Smartphones and Opinions

Although I’m the type of person that usually despises doing something on a smartphone or tablet when it could be more efficiently and more easily done using a computer, I think it’s pertinent to inform you that I am currently writing this post from my brand new iPhone 6. There, it’s out there, I’m an Apple user. I’ll put a break in the text here for those of you who need a moment to process this.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, and before I get into the topic of this post, I feel obligated to defend myself for choosing a side in one of the most vitriolic and polarized debates of our time.
Here are some of the reasons I chose to get another iPhone:

  • I like the operating system, it’s familiar and I like knowing how to use my phone.
  • It comes in a pretty champagne color.
  • It interfaces nicely with my other apple devices.
  • I like it. That’s literally all that should matter.

Also, for those of you that care, I owned Droid before I ever had an iPhone, so I’ve tried both and made a decision based on my experiences and numerous online reviews and comparisons.

Tangential rambling out of the way, I’d like to discuss a question that’s been bothering me for a while: Why the heck are people so concerned with what other people like, do, or spend their money on?
You have a Galaxy? Cool. That’s nice, that means your texts will show up on my phone in green speech bubbles rather than blue. You have an iPhone 6+? Why do you need a phone that big? But, good for you and remember not to put it in your back pocket. You have a Nokia brick phone from the Stone Age? You’re probably gonna survive the zombie apocalypse. Also what’s your high score on Snake? I secretly admire and envy your ability to exist untethered to the omnipresent force known as 3G.
This unnecessary concern with other people’s lives extends far beyond phones. I recently read an article enumerating why adults shouldn’t be reading young adult fiction, which frankly, left me at a loss for words. No human has the authority to tell someone what they can or can’t like. If you want to read the Fault in our Stars and watch the movie until you can recite it and buy all sorts of merchandise branded with the “Okay? Okay.” speech bubble thing, you can absolutely do that regardless of whether or not some snooty English professor approves. If you want to invest your time and money into watching makeup tutorials on YouTube and attempting to recreate Taylor Swift’s VMA smoky eye look, once again, 100% up to you. If you want to spend hundreds of hours recreating King’s Landing in Minecraft, by all means do so, and please share your server IP with me.

I’ve heard many complaints, from different people, all along the lines of “Why does she own so many pairs of shoes, who really wears that many different shoes?” or “Why would you spend so much on concert tickets” or my personal favorite “A new video game costs HOW MUCH?!?!” all of which are usually followed by some proposed “better use” for that money. After hearing enough of these criticisms, I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone has their thing that they spend time or money on, that most other people may not understand and will likely judge.  As long as you have that money to spend, and it’s not interfering with your ability to buy food or pay your rent, you should be free to spend it on whatever you like.

The fact that I bought an iPhone doesn’t make your Galaxy work any differently, it doesn’t mean that I think you should own an iPhone instead, it means that I liked one product better than it’s competition and decided to purchase that product. Likewise, a middle-aged woman reading Divergent is not bringing down the collective intelligence of our society, it’s a woman reading a book that she likes. Illegal, illicit, and morally questionable activities aside, I cannot fathom why anyone is so interested in what someone else enjoys or or purchases.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new Assassin’s Creed game to buy. Just kidding, I need to buy gas instead.

Advertisements

Is dumping ice water on your head really helping?

By now, unless you’ve completely abstained from social media for the past two weeks, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge. The premise is simple: someone nominates you for this challenge, and you have the option of filming yourself dumping a bucket of ice water on your head, posting that video, and nominating three friends for the challenge, or not completing the challenge, and donating to the ALS foundation. There are variations of the challenge that specify amounts the nominee needs to donate if they choose not to do the challenge, and some that you have to donate if you do the challenge and donate more if you don’t.

In the wake of this trend, I’ve seen quite a bit of backlash complaining about the annoying videos, complaining about wasting water, or even, and I kid you not, complaining that this challenge is taking away from other charities. My major complaint is that these videos, while spreading awareness, are also spreading Vertical Video Syndrome. For the love of God people, please just record videos horizontally. Maybe because I’m a bit of a narcissist and I think the internet could benefit from my opinion, or maybe because I’ve convinced myself that people actually want to hear my opinion, I’ve decided to once again, use my blog as my own little soapbox, and pretend that people are listening. So here are my problems with the challenge:

  • How the heck do you donate?
    The vast majority of the challenges I’ve seen, contain a video (none of which I’ve actually watched, because I have no desire to watch people dumping water on themselves) and then a caption with some variation of “I’ve been nominated by [friend] for the ALS ice bucket challenge. I nominate friends X, Y, and Z. You have 24 hours to post your video or you have to donate.”
    Ok cool, but out of the dozens of videos from my friends alone, only ONE has posted a link of where to donate. Maybe put the two minutes of effort into finding out where to donate, because I think that people are much less likely to donate if they have to figure out where and how to donate themselves. If this really matters to you, find the link and make it easy for people to donate.
    Here’s the link for that.
  • Does anyone really know what ALS is?
    How many people are actually going to take the time to read about ALS and find out what it is? Two arguments can be made here. One is that even if one person takes the time to do the research and become more informed, that makes a difference. Alternatively, the argument can be made that it doesn’t really matter. Whether or not I understand what ALS is does not affect the research being done, or the value of a donation. Still, if I’m going to advocate or raise money for something, then I want to understand it and know how my money is going to be used.
    Here is a brief, concise explanation of ALS for those of us who don’t like squishy sciences.
    And another, slightly more in-depth look at ALS.
    To make things more tangible or more relatable, here’s an article about how one of the greatest minds of our generation has lived with ALS for nearly 50 years. (Let’s be real, I just wanted to talk about Stephen Hawking.)
  • You’ve been nominated.
    Maybe this is just me, but when I’m told that I have to give away money or pour ice on my head, my initial reaction is something along the lines of: “just try and make me.” I’ve always been a bit rebellious, and quite frankly, I don’t think anyone likes being told that they have to do one of two unpleasant things. I understand this is for charity, but I still don’t like being told what to do.

Time for a change of pace, let’s talk about the positive side of things.

  • Virality. 
    Think back to this past winter, when the Cold Water Challenge was making its rounds of the internet. Was there a cause attached to it? No. At least, not from my understanding, I mean, I didn’t watch those videos either. People jumped in cold water for the sake of jumping in cold water and it spread like wildfire. There’s an enjoyable aspect to doing something mildly unpleasant and then watching your friends do the same thing. This Ice Bucket Challenge is a fantastic use of something that will plague the internet anyway; I love that someone thought to use it as a vehicle to raise awareness.
    I’ve heard a lot of “just donate money, you don’t need to dump water on yourself.” Um no, dumping cold water on yourself is what makes this fun, shareable, and ultimately, viral. $15M doesn’t get raised by just donating money, it gets raised by giving people incentive, and making it fun and interactive.
  • Research funding.
    Remember the $15M I mentioned earlier? Yeah, that.
  • I got to see Henrik Lundqvist dump water on himself.
    This doesn’t need an explanation.

The undeniable fact is that this challenge is raising money and awareness. Anyone in the sciences can attest to the fact that money fuels research. No funding means no salaries for those doing the research, no lab equipment, no access to the necessary facilities. The truth of the matter is that science is incredibly expensive, and research needs funding.
Yes, there are people doing this just for the likes and the comments. Yes, the plague of vertically filmed video is spreading. Yes, this is getting slightly annoying. but you know what else is even more annoying? I would guess living with ALS.

To answer the question posited in the title: yes, dumping ice water on your head is really helping. Now if you would excuse me, I have been nominated, so I’m going to go find a bucket.

This needs a better title

This is just gonna be a short update on what’s going on with this blog.

Initially, I started blogging as a creative outlet. I enjoy writing, it’s something I’d like to think I’m relatively good at, and I like the idea that I can share my thoughts with anyone willing to listen (or read, in this case.) I realize I haven’t posted for two weeks, and that’s not for lack of creativity or effort. At this point, I think I have as many drafts saved as I have actual posts; sometimes a thought will be rattling around my head for a couple days, and when I finally go to write it down, it ends up being two short paragraphs that just trail off into nothing.
Sometimes, I just don’t have anything to write about, and if I do, thanks to my abysmal time management skills, I might not get around to writing about that idea until a week or so later. I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve abandoned this blog (although my previous, nearly two-year hiatus might imply otherwise.)
I really do enjoy blogging, and I’m going to try to be more disciplined and post on a more regular basis.

I just wanted to give a little update to anyone eagerly awaiting my next idiosyncratic travel story. Sorry if this is a little disjointed; I’m tired and I don’t feel like proofreading.

Attitudes.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned and relearned a very important lesson: you can’t always control your situation, but you can always control your attitude. Actually, I think it’s safe to say that we usually don’t have control over the situations in our lives, if we think we have control over a situation, we probably have control over one element of that situation, not the situation as a whole.
Back to the point. There are situations in our lives when we can choose to wallow in self-pity, let our anger fester, or make the decision to be happy and look on the bright side.

The first example of this comes from my trip to Thailand last September. (Wow, huge shocker, she’s using another travel story. Yeah, I know. I can’t promise that I’ll ever stop talking about traveling. Sorry if it’s getting old. Actually no, I’m not sorry. #sorrynotsorry.)
Anyway, we were a few days into our trip through Thailand, and our plans for the night were to stay in floating bungalows in Khao Sok National Park.

Our home for the night in Khao Sok.

Our home for the night in Khao Sok.

It was a really incredible experience, but I’m jumping ahead a bit. At this point, a half-hour boat trip stood between us and the floating bungalows. This requires some explaining: our boat was nothing fancy, it had maybe five or six benches that sat three across and was covered with a very weathered tarp; it served the purpose of ferrying guests from the docks to their accommodations on the lake. We set out from the docks, and within twenty minutes, what had started as a partly cloudy day ended up looking like something like this:IMG_1629I LOVE extreme weather so at first I thought it was pretty cool, but pretty soon, the combination of pouring rain and incessant wind made for some cold, unhappy campers. I was still enjoying the experience until I realized that the deluge was soaking my backpack, and although I had tied my DSLR in a grocery bag and buried it deep (or what I thought was deep) inside my luggage, I feared for its safety.  I did my best to keep my backpack dry, but when rain is barraging you from every angle and water is pooling in the bottom of the boat, that’s a difficult task. At this point, I was just grateful that I had left most of my other electronics behind. Long story short, the above photo was one of the last ones taken by that camera. Fortunately my memory card was water-resistant, so all my pictures were undamaged, but the same couldn’t be said for the camera.
It’s probably obvious that at this point that I was pretty bummed out; I had saved for a long time for that camera, and although I’d had it for nearly three years and had used it to take thousands of pictures, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I was faced with a decision at this point, I could mope about losing my camera and be a Debbie Downer for the rest of the trip, or I could use my old, dented, little point-and-shoot, which somehow worked despite having a cracked screen and having been subject to the same conditions, and enjoy the rest of the trip. It was difficult, but ultimately relieving to choose to enjoy the rest of the trip, rather than dwelling on the loss of a material possession.

Well, that’s not hard, right? Right. I had travel insurance, and at that point I still thought my camera was covered, (which it wasn’t. Thanks Allianz.) I like to think that this was just a warm-up for what was to come in New Zealand.

It’s necessary to make another side note here: I’ve been dreaming of visiting New Zealand since my obsession with Lord of the Rings began, which was nearly a decade ago. I’ve read the books, seen the movies (extended editions, of course) hundreds of times, and watched all the bonus footage, behind the scenes stuff, and commentaries. I may have had a problem, but that’s beside the point; traveling to New Zealand was a dream come true for me.
After our finals, three of my friends and I embarked on our long-anticipated trip to the north island, home of Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom in the films) and more importantly, the Hobbiton movie set. Needless to say, I was more than a little excited. Our first day went according to plan, we had a rather relaxed day exploring Auckland, with a lot of walking and sightseeing. The second day began with the four of us walking from our hostel to a car rental place, where we picked up the small, white, hatchback that was to be our transportation for the rest of the trip. We drove a bit out of Auckland to see the famous black sand beaches, which were beautiful, and then after getting groceries and some much-needed coffee, we decided to visit a monument called One Tree Hill. Honestly, after what happened next, I don’t even remember why it was important.

This was where we parked. Note the sheep everywhere. It seemed very safe.

This was where we parked. There were sheep everywhere.

IMG_1471

One Tree Hill from where we parked.

I feel like I go into unnecessary detail every time I tell this story, so I’ll skip over the details for brevity’s sake. We walked up to the summit of the hill, where the monument itself stood, and spent a good ten minutes or so taking pictures before a surprisingly sudden and also surprisingly brief rainstorm sent us running down the hill to the shelter of our car. When we got to our car, we discovered this:

IMG_1501

My initial response: “Crap, we’re gonna have to pay for that.”

The broken glass was the least of our concerns; there should be three backpacks in this picture.

The broken glass was the least of our concerns; there should be three backpacks in this picture.

After a few moments of panic and several pricy phone calls from the only remaining, and fortunately internationally enabled iPhone, we made a list of what was missing. The list consisted of three iPhones, two iPads, a MacBook Pro, a telephoto lens, my wallet, and two passports. Another side note:  this happened on Thanksgiving, so the embassy was closed; we had called the police and the car rental company, but as far as the biggest issue, the passports, there was nothing more we could do that day.
The events of that day left us all emotionally drained and defeated. I vividly remember sitting in a Wedny’s in Auckland, dipping my fries in my frosty, praying that I would eventually make it back to the states, and wondering what the heck we were going to do. After a good deal of silent, defeated stress-eating, one of my friends pointed out that everything that had been stolen could be replaced, no real damage had been done, and nobody had been hurt. In any other situation, I would have considered the following conversation incredibly cheesy, but  we sat there talking about what we were thankful for. What stuck with me was: “Well, at least this sets the bar pretty high for the worst Thanksgiving ever.” and “At least this didn’t happen in Thailand.” That conversation set the tone for the rest of the trip. With a little rescheduling, we were able to fit in almost all of our planned sightseeing and activities, and the next day we got our passports and continued on our way. We accepted the fact that our belongings were gone, but didn’t let it affect the rest of our trip. There was no way I was gonna let some jerk ruin my Hobbiton experience (which was awesome, by the way.)

Bag End of Bagshot Row.

Bag End of Bagshot Row.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s easy to look on the bright side and embrace a positive attitude, or that I’m always able to simply choose happiness regardless of my situations. I also understand that there are circumstances in which having a positive attitude is incredibly difficult. What I’m saying is this: next time you find yourself wallowing in self-pity or getting irrationally angry, just think about how it’s affecting you and try to approach it differntly.
Or try getting a snack, I know I get pretty cranky when I’m hungry.

Just an aside about what happened in New Zealand: I could not believe how kind and apologetic people were when they heard about what happened. One woman, after overhearing one of my friends talking on the phone to his parents, offered us free accommodation for two nights and was absolutely wonderful to us. Despite the robbery, we had an incredible time there and I would go back in a heartbeat.

The Woman on the Plane

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past few years, and especially during my time abroad, it’s that complaining accomplishes nothing. No amount of whining will change crappy weather, lower horrendously high prices, or get you more leg room on an Air Asia flight. I fully came to this realization after I was caught in a sudden and intense rainstorm that destroyed my DSLR camera, and was forced with the decision of whining about it and letting it ruin my trip, or choosing to enjoy the rest of my time in the country despite what had happened. (That actually ties in quite well with an entirely separate blog post that’s been rattling around my head for a couple days, so more on that later.)

I had spent the previous four days in Cairns, a city in Queensland, Australia, about the size of Syracuse that is best known for its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. In those four days, I had gone scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, held a koala, pet a kangaroo, jumped out of a plane at 15,000ft, and was able to check four items off my bucket list in as many days.
I will now take this opportunity to share pictures of my trip:

IMG_1216

Feeding a wallaby

DSC_8301

Scuba diving. (I’m in the center)

A PHOTOS  053

Trying not to vomit or cry.

A PHOTOS  056

The most terrifying moment of my life and seriously regretting every decision that led up to this moment.

No longer regretting all my decisions leading up to this moment.

No longer regretting all my decisions leading up to this moment.

Anyway, on to the main point; a story I fondly refer to as “The Woman on the Plane.”
Despite what the title implies, and despite the fact that I was stuck in the middle seat (because who’s gonna pay the extra $10 to choose their seat? Not this girl) I had an uneventful flight back to Sydney. Weather in Cairns had caused a bit of a delay in departure, but we made the trip in the allotted three hours and landed maybe twenty minutes after the initial 8:00pm arrival time.  To my surprise, it was raining pretty heavily when we arrived in Sydney, which had apparently caused a delay of sorts.

This is also where the story gets interesting.
After our flight landed and we had been waiting on the tarmac for only a few minutes, one of the flight attendants got on the PA system and announced that due to weather related delays, three flights in front of us were still waiting to unload and that we would have to wait roughly 20 minutes for a bay. This, of course, was followed by the typical “please keep your tray tables fastened and keep your seats in the upright position.” I’m still not sure if they expect anyone to follow that rule, I’m guessing they’re just legally obligated to say it. Anyway, before I could even grab my book and make myself comfortable, the woman next to me, who had been nothing short of amiable the entire trip had a sudden change of demeanor, sighed VERY audibly, pushed the button on the side of her chair, and forced it into the reclined position with an exclamation of “Well that’s bull****!” and continued to complain loudly to her husband, who was sitting across the aisle from her. Now is a good time to note that we were close enough to the front of the plane that the flight attendants could clearly overhear everything this woman was saying. After maybe fifteen minutes of waiting (reminder that our wait was estimated to be 20 minutes) the woman shouted to the front: “HEY! How about an update!? I’m sick of sitting here like a bunch of IDIOTS!” A young man, roughly my age, turned around a very politely informed her that it was likely our situation had not changed, and that he was sure we would be updated as soon as the captain received any information on the situation. That only irritated her further and she turned to her husband with: “Why are Australians so f***ing passive?! And why do you never take my side on things? You’re just sitting there doing nothing!” Her poor husband responded with a rather unenthusiastic “Yeah! Tell us what’s going on….”

Long story short, we ended up sitting there for another hour and a half, as other flights were connecting or for whatever reason, had a more dire need to unload their passengers.  Due to this woman’s incessant prattling, I couldn’t concentrate on my book, and even if I had to be able to, it was much more entertaining to listen to her lose her mind.  I can’t remember the precise order of events, but I’m going to try to highlight the most memorable parts. The sentences: “we’re just sitting here like a bunch of IDIOTS”, “I just want to know what’s going on”,  and “this is terrible customer service, I PAID for this flight” were uttered probably half a dozen times each. Towards the end of our wait, it had devolved into complaining that she wasn’t going to make it to the grocery store and engaging in ridiculous hypotheticals, such as: “What if we had someone picking us up? They would just be waiting there. They would have been waiting for us for two hours. TWO HOURS. And what would we tell them?! WE don’t even know what’s going on!” After the flight attendants began to ignore her complains, she repeatedly jabbed the button that calls for the flight attendants, and when that was ignored, there was some “What if something was seriously wrong? I could be hurt! I could be dying. Are they really gonna ignore that?! What if something had happened to me!?!” At this point, I think it’s safe to say that everyone on the flight had wished something had happened to her.
Eventually, around 10:30PM, our flight docked, and to no surprise of mine, she was the first one standing, wrestling her luggage out of the overhead bin.
It was at this point that I did something incredibly out of character. Knowing I would never see this woman again, as the line began to move, I turned to her and said “Oh look, all your complaining got us a bay” and gave her the coldest stare I could muster (which wasn’t hard, apparently my tired face looks angry to begin with.) For a brief moment, I thought she was going to slap me, but she turned to her husband and loudly complained about how “kids these days are so f***ing disrespectful!” Her blood pressure must have been through the roof by the end of that wait; I can only imagine how fun she is when otherwise inconvenienced.

I feel like I should wrap this up nicely with a summary or a lesson about negativity and complaining, but I’ll just leave it at this: don’t be the woman on the plane.

Gender Stereotypes, Homeschooling, and Math

Ask any little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, and the vast majority will respond with a princess, ballerina, a mommy, or something along those lines. I think it’s safe to say that answers such as a police officer or astronaut (my and my sister’s responses, respectively) fall pretty far from the norm. 
I grew up in an environment where gender stereotypes, specifically relating to intelligence and education, simply didn’t exist. If they did exist, I wasn’t aware of them.

Before I dive into this, I should probably clarify that there’s nothing wrong with girls wanting to pursue traditionally feminine occupations, I’m just relaying my experiences as a child and my opinion on how that affected my choice of undergraduate major and subsequent career path.

We’ve all heard the generalization that girls are bad at math, right? Well I hadn’t, at least not until I went to public high school. When I was homeschooled, I absolutely hated doing school and I spent the majority of my childhood fighting with my mom about doing my work. My lack of self-motivation could be an entire blog post in itself, but I’ll ignore that for now. I don’t know if I’m naturally good or bad at math, but that didn’t matter because I had to learn it anyway. When I struggled with math or science, I didn’t get pity, I didn’t get coddled, and never once did I get even the slightest hint that my lack of understanding was in any way related to my gender. I just had to work harder and figure out whatever wasn’t making sense. When a girl (or anybody, I’m just continuing with this example) is told that she’s inherently bad at math, she loses motivation in that subject. Why would she invest time or effort in a subject in which she would never be able to excel? If I had been exposed to this idea when I was younger, I probably would have given up when it came to fractions. 

I graduated with a degree in physics and a minor in math. Is that because I’m smart? No. Is that because I’m naturally good at math? No. It’s because when I encountered a problem in math, I had to figure it out; there was always a solution, it was just a matter of being able to find it. People are often intimidated by calculus when there’s actually nothing inherently difficult about calculus (at least not until you get to calc 2,) you just need the right mathematical background. If you get stuck at polynomials, and give up there, you’re never going to understand anything that builds on that concept, so of course calculus is going to seem like some sort of black magic.
I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am that my parents made me struggle through eight years of doing my own work and solving my own (academic) problems without exposing me to this sort of limitation. Now I just have to figure out what the heck I’m doing with my life.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for putting up with my somewhat rusty writing skills.  I’m trying to get back into this whole blogging thing, but it’s been a while.
Feedback is always appreciated. 🙂

Stubborn.

I’m not sure if I could find a word to describe myself better.  I’m stubborn; I don’t like to admit I’m wrong, I hate admitting I don’t know how to do something, and I loathe asking for help.

This has always been a problem for me.  I would rather blunder around, waste time, do something wrong multiple times, and eventually figure it out myself than ask for help. This summer, I spent around two weeks on a simple project that should have taken me a few days because I kept doing it wrong, starting over, and I absolutely refused to ask for help.

To some (probably most) students, going to office hours is as simple as: “Hey, I don’t understand this question, here’s how I tried to solve it, I got the wrong answer.  What am I supposed to be doing?”

This is how office hours usually go for me:
What I imagine: “Hello Dr _____, I’m having some trouble with number three on the homework.  I started out using these equations to find these variables, like you showed us in class, but I’m getting stuck on this step.  Can you explain it to me?”

What actually happens: “Umm, I didn’t get question three… here are numbers… can you show me how to math?” 

What’s going on in my head:
“I don’t know what I’m doing, I actually need to ask him about 3 more problems, and I should probably understand this by now.  Take notes or you’ll never remember this! Ah! He’s looking at me, he’s asking me if I get it.  Noooopppee.  I understand that equation… wait, that was given in the problem. You’re probably thinking that I’m too stupid for your class and wondering why I’m a physics major.  Oh god, I’m so embarrassed.  I’m probably super red now. Crap, my face is definitely red.  Think of something else.  Ohh, his office has a nice view of the quad.  Nope, still red. STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. Hide your face behind your hair.  How does your hair look?  Stop! You’re supposed to be paying attention.  Crap, what was he talking about? Where did he get those numbers? Get all of this in your notes! I’ve never seen that equation before…  WHAT IS THIS WITCHCRAFT?!?!?!”

Professors hold office hours so they can help us.  They understand that some students won’t understand things the first time they’re explained in class.  I am one of those students.  If I keep this up, I’m only hurting myself.  If I continue with my stubbornness, I will only fall farther and farther behind in my classes, I will continue to spend 4 hours on a single homework problem only to give up and settle for most of the work and the wrong answer.

It’s time for a change.  Tomorrow I go to office hours.