Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Notes and Notepaper

At the moment, I consider any reading that I don't have to take notes on reading for pleasure. Just like having to fill out a worksheet while watching a movie in class, taking notes while reading hugely changes the tone of the task.

What I didn't realize is that the sort of notepaper I use changes the tone as well. For the past few months I had been writing on unlined paper and I just ran out and made the switch to a lined notebook last week. The lined paper has been great; I feel like my notes are more regular and organized now, and it also helps to have a notebook to flip through instead of stacks of paper covering my desk.

Funnily enough, the topic I'm taking notes on is the importance of accounting for relevant parameters when optimizing a system. In light of this, I'm trying to think of other factors affecting my studying and how I might reach optimal note quality. Using multiple colors of ink is next on my list of experiments.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Next Level Fun

Some games get less fun as you get better at them. Tic-tac-toe, for example, turns out to be simple enough that two player who know the game well will always draw.

Team Fortress 2 (a team-based first person shooter) is one of my most played computer games, and getting better at it has led me to expect to do well. When I play badly, then, I get more frustrated than I would have when I was still new to the game. However, when I'm playing well (and competitively) at my current skill level, it's a lot more fun than anything I experienced as a beginner.

Is there a way I can experience the good without the bad? So far, the answer in TF2 seems to be focusing on the teamwork aspect of the game. When I play as a medic, a relatively weak class that heals teammates, I don't necessarily expect to do well, since even a skilled medic dies easily. The fun comes in getting the rest of the team to work with and protect me, which results in everyone doing better. My favorite experiences so far in TF2 have been joining losing teams, convincing the players to work together, and ultimately winning through much effort.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Water Thermometer

The temperature here varies from day to day between cold and very cold (by my standards, at least). There is, however, a significant practical difference between the two in that if it's only cold I just need a coat whereas if it's very cold I need a hat, scarf, and gloves as well.

In order to tell the temperature before I go outside, I keep a cup of water on my balcony easily visible from inside. If I get up in the morning and the water is frozen, I know it's going to be very cold outside. This system is working pretty well so far, but I'll have to think of something else if I ever need to differentiate between very cold and extremely cold.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Background Noise

The college library is usually a good place to read and get work done, but it just so happens that for the past couple months there's been a construction project right outside; I assume it's taking so long because the construction only happens when there's most need for a quiet library. It's not the construction workers' fault, of course, but I find myself expecting to see someone have a nervous breakdown in the middle of the library when the noise finally becomes unbearable.

Most of the construction noise seems to be drilling, which is unfortunate. I feel like listening to a pile driver or someone shoveling gravel would be more pleasing to the ear. I'm relaxing right now by listening to all kinds of shovel sound effects.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Chess Jargon

Possibilities in chess may be practically infinite, but there's a relatively finite set of common plays. I currently know almost none of them, but hearing the named strategies discussed is as entertaining as the fencing jargon in The Princess Bride. If white opens with e4, for example, black may adopt the Sicilian Defense, prompting white to advance the Smith-Morra Gambit, and so on.

One variation I learned of is called the Dragon, so if there's one thing I'm likely to take away from this, it's to develop the Dragon as often as possible. Using a strategy with a cool name is almost as good as winning, right?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Stopping Watching

There are a few movies I'll watch through purely on the recommendations of other people. In many cases, though, I use the half hour test, turning the movie off if the first half hour isn't interesting. In some cases, I assume, this is my loss because the rest of the movie is better and makes the first bit more interesting as part of the whole, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.

There's often a trigger that makes me quit a movie or TV show, like a long conversation full of angsty staring or a story decision that breaks the fantasy the movie is trying to sell. In many cases, it's cringe that makes me leave; watching embarrassing situations is the opposite of entertaining for me, so unless there's a good reason to keep watching, I switch to something else.

I can't think of many examples of movies I've stopped watching, mostly because I didn't like them much. This blog post, however, was triggered by the film Drive after one too many ten second silences in conversation. My motto is "I'm not a connoisseur."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Science Facts: Trilobite Lenses

Nearly all lenses in animal eyes are made of cell tissue and protein. Trilobites (a class of extinct marine arthropods) are an interesting exception: their lenses were made of calcite, a transparent crystal. Trilobites apparently produced these natural eyeglasses by drawing calcium carbonate from seawater and directing it to the eyes.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Jelly Donut Limerick

There once was a packet of donuts
Each had jelly inside as a bonus
They could well be improved
For each, when bit into
Leaked its gelatinous components

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Origins of Jelly

The word 'jelly' comes from the French 'gelée,' which apparently can mean jelly or frost. This comes from the Latin 'gelu,' which means frost or chill. The Proto-Indo-European root, 'gel,' is also the ancestor of English 'cold,' which came through the Germanic rather than the Latin path.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

High School Music

A few years ago, I made a lot more music than I do these days. I'm very happy to have done it not only because of the constructive nature of the task but also because I still enjoy listening to the songs I wrote. This could just be vanity, but I like to think it's because I was able to record in some small way the musical thoughts I had at the time. I'm the perfect audience because I know the emotions in each song and I don't have to be polite when it comes to the technical quality of each piece.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

One Dish Pasta

When cooking for myself, I tend to get stuck in ruts, making the same dishes over and over. It's not the best situation, but it does let me hone recipes to perfection, i.e. the simplest possible without completely sacrificing taste. Here's my current method for making pasta:

1. Boil 1.5 L of water in electric kettle.
2. Make a cup of tea and pour the rest of the water into a saucepan.
3. Put the saucepan on medium heat and add about 2 C dry pasta.
4. Place a jar of pasta sauce in the saucepan alongside the pasta.
5. When the pasta is cooked and the pasta sauce is warm, combine them in a large bowl.

Using this method, the only dishes that really need washing are a bowl and a spoon. The tea is optional, but I usually make it because the kitchen is cold.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Civilization V Conflict Resolution

Civilization V is a video game in which the player controls a civilization through history, trying to win through culture, diplomacy, or sheer military power. I tend to try for the former but often end up with the latter, since a strong military is an easier solution to pretty much all the problems that come up in the course of a game. Are there no iron deposits in your kingdom? You could spend an arm and a leg trading for iron with the computer players, or you could just build some soldiers and conquer the nearest enemy territory with an iron mine. Annoyed with one of the decisions of the United Nations? You could spend hours in careful negotiation to reverse the policy, or you could shake things up and declare war on the civilization hosting UN conferences.

I would imagine these tactics work better in Civ V than in real life. One thing that personally encourages me to warfare in Civ V is the snarky diplomatic dialogue used by all the leaders. For example, in a recent game, the Incas, while maintaining a friendly front, were constantly sending spies to steal my technologies. Whenever an Incan spy was caught, I would have a meeting with Pachacuti, the Incan leader, and he would dramatically stagger off his throne and drop his scepter in dismay before deeply apologizing for the actions of his spy and promising it wouldn't happen again. However, without fail, another Incan spy would be caught just a few turns later. Eventually, one is inclined to conquer the Inca just so you don't have to see Pachacuti again. Another interesting thing about computer player leaders is that they don't get less humble as they get less powerful-- kings with only one city and completely obsolete technologies make demands as if they were superpowers.

In the end, then, war is the most exciting and effective activity available. I suppose that's what happens when only one civilization is allowed to win.