When I begin a new composition, I'm sitting on an unsteady mixture of emotions. The first exhilarating rush of inspiration is followed by heavy questions: Should I focus on works in progress before turning to this new idea? Will it one day see an audience? Can it develop its own identity amidst the patterns that previous works have already etched into my thinking?
When I declare a composition finished, I'm parting with the freedom to make large, sweeping changes. As I begin to direct my efforts away from a piece, I notice myself continuing to write passages that seem to belong with it. Though I have once used such passages to return to a piece and compose another take on its theme, they usually remain only passages, with no composition to accept them.
As my compositions develop, these passages sometimes emerge from memory, ghosts coming to life to mix their voices with younger sounds. Even in my wariness of their direct influence, I can still appreciate what else they represent. They are the past's mark on me and the reminder that every composition teaches me something. Hearing them prompts me to reflect on the past; and when I do so, I finally begin to understand what I have learned.
I wonder if this is going to become an annual thing for me. I was a coaches' minion for Eastern Massachusetts again. Apparently I'm not a real coach, since I wasn't cool enough to hang out with the real coaches while everybody else went to Hershey Park to get soaked by the rain.
I was overall happier with the schedule compared to last year; the bus from Canton left on time, Thursday lunch was at 12:45 PM instead of 2:30 PM, the graders managed to get into the Bryce Jordan Center well before 9 AM, and Power Round grading finished around 2 PM instead of 3:30 PM. Our 11 PM arrival at Penn State, however, was considerably later than planned.
On Friday I helped run our Team Practice, and then I went downtown to check my e-mail. I came back to campus for ice cream at the Berkey Creamery and then for the lecture. On Saturday I participated in Power Round grading, and then I had some time to watch the conclusion of the contest, from the relays until we left halfway through the awards ceremony.
- Lots of downtown places have free wireless: McD'oh, Dunkin D'oh, Starbucks, and a Webster's Bookstore. Even the Bryce Jordan Center (where grading happens) has public wireless (essid "GoPennState"). This is great for those of us who start feeling e-mail withdrawal symptoms within half a day.
- The song contest was run by someone far more competent and prepared than I was last year. And the Ohio guy from last year won this time!
- The proportion of MIT people among the graders seems to be increasing.
- I recognized only a handful of Mathcampers among the contest participants. I feel so old now...
I've been wanting to put this up for a while, since apparently the conclusions of my last post weren't justified; I missed an important case! The bacteria *can* survive if, instead of filling space, they restrict themselves to a spherical shell!
The bacteria are able to sustain their growth while staying under the speed of light and using reasonable amounts of energy. They can even experience an unlimited amount of proper time. The downside to this is that any two bacteria in different locations will eventually lose contact with each other. This may remind you of galaxies drifting out of sight under the influence of dark energy, and that turns out to be a very similar situation.
More details below the fold. PDF forthcoming, since math in HTML is awkward.( Lots of symbol-shuffling ensues... )
Consider an n+1-dimensional flat spacetime full of n-dimensional bacteria that are:
- 1. Exponentially growing
- The rate at which a clump of bacteria increases its volume is proportional to its volume. That is, for a clump of volume V:
dV/dτ = rVWhere r is some constant and τ is time as measured by the clump of bacteria.
- 2. Incompressible
- All the bacteria are moving with some position-dependent speed β(x) to make room for their neighbors to grow. So, if a stationary observer measures a clump of bacteria to have diameter Δx at time t:
β(x + Δx) - β(x) = dΔx/dt
For exponential growth to be sustained, bacteria must be moving at the speed of light (β = 1) when they reach x = nπ/2r. Then if the speed of light is unreachable, there's no way to sustain exponential growth! A corollary is that the quiverfulls need to put a cork in it, because even going into space and colonizing Mars won't save us from the growth limit.
I will freely admit that I completely ignored gravitational time dilation, spacetime curvature, dark energy, the energy necessary to accelerate bacteria outward like that, and the horrendous pressure on the poor bacterium at x = 0. The reader is cordially invited to take any of these factors into consideration and see where that leads.
During my elementary school and middle school years, I spent a lot of time imagining a fantasy world and its events, inhabitants, and [un]natural laws. The whole thing began with some silly idea about trying to cross a bed of pointy things on an inflatable raft and gradually developed into a universe with its own mythology and pantheon.
Since about four years ago I've seldom thought about my little fictional universe, but now I'm observing that the name of its chief deity—"Vivadia"—does funny things to my head. The mere act of typing that word gave me a buzz of excitement. Few other words have that effect on me.
Piano sheet music is online, at a part of Melon Island that I've managed to raise from the dead. Orchestral sheet music will take me a bit longer to finish. That (perhaps with the exception of the first violin part) won't be posted, but I'll be happy to send it to whoever asks.
The audio is done at last! Sheet music (orchestral score, individual parts, and a slighly-updated piano solo) will take a few more days; I need to clean up the notation in Lilypond.
Since Melon Island appears to have vanished, the files are posted on my MIT space for now. I recommend the copy in Ogg Vorbis format, but if your computer can't play those, I did make MP3 files.
The piece is named after the work of two astronomers (Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler). Say, today is a good day for looking at the sky, isn't it?
- Edit A (2008-08-01 7 AM): Is the audio out of tune? It and the piano don't seem to agree, but I'm not too confident about the piano being in tune either.
- Edit B (2008-08-01 5 PM): I just remembered that the oboe in this soundfont is always flat on 3rd-line B-flat (or possibly sharp on everything above it). It sticks out a little around 00:04:20 (and I'm not sure where else).
- Edit C (2008-08-02 9 PM): Links have been moved to my Melon Island space.
Answering a yes/no question with "I don't want to talk about it" lets you see what people assume given no information. From a tiny quantity of data, it looks like they're not good at guessing correctly, nor do they seem to be consistent in choosing "yes" or "no":
- "Did you get into MIT?": people assume "no"
- "Did you two kiss?": people assume "yes"
- "Did you get a 2400 on the SAT?": people assume "yes"
I don't have an explanation for why people guess this way. Do you?
Also, a progress report on my summer activities:
- ARML: Yep. I hope I can do it again next year and be a little more useful.
- "Stella Nova": The string parts are coming along quickly, now that I can focus on it a little more. Also, woodwind parts (nowhere near done) are hard to write.
- Math: Is happening but not giving me much to say.
- Fluffies: You'll see it if/when I finish. :P
- ESP and Melon Island: No progress yet.
- OpenGL: I can draw stuff! Now I just need a model format, preferably a well-specified standard that supports skeletal animation. Meanwhile the flakiness of ATI's Linux drivers has been making me sad.
This year I went to ARML again by tagging along with the Eastern Massachusetts team. Though it's a bit different being on the other side of things, the weekend was still like a trip into the past, full of reminders of exactly what I loved and exactly what I hated about going to ARML. My strongest impression of the weekend was that—unlike when I visited the high school on the last day before December break—I still felt welcome.( Storytime... )
Anyway, congratulations to everybody—competitors, coaches, proctors, graders, and everyone else who helped to make ARML happen! I hope I'll be back next year to help again. I regret that I wasn't able to have most of my meals with a Mathcamper crowd (alas, there appeared to be no Mathcamp table at breakfast on Saturday), but it was quite wonderful to see so many of you again.
Yesterday my freshman advisor asked me whether I intended to go on to grad school. Now, "intend" is an interesting way to say it—it's better than the more commonly used "plan". The problem with "plan" is that it connotes control of the future and knowledge of what to expect. Given the uncertainty of the future and the often vague nature of ambition, I'd say "plan" isn't the most accurate word to use.
Anyway, in addition to academics, ESP, and loving this place, I had quite a few other ambitions, many of them unfulfilled. Oh, well. That's what summer is for, right?
For once my summer is almost totally blank. (Sadly, that also means no Mathcamp. My sister's going, though, and there's a small chance that I'll end up visiting.) It's a little scary with no job and no research program, especially when everybody else seems to have at least one of the two. Even though I've felt the need of an empty summer for a while now, I remain worried that it'll make me look lazy.
Considering it a different way, I feel excited; I haven't had this much unscheduled summer in years. It has therefore quickly lost its blankness as I've eagerly planned—no, "fantasized" is a better word—where my time will be spent:
- Going to ARML as a coach (coaches' minion, more accurately)
- Finishing "Stella Nova" and resuming other musical projects
- Revisiting some math problems I haven't touched since Mathcamp
- Preparing new classes for ESP
- Reviving Melon Island
- Learning OpenGL
Three months from now we'll be able to compare this fantasy to reality. Happy summer, everyone!
With the conclusion of final exams (and therefore of the school year) comes a rush of emotions—happy memories, regrets, and some less easily categorized thoughts. Now, before the arrival of grades colors my feelings, I should take a moment to do that thing I do at the end of every school year.
Academically, I still seem to be afloat, even if not always satisfied with my work. I unfortunately still haven't overcome my fear of writing big, fat papers, but maybe I made some progress in that direction.
Outside of academics, almost everything (alas, music included) went on hold for ESP. See, going to Splash four years in a row gradually gave me the idea that one day I'd teach for it. Little did I know that I'd also end up teaching for half its other programs and starting to become one of its webmasters! I'm not totally satsified with my contributions (no surprise), but... it's been a real adventure, and I'm proud of what I've managed to do so far.
It's certainly been a different experience than I had in high school, and somehow it feels like I've enjoyed it a lot more. Much of it must be due to the exciting environment—this place and these people. As for the rest, perhaps I have myself to thank. At the beginning of the year I hoped that I would always love this place, and awareness of that hope somehow stayed with me all the while—even as I struggled through quantities of work on the same order of magnitude as what I faced in high school. Maybe that perspective was all I really needed.
When I walked into physics lecture this morning, I saw at each seat a letter-size flyer titled "Instead of Wars of Starvation, Let Us Double Food Production!" (PDF). It came from the LaRouche Movement's Schiller Institute, and its message as far as I can distill it is as follows:
- Poor people riot when they don't have enough to eat
- Rich people in groups are shafting farmers and keeping production down
- This problem arises from unfettered free trade
- We should depose the rich people and double food production
In the interests of fairness, I also summarize my rant below:
- Doubling food is not a solution
- Also, Lyndon LaRouche is full of BS
- So is the flyer
What's scary here is that the movement might have supporters inside the school; somebody had to print and distribute those flyers. We do have our share of parasitic kooks who may have done this (such as Physics Hobo, who unfortunately didn't freeze this past winter), but it could have been a student or (less likely, I bet) a faculty/staff member. I hope it wasn't; the thought of one of us being ensnared disturbs me.
Now that April Fools' is over, I can warn you about leaving voice mail on my cell phone:
- I don't check my voice mail all that often.
- My name isn't actually "Wasserman London".
The number is the same as before, in case you thought there was a real Wasserman London from whom I'd stolen a cell phone. I assure you nobody would be so cruel as to name their kid that.
- After a semester's worth of weekly trips to Harvard Square, I've lost all pity for hobos. The sketchy guy playing Yahoo games in the ESP office didn't exactly help.
- Does anybody else find the name "Operation Just Cause" (U.S. invasion of Panama, 1989) to be inappropriately hilarious?
- I still don't understand the idea that the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge is forbidden for the residents of Eden. It makes me think I'd prefer Hell.
- Neither do I understand why I keep seeing paper in trash cans right next to recycling bins. Bright blue must not be obvious enough.
- My dream house has no doors. That way people can't stand outside the doors and smoke.
By some incredible stroke of luck, the skies are really clear tonight. So I went out and watched the Geminids. The nearest wide-open observing location is next to the Stony Brook school, and that's never dark. I wonder if I should write them a letter asking them to turn off the lights after 11pm; that's light pollution and a waste of energy.
Anyhow, the Geminids were pretty cool. As a bonus, Mars is pretty bright and near Gemini this month. (Alas, I still seem to be colorblind to the night sky; I had to point and ask my dad, "Is that dot red?" The speed with which he answered tells me he found it rather obvious. I guess I'm missing out on something.)
It surprised me how fast they moved (though apparently Wikipedia calls them "medium speed"). In an hour I saw about 8, one of which may have been a background meteor, since its direction of travel was wacky. That's pretty good for a location like the school parking lot, particularly given that we haven't reached the peak of activity yet. According to some sources the peak occurs tomorrow night, but that's cloudy here. I'll try again Friday night.
It is indeed wise to dress warmly for watching meteors. Even in a thick coat and snow pants, I was feeling cold after an hour (and sleepy—but that's something I don't know how to fix, short of bringing lots of caffeine or sleeping all afternoon the day before). Also, really thick gloves and boots would have helped; my hands and feet were the first parts that started feeling cold. I suspect a sleeping bag would solve that problem too, so I'm bringing out one of those for the Quadrantids (which happen for a few days after New Year's and peak on January 3rd).
There are a few situations when "sorry" and "thanks" would be roughly equally appropriate things to say. What I should have realized long ago is that "thanks" seems to make people happier. Preferably with a smile, since facial expressions tend to rub off on other people.
Something else to note about smiles: ESP had a booth in Lobby 10, at which we were attempting to persuade passerby to teach for Splash. I tried to get people's attention by smiling at them. Occasionally people seemed to find it uncomfortable, while a few others actually stopped to look at our posters and such. The remainder mostly smiled back somewhat weakly... but after they'd turned to face forward again, I noticed several of them breaking out into much wider smiles.
I could speculate for a long time about why what might be called the peak of the smile doesn't occur until after eye contact ends. Does a smile take that long to sink in? Or is it being blocked at a conscious or subconscious level by the eye contact itself?
Perhaps, though, what we should learn from this is that smiles really can make people happy, even if just for a moment. After all, once eye contact ends, who's there to see the smile at its fullest? Only the person doing the smiling is guaranteed to experience it.