Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
This is an article I wrote for the December 8th edition of The Tech.
OpenCourseWare and the Future of Education
As we are all aware, MIT has and will continue to make relatively large cuts to its budget in light of the recent financial meltdown. The administration established the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force to evaluate ways to make these cuts with minimal impact to the MIT community. One proposal is to cut funding to OpenCourseWare (OCW) or continue funding only until the grant funding that has paid for 72 percent of OCW since its creation runs out. For those not familiar with OCW, it is a brilliant piece of intellectual philanthropy that MIT opened to the public in September of 2002. Essentially, anyone in the world can access the same knowledge and information that MIT students are inundated with by classes. Not just a few classes here and there in the most common disciplines — as of May 2006 there were 1400 courses online. This is an unbelievable resource that has been utilized by about 60 million people, both on and off the campus. Twenty years ago, the thought that one could log onto a computer and access nearly the entire curriculum at MIT would be unthinkable. But now it can be done.
Yet what of the costs? OCW is more than simply recording lectures and posting problem sets and exams. A dedicated staff is necessary to deal with publishing the various formats of media and keeping OCW updated and relevant. This sums to $4.1 million per year, although OCW has managed to cut about $500,000 from its budget in FY 2009. Since its creation, 22 percent of OCW’s expenditures have been covered by the Institute, 72 percent has been paid for through grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Andrew Mellon Foundation, and 6 percent has been covered by donations, revenue, and other sources. Unfortunately, grant funding runs out in two years. With that in mind, while many are asking how OCW can be sustained, others are wondering if it should be at all.
Answering this question necessitates a broader view on education. In the United States, the federal government provides free public education, grades K-12, to every citizen of the country. We take this for granted, but I cannot stress enough how utterly remarkable this actually is. Eighteen-year-olds leave high school with more knowledge than a citizen of the 18th century could even dream of. Knowledge of math that took the Greeks generations to uncover are imparted in a few weeks in a free high school math course to every American student. This model of education is absolutely revolutionary, and most take it for granted.
The model clearly is not perfect, but it is certainly an excellent foundation upon which we can build. However, once a student graduates from high school, a guaranteed free public education ends. From that point on, families must find a way to pay for a college education should a student decide to continue their studies. And, quite frankly, without a college degree, their horizons are extremely limited.
Is this the right model? Sure, families can get loans, students can earn scholarships through hard work and dedication, and state colleges can attempt to increase accessibility by keeping costs low. Yet some students spend the rest of their lives paying off debt from college loans and others cannot even hope to afford it in the first place.
OCW is a way to remedy this inequity. With its immense power anyone, from the student who could not get accepted to any colleges to the senior citizen who is curious about quantum mechanics, can access information that historically has been restricted to those within the walls of a university. Thus, completely free, public education can continue beyond high school. Of course, no degree can be earned through the completion of an online OCW course, but the very fact that the dissemination of knowledge is no longer restricted to those who can afford it is valuable. We have unlocked the secrets of the human genome; we understand the motion of both the planets and subatomic particles; we comprehend things that people long ago could not even imagine. Why should that information be restricted to a select number of people?
Some argue against making this information accessible to everyone. Suppose MIT continues to make OCW accessible, even continuing to expand it. The average student at MIT can then simply go online to OCW and watch the lectures, do the problem sets, show up for the final, pass, and they’ve got their degree. This leads to empty lecture halls and vacant recitations. There is no longer a need for professors or TAs. But, detractors of universal knowledge claim, if all of the professors and TAs are let go, how can OCW continue to be updated?
A related argument states that if anyone can simply go online and access an MIT education, then what’s the point of paying to attend the school? There goes MIT’s source of income.
Finally, some claim that the program is far too socialistic. These people feel that education must be earned. If you work hard through high school, get good grades, develop a good character, and manage to stand out, they claim that you will get into a school, earning the opportunities that will follow.
While respectable, none of these arguments hold enough sway to cut funding to OCW. The first argument will never actually come to fruition; videos for many classes lectures, including 3.091 and 7.012 (Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry and Introductory Biology, respectively), are already posted online following the lecture. While some students take advantage of this, the lecture halls have yet to become empty. And if, hypothetically, such a thing did happen as a result of an OCW-like program, all MIT would have to do is institute a mandatory attendance policy.
The answer to the second argument is quite simple: yes, anyone can essentially get an MIT education online, but you don’t get the degree unless you attend the school. Without a degree in a certain course from an accredited institution, employers will not take you seriously. Claiming that you’re qualified to operate a nuclear reactor because you “watched MIT lectures on it online” is not likely to convince an employer to hire you.
The final argument is more ideological. Once again, the age-old capitalism-versus-socialism debate. Opponents to OCW programs argue that not everyone has “a right” to this knowledge. People have spent lots of money, lots of time, and lots of ingenuity to develop the knowledge that we have today, and this should not simply be given away. Unless you’re willing to earn it, it should not be made available to you.
Such a philosophy would also mean that opponents of OCW would also oppose the current public education system. In the end, what it comes down to is that the rich can get this knowledge while the poor are left out. Yes, a poor student who excels will get scholarships and admittance to universities and rich students who fail will not. However, an average poor student may get accepted but earn no scholarships. An average rich student may also get accepted and likewise earn no scholarships. But the only thing that differentiates these students is the wealth of their parents, the rich student will be able to afford a college education while the poor student will not. Any system that favors wealth over ability, character, and dedication is wrong.
MIT should continue to support OCW because it is the first step to promoting free public education at a higher level than grade 12. The academic climate in the United States is changing. Due to the tough economy, state colleges, which are the government’s attempt to provide an affordable higher education, are becoming more competitive than ever before. The country is also undergoing an “inflation” of college degrees. While a bachelor’s degree would get you nearly any job in the past, a bachelor’s is now expected and it is a master’s that provides better chances of getting a job today. Therefore, people who get rejected from college or are unable to afford a higher education have far fewer opportunities than those who attain a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
Some might argue that if just anyone is let into college, then the country will be flooded with unqualified individuals. This is not true — as long as standards are kept high, individuals who are unqualified will flunk out and be unable to earn their degree. It is wrong to deny an individual the right to an education and, as a result, a good job with a livable wage, on the basis that their parents cannot afford it. For logical and moral reasons, free higher level education is a necessity. OpenCourseWare is a harbinger of the future of education, and MIT would do well to continue to ensure its continued availability.
Only Vol. 129
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009
This is an article I wrote that appeared in the December issue of the New Uxbridge Times. Hope you enjoy it!
Why Voting No for the Uxbridge School Project Cannot be an Option
Political issues tend to be dynamic. Many of the issues that Massachusetts and the United States face today are not the same ones that confronted us 8 years ago. Uxbridge, however, has maintained its independence from this trend, with consequences that threaten to ruin everything the town is and has the potential to be. I am referencing, of course, the issue of whether or not to build a new high school. When looked at objectively, it is disgraceful that the building of a new school is an “issue” at all. Let’s look at the facts.
The NEASC committee that recently reaffirmed Uxbridge’s probationary status makes very clear the need for a new building in the very beginning. It blatantly states that the renovations, although useful over the past few years, are a “band-aid approach” and cannot continue forever. With a hint of surprise, NEASC comments that “students function at a high level given the facility restraints under which they have to learn. The students of Uxbridge deserve better.” Yes, they do. A common response to this is a blatant lie. Some argue that Uxbridge is on probation not because of its building, but because of its curriculum or, even more ludicrous, its teachers. Proponents of this claim should read the NEASC report, which states that the most critical challenges facing the school system are “accreditation status, school space needs, modern infrastructure (technology, equipment, etc.), loss of students and money due to school choice, and addressing issues related to residential property tax involved in funding the school budget.” Every one of these directly relates to the need for a new building.
There has also been quite a bit of discussion surrounding the costs. In 2005, 13% of eligible UHS students school-choiced to other public schools. We also lost an additional 406 students in the 2005-2006 year to private and vocational schools. Four hundred six young adults IN ADDITION to the original 13% who could have made all the valuable contributions they’ve made elsewhere HERE instead. And then we had the privilege of footing the bill of $1,136,316 to send them to other towns. It is true that in the short-term the school project will be more expensive. But have the opponents of this project even considered the long term? Pretend the school is voted down. What do they honestly think is going to happen when, not if, Uxbridge loses its accreditation? New families will stop moving here, many families will leave, and those that remain will school-choice their children elsewhere. You then have skyrocketing costs of paying for school choice in conjunction with plummeting property values when everyone leaves. A much shrunken population translates into a depleted revenue base, meaning that Uxbridge will have no choice but to raise taxes and cut services. Isn’t that what the opponents are fighting against?
I am also going to refute another argument which I have heard from people who are clearly ignorant of modern educational standards. Many elderly graduates of the high school have said, “Well I graduated from that building and I turned out fine, so they will too.” That was a long time ago. What was sufficient 50 years ago is far from adequate today. Education is undergoing a revolution; lectures are being replaced by project-based learning, teachers have become mentors, and the rigid corridors are becoming flexible laboratories. People say that the building has nothing to do with the teaching, but they are wrong. The current building does not permit the necessary changes in education to occur.
Let me also share with you certain things you might not know. It is dangerous for students to travel the central stairwell with a backpack on. Hence, additional time must be taken out of the day for students to get all their books for each class. Why is it dangerous? Because the students are confined so tightly that a simple bump from a backpack will send the student tumbling down the stairs. Mentors are told to instruct freshmen on their first day to NEVER wear a backpack. Over the summer, a wall collapsed and had to be completely redone. In late September, there was drywall that fell. And a few years ago the cabinets in a classroom fell on a student. Uxbridge High School isn’t just inadequate for learning; it is a danger to its students. A school should be a safe place where students go to learn, not just academic material, but how to grow into responsible citizens. And it MUST be safe. The facilities at Uxbridge High School do not fulfill their purpose.
I find the fact that I need to even bring up this point quite disturbing. However, at a meeting, one of our selectmen, Cari Robertson, brought up the question: “What value is accreditation and do we REALLY need it?” I would have thought the answer obvious, but apparently I am mistaken. Let me be very clear: without accreditation, many colleges will toss aside your application before even looking at it. Accreditation is a validation that you are receiving at least the state-required high school education and are adequately prepared for college. Another comment made by Mrs. Robertson, which for some reason did not spark as much outrage as Mrs. Pittman’s, was the suggestion that if you want to graduate from an accredited high school, then you should leave Uxbridge and attend another high school. I was, and still am, very offended when I heard this, and take this to be a personal affront to everything that Uxbridge High School and its inhabitants stand for. If there is a problem in the town, a selectman’s job is to fix it, not to give up and abandon one’s constituents to deal with whatever ensues from their lack of action.
A new high school must be built. It is the only option that will alleviate the space issues facing our school district. Even looking beyond the high school, the middle school is overcrowded by 120%. The new high school will allow a restructuring of where grades are located and solve all the problems. In addition, the MSBA has made it very clear that this is the final opportunity Uxbridge has to receive substantial reimbursement from the state. If the school fails this time, Uxbridge’s future is lost. For too long, this town has been split into two distinct sects: those in favor of the school and those opposed to it. Young vs. old. This is not right; it is not what this is all about. The time has come to end the decade of bickering, heal the scars that have torn our community in two, and make preparations for a bright future ahead. However, the ONLY way this is possible is for Uxbridge to unite. There will be dissenters; there always are. But the time has come for Uxbridge to realize that the new school is better for the community as a whole. It is cheaper in every sense of the word. Cheaper in terms of money, and cheaper in terms of the price that our town will pay for lost generations who go elsewhere.
So I am asking you, begging you, to vote YES for the new school. I am doing this as a 2009 graduate, who knows exactly how desperately we need this. I am doing it as a taxpayer, who does not wish to see his taxes skyrocket and property values fall through the floor. I am doing it as a former student who lived and breathed Uxbridge High School for four years of his life, witnessing firsthand the amazing people who are employed there and the passion they have for the high school- not the building, but the body of people. And that body is being severely restricted by the building. UHS made me who I am. The possibility that it could lose accreditation and the opportunity to change lives is apprehensible to me. I am also doing this as someone who wishes to someday return to Uxbridge, but with an unaccredited high school, that would not happen. Most of all, I am asking you as a citizen who has felt every up and every down of the last school project, and the one before that. A citizen who has seen Uxbridge torn apart, but knows in his heart that it can be put back together. The future of the youth of Uxbridge (and the health of your wallet) depend on a YES vote.
We are living in difficult times. No one denies that. But we have a choice before us again: we can allow difficult circumstances to be an excuse for failure, or we can mold the challenging times into a platform for greatness. We can be torn apart, or we can come together. We can be the generation that was defeated or the generation that provided hope for the entire future of Uxbridge. I challenge you all today to make a difficult choice. Make a choice that may hurt in the short run, but will hurt even worse should it not be made. Please vote YES at Town Meeting and again during the town elections in May.
This WILL be the year. Because we won’t let it not be.
UHS Students for a New High School
Class of 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
So besides my Life at MIT Videos, I’ve also been sending video message to my friends (anyone can send me a request.) These I haven’t been posting because they’re directed towards the person they’re for, but I think everyone can appreciate this one.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
People say that college changes you. That you leave a different person than you came in. But I never imagined such radical changes as the ones that have been happening could take place in me. In this scientific analysis, let us first examine the case of how I write my “t’s.” In general, there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who write their “t’s” as crosses, and those who curl the bottom up and to the right just slightly. It essentially becomes a backwards j without the dot sitting on the line with a cross through it. Huh. That probably just confused you more. Whatever, you know what I’m talking about. Anyways, the principle of Occam’s Razor states that in general, if there are two theories explaining the same effect, then the simpler one is true. Logically, I have always prescribed to writing my “t’s” as simple crosses. I scoffed at those foolish people who tried to make their writing pretty, or worse, LEGIBLE! And then I came to MIT. I took 18.022. You may be wondering “18.022 what? Potato chips?” If you’ve forgotten, 18.022 is my Multivariable Calculus with Theory class. In this class we at one point were covering parametric equations. It doesn’t matter what they are. The most important thing I have to teach you about them is that the variable in use is a “t.” A lowercase “t.” Typically, these equations also contained the dreaded plus symbol, which looks like this: +. Just in case you’ve been going through life without adding.
I then encountered the problem that each mathematician who writes their “t’s” like any sane person must one day confront: “t’s” happen to look quite a bit like “+’s.” I soon became confused, lost in a maze of crosslike symbols. It was pretty bad, especially considering that I already can’t tell my 2’s and 7’s apart. So one night/early morning I was forced to make a radical shift. As my candlelight grew dim, a frigid breeze blew in, carrying a few snowflakes. The candle flickered but only barely survived. My skin was chilled to the bone, goosebumps clawing their way to the surface. My teeth chattered slightly and my pencil shook in my unsteady hand. I then engaged in the act which I had never believed would happen, having survived the few “t’s” involved in high school math perfectly fine. I curled the end of the t. Call me a hypocrite. Call me a traitor, a two-faced math geek, or Ryan, since that’s my name. The fact is I did it… and I’ve been doing it ever since. And today I came to a frightening realization: when I’m writing words, I am sometimes curling my “t’s.” I have done the writing equivalent of a jump from marijuana to heroine. And there’s no going back. At least while I’m still here.
But that’s not all. I hope you’re still reading and were not too riveted by my last paragraph because there is indeed more. This effect is unique to MIT. Had I chosen any other school, I would not be suffering so. Yet the culture of numbers is beginning to get to me. Take the following example: the other day, a kid in my advising group asked me if I was still 18. I replied that, yes, I still intend to major in math, but am open to other things. You see, math is course 18. And, of course, MIT people refer to their major and everything else by number. An hour and a half later I realized that he was talking about my age.
Still there is more. I know, it’s hard to believe. Tonight I am in the process of writing a handout for my philosophy presentation. Okay, right now I’m not. I’m typing this. But if you read this within half an hour of me posting it, it will be a true statement. See, I’m thinking ahead! Philosophy readings have been the only thing I’ve read that comes close to actual literary materials (i.e. not a textbook). Many of these readings are by British authors. Hence, they talk about their “favourite colours.” Not specifically in the philosophy, but I’m sure Brits do the same thing we Americans do. Which is talk about their favorite colors once in a while. Man, do I need to explain everything I write to you guys? No wonder these things come out being so long. Anyways, during the writing of this handout, I appear to have been influenced by that country across the pond. I’m not going to explain what that means because you all should know. If you don’t ask someone; they’ll probably laugh at you, but it’s better than going through life in ignorance. I wrote the following word on my paper: theatre. And it’s not even underlined with a red line!!!! Because in Britain, it’s correct! But I’m not in Britain! I’m in America! A very liberal part where certain liberal classmates oppose my views on capitalism, health care reform, and even government spending! Sorry, that wasn’t really related. But you know who you are. But don’t be too concerned about the British thing, I noticed it right away and fixed it. I doubt it will become a recurrence.
One final change. This is again related to math. I apologize for my one track mind. But if anyone knows how to find the Taylor polynomial of x^3+xy+y^3-3=0 of order 2 based at y=1 I would be much obliged if you would like to share that knowledge with me. Back to my radical changes. My professor for 18.022 is from Canada. And we all know that those Canadians are a little loopy. Just listen to Canadian Idiot by Weird Al Yankovic. They actually think curling is a sport! You realize you’re like… sweeping ice, right? So silly… everyone knows that “curl” is actually defined by the gradient of a function crossed with the function. So he has a slight accent that’s not really noticeable, but he also pronounces the letter “z” as in the “z-axis” as “zed.” ZED! That’s even in Weird Al’s song!!! He was right! That man is a genius. Anyways, my chemistry professor also pronounces z as zed. Not sure why, he doesn’t seem exceptionally Canadian. BEWARE! They are already among us! :-O Listening to zed for quite a while has actually changed my speaking patterns. Truthfully, I have yet to say the word “zed,” but when I am thinking, I think it. I think zed-axis. It’s frightening. They’ve gotten inside my head. HELP!
So yeah. MIT is radically changing the way that I operate. I will exit this place talking about zeds and curly t’s in theatres who majored in 18. Hopefully I will be able to somewhat stave off these changes. If not, I apologize for becoming a math-obsessed British Canadian.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Hi everyone! So right now it is 3:20am on September 29th, 2009. That brings up quite a valid question: what strange motives convinced me to post a blog entry now of all times? And I don’t have the answer to that question. Just kidding. There are actually several things that persuaded me to do this. First of all, it is 3:21 in the morning. How many bloggers post stuff this late? Early. Whatever. But I’m sure the number is quite small. So now I have bragging rights. When I encounter people at MIT who say things like, “I built an electric car,” or “I published an academic paper at age 12,” or “I’m hungry,” I can counter with, “Yeah? Well I posted a blog entry at 3:20 in the morning.” Rather than eliciting gasps of awe, I have an unfortunate feeling that I’ll be given strange looks with a response along the lines of “What’s wrong with you, dude? Do you have swine flu or something? SWINE FLU!!!! QUARANTINE!!!”
The second thing that convinced me to post an entry is the fact that the last one I posted was 20 days ago. No, wait… it’s now the 29th. That means it was 21 days ago. So I felt like I should keep my wide circle of followers appraised of my activities. Here are some of the things that I have experienced over the last 3 weeks: I swam 100 yards, I treaded water for 10 minutes, I dressed up in aluminum foil, I got 100% on two problem sets in a row in 18.022 (Multivariable Calc with Theory… I think that violates some kind of MIT law of having your self-esteem crushed… oh, well, I know I didn’t get 100% on the third :-P), I created my own fraternity/independent living group, I bought chocolate milk, drank chocolate milk, bought M&M’s, ate M&M’s, bought more M&M’s, ate more M&M’s, stayed up until 7am to finish a problem set due at 11:45am (I had a class from 11-12), campaigned for president of Class Council, ran for Senator of MacGregor House, found out I wasn’t allowed to do both, was forced to drop my name from the presidential ballot but still had people write me in :), signed up for Intramural Soccer, found out that we suddenly didn’t have an intramural soccer team, listened to fellow students argue about knots being discrete quantities rather than continuous, published an article in the Tech (MIT’s newspaper) trashing the frats’ Rush week (they spent $500,000!!!), published an article about the proposed budget cuts that suggested closing the Athena clusters (computer lab type things… unpopular idea apparently), published an article on why Israel shouldn’t bomb Iran, officially became Opinion staff on the Tech, was introduced as such and greeted with, “Oh, you’re Opinion, right? Yeah, you’re the kid everyone hates!”, discovered that this means I was doing my job right, I memorized the periodic table in one hour and nine minutes, I run several miles a week to each of my classes since I am perpetually running late, finally figured out how to get hot water in the shower (that was week 3 or 4), felt dumb as some of my friends talked about computer programming, washed several apples for my friend in exchange for his help on a homework problem, ate lots and lots of Subway, discovered that my screen comes out meaning I can get onto the roof if I really want to, discovered that to hold my screen in, the window must be perpetually open at about 45 degrees, which is nice for the breeze, discovered that when rain blows sideways and you can’t close your window things get wet, learned that about 23-25 seconds is the optimal time to put M&M’s in the microwave to melt the inside but not the outside, and left everything until the night before it’s due. Although that’s probably because it seems as though there’s something due every day.
And now I’ve written probably the longest grammatically legal sentence ever. And I did it at 3:38am, which is also good for bragging rights. Oh, and I found out that one of the singers of Mayday Parade left and started his own band! What?! It’s called Go Radio, it’s alright. Wow that was off on a tangent. Speaking of tangents, I also learned some ridiculous math. I’ve decided that I may not double major in Courses 18 (math) and 8 (physics) because despite the amazing coolness of quantum mechanics and relativity, I despise 8.01 (physics- mechanics). Maybe 8.02 (electricity and magnetism) will be better and change my mind. And because if I was to major in math it would be like a soccer player majoring in soccer. Pure fun. I’ve also been thinking more about what I actually want to do with my life after college. Initially, I wanted to get a PhD in mathematics and be a college professor and do research. I would hopefully also be able to write novels on the side and, eventually, go into politics. Now that’s shifted. I don’t really want to be a college professor because it lacks the interaction that a high school teacher has. Also, my time writing with the Tech and finding out that pretty much everyone enjoys reading my articles has influenced me to consider becoming an opinion writer or columnist for a newspaper. And with my increasing involvement in the promotion of the Uxbridge school project, I have seen that I also really enjoy politics because I sincerely care about the results. I think it’s sad that politics has seemed to lose the “public service” aspect over the years, which to me is the best part; the ability to give back and do something great for your community that will affect them positively for years to come.
Of course, before I can do any of this, I have to survive MIT. A popular saying among upperclassmen when my friends and I are optimistic, cheerful, happy, or just not miserable wrecks, is, “Oh… you guys must be freshmen. You haven’t had your souls crushed yet.” So that of course makes me very much look forward to drinking from the fire hose for another three years following this one :) I hope to be able to update this blog more often now that I’m getting into the swing of things here at MIT. By “getting into the swing of things,” I mean “getting used to solving difficult math problems and doing philosophy on 3-6 hours of sleep.” So I suppose that at this point I should stop avoiding my chemistry homework which I am being quizzed on tomorrow and actually do it. Oh, that was the third reason for me doing this. I just didn’t really feel like chemistry. I always enjoyed chemistry in high school, but as my second year of high school chemistry is now being compressed into a single month, it’s slightly less enjoyable. Math, however, continues to provide me with a limitless source of enjoyment, as does writing for the Tech, hopefully, serving on the Senate and the unique characters of my friends. So now it is 3:51am. I would say goodnight, but as it’s morning, I feel as though that may not be proper. Yet good morning is usually a greeting… Oh well. I could just go with an indeterminate value: goodbye!!! Oh, it’s now 3:52. Just thought I’d let you know.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Classes start tomorrow! Wait! It’s 1:43! That means they start today… whatever. Anyways, I’ve been ridiculously busy during Orientation so haven’t had a lot of time to post stuff. Here are some pics so far and I hope to put some more stuff up once later this week! I apologize for the lack of wit and humor that in this entry that is usually found on my blog, but I’m tired. Hopefully the last picture suffices. Goodnight.
Monday, August 24, 2009
There are countless quizzes that one can take online which can be used to divulge the innermost traits of any person. With a click, I can discover whether my ideal vacation is a day on the beach or a hike through the mountains. I can find out whether my superhero power is super-strength (yeah, right) or flying, what my favorite color says about me, what my shoes mean, or what punctuation mark best represents me. These quizzes are very popular, but I’m not entirely sure why. I already know what my ideal vacation is, and it is neither a day on the beach nor a hike through the mountains. (I’m just saying that to prove a point… a day on the beach wouldn’t be so bad.) I have no superhero powers, except maybe elasticity; I discovered recently that I can bring my arms from behind my back over my head to my front with my hands clasped. Yet I’m not double-jointed! Although I’ve considered throwing on a bright-colored costume and jumping from building to building fighting crime, I decided that the publicity would be too much for me. I’ve resigned myself to making friends say, “Eww that’s gross!” (female) or “Dude that’s awesome! I’m gonna try! … OWWW!!!” (male.) My favorite color says nothing about me, as it can’t speak. Or if it can, it’s never talked to me. The only quiz I took was a personality test, with the discovery that I am an ENTJ, a Fieldmarshal, which means that I have the same personality type as Napoleon. Great.
These quizzes prompted me to consider whether a person ever can be summed up in a single color, shoe size, or constellation. How about me? The answer hit me today as my family left a nearby bike trail after going for a lengthy walk and headed towards a nearby ice cream place that had a variety of delicious flavors. It was truly a Facebook Quiz Moment; what ice cream flavor was I? In the face of countless choices, would I go for Death by Chocolate or Mint Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Extravaganza? Nope. Neither. I had a small vanilla in a cup. Not even a cone. I realized that I actually couldn’t remember the last time I had gotten a flavor other than vanilla. Earlier in the day, my parents had offered to take me out to eat and asked me which restaurant I would prefer should we go out. I replied that I didn’t care; since the only thing I get when we go out is chicken fingers, all restaurants are pretty much the same to me.
In a moment of horror, a lightning bolt of inspired revelation, I realized that when it came to preferences… I was vanilla ice cream. I like my spaghetti with very little sauce. My favorite shirts are plain T-shirts or plain hooded sweatshirts. I dislike flashy cars or expensive excess. I eat the rolls put out at restaurants plain, without butter. There I was under the assumption that I was a complicated, developed human being. There’s no way one word could describe me! Ha, it would take days of probing, philosophical questioning for a person to really understand me. Then my illusions collapsed before me in an epiphany. Yes, I had an epiphany. Most epiphanies are related to matters of great importance, possibly altering the course of mankind. When Socrates (I think it was him… either that it was Plato… some Greek dude) had an epiphany, he ran from his bathtub into the streets naked, shouting “Eureka!” This story changed the world, inspiring a Sci-Fi series with the title “Eureka.” All the fans of this show have someone who lived a looong time ago to thank for their evenings of viewing pleasure. I think he also might have done something with density or volume and water… not sure though. Then, of course, there was the guy who realized one day that the Earth was not flat. His epiphany may not have been great enough for me to remember his name, but it was definitely important enough for him to be ridiculed for the rest of his life and thrown in prison. I think. I also really want to say it was Galileo, but I’m not sure. He might have been the one who had the epiphany that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around. But the point is, he still had an epiphany. There is also the nameless man who worked in a factory that was using microwave technology. This nameless man was hungry and had a candy bar in his pocket to sneak later on, but when he took it out… IT WAS MELTED!!! Although I’m sure he was somewhat unhappy, as his fingers were sure to be covered in chocolate, we have him to thank for microwave ovens! Then there’s Bill Gates, who got kicked out of college for the epiphany known as Windows. A few decades later, he doesn’t even blink when his company lost $20 billion in a single day. Why? Because he’s got another $192 billion where that came from! (I kind of made those numbers up, but you get the picture.)
Sadly, my epiphany is unlikely to earn me a television series, billions and billions of dollars, or a jail cell. No. My epiphany is a somewhat sad one that pales in comparison to the other great epiphanies of history. If I was an ice cream, I would be vanilla. I have a feeling that the America is not going to start celebrating a day for me, although I think that maybe they should. I mean, we celebrate Columbus Day, and all he did was sail his boat in the wrong direction, get lost, think he found India, and then wipe out thousands of Native Americans whom he thought were Native Indians. He should have figured something was wrong when they didn’t speak Indian. Duh. And then it comes out that Columbus Day is a fraud because both the Chinese and Norse found America before him! Sorry. Vanilla ice cream. Right. That was my epiphany of the day, so I figured it at least merited a blog.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I realize it sounds somewhat silly to say that presumably inanimate things hate me. But after reading this, you will wholeheartedly agree with me that videos, despite their clever acts, are actually living, breathing entities. Maybe not breathing. But definitely living and united against me.
The war between myself and videos actually began long ago. I purchased a video camera because I enjoy creating, filming, and editing videos, and looked forward to putting it to good use. I immediately immersed myself in creating a movie with some friends. Upon finishing the movie, I plugged the camera into my computer, sat back, and got ready to dazzle my limited audience with a spectacle of special effects and creative brilliance. My computer already had Windows Movie Maker installed, so I opened it up and proceeded to import videos from my video camera. That’s when I first saw it. The dreaded gray box with a red X through it. Hm… I pondered this problem and spent quite a bit of time trying to convince the computer to play the videos. I actually think I went through all the phases of grief. First, I refused to accept it. It'll play, I confidently told myself. Except it didn’t. As my denial left me, anger and frustration took its place. Shouting at the computer and slapping the monitor didn’t seem to work either, so next I tried bargaining with it. I apologized for my previous tactics and offered it some cookies. Then I promised that never again would I push my fingers against the screen to see the cool ripples that form or type on the keyboard while eating buttery popcorn. It still refused to cooperate. At 11:00 that night, I finally gave in. The computer, or, as I was soon to discover, the videos, had defeated me.
Further research and consulting a friend with experience with Movie Maker informed me that the videos wouldn’t play because they were the wrong file type. My video camera took film in .MOV format, which just happened to be the one format that Movie Maker doesn’t play. Until I told my friend and he said, “That’s odd… .MOV plays on my Movie Maker.” That was when the beginning tendrils of a dark suspicion uncertainly gripped me. Was there something going on here…? No… no, that’s impossible. I decided that I would have to purchase a video editor that could edit .MOV files or convert them to a different file type, such as .AVI, which I learned was the most common. I determinedly walked into Best Buy, gift card in hand.
“Can I help you?” a smiling employee inquired.
“I’m looking for a video editing program that can either edit MOV files or convert them to AVI,” I boomed confidently.
The smile seemed to fade slowly away, as if it were a liquid dripping off the employee’s chin. Not sure where that imagery came from.
“I’d better get someone else.”
Another employee, presumably more intelligent when it came to the world of video editing.
“What are you looking for?” he asked. This one had a concerned, trying-to-be-helpful look. I repeated exactly what I wanted. The employee looked dumbfounded. He blinked a few times before asking me to wait just a moment. He walked off, approaching the first employee. They laughed in a I-have-no-idea-what-he’s-talking-about-I’m-just-a-part-time-teenager fashion. They then scurried off to find someone was from the same strange, foreign-language-speaking country as I. A middle-aged man approached me. When I told him what I wanted, he wasted no time. He rushed off, gesturing for me to follow him into the alien realm of video software. I did so, and he handed me what I believed to be the answer to my needs: a program that could edit nearly any file type and also convert it to nearly any other file type. In addition, it was far more advanced than Movie Maker, granting me the power to dazzle audiences even more. I purchased it for $50.
The next time I had to make a movie was for a school project, lending it somewhat more importance than a movie with friends. I was counting on my new program to give me an A. I imported the videos and waited with bated breath. They could be edited! With a rapidly beating heart, I worked my movie magic and created a true masterpiece. This would earn me more than an A. I would surely earn a letter like I, which was so legendary, it was believed to be imaginary. So, I saved it and emailed it to myself to test. And found that nothing except my video editor could play it. Devastation is the best word to use here. Wait! I can convert it to AVI or WMV so it can be played! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! I had outsmarted it! So I clicked convert. Ugh. Two hours. That’s alright, I could wait. I plopped down on a couch to relax and congratulate myself. Then my night was ruined. I made the mistake of checking on its progress. “Error: Conversion could not be completed. Please try again.” An hour and a half had passed. Only 31 minutes left. I looked at the clock. It was 10:00pm. One more try. Same message, an hour and a half later. I was running out of options. I tried burning it onto a CD. There was no bar or anything indicating how much time was left. At about 12:30, I gave up. I was forced to play my video scene by scene by hooking up my camera to the TV.
That was when I saw the truth. The computer was a mere pawn. The videos themselves were the masters, utilizing every technicality they could to prevent me from accomplishing anything. It was sickening, but there was nothing I could do. I wearily threw in the towel. Until a few months ago, I received a camera that could record in AVI. Trumpets sounded. Heavenly golden light flooded my soul. I made a successful movie. I had finally won a battle. But the war was far from over.
I decided that I would apply to be a blogger for the MIT Admissions Office. One of the essays was a video! I excitedly went forward, utilizing every trick I knew, throwing everything I had into 22 minutes of concentrated SHAZAM!!! I saved it to my computer. Everything was going fine. At long last, the videos would bow to my will! My shackles had been broken and theirs forged! If you couldn’t tell, I was pretty excited. It took an hour to upload. That was alright though. The videos could stall, but I would emerge victorious in the end. “Upload Complete.” YESSS!!! Processing video… Huh? What was this? Why in the world are you processing anything? I just uploaded you!!! I gave it some time. Then grew suspicious. Was it possible that the videos had pulled something? Some ace in the hole, some trick I had never seen? Yes. I Googled “how long does it take a video to process?” The answers I found said that the time varied, but something else caught my eye. “Videos longer than 10 minutes will be deleted at this step.”
Panicking, I brought up my video. I had edited it, making it much shorter, but would it be short enough? It began playing. I looked at the time thing. And froze. I think my heart stopped.
Ten minutes and twenty four seconds. That was twenty four seconds too long. With a wail of agony, I collapsed. I could hear the videos snickering, pointing at me, finally claiming victory. I had no time left to upload the video. Forget time; I was out of patience. I just couldn’t take it anymore. The videos had won. I proceeded to upload the sad replacement for the video, which can be found in the entry below. Chances are that will make me or break me. Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll be tending to my wounds…
This entry is the response to Short Answer #2 on the MIT blogging application. But here’s the thing. I made a video to introduce everyone to the countless exciting things in Uxbridge. I did. And even though when I put it together it was only about 2MB’s, after I saved it and tried to upload it, it magically became about 66MB’s. And that means it would take two hours to upload, when I need to submit everything in forty-four minutes. Doesn’t quite fit. This leaves me in a dire situation. As I am no longer able to upload a video, the only other option is to use photos. I am not in the habit of running around town taking pictures because there’s really nothing to take pictures of. So I am posting the only three pictures I have of my humble town.
This is a town joke and actually is probably the most interesting, or at least the most amusing, thing in Uxbridge. Both Pleasant St and, even more fittingly, Maryjane Ave are small roads off of High St. I wonder what kind of guy named these streets…
So I apologize that you won’t have the opportunity to watch the thrilling masterpiece I created specially for you, but this is the best I am able to do. I will try to upload the video anyways and if it works, you’ll still be able to watch it.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Today one of my friends and I were having a discussion on Facebook. Like many conversations on Facebook, it took place through comments. It went something like this:
Friend: 10 days until i leave for college! cant wait!
Me: dude thats awesome! im leaving in like 18. friday the 28th
Friend: um… thats 11 days… aren’t you going to MIT?
Me: hahaha oops im a week behind… yeah, and im majoring in math
Huh. So it turns out that math majors at MIT are expected to know how to count. I suppose that’s a logical expectation to have. This got me thinking about what MIT was really going to be like, and what kind of pressure I would be under there. It’s often been referred to as “drinking from a fire hose,” and fire hoses are without a doubt pressurized. It’s certainly going to be a change for me, but how much of a change? Throughout my entire high school career, I studied once for freshman final exams. After spending hours doing so, I soon discovered that I didn’t need to study. For anything. For four years. Every MIT student that has said what I just did talks about how MIT was different because they actually had to study for the first time in their lives. Don’t get me wrong; I relish the challenge! It’s just that I wonder sometimes about certain things… For example, the following was posted on the MIT Admissions Blog today regarding tiredness:
Wed: Hopelessly tired
Thurs: Drowning in tired while clinging to last shreds of willpower to floss regularly despite diminishing ability to lift hands past elbow level.
Sat/Sun: Regain ability to english
Now, understandably, there are a few things about this post that mildly concern me. The “Tired’s” I can deal with. I was tired every day this past fall when I both played varsity soccer (I say that to make it sound like I’m wicked good at soccer, but there was actually no JV team…and they never cut anyone) and ran the Central Mass Hero singing competition, which was a massive singing competition among public high school in Worcester County and one of the most time-consuming, challenging, and rewarding things I’ve ever done. That was in addition to all the other student groups I was involved in. As for the hopelessly tired… yeah, I’ve had a bit of experience with that. Finishing sending emails at midnight after a late soccer game to get up at 5:00 the next morning to go to a National Honor Society meeting that I was expected to run could fall into that category. Thursday I’m not sure about. I’ve never actually experienced the inability to lift my hand past my elbow level. What I’m hoping is that the person who posted the above entry has freakishly heavy hands. Maybe they’ve developed arthritis at an early age and can’t move their elbows so well. Maybe they’re even 6’2” and elbow level for them is eye level for an average person. Friday, however, I’m finding it difficult to make excuses for. I find it highly unlikely that Yan Z., who posted the blog, just happened to forget Friday, yet moved on to the weekend. Somehow, the blankness of Friday is actually more intimidating than any of the words describing the previous four days. I can’t help but wonder if this was intentional. Sat/Sun actually may shed light on the sinister occurrences of Friday. “Regain ability to english.” Hmm… yes, this is disturbing. I suspect that on Friday, Yan Z. actually dropped dead from exhaustion and was resuscitated on Saturday, using the weekend to regain motor functions, including the “ability to english.” Apparently she’s still trying to get that ability back, unless “english” has been made a verb and no one told me. Not that I expect Webster to run every change by me, but it would have been nice. The realization then struck me that this was a weekly schedule. This means that the Guinness Book of World Records is wrong: the record for greatest amount of times a person has died and been resuscitated should actually belong to MIT students, because apparently they do it every week!
While my parents may not like the idea of me dying every Friday, I’m still very excited to be going there. After all, I’ve always wondered if there really is a white light at the end of the tunnel. During my zen-like contemplation of my morbid future, I decided that I no longer intend to join Concourse. Not that I think that I’ll be more likely to suffer some dark fate at its hands, but I read some stuff by other students, and I decided that I personally would get more out of the MIT experience by being in mainstream classes. While I am changing this aspect of my path, I am remaining stubborn on another. Despite evidence that I should consider a change, I am still intending to major in Course 18 (math.) To prepare, I’m getting up early every day to learn math from the expert; yes, I am referring to The Count on Sesame Street. Whether he’s counting apples or crayons, the man clearly knows what he’s doing, so I should be well-prepared for MIT in 18 days. I did that on purpose. I meant 11 days.
Through reading a variety of materials, I have come to the conclusion that expectations at MIT are high. A school that expects you to lose motor functions on Wednesdays, die on Fridays, get your drinking water each meal from a fire hose, and english away on the weekends is not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that it will be worth it. It may shorten my lifespan by a few years and give me bad breath due to the inability to floss regularly as cited on Thursdays, but I can deal with that. I’m ready. In 11 short days, I’ll be screaming IHTFP with the best of them.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
It is generally agreed upon that there are two kinds of people in the world. I take that back; depending on what classification system one uses, there could be anywhere from 1 to several thousand types of people in the world. But when it comes to spending habits, people usually fall into one of two categories: either they spend everything they can spare (and some they can’t spare, but spend anyways), and some who choose to save every dime they have. If you ever want to find out what category a person falls into, give them a million dollars and watch their behavior. Their spending behavior. Obviously they’re going to be excited. And no, there’s no government fund that you can apply to get the money for that behavioral test, although I’m sure the American Bailout Fund will be established soon to pay for (or borrow and then pay for) what is becoming a regular habit for our leaders. Anyways, I consider myself to be a saving type of person. I have a good job that I work full time over the summer, and all that money is directly deposited into my savings account. Besides things that everyone needs money for, like car insurance, Christmas gifts, college supplies, and a $200,000 college education (just kidding- MIT was a ton of help- all applicants should definitely look at their financial aid program!), I don’t really spend it on anything. It just kind of sits their earning me about a dollar a month in interest. Yippee! Nowadays I can’t even get penny candy for a buck… My brother, on the other hand, falls into the spending category. He does not have a job yet miraculously conjures money to feed his spending habits. Even when he has no money left, he, like our beloved government, manages to go out and buy stuff. I’m not sure how these people get buy, but if you know someone like this, then you can wholeheartedly attest to what I am saying.
However, I am not claiming to never spend money on things that I want. Once in a while, when something comes along that I’d really like, I can buy it, and I can do so easily and without borrowing from China. This is because I save and do not regularly spend. For example, a few months ago, I purchased a 16GB iPod Touch. I’ve found it to absolutely be worth the money; it is very convenient to have Facebook at my fingertips anywhere there is an internet connection. In addition, I’ve enjoyed many of the classier, high-end apps (all free, of course), such as Lightsaber (it even makes sounds!), Pac-Man, The Weather Channel (with a really good radar!), and Tap-Tap Revenge 2, the iPod’s version of Guitar Hero, which I have mastered. (I actually purchased Guitar Hero: Metallica the same day.) You can see why the device was worth about $300.
More often, however, I surprise myself with the amount of money I spend on more… edible… products. About 2 months ago I figured that I would buy some of my own candy and popcorn so that I wouldn’t be limited to the family stash. My original plans turned into a box of popcorn ($4.50), a 42oz. bag of M&M’s (7.00), and 3 or 4 Lindt and Cadbury candy bars ($10.00). For those of you who don’t share my enthusiasm for mathematics, the total was $21.50. Yes; I spent over twenty dollars on food, mostly chocolate. It’s really my mother’s fault. She’s the one who gave me the gene for absolutely loving chocolate candy. Today, I realized that my supply of candy and popcorn was completely decimated… there was nothing. I could not allow such a horrific situation to go uncorrected, so I remedied it. That means that I went to Wal-Mart and bought another box of popcorn, yet another 42oz bag of M&M’s, but no candy bars. Instead I bought a 3.75lb bag of mints. And, sadly, that is not a joke.
I have someone to blame for this too! During my senior year in high school I took AP English, and it just so happened that my English teacher had taken to purchasing massive bags of hard candy. Scattered among the chocolate mints, cinnamon things, and other assorted flavors were the real jewels: the red and white swirled mints. They were absolutely delicious. At first, one or two were enough for the class. After all, I didn’t want to look like a pig. Next, I decided that my mint-neediness surpassed the need for delicacy, so I ate anywhere from 4-10 per class. After that, I should have joined Mints Anonymous; I would stuff my pockets with the beauties for the rest of the day, occasionally popping in to replenish my supply. At a college fair, I once went to the Harvard Law table for the sole purpose of taking their entire stock of mints. (the mints were good, but it still wasn’t worth it…) That’s why I actually spent money on a 3.75-pound bag of mints. Because they’re DELICIOUS!
But I lucked out; the M&M’s had gone down in price! And not only that, but the bag of mints was less expensive than the numerous candy bars I purchased last time, bringing my grand total to a little more than $15.00. So although you may be reading this and asking why I have put my taste buds in control of both my brain and my wallet, consider this: my sporadic purchasing of food is almost entirely what I spend money on, and it’s not like it’s every day. Well, I eat it every day, but I don’t buy more every day. So it is with confidence that I am still able to defend myself as a person who falls into the saving-person category. Now- 11:11 MAKE A WISH!!! Sorry. It’s 11:11 right now. I usually miss it. What I was going to say was that if you’ll excuse me, I have to leave and make sure that my money was not wasted. More specifically, I’m going to go eat some M'&M’s. Maybe throw a mint or two in there. Maybe a few more mints actually…
The last few days haven’t been exceedingly exciting. Not a whole lot that is blog-worthy has taken place, which is why nothing has been posted for the last few days. Well that’s part of the reason. The other part is because last night I finished my proof at 11:37pm, and blogs take me about an hour or so to put together. I wasn’t particularly in the mood to be up until 1 in the morning writing about how I have nothing to write about. And besides, then it gets confusing; do I write as if it was Saturday or Sunday? You can see why I decided to just wait until this morning to write this. So although the title should give a pretty good idea of what my past few days have been like, here’s a more detailed overview.
I ended the last post on Thursday, after exploring one of the greatest issues that mankind has ever faced. No one can say this blog isn’t philosophically thought-provoking and important, confronting the great issues of the day. On Friday, I decided to begin the process of proving the various formulas that I have created for the integration of certain families of functions. I think I did that pretty much all day. Now before you judge, let me defend myself! Yes, I did math all day. I’m sorry. My father questioned this, making the perceptive comment that “It’s summer! You’re not supposed to be thinking.” Huh. Now first of all, that’s not a very good attitude to have. Let’s say I go out to eat at a restaurant during the summer months. Many of you may point out that I’m too busy with math to do anything remotely enjoyable, but just go with me on this. It’s hypothetical. I enjoy my chicken fingers (which anyone who’s ever gone to a restaurant with me can attest that I order every time, regardless of the restaurant) and then take a look at the bill. I see that the cost of the food is 20.00 (again, this is purely hypothetical.) Now because it’s summer, I have no motivation to think, so why bother figuring out the tip? I happen to have an extra $1 bill, so I toss it down and happily leave the establishment. The next time I eat there, I am bewildered to find that my chicken fingers have a strange, unpleasant “background” taste to them… the taste actually reminds me of the smell of a garbage disposal…
Second of all, math is fun for me. Now this may be hard to understand for many people. “How can he enjoy something so excruciatingly painful and dry?” I ask most of my friends a similar question. Why in the world do they find roller coasters and other such rides fun? I hate them! I’ve never been on a roller coaster in my life and never intend to change that. Roller coasters are frightening, yet people seem to enjoy that. While I admit that mathematics has never given me an adrenaline rush, this is the best comparison I can make; everyone enjoys different things, and most likely, one of those things will be hated by most other people. And besides, everyone has that one secret nerdy thing that they enjoy doing. Whether they have a calendar that has a different random fact each day, get books from the library with titles like “Parallel Universes” or “UFO’s: Top Secret,” or once sat on their bed for an hour while learning to say the alphabet backwards, everyone’s got something. At this point, I’m also choosing to ignore the fact that, as I’ve done everything on this list, I probably have a bit more nerdiness than others. That’s not important. What is important that by the end of Friday, I was frustrated because I could not get the proof to work. The two sums at the end shared the same ratio, but were not equal. I found that I somehow needed to work in a (k+1)(k+2) term. But, alas, that would have to wait. My girlfriend was coming over and we were scheduled to watch Good Will Hunting.
If the people around you reading this are laughing and you’re confused, that would be because Good Will Hunting is a movie about a kid who’s a janitor at MIT, but is a natural math genius more brilliant than anyone there. I swear that this is purely coincidence; I do NOT usually watch feature films about math. And besides, the movie is not really about math at all. It’s much more about the main character, Will Hunting, and his overcoming his fear of getting close to other people, having been abused and abandoned by his parents at a very young age. Just felt that was important to point out.
Saturday rolled around and it was my brother’s birthday, which meant that I got to eat Dunkin Donuts Munchkins for breakfast. Any guesses as to what I did the rest of the day? If you guessed math, you’re right!!! By the time that my grandparents had come over for my brother’s birthday party, I had done it; I had figured out how to get my needed term into the final sum. And the way to do that was by not magically deleting it from one line to the next. Yeah. The reason it was missing was because I actually had it in one line but forgot to copy it over to the next. So because I didn’t check my work, I had done hours of math for no reason. Not that I’m complaining. I finished the proof, as aforementioned, at 11:37 that night. I went to sleep afterwards. Duh. Sorry for making you wait until today to read this. So now I’ve gotta go and prove my next formula. Hopefully this time no terms will vanish between lines.
One final note: I hate mosquitoes. I woke up this morning with like 10 mosquito bites from last night. They’re awful. See, that proves liking math does not make me inhuman; when it comes to mosquitoes, I’m just like everyone else >:-O