December 4, 2006

Light and Fab Labs

Well, one thing I notice that both the Khan article and the Gershenfeld articles is I don’t think I understand them. However, if, by some chance, I am interpreting at least part of them correctly, it seems to me both of them are describing using something small and/or basic to create a much more complex, impressive object. In the case of Gershenfeld, he is speaking of using some sort of (not quite) basic machine(s) to create something custom designed by the one consumer who will be using the product. They use their imagination to create the object in their mind’s eye, and they transform that image into a three dimensional object for their use.

Khan, on the other hand, is using something much more basic: light. He describes light in almost the same way Gershenfeld refers to the machines. Light is used to create spaces. Without light we would not have space. He is not talking so much about artificial light (which he claims takes away the character of a space. I completely agree with this theory.), but about the use of natural light. It is constantly creating new spaces even if technically the space has not structurally changed. It is like saying the same surgeon is capable of performing a multitude of different surgeries. The machines Gershenfeld speaks of are able to create (almost) anything, and light is capable of creating an innumerable amount of spaces.

November 20, 2006

Technopolies and A.D.D.

After reading Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, I came to understand technopolies as a tool of the powerful. Technological advances are made every day; some just happen to take a culture by storm more than others. Technopolies have the potential to rearrange our everyday lives in a positive or negative way, or possibly both at the same time.

An example Postman used in his article was the technological advancement of written language. While one man argued that written language would advance wisdom and memory, another argued that it would only aid in the destruction of memory leaving only recollection, and would, furthermore, leave only naiveté and ignorance where true wisdom once was.

One very recent technological advancement I have become aware of is the Wii Nintendo system, yet another in a long line of video game systems. Not only has the playing of video games come to monopolize many college students’ lives, but even the buying of the game system has become an ordeal in itself. I overheard several of my friends talking yesterday about camping out in the Best Buy parking lot for four days, FOUR DAYS!, just so they could get the brand new Nintendo Wii. Talk about having a stranglehold on today’s young population.

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While the youth may derive hours of fun and entertainment from each new system that is put on the market, they also lose valuable time and skills. As gaming skills go up, it seems that social skills go down. They learn to communicate with their computer chips better than they can communicate with the reality around them. Not only that, but as time spent with their new best friend increases, the amount of time and effort put into their scholarly work subsides until it becomes quite possible that they risk failing out of school. After playing countless hours of video games it seems that youth today have a very low attention span for anything that is not action packed and fast paced. When parents take their children to the doctors for just such reasons, they are diagnosed with ADD and put on Ritalin. This shouldn’t be the solution to the problem. The solution should be to stop letting your children spend so much time playing games. As Relient K was so correct in saying:

“Lately it just seems to me
like we've got the letters A.D.D.
branded into our mentality
we simply can't focus on anything?

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November 6, 2006

Athletes and Math? (Blog prompt 6)

I usually try to find something in my own life that I enjoy and then analyze it until I find a concrete way in which it relates to the proposed question. Knowing that I am, by most definitions, a jock, I decided to find a way to relate sports (one of my passions) to the proposed question this week. While I do not personally believe that all of my examples qualify as sports, there are those who would argue that, so, for the sake of simplicity, I will call them all sports. After all, each of the following examples do take a considerable amount of skill to do well at.

The first game I chose to focus on is billiards. Billiard tables definitely use mathematics in their design. There are small marks on the edge of the table that competitors can use to determine the proper angle at which to hit the cue to make it end up in the correct location. There is a series of mathematical calculations one can learn to optimize their abilities at this game.

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Bowling is yet another game that involves mathematics in its design. There are marks at the beginning of the lane so a player can determine where his/her feet should be before the release. The players must also determine the angle and/or curved path at which they should release the ball. When hitting the head and second pins, there is a small range of angles that can be used that will result in a strike.

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Volleyball, one of my favorite sports, also involves a considerable amount of mathematics in its design. I’m not just talking about the height of the net and the 30’ standard court size. The stances players use are designed to take the least amount of time to move from one position to another and minimize the distance from their center of gravity to the floor. Also, when analyzing a kill there are several mathematical factors at play. The setter must determine the proper amount of force to get the ball to the proper location. The hitter must then time the kill precisely. They must wait until the ball reaches the top of its parabolic path before beginning their approach and contact the ball just as it gets to an arm’s length above their head. It takes a considerable amount of skill to do all the proper calculations in such quick succession. When serving the ball one also must consider what angle will get the ball to the proper location and what angle will be too great and, therefore, send the ball out of bounds.

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And finally, a sport near and dear to my heart: crew. During a head race, the coxswain needs to find the shortest course down the river by using the best angles and the longest straight lines possible. In this photo you see Elliot Bridge to the left of the UM Men’s Crew team. In this case the shortest course the coxswain can take would be to go through the leftmost arch of the bridge keeping close to the buoy line and then angle straight for the right-hand shore since there is a second sharp curve in the opposite direction just after Elliot Bridge.

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While most of the calculations are made subconsciously, all of the aforementioned games and sports were designed to make the competitors find the most successful course of action which inevitably in all of these cases involves math whether they realize it or not.

October 23, 2006

For this week’s blog I was actually able to find something connected to my own life by a sport that I am really becoming very passionate about. Right here, at the University of Minnesota, I notice a resolved opposition 4-6 times every week. For UM Men’s Crew, we have practice at the boathouse just off the East River Road. My entire first year here at the “U? I didn’t know where the boathouse was or how to get there. That is excusable since the boathouse is dug neatly into the side of a hill down several rather steep hills. Therein lays the opposition. When the boathouse and the building next to it were erected the hill had to have posed a major problem. Not only is there a hill, but it is built right along the river. There lays the second opposition. They had to find a way to build the boathouse by the river while avoiding spring flooding, yet still be able to get the boats down to the river multiple times every day.

The way the problem of the hill was dealt with was to carve out part of the hill leaving a flat foundation on which to build. There are two very steep hills leading down to the boathouse from the East River Road, one of which is a switchback. I have grown to hate those hills in a very real way. Every time I reach the top of those cursed hills I wonder why I haven’t been to the doctors to get an inhaler yet. At the end of the switchback is a large flattened area on which the boathouse and another university building reside. It is high enough to avoid the all-too-common spring flooding, but that presents the problem of how to get the boats down to the river when the flooding recedes. This is not only a problem of land (the hill), but also of vertical motion. To correct that opposition, a ramp was built with lateral cross bars on the top side for traction (though they still get quite slick when it rains). This ramp is quite long and probably steeper than it should be for safety reasons, but it does solve the problem.

Now I think the biggest problem with the boathouse (**beside it being nothing more than a piece of crap tin shed) is how a person can get there. As is, you have to go down a bike path, cut down to the railroad tracks and walk down them for a while before going down the switchback service roads. To solve that problem they decided to build a completely new $4.6 million boathouse on the east river flats. I personally think that is a GREAT solution to the problem! Then again, my opinion is more than a bit biased since I would love to see better facilities for my boys and me to practice and store our equipment in.

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Above: New boathouse in August 2006 still under construction.

**When I say the boathouse is a piece of crap tin shed, I am not exaggerating in the least. It is rusted in many places, and as a cox, I know it is definitely not an ideal place for storing the shells. I have to cox the boats out of that shed every day, and trying to get the Sectional out is one of the most stressful parts of every practice for me. It is wedged into the hillside wall so tightly that if we aren’t very careful we will end up denting the stern on the shelves in the back corner. Not to mention that due to the lack of places to put our boats, we have a single hanging from the ceiling that nearly clips off the rudder every day! The shed is just long enough to fit the boats in with about six inches to spare on the bow end, so we have to be very careful when putting the boats away as well so we don’t take off bow end of the boats when we let the door down. Obviously there are a few more oppositions than I had talking about, but those will hopefully be solved with the opening of our new boathouse. :)

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Above: FL8 on Sept. 30, 2006 competing at the Head of the Des Moines.

October 22, 2006

ACTG/NVS quick observation

I don't have much time to go into detail about my latest visit to ACTG/NVS, but one thing I found interesting and a bit surprising is the way the children colored people in their pictures. I watched one little girl coloring a worksheet, and where I am used to seeing children color the skin a pink or peach color, the girl colored the people in the picture brown. I suppose that makes sense, but it is something I was not expecting at all.

October 16, 2006

Iron vs. Steel

Iron and steel were both important to the history of architecture, but there are some fundamental differences between the two materials. Iron is a natural chemical element found in the earth. Steel, on the other hand, is a metal alloy. This means simply that it is a metal mixed with other elements. In this case, it is iron mixed with a carbon base. The carbon forms a crystal latice (meaning four bonds), the strongest bond known, making it more flexible, ductile, and durable than iron alone. It also has the highest strength to weight ratio of any building material which results in less building movement. That in turn keeps the foundation from being damaged. Iron, being a level 8 chemical element, has a tendency to rust; something that does not happen with steel. Steel can be produced much cheaper than wrought iron, so it has replaced iron as the main building material, though iron is still used for decorative purposes.

(Most of the information used was learned from Mr. Tom Buchanan during high school chemistry and physics courses.)

October 11, 2006

ACTG/NVS week 1

Today was my first day of volunteering at ACTG/NVS. I was assigned to the third grade class to help with reading, spelling, and vocabulary. Some of the children are rather unruly and the teacher seemed very stressed. I really was not sure what to expect out of the students, but I was definately taken by surprise when I realized my student had a reading level below what I had at the age of 6. The first book we read the student had problems with even some simple three-letter words. The next book the student chose was a painful experience to sit through. It was way too hard for the child's reading level, and I had to watch as he struggled through while helping him as best I could. The teachers and assistants were too busy keeping track of the children to tell me that the student was supposed to choose a level A-C book, not a level G.

Vocabulary and spelling work was difficult for some of the children as well. We were working mainly with four-letter words, and a few five- or six-letter words. The specific area of concentration was vowel sounds. These third grade children, 9-year-olds, still did not know basic short vowel sounds. I had to explain the difference between a vowel and a consonant. Even after I told the child the sound a short /u/ makes, I had to remind him at least five more times throughout the course of the exercise, and several more times while reading the book.

I was also surprised that many of the students seemed very eager to learn. Yes, they had to be told to stay in their seats and do their work, but the vast majority of them seemed quite content to work on their vocabulary and spelling worksheets. Probably the most surprising thing to me was that the students were not timid about volunteers being there. In fact, some students actually came up, tapped me on the shoulder, and asked if I could help them with their work! There were so many students who genuinely wanted to learn that even with three of us there, we still did not have time to help every child who asked. As we were trying to leave there were still students stopping us and asking for help. I felt bad having to say I will see them next week and if they ask, I will help them then, but I had to get the three of us volunteers back to campus for classes.

Being a charter school, the class sizes are a bit large, but it they are still better than the public school where I am from. The majority of the student body is African-American and, from what I have been told, below the poverty level. They don't get to do much learning and reading at home, so when a volunteer comes in to help out, they actually ENJOY the opportunity to get a little extra help. I know when I was in elementary and even up through my current schooling status, I never liked asking for help. It seems that these children live for days when they have volunteers in the classroom.

October 8, 2006

High School Phenomenon

Presumably we have all been to high school, and unless we pay no attention at all to what is going on around us, we all have noticed the same phenomenon no matter where we went to school: victims of harassment fighting back.

As we go through our pre-collegiate years, everyone has been privy to, and most likely part of, an act of harassment. Whether it was on the giving or receiving end is a personal matter that is neither here nor there. We all know there are those groups, usually females (not to be sexist), who believe that they are superior to other people (also usually females) and so assert that superiority in the form of teasing and other means of harassment.


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Based on that paragraph we can already determine the ‘things’ and ‘frameworks’ of the phenomenon in question. The ‘things’ are people; high school females in particular. The framework is set up as a large group of dominant females with one weaker female who is an outsider.

Clockwork is an important part of any phenomenon. In this case, it may not be considered an accurate clockwork that we could keep any kind of time by, but it is a repetitive series of events. The group of overconfident females (we will call them Group A) sets its sights on a single female (we will call her Girl A). Group A will have a specific time every day when they will see Girl A whether it be in a class, during lunch, in the halls between classes, or during practice after school. During this time every day Group A will tease and harass Girl A until either the time is up and they have to be somewhere else, or until Girl A has had too much and breaks down. This will go on for days, weeks, months, or even years.

Here is where the phenomenon occurs. Eventually, Girl A will get so sick of the torment that she will either (a) lose her temper completely in a way more fitting for a dominant female than one of the passive role she had been playing which will make her tormentors think twice about victimizing her again, or (b) get so used to the monotony that she no longer responds to the taunting of Group A. This does not occur overnight. It takes time and the steady fuel of harassment that is the clockwork. When this phenomenon finally does happen, Group A will move on to another victim (whom we will call Girl B). The same clockwork will happen with Girl B until she finally reacts in her own way to the chosen activities of Group A.

In its own way, life is a clockwork that produces many phenomenon throughout its course. If you look carefully, I’m sure you can find many of these clockworks and phenomena occurring in your own life even at this very moment. So look around you and see what has been there all along.

October 2, 2006

Meeting Someone New

As assigned, I attempted to meet new people. Last weekend, two of my roommates and I went downstairs to meet someone. I, as the DD, was not drinking, but my roommates had been. They noticed someone living on the floor below us had their window open as we were walking from the parking lot back to our apartment, so they decided to stop by the window and talk to the people. We were invited to go down to their room and visit for a while, so we did that. The guy we were talking to is named Nick. We didn't stay long because my roommates wanted to get back up to our room.

Over this past weekend, however, I met a lot of new people. I just recently joined the crew team, so I didn't know more than about five people on a team of over 30. We had our first regatta this weekend in Des Moines. It is pretty hard not to meet knew people when you spend 10 hours in a van with 7 people you don't know, and all day Saturday with a team full of people who know you because you are one of two girls on the team even though you don't know who they are. Now the biggest problem is going to be remember who everyone is. When I meet that many people in that short of a time span, my brain pretty much goes on overload and shutdown. It will be interesting to see how long it takes me to remember everyone, especially the 8 guys in the boat that I cox.

September 29, 2006

Meaningful Places

As a child, there was always one place I would go when I was upset or scared: the little coat closet in the corner of the remotest room of the house. When I was young, I always referred to that little closet as the Pouting Room. This is still a very special place to me even though it is no longer there. I remember vividly the two green raincoats and the bright yellow spring jacket along with my mother’s long evening jackets. I remember there was a stack of four table leaves under the coats hanging against the south wall and a string hanging down behind the jackets to turn on the light which I could barely reach while jumping. Oddly enough it is only the south wall of that closet that I can remember. Of course, that is where I spent most of my time when I frequented that little 4’ x 4’ room.

I always thought I was so clever hiding there when I was upset; I thought no one would ever find me. My mother, being the intelligent woman she is, always knew to give it a little time to make it seem like my plan was working, and then come find me. She always knew exactly where I was: On top of the table leaves under the jackets against the south wall of the closet where no one could see me. I would always have the door closed and the light off.

I know a lot of you reading this probably think that is just about the strangest place to think of as meaningful, but I guess that’s the way my game played out. For me the genius loci of this place are the feelings of comfort and safety while most other people would say it’s just a normal closet; maybe even smaller than most. Because of that room, to this day I still love small spaces. They are something on the line of a safety blanket for me. If I am ever upset about anything, I will go find the smallest space that is readily available and sit there until I can face the world again. To me, that closet is a very powerful place.

Note from the author: Sorry there are no images of this place. It no longer exists except in my memory. Using a picture of a different coat closet wouldn’t do my memories justice.

September 24, 2006

Social Design Issue

In the town where I grew up, there is a little public park dubbed the Kiddy Park. It is nice for any town to have one of these, so I commend Colby for taking the initiative to keep it nice and updated. The problem comes in when you look at the location of the Kiddy Park. It is located just outside all the bars on First Street in “downtown? (for all of you city people, that term would make you laugh) Colby and the railroad tracks. What is this meant to promote? That children should get used to being near bars and people who have been drinking? That it’s okay for parents to leave their children unattended at a public park while they go to one of the several bars along the street to have a quick drink before driving themselves and their children back home? I know for a fact that young children can walk right into the bars from the park with no questions asked to see if they can find their parents or to order a soda or some food. To me this seems very unsafe: a child walks into a bar full of people who have been drinking on the off chance that they chose the correct bar and will maybe find their parents there. To sum this up, I must say kudos to Colby for having a place for the children to enjoy, but I think a little more thought should have went into choosing a safe and proper environment.

September 18, 2006

Midtown Market

Energy, for lack of a better explanation, is what makes things go. Without energy, there would be no motion, no progress, and no productivity. When observing the Midtown Market, the most apparent, and also most interesting, form of energy I saw came from the people themselves. Of course, if there were no people there would still be energy there as there is energy nearly everywhere, but the people bring a different kind of energy. They add character and charisma to the place.

From the moment you step out of your car (or whichever mode of transportation suits you best) you can see the energy in the place. If you were to turn off the sound as you would mute a television program, you still know there is energy in the place. People are bustling around from place to place, talking animatedly with whoever stands next to them. Money exchanges hands as goods are bought. But it goes beyond just seeing the energy. If you were to close your eyes in the middle of the market, you would still know there is a great deal of energy there. The constant babble of voices fills the air, the sound of the Midtown Market Station carries over the din. It feels almost as if the place itself is alive.

The energy in the market is fueled still farther by the entertainment provided by musicians and artists of different kinds. Most people don’t get too overly excited about food, but if you add live entertainment a certain atmosphere of energy is created. The artists use this energy they help create to in turn boost there energy level. Every artist plays off the crowd.

There is nothing like the Midtown Market where I am from, so it was actually a bit of a pleasant surprise to observe something like this.