Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Band Camp Redux

On Monday, I went to band camp. I had a trombone (named Angelique) to return, and decided I might as well stay.

I rather liked the hero's welcome I got from my favorite underclassmen (who are now upperclassmen. Whoa), all the hugs and exclamations.

The amount of respect I got from the sophomores touched me. Then again, they only ever saw me as a senior, at the top of my game. I wonder if it says something about me, that I can form friendships so easily with people who sit lower than me. At worst--I'm dysfunctional around equals. At best--I'll make a good leader in the future.

It was strange, sitting down in the trombone section with the tubas and euphs behind me. It was strange, not running about and fetching folders and getting lists.

Impressions of the new trombones: sports-mad, impressed with themselves. One is a football player bro-type. But I can't expect better from fourteen-year-old boys, and--well, they're trombone players. Being in band and especially with Princess Fire Marshal as their section leader, they'll shape up. Talked more with the sophomore trombone kid who plays the class clown role but is really a decent kid.

Thoughts while playing: huh, this part is more different from the euphonium part than I remember. Sight read, come on, don't just play the euph part from memory! Ooh, new songs. What are rhythms? Oh, yeah, those are rhythms. Why is my lip blowing out this early? Oh, good, it's back. Strident isn't good but I kind of like that harsh edge on powerful high notes. Don't turn around and chat with the Teal Knight all the time, you don't want her getting yelled at.

That moment when people discover that you're going to Stanford and look at you like you're something even though you're going through a minor existential crisis about how you will be below average for the next four years and have mostly reconciled yourself to that, though how can you know until you've been tested?

Resisting the urge to ask the seniors about college apps. They're getting that from everyone else, they don't need it from you.

Marching: oh, man, I can't believe that I missed this--the precision of the steps, the discipline of it. But I did. And the band doesn't do so well at first but soon everyone's remembering the rules. Strong showing from the sophomores; juniors, not so much, but then again the band staff juniors are off helping the band director teach the freshmen, and they are nothing if not solid.

I felt like a right fool when I called one sophomore sax guy by the other sophomore sax guy's name. Prefaced my apology with a curse to show my contrition. Note: if you typically do not swear, then people will take you more seriously when you do. A tool that gains in power the more it is withheld.

Worrying about taking authority from the current captains, but with such a large group--good, good turnout this year--to handle, I don't think they mind a little help. Band matters a whole lot to me. Someone could call me pathetic, accuse me of clinging to my domain of strength from high school because of my existential college-induced fears. Honestly? I don't know that that is not part of my reasons for going back yesterday.

Still, when I think of how much band has given me, I think that the stronger motive is that I want to help out. (Of course, I could have pathetic psychological reasons for wanting to help people also.) Captaining a team is damned hard--I should know--and I want them all to do well. I have two years of band staff experience, which could be helpful to my people. What good is expertise unshared?

I completely, 100% called and approve of my co-captain from last year (and current band president)'s first draft pick. You want someone solid, dependable, with whom you work well.

My Stanford Tuba Brother also showed up, and we shared our existential troubles. I'm not going to lie, I do like being at the top, and in high school and in band especially, that's where I was last year. It'll be interesting this year, in a month and a half, when I get thrown into a school full of people who are smarter than me.

I remember freshman year band camp: being terrified, being shy, wanting to become an uber-flute, wanting the upperclassmen to think I was cool, being confused. Hewing to band as a part of my identity, as the thing that made me more than one more anonymous little Asian girl in the crowd.

I am eternally grateful to that miserable fourteen-year-old girl. But I rather hope that I do better this coming year than I did 2010-2011.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ubermadchen: Character Art

Once upon a time, I used to draw a lot. That was before high school, if I recall my dates correctly. I haven't added anything to my deviantArt in almost two years.

But I like having an idea of what my characters look like when I'm writing them, so for the past few weeks I've worked on drawings of the Ubermadchen characters. I did two sets: pencil sketches of the girls in the modern AU, and pencil+colored pencil renditions of them in 1770s gear, given that that is their setting.

With character notes and apologies for the bad lighting/attempts to adjust the colors and exposure/anatomy/etc, I present you the Ubermadchen.

Marilla Rieux
Marilla Rieux, the demure dreamer and viewpoint character. She is the shielder of the group, meaning she knows how to conceal their auras so they don't get killed for being "witches" (non-noble magicians). Her native element is water . I can't tell you what the knife is for, as that would be a spoiler. INFJ.

Josefina de los Arboles

Josefina de los Arboles, the natural leader. She is partially Romani and, as such, faces more discrimination than the other girls. Her native element is fire; hence, the lantern. Josefina staunchly supports the American Revolution. ENTJ, probably.

Katya Volkov
Ekaterina "Katya" Volkov, the most generally competent one. Unlike the other girls, she has not lived most of her life in isolation and thus is the most streetsmart, which is why she's the one with the purse. Her native element is metal, though they all think it is earth. ESTP, probably.

Terez Steinbrecher
Terez Steinbrecher, the scientist. She will not wear women's clothing unless not doing so would endanger her friends. Prone to saying cryptic things portentously. Her native element is earth, and I gave her a compass because she can't carry around chemical apparatus. INTP.

Suzanne Christophers
Suzanne Christophers, the Romantic emotional one. A voracious reader who is likely to be brought to tears by a particularly beautiful painting or flower. Her native element is wood, though they all think it is air/wind. ISFJ, possibly.

And here are all of them in their modern guise. I found these ones easier to do because, first, they are pencil and not full-length, and second, because there's more latitude to how they can control their appearance. Since I live in the modern era, I think in modern paradigms, and, given the characters' personalities, I find it easier to map their personalities to modern clothing choices.

Hopefully, the style of each character is consistent between the 1770s and modern versions. That was another part of the challenge for me: seeing if I could make the character the "same" between settings. See my post from earlier this month about character plasticity.

Additional notes: Josefina spells her name Josephina in the modern AU. Her reasons for doing so are important characterization. I regret not putting Terez in a beanie because it would suit her.

After doing these drawings, I think I want to keep on drawing my characters, if only to get them clearer in my mind. Colors are fun as well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Midpoint Update

My summer is halfway over: fewer than two months have passed since I graduated, and fewer than two months remain until NSO. It will be helpful to me to see how well I've been doing with all of my summer plans, which I described here. This is a self-indulgent post, more me taking inventory than anything, but hopefully someone else might benefit.*

*I think that is one of the "themes," so to speak, of this blog: I write about ordinary and personal things because universality of human experience &c.

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  • Read a lot.

I've read all the books that I bought/that others gave me except for the collection of Conrad stories that my sister got me for Christmas. I have to be in a certain mood to read Conrad, and that mood is, I think, easier to achieve in cooler weather.

As for other books: my reading habit fluctuates, and right now I'm in a rut where I don't make time to read. But it's good for me, so I'll keep at it.


  • Deepen my knowledge and practice of programming.

This entire month I've struggled with writing the code for a program that will back up my files for me. I think that I've got it now but I still have to run tests. Furthermore, I set up Git on my computer but I haven't used it much yet, and a few weeks ago when I tried to read other people's code on Github I got scared because of not knowing anything and stopped. At the moment, I am reading through The Hitchhiker's Guide to Python, a guide to Python best practices under a variety of scenarios. I've also hit a wall with Project Euler challenges, which is disappointing, but I think it will be to the good if I take my time and go as far as I can with the math part before letting the code do the computation work.

The more I read about programming and computer science, the more I realize how truly ignorant I am, and the more I wish I had gotten started earlier.


  • Relearn calculus and physics.

Relearning calculus is going reasonably well. I'm using online notes provided by Professor Paul Dawkins of Lamar University. Calculus I is equivalent to Calc AB, and Calculus II, which I'm working through now, is BC and then some.

As for physics: I'm typing up my old notes this week and after that will probably find some physics C resources to help me. I've heard that you're not really supposed to study for the physics placement test, but since the class was a year ago I'm shortchanging myself if I don't brush up. And I really want to do well, because a 5 on Physics B only gets you into Physics 25 while engineers want to take the Physics 40 sequence.


  • Improve languages.

I spoke a lot of Chinese in China but, to be honest, haven't touched Duolingo since the first week of summer. I'm still writing my journal in Italian and I think I did well on the written placement test this morning, so if I go back to Duolingo it'll probably be for my German.


  • Research and write a lot in Ubermadchen.

Research has been spotty, piecemeal, as-needed. I'm missing plenty of places where better research could make the story stronger. On the other hand, I don't want research time to take precedence over writing time. I've gotten into a routine in which I flail around a bit for the first few days in a new section of the story, then write down a list of scenes that I want to happen during that time, and as I write the scenes proliferate and order themselves.

Thus far, the system is working. I had a few really productive weeks after getting back from China and I'm hoping to sustain a slightly more moderate pace for the rest of the summer. I have written over 100 new pages this summer, of which I am rather proud. Not sure how many words that is, but the order of magnitude is in the tens of thousands. Just keep moving the story forward.


  • Refine social media presence.

Blog redesign--check. Story box Tumblrs--aside from the Ubermadchen one, not really kept up, but as this reflects my real story output I don't mind terribly. Case closed on this goal.


  • Practice trombone.

I hit a rut fairly early on and wasted a few weeks not being productive, but running through a bunch of (not all) Remington exercises helped get me into a more disciplined mindset, as did watching Christopher Bill tutorial videos. Next Monday I'm playing at the first day of band camp before returning the trombone, whom I think I shall name Angelique.

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It looks as though I'm doing all right. Could amp up the efforts on language, physics, programming, and reading, however. To be honest my goals do cause me some stress, and I have developed some rather bad sleeping habits. But, even though I don't enjoy being stressed in the summer, at least all these projects are of my own choosing. I can always cut back if I need to, without consequences to other people.

When I reach the halfway point in the summer, that is usually when my morale is at the lowest. And I have indeed wasted a lot of time that I could have put toward my goals. Furthermore, I admit that I feel inadequate when I think about how a lot of people have jobs and internships and volunteering to do over the summer, and I'm just at home in front of a computer most of the day. If you're unlucky then Friday I'll angst more about that.

But I've made substantial progress is writing and calc and trombone, and I'll work on the things I need to work on. What else, after all, can I do?

Seven weeks down, seven more to go. Make it count.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Good Hunting

I've accumulated a lot of links since I'm reading more articles these days (thanks HN). Many I thought worth sharing.

Some pieces provoked more thought than simply "hey, that's cool," so I pull them out for further consideration:

The Two Cultures of Mathematics: theory-builders v. problem-solvers -- essentially, theory v. practice, do you want deeper knowledge or do you want useful knowledge? I only read the first part because it is the summer and I lack the strength of will to go through theorems in fields I have only heard of. Theory is seen as more powerful but sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty--knowing more theory won't help.

The Turk Polishes His Window: greatness of a nation resides in the people's pride--having excellence, quality, conscientousness as part of the national identity

The Power of Dots: dot diagrams are powerful because they help humans understand structure, which is at a higher level of thinking than mere procedural computation. I want to learn how to use these; they seem interesting.

Ceremonies as Traffic Lights: rituals make a person's changed state common knowledge, helping a community and the individual in question come to terms with their new identity instead of waffling about in a liminal state for too long of a time

The Last Days of the Polymath: too much specialization → difficulties in crossing fields. As fields go deeper, you are more likely to get stuck; you cannot skate across the intervening earth as much.

An important comment from user AriD2385:
"Also, with the rise of specialization, we tend to have much more of a "geek culture," where young individuals in particular tie their self-identity to being the most passionate about such and such a thing irrespective of the actual contributions they are making to the discipline. Just knowing a lot about something, or at least more than most people, is enough. Subjects are viewed as extensions of the self rather than as simply a part of the wide universe of knowledge that all participate in. So people look for others with the same type of tribal affiliation, and outsiders, like Posner said, are seen as trespassers."

Finally, some physics: pilot wave suggests model for how quantum mechanical phenomena could be deterministic, but quantum mechanics may not be just an abstraction of what is "really" there. These two articles seem in opposition: quantum phenomena are a reflection of deterministic mechanisms v. probabilistic quantum mechanics is actually how things work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Introspection Engine

Over the weekend I did two things: 1) finish my eleventh journal 2) have an introspective conversation with someone important about how much band has contributed to my character development. And I realized that these two things are related.

If I were turned into a program, somewhere in the source code one would find this loop:

while True:
    introspect()

Assuming, of course, that my source code is written in Python. If one looked closer, somewhere above one would find:

def introspect():
    #lots of code, don't really want to break my metaphor so I won't show it all
    journal.writeEntry()

I have long known that when I write about my stories in my journal, the actual writing goes better. Correlation does not equal causation; it could also be that when the writing is going well, that's when I'm most engaged with the story, when it becomes a part of my life that I want to record for myself. That glorious summer four years ago when I finished The Utopia Project, I often started entries talking about what had happened in the story that day, before ever mentioning anything I had done in the real world.

But more important, perhaps, than the words I log on UM are the words I log on myself. Every day at the end of the day I sit down with my journal and I write about what I did, offering more or fewer details as time allows, thinking through whatever issues of the moment bother or worry me. Events and my feelings about them. Action and reaction. Introspection.

Our memories are malleable, unreliable, and the way we interpret events often has more impact on our future state than the events themselves. We cannot change the facts of the case, but we can change what they mean--and we only get to change what they mean if we think about them. If we look at our past (retrospect) and then interpret it (introspect).

Ryan Holiday has written about the narrative fallacy, about how making your life into a story is harmful because it ignores everything that doesn't go into the story. And while it is true that my band bildungsroman leaves out the days I was happy as a freshman and miserable as a junior, I will disagree with Holiday's statement that "stories are worthless because they’re mental creations – they are not reality." Because wow, just because a statement is strong doesn't mean it is right. Saying that stories are worthless is conceptually the same thing as saying that Newtonian mechanics are worthless.

Why? Because both are theories that imprecisely model reality, compressing the huge amount of data that exists in the world into usable forms. And that is the value of stories: helping us make sense of our lives, helping form a roadmap showing us where we've been and where we're going.
"Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful." -- George E. P. Box
Of course Holiday has a point that you shouldn't believe your own hype, that you have to remain aware that "it's just a story." And I cannot say that my constant introspection loop has not had negative effects--sometimes I do see myself as a protagonist, a larger-than-life Hero of my Story, and it's embarrassing when I have to remember that I'm human. Infusing a rather ordinary life with melodrama and import has its dangers.

On the other hand, constantly introspecting keeps me aware of my weaknesses, of my mistakes, and of how I might fix them. It keeps me sane when there is no one to whom I can complain. (I cannot honestly speak to any benefits beyond these direct ones, because I've kept a journal consistently since middle school. Thus, growing up and my natural personality are confounding variables.)

The introspection engine will run. It will take in the raw data of a life and it will churn, it will call for journal entry upon journal entry for thousands of days, it will produce a narrative. An imprecise story, perhaps, embellished by imagination when the stuff of everyday life is not enough. But a story that benefits the weaver, whether from the work of creation or from seeing the story itself, pointing a trajectory to better things.

The introspection engine will run.