Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Science Facts: Oranges

The orange tree, Citrus sinensis, produces one of the most popular fruits in the world. Where does this tree come from? Southeast Asia, apparently. Oranges slowly worked their way west and were introduced by crusaders to Europe, where they became very popular. As Europeans found the Americas, orange trees were shipped over to many colonies, including Florida.

Today, Brazil is the world's leading producer of oranges (18 million tons) followed by the US (8 million tons), China (6.5 million tons), and India (5 million tons).

Monday, March 30, 2015

Atlanta Cuisine

As far as I know, there isn't one dish that Atlanta is famous for. There are, however, several foods I hadn't had before I came to Atlanta. With any luck, these will reflect something of the city's food culture:

Fish tacos
I had always thought of beef as the substance that fills tacos. Thanks to Taqueria del Sol, a popular taco chain with one instance in Decatur, I've been able to experience the fish taco. Now, if I have the choice, I'll always choose a fish taco over any other.

Bubble tea
Bubble tea is a Taiwanese drink: small balls of tapioca immersed in sweet milky tea. There are all sorts of different flavors, and you can get an extra-large straw that's wide enough to suck up the chewy spheres. If you didn't know what was going on, it would feel a lot like accidentally sucking up a fly that was in your drink. I was lucky enough to have friends that explained everything to me beforehand.

Frog legs
I had frog legs at the home of one of the nicest and most "Southern" families I know. The legs were breaded and fried and much larger than I expected. Very nice dipped in tartar sauce.

Varsity hot dogs
The Varsity is a famous restaurant in Atlanta that serves hot dogs, sides for hot dogs, and a famous orange slushy. I'm putting this here because this place was recommended to me with great enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell what set their hot dogs apart from others; also, the high price of the orange slushy took away some of the joy of drinking it. A nice place, though.

Cheese grits
From what I hear, cheese grits are classic breakfast material in these parts. I've certainly enjoyed them with bacon at many brunches. I'm not sure if I've ever had grits in Atlanta that weren't cheese grits.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Plant of the Day: Bloodroot

Sanguinaria canadensis (Papaveraceae)

Bloodroot is named for its root, which is juicy and red inside. Eating the root causes vomiting; it also contains a toxin, sanguinarine, which destroys animal cells. In this case, then, vomiting is probably the best-case scenario.

Investing in Rune Plate

I wanted to write something simple about a new merchanting trick I learned in Runescape, but it seems to have turned into an essay. The short version of the following is this: buying and selling rune plate is profitable because it has a reliable supply, demand, and price range.

The long version is this:
Runescape is a popular MMORPG that, among other things, features a very active economy based on the buying and selling of in-game items for in-game money. I've written about Runescape merchanting before, but since that time, I've hit on an investment strategy for simple and reliable profit.

The following paragraph is a simple explanation of a merchant's role in Runescape. Most buying and selling between players goes through the Grand Exchange (GE), an in-game market where players can put up buy or sell offers, for example "selling 10 lobsters for 300gp each" or "buying 40 lobsters for 250gp each." Now take these scenarios:
1. A fisherman fishes 100 lobsters, investing time to create a product with value. They sell the lobsters on the GE. Prices fluctuate based on supply and demand, and the fisherman can price the lobsters higher or lower to have them sold slower or faster. For example, if the median price of a lobster is 300gp, selling the lobsters at 350gp will result in more profit but will take longer to sell because fewer buyers are willing to pay 350gp for a lobster.
2. A warrior wants to buy 100 lobsters to use in combat (eating food restores health). They buy the lobsters on the GE, specifying a price per lobster. Offering to buy at 250gp will be cheaper for the warrior, but will take longer because fewer fishermen are selling lobsters at 250gp.
In other words, whether buying or selling, players can choose to save money or save time. A merchant, buying low and selling high, profits from players who want to save time, e.g. warriors who buy lobsters at 350gp because they want to go off fighting now, not later. In the above scenarios, a merchant will offer to buy 10,000 lobsters for 250gp each and then sell these lobsters for 350gp each in a process known as flipping. Because of the way (explained above) that exchange works, flipping at a smaller profit margin (e.g. 290gp to 310gp) runs quicker on a per lobster basis. The fun of merchanting, then, is finding the items with the best profit margins and the quickest flips: this balance is key.

The best item for flipping I've found so far is rune platebodies, expensive F2P armor that is bought and sold on a regular basis, but not usually in bulk. I buy for 37,501gp each and sell for 38,499gp each, resulting in a profit margin of about 2.6% per transaction. There are two big reasons why rune plate is a good investment:

1. Players often buy and sell rune plate in small quantities. As I mentioned, rune plate is relatively expensive and is difficult to craft and find. Any one player selling rune plate will probably only have 5-10 items to sell, so the tendency is to sell at below-average prices to get quick money: if a person's only selling 2 rune platebodies, it won't matter to them whether they get 76,000gp or 75,000gp.
In the same way, players tend to buy high, wanting to get their armor in a hurry. If a warrior has just lost their armor and needs to buy a replacement at the GE, they would usually prefer to pay 39,000gp and get it immediately than offer 38,000gp and have to wait half an hour.
A question arises here: if players tend to sell low, why don't casual buyers get low prices? The answer, of course, is merchants. If there are two offers on the GE to buy an item at the same price, the older offer will go through first. A merchant could put in an offer to buy 1000 rune platebodies at 37,501gp and this order will slowly be filled up by players selling low. If a warrior comes in a few hours later and tries to buy one platebody at 37,501gp, their offer won't be filled until the merchant's offer for 1000 has been filled.
Long story short, most buyers and sellers of rune plate opt to save time because they're exchanging small amounts. Merchants fill the relatively large gap in between (2.6% is a decent margin by Runescape standards).

2. High alchemy ensures that the price of rune plate stays relatively constant. Alchemy is an in-game spell that turns items into gold and, using the right runes, a rune platebody can be turned into 39,000gp. Because of this high alchemy value, the price of rune plate is kept artificially high and stable.
Rune plate used to be more expensive then it is now. As better armor was introduced to the game and rune plate got easier to get, the price fell and would probably be much lower if it wasn't for alchemy. Because of alchemy, though, if the price of rune platebodies falls below 37,000, for example, magicians would begin to make huge profits by turning rune plate into gold. This would have two effects: rune plate would be taken out of circulation (decreasing supply), and people would be buying rune plate to turn into gold (increasing demand). Alchemy is a brilliant economic balance that keeps the median price of rune platebodies generally between 37,900gp and 38,300gp, a relatively small fluctuation by Runescape standards. Because of this, I can consistently use the 37501gp to 38499gp margin and not have to worry about following market trends.

I started trading rune plate with 20,000,000gp and after several months of trading, I have a bit over 40,000,000gp. My current transaction rate, approximately 1000 rune platebodies a week, means about 1,000,000gp profit per week for 5 or 10 minutes of in-game work.

This is all well and good, and I do find the Runescape economy very entertaining. The question, then, is this: can I bring any of these skills into the much more complicated realm of real-world money management? Time will tell.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Niche Jokes With Benjamin Rebooted

Why did phytochemists study 3/8 when it started running in circles?
Because it was an active fraction.

What do you call it when microbes living in the human gut purchase a tiny house?
A microbe-buy-home.

Why didn't the penicillin let the plumber install bathroom plumbing?
It was anti-septic.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Local Woods

In the past few weeks, I've probably spent more time in the woods of Emory campus than in the rest of my two years here put together. The land here used to belong to the Creek people. The area that remains wooded is still big enough for me to get lost in (take that as you will).

This is a view from under a bridge. I never noticed it when walking over the bridge because I'm afraid of heights and keep my eyes straight ahead.
Here are two ducks in a sort of swamp. One is hiding behind the other one.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Origins of Powder

'Powder' comes from the Old French 'poudre,' which comes from the Latin 'pulvis,' which means 'dust.' It's a safe bet to say 'pulverize' has the same source.

Monday, March 23, 2015

College Kitchen

During my freshman year, I didn't have good access to a kitchen, so a plastic bowl, cup, and fork were all I needed to get by food-wise. This year, I do have a kitchen and have been slowly growing my collection of utensils. Here's what I have now, courtesy of my parents, various stores, and taking the disposable plastic spoons from potlucks:

A saucepan with a lid
A muffin tin
A paring knife
A metal 1 cup measure
A metal 1/2 cup measure
Metal measuring spoons
A Tupperware container
A plastic cup
Two sets of plastic knives, spoons, and forks

I've made pasta, soup, muffins, cookies, and cooked vegetables with this arsenal. I'm getting a few plates soon to add to this collection-- at the moment, I eat off of pieces of wax paper. It's a pretty good arrangement.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Plant of the Day: Ground Ivy

Glechoma hederacea (Lamiaceae)

Ground ivy is native to Eurasia and was introduced to North America, where it is now very common. The leaves are apparently used in teas and salads, but other sources I looked at said it's toxic in certain brews.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Glaceau Vitamin Water

I've slowly been coming to the conclusion that soda is in some ways the opposite of apples, viz. one a day, rather than keeping the doctor away, is likely to attract medical professionals, i.e. dentists. I am, then, switching temporarily from drinking Fanta et al. to Glaceau Vitamin Water, etc. However, as they say, non in legendo sed in intelligendo potus consistunt.

What's all the Latin for? I've been thinking about the Asterix comics recently and I got carried away after using "viz.". To get back to the point, though, the issue is this:
1. I'm convinced Coca-cola may not be healthy in large quantities
2. Glaceau Vitamin Water, also available at the cafeteria, sounds healthier
And that's about it, isn't it? "Glaceau" sounds like ice water in French, which is nice. "Vitamin" seems healthy, and then there's another "Water" at the end for good measure.

However, since this is Emory, all available drinks (except the milk, probably) are Coca-cola products, so Glaceau may not be a magic bullet of health (not to say expressio unius est exclusio alterius, rather timeo Coca-cola et dona ferentes).

It turns out that while Glaceau has a lot of sugar, it doesn't have quite as much as soda. That's some consolation, I suppose.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Flower and Deer

There's a saying in leave-no-trace camping: "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints." In working on my botanical research project, I've been following a similar rule: "Take nothing but reasonable-sized samples, try not to step on plants."

I'm saying all this, of course, to say that I've recently acquired a camera. These pictures were taken on a plant-collecting trip in the Lullwater Preserve on Emory campus.

This is a flower. I didn't sample and press it because I only saw two of these flowers and wouldn't want to remove half the population.
This is a white-tailed deer. The camera wasn't sure what depth to focus on, which makes me appreciate human eyesight-- in real life, the deer wasn't nearly as hidden as it is in this picture.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Garbage Bag Method

What's the proper way to collect plant specimens to be filed at an herbarium? If there's plant mounting and drying equipment available within 24 hours of collecting a specimen, the garbage bag method is a good option.

Equipment needed: large plastic bag, pruning shears, masking tape, marker, GPS, notebook, pen
1. Find the plant you want to collect (it must be fruiting or flowering)
2. Describe the plant's surroundings and its GPS coordinates in your notebook and assign it a number
3. If the plant is large (more than a foot tall/wide), use shears to clip off a piece with flowers/fruit
    If the plant is small, uproot the whole thing (this kills the plant)
4. Using masking tape and a marker, label the specimen with the number you wrote in your notebook
5. Put the labeled specimen in your plastic bag
6. When you're finished collecting, return to base to press all the specimens in your bag

Monday, March 16, 2015


Le Morte Darthur is full of knights partaking in single combat and the descriptions of these battles can get a bit repetitive. I was interested, therefore, when an epic battle is described from the viewpoint of the knight's squires. This particular fight is between Sir Tristram and Sir Lancelot, two of the most skilled knights of the Round Table.

"And thus they [Tristram and Lancelot] fought for the space of four hours, that never one would speak to other. And of their harness they had hewn off many pieces.
    'Ah, lord Jesu,' said Gouvernail [Tristram's squire], 'I marvel greatly of the great strokes my master hath given to your master.'
    'By my head,' said Sir Lancelot's servant, 'your master hath not given him so many but your master hath received so many, or more.'
    'Ah, Jesu,' said Gouvernail, '... pity it were that either of these good knights should destroy other's blood.'
    So they [the squires] stood and wept both, and made great dole when they saw the bright swords over-covered with the blood of their [the knights'] bodies."

The my-knight-can-beat-up-your-knight dialogue between the squires is a welcome bit of humor in Morte Darthur. Both squires, however, end up crying together-- this bond foreshadows the reconciliation between Sir Tristram and Sir Lancelot.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Origins of Hamper

The word 'hamper' has its roots in Old French 'hanap,' which means 'goblet.' In Anglo-Norman French, a 'hanaper' was a case for a goblet. The resulting Middle English 'hamper' referred to any sort of large case.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Elderberry Limerick

There once was a plant called sambucus
That treated infections of mucus
A strong antiviral
With phenolic spiral
Or so say the medical bookus

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Science Facts: Largest Snail

Syrinx aruanus, commonly known as the Australian trumpet, is the world's largest snail. It's a sea snail and can be up to 90 cm (3 ft) long and can weigh 18 kg (40 lbs).

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Interactive Stories

Twine (linked here) is a simple program for making interactive stories. It's free and easy to use. For someone like me who can't program, Twine is a good outlet for game ideas. With all that in mind, what is an interactive story and why would anyone want to write or read one?

As far as I can tell, interactive stories were popularized in the 1980s by a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure. These stories were written in the second person and featured reader choices (i.e. Turn right? go to page 2. Turn left? go to page 3). These choices influenced events in the stories and led to different endings. Interactive stories have since found a place on the internet; the choice format is easier to create and consume digitally than in a physical book.

What are some problems with interactive stories? First of all, second-person storytelling (also the format of role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons) is limiting in some ways. The thoughts of the main character should not be stated because those thoughts are the reader's responsibility. The thoughts of other characters should not be stated unless the main character has a way of knowing them. Another limitation of second-person storytelling is that, since the reader is the main character, the story cannot rely on a main character with any consistency or particular arc. This is why the protagonist is often the blandest character in an RPG like Skyrim.

On the production side, the big problem with interactive stories is that, on one viewing, every player will only experience a fraction of the content created. An interactive story could contain 10,000 words, but any one path through the story would only be 6,000 words long. In other words, an interactive story that takes two hours to read takes much more work to create than a regular story that takes two hours to read. If the creator gives the reader too many plot-changing choices, the reader experiences an even smaller fraction of the content. If the reader has too few choices, they can feel like they are not in control and the point of an interactive story is lost.

How, then, can interactive stories be any good? The second-person storytelling, while limiting, can also be great for immersion. If the reader's character is engaged in political intrigue, for example, there's a great tension that comes when they have to interpret other character's motives by their visible actions and dialogue instead of being told what each character is doing and thinking. This idea isn't exclusive to interactive stories, but the blinders of second-person storytelling do a good job of placing a reader firmly inside the world their character lives in.

I have several opinions on the production cost of choice. I think that the best path to take is this: readers should, for the most part, not choose what happens to their character, but how their character responds. Rather than choosing whether to go left or right, for example, the reader should be told by some guards to go left and be allowed to choose whether they'll go willingly or kicking and screaming. This style of interactive story allows writers to work on one overarching story instead of dozens of branching stories. The reader can be engaged in this sort of story because they still have input: the burden of creation (in this case, the main character) goes from the writer to the reader. Readers should still be given some influence over the plot, but the biggest decisions should come near the end, so that the resulting story branches produced will be shorter. This is the style of the great Bioware role-playing games.

In many ways, most computer games are interactive stories. Looking at these stories in their simplest, choose-your-own-adventure format can help show the strengths and weaknesses of this genre for a digital age.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ordering Food

There are a lot of factors that influence what I'll order at a restaurant: price, portion size, and predicted tastiness all play a part. Being as withdrawn as I am, though, one of the biggest factors is how long the menu item will take to say and how easy it is to pronounce.

There have been a few times when I haven't been nervous talking to a waiter, but for the most part, my heart rate quickens when it comes time to order. With this in mind, here are some examples of menu items I wouldn't order:

Gyros: is it pronounced "Guy-rows?" "Yee-ros?" I feel like a good Mediterranean waiter would disapprove of whatever I say.

Wacky Wednesday Breakfast Platter: I don't like saying silly things to people I don't know.

Zesty Chicken Sandwich Combo: combos that involve choosing a side and a drink are, for me, more hassle than they're worth.

These are, of course, silly reasons to limit my diet. One day, with practice, I might order foie gras or a junior double Alaskan burger. Today, though, I'll have the chicken sandwich.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

King Pellinore and the Questing Beast

Near the beginning of Morte Darthur, King Arthur is resting at a fountain in the woods when a marvelous animal comes up, drinks from the fountain, and goes back into the woods. No visual description of this beast is given, but it is said that it makes a noise like thirty hounds. Arthur falls asleep and wakes up to this:

    "Right so there came a knight on foot unto Arthur and said, 'Knight full of thought and sleepy, tell me if thou saw any strange beast pass this way.'
    'Such one saw I,' said King Arthur, 'that is passed nigh two miles. What would ye with that beast?' said Arthur.
    'Sir, I have followed that beast long and killed my horse, so would God I had another to follow my quest.'
    Right so came one with the King's horse; and when the knight saw the horse, he prayed the King to give him the horse: 'for I have followed this quest this twelvemonth, and either I shall achieve him, or bleed of the best blood in my body.' (His name was King Pellinore that that time followed the Questing Beast, and after his death Sir Palomides followed it.)
    'Sir knight,' said the King, 'leave that quest and suffer me to have it, and I will follow it another twelvemonth.'
    'Ah, fool,' said the king unto Arthur, 'it is in vain thy desire, for it shall never be achieved but by me, or by my next kin.' And therewith he started unto the King's horse and mounted into the saddle, and said, 'Gramercy, for this horse is my own.'"

First of all, this passage is fascinating in that I have no idea what's going on: what is the questing beast? Why is Pellinore following it so intently? What would happen if Pellinore caught up with the questing beast?

On top of this, Pellinore is an interesting member of Arthurian legend: here he is courteous but businesslike, taking Arthur's horse without a second thought. King Pellinore is a competent fighter, but he is ultimately killed by Sir Gawain in revenge for Pellinore's killing of Gawain's father.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Origins of Version

'Version' comes from the Latin 'vertere,' which means 'to turn.' It passed through the medieval Latin 'versio' and was used to refer to translations.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Fun With Studying

If someone walked up to me right now and asked, "how are you doing?" I would probably answer "the antidote to Atropa belladona is Physostigma venenosum." It's been that sort of day. Interestingly, the antidote to Physostigma venenosum is Atropa belladonna. They're both deadly poisons, but in the exact opposite way. Isn't that something?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Essay Writing Part 2

I've written previously about essay writing, but in that time the essays I was writing were two or three pages long and based on more simple questions. Here's my process for this semester's five or six page essays:

1. Write down ideas while reading texts. This happens days before writing begins. I write on the Dunkin' Donuts receipts that fill my pockets.
2. Get into writing mindset. Today, this involved drinking a cup of cold water, looking at myself in the mirror, and hitting myself in the face.
3. Format word document and think of paper title.
4. Write introductory paragraph
5. Take a short break, possibly writing a blog post about essay writing.
6. Write the rest of the paper
7. Edit the first paragraph to reflect what's actually written in the paper
8. Save and do something else, most likely not working for the rest of the evening.
9. Next morning, look over the paper, edit for grammar, and print.

The Most Obvious Due Date

The week before spring break is a great place for a teacher to end a unit: it's the end of the first half of the semester, for one thing, and students returning from break will be able to start learning something new instead of having to remember specific details about whatever was being learned before break.

I'm happy to say that almost all of my teachers have made this judgement, and while this means that there are a lot of tests and projects to be done in the next few days, I can go on break without worrying about schoolwork.

What happens in the meanwhile is a thrilling game of schedule tetris: what project needs to be done when, and when and for how long do I fit in studying?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Screenshot of the Day: Lord of the Rings: War in the North

The eagles! The eagles are coming!

Lord of the Rings: War in the North is a co-op hack and slash game set in the wide world of Middle Earth. Some Lord of the Rings games, like Lord of the Rings Online, get this setting right (in my opinion), but War in the North falls into the much larger camp of games that would make most Tolkien fans cringe. Players control a human ranger, an elf, and a dwarf-- they may as well be called Faragorn, Flegolas, and Flimli. The only thing that sets this party apart from their canonical inspirations is that the elf uses magic spells in a way that would surely make Tolkien roll over in his grave. The main goal of this party is to stop some pseudo-wringwraith named Agandaur, but as I play this game, I try to ignore the story as much as possible.

With all that said, I think War in the North is a lot of fun. Three-player co-op is relatively unusual, but it works well in War in the North, utilizing the classic tank/dps/support model. I played Flimli, the sturdy dwarf whose job it is to take hits while Faragorn deals damage and Flegolas casts protective spells. Playing the game with other humans makes the terrible story more funny. Combat is complex enough to be interesting, but simple enough to be relaxing.

War in the North isn't the best game, but it's mechanically sturdy and an entertaining to play with friends.