Musings on Everything

I muse, therefore I write.

Archive for January 2009

On Chemistry


Well, right off, I have to make one thing quite plain: I began failing chemistry after two weeks. Like, I got through the first unit about lab safety, and right after that, I tanked. And I have been tanking for the past two years now. I have not managed to pick up more than the basic rudiments of chemistry. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I really understood a concept completely. Take our latest unit: The class was engrossed in something known as "hydrolysis" when I walked in late, having been detained from my rightful seat of learning for the first fifteen minutes of class. From my Biology past, I knew that hydrolysis as Biology defines it is when peptide chains are broken using water as a catalyst. So maybe it has something to do with water and breaking things apart, like perhaps dissociation. So far so good. I got that. It is the only thing I have understood about hydrolysis so far. This is what most people would call a Very Bad Thing. Not that I don’t appreciate chemistry. Oh, no, I get the concepts. I can see in my head that what the teacher is saying would make sense when applied to a real-world example. I know that a buffer is a mixture of an acid and a base in rather high concentrations, so that whenever an attempt is made to try and make said buffer solution acidic or basic, it won’t do anything due to the high concentration of the opposite ion. I get that. Now, if somebody were to ask me to do three basic buffer-related problems, odds are I wouldn’t get a single one of them right. At this point, I’m sure most of you would be saying, "Read the textbook, that’s what it’s there for, doofus,” and I’ll say right back that the textbook doesn’t help and I’m doomed to failure. Oh, woe is me. I’ll never get a good grade in chem, I’ll never get into a decent college, I’ll be forced to live out my days making minimum wage as a janitor and die cold and alone in a ratty apartment in a bad area of a major metropolis. I’ll have squandered my potential and been disowned by my family. OH THE HUMANITY.

Man, that sounds like an emo post.

Here, let’s try again.

What makes people attracted to each other?

Is it merely a hormonal response to an instinctual realization on Party 1’s part that Party 2 is most desirable due to subtle facial and body features of Party 2 meant to clue members of the opposite sex like Party 1 into the sexual and reproductive fitness of Party 2? Or, as all the romantics of the world contend, is it something that grows with time, a deeper understanding of the other through friendship that leads to something more?

Or is every human just looking for another human that they can stand to look at, and who will stand to look at them? Because, let me tell you, there are some people who really are on the left end of the bell curve, if you know what I mean. But, then, what if two really really hot people have kids?

I mean, people have been speculating for years that if two uber-attractive people make babies, then those babies have a lower chance of being attractive than a baby born to average people. This is because the facial characteristics that go into making somebody attractive are expressed too much in the baby’s features, causing him/her to look slightly abnormal or, in the case of girls, like a man. This is rather interestingly backed up by scientific evidence:

…you might imagine that a particular shape of the nose or turn of the chin would look drop-dead hunky on a male, but horsey on a woman; dad got to mate because his looks attracted a female, but the result of their togetherness produced daughters whose pulchritude was less than obvious. Traits that evolutionary psychologists tell us make women unfit for mating (having the “wrong” shape) remain abundant in the human race because the DNA for the traits, when inherited by sons, confers a selective advantage; when those sons have daughters, presto—more females with less-than-hourglass shapes. Or as the Edinburgh biologists put it, “optimal genotypes differ between male and female red deer, because a genotype that produces a male phenotype with relatively high fitness will, on average, produce a phenotype with lower fitness when expressed in a female.”

And now the odd bits begin. So if that ugly offspring of those hot people doesn’t make babies because he/she is downright horrible looking, then, wouldn’t that mean that the evolutionary fitness of that hot parent has just been rendered useless, as his/her bloodline just died out? How does that end up working out at all for that hot person’s family? Shouldn’t moderately attractive people be the evolutionary ideal, then?

Which brings us to my next point: If moderately attractive people are the ideal, then they would be subject to the situation that our esteemed scientific quote up there and not our current ideal of really hot people. So now we’re in a catch-22 of sorts. Dammit.

So, then, how does the whole “beauty” concept work? Because nature can’t have built that into our brains. I mean, some things, like waist-to-hip ratio and v-shaped torsos, are no doubt instinctively attractive only because they are effective measures of health and fertility, but the other stuff comes from culture, I guess. So couldn’t they counteract each other? Like the current fixation on stick figures that leads girls to starve themselves to death?

I mean, what does this say about humanity as a whole? For me, at least, it just means two things:

One: We, as a species, have definitely not evolved enough.

Two: This new Americanized culture of anorexia combined with Big Macs confuses the hell out of me, and, I’m sure, of many other people too.

What do you say? Useless and off-topic comments, I’ve decided, will be disemvoweled from here on out. Consider yourself warned.


Written by Sri

January 30, 2009 at 10:50 AM

Posted in Musings

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On Work Ethics

For once, I’m not quite sure how to phrase this. Well, let me start with some background. I associate myself with the most intense people I imagine existing on this planet. By that, I don’t mean that they are more intense than everyone else, because I can’t really say that without having met everyone else. I mean that they are first-class intense, so to speak. Whether it’s a subconscious streak of masochism or bad karma that makes me hang out with them I can’t figure out. These children manage to maintain perfect 100s in 6 AP classes without, it would seem, breaking a sweat. Though don’t say that in front of them. There will come the instant denial, “Nooo, I’m not that smart.” Or maybe the “You have no idea how late I stay up…” response will come. Either way, I envy them. How come they get to be all smart and stuff, with their perfect grades and all? It’s not fair. Not fair at all, I tell you. Of course, they will also (and I’ve found this to be a universal thing) describe themselves as lazy or scatterbrained or dumb or lucky or some combination of the above.

My parents tell me with utter conviction that the lot of them are lying when they say that. This may or may not be because they were once in the same category as “them,” as I shall be calling this group of people from here on. I can’t get a straight answer if I ask whether they were. My parents hold that the lot of them work their asses off every single day, employing perfect study habits and fantastic concentration on their homework that can only be found in Type A, ambitious young people. I used to think my parents had it all wrong.

I’m not so sure anymore.

How can you get 100s on AP-level tests without at least a bit of studying? Furthermore, how the hell can you get a good grade when you spend half your time in class with your head on your desk or absently spinning your pen? I take notes like a maniac, and study them like a maniac, but I still can’t hope to come anywhere close to what the people around me get on every single test. After observing this for a while, I invariably get to wondering: what are they doing that I’m not? I study. I do my homework. And yet, I sit there with no idea what I’m doing on test day. And there’s one of them next to me, happily scribbling down the right answer while I softly weep.

It’s not fair, I tell you. It’s just not fair at all.

And it’s made even worse when you consider how late they are staying up. I mean, like I have said in a previous post, several thousands of my friends stay up past midnight every day (excuse me, every night). As we have seen and conclusively proved by means of the evidence provided in that post, they are not possibly getting anything done at 2:00 AM, and most of them (according to their own accounts) get home somewhere in the range of 5-7 PM every night. So that means that these kids are doing homework for something like 7-9 hours a night, not including such things as dinner and showers (because I neither know nor much care how much time it takes you to groom yourself and stuff yourself, though I will trust that all of you do both of these things on at least a daily basis). Tell me now, what could you possibly do that takes up a full nine hours of your life? This is deadly serious. I’m completely stumped here. I mean, there is absolutely no instance when spending nine hours on homework is justified, or arguably, even useful.

Or, perhaps, they don’t even start their homework until 11 PM, which is just stupid, and calls into question the mental acuity of these children, and their motives. What, precisely, is the point of staying up until 3 AM, but not even starting homework until 11 PM? You could have just done it all at 8:30, and been comfortably in bed or playing TF2 by midnight. I mean, come now. Doesn’t that seem so much more enjoyable than stressing out at 2:30 becuase you have that essay to finish revising and that AP packet and that Catullan poem thing (stupid assignment) but you still need to get three hours of sleep because otherwise you’ll fall asleep in class and get a detention from that bitch teacher OMG OMG OMG AAAAH?

And then you have them coming into school with a fever or a cold or the flu or hepatitis or leprosy or whatever other ghastly condition you can think of. I mean, dammit, that fever of 104° is nothing compared to the agony that would befall you if you missed that oh-so-important chem quiz that can be made up in ten minutes after class the day after. I mean, not only is that dangerous to yourself, it’s dangerous to everyone around you. You think I want your damned fever? You think I want your stuffy nose? NO! It’s unbelievably selfish to expose other people to an illness just so you can soothe your and more than a bit unhealthy.

While we’re on the subject of medical conditions, let’s talk a bit about the girl who has worn away the cartilage in her wrist, shall we? At the age of 17. This is a condition that is seen mostly in people in their 60s. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we can say that this chronic overwork is neither healthy nor prudent.

But seriously: Why?

Written by Sri

January 18, 2009 at 12:53 PM

Posted in Musings

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On Television

So who actually watches TV on TV anymore? I can’t remember the last time I turned on the TV for the purpose of watching an actual TV show. To begin with, I watch less TV than the “average American”, and whatever paltry needs I have for television, I can easily get it in 480p streaming video from the comfort of my web browser using Hulu. I recommend everybody get an account there; it’s got just about every TV show that you can think of (that currently airs, of course). The internet is a great place to get video content legally, now that the networks have decided that locking people in to TV is a rather bad idea. South Park Studios is, of course, streaming South Park episodes. Comedy Central puts most of its content up on Hulu. Oh, what else? I can watch everything from House to the Onion News Network to Miami Vice (not that I’d ever want to) from the comfort of my computer chair. Hell, I can even watch movies like Men in Black and Gattaca (remeber that?). Yes, Hulu is definitely a very good site.

Which brings me to my main point. Why did the networks try so hard to stop others from uploading video content to the internet? And why do they still try to control how people consume content (think iTunes’ DRM that automatically expires TV shows you have downloaded after a few days)? It makes no sense. OK, so they need to make money somehow. I get that. Go ahead, nobody’s stopping you. As far as I see, the main reason that there is so much rampant piracy of TV shows is twofold:

  1. People simply needed a way to watch TV shows on their computer, or be able to take a TV show with them. After all, it’s far simpler to just plug in an external hard drive and show your buddy that cool bit of Heroes from last night’s episode than to wait until they air it again.
    1. But then, they may not ever do that, meaning you’ll have to buy their DVD box set of the season in order to show your buddy that clip, which the two of you may well have forgotten about by that point, meaning that the network ends up losing money from your lost sale.
  2. People also need a certain measure of flexibility in their content. You can’t lock in your audience to your proprietary media player that they have to install on top of the perfectly fine Windows Media Player they’ve already got. That’s just stupid and annoying on your part.
    1. So they may not ever watch your episode. After all, not everybody has a TiVo or DVR. Like me.

So now, the networks have come farther than anybody thought they would regarding point number 1. Hell, they even have their own media portal. That’s frigging awesome. But they aren’t really coming up on to point number 2. If you want high-quality HD content on your hard drive, well, you’d be out of luck if you were looking to get it by legal means. So that leaves the Pirate Bay and Mininova. Again, the networks aren’t really understading the nature of the vaccuum, methinks. They probably thinking, “Well, what more do you want? We already put the show up on the web for you, what more do you want from us?”

Well, I’ll tell you. Is it really that hard to wrap your minds around the idea that maybe, just maybe, there are people who have computers connected to their TVs instead of cable boxes? Is that so hard to understand? And, an even bigger maybe, maybe they all have HDTVs connected to computers, and so want their HD content in 1080p? Is that so tough? Well, I suppose for the networks, it is. Stupid bunch of old fogies in suits arguing over whether Aruba is better than Hawaii (it so is). Get some work done.

Written by Sri

January 12, 2009 at 9:47 PM

Posted in Musings

On Longer Amounts of Schooling

This is about how much snow remains on the ground in our area the day after snow falls, even if the rest of the Philadelphia area has over 5 feet on top of them. It's not fair.

So, recently, I got to wondering why, exactly, our district decided it was going to cut the length of Thanksgiving and Winter breaks, start our year earlier, and end it later. I mean, aren’t we already suffering enough? Don’t we have enough overachievers to live with? If the district keeps this up, we are going to have a spate of children collapsing, or hallucinating, or even dying due to lack of sleep. No joke. This goes with what I’ve been saying about the culture of staying up late to finish work that really isn’t that pressing and/or overstudying that is far too common. I personally know three (3) girls that are probably going to suffer mental breakdowns sometime in the next 12 months and spend the rest of their lives stuck in some mental hospital somewhere gibbering to themselves, "Must… review… one… last… time…"

Dear Superintendent:

As a heartfelt plea from the entirety of our district, let me say that you are completely off your rocker with this. I understand that part of the new teachers’ contract you recently hammered out calls for more instructional days (I’m gonna be talking to teachers next (what were they thinking?)), but that is no reason to quietly acquiesce to their incoherent demands! What, you want to be stuck here during the third week of June, sweating bullets in a hot office while not more than five minutes’ walk away, there are 1500 angry teenagers who are missing out on some of the best days of their lives? Really? I mean, think about this for half a second. Our district is supposed to be known for its amazing ability to instill thinking skills instead of facts into its students. As in, I think we’ve won an award for that or some such thing. You’d think that the people running this thinking mill would actually do some thinking themselves. I implore you, dear sir/madam, think hard about what you are doing to the people that rely on you to be a good person, the people who rely on you to give them their days off. You already are a cold-hearted snow lover, and apparently wish all your constituency to be the same, therefore sending us out into the cold snow when every other school on the Main Line closes up shop. I mean, we really aren’t that more important than everyone else. We get the same snow (though for us it never seems to stick quite as much :-( ) as they do, so why shouldn’t we get the same schedule and snow days as they do?

But, then, I can’t just go about my ranting without there being a clincher, now can I? No, I suppose not. There has to be a special pièce de résistance. And here it is: Not only are they making the year longer, there are entire months during which we, the student body, have no days off. Now, I can see you smirking, "What are you talking about? We already have those." No, no we don’t. Every month, there is at least one built-in day off. Don’t believe me? Go look at the district calendar your parents no doubt have hanging somewhere in your house. Now, next year, the months of October and February are completely day-off free. Nobody, from the poor little kindergarteners up to the seniors in high school is going to get a day off, barring a snow day. Argh. Don’t even get me started on the injustice of snow days, people. I mean, you’d think they’re the best things ever, right? But they’re not. Those lost instructional days have to be made up somehow, because as evidenced by the new teachers’ contract that started all this trouble, our faculty has somewhat of a moral obligation completely lacking in every other district faculty in the world to be there for their students all those 182 days of instruction. Even if that means pushing the year back through the third week of June. That is a 7.5% reduction in summer vacation, people. Not cool. Not cool at all.

Incidentally, here’s the pdf of the 2009-2010 calendar, for your incensed perusal. Have fun.

Written by Sri

January 6, 2009 at 10:20 PM

Posted in Musings

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