Friday, October 31, 2008

Essays written

Ok, so. I've got my Caltech essays all sorted out. I've put a freeze on the revisions. No more dramatic ones. So, the products I've got over here, and if you could help proofread them, I'd be REALLY thankful. And I'll be sure to keep this link updated. The application is due.... Monday. So, I've gone about as far as I can with editing on my own, so I'm gonna leave off the essay editing and look over the rest of my app. But if you can read these essays and offer suggestions, that'll be extremely wonderful. And if I get into Caltech, I'll be very grateful! So, the first Common App prompt, I've got my essay here:
And for the supplement:
Thanks a lot and, any suggestions would be appreciated. Just leave a comment, send me an IM, or send me an e-m

Friday, October 24, 2008


Sorry for the HUUUUUGGGEEE amount of inactivity. In the last month, college has hit me like a ton of bricks. I (foolishly) decided to apply to Caltech Early Action, so with the deadline looming at November 3, I'm kinda busy right now. The whole beginning of the month was dedicated to writing brag sheets for teacher recommendations. I swear, the school should give out the recommendation packets earlier so we have more time to write them! After writing about myself so many times, I HATE myself!

Now, I'm working on really improving my essays. The first prompt is the personal statement prompt for the Common App which is the incredibly vague:

I just realized that I had to answer that, in addition to the question on the supplement, which is more interesting:
Interest in math, science, or engineering manifests itself in many forms. Caltech professor and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman(1918-1988) explained, ''I'd make a motor, I'd make a gadget that would go off when something passed a photocell, I'd play around with selenium''; he was exploring his interest in science, as he put it, by ''piddling around all the time.'' In a page, more or less, tell the Admissions Committee how you express your interest, curiosity, or excitement about math, science or engineering.
Of course, one reason I'm really kicking myself is that I never got myself involved in an actual lab. I never actually did science at CENS, and I got rejected from some of the science programs I applied to. So... that's a gaping hole in my application. However, I'm hoping that the recommendations will come to save me and also that I can convince them that lectures are good!

The two colleges I'm really considering are Caltech and University of Arizona; both of which have alumni teaching at my school, apparently. To me, Caltech is the ideal place to be. I love how Caltech students interact because they're all interested in the same things: science. And they're all really really smart. So, really cool stuff happens when they get together. And the living arrangements at Caltech foster that. You have the house system (which they tell me is like Harry Potter, except without a sorting hat). And in the houses, you have students of all years living together, and working together. One of the things I kinda really long for is to be able to easily work with others. In high school, this is immensely difficult since everyone lives with their parents (or legal guardians). However, with everyone else in the same dorm, or on the same campus, it'll be easy! So I REALLY REALLY hope I can be a part of that. I'm sure I can make a lot of good friends.

Of course, University of Arizona isn't that bad. It's a school that I don't think will be too difficult to get into, but I'd still like to go. While it's not as prestigious as Caltech, it has an excellent astronomy program. If you read articles for a week, you're bound to see it mentioned. They're the ones operating the Phoenix lander at the moment. And plus, since its public, it won't be as expensive as Caltech would be. And according to the teacher that graduated from there, it's a great school. So, while I still will be disappointed if I don't get into Caltech, I won't be crushed. However, two schools isn't enough for the college counselor at my school to feel good about, so I'll probably apply to about four other schools JUST to be safe, though I can't imagine what would be safer that UA, to be honest.

Anyway, this was just to give you an update on what's happening in my life right now. Right now, I don't really want to disclose the essay itself, but if you send me an e-mail, I could probably let you proofread it on Google Docs. So, keep-it-on, and I'll probably be busy at least until the 3rd.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The side of Simplicio

I'm sure you've gotten used to all of the excuses I come up with for long period of inactivity (which are becoming more common, unfortunately). But I'll just get directly to my random thought of now.

In March of this year, an article was published in Keith Devlin's column of the Mathematics Association of America by Paul Lockhart. Now, I know Lockhart is an experienced mathematician and mathematics teacher and I'm but a lowly 12th grader in high school. However, one thing he notes is that "The only people who understand what is going on are the ones most often blamed and least often heard: the students." (3). So, I use this to justify my comment on this article.

First, I totally agree with Lockhart that math education today is dismal. At least, if not moreso than science education. People generally enjoy something if it's one of two things: useful, or interesting. Learning to decorate is useful, so people will willingly learn it in order to better themselves. And black holes and the Large Hadron Collider are just so friggin' cool that people love 'em. Unfortunately, present math classes are neither. They're far too based on rote memorization and don't really present the underlying concepts at least until another grade. In this way, I agree that the curriculum is flawed.

However, I don't quite agree with Lockhart's solution to it. This may just be the anti-Twainian acadmelitist in me, but while allowing students to pursue their own questions is fun, there is only so much that can be learned. It took who knows how long for mankind to come up with the concept of 0 (even in the Mayan civilization). And it wasn't until the 17th century that people started understanding negative numbers. Now, I'm not saying that he expects kids these days to figure out 3000 years worth of mathematics in 12 years. But saying that having a lesson plan "insures that your lesson will be planned, and therefore false" does a disservice. Lesson plans are useful and SHOULD be used to keep everyone in the class on the same page (that doesn't necessarily imply that lesson plans ARE doing this now). You might have one student pondering what it means to take 6 away from 3, but most others might still not have thought of that question. Lesson plans allow all of the students to have a similar knowledge base.

Now, what do I WISH could be done? Well, I believe that learning the concepts and context behind the mathematics is the best way to teach it. I love the way Lockhart was able to not only say, but elegantly show how the area of a triangle is 1/2bh. This provides those "Aha!" moments that are fundamental to understanding a concept. Now, I entirely support setting time aside in class to show the diagram and asking students "Now, how can I definitively find the area of this triangle?" and setting up a discussion. This way, you keep a balance between rote memorization and pure, yet extremely difficult creativity. In fact, there is this mathematics teacher at my school, who really pursues the learning of concepts. I take the example of how he introduced his geometry class to the Pythagorean Theorem (I'm not a primary source by the way, I never actually had him for a class, and am going by what I've heard). He makes sure people understand the physical basis of the Pythagorean theorem, the way the Greeks originally understood it. They didn't quite have the algebraic concept of "squaring" the number, that's very abstract. But they understood that if you have a right triangle, and if you take a physical square with the length of one leg, and another square with the length of the other leg, if you cut those squares and arrange them correctly, they make a square equal in area to a square with a side length of the hypotenuse. Here's a graphical rendition of what I just said:
They were able to prove that (in this case), a^2+c^2=b^2. That teacher made sure that the students knew that basis, and then proceeded to prove the theorem five different ways (you can find some here) I only WISH my geometry teacher taught that to me. But alas, most students thought that it was way to overboard. Anyway, I believe THAT kind of teaching is what would be best for students (or for me at least).

So, what I want to leave is that while Math education is pretty flawed, going to a free-for-all lesson plan of pure imaginative creativity isn't quite the solution. In painting, there's still a standard for learning forms and perspective and all of the other terminology. Although, like painting, math is an art. It is also not an unstructured one; it follows certain rules and in most cases, those rules are best taught than derived from scratch. Though the concepts behind them should be developed rock-solid.

(By the way, although I have never had that teacher for a math class, I do independently study proofs and logic with him, something that's greatly missing in math classes today)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Merges and Communities

Ok, it's been two weeks since the merge between the TeensOnLinux and TeenLinux communities was democratically halted. And so far, opinions have varied from tunys on the anti-merger side to bjwebb (early episodes) on the pro-merger side. Now, I'm not typically a moderate on most issues. On most things to me, there's right and there's wrong. There's no use in being half-right because you're also half-wrong. However, I found this issue to be painted too far in black and white. There was either merging, and consolidating the two communities into one totally new community. I didn't like that because it meant throwing away all existing infrastructure and work and starting from scratch. If you asked me, this would have been a HUGE waste of resources. It may be valiant, but still highly impractical. We even had TeensOnLinux PENS! It would have been a shame for those to go to waste. However, on the other side of the spectrum, two separate competing teen linux communities. To me, that's obviously unhealthy for the community as a whole because most resources will be divided between the two communities. I think this was the main point that the TeenLinux people said they were concerned about. And I, for one, agree with them on that. A community divided for no reason is definitely a waste.

However, I think a compromise between the two would be the best solution to this problem. While in ##teenlinux, I noticed that the conversations there are actually ABOUT Linux. They're nothing like the conversations in the ToL channel. Our conversations are far more diverse and... let's say wacky thanks to bobsalad helping to lead them. So that leads me to think that maybe we could work together as one community, TeenLinux being where serious conversations happen, and TeensOnLinux being where people socialize more. However, I believe that it's still not enough justification for two communities. It's sorta like #ubuntu and #ubuntu-offtopic. There's a reason they're seperate channels, but they're still under the same community. It wouldn't be right to be discussing the ext4 filesystem, then be interrupted by this person who just went to Disneyland. With two channels with different aims, that distraction will be largely mitigated. Now we also think about outreach. Now, I know that Teens On Linux has been highly popularized in media. Tunys gave a talk about it on OSCON, we were mentioned in Full Circle Magazine. There are already so many references to us that it would cause a huge confusion to new recruits if ToL were to disappear. So, I was thinking something like.... (you should have seen this coming) when Sun acquired MySQL. Although they're now really the same entity, Sun still allows MySQL a large amount of autonomy to do what it needs to do. They're together in all but name, and I think that's what the teen linux communities need to do. Cooperate instead of compete, but still maintain distinct identities. Specialization would also find a role here. TeenLinux, which is obviously capable of technical discussion, could continue doing so. We at TeensOnLinux could do what we do best and outreach to the outside world. All while sharing the goal of furthering Linux use among teens. Of course, there certainly can be an overlap of community. Those who both have the know-how and want to just hang out can be in both communities. So, this is a hand from me to the TeenLinux community of cooperation instead of competition (can't say anything about tunys yet).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Captain Planet!

Recently, I was made aware of a playlist on YouTube of Captain Planet episodes. Captain Planet is one of the great old science-themed cartoon. (not the greatest, Magic School Bus holds that title, hands-down. And I am categorizing environmentalism as science). Unfortunately, the creation of Captain Planet preceeded me by a year. And since I didn't start watching TV when I was born (something this generation could probably claim), I missed it entirely. However, my interest in it came around 8, when playing a computer game which was themed on Captain Planet. I can't find that game, or remember where it was, but it was pretty good! It was one of those move-by-grid games where you control the planeteers and strategically place them to fight pollutant enemies.

Anyway, after watching a couple of episodes, I find the series AWESOME! Yet, it inspires mixed feelings. On one hand, it makes me proud of see how far back we've realized that we can make a significant impact on the environment. On the other hand, it shows that we've known about these issues for 18 years, but still haven't worked hard enough to solving them. Even though our cities are (thankfully) not like 19th century England or even present-day (well, right before the Olympics) Beijing, we still have problems with pollution. Though, these days, we have much LARGER problems to deal with, such as global warming which I don't think even Captain Planet saw coming (I haven't watched far enough into the series to tell, but I wouldn't have thought that it was that publicized back then) and the barrage of problems that come with it (like ocean acidification, glacial melting, etc.) There's also deforestation and habitat destruction, which hasn't slowed down at all in the last several years. I'm pretty sure I could start naming more as I keep watching.

Yet, things have still changed. Now, more than ever I believe, people are more aware of the environment and their impact on it. Especially with global warming and dying polar bears taking the head of the campaign. And now, with the internet, people are more able to communicate about these environmental impacts. Which brings up a point I'd like to address to Ted Turner or any of his affiliates who own the rights to this show. Keep the videos up on YouTube. While it would be good to have these episodes air on TV, TV is a very geographically limited medium. If some major network wants to air it, it might only be in a single region of the United States, and most certainly will not be broadcast outside of it. Only on Youtube could anyone from any place in the world (maybe except countries where Youtube is blocked, but that's still a significant increase) see this television series. And isn't that the point of Captain Planet? To spread the word on how to protect the environment? And additionally, saving the environment IS, in fact, a world-wide effort. The bulk of the degredation cannot be pinned to the United States as a superpower (a majority, yes. But nowhere near the entire problem) And with the spread of responsibility for harming the environment, shouldn't we also spread the information on why it occurs and how to protect it? So, there is more reason to leaving these up to be shared than me just wanting to freeload off of Youtube. Now, time to watch more episodes!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama reasserts Space Exploration

Yeah, I know this news is kinda old. However, I just read Wired Science reporting that Obama has retracted his statement of cutting NASA funding to fund an early education program. Previous to this, that policy played a huge part in making me hugely less enthusiastic about Obama, however, I always thought in the back of my mind that he would end up supporting science and space exploration in the end. Turns out, I had a lucky guess! However, I'm not going to go into All Hail Obama mode and lose all measure of skepticism. It's still important to question, "So who will end up paying for this?" As far as Wired Science has been able to discern, "Obama said he has told his staff to find another offset to fund his early education program". I'm still interested in from which department that will come from.

And, of course, this is an unequivocal statement to support NASA. Any backtracking on this now can be brought up against him. So, I hope this is one promise that Obama will end up keeping. And it'll be tough not to, because Congress has been absolutely crazy about NASA. Not even the Bush administration, which has been against funding increases for NASA, could stop them. So, this issue is most likely one that Obama will encounter very little resistance from Congress. But... let's hope and see of what comes in November!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Global Bug Jam

Last Saturday was the when the Ubuntu California LoCo team hosted their Bug Jam at Chapman University. And I, being the new-found environmentalist decided to carpool with someone also going (thanks Dennis). And I have to say, like most Ubuntu things, it was awesome. We arrived a little late and missed some of Nathan's talk on GPG keys, but afterward, we just bugged him to repeat the information. I've already signed the Ubuntu Code of Conduct, so it wasn't all that critical to me, but now I know what you can do with GPG keys. And it's pretty cool.

And Joe taught us a little big about filing bugs. Apparently you can start out with low bugs that don't need too much expertise and work your way up. I, for one, started out confirming bugs in XChat. A nice little thing to do. However, I may try to deal with crashes when I feel confident enough. The thing about bugs is that when you first try to triage, you can get VERY intimidated. The experienced triagers REALLY know their stuff, and you wonder how you'll ever get to be as useful as they are. But, every long journey begins with a small step... and that step was in this Bug Jam. Hopefully, as we have more bug jams we'll get more comfortable getting to the expert point. And as more people become experts, it's easier to teach others. So... we're working on that.

But, in my opinion, the coolest part was what Dennis gave to me. He was leaving to go back to Germany, so he left Neal a bunch of electronics, but left me his 12-year-old laptop. It runs Windows 98, and is totally alien in its configuration. It has no ethernet, USB, or CD drives. It has 2 PCMCIA slots (but wireless cards don't work). It has some huge port that I have no idea what it is. A parallel port, a VGA port, and a serial port. And it also has a floppy drive. It also has 16 MB of RAM, which I find to be the most hilarious aspect of it. I recently found a good use for it. Whenever I need to do work without being distracted, I use WordPerfect to type it up, and print it out through the parallel port. It's actually pretty efficient, and I could get used to it. And plus, what's cooler than running Windows 98 on your laptop (other than running Windows 95, but that'll just be a pain). Though, I'm wondering how I can upgrade the RAM on this thing. The memory extension is a large rectangular box. I'm not even entirely sure how to remove it, and if there are any other extensions of its type beyond 8MB. Anyway, that's the cool stuff that I got out of the Bug Jam, in addition to meeting the people in IRC. Hopefully, we'll be hosting more of this kind of stuff later on.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Solving the astronomical questions from the bottom quark up

Sorry again about the break but as I said, the week has been pretty busy (not busy enough to forgive not posting, but still pretty busy). However, to make up for it, every day this weekend, I'll put up a post of a recap of an event that happened in the past week. Starting today!

So, exactly one week ago, I gave my presentation on CERN. I would put up a video, but it turns out that it's a 14 GB AVI file which would take a week to upload onto Google Video. That's not exactly the best thing, I'll be trying to figure out how to compress it so that it won't be such a crazily large file.

The talk itself went pretty good. There was some technical difficulties because I... don't have a laptop, so I borrowed one and ran an Ubuntu LiveCD off of it. Only.... I made the mistake of accidentally picking up a Gutsy CD. The problem with that was that Canonical started massively improving projector support after Feisty. Oh well! I had to swallow my pride and do it in a Windows machine. I managed to get it onto the projecter, but there was some resize issue and the right side and bottom were cut off. But, at least I managed to give it.

Now when the presentation started, THAT'S when the fun began (and I'll try to get you into that fun later on). I can't exactly summarize the content of the talk, but this video actually does a good job of it, in... 5 minutes. I hope you enjoy it for now.

After the talk was really something. Not only did I get the customary gift (a box with the pleiades) but he also gave me his copy of Arthur C. Clarke's posthumous book, "The Last Theorem". And I am DEFINITELY going to read it as soon as I can. And I mean that... more than I did Harry Potter a year ago (but I DID actually read it). And apparently, from the reception, people enjoyed it, so I'm glad I did it!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Presentation coming up

Sorry I haven't blogged about anything recently. But I was getting ready for a presentation I'm going to give tomorrow at the Santa Monica Amateur Astronomy Club about CERN. So, I apologize, but if you're not gonna see the Olympic opening ceremony tomorrow night, drop in!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Open source ATI drivers

A couple months ago, it was revealed to me that I didn't need the proprietary ATI drivers at all. The open source ATI drivers now have AIGLX support included and you don't need the bleeding-edge of proprietary drivers. Now, the open source drivers are WAY more stable than the proprietary ones. With those bleeding-edge drivers, I found my computer randomly freezing. However, that happens no more with the open source drivers.

The open source drivers have come a long way in the last couple of months. Now they have native AIGLX support, which means you can throw off XGL totally for compiz. However, the drivers work on these cards. I have a Radeon 9550, so mine has 3D acceleration. If yours is unsupported or 2D, you might want to stay with the proprietary ones.

In that guide, the most important (and most tricky) part is getting rid of fglrx. In addition to purging it, you should also go through Synaptic and get rid of any packages with fglrx in their name. Just do that and follow the rest of the guide, and you should be set! And the best part is, you won't have to comb ATI's site for new drivers. Ubuntu will bring 'em in as they come along.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Support the Bag Tax

Recently, I heard on the radio about a bill to create a "bag tax". A tax on grocery bags. When I first heard of the concept, I thought, "What a great idea!". This ought to get people more enthused about bringing their own bags and reducing waste. However, the group Stop the Bag Tax wants to oppose this idea. Their web site is rather sparse consisting of four sections: a description of the Bag Tax, "But will this save the planet", "Who will this affect", and a link to that audio clip I linked to.

The site claims that:
"As if the cost of gas and food isn’t enough... politicians now want to charge you $.25 on every grocery bag. That adds up to about $400 per family per year!"
Now they're getting mixed up here. The AB 2058 does NOT address a $.25 tax, that is AB 2829. AB 2058 sets up guidelines for the state's voluntary bag recycling program. However, if we do look at the CORRECT bill, we'd see its not as sly as they paint it at all. When you look at the bill itself, you notice that it acts "on and after July 1, 2006". Politicians are in no way trying to sneak a tax on us. A year is a fair amount of time to get accustomed to reducing or even eliminating use of plastic bags in favor of canvas bags. If by then you still refuse to reduce your use of plastic bags: then, my friend, you will be helping California out of its budget crisis.

Another claim the site makes is about whether the bag tax would be good for the environment: "NO. Plastic bags are fully recyclable. Grocery stores already make it easy to recycle with convenient recycle bins." The problem with comparing this with recycling is that things we typically recycle: bottles, cans, electronics, paper usually just take up space in a landfill, and that's just wasteful. However, plastic bags are MUCH more dangerous than that. In California, the state taxes bottles and cans, and pays that money back to consumers when the bottles and cans are recycled. This incentive so far has brought the recycling rate to 67%. However, with plastic bags, we want something MUCH higher. Plastic bags in the environment are deadly to wildlife, they kill thousands of marine creatures when they get to the ocean. A full-blown tax to keep people from using them would be the best way to do so.

Lastly, the site asks: "Who does this affect?" and gives this answer:
This will affect everyone, but it will be especially devastating to low income families, seniors and anyone living on a fixed income. Plus, it could cost thousands of California jobs.
I don't have much to say to that other then it seems like it was pulled out of someone's hindquarters. Yes the tax will affect everyone, but there does not seem to be a reason this would target low-income families and seniors. I mean... I'm sure they can find SOME bag to carry their groceries in, if they so desired. And the tax won't affect the store's prices. According to the bill, the store would be "authorized to retain 3% of the fee as reimbursement for any costs associated with the collection of the fee". As far as I can tell, the tax only affects the wasteful, which it darn-well should!

So, here's what you do!
  • Find your representatives using this form (from the bagtax web site)
  • Call them and let them know that you SUPPORT the bag tax.
  • Ask them to support both AB 2058 AND AB 2829.
And it goes without saying that you should try to reduce your plastics too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Teens On Linux

OSCON is starting up today in Portland, Oregon. I won't be going. But that doesn't mean it won't be awesome. I'm just going to say that Andrew Harris (better known to his friends as tunys) is going to be giving a talk about teens and Ubuntu. And I'm not just saying it because he's one of my really good friends and he founded Teens On Linux. And that I'm also a member of Teens On Linux and frequents the #teensonlinux channel on FreeNode. Unfortunately, due to parental issues, I'm not going to Portland, Oregon to hear him or help him with the talk. However, to anyone that would be going, I'd highly recommend going to his talk on Thursday July 24 at 4:30.

Yep! TeensOnLinux has already had more than a year's worth of history. It started out when Andrew (now known as Tunys; lojban for tuna) couldn't find a community of teens who were interested in Linux (TeenLUG existed at the time, but as the unofficial propogandist of TeensOnLinux, I'm glad he didn't find them), so he decided to make his own. He got together with some British dudes whose names are unimportant and created TeensOnLinux. It was an awesome success! I joined them on IRC about a month or so after they were founded, and haven't left. TeensOnLinux also has a web site with forums and the like, designed to be like a myspace for teens, but the web site is NOT the main activity hub for us. I frankly barely visit the web site (And since the host is not so great, it usually goes down for a day or so before anyone notices). The main place where the action goes on is on IRC.

I first got to know TeensOnLinux when I was browsing FreeNode channels on IRC. I was a not-so-recent convert to Linux, but still was looking for the right community, and found it on IRC. It turns out that #teensonlinux is in an ideal place. Since we're on FreeNode, we don't have to worry much about a lack of security; the staff are always prompt (in fact, a little too prompt usually). And also, since we have our own channel, we can do whatever the heck we want to in it (as long as it isn't malicious or detrimental in any way). There have been two main periods in #teensonlinux. Both named by me after the dominant bots during the time. First was the fredburger era. Fredburger was a supybot rBot which did all the typical IRC stuff, like larting, factoids, etc. During most of the fredburger era, the channel was mostly stable, with about the same amount of people joining and leaving. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with the bot, but I think its a characteristic of it. Then, about five months later, Tunys adopted bobsalad. Bobsalad is a pyborg, meaning he's sorta a language recognition/speaking bot. The bobsalad era overlapped with the fredburger era for about two month until, as legend has it, bobsalad slayed fredburger and covertly usurped the entire channel from the humans. Now bobsalad rules as an invisible dictator, making sure nobody steps out of line but not revealing his true power. Anyways, for anyone who wants to see the craziest of bobsalad's sayings, please visit the Salad QDB. I assure you, you will spend the whole time cracking up. The characteristic of the bobsalad era is a general crazifying of the channel. Whether that may be to show newcomers that we're just a fun place, or the dark magic of bobsalad, we're not sure.

Although, a grand experiment during the bobsalad era was the massop idea. Tunys believed that security on the channel could be guaranteed by giving everyone op capability. Newcomers generally did not receive ops until they were deemed trustworthy (which took about five minutes). Of course, I was vehemently opposed to this, and abused the massop system constantly, but Tunys still believed. However, the massop experiment failed after a conspiracy to bring in an outside person who kickbanned everyone in the room. I was not a victim of this, and did not even know it happened until afterward because I was currently kickbanned for a good-natured prank/demonstration I pulled on Tunys which he didn't exactly appreciate. But we are, in fact, back to a good ol' fashioned ChanServ maintained channel. And feel free to drop in any time you want. And definitely, if you're going to OSCON, drop in to see Andrew's talk. I ASSURE you that you won't be disappointed, knowing him.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A New View of the Universe

A story straight from the Onion! The newest observations from the Hubble Space Kaleidoscope have just been released, and they're fascinating!

That's right! As people saw how popular the Hubble Space Telescope was and its huge contributions to astronomy and astrophysics, members in NASA who studied the fairly nacent branch of astrokaleidoscopics. In fact, it has already begun to change our views of the universe. As astronomer Douglas Stetler states,
"With their unprecedented resolution, the latest images from the new kaleidoscope reveal that space, once thought to be isotropic, is actually continuously expanding, unfolding, and rearranging in a series of freaky patterns,"
I'm sure the theoretical astrophysicists are stunned by these discoveries. Who knows what else the Kaleidoscope will reveal about our Universe. Even in our own Solar System, its been discovering new things, for example, Dr. Mae Ling-Turlington described Jupiter through the Kaleidoscope as "a dazzling hexagonal array of variegated prismatic configurations, changing our very understanding of the atmospheric patterns there on the solar system's spikiest-looking planet." Who knows what other discoveries the Hubble Space Kaleidoscope could make in the coming weeks?

[In my own research] Many people don't know this, but Galileo was not only the first person to point a telescope into the sky and discovering the cosmos, but he also was the first to point a roll of toilet paper, a lead pipe, and he was the first to point a kaleidoscope into space. This experience changed him almost as much as when he used the telescope. With it he discovered the funky glow of Mercury, and the phases of the Sun. The Hubble Space Kaleidoscope is many steps away from this primitive viewing, but traces its roots back to him.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Phoenix Updates

[Note: I wrote this a week ago, and for some reason didn't post it. Well, have fun!]

Ok, so, I left off Phoenix at landing. Since then, it's done some more pretty cool stuff, and also run into a couple of problems. But don't worry, they're nothing those guys at JPL haven't been able to handle.

So, while taking a cornucopia of photos, the Phoenix team decided to practice scooping and dumping. That way, they became familiar with the soil and figured that they wouldn't screw up when they tried to actually perform experiments on the soil. It turned out that they weren't as familiar with the soil as they thought. It turned out that they'd sorta be wrong. When they actually tried to put the soil in the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA, which basically bakes the soil and analyzes the gases that are emitted), they encountered a little problem. As you can probably see to the right, the soil seems rather clumpy. And over TEGA is a sort of sieve to keep large particles out. Well, it turned out that the clumps turned out to be larger than the holes, and none of the soil could get through.
After much shaking, enough soil finally got into the analyzer so that it could heat up the sample. The result: Not much water. But, that could be expected because the sample was sitting out in the sun for a few days while the lander was trying to shake it in. At the initial heating, no water was given off. However, when they upped the temperature, really heating the soil, they detected some water, which was probably chemically bound to the minerals in the soil itself. So that's still significant, and hints that there was most likely water in the past.

After the analysis, there was a minor glitch on the lander which caused the loss of some nonsignificant science data. That was promptly fixed by the JPL team, so I'll go on to more science.

After scooping the sample for the TEGA experiment, scientists noticed a distinctive white layer in the hole left behind. Two things immediately jumped into mind: salt or ice. There would be an easy way to distinguish between the two: to wait. If after a few days, the layer is different, that indicates that the ice sublimated (changed directly from a solid to a gas). If it doesn't change, then it's probably salt. Well, after a period of anticipation, as you can see in the animation to the left, there was definitely some change, so it's probably ice! And on Mars, there are two kinds of ice, water ice and carbon dioxide ice. However, Phoenix is currently in the middle of Martian summer, so all of the carbon dioxide ice should have sublimated already (it sublimates at a lower temperature). So that leaves: water ice! That is incredible because the ice is far higher than we thought in the Martian soil. This is incredibly encouraging for the possible habitability on Mars.

Of course, Phoenix didn't stop there. There's still another main instrument to be used: the wet chemistry lab. This lab essentially dissolves the soil in some liquid water stored on board and checks how the minerals in the soil behave when dissolved. Well, it turns out that the instruments detected several familiar compounds like potassium, magnesium, and chloride. What's so exciting about those? Those minerals are found on Earth soil! So, the Martian soil is roughly similar to terrestrial soil. This will also be an important find for potential future human habitation because a colonist "might be able to grow asparagus pretty well". Instead of worrying about the soil, we could tackle other problems such as protecting plants from radiation, adapting them to the cold temperatures, and other potential Martian crop failures.

So far, all of this has been extremely exciting. I can't wait to see what other amazing things Phoenix will discover next. You can also follow along. The Phoenix Mars team has a twitter that you can follow: @MarsPhoenix . And of course, you can be friends with the Lander on Facebook. That's a good way to catch up on updates. And I'd like to say, I've been deferring this post for a couple of days now, and every day that went by meant another topic to write about. So, we are getting a TON of info from Mars. In fact, if you want to keep afloat on all the images coming from the lander, JPL is where you can get them first! There's just so much cool stuff coming from that lander!

Monday, July 07, 2008

The danger of woo

Over at Science-Based Medicine, David Gorski recalls a chilling tale of a surgeon who encountered a woman with early-detected breast cancer. Because of the early detection, her survival rate was predicted at 93%. However, the woman refused chemotherapy in favor of "alternative" treatments. She dropped off of the radar and came back three years later to that same surgeon. The result: the tumor had progressed QUICKY, and was now at a stage that was very difficult to cure. Of course, once into woo, always into woo, she refused treatment even though her condition was degrading. And right now.... Gorski predicts that she's probably dead.

This is a reminder that the world is not yet a boom de ah dah paradise. There are still problems which science hasn't been able or hasn't been allowed to solve. And this woman is a tragic case. Yet, this is a perfect rebuttal to the claim that "alternative" medicines aren't dangerous. The claim that patients will be willing to forgo medical treatment for "alternative" treatments seems speculative and unbelievable until something like this happens. A person is "successfully" conned into believing that tea is a better cure than chemotherapy.

And there's also another unfortunate thought in this situation. That most doctors can't deal with this as House, M.D. can. Which is namely to tell unwilling patients that they're being idiots and are going to die, and treat them anyway. I'm starting to wonder how many of these cases doctors have! But anyways, doctors: You have my deepest sympathies. No one should have to deal with having to see someone basically self-destruct due to ignorance and misinformation. Hopefully... and I really do hope so... science will start to be more widely accepted in this society.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


Currently, the Arecibo telescope has massive budget cuts lurking in the future. Due to a four million dollar shortfall from the National Science Foundation, the Arecibo radio telescope would not longer be able to operate. This would be horrible!

Well, the folks at SETI@home thought so too. They depend on Arecibo to collect the data for analysis. So they have a stake in this cut, which is why they came up with this handy little letter to send to your representatives to support a bill to restore the funding. All you have to do is put in your address (don't worry. SETI@home is an entirely trustworthy organization. They won't steal or sell your info.) and it'll give you a .pdf of three letters that you just print out and send to your Congessmen (two to your senators and one to your representative). Of course, if you want, you can use the sample letter to write your own personalized letter (which is what I ended up doing). But even if you don't have the time to write, if you just type, print, and send; it will make a difference. So fill out that form and save Arecibo!

Friday, July 04, 2008

The ol' Mountain, Plains, and Islands

For those of you who play Magic the Gathering, you'd recognize those colors as Red, White, and Blue: a little special thing for Independence Day. While perusing Google Analytics a few days ago (It was a while since I checked up on my stats), I found that there was a huge untapped audience interested in Magic Cards. To my surprise (and probably to most other readers), my Anti-Sliver screed has shot up in popularity with my most popular guides. So, I thought I'd make this my first official post about Magic, and just tell you my history with it.

I learned how to play Magic in fifth grade. I had a group of friends who were into it and I got into it. However, when I started out, I didn't have my own deck and used other people's decks. I was still learning the rules like attacking and tapping and all of that. However, it was a REALLY cool game. It was actually conducive to playing, unlike Pokemon, which was mainly about collecting (I'm not sure how much experience you all had with Pokemon cards, but the game itself was extremely horribly designed).

Once I got into middle school, then the Magic craze REALLY started. My friends were actually fairly successful in banding with older players of Magic and recruiting people into Magic cards. Of course, some of the older students made a pretty profit selling cards to us younguns, but it was a fun time nonetheless. Around 7-8th grade, a Magic the Gathering club was formed which was a place all players could officially meet twice a week to play Magic. Of course, us hardcore players played outside on days when the club didn't meet also. Magic was actually quite a successful social bonding mechanism. People got together and played, talked, and had a good time. Whenever we had any sort of free time, we'd get out our Magic cards and start playing. Oh, and by the way, it was during this period when I got my first deck and started maintaining and building it. My suppliers where I bought the cards from were the older students. My deck wasn't particularly special, but it was fun; one of my friends, on the other hand, had a particular knack for building extremely strong decks that were just about unbeatable; ranging from Elf to Goblin, to his extremely annoying deck-out deck.

Unfortunately, the period of Magic prosperity hit a wall: high school. Now, we were all too busy trying to get good grades and take as many APs as possible to play Magic. Slowly, Magic died out in our school; I'm ashamed to admit it. It wasn't until a few months ago when I wondered "What ever happened to Magic?" and attempted to reinvoke the good times that we had in middle school. However, my reception was less than appreciated. My friends were turned off to the idea of reinvigorating the card game because they realized how much time and money they invested in it when they were young (Sort of like me and Pokemon) and they didn't want to start that over again. I could understand that perspective, but what's got me worried is the younger generation. The incoming students don't have upperclassmen to learn and share Magic with, and they've started playing second-rate card games like Yu-Gi-Oh. Speaking from my opinion, Magic is much more fun than Yu-Gi-Oh, but these kids will never know that. So, I've taken to trying to introduce these younger students to Magic. So far, the results haven't been what I've expected, but I still have senior year to go. Wish me luck!

Now, about my decks. My decks tend to be obese. I can put cards into them, but it's difficult for me to take them out. In fact, I have one deck which has 200+ cards in it (though the performance is surprisingly good). I have five. My favorite one is a blue phasing deck that I sorta based off of a recipe off the Magic web site. I don't use it because it wins, I just love it because it's incredibly annoying, and that's what matters! I also have a deck I call ginormia, which is the 200+ card one. It's a red/green combo that doesn't have a particular theme. It's basically two decks I had crammed into one. Next is my "overpowered" deck, which is a green beast deck. I like to call it overpowered because the creatures are way too fricking strong. Next is my "experimental" deck, a white/blue combo. It's sort of an on-and-off deck. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn't. It really depends on the wind. I use it when I'm challenging someone new to gauge their deck and see what deck would be best on them. Lastly comes the deck I hate to use: my black zombie deck. I just have a general aversion to zombies and I use this deck when I feel like I want to lose. Unfortunately, this deck is actually better than I'm willing to admit, and when played correctly it's pretty powerful. But I still hate zombies. These decks have pretty much remained in their current state for the past couple of years. My card suppliers have long since graduated, and I haven't exactly figured out how to buy Magic cards from the store effectively. The way these students used to do it was by selling grab-bags which contained 12 cards from a mixture of sets. I've never gotten used to buying by set, so one of you professionals might have to teach me someday. Maybe when I manage to buy some cards, I'll be able to make my decks smaller and more effective. Anyways, now you know my Magic background, and I hope to make this another topic I cover on this blog.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bad Astronomy moved!

Apparently, there's a new player in town on the Science blogging arena. In addition to ScienceBlogs, there's also Wired blogs, Nature blogs, LiveScience blogs, Scientific American blogs, and I'm sure many more. But now, I'm surprised Discover just entered onto the scene. I'm a subscriber to Discover (they're a really great publication) and really look forward to exploring what blogs they have. But, another thing that's pretty amazing. They've gotten Phil! Though, I'm pretty amazed at the transition. I follow Bad Astronomy in my feed reader, and it was so seamless, I didn't notice the change until I saw the web site itself. Usually, when people move blogs, you have to update your subscription, but strangely, not in this case. Phil (and whoever was in charge of the transition) really deserve some congrats for that. And I have to say, the new look is really appealing; though what I like most are the placement of the ads. They're tucked away in the sidebar and aren't that intrusive. Whoever designed that layout did a great job. Now, time to see what Discover blogs has to offer!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Excellent News

A few weeks ago, I decided to take my SAT II Subject Tests (they're basically standardized tests in certain fields). I took them in Math level 2 and Physics (they meet Caltech's requirements). And I have to say, I was extremely surprised when I saw those scores. The SAT II scores are just like a section in the regular SAT, 800 points. And, when I saw my scores in Math, it was..... 800.

And for physics... 800 also.

At least I can say that when I send in those scores to college, I won't have to worry about them being too low, heh.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I love the whole world

Sometimes the world gets so crazy that you start to lose hope. That is, until you see a commercial like this, to remind you about the good stuff in life. Along with war poverty and disease which seem inescapable no matter, there's also the wonder of nature and the universe; and science, pushing the boundaries of what we know.

(Heart tip to PZ)

And if you were wondering what yesterday's xkcd comic was about, this is it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How wacky ideas gain credance

Wallace Sampson over at Science-Based Medicine gives an overview of how fields once viewed as quackery have gained credibility over the last few years.

However, this process is something that's readily applied across the board in pseudoscience. From psychics to creationists, they all have managed to escape the label: "Bulls@$^" (except for those caught by Penn and Teller).

And the media, of course, isn't helping. As Sampson brings up, "objective journalism" does not mean presenting both sides. It means presenting the facts. And, of course, if both sides have a comparable number of facts (as in a genuine scientific debate: Is cancer genetic or environmental (or some combination of the two)). When one side generally has far more facts than the other (as is the case with pseudoscience), you don't give the other side equal time because they don't have equal facts. The point of "objective" journalism is to inform the reader to make his/her own opinion. You do that by presenting the facts (or the absence of them). Saying that there is no solid evidence for astrology is not biased, because it's true. Astrology is just as effective as asking your son how your day is going to go (except with more big words). To say anything else would be either straying for the facts, or downright lying. Saying "Astrology might have revealed why this person got a promotion" is a conjecture, not a fact. Likewise, saying "Astrology did reveal why this couple broke up" would be a downright lie, because Astrology has been shown to be as effective as chance through and through. But anyways, I'm not going to write too much now. Right now, I have about three posts partly-written that I probably should get working on. But, I hope you enjoyed this little rant by both Dr. Sampson and me (though his is far more persuasive).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer Vacation

Hey everyone. I know I haven't posted anything for three weeks or so. But I've been sucked into some sort of black hole where all of my time has evaporated. But anyways, summer is here. Unfortunately, most of my summer plans have been shot down. I didn't get into the YESS program (those little punks better have a good time there without me!) But, that wasn't the only thing I had in mind. However, another blow arrived when it turned out that Dr. Guy would be too busy to have me at CENS this summer. So now, my options have really dwindled. All that I know I'll be probably be left with is volunteering at Children's Hospital, Los Angeles.

Anyways, I SHOULD have more time for blogging, but who knows what'll happen? The RSS reader on the N800 is not exactly working out. I don't like the fact that I can't only read unread feeds, and that once I look at a category, everything is marked read. I basically want something like Liferea. However, the liferea port leaves much less to be desired. It hasn't had much activity. And the libraries won't install on my N800 for some reason. And from the experience, I'm guessing that the maintainer at least temporarily ditched the project. Nibbles is more active, but it's still got a long way to go before it becomes a fully-capable feed reader. So, I'll probably stick to RSS feeds on my home computer (maybe VNC onto them), use the horrible reader on the tablet, wait for the reader to improve on the tablet, or just make my own reader. If I have more time than I need this summer, I could POSSIBLY accomplish the last one. Though, I wouldn't count on it.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Nokia N800

I recently ordered a Nokia N800 tablet and I have to say, like most people, it is an AMAZING device. I've been debating on whether to buy it for months, researching for the best deal on it. And I believe I found it. Now, you might ask that if the Nokia N810 is out, why would I want to buy the N800. It's easy, the new features on the N810 aren't really important enough for me to want it that badly, and the release of a new version DRASTICALLY cuts the price of a previous model. In fact, I've still heard of people who have the 770 and are still satisfied with that, so, cheaper is better. I first was awed by the N800 after reading an article in Linux Pro Magazine[pdf]. However, its price was listed as $399... wayyy out of my budget. However, I waited, researched for WHY I wanted it, and what a good price for it would be. And that waiting paid off. I searched for good deals with froogle (not generally that great an idea), but I was highly skeptical and it turned out that many of the really good deals were peddled by frauds. However, I then ran into this post that said that Dell was selling them for $199. That's when I thought, "It's a good time to buy!" Unfortunately, Dell sold out before I committed myself, so I had to settle with another deal. I was able to find this deal on TigerDirect (they really do have good prices on electronics. And I know them to be legitimate) for around $220. This one, I managed to catch in time! A few days later, they were sold out. I gave a sigh of relief and waited for the N800 to arrive.

After a heart-wrenching week of waiting, it finally arrived! I have to say, since the hour I got it, it was the most amazing piece of technology I have ever seen. Just out of the box, it detected my network without a flaw (which it should do, but still. That's a good thing!) and came with a nice suite of programs such as a browser, media player, RSS aggregator, IM client, yadda yadda. However, there were a few caveats. The media player didn't handle oggs, the IM client only supported Jabber, the only VOIP client was Skype, and the memory card Nokia included was only 128 MB. However, most of those problems were easily handled by the community built around maemo, which is the foundation of the Linux-based operating system.

First thing I did when I got the N800 set up was try to figure out how to install things. I found this blog to be immensely helpful in getting around the N800. But first, it told me to upgrade the OS. The Operating System for the N800 is OS2007 and they released OS2008. Once again, Internet Tablet School came to linked me to a place that said how to upgrade the OS in Linux (since this was a new tablet, I had no data to back up). It turns out that installing things on the N800 is incredibly easy. You just go to the maemo garage and look for the program you want to install. After that, there's a little button called:This way, I can install ogg support for the media player using mogg. Just click the button and that's about it. Additionally, there are Debian packages that you can also use to install stuff on the N800, but the one-click installer should take care of everything for you. Anyways, I've been working on this post for a while in the past, and forgot about what should be in it, so I'll just post it and if I get any new insights later on, I'll write new posts about them.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Phoenix Lands

The Phoenix lander landed successfully yesterday and sent back its first pictures. And all I have to say is... wow! When I look at the terrain, I notice... it's so barren. When we think of an area with no water, we at least picture some cactus, or brush managing to grow in the dry soil. But here.... the surface of Mars.... is the ULTIMATE barrenness. As far as we know, no life, not even a microbe has been on that soil in AT LEAST several million years, probably even longer! And yet... here we are. On our oasis in space (our tiny blue dot as Carl Sagan put it) and we managed to put... even an artifact of life on this totally lifeless planet. And we've done this all in the last... thirty-something years! Before us, there was nothing on Mars, save rock.... and a puny atmosphere. And yet, in a mere thirty years, we've managed to put numerous robots on and around Mars. Even after we might lead ourselves into self-destruction... and take our moon with us. Those robots will be our calling cards. And that goes for ALL of the missions we've sent out including Cassini, Galileo, New Horizons, Voyager, and on and on! If some extraterrestrial civilization were to visit our solar system post-human. Or.... if you want to be optimistic, we abandon Earth after being a space-faring civilization, then some historian comes back to revisit our roots. Mars will be a lasting sign that we were here, and that this wasn't a dead solar system. There were intelligent beings, who managed to send things outside of their planet's gravitational pull to outer space... to other planets. THAT is the good part of humanity I love to see. When people can get together and reach out! Anyways... that's enough planetary rambling from me. Phil also has something to say concerning photos, though not from Phoenix.

But I have to say... I feel ya, Phil! I feel ya!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Phoenix Landing

Ok, right now, I'm watching NASA TV on Sunday May 25. Today marks the Phoenix landing. Watch when you read it, it's quite interesting. The interesting stuff starts around 4-ish PDT so you might want to drop in around that time. However, watching NASA TV anytime is good! So, tune in whenever you can. The link is up there!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Newer ATI driver

It appears that I missed a release, and ATI has released their Catalyst 8.4 driver. Now, since I'm assuming everyone is using Hardy now, I will rewrite the instructions for the new driver. It's a different beast, but I'll write this guide as I do the install. So any obstacles I encounter will be documented. The new guide I'm using is here. All right, here we go!

First, download the driver from the ATI web site. For some reason, when I tried getting the driver, it wouldn't let me go from the start, so using the direct link will guarantee you getting the driver (unless something weird happens, which is unlikely). Now, download it. Next, put your driver in a separate folder called ati so things don't get messy. You don't have to do it, but your $HOME folder will thank you.
mkdir ~/ati
mv Desktop/ ~/ati
cd ~/ati
Make sure you have all of the dependencies. Don't Run the command:
sudo apt-get install build-essential fakeroot dh-make debhelper debconf libstdc++5 dkms linux-headers-$(uname -r)
Now go through Synaptic and COMPLETELY uninstall all of the packages with "fglrx" in their name you might have, for example: xorg-driver-fglrx or fglrx-kernel source. And remove any .deb packages of fglrx you might have by using this command:
sudo rm /usr/src/fglrx-kernel*.deb
After you do that, you can now set up the deb packages. Just run:
sudo ./ --buildpkg Ubuntu/hardy
This makes the packages. Now you have to tell Ubuntu not to overwrite these packages with the ones in the repositories. So, you need to edit the file:

gksudo gedit /etc/default/linux-restricted-modules-common
Where it says DISABLED_MODULES="", put "fglrx" in the quotes. So you'll get:
As another precautionary measure (I didn't need to, but you might), edit the file :
gksudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist-restricted
If it exists. For me, it didn't, so don't be worried if it doesn't for you. If it does exist, you look for the line:
blacklist fglrx
and you comment it out with a #.

Now you can get to the install by using:
sudo dpkg -i xorg-driver-fglrx_8.476*.deb fglrx-kernel-source_8.476-0*.deb fglrx-amdcccle_8.476-0*.deb

which will install all of the packages at the same time.

Once the install goes well, open the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file and look for
Section "Device"
Driver "fglrx"
. If you've already done this, it should be there. If it isn't, then add it (without the bracketed ellipses). Now, run sudo aticonfig --initial -f. If that runs well, restart and see what happens from then on.

After you restart, run "fglrxinfo". If you get something that resembles:
display: :0.0 screen: 0
OpenGL vendor string: ATI Technologies Inc.
OpenGL renderer string: ATI Radeon 9550 / X1050 Series
OpenGL version string: 2.1.7415 Release
then congratulations, you've made it! Otherwise.... go read the end of the other guide. It addresses it more directly.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

New Alliance for Science winners

The winners of the 2008 Alliance for Science contest have been announced! Congrats to Neil Desai, a fellow first place winner in 10th grade, with his really well-written essay (read it!). I'm glad I entered in last year! I would link to his blog, but the blogstalkers haven't stricken yet and.... I can't find it. If I find it, I'll definitely put a link. And maybe he'll see what it's like to get a HUGE spike in visits from a link in Pharyngula, heh! Oh yeah, and a passing congratulations to Frances, David, and Marleigh, the other winners. I hope all of you enjoy your cash prizes because (to be honest) I still haven't figured out what to spend it on... Which brings me to my next point:

SEED!!!!! Get your act together! As my prize subscription from last year has shown me, you have an AMAZING magazine! It's probably the BEST science magazine I've ever received. I have nothing to say but "Great Job" to all the staff who works on it. It has definitely convinced me to resubscribe when the prize subscription runs out (which should be soon). Now I think that these kids have demonstrated their amazingness by writing these essays. I think they definitely deserve a subscription to such an amazing magazine. So, come on SEED... keep helping these guys out.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Are Over!!!!

Yes, as of yesterday, my AP testing terminated! I have no more! And I am HAPPY!!!!!! The stress is over, and the rest of the school year is (relatively) easy going. Five APs (I can't believe myself) over with!

AP Calc AB was..... eh, I didn't really worry too much about that. It went by fairly well. The free-response are up for those of you who are up for the challenge. They were pretty straightforward except for number 5. Solving that differential equation was a royal pain in the butt. Having a negative in the natural log was extremely confusing (which you get after setting the initial condition). However, I THINK I got the equation purely because I learned the esoteric epsilon-delta proofs. I had some free time, so I tried to prove the limit as x approached infinity but..... I couldn't. So, I looked over the work I had done, and switched a couple of negatives and I think I got the right answer. But.... I'll never know now. Anyways, I have a lot of confidence in this exam.

AP U.S. History is kind of an eeehhh..... exam. I'm not entirely sure how I did. All I know is that I completed my goal of writing about the Wright brothers in one of my essays. And funnily enough, the essay was on the "New South". So... that was an interesting experience. There's not much I'm going to say about this test.

The greatest test, AP Physics, was the main focus of my study. I was highly skeptical I would get a satisfactory grade on it, but somehow I managed to study hard, and I think it would have worked. The mechanics test was much easier than I thought it would be. The practice problems we did in class and out of AP review books tended to OVERPREPARE us dramatically. The problems on the test were fairly straightforward (at least I hope so). However, the free-response problems were another thing. It wasn't fair, they stuck in a differential equation. And what's worst is that I know exactly what I did wrong. When solving the differential equation, I forgot to separate before I integrated. I should have been tipped off when I got v=mgtsin(θ)-BS! Anyways, the curve on that test is so low, I don't think it's going to make that much of a difference. The E&M test was just as intuitive.... kinda. I like to think I overprepared for E&M, and I found most of it fairly straightforward except... the last free-response problem. That problem was horrific, but only the a) part. I think it had something to do with Bio-Savart's law or something, but I couldn't calculate a magnetic field at a point! Anyways, no use complaining now.

AP English was just.... great! I can't disclose any information yet because the score might be thrown out (48 hours need to pass), but let me just say I was initially sad because I wrote one of my greatest essays ever, and I thought I would never see it again. However, good news came from Dr. Draper, and he said I WOULD be getting my essay back... later on. And I'm glad, because that essay is my crowning achievement in English for this year. I love it!

Anyways, that was my AP testing schedule. From now on, it's smooth sailing and fun until summer. Unfortunately now... I have a backlog of about unread RSS entries that I have to get through. I'm severely tempted to just "Mark All as Read"... oh well, we'll see.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Hey everyone. Sorry again for not posting, but AP tests are coming up... actually. They're here. It's right in the middle of AP testing period right now. So far, I've taken AP Calculus AB, which really wasn't all that bad. I didn't feel I really needed to study for it. And I've taken AP US History, which took more studying, but I have good feelings about it.

The ones that are coming up are AP Physics, which I'm scrambling to study for this weekend, it's on Monday. I have to do both the mechanics and the electricity and magnetism tests. So far, I'm getting the concepts, but I just need more practice to recognize them and solve them quickly. AP Physics is by far the hardest AP test I've EVER prepared for. After that, on Wednesday is the AP English test. You can't really prepare for that. The multiple choice is basically either you can pick out analyses of authors, or you can't. The essays are what are really important. And, I think I can do fairly well on those. But anyways, I'm off to physics boot camp. I'll be sure to get back to regular blogging once all of this is over! I haven't even had time to go over RSS feeds that's how busy it was. Anyway, just don't think I'm dead or anything... just reviewing my butt off!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Calculus Camp

Apologies for such a long delay. But I had a bunch of stuff.... and....... things..... happened....... so.... anyways!

[Note, I wrote this about a week ago... and didn't get to finish it.... until now. I probably don't remember the exact times we did sections, so too bad. I've been busy this week too]

The last four days of the long delay were due to the fact that I was at Calculus Camp. Calculus Camp is an annual four-day event my school does to help students review for the AP Calculus test. And I have to say, it was fun (or as fun as doing 24-26 hours of Calculus over the span of a weekend could be).

On Thursday, we left at noon from school in charter buses (the fancy-schmancy ones!) to the campground where we'd be stuck for four days until Sunday. It actually didn't take as long as I thought it would, I was told it would take three hours, but instead it took only two. We went up, high in the mountains where there was snow laying about (but none near our campsite). There, the air was clear and thin...ner. That was demonstrated when I decided to take a drink of water. Once I opened my water bottle when we were up in the mountains, the cap exploded off and woke up everyone near me on the bus. It was actually really funny. Anyway, once we got there, we picked our cabins, were treated to lunch, and then forced off to our first Calculus session. There, we went over the basics: Functions. Once we did that, it was dinner and then the SECOND session: Limits and Differentiation! Limits were okay, but differentiation had 100 or so problems! Somehow, I still finished it, but the later sections would only become MUCH more complex. But, this was enough Calculus for one day, so we ended it. After that came some free time and a bonfire (though a campfire would be a more appropriate description). And of course, I made an endless amount of quips of burning wood for no reason and contributing to global warming. So, I did my part. After that, it was off to bed.

The next day came breakfast in the morning, and immediately after another Calculus session. This time, it was applications of derivatives. This was another ninety or so questions and I'm still amazed how I was able to solve all of them! It was during this time when Mr. Laderman showed up (which made camp a bajillion times more fun). As you can probably guess, we had lunch, and did more Calculus; integration this time. It was REALLY annoying this time because these antiderivatives got annoying. The thing about antiderivatives is that you can't really work through them, you have to.... derive them through odd means. Usually, U substitution works. But there were examples where you had to REALLY think outside of the box, and a lot of the teachers (and other experts in mathematics) who were there were unable to solve them (I would probably exempt Mr. Miller from this because.... he's a freaking math genius from Caltech, and no problem stumped him). Anyways, I didn't finish this section, and probably WON'T! Once more, we had some free time then went in for ANOTHER session of Calculus, where we went over Definite Integrals. This I managed to finish because there were only about 50 problems. After this came dinner, then more free time and an optional session (which wasn't optional to BC students). We decided to do physics during this optional session. After that, we followed with another bonfire and bed.

The third day was more fun. Wake up! Smell the fresh smell of Calculus. You know the drill already, breakfast is eaten and how we're going on to various Applications of Integrals. This was fairly exhausting but the good part was that the book finally trusted us to use calculators because it assumes that we know how to Integrate by now. So that made the sections a LOT more bearable. However, I was glad once we got to lunch! After lunch, we had a lot of free time and a few of my friends and I decided to go hiking with one condition. Mr. Laderman had to join us! He actually did, and we hiked for about one and a half hours and we still weren't tired. Mr. Laderman knows so much about ... everything, and he's just a VERY fascinating character. You could just ask him about nearly ANY topic, from time travel, to geology, to aliens and he'll be GLAD to discuss it. He's really a great guy, and we're glad we hiked with him. Also along the way, I found a VERY good hiking stick, light but sturdy. I kinda..... snuck it back to L.A. But don't let Mr. Vriesman know, he told me to leave it. Anyways, after the amazing hike, we got back and (sorta) finished up the book with differential equations. A couple of these were just way over my head and I'm positive that they wouldn't be on the AP test. If they were, the College Board would be crazy! However, we left this session early because I signed up for a seder (it was passover) to expand my cultural horizons. Of course, this wasn't a real seder; that would take HOURS! Instead, it was a highly condensed seder where we were all taught about what the symbols were (kinda) and we ate during dinner. Plus, I got to wear a yamika! Plus, there was more matzah than we knew what to do with. In fact, we had matzah pizza the next morning, it was pretty good. Immediately after was the optional session, which all of the BC kids had to go to. Instead of going up and socializing, Eliana (a girl in my AP Physics class) and I decided to draw a HUGE circuit in the sand of the volleyball court. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of our masterpiece on the internet... yet! But that took us about an hour and a half, and everyone who was capable of appreciating a circuit in the sand did so, we made sure of it! After showing everyone in AP Physics the sand circuit, we had the Calculus Camp talent show. It started out with the AP Stat teacher telling a series of stand-up jokes about math in general (which of course, I laughed at). Then, in addition to people showing off how the can (and can't) dance, Mr. Lieberman pulled up all of the students in his AP Physics AB class and had us do the separate and integrate dance for solving differential equations (I can't really show how it goes in text, but it's not that great; not like Funktion, so don't worry). In addition, we had Franklin (resident failure, as I call him. We have a thing where I say he fails at everything, but he really doesn't. It's not bullying.... seriously) solve Rubix cubes. Now, I KNOW Franklin is fast, and he performed a lot slower on stage than I know he could. But, he was a pioneer, I never heard of someone SHOWING OFF the talent to do a Rubix cube. Of course, some other guy thought he could do it faster, and did. But he came off looking like a complete jerk, so Franklin still wins all of our admiration. After various other acts... we go to bed.

Last day! Awwww... and wooo!!!! We've gone though the entire Barron's review book, and it's time for a practice AP test. To risk drawing out this post longer than it should be, I'll just say I PASSED with a VERY HIGH 5! According to my count-up sheet I got 106.5 out of 108, which I think is wayy too high and I probably made a mistake in addition, but that's still pretty darn high! I learned that I don't really have to worry about the Calculus test. After that, camp is pretty much done! We took our luggage, and went on the bus to go home. This time, I made sure to seal my water bottle and see it compressed when we got down (it happened! Guess what? Air has pressure!) Once we got home, it was back to reality and school. However, there WILL be next year!

Monday, April 07, 2008

What if.... Microwave!

Here is EVERYTHING I've wanted to do with a microwave, but couldn't due to... safety concerns. Thank goodness for the internet!


Today SETI's Are We Alone podcast (a really excellent one) released an episode about nerds, and I found it to be extremely informative. They go over what it means to be a nerd, and how attitudes toward nerd changed over time. They discuss everything from Dungeons and Dragons to an interview with David Anderegg (the author of Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them, whose book I STILL need to read!). And there are also lots of other fun discussions like Rubik's Cubes and "nerds" in other cultures. I highly recommend listening to this one.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Molding Youth

Today, Lim Leng Hiong wrote a VERY insightful post on the pressure for total and absolute excellence that some students usually have from parents (or, at least part of the post was about that). I TOTALLY agree with him, that students shouldn't be treated like cannonballs, their entire life calculated from the beginning to achieve some maximum height. For one thing, cannonballs behave much differently than birds when obstacles come into the way. For one thing, if a cannonball meets a wall, it will do one of two things. Either crash through, falling significantly short of the goal. If this is the case, the only achievement will be a pile of rubble. If the wall is significantly stronger, the cannonball will bounce off, and end up right back where it came from. However, a bird, if it encounters a wall, can either fly over, or fly around, then it won't be an obstacle anymore. The bird might even find a small hole in the wall, and climb through to the other side! Sure it might meet a couple of rats, but it WILL reach the end, with more glory and splendor than any cannonball could have! Even the space shuttle, which has enough precision to land in the exact same spot on the pavement at Kennedy Space Center, still has flexibility to change its flight plan when needed. Anyways, I'm taking this analogy WAY too far.

Luckily, I've been treated like a bird. I'm extremely thankful to my parents for treating me so. I'm thankful my parents haven't scheduled my entire day out for me. I'm thankful my parents aren't persistently involved in my life, putting me in the back seat. I'm thankful my parents haven't signed me up for a bajillion programs and classes to fill up any kind of spare time I might have. I'm thankful that their acceptance of me as me has enabled me to motivate myself to do what I want, well! Instead of reading about the latest discovery in cosmology, I could be taking a "personal development" class. Instead of following the silly and hilarious hijinks of creationists, I could be training to play volleyball. Instead of writing this post and maintaining this blog, I could spend it practicing my piano. However, I don't think those fit me. I feel like I'd benefit much more from reading Pharyngula than going through dull SAT routines. Heck, if I took time to learn another language, I probably wouldn't have been able to put in the investment to learn Linux. It may be a large investment of time, to discover stuff you didn't know about, and to learn how to fix things you break, but it's well worth it. Now I'm not advocating living a hedonistic (see I can use an SAT word) lifestyle, but I feel that nourishment of a person's strengths will benefit them much more than throwing whatever you can at them. I agree that, in this time of hyper-competitive college admissions, many parents have lost sight of this. In the rush to decorate their child's college application and their child's future, they forget to stop and think about their child right now! This does, in fact, lead to resentment. Don't fire them out of a cannon, nurture them, listen to them, and most of all, respect them.

Breaking News!

Two VERY important discoveries occurred yesterday! First, was the undeniable, uncontroversial discovery of water on Mars.

And secondly was the alliance of Google and Virgin to create a long-term 100 year plan to colonize Mars. The new joint-company in charge of the vision has been named Virgle and is looking for new pioneers of its program already.

I would have posted these discoveries as soon as I'd heard them yesterday, but time wasn't cooperating.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dick Dawkins

Before I forget, this video is probably one of the most hilarious videos I found in a long long while. I haven't been able to figure out where this came from but it's just... amazing. The lyrics are really well thought out, and the animation, I seriously WAS NOT expecting that! And dang! Eugenie C. Scoot looks pretty darn sexy!

Earth Hour

Well, Earth Hour just passed a while ago. Although I didn't get to officially sign up on the web site, I DID in fact, do it. And I have to say, one hour without using any electricity can be pretty boring, especially if you're with people who you have nothing to talk about with. However, being in Los Angeles DOES have an advantage. Since most of the city didn't participate, the costs of not having light weren't so bad. Like most nights, the sky is so polluted (especially when it's cloudy, like tonight) that you can read EASILY. In fact, without anything else to do, I got A LOT of homework done! Just sat outside for an hour, and did it.

Of course, if you missed it, don't be sad. An earth hour can be done at any time. In fact, we should turn off unnecessary lights all of the time and try to conserve. To find out more, you can visit here!
And remember, it doesn't have to be hard, just form the habit!

Blog Delay

Yeah, yeah. I haven't posted something in like two weeks. I have an excuse though! I'm trying to get through the backlog off RSS feeds that accumulated over Spring Break (I just couldn't read them over VNC, waiting for the screen to refresh was way too tedious). I'm almost there, but while you're waiting, combat poverty and improve your vocabulary.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Blogging from afar

Ok, this is my first experience using network-type programs to control my desktop back in California. And I have to say, it's quite an interesting experience. My first plan was to enable VNC and SSH, and when I wasn't using the computer, I'd turn off X to consume less power and resources. When I need it, I ssh into the computer and use the "startx" command, and VNC at my pleasure. After some initial testing, I found out that the fool-proofness of ubuntu made that quite difficult. Now, for the first thing, we need some background on runlevels in linux.

There are technically seven runlevels that you can use in linux. Runlevel 0 tells the system to halt. Runlevel 1 is single user mode (which is basically root with limited services). Runlevel 3 is the operating system in a command-line. Runlevel 5 is the operating system with X running. And lastly, Runlevel 6 tells the system to reboot. Runlevels 2 and 4 don't really mean anything. To switch between modes, you use the "telinit " command as root.

So, what I planned to do was run ubuntu in runlevel 3 in the CLI, then when I logged in, run ssh and "startx". When X is started, I could then use VNC to get control of it and use my desktop. The problem is that ubuntu foolproofed the OS and combined 3-5 into X-running. So, I can't run from CLI only. That's not too bad, I guess. I'll just kill X when I'm done, then start it again when I need to. Unfortunately, if you literally "killed X" then it would come right back up to GDM. In order to enter the command-line, you need to stop GDM, which you can do with:
sudo /etc/init.d/gdm stop
This will leave you with a command-line interface. However, I found out that if you do this, "startx" fails. By now, I'm discouraged and wonder if it's really worth the trouble to play around with X like this. I vote no, and leave it the way it is.

So, now, here I am, with X left on, and VNCing into my computer. I have to say that it's nice to be able to have my computer, though the internet connection leaves much to be desired. I'm using UltraVNC on the client (windows) computer, and although it looks entertaining to see your operating system in.... 32 bit color, it's not all that great. In addition, the connection takes a while to update, which gets annoying after a while. However, it's either that, or stay home (actually, the latter isn't a choice because my parents will take me with them anyways). Because of the delay, I found that it's difficult to keep track of IRC and IMing with such a huge latency period. So, I've decided to use ssh for those. I use finch for IMing, which is basically a CLI version of pidgin, and irssi, an excellent IRC client for the CLI, for IRC. So, those are the compromises I've made. Until next time, see ya'll!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi day

Well, today was Pi day. So, instead of actually posting something, I'll just link you to this previous post. Have fun!

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Don't have much to say today. But yesterday, I went to my school's talent show. And one of the performer's was my math teacher's trigonometry class, which was a REALLY excellent show. It's a good thing it was recorded, and that, I bring to you:

Sunday, March 02, 2008


I just found out that there's a new little thing going on in NASA called OpenNASA. It's currently a group of young employees hoping to change the way NASA markets itself to the new generation (called Generation Y). Right now, NASA is mainly run by those in the baby boomer generation who are now starting to retire and there aren't many people to take their place. The baby boomer generation has really been motivated with the Apollo missions, Star Trek and a whole lot more which made NASA look like the coolest thing ever! Now however, we don't really have something that's amazing and innovative. Most of us don't care about the ISS or the shuttle, and think that NASA is just some sort of leech off of the government budget. This is where the OpenNASA folks come in.

They look at what we've grown up on. This generation is MUCH more community oriented, with the advent of YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, yadda yadda yadda just to name a few. And they aim to make NASA more transparent, open, and community-friendly. Now, as I said, right now they're just a couple of NASA employees with a vision, but it turns out that many others at NASA support what they do and this program might become really interesting. As an astronomy-enthusiast and open-source-fanatic, this is exactly what I can hope for!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Where in the World Will Our Energy Come From?

Yesterday, there was a VERY informative lecture at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) about alternative energy sources. The speaker was Dr. Nate Lewis from Caltech, and he was unlike any other speaker on the subject. Of course, since the talk was about Alternative Energy Sources, global warming had to be addressed because you can't leave it out of a discussion about alternative fuel sources.

Dr. Lewis started out surprisingly about peak oil. He disagrees with those who warn about the end of the age of oil because there really is no reliable way to measure the amount of oil left in the planet. And plus, other forms of fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas can be converted to oil fairly easily, so there's no real oil crisis. He also expressed doubts about climate models. The actual climate is so complex and there are so many unknowns, that the models are unreliable. One memorable line was "There are six major models in climate science, and we draw conclusions by taking the average. However, the actual climate won't take the average, it will take one specific path, and we don't know which model, if any, is the correct one" [may not be exact]. By now, I've started thinking, "Wow, this guy sounds like a global warming 'skeptic'", and I started to take him less seriously. I mean, he even withheld judgment on those graphs plotting temperature and carbon dioxide, saying they show correlation, but not necessarily causation. If that's not a sign of a denier, I don't know what is.

That is, until this statement: "However, this is an experiment we can only perform once". This is when the talk went full-speed into global warming. At this stage, he was still cautious about his statements, not making any large leaps of alarm, but still emphasizing "this generation is the only generation that will deal with this problem". If we don't do anything, it's not absolutely CERTAIN that things will go badly, it might even be better, somehow, but do we REALLY want to find out? After making a very good argument on why global warming is important, he leads into the actual topic, alternative energy sources.

The total energy use of the world is about 15 GW (I think that's the number he used). And most of this is provided by burning fossil fuels. A really good way of tackling this problem is just conservation and efficiency. However, as effective that that could be, it can't be the only solution. You need better ways to generate electricity as well. Now, the alternative energy sources HAVE to be carbon neutral in order to stop or at least slow down global warming. There are three major energy sources that fit these requirements: nuclear power, carbon sequestration, and renewable resources. So far, nuclear power seems like the best option because it's carbon-neutral and it's capable of making more electricity than other alternative sources. However, they require HUGE investments to build, and in order to meet an acceptable level of carbon reduction, you have to build one every other day until 2050 to totally provide for our energy consumption. Not something that seems nice to do.

Next is carbon sequestration or just burying our carbon dioxide underground or undersea. Putting it in the bottom of the ocean is a problem because the ocean will acidify (more than now), and it'll be REALLY bad for marine life. Sequestration underground is also a problem because there really aren't enough reliable places to stash it. Most oil reserves and mines have holes which we'd have to plug up in order to keep the carbon dioxide in there. In one reserve in Texas, there are 1.5 million holes, won't be very practical to plug up. We could put it in aquifers, which are HUGE and allow carbon dioxide to dissolve in water, but then we'd be drinking Perrier (mineral water) which wouldn't be so good for people with braces. And plus, the actual continent would rise a few centimeters because we're basically putting gas inside of it. Might help if the oceans are rising, but otherwise, no.

Renewable resources seem good, except that there just isn't enough energy in them. If we harness ALL of the potential energy from ALL of the streams and rivers in the world plus the energy from waves in the ocean, we still wouldn't be able to power ourselves. So that takes care of hydroelectric. Same as geothermal, just not enough energy in there. Wind is nice, except it's also fairly limited, and do we REALLY want to harness ALL of the wind? The last main one is solar. The Sun should be the source of energy we should harness because we get about 150 million GW on Earth, and we only want 20 of them. However, the problem is that solar cells are too expensive to scale. If we can make a cheap solar paint or rug, THEN we'll solve our energy problem!

So, now it seems like we have nothing left and we're screwed. Since no alternative source can save us. However, he says that in addition to conservation and efficiency, we should invest in ALL of these sources, and fund more research. Currently, more R&D is being done by dog food companies than energy companies, and that's just unacceptable. The energy problem will never be solved if this keeps up. So, all in all, this was the most effective lecture about global warming and energy that I've attended. It didn't rely on consequences of doom, but stuck squarely to facts, and made an even greater impact. Keep checking that site for an archive copy of the lecture. You WILL NOT be disappointed!