to this, sad endings occur all the time in German cinema.

What this means is not that everyone should start blatantly insulting people of other races.  Rather, it means that trying to be "colorblind", in a way, works contrary to its stated goals.  Trying to be colorblind will not result in equal treatment of all people, because it ignores the system in which people have been socialized.  Rather, the important thing to do is to try to recognize the system and work around it.  To quote Handler again, "Everyone is racist in the sense that we are all taught and know racial and nationalist categories".  Furthermore, he explains that part of knowing who you are in society comes from knowing who you are not.  Saying you are white is also saying you are not black, Asian or Latino.  Like language and other cultural norms, these distinctions are absorbed to the point of becoming unconscious, which leads to outbursts like Richards'.

So how should you start recognizing what's really going on?  First, you need to know that sorting things is normal.  It's how we bring meaning to the world and is hardwired into us.  On the other hand, the categories we sort things into are socially and culturally defined.  In other words, they are arbitrary-- Handler pointed out that someone not socialized in our cultural system, like a Martian, would not naturally divide people along the lines we use to divide ourselves.  Therefore, it is important to recognize what groups exist but also to be aware that they are not natural.  People exist in multiple groups at a time, so while categorizing can help simplify interactions, it should not define them.

In case you are curious as to how racist you are, you can test it here with the Harvard Implicit Association Test.  The test has participants sort good and bad words in conjunction with other dichotomies, such as white/black, fat/thin, or old/young, to determine the inherent preferences we have been socialized with, taking advantage of the fact that people sort words faster when they correspond to preference for that category.  For instance, almost everyone sorts good words to "white" faster than to "black", regardless of their own race.  We also display a strong cultural preference for youth, thinness, and a number of other categories.  Go check it out.  It's an interesting way to start learning a little more about how you work.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween and the Jack O'Lantern

Happy Halloween!

I'm spending my holiday in the library catching up on work I couldn't do yesterday when I was at a ballroom dance competition, so I hope your plans are more exciting than mine.

For Halloween today, I decided to write about something I've always been kind of curious about but never took the time to look up-- What the heck are jack o'lanterns for, anyways?

I love carving pumpkins and make sure to do it every year, but I've never really taken a step back to look at the tradition itself.  You have to admit, it's kind of an odd one.  After some Googling, I managed to find a website called the Pumpkin Nook, which brands itself as the "Internet Shrine and Library for Pumpkins".  Clearly, such a website was bound to explain jack o'lanterns to me.

According to the site, jack o'lanterns come from an Irish legend about a "miserable old drunk" known as Stingy Jack, who played a trick on the Devil by coaxing him into climbing a tree, then surrounding the trunk with crosses so the Devil couldn't get down.  Jack only let him down once the Devil promised not to take his soul when he died.  Unfortunately for Jack, this didn't work out quite as well as he wanted it to.  When he died, St. Peter refused to let him into heaven (perhaps because of the "miserable old drunk" part?) but the Devil kept his promise and refused to let him into hell.  This left Jack to wander the darkness between the two forever, lighting his way with an ember from hell that he carried in a hollowed out turnip (apparently something Jack kept with him regularly).

This legend turned into a tradition in Ireland, with people placing lights in hollowed out turnips and other vegetables outside their doors on Halloween to keep evil spirits away.  Once the Irish started moving to the United States, they discovered pumpkins (native to North America) and started using them for lanterns instead, as they're a lot easier to carve and hollow out than a turnip.

So now you know exactly what you're doing when you carve your next jack o'lantern!  I have to say, modern ones are definitely a lot cooler than a hollowed out turnip is likely to be.  Check out this link for a small glimpse of how awesome jack o'lanterns can be!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Things that Go Bump in the Night

Man, I really need to get better at remembering what day it is.  Just this week, I forgot to call my dad on his birthday-- not because I forgot his birthday but rather because I didn't realize it was already October 25th!  How did it get so far into fall already?

Maybe the weather here is throwing me off.  Everyone told me to have fun in the Frozen North when I left Virginia for Michigan, even my Connecticut friends who should be used to cold!  But so far it hasn't been too bad.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Multitasking and Your Brain

I am always busy.  It's just how I choose to live most of the time.  Barring this past summer, when I avoided having a job to recover from academic burnout, I have at least five things going on all the time-- work, school, activities, volunteering, personal projects, socializing, you name it.  Even when I'm relaxing, I know there's a long list of things that I should be doing.  This means I have become very, very good at multi-tasking.

Recently, however, I've been trying to do that less.  Not because I have fewer things to do, but because I read a fantastic book that, among other things, explained exactly how your brain processes things when you multitask and why it might not be good when you're trying to learn or remember something.  The book, The Tyranny of E-mail by John Freeman, goes through all the ways in which e-mail has changed our lives, from forming our to-do lists for us, swamping us with physically impossible amounts of information to digest, and forcing us to bring our work home with us.  (At one point he cites an interview with Madonna where the pop star admitted that both she and then-husband Guy Ritchie slept with their Blackberries under their pillows.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Washington's Farewell Address

As I was going through my information stockpiles recently, looking for something to post, I found a bunch of note cards I completely forgot I had.

In high school, I took AP US History my junior or senior year. My best friend had taken it the year before, and our brothers had taken it the year before that. This meant that, when I started the class, I inherited a huge stack of typewritten index cards covering almost everything one needs to know to pass both the class and the AP Exam. To be honest, I’m not even sure how old they are—I think the boys might have inherited them too. It seems like multiple people have made them, because some are terribly unhelpful while others provide really great summaries.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mr. Jefferson

It is currently my fall break, and I decided to make a trip from Michigan down to the University of Virginia, where I did my undergrad.  Never would I have ever predicted the thought "Oh thank god, West Virginia" would cross my mind, but man, after driving through Ohio, it's a welcome relief!  It's actually a really pretty state to drive through, and I do miss being around mountains.  Also, I was out of Ohio.  Not sure I can emphasize that point enough.

But given how long my last post was and in honor of being back in the lovely Charlottesville, VA, I figured today I would keep things short and talk about one of my favorite facts regarding the University and its founder, Thomas Jefferson.

I love Thomas Jefferson.  I don't think you can go to UVA without loving Thomas Jefferson.  We're kind of obsessed.  The man was a genius.  He was good at everything, from farming to creating a country.  How many people can say that?

One thing he did toward the end of his life was design his own gravestone and epitaph, choosing to highlight just three of his many accomplishments.  The stone, which is still in excellent condition in his family cemetery at Monticello, reads:

"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia."

Of everything he had done in his life, including being President and Vice-President of the United States, Governor of Virginia, and initiator of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, he felt these three things were most important.  To me, this says a lot about where he placed his priorities.

Just a little something I've always found interesting, especially considering he insisted before his death that these three things and "not a word more" be inscribed on his tombstone.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Culture Jamming

I have a stats assignment and an essay on  Marxist media theory due tomorrow, so I don't have time to write a new post.  However, I'm really proud of how I've been updating this regularly (Wednesdays and Sundays for those of you who aren't paying attention), and I don't want to mess that trend up.  Therefore, today I'm just going to post a project I did first year for MDST 201, Intro to Media Studies.  

For this project, we had to perform a culture jam on a piece of print advertisement and then include a writeup explaining what we did.  To quote the assignment, "Culture Jamming is the practice of taking preexisting texts and altering their content so that they critique themselves.  The practice goes beyond parody in that its goals are not simply comic but political.  The successful culture jam subverts and destabilizes the text by pointing out its complicity in problematic practices."

I will say right now that this is not one of my best papers (it was quite a few years ago), but the assignment was an interesting one, and it's short enough that I don't feel it'll be overwhelming to post here.  I'd love to know what you think!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Trivial Pursuit

So this post is directed at people my age and younger-- when playing Trivial Pursuit, pay careful attention to what edition you are using. And I don't mean if you're playing with the "Trivial Pursuit Totally 80's" version or the "Trivial Pursuit Star Wars Classic Trilogy Collector's" edition, although these editions are probably pretty cool. No, I am referring to regular old "general knowledge" Trivial Pursuit. If you were born in the late 80s or beyond, try to get the newer editions. If you can't manage that and end up playing with the original (released in 1982), here are at least two answers I can help you with.

If the question is, "What one country borders the most other countries?", do not go with Russia, even if you think this is true. Acceptable answers are: the Soviet Union, the USSR and The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

If you get another geography question after that, Dresden is in East Germany.

For everything else, like early 80's TV stars, you're on your own, but if these two questions come up, be sure to give me some credit when you win.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Intro to Media Studies

Looking back on the posts I’ve put up, I realized that very few of them are about media studies, which struck me as odd considering that’s what I actually do.  I suppose this may be attributed to the fact that media studies fall into the category of “Things I’m Not Supposed to Forget” and therefore not directly in line with the past tense focus of my blog’s title.  At the same time, I could probably use a refresher on some of the things that came up in the second Media Studies class I ever took—MDST 201- Introduction to Media Studies—and hopefully it’ll give the rest of you a bit more context on what it is I study.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

How to Remove Onion/Garlic Smell from Hands

So among other interesting features, like not having a single level surface anywhere, my apartment has no microwave.  Being both poor and cheap, I decided to see if I can get by without buying one, and thus far, it's actually been pretty easy.  One unexpected benefit is that I've been making the time to cook a lot more often, knowing that I won't be able to toss a Hot Pocket in the microwave when I get hungry.  Plus I actually really enjoy cooking.

What I don't enjoy is how, after chopping onions, garlic or other strongly scented ingredients, the smell can stay on your hands for a ridiculously long time.  It reminds me of when I worked at Quiznos and smelled sandwiches all the time.  Thankfully, there are ways to solve this problem, and I'm going to share the best two with you today.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Literature and Proofreading

My very first semester at UVA, I took a class on Shakespeare.  I can picture the immediate reaction of most people as they read that sentence.  Usually something along the lines of “Why would you subject yourself to that?”  Well, I happen to like Shakespeare, although I get why most people don’t.  It’s kind of like reading in another language and takes a certain kind of brain shift to do easily.

However, I’m not writing this to defend Shakespeare—he can do that well enough on his own.  The reason I bring this class up is because I have no notes from it, which seems like it could mean I didn’t learn anything.  On the contrary, this was a great class where I learned a lot.  It just didn’t involve lectures, but rather consisted of some really great class discussions, the kind that I was too involved in to write down.

I also really loved the professor, Hoyt Duggan, who unfortunately retired at the end of that semester before I could recommend him to other people.  He had an amusing habit of reciting things in proper Middle English pronunciation in class and confusing the heck out of all his students.

He also gave us the few notes I do have left from this class, which offer great, but slightly sarcastic, advice on grammar and on what I’m going to cover today—writing a literary essay.  I have abbreviated these slightly, but Prof. Duggan’s instructions on how to write a literary essay are such:

Sunday, September 26, 2010


It’s always interesting to talk to people during a difficult economic time in the United States.  At some point during most conversations, someone will make a reference to how the US might do better on its own, rather than worrying about the rest of the world’s issues.  While these statements are usually presented as jokes, they speak to a very interesting and significant aspect of US history—isolationism.  In case you’re worried you don’t know nearly enough about something this historically important, never fear!  I learned a great deal about this topic in one of my favorite undergraduate classes, Domestic Politics and US Foreign Policy, and now will pass it along to you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Looking for Aliens

So I feel like I've kind of digressed from the original purpose of this blog recently, but I intend to get back to it today.  Earlier this week, I saw this interesting article regarding one of the Vatican's astronomers and his feelings towards extraterrestrial life (often abbreviated ETI for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence).  Considering I took a class called "Life Beyond the Earth" last semester and wrote my final paper on the potential religious implications of finding ETI, this really caught my eye.  

However, the religion aspect is not really my focus today.  What I am going to talk about is the statement made by Guy Consolmagno, the astronomer in the article, when asked about finding ETI-- "The odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it – when you add them up it's probably not a practical question".

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I believe I've mentioned this a few times, but in case I haven't, I am going to grad school for Media Studies or Communication Studies, as my program calls it.  I am interested how media affects people and also what it says about individuals, society and culture.  More specifically, I want to look into how the Internet and video games fit in with or challenge traditional concepts of community.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Happy Birthday Mario!

For those who don't know, Monday marked the 25th anniversary of the Super Mario Brothers franchise.  Can you believe it's still so successful after such a long time?  In honor of this event, and because of my own academic interest in fan culture, I've decided to post links to two of my favorite Mario fan creations.

Sticky Note Super Mario is a stop-motion animation made entirely with sticky notes by students in Japan.  Sort of wish I could take that class, but I wish even more that I had this much spare time!

The second one I've decided to post is the adorable Mario Kart Love Song.  I find it to be incredibly creative and, of course, sweet in a very nerdy way (arguably the best way).

Have a favorite of your own?  Share it in a comment!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

My apartment here is fantastic, but unfortunately, I have developed a small problem-- fruit flies.  While not particularly dangerous, especially with winter approaching, they are annoying and kind of gross, so I decided to get rid of them.  Thankfully, this is something I've handled before, so today you get advice on what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation.  You will need:

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

New Apartment!

I am now successfully moved into my new apartment in Ann Arbor!  Hurray!  There are still a few things to sort out, such as having my carpets cleaned because the hot water tank flooded my place the day I moved in, but all in all, I'm close to being settled.

On top of that, I managed to finish a project I had set for myself this summer.  My mother keeps her recipes on index cards in a box, sorted by type, and I've was trying to create a recipe box for myself, copying over all of the ones she has that I'm interested in.

There were two minor problems with this.  First of all, my mother has a lot of recipes, so my hand kept cramping up from copying them over.  Second, copying a recipe isn't much good if you can't follow it.  While I know most cooking terms, one area I do get confused about occasionally is mixing.  There are a lot of different ways to mix ingredients together, usually dependent on what the ingredient is or what effect you want to get.  And mixing incorrectly can really ruin a recipe.  When I was watching "Good Eats" the other day, the host, Alton Brown (one of my favorites, since he's the geek of the Food Network), said that something as simple as stirring muffin batter for too long can ruin its consistency, making the muffins tough and leaving "wormholes" in them when they bake up.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I'm heading off today to Michigan to move in for grad school and don't know when I will next have reliable Internet.  Therefore, here's a quick post to fill whatever gap may follow.

Recently, I was reminded why wearing sunscreen is a good idea. Sure, it's easy to say it prevents skin cancer, but I'll be the first to tell you that when you're younger, worries like that are not at the forefront of your mind.

A much more immediate, and therefore possibly more effective, reason to wear sunscreen-- peeling sunburns itch like nothing else.  And they have the potential to take you by surprise-- three weeks after vacation, when you think you made it through safely, you'll suddenly start to peel.  How does that make sense?

Plus, peeling ruins what otherwise would have been a pretty fantastic tan.  Shoot.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Remembering how to drive

Dear New York drivers,

While returning from Brooklyn today, I realized that many of you seem to have forgotten necessary driving lessons that would make all our lives a lot easier.  To remedy this, here is my list of things you should dredge up out of your memory banks and dust off.

First, road signs are there for a reason.  I know that multi-tasking might be tough, but I promise you can take your eyes off the road long enough to read them.  If you're having difficulties with this, hanging up the cell phone might help.  You see, road signs are incredibly good at letting you know where it is you're supposed to go and what lane you need to be in, which leads us to tip number two.

Anticipate a change.  Those crazy engineers that design roadways are actually really smart, and they have made sure that almost every change in a major highway is announced at least one mile in advance.  When you see these announcements, the key thing to do is follow where they tell you to go.  For example, if a sign says the exit you need will be on the right in one mile, continuing to speed down the left lane past cars that are stopped in the right lane is maybe not the best idea.  The reason for this is because you will rapidly reach your exit and have to slam on your brakes, stopping traffic in your lane, to try to move into the lane that you should have joined a mile ago.  I know it seems like speeding past those twenty cars and then edging in will put you in first, but in reality, behavior like this really just slows everyone down.  Anticipating a change is also very helpful when two lanes are merging, as the signs that mark those off usually tell you which lane is closing.  Therefore, you can make your way into the correct one before your lane stops and again avoid slamming on your brakes and generally being a frustration and danger to those around you.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


So talking to my little brother the other day led me to relearning some math and even a bit of chaos theory. Thanks, Dave!

The two of us were admiring our favorite shirts at Shirt.Woot (a fantastic site- if you've never been there, go) and we happened upon the "Fractal Tree" design. Now I was confused, because I didn't think this was a fractal. David disagreed, although I have a sneaking suspicion this was just for the sake of disagreement, not because he actually knew. However, it turns out he was right either way-- the tree is a fractal, because each of the branches is a smaller iteration of the tree as a whole. A fractal, by definition, is an infinitely detailed geometric shape with small sections similar to large ones.

What I was thinking of was a specific type of fractal, known as a Koch curve or a Koch snowflake. I was going to just copy and paste the description of one from Wikipedia, but it seemed a little more complicated than I'm going for, so I'll give it a go on my own. A Koch snowflake starts as an equilateral triangle. Then, imagine adding another triangle, 1/3 the size of the original, to each of the triangle's sides. This would give you a six-pointed star. Now add smaller triangles to each of the sides of this new shape. Repeat infinitely. I'll illustrate this description with the gif image Wikipedia had, since that makes it a little more clear.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Chem Is Try

Well I certainly found a gem among my files-- all of the papers, notes and lab reports from my honors chemistry class in high school.  Not only is this a find because it's over seven years old now and I can't believe I still have it, but also because my life has had a severe lack of science in it since I graduated high school.  This definitely falls into the category of "things I might no longer know", although not because I didn't learn it well.

My honors chemistry teacher was fantastic.  I doubt she'll ever read this, but Alice Frazer, you remain one of the best teachers I've ever had.  For those of you who didn't know her, I'll give this evidence-- among her AP Chemistry students, seventy-five percent received a five on the exam, the highest score possible.  The remaining twenty-five percent received threes or fours, which were also passing grades.  No one failed.  That takes some serious teaching skill.  On top of that, she had an impressive history working in the chem field before becoming a teacher, so she had practical knowledge and really interesting stories.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Prisoner's Dilemma

And now we get to the first real post!  I won't be putting one of these up every day, but I'm excited to get a real start, so here goes.

One concept that shows up in a lot of the notes I was filing yesterday is the idea of the "Prisoner's Dilemma".  My notes on the subject look like this:

Did you get that?  Probably not, so a better explanation goes like this.  The Prisoner's Dilemma is a metaphor for how two parties deal with one another.  It starts with two prisoners who are arrested and interrogated separately.  You can kind of see the results in the drawing above-- the best solution is for neither of them to give away any information.  If they both keep their mouth shut (cooperate), the prosecution has little to work with and they only get a year of jail time each.  If they both go to the opposite extreme and rat the other out (defect), they each get 5 years.  However, the worst option is if one cooperates and the other one defects.  The one who turns state's witness (defects) gets off completely scot free, while the one who holds his tongue (cooperates) gets a life sentence.  Because one prisoner doesn't know what the other will do, the rational choice for them is to turn on the other so the worst punishment they can get is 5 years and the best is freedom.  If they don't talk, there's a chance that they'll get a life sentence.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Beginning

So I suppose it's normal to start these things off with an introductory post of sorts. Well, I'm not going to introduce myself, since I did that well enough in my "About Me" section, but I will give a bit of background into this blog and the motivation behind it.

Following my recent graduation from college, I spent a night trying to organize and file the immense number of papers, notes and readings one accumulates during four years of school. Sounds mind-numbing, perhaps, but in reality it was kind of fun to see all the things that I know, or at least knew at one point. This got me thinking about how all of the random knowledge a person has could be fun to throw together, and thus, this blog was born. It's meant to be a place for me to post things I've rediscovered in my files and also to put up newer facts and information that I feel people might find useful or interesting. We'll see how it goes! And hey- maybe you'll learn something cool.