New blog!

•June 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

What? New blog?! Yes! New blog!

It’s been an entire academic year since my last blog post. I have changed, my writing has changed, my idea of a pretty layout has changed, and the things I’m likely to blog about have changed. Rather than revamp this blog, I’ve decided to preserve it and my high school self and start a new one. To access it, click the giraffe-looking cow in the Erlenmeyer flask:

Is that a cow? Why yes, it is a cow!

Гречка (breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner)

•August 9, 2010 • 1 Comment

I’m on a diet that excludes anything involving sugar or flour or bought as more than one ingredient—that is, excludes almost all dorm food. In preparation for the far, far future 18 days from now when I’ll inevitably be stuck cooking my own meals, my parents have stopped feeding me. Here’s the diet-friendly food I’ve learned to cook so far, which will likely constitute the bulk of my meals as it does for many a Russian: гречка (buckwheat).

(I managed to cripple my blogger self by losing my camera’s USB cord. (All my pretty pictures, so close yet so far.) Until I get a new one on August 13-30, the picture of гречка that would normally go here will be replaced by a facepalm.)
Facepalm.

Caution:
If you’ve used your microwave to blow up iPods, don’t use it to prepare food.

Materials:

  • 1 cup гречка
  • water
  • 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Milk (optional)

Additional materials

  • 1 microwave
  • 1 large microwave-friendly coverable glass bowl
  • 1 sieve
  • 1 cup
  • 1 plate
  • 1 blanket
  • 1 something that boils water

Procedure

  1. Boil at least 2.5 cups water.
  2. Pour a few tablespoons of гречка onto the plate. Shake the plate to spread it out, and pick out anything that is not гречка. Here is an example of things that are not гречка:

    (Again, facepalm. But a facepalm that is indeed an example of something that is not гречка.)
    Double facepalm.
    Pour the remaining things that hopefully are гречка into the bowl. Repeat for all гречка.

  3. Pour cold water over the гречка, and then into the sink. Catch any stray гречка in the sieve and return it to the bowl. Repeat until the run-off water is as free of dirt, dust, etc. as you want your food to be.
  4. Add 2.5 cups boiling water to the гречка. Add the salt.
  5. Immediately cover the гречка and put it in the microwave on high for five minutes, or until it starts simmering.
  6. Leave it in the microwave for another 15-20 minutes, this time at 30% power.
  7. Remove the гречка from the microwave. (There should be no more water.) Wrap it in the blanket and let it cool down.
  8. Eat as is, or pour milk over each portion.

Protected: The Amphibian Extinction Crisis

•August 1, 2010 • Enter your password to view comments.

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"Bad Liver and a Broken Heart" and other calculus-related love songs (Dierks Bentley and country music in general)

•July 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Dierks Bentley and the Travelin' McCourys!“Ma’am,” he says, gesturing with his flashlight, “your purse.”

I stare at him, holding out my ticket stub.

“Your purse,” he says, a bit cheesed off (a new phrase in my vocabulary, brought to you by Microsoft Word’s thesaurus (Observe Internet-less (aka camping) me relapsing into pre-thesaurus.com era ways.)). “Open your purse.”

“Oh.” I undo the straps on my bag and start extracting my wallet, camera, Google maps print-out—

“That’s enough. You can go in.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, go in. There are people behind you, ma’am.”

I glance over my shoulder at the line-like armada bunched around the alcohol/snacks table and step into the theater.

It’s a small crowd for a concert, but a full house. On stage, an American flag is draped over the banjo table. A frizzy-haired woman in cowboy boots (whose name I never did catch) is singing alongside a man who looks like a cross between Jesus and an underweight Santa-for-hire in the off-season. The audience buzzes through the theater as though it were a neighborhood barbeque, a constant hum beneath the music.

This, the first and only country concert I’ve ever been to, is from Dierks Bentley (blonde, beautiful, amazing accent)’s “Up on the Ridge” tour with the Travelin’ McCourys. The opening act (Jesus-Santa) is Hayes Carll. My getting here was a small phenomenon: after hearing about it on the radio, not finding it on official web sites, eventually finding it on smaller, central-PA-oriented web sites, and staring at the screen in bewildered disappointment because it was sold out, I grabbed a seat within ten minutes of someone else surrendering it.

I first started listening to country music in eleventh grade, three years after moving to Central PA, every other Saturday while I worked ahead on calculus homework (All bizarre life changes are probably in some way linked to calculus. (“She thinks my tractor’s sexy,” “I’d like to check you for ticks,” etc.—great for calculus homework)). I don’t think the me who lived in Chicago for nine years could have predicted this; now I wake up to Froggy every morning.

I like that, unlike pop and rock concerts I’ve seen on YouTube, there isn’t any lip synching or elaborate dance routines. The music focuses on our most rudimentary (and least sinful, according to the Russian Orthodox Church) instrument, the human voice, just as it seems to focus on life as an expedition and not a means to the money and fame we sell our time for.

When Dierks Bentley gets onstage and the stage lights come on, people start singing along. The crowd is happy and loud. A man in boots and a plaid shirt edges past my seat the third time that night for a “beer run,” followed by a dozen other men in half a dozen other rows. A few sixteen-ish-year-olds in miniskirts and white tank tops (If you’ve heard of Dierks Bentley, you know why.) two rows ahead of me stand up to dance, plastic cups in their hands, and I realize why my purse was checked. A few songs in, a couple gets up to square dance.

In my zip-up denim sweater and dangly silver earrings, clutching a sitcom-journalist-style notepad and a pen, I’m completely out of place. Everything country music seems to stand against—stress, change, hair gel, technology, democrats—I am (except the hair gel). I am the money mongrel, the frazzled yuppie, the watered-down city wimp making business arrangements on his cell phone in a lawless countryside bar; I am the anti-country.

That exact reason, I think, is why I like it. Country music gives me a taste of a life I wasn’t born to live, probably wouldn’t enjoy living, and will never get to experience. The people behind the colossal red sphere blockading the business district we fight to keep blue the weeks before election day, who probably don’t have Netflix, blogs (Though I’d love to read a farmer’s blog.), or even Internet access, who probably wring more life out of any given moment than I do, are all here—talking, drinking, laughing, and all in the most beautiful, most stereotyped no-cell-phone-signal-within-fifty-miles Central Pennsylvania country accents. I don’t fit in, and I love it.

And, to help you visualize the experience, here are some more small, low-quality photos of Dierks Bentley and the Travelin’ McCourys:
Dierks Bentley and the Travelin' McCourys!

Dierks Bentley and the Travelin' McCourys!

And then Hayes Carll joined them on stage for “All My Ex’s Live In Texas”:
Dierks Bentley, the Travelin' McCourys, and Hayes Carll!

And Dierks Bentley:
Dierks Bentley!

Dierks Bentley!

Dierks Bentley!

(If you actually want adorable calculus-related love songs, and not just music I associate with math homework, click here.)

Summer to-do list

•July 18, 2010 • 4 Comments

Though I haven’t blogged about it (and most likely won’t, at least not in the near future, because it’s not mine to blog about), I’ve spent a lot of this past year in a genomics lab, studying the evolution of the human Y chromosome (The X and Y chromosomes used to recombine, sharing information. While 5% still recombines, we can learn a lot by comparing the 95% that doesn’t.). One of the biggest things I’ve picked up from doing research (other than the fact that science does not always (or usually) cooperate—which really just means you need to cultivate patience and spend more time planning—, and the usefulness of laptop sleeves) is the value of lists—specifically, the value of to-do lists.

I maintain three levels of to-do lists: the first covers the entire procedure, with a vague picture of the programs I will need to use/write for each step; the second, more detailed one I build as I reach each step in the procedure; the third is for developing algorithms for larger programs.

I spent my last two summers volunteering at canoe camps, reading and programming, camping, canoeing and kayaking in slalom races, and occasionally reading ahead for the next semester—nothing that requires a to-do list. But this is the last summer before my first semester at MIT, and it’s already half over. So far I’ve worked in the lab and indulged in luxuries (reading, watching television, spending time with family, or doing absolutely nothing) I might have to relinquish, at least to some extent, when I leave in a month and a half. I’m also trying to fall into a diet (sans bread, pasta, fruit juice, or high-sugar (excepting fruit) foods) and exercise routine that I could maintain during the semester. Unfortunately, I haven’t been getting done a lot of what I want to get done. This, I think, warrants a to-do list for the rest of the summer:

  1. Complete the genomics project and subsequent paper.
  2. Get my driver’s license, stick shift.
  3. Fall into enough of an exercise routine that not spending an hour at the gym for a whole day feels ethically questionable.
  4. Write and submit to Brevity an essay on immigration.
  5. Adopt a sleeping schedule that does not involve blogging and watching Star Trek (both of which I am obviously not doing right now) after midnight.
  6. Learn to cook fast, healthy meals.
    1. Build a reservoir of recipes and a list of groceries I always need to have, and find a store near MIT that sells them (other than La Verde’s).
    2. Find a store that sells гречка (grechka; buckwheat) and колбаса (kalbasa; sausage) near MIT.
    3. Find a store that sells organic skim milk near MIT.
  7. Build an automatic water-changing system for my frogs.
  8. Improve my time management “skills.”
  9. Post pretty vacation nature photos on deviantART.
  10. Post pretty vacation videos on YouTube.
  11. Learn to solve the Rubik’s cube.
  12. Review Spanish.
  13. Edit my essay on the amphibian extinction crisis. Send it to local newspapers and radio stations to spread awareness.
  14. Read Gel’fand’s Lectures on Linear Algebra.
  15. Read that Russian sci-fi book my dad recommended.
  16. Watch Battlestar Gallactica.
  17. Watch, in this general order, at least some of the following documentaries on Netflix: The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Journey of Man, The Union: The Business Behind Getting High, Science of the Sexes, Nova’s What Are Dreams?, Capitalism: A Love Story, Born Rich, Life in the Undergrowth, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Blue Planet: Tidal Seas/Coasts, Physics: The Elegant Universe and Beyond, The End of Suburbia, Frontline: Is Wal-Mart Good for America?, Frontline: Bush’s War, Frontline: Sick Around the World, The Power of Nightmares, The Expanding Universe, Promises, Inside North Korea, In the Womb, National Geographic: Volcano, The Corporation, Radio Bikini, The Botany of Desire, Evolution, Maxed Out, Art & Copy, The Atheism Tapes, King Corn, The Business of Being Born, I.O.U.S.A., Wild China, Ballerina, Touching the Void, A State of Mind, and The Cutting Edge: Magic of Movie Editing.

(Edit: I noticed, two days after posting this, that all my links were dead. Apparently Microsoft Word quotes are not actual quotes, and do not react well to html. Please, to save the world’s links from Microsoft-related slaughter, let’s all switch to TextWrangler.)

Stickers, vectors, bikes, and trucks

•July 8, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I have an amazing bike. And ever since my friend Matt came home from Europe with the news that people in Italy use their bikes as canvases of self-expression, it’s housed my sticker collection:

My bike!

Stickers!
Stickers!

Just from my bike, you can tell that I

  1. canoe,
  2. would have voted for Clinton Obama in 2008 if I were 18 and a citizen,
  3. ♥ anything related to MIT,
  4. support state parks,
  5. can’t resist putting random (from slalom race sponsors, so not quite random) stickers on my bike,
  6. and really like stickers.

Unfortunately my dad wouldn’t let me similarly plaster our truck—likely because apparently the resell value of a car doesn’t increase with the amount of opinion I express with it, but more likely because if the old ladies in flower-print dresses who give me mean looks on the outskirts of town decide to take action, I’d rather it not be on my truck.

Speaking of the truck, I’m finally at the point in my driving education where I can drive to the dairy farm and back and only stall at one four-lane intersection. I can release the gas pedal, hit the clutch, switch to neutral, release the clutch, hit the turn signal, slowly apply the brakes, check my mirrors, realize I’m not stopping fast enough, start turning, really hit the brakes, hit the clutch, switch to second, laugh at the cool noise my tires just made, continue turning, slowly apply the gas while releasing the clutch, finish turning, really hit the gas pedal, hit the clutch, switch to third, check the speedometer, release the clutch, apply the gas, and check my mirrors for angry fellow drivers, all within six seconds. Changing gears has become more or less intuitive, and driving the truck has become sort of like driving my bike—only my bike can’t accelerate to 45 miles an hour (or, at least, I don’t think I can make it do that without biking off a cliff, which I will hopefully never investigate, at least not while on it) and doesn’t weigh 2,857 pounds. My bike also doesn’t leave me shaking, clenching the steering wheel (because bikes, you know, don’t have steering wheels), and wishing I’d considered buying a car with air bags a year ago. I hope to get my license by the end of the summer, by the way.

But I wasn’t always this, um, confident. Here’s a clip of a rant from last year, a few weeks after I habituated steering:

Just as coordinates are central to college life, vectors are important in driving. The gas pedal points forward, signifying forward acceleration; the brake pedal points backward. The clutch is a scalar by which the gas pedal is multiplied.

Only it doesn’t work that way.

A few nights ago I tried parking—and driving in reverse—for the first time:

I’m close enough to my parking spot so I switch to neutral, braking gently. I’m between the lines but I could be closer to the curb: clutch, first, release the clutch gently and slide forward. I bump the curb, but that’s okay—I drive a truck, after all.

Time to get out: clutch, switch to reverse, and slowly release the clutch. I slide backward, out of the parking spot, but I’m going too fast. I need to decrease the weight of the backward vector. How can I do this? By adding a forward vector, of course! So naturally, logically, I hit the gas.

Well, that was a lovely idea.

For some reason, slamming on the gas, even when the car is in reverse, does not slow the car down. Darn.

Building snowmen

•June 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Have you ever built a snowman? It’s tough.

(I just discovered iMovie. And yes, that’s our truck in the background, and our broken basketball hoop.)