Monday, December 31, 2007

New Look for the New Year

So, as you hopefully noticed, Emergent has a new look. Hopefully you like it. I did enjoy the last one, but I you get a little tired of seeing the same thing for six months straight. So - inspired in part by Melissa's latest post - I started surfing the available templates when I saw...this one. It was like love at first sight. There was music in the air, the flowers burst into bloom. This wasn't just love, it was lust. The template I desired was perfect, it was classy, it was well-organized, and - the coup de grace, the piece de resistance - it was MIT's colors. But, unlike this deliberately over-dramatic retelling, the template reflected MIT's colors in a sophisiticated, even subtle, way.

Probably because so few people actually know what MIT's colors are. ;)

But I digress.

On a separate but related note, crazy to think that I've been at this blogging gig for six months already. Yes, I know some of you have been blogging for years, and I can't even remember when I began my first online journal - but Emergent is the first blog I've really cared about, that I've really been willing to show people. Where I feel like I have things to say that people will actually find interesting.

I'm under no illusion that you all find every post I make interesting, of course. No one blog can please everybody. But I'm happy with what I've done with Emergent. Even though it is sort of silly that we focus on just one day as the "new year," when really each day is just as important as the last or the next, I have to admit I'm looking forward to 2008.

Let's make it a good one. :)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Haiku, Tanka, and a Promised Response

I promised to blog about why P's are so awesome the first semester, so here it goes. During our first semester at MIT, all freshmen are on a special grading system known as "Pass/No Record." Basically, if you would have earned an A, B, or C for any of your classes, the actual grade is permanently hidden and converted to a "P" (for Pass). Only the P shows up on your official transcript, although you are told your hidden grades eventually.

On the other hand, if you get a D or F in any class, that class permanently disappears from your transcript, leaving "No Record" it was there.

As a word of caution, some med schools (most notably Johns Hopkins, though I've been told there are two others) have been known to ask for your hidden grades. MIT can furnish an official record of some or all of your hidden grades, but they are very reluctant to do so. Moreover, I'm not sure if Johns Hopkins and other schools ask for grades only in relevant classes (like biology) or in all your first-semester if med school is in your future, I would encourage you to look into the matter more fully. I'll hunt around as well and keep you updated if I find any reliable info.

Anyway, the upshot of Pass/No Record is that you, for all intents and purposes, have no GPA whatsoever during your first term. This is a little awkward on resumes or when your friends ask you how you're doing...but, trust me, in the long run it's worth it. ;)

Come spring term, however, you're on an A/B/C/No Record system. This is basically just like normal grades, and you do start to accumulate a GPA, except that D's and F's still disappear.

There are a few reasons for why Pass/No Record - sometimes mistakenly called Pass/Fail, as in the popular sentiment "All Hail Pass/Fail!" - exists. In my opinion, the most important one is that it eases the transition from high school to MIT. I actually have a lot to say about the "transition," but I'll hold off on that for now, since it's actually a major theme in my next entry for the official MIT blogs. (The enry's about halfway done at this point. Yeah, yeah, I know...)

Other benefits of Pass/No Record? It drastically reduces the stress you might otherwise feel during your first semester, when (for many students) this is the first time they've truly been challenged by academics. Additionally, it gives you more freedom to explore MIT - academically, socially, and extra-curricularly. (If that's even a word.) It gives you a chance to figure out what kind of studying and p-seting, and how much, works best for you. It is not, however, an opportunity to slack off completely. So don't get any ideas. =P

For my own part, I tried not to abuse P/NR too much this past semester, but it still ended up coming in handy. ;)

Anyway, that's the "promised response" part of this post. The haiku and tanka part refers to an interesting conversation I've been having (via Facebook) with my friend Heidi - a freshman at that little school up the road from MIT - about our break. Thus far, it goes something like this:


a haiku:

Talk is cheap, but pokes
are cheaper. Merry Christmas -
how's all with you, Paul?



Seventeen is just
Enough syllables to say
That I am well. You?



well myself, as well.
but you're not s'posed to cheat through
a haiku - details?



I begin to like
This strange method of talking,
Though your words confuse.
I think we may need tanka
To fully communicate.



I mean that I want
to hear how your break's going.
In tanka, of course.
And I've a suggestion, too:
what are your IAP plans?



Of course, I see now.
Though break has treated me kindly,
Here in the Midwest,
Oft my heart longs for Boston
Like a lover his belov'd.

Beginning again,
I anticipate IAP
With spring eagerness:
Lab and the Hunt of Myst'ry,
Charm School and fraternity.


Ah, the things we Boston kids get into. ;)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Semester of Straight P's

A beautiful post-Christmas gift.

Coming soon to a blog near you: an explanation of why P's are awesome, plus the obligatory "what I got for Christmas" post.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

It's good to be home. Being away for the past semester, I'd forgotten just how many traditions my family has during Christmas-time. From things that I feel most families do, like baking cookies (for "Santa") or reading The Night Before Christmas, to the traditions that are uniquely our's the little things that make the holidays special. It's a cliche, yes. But it's true.

Anyway, since the hour is late - I should have been in bed about twenty minutes ago ;) - I'll leave my musings at that.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Whether you're Christian or not, I hope the spirit of the season fills you as we head into 2008. In the end, it's more about goodwill towards all than shiny presents. ^_^

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Judgment Day

I passed 8.012.



So I know I said wasn't going to check 8.012 (Physics), but I couldn't help but wonder if my 18.02 (Multi-Variable Calculus) grade was available yet. And so against all my better judgment, I peeked. This is what I found:

Grades of Paul Baranay
Course 18.02 (Fall 2007)
Exam and Homework Grades
Final Exam (Final)248/250
Letter Grade (Letter)A-

Holy. Crap.

I aced a class at MIT.

I aced a class. At MIT.


...Even though I still have one final left to take, even though I still have no clue how I did on the 8.012 Final of Doom or the 7.012 Final of Moderate Suckiness, I am so unbelievably happy right now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lead us not into Caltech, and deliver us from finals

I have survived three of my four finals.

Of course, I don't know how I actually did in any of them. But I feel confident. Even in 8.012. The irony of currently not knowing how I did in 8.012 is that, as a matter of fact, my test was graded last night and the score is sitting online, waiting for me. Just two or three clicks, that's all I'd need, but I've decided to resist the temptation until after I finish my last final (5.112, aka chemistry, tomorrow morning). Sounds sort of like college decisions, doesn't it?

Anyway. Soon to come, perhaps as early as this weekend: thoughts on first semester, including what classes I actually took; reflections on what it takes to succeed in one's classes (especially something like 8.012); hopes and dreams for IAP and spring semester; and probably even more occluded references to my UROP , which I will be continuing during IAP. (Okay, just kidding on that last one.) There may even be a long, somewhat angst-ridden reflection on what it might have been like to go to Notre Dame instead of MIT - or you can read about that on Shannon '12's blog instead, where one of my comments was longer than her entire entry. (And yes, Shannon, you are now officially a '12. You better come. =D)

On one final note, I'm really proud for coming up with that subject title. At some point, maybe I'll even try to adapt the entire Our Father into an MIT theme. Oh, the possibilities...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Comments, Collected

I'm taking a quick break from my studying for finals (in particular, 8.012, commonly called Physics for Masochists, and now I know why) to pull together some of the comments I made on the MITblogs today.

To those not admitted:

This is hard to hear or accept right now, but a rejection from MIT is not a judgment on your value as a person or as a scholar. It simply means that, in the admissions officers' eyes, you would be happier attending college somewhere besides MIT.

Is that cruel? Maybe. But in the long run, I think you'll find that they are right. Don't give up your dreams simply because of this. Getting into college is important - but why should you let it define your entire life, all your dreams, from this point forward? Take the time to mourn, to scream, to come to grips with the decision. And then, get back on your feet and do what you all do best -

Fight for your dreams. :)

To those deferred:

[answering an earlier question:] No tubes for regular folks, unfortunately - at least, that's what happened to me last year. It'd be awesome if they changed that, though. (How about it, Matt? :D)

By the way, I know a ton of people who were deferred and then accepted, so don't give up! I even know several who were waitlisted and admitted, and they are among the strongest students I know. (Like Ken, who actually lives on the floor above me in Simmons. ^_^) If they hadn't told me they were waitlisted, I never would have guessed. I think that just proves that a deferral from MIT truly is not a statement on your academic abilities.

Finally, for those of you reading this who are waiting to apply regular, that's what I did and I'm doing just fine. Although I'm still stressing over finals. :D

For those admitted:

You know what you guys get to do now?

CELEBRATE! Last March, the night I was accepted, my family and a few close friends went out for dinner. Nothing too expensive or fancy, but it remains one of my most cherished memories.

After tonight, though, it's back to studying hard for finals and second semester. No senioritis for MIT students! :P

Melissa, Daniel, Snively, Milena, and JKim also had some very helpful and insightful comments, which I definitely encourage you to seek out. :) If any of my other blogger friends posted and I forgot to mention you, my apologies. As you can guess, my brain isn't functioning at its full capacity right now.

One of the most surreal aspects about knowing roughly one-third of the MIT Class of 2012 has been admitted is realizing that I'm so close to not being a freshman anymore. Soon, there'll be a thousand other people who know less than I do running around campus!

And, weirdly enough, some of them will even be blogging about it. o_0

But now, since it's well past two o'clock and practically everyone else in the Athena cluster and reading room has disappeared, and also because I can almost literally feel my brain shutting down...I am going to bed.

30.5 hours until my 8.012 final. Oh boy.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Finals, Decisions

In about 60 hours, give or take, I will be done with my first final at MIT.

In less 12 hours, some of you will know your EA decision.

Guess it's a stressful time for all of us, huh?

The posting of decisions will probably have passed by the time most of you read this - but, nonetheless, my thoughts and hopes and dreams are with all of you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hackers Wish Students "Merry" Finals

For the past two months or so, I've been meeting regularly with a group of friends to work on our 8.012 p-set. (8.012 is the advanced mechanics class for freshmen. It's...not impossible. But when you're a freshman and not used to such an intense workload, it can be pretty brutal.) We generally met on Thursday nights - and since the p-sets were always due Friday, this tended to produce a lot of late late late nights.

The last official p-set (on gyroscopes, which frankly boggle my mind) was due this last Friday. Happily, we were also assigned one "optional" p-set, which could net us up to 2 extra percent on our grade.

2 extra percent?! Despite the fact that "optional" usually means mandatory here, I was definitely up for some extra credit - so last night my fellow 8.012ers and I got together for a special 8.012 p-set party. It kind of is a party, actually - a bunch of us bring (junk) food, generally things like Oreos or chips - and we all sort of keep each other sane as we try our best to work through the problems.

Due to a combination of issues, I ended up staying later than was probably necessary to actually finish the p-set. But I did finish it, so I was in a pretty good mood as I walked back from the Infinite Corridor towards Simmons. (We meet in a classroom off of the Infinite because we come from all different dorms, so it makes sense to meet somewhere central rather than someone's dorm.) At the time, I happened to be walking with a friend (she lives in MacGregor, so it made sense for us to walk back towards home together), when suddenly we saw a bright flash of white light coming from the Christmas tree in front of the Student Center. At first, we both wondered why there was a "strobe light" on campus - and then we soon realized that the light was, in actuality, the flash of a camera.

Eric Schmiedl's camera, in fact.

Seriously, this guy gets everywhere. Those of you who know Eric can guess why he was there - a hack! I don't have any pictures (yet - I'll try and get some as I head over to class), but basically hackers put up a large sign saying "MERRY FINALS! (and a happy end of term)" - in gentle mockery of the traditional "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." They also hung a bunch of textbook covers as "ornaments" on the Christmas tree.

My 8.012 textbook was among those included, which amused me. ;)

By the way, today is the last day of first-semester classes.