Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Power of Google

Over the years, Google has grown to be much more than just a search engine. If, for example, you type a math problem into the Google search bar, it will give you the answer and a browser-based calculator to do additional problems with.

Yesterday, I Googled "united airlines" in order to sign in and check my flight times. Google, however, cross-referenced my gmail account and based on that information provided me with my full itinerary in the browser, down to specific gate numbers for each flight.

Technology, eh?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mental Fatigue

One thing I've learned during exam weeks is that I generally can't think intensively for more than two hours at a time. The efficiency of my studying goes down if I don't take decent breaks between two-hour blocks, and sometimes I can't even think enough to play video games after especially mental sessions.

It could be my imagination, but this effect is unfortunately noticeable during the two-and-a-half-hour exams that come at the end of each semester. I charge in at the beginning of a test with all the knowledge I've gained and hope that I get through all the questions before fatigue sets in. It's worked so far.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Exam Design

What's the purpose of an academic exam? Generally, exams are meant to evaluate what knowledge and skills a student has gained, and the way an exam is designed determines what skills are tested.

A general example of this is multiple choice vs free response. Multiple choice questions test recognition-- selecting one correct answer from a finite, visible pool of answers. Free response questions, on the other hand, test recollection, determining if a student can identify a correct answer without being prompted.

What would happen if students were allowed to look at their notes during an exam? Understanding and memory would probably be less vital, and note-taking ability would be the major skill tested.

Next, what would happen if the professor made available all possible questions on the exam and their correct answers for students to study before taking a take-home exam? Two things are tested in this case: short-term memory, as looking over the question bank right before taking the exam is a no-brainer, and moral soundness, for cheating on such an exam would be extremely easy to do and get away with.

With the question bank so readily available, it's hard to imagine that anyone in the class would get less than a 95% on this exam, so it's safe to say that knowledge and skills aren't really being evaluated. This isn't something I should be complaining about, but if exams are my roller coasters, this one was a merry-go-round.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Plot Twist

It's a well-documented truth that internet comment threads are breeding grounds of negativity and bile, but there are some redeeming characteristics of the internet-mind-- for one, great creativity in unexpected areas.

An example of this that comes to mind is the idea of making up 'plot twists'. Internet memes and gifs tell stories or snapshots of stories, and speculation about these stories in comment threads are prefixed with the phrase 'plot twist:'. This is a mental exercise that emphasizes how important context is to any story. Thinking about plot twists in this way can be funny, but it also trains internet users to not accept statements and ideas at face value.

Here's a real example: a gif (short video) shows a person dressed as a ninja giving food to homeless people in Las Vegas. Someone reversed the gif and reposted it; now it appears that the ninja is taking food from homeless people.
The title of the post is: "Ninja steals food from the homeless"
One commenter says: Plot twist: ninja is homeless

If one assumes that the ninja in the reversed gif is homeless, the conclusion is that he's stealing food from the homeless for the homeless, so the action is seen as less wrong. Context is important.

Call it over-analyzing, but the way people interact on the internet can say a lot about what they value and how they think.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Night Before Exams

It's the night before exams, and everything stands prepared-- enough pens and pencils to equip a small, studious army, and a blue book to write English exam essays in. The morning will bring a relatively healthy breakfast and hand stretches. It's a big week.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writing You Can Smell

A week or so ago in the English class I'm currently taking, we were given the task of writing a Spenserian stanza (ababbcbcc, eight lines of iambic pentameter followed by one line of iambic hexameter) based on any story in the Emory Wheel, the school newspaper.

Some of the resulting poems were collected and published in last Friday's newspaper, and I was happy to pick up a copy today and see words I've written physically printed for public display.

The feature is available here online, but I'm keeping a paper copy just for the smell of the words on newspaper.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Feudal Research Society

This has been my first semester involved in research, and I had a sudden realization the other day: from the undergraduate point of view, research labs function according to the feudal system.

The monarch is probably the dean of academics or something along those lines. Principal investigators (PIs) are like nobles, wielding great authority in a limited area-- their lab. PIs have lesser nobles and knights to manage day-to-day work in the lab; these are postdocs and graduate students. Lastly, there are peasants, undergraduates that often do much of the basic work in the lab.

Now, this may seem like a negative view of research, but the reciprocity of the feudal system shouldn't be forgotten. Just as serfs work for a noble in exchange for a place to live and protection, a PI maintains the loyalty of graduate students and undergraduates by providing resume-building research experience and mentoring. PIs also look out for their subjects when they write letters of recommendation or help them network with other researchers.

There are, of course, differences between the two systems. For one thing, it's possible to progress to the top of the research hierarchy in a few decades; the medieval feudal system provided much less social mobility. That being said, the similarities are clear to see. In a good lab environment, there's no doubt as to who's in charge, but everyone is happily engaged in the work being done.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Competitive TF2

There was a major Team Fortress 2 tournament this weekend and I watched some on Twitch just to see what it was like. Here's some of what I've gleaned:

This particular tournament, the ESEA Invite S17 LAN Finals, is 6s tf2: each team has one medic, one demoman, and four other players, usually two soldiers and two scouts. These teams fight over control points in a variety of arenas.

Scouts are fast, can double-jump, and have hitscan weapons (damage happens instantly when you click on an enemy), and are thus good at taking out individual targets and, of course, scouting.

Soldiers have rocket launchers that do splash damage (damage spread out over a small area). Soldiers can use their rocket launchers to jump long distances, making them very mobile. One soldier serves as a 'roamer', jumping around, flanking positions, and trying to kill the enemy medic. The other soldier is a pocket, staying close to the friendly medic, protecting them, and pushing forward as the vanguard of the team.

The demoman's job is to control areas-- the demo's sticky bombs and explosive pipes can keep enemies from advancing, especially in narrow doorways and alleys. If a medic is using the kritzkrieg (an offensive medigun that increases a teammate's damage), it will usually be the demoman that is given the extra damage-- a kritzed demo is formidable indeed.

The medic is the team healer and often the team's strategist, calling out plays and enemy positions. Medics also can use their mediguns to make teammates invincible or kritzed. This is a hugely important role, and killing the enemy medic is of highest priority to each team.

As with all sports, seeing star performers at work is half the fun of watching. The winning team of this tournament, Froyotech, is led by b4nny, a 21-year-old often cited as the best tf2 player in the world. Clockw0rk, also part of Froyotech, is called the best scout in North America and took out four players in 30 seconds in one of the grand finals matches this weekend.

There's a lot more that could be said, but the biggest takeaway I have from this tournament is that it's hard to see much difference between watching esports and watching real sports.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Amazon Pantry

I was going to go out grocery shopping today, but then I remembered that it's 2014 and Amazon Pantry exists. Amazon Pantry offers bulk delivery of food and kitchen items on relatively short notice and is one small part of Amazon's mission to be the one stop shop for anything money can buy-- the Walmart of the internet. Is this a bad thing?

I don't know much about economics, but when I actually did step outside after my virtual shopping, I got the feeling that the world is much bigger and more complex than the internet in the same way that a range of hills is bigger than a landscape painting. More real. I feel that dystopias that involve one large business taking over the world (such as in Wall-E) present the world as much simpler than it is.

To sum up, I certainly appreciate the convenience of the services Amazon provides, but it's not big enough to substitute for walking to a grocery store on a cold night.

Spawn Camping Poem

A gamer once upon a time proceeded forth with hope
But instantly at the spawn door was 360-noscop'd
Seized he then his keyboard, typed "OP the sniper rates"
Responded hence the sniper thus: "git gud" and "get rekd m8."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Notes in an Exam

I had my Chemistry Lab exam today, and we were interestingly allowed to use one 3x5 inch card of notes during the exam. Small writing is the name of the game, of course, but what was most helpful for me about this exercise was going through all we'd learned through the semester and considering what information is worth putting on the 3x5. Preparing the card could have been more useful than having it. Well played, professor.

On another note, if I were in a position of educational authority, I would like to try allowing a 1x1 inch card of notes in an exam just to see what happens.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: The Stanley Parable

The boss must be a heavy reader.

The Stanley Parable is a prime example of a "walking simulator," a game where player input is limited to walking around and basic interaction with various objects. The Stanley Parable is generally considered to be one of the cleverer games in this genre and features a narrator telling a story about life, games, and stories themselves. This very meta discussion takes place as the player wanders through an abandoned office that holds many surprises and different outcomes based on which path the player chooses to take.

I personally enjoyed The Stanley Parable, and while it wasn't as funny as I had hoped, there were enough interesting choices and unexpected twists to make a few hours exploring this office worth the time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Chalk Talk

I had an assignment this week to make a video about the research project I'll be doing in the herbarium, and while my inquiry isn't set in stone, this is the general gist of it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Visa Ballad

'Twas once upon a happy day
My ears the good news found
That for that very Christimas
I was Nigeria bound

One thing I needed only then
To hence secure my going
A simple visa for my 'port
To mark my to and froing

That simple task I thus began
But needed one thing pronto
A new passport to bear my face
And stamp new visas onto

A quick trip to the justice house
Was all passport desired
But found I then that for said 'port
My birthgraph was required

Certificate of birth abroad
Takes one whole line to say
Unluckily for my travail
'Twas filed far away

A noble trav'ler it took up
And carried to the mail
Once had I it my passport
Application could not fail

Passport in hand and photograph
And visa papers too
I journeyed to the embassy
On buses not a few

My application was pristine
But hark my slight mistake
The consulate for payment
Won't but money orders take

Distraught was I but helped was then
By emb'ssy person neat
I could acquire 'orders
At gas station down the street

Strode I then to station store
And debit card showed fast
'Twas only then was I informed
That take they only cash

All was not lost! There was in view
An ATM convenient
I quick withdrew some dollar bills
For station store unlenient

Returned I then with stuff in hand
And for my visa stood
The person at the consulate
Said it was very good

'Twas simple, then
To cash withdraw
To order get
To visa 'pply
With passport new
With paper sent
To be Nigeria bound