Musings on Everything

I muse, therefore I write.

Archive for December 2008

Well, so there’s this thing called break

….which I think I’m currently on. Also, I can’t be bothered to post during holidays, not least because I have no material to decry. See y’all in January.

Written by Sri

December 28, 2008 at 11:02 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

On Achieving

Or rather, overachieving. There are many, many people in this wide world of ours who feel the need to outshine, to outperform everyone else. Their reasons vary. Perhaps they come from poor families, and getting the best grades and the best education available to them is the only way out of the mudhole they live in. Others do it because they have an extreme competitive drive. They absolutely cannot stomach the thought of someone, somewhere, possibly doing better than them in anything. So they spend days and nights slaving over their grades, grubbing for just one more point on that essay so that they’ll have a 98 instead of a 97 average. I’ve met people who fit into both these categories. But there is a third category: the group of people who are quite capable of getting acceptable grades, yet still kill themselves on a daily basis for grades that they could easily get without all the wasted effort. For those of you who don’t know what “acceptable” means, here’s a comparison chart:

  • A=Acceptable
  • B=Bad
  • C=Crap
  • D=Damn
  • F=F*** (hey, this blog is G-rated, all right?)

OK, back to the point. Namely, that every day I interact with people who walk in half-delirious from lack of sleep, rubbing their eyes, and proceed to go to six AP classes plus orchestra. These people get maybe 3 hours of sleep a night, 4 if they are lucky, and yet somehow manage to function as human beings (to some extent). And it hurts to watch. It really does. I’m looking at them, thinking to myself, “You are smarter than 90% of the human race, and yet you still needlessly torture yourself by doing this? Why?” Is it some insane competitiveness for grades? Could be.

But I think it’s really for another reason: these children don’t know when to stop. They don’t know when enough studying is enough studying. They always say to themselves, “Oh my god I haven’t studied enough I heard this test is tough from that kid who took it last year OMG OMG OMG AAAH!” But in reality, all they had to do was memorize a formula and do a couple problems to learn where and how to apply it. Simple, really. Or perhaps we are talking about history. In that case, would not 2 hours’ studying and memorization of facts be enough? For what is a history test if not information recall? 

“But wait,” you say. “What if the test is really so tough that I can’t figure it out at all without staying up all night?” Well, the only subject in which that could conceivably happen is math. All the other courses end up boiling down to, “Do you know it or don’t you know it?” If you don’t, you don’t. Whether or not you stayed up all night studying. I mean, maybe you memorized that fact that saved your butt at 3:21 AM, but most likely you didn’t. You memorized it at 8:53 PM, when you were still active. This is also backed up by scientific evidence, like this article here. Mostly, I’d like to look at this paragraph:

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that a function of sleep is to help consolidate the effects of waking experiences on cortical plasticity, converting memory into more permanent and /or enhanced forms. Marcos G. Frank, PhD., postdoctoral fellow says, “if you reviewed your notes thoroughly until you were tired and then slept, you’d achieve as much plasticity, or ‘learning,’ in the brain as if you’d pulled an all-nighter repeating your review of the material.” 

I mean, what else can be said? Pulling all-nighters to study really doesn’t help. It just makes you look  like shit in the morning (all right, all right, so the G-rated thing can be pushed a bit), doesn’t help your ability to remember information, and may actually cause you to perform worse due to lack of sleep. It just shows a failure to study efficiently combined with an irrational fear of underachievement. 

In short: STOP STAYING UP ALL NIGHT STUDYING. Thanks.

P.S.: I realize that some people have a schedule that doesn’t permit going to sleep before 12:00 AM, and they have my sincere condolences. They also need to learn time-management. Don’t spend the time when you’re not doing stuff not doing stuff. Study then.

Or maybe you have work. OK, awesome. Nice that you’re working. Stop working so much. Normally, I wouldn’t say something like this, but I say it because I know 90%  of you don’t need to work right now. You are living in an affluent suburb of Philadelphia, in a pricey area, median household income $100,000 a year, possibly higher. You are a spoiled rich kid to the rest of the world, whether or not you feel like one. It’s OK to act like one for now. 

And then there are some to whom this will be extraordinarily offensive or wrong or something, and you’ll IM me angrily in order to pick my argument apart. Please, don’t IM me. You’re free to post comments on the post, and I’ll answer stuff through that medium. Just a little thing, because I know this post’s gonna get a lot of flak. Tyvm.

Written by Sri

December 18, 2008 at 5:51 PM

Posted in Musings

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On Shakespeare


Seriously, what is up with that guy? Many people (sadly, not all of them Britons) seem to think he’s all that. And I’m OK with that. Hell, Stephanie Meyer’s books have plot holes the size of Manhattan in them, and hordes of otherwise quite intelligent girls have fallen madly in love with them. Though that is a subject for another post. What really annoys me is how every single English teacher since the 1600s has been absolutely convinced that Wiliam Shakespeare is the best thing since sliced bread and pizza and, furthermore, how generations upon generations of students have had to suffer through boring English classses all about how witty he was, how utterly delightful his plays are, and so on and so forth. 

Well, frankly, I don’t see what’s so great about him. So he cracks a lot of puns. So do I. So does everyone. Puns are everywhere. So why is this one punster so highly valued? So he can make his characters stupid enough to be funny. That’s been done to death, and any two-bit off the street should be able to do that. I mean, Robin Williams is proof enough of this fact. So far, that’s two “qualities” unqualified. 

But wait, you say. What of the main point of Shakespeare’s genius, his elegant and captivating stories? Well, let’s take the much-loved comedy play Much Ado About Nothing as an example, shall we?

Much Ado About Nothing is about a young gentleman named Claudio, his love Hero, and all the circumstances surrounding their marriage. You see, Claudio is madly in love with Hero, and so his master Don Pedro takes it upon himself to obtain Hero’s hand in marriage for his good friend. Which he does. All well and good. But! Don Pedro’s bastard brother Don John seeks to see Claudio ruined, so he arranges a fake love scene with Hero so that Claudio would get all angry and… leave Hero at the altar? And so we come to our first plot difficulty. Since when does defaming one person mean accusing someone totally different of adultery? Sense is not made at all. I mean, if Claudio, a prominent, honest man tells the world that he saw his fiancee being unfaithful to him, and if Claudio is further backed by Don Pedro, an even more trustworthy man, if that is even possible (and Denzel Washington to boot!), then how, exactly, could he be defamed? It would seem quite obvious to even the most oblivious dunderhead that the only loser in that entire situation would have to be Hero. Poor girl. 

But then the play gets really weird. It would also seem that there is a certain man Benedick who is engaged in a “merry war” with a certain Beatrice. These two are constantly insulting each other. But they’re really secretly in love with each other and end up marrying by the end of the play? Really, now, Will? You run out of ideas or something? I’ve seen that in every crappy fanfic and teenager’s LiveJournal entry this side of the 1980s, sir. I swear, that plot must be so old, Aesop must have considered using it. And that man was around before the Book of Genesis was written. What I’m trying to say is, that’s old, tired, and done. If you’re so awesome, Mr. Shakespeare, why didn’t you make up something new?

Which brings me to my last point. Did you know that the entirety of the plot and characters from Much Ado About Nothing were plagiarized? No, I’m not kidding. The plot was lifted wholesale from an earlier work, the twenty-second story from Matteo Bandello’s Novelle, published in 1554. And when I say “lifted,” I mean “lifted,” from the names of the characters (compare Master Lionato to Leonato) to the love scene (compare spying on fake lovers to… spying on fake lovers). I mean that every single plot development comes straight from this short story. EVERYTHING. People, this is about comparable to what Coldplay did to Satriani. Or what the American version of The Office did to the British version of The Office (they changed “Tim” to “Jim.” Not kidding). Just about the only thing that could be considered “unique” would be that Shakespeare took this and added Dogberry and Benedick. Really? An idiotic, posturing comic foil and a stereotypical comic foil? Really, Will? Is that really all the uniqueness you could come up with? Really?

Sound off in the comments. What do you say of Shakespeare? Does he still deserve to be studied? Or is there someone better than him students should study?

Written by Sri

December 15, 2008 at 5:56 PM

Posted in Musings

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On Evolution

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So I found this awesome little flash app that uses an algorithm based on evolution to create a little car that is then made to navigate an obstacle course. Its evolutionary “fitness,” so to speak, is measured by how fast it’s going, whether the little red circles touch the ground, and some other factors, which I haven’t figured out yet. Every 20 iterations, it crosses the most successful iterations out of the 20, mutates, and tries again. Quite the timewaster, considering the computer takes care of everything itself. It’s but one of many things I’ve noticed popping up lately regarding evolution. Another article caught my attention as well. It’s about a man trying to use evolution to create a CPU. Both these articles got me thinking: How close are we, really, to being able to replicate the evolution of a species, or even create a new one altogether. Sure, there’s been some research into making new types of bacteria, and there are plenty of man-made species as it is, but I’m talking about something much more complicated. A new type of fish, or perhaps a mammal more suited to man than even the dog. 

Which, then, brings to mind the question, “Is it even possible?” Is it possible to replicate or model the evolution of a species that has had millions of years to get itself to where it is today? I mean, think about it for a second: Will it ever be possible to plug in the conditions of Earth as it was billions of years ago, run a simulation, and end up with our planet as it is today? If it didn’t come out that one or other of our present species, say tigers, what would fill that ecological gap? How would it look like? The theoretical questions themselves become endless. 

Or what if, back in the primordial soup, there emerged a bacterium based not on carbon, but on silicon? Would we get the Transformers, as  many geeks the world over fervently hope? Probably not. But what would we get? Silicon is conductive of electricity, and doubtless there will be some species that would evolve to take advantage of that. How would that work? Would it have a nervous system made up of transistors or something? Maybe. Perhaps the organism will use electricity as an energy source. Organic batteries of some sort would work nicely for that. The possibilities are endless. Maybe they would evolve a brain that works like a computer, organizing themselves into circuits like in the article above. Carbon lifeforms could do that as well. What if we had evolved like that? Would we be building people, so to speak, that could imagine and discover and dream, those things that computers cannot do? Maybe.

Where do you say we will be in the next five hundred years? Will humanity have computers of metal and plastic, or computers of carbon and organics?

Written by Sri

December 10, 2008 at 10:12 PM

Posted in Musings

On Concerts

 

A violin. I mean, what else would you put here?

 

 

So you may not know this, but I play the violin. It’s a common enough thing for people to play, I suppose. I never really wanted to, but I was sorta forced into it by my parents when I was in third grade. See, they had been hearing about how people who play instruments have higher IQs and such, y’know, do better in school, in life, that kind of thing. So they cajoled me into signing up to play. And, I have to say, I never got very good at it. I mean, honestly. I haven’t picked the thing up more than a hundred times in my life. Never liked the sound too much, either. Violins sound screechy. Reminds me of my mother’s voice when she’s angry, and that’s not a very good thing to associate an instument with, now is it? 

But I stuck with it, if only so that I get graduation credits by taking orchestra class (which isn’t really a “class” at all, more a group rehearsal during school hours). So, of course this means that I have to particpate in public displays of the orchestra’s so-called skill to the proud parents (of which there were surprisingly many, this time around) twice a year. This time, we played four pieces:

  1.  Haydn’s Finale From Symphony No. 45
  2. Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus
  3. American Mass by somebody named Schumacker
  4. Bridge Over Troubled Water by Paul Simon

Of these pieces, the Haydn, Mozart, and Simon pieces were relatively OK, but the Schumacker piece absolutely sucked. I mean that it was probably the most terrible thing that our orchestra has ever played. It was worse than listening to cats draw their claws along chalkboards. Half the orchestra missed notes, what notes that were played were mostly wrong ones, and I think we missed a cue somewhere. Needless to say, it was not one of our better performances, and everybody knew it except those poor parents who weren’t told in advance not to come.

But that’s not what makes horrible concerts like this one fun. The fun comes in seeing what the directors do in response to our ineptness. In our case, the fun started way before we ever lay eyes upon the sheet music. 

Our new orchestra director  has been trying to get the orchestra up to a decent standard, and his  method of doing so involves not allowing us to do whatever the hell we want, and actually playing music, both of which our previous director would never even think of. I guess you could relate our reaction to this to waking up with a hangover after an awesome, alcohol-drenched party. In short, it sucks. And just as a man with a hangover will try ever so hard to ignore it and go back to sleep, we in orchestra have been trying ever so hard to get back to having fun again.

Furthermore, from the beginning of the year, Mr. Director was threatening us with said Schumacker piece, saying things like, “Man, if you guys can’t even play this right, you’ll never be able to get through the Schumacker piece” and various other foreboding utterances.  So, of course, most of us wondered what was so wrong with this piece that we were going to play. Well, in due course, we did receive the sheet music, and guess what? It didn’t look that bad. Mostly, it looked boring, what with all the rests. And it was only one page! Wow, a short, rest-filled piece was being billed as hard? Some of us privately started questioning whether our director had as high a regard for us as he let on.

But alas, after a week, the second movement landed in our hands, and immediately, everyone understood why our director had been threatening us all year. It was badly written, called for the violins to come in at odd times, and required good excellent timing, fast speed, and high notes. This combination is the anathema of any violin player, even a good one, not to mention our crew of lazy layabouts. And, of course, it turned out miserably, but what was very interesting was that in the weeks leading up to the concert, we were told that if we didn’t get this piece down pat, there’d be hell to pay. Not even that dire threat was taken to heart, and so we struggled along. However, at the final rehearsal, our director said the most amazing thing:

You guys did really well on this piece. You did a great job, and I know this piece was a bit more difficult, but you really pulled it off. 

Um, what? Seriously? You’ve been yelling your ass off at us for weeks now, not to mention how you completely just ripped into us fifteen minutes ago for missing three cues in a row, and now it’s all “good job” and stuff? That’s the thing I don’t understand about concerts, and group performances in general: Why, exactly, do the people in charge give empty encouragement? Is it supposed to make us feel better? To give us hope that we really are doing well, despite all the invective? I mean, how can you say that stuff with a straight face? You know your orchestra knows full well that they suck at this piece, and yet you have the gall to stand there and lie through your teeth? What the hell, buddy? It makes no sense. What do you think his reasoning was?

Written by Sri

December 7, 2008 at 9:12 PM

Posted in Musings

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