Things I’ve Learned From Watching The Big Bang Theory

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The Big Bang Theory 1I can’t remember exactly when I first became aware of the TV show The Big Bang Theory, except that it was at some point during spring semester my junior year. (That is to say, last year) I also don’t remember exactly what I saw first, except that I know I saw a lot of short clips on youtube long before I ever saw a full episode. In fact, I still haven’t seen many full episodes beyond the first season. I enjoy The Big Bang Theory for two reasons: the characters and the nerdiness. The main characters are all unrealistic enough to be ridiculous while still being realistic enough to be relatable, which is a combination that maximizes the humor. Sheldon Cooper, for example, is more socially inept and more obsessive than anyone in real life could possibly be, but there are at least a couple moments in nearly every episode where he says or does something that is exactly the kind of thing that I would say or do, or where he seems exactly like certain people I know. That fact actually has to do with both of my reasons for liking The Big Bang Theory; the fact that I find Sheldon relatable just goes to show that I’m a nerd and that the nerdiness is the real reason that I like the show.

The Big Bang Theory 3The problem with The Big Bang Theory, though, is that it’s kind of inappropriate. Not only is there often some obscene humor, but the plotlines themselves are often pretty raunchy. It’s annoying enough when you’re watching something that contains a lot of sexual innuendos, but it’s pretty hard to ignore when the story itself revolves around the characters’ promiscuity. I know that The Big Bang Theory isn’t exactly X-rated and that it might sound a bit prudish to find it offensive, but I think it’s pretty sad that our culture is so accepting of obscenity that it can be considered prudish to be disturbed by it.

My point here is that, even though I enjoy The Big Bang Theory, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.  However, I don’t regret the fact that I’ve watched a good deal of it. I would here like to offer a list of random nerdy trivia that I have picked up from The Big Bang Theory. This list comes entirely from season one and only contains facts that I didn’t already know. (For example, I felt no need to include the fact that tomatoes are technically a fruit.) It also omits all of the physics stuff that admittedly went over my head. Most of the items on this list are direct quotations; those that are paraphrased are the ones that I didn’t put in quotation marks. Also, it is worth noting that I was too lazy to look up any of these facts yet (even though that had been my intention when I started making this list) so it’s possible that some of them were fabricated by the scriptwriters.

1. “If the height of a single step is off by as little as two millimeters, most people will trip.”- Sheldon

2. “Curry is a natural laxative.” –Leonard

3. “Thailand has had the fork since the latter half of the 19th century. Interestingly, they don’t actually put the fork in their mouths; they use it to put the food on a spoon, which then goes into their mouth.” –Sheldon

4. “Evolution has made women sensitive to high-pitched noises as they sleep so that they’ll be roused by a crying baby. If you want to avoid waking her, speak in a lower register.” (Note: I kind of cheated by putting this one on the list, because I’d actually heard it before)

5. The development of the atomic bomb was in part due to someone named Oppenheimer, who regretted his involvement in the creation of such a weapon.  –Leonard

6. “You can’t prove string theory. At best, you can say, ‘Hey look! My idea has an inherent logical consistency!’ “- Leonard (Note: I kind of cheated on this one, too, because technically it’s not really a fact. It’s just a quotation I like that happens to be about a specific scientific theory.)

7. There are only eight consonants in the Hawaiian language. –Sheldon

8. “A serape is open at the sides; a poncho is closed.” –Sheldon (Note: Actually, I knew this one, too.)

9. “When you start a party at seven, no one actually shows up at seven.” –Penny (Note: It’s really sad that I picked up a fact of commonly accepted social conventions from a TV show that is largely defined by the fact that the characters have a poor understanding of commonly accepted social conventions.)

10. “A bed is oriented with the headboard away from the door. It serves the ancient imperative of protecting oneself against marauders.”- Sheldon (Note: I have always instinctively followed this rule whenever possible, and now, thanks to TV, I know why.)

11. The phrase sleep tight “refers to the early construction of beds, which featured a mattress suspended on interlocking ropes which would occasionally…” –Leonard (Note: It disappoints me that Leonard doesn’t actually finish the sentence, because I was genuinely curious. I presume that the following words would have something to do with the ropes either breaking or stretching.)

12. “Indian parents continue to have a greater than average involvement in their children’s love lives.” –Sheldon

13. The brain chemistry of white mice is actually more similar to that of humans than is the brain chemistry of guinea pigs. –Sheldon

14. Dentists have an extremely high suicide rate. –Raj

15. “Gram for gram, no animal exceeds the relative fighting strength of the army ant.” –Shldon

16. “In a proper sandwich, the cheese is adjacent to the bread in order to create a moisture barrier against the lettuce.” –Sheldon

17. Bertram Forer, in 1948, conducted research to debunk astrology. –Sheldon

18. “Starch absorbs fluid, which reduces the amount of vomit available for violent expulsion.” -Sheldon

The Big Bang Theory 2

Bonus Interesting Metaphors:

1.When Penny said that she both hated and loved her ex-boyfriend, Leonard equated this with the paradox that light acts both as a wave and a particle.

2. When both Penny and Leonard ask Sheldon for advice about whether or not they should go through with their date, Sheldon compares their uncertainty about the future of their relationship with the uncertainty described in the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. (Here is a link to a blog post I wrote a few months ago that described Schrodinger’s Cat)

This concludes my list. Just for the fun of it, I might make similar lists for later seasons, if I find the time to watch them.

Help! My Brain’s Being Weird Again!

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From my tumblr page

From my tumblr page

This morning, I had something else in mind to write about today; in fact, I had started it and already had almost six hundred words written and the rest planned out in my head. But then I had to leave it behind and go to class, and while I was in class, I changed my mind about what I wanted to say to the internet today. When I say that I changed my mind, I don’t just mean that I altered my plans; I mean that my mind literally started behaving in a different way. That different way was quite odd.

Me doing my homework this morning

Me doing my homework this morning

For example,  when the professor introduced the terminology of “spacelike”, “timelike”, and “lightlike” intervals, I almost started laughing because that sounded so much to me like the modified language known as Newspeak from the novel 1984 by George Orwell, which I am currently reading. It occurred to me that, even if I were to point out this hilarious connection that my brain had made, nobody else would have understood why I was greatly amused. I can’t even explain now in writing what it was that was so funny, because the humor of the situation depended upon a unique combination of facts: A) the observer, me, was taking a course in relativity in time and space, B) the observer, me, was currently in the middle of the said novel 1984, C) the observer, me, was particularly interested in Orwell’s predictions of the linguistic future of dystopian humanity because that is the kind of thing that interests said observer, D) the observer, me, already had enough of an understanding of the concept being discussed in class to be able to pay attention while simultaneously making random and irrelevant mental connections,  E) the observer, me, had a sense of humor of just the right type to be entertained by that particular kind of thought, and F) the observer, me, was in a kind of strange mood that involved thinking very random thoughts and finding them very hilarious.

The new and revolutionary kind of graphing paper that my professor had us use in class today

The new and revolutionary kind of graphing paper that my professor had us use in class today

Another one of these random thoughts that had occurred to me only moments before was inspired by a new kind of graph paper that the professor had just shown us how to use. One benefit of this kind of graph paper is that it makes it significantly simpler to draw a two-observer space-time diagram, which is what we’ve been doing in class for the last few days. The other benefit is that this kind of graph paper just looks awesome, and it makes me feel very clever. Apparently, on a subconscious level, I believe that knowing how to use fancy graph paper is proof of extreme cleverness. As the logical and intellectual part of my brain did math and stuff and used the graph paper to draw graphs, the part of my brain that detects awesomeness came up with an awesome idea. You see, the point of two-observer space-time diagrams is that an observer who is moving relative to the coordinate framework has a different set of coordinates because this observer sees space and time differently. As it so happens, because space and time are weird, this coordinate system is shaped differently. The faster the second observer is moving, the closer the x-axis and time-axis will be to each other. I understand the relativistic principals behind that, and I agree that the physics and math are interesting, but, to me, the sight of a graph distorted by the principle of relativity has implications that go beyond physics and beyond the nature of the universe itself. The question that was implied to me was this: could you play scrabble and chess on a two-observer relativistic board?

This is a normal chess board, so this picture isn't particularly relevant here.

This is a normal chess board, so this picture isn’t particularly relevant here.

Needless to say, this idea revolutionized the way I thought of time, space, physics, math, relativity, and life as I know it. While everyone around me marveled at the usefulness of this type of graph paper and the interestingness of relativity, I pondered the ways in which board games could be changed to use such a board. I immediately gave up on the idea of playing scrabble that way; scrabble isn’t a relativistic game. I could explain what I mean, but it would take a lot of words and require a very detailed analysis of the differences and similarities between chess and scrabble and how this relates to Einstein and physics. So I won’t explain what I mean right now, but maybe that would make a good blog post for another day. For now, it suffices to say that scrabble cannot be played relativistically, but chess presumably could. The board would be more complex and would resemble the new kind of graph paper pictured above. From each player’s perspective, the other player’s pieces would move differently. For example, to me, my pawns would be moving forward, but to my brother, they would be moving diagonally. (I say “my brother” rather than “my opponent” because I am fairly certain that my brother is the only person I know who would be interested in playing Two-Observer Relativistic Space-Time Chess with me.)I didn’t work out all of the details and rules of this variant of chess, but I’m pretty sure it could be done. It would just take a good deal of math and even more nerdiness.

This is the kind of space-time graphing we've been doing.

This is the kind of space-time graphing we’ve been doing.

As all of these thoughts rushed through my brain faster than the speed of light, my professor was using two-observer space-time graphs to show why nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. You see, the faster something is moving relative to the perpendicular coordinate system,  the closer together the x-axis and time-axis of its own coordinate system are. (I am tempted to go off on a lengthy tangent explaining why this is and what this means in terms of relativity, but again, I must refrain from doing so if I want to finish this blog post at some point today. If I could post my entire brain onto the internet, I probably would, but I can’t.) If something travels at the speed of light, its x-axis and time-axis are actually the same line, which is the 45 degree angle bisecting the 90 degree angle formed by the x-axis and the time-axis in a regular perpendicular coordinate system. The point of all of the above is this: if you were to go faster than the speed of light, time would go backwards and causality would be reversed. Of course, I already knew that; that’s what everyone tells you on a regular basis if you’re like me and have a habit of repeatedly asking physics professors why nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. (This is, in fact, why certain professors told me to take this class.) But still, it’s cool to see it proved on a graph.

Here's a somewhat simpler and easier-to-read space-time graph.

Here’s a somewhat simpler and easier-to-read space-time graph.

But here’s the thing. I still don’t fully accept the idea that it’s definitely impossible for time to go backwards and for causality to be reversed. I can see on the graph what that would entail. It would mean that time and space would be reversed. Apparently, that idea is supposed to be utter nonsense, but I see some sense in it. I once wanted to write a science fiction story in which there was an alien species who experienced time and space as being reversed. These aliens would be able to travel through time in any direction and would be able to change direction and speed through time at will, but in space, they would only be able to move in one direction at a constant speed. After thinking it through, I came to the conclusion that, to us, these aliens would seem to suddenly appear and disappear as their paths in space and time meet and depart from ours. I hadn’t quite figured out what the plot of this story would be, but it would definitely be awesome. I basically abandoned this idea when my father informed me that Kurt Vonnegut had done something very similar in Slaughterhouse Five. I then became angry at Kurt Vonnegut for traveling in time to steal my idea, and I proceeded to add a section in a story I was writing which claimed that time and space are reversed in the set of dimensions that we know as hyperspace.  The point is that it isn’t necessarily total nonsense to image a situation in which time and space would be reversed. It’s just very, very weird and very, very awesome.

All of the ideas listed in the last five paragraphs actually occurred within the space of just a couple minutes, and in the meantime, I was listening to my professor, doing math, learning about relativity, making profound psychological observations about the connection between my handwriting and my current state of mind, and mentally sorting through all of these thoughts and trying to arrange them into greater and awesomer observations about life, the universe, and everything.

I did not interrupt the class to share these thoughts, because I wasn’t sure which of them, if any, made sense, and because I would have had to say them all at the same time, which would have been impossible. Even now as I type this out, I’m on the third page, although I’m single-spacing and using a somewhat small font. And I left out all the bits about the math and the non-relativity of scrabble and the rules of my new kind of chess and the exact details of my psychological analysis of my own handwriting. If I had included all of those things, plus all of the information from this class which is necessarily involved in this stream of consciousness, who knows how long this blog post would be. It certainly would be too long for me to say all that stuff in the middle of class. Besides, my brain works better when my mouth is idle and my hands are busy than when my mouth is at work. So I kept my mouth shut and thought stuff instead. In fact, when the professor asked me a rhetorical question moments later, the only word that managed to escape from the web of thoughts in my head and find its way to my mouth was the word, “What?” Such is the extent of my articulateness when I’m thinking stuff.

And my professors wonder why I don’t talk more in class.

The Confusing Thing about Random Facts

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Every now and then, I see something on facebook, tumblr, or some other sector of the internet that asks participants to list a certain number of random facts about themselves. I rarely do this. It is not necessarily because I believe such surveys to be cliché or pointless; it is rather because I am confused about what determines the randomness of a fact. Does “random”, in this context, mean trivial? Does it mean that the person constructing the list is not to spend much time thinking about the facts or putting them in any particular order? Does it simply mean that the facts do not necessarily need to be related to each other in any way? My observations of things that other people post on the internet has led me to come to the conclusion that the word “random” is defined in many different ways, and that the tone and nature of a list of “random facts” will differ greatly from individual to individual. Some examples of things that can be classified as “random facts” include personal anecdotes, opinions, self-descriptions of personality or physical traits, details about one’s family or pets, personal biographical information, or a detail about one’s hobbies or interests. It would seem that the entire point of “random fact” lists is that everyone has a different idea of what kinds of facts should be on these lists. You may not learn a lot about a person by what facts about themselves they choose to share in this type of context, but what you do learn about them might be interesting.

As a nerd and a smart-aleck, I am incapable of simply accepting this. The reason for my objection is that the word “random” has a specific mathematical meaning. Granted, this mathematical meaning differs from the word’s standardly used definition as given by English dictionaries, which say that “random” means purposeless or haphazard. Normally, it is my policy to trust dictionaries. However, I believe that the official mathematical definition of the word “random” is worth noting. According to the statistics class I took a year ago (and in which I got good grades, thereby justifying my insistent use of the concepts and definitions I acquired from it), “random” means that any possible outcome has an equal chance of occurring. For example, the roll of a fair die is random because each of the sides has an equal chance of being the side facing up when the die lands. Picking a card out of a standard deck is random because each card has an equal chance of being selected. Using a random number generator is random because any number within the selected range has an equal chance of being produced. Listing facts about yourself is not random because, no matter how purposelessly and haphazardly you are doing it, you are deliberately selecting the facts that you will use.

The only way to make a list of facts random is to randomly select these facts from a larger list of facts. That is to say, in order to generate a short list of random facts, a person should first write a long list of facts and then use a completely fair method to randomly choose the predetermined number of facts from the long list. This raises another question, though. How comprehensive should the long list of facts be? It can’t actually contain every possible fact about the person in question, because such a list would be infinitely long. I think that might actually be literally true, but even if it isn’t, the list would be extremely long and therefore inconvenient to use. Thus, I suggest that the list should contain only those facts which the writer of the list deems internet-worthy based upon its coolness and the likelihood that others would be interested in reading it. For example, I might include some facts about my musical preferences or my favorite books or movies, but not a fact about my favorite brand of peanut butter. Alternatively, someone who considers peanut butter to be a fascinating or important topic might use such a fact.

It’s too bad I have a lot of homework to do tonight.  Otherwise, I would love to spend some time compiling a long list of facts about myself in order to prepare for the next time the internet wants to know some random facts about me.

In Defense of Stereotyped Labels

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The rules of political correctness tell us that labels are bad. Sorting people into categories is discriminatory and unkind, and it results in prejudiced and even bigoted treatment of other people. The phrase “There are two kinds of people. . .” should only be used as the beginning of a joke and not as the introduction to an observation about real people in real life. That rule is not contingent upon the number used; it’s just as wrong to claim that there are three or ten or seven billion different kinds of people. (For the record, here is a website where you can find an estimate of the world population and the population of the United States. As you can see, there are more than seven billion people in the world. That is a fairly recent development. Last I had known, there weren’t yet quite seven billion.)

As you might have guessed by my slightly sarcastic tone, I disagree with this rule of political correctness. Of course, it’s wrong, in both senses of the word, to make assumptions about people based upon things like race or socioeconomic status. But that doesn’t mean that generalizations are always wrong. (If they were, it would be wrong to say that generalizations are always wrong. Because that’s a generalization. Just sayin’.) I think that some methods of categorizing people are valid, particularly in cases where a person is somewhat responsible for putting themself into that category.

According to my logic class, this Venn Diagram is upside down.

Take the label of “nerd” for example. That’s a term that implies certain stereotypes so strongly that there isn’t really any correct way of using it without intentionally drawing upon those preconceived notions. The accompanying Venn Diagram helpfully shows that nerds are people who are intelligent, socially inept, and obsessed. The other accompanying picture shows that nerds are people who wear funny glasses and plaid shirts. For further explanations and definitions of nerdiness, I refer you to this webpage. The noteworthy thing is that there really are people who fit this stereotyped definition of nerd. In fact, for the most part, I would identify myself as a nerd, although this classification does not extend to funny glasses or other elements of fashion choice, and I am about as technologically knowledgeable as a pineapple ring. (No, there is no particular reason that I chose a pineapple ring for this comparison. There doesn’t need to be a reason. I claim writer’s prerogative on word choice for my random comparisons.)

According to Google, this is what hipsters look like.

Of course, there is a semi-infinite number of stereotyped labels like that. (Note: I claim personal ownership of the term “semi-infinite”.) There are dumb blondes, hipsters, goths, rednecks, gangsters (otherwise known as gangstas, which I notice that spellcheck considers to be a valid word) and all sorts of others, which I’m not going to take the time to list. Although, come to think of it, it would be really fascinating to conduct opinion polls to come up with an exhaustive list of stereotyped labels and to define each one with a concrete list of personality traits, habits, interests, and preferences in music, fashion, and art.

Here is my suggestion. I think that these labels should be considered appropriate to use in describing people, but according to a spectrum rather than to a binary. In other words, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am or am not a nerd, but I might say that I’m more or less nerdy than someone else, or I might say that I’m more of a nerd than a hipster and more of a hipster than a redneck. Basically, the difference between my proposed system of stereotyped labels and the normal system of stereotyped labels is the same as the difference between the Myers-Briggs personality types and the Big Five personality traits. As I think I have indicated before, I am a much bigger fan of the Big Five system than the Myers-Briggs system, mainly because it acknowledges that there are subtle differences between all individual people.

This is where the data from the aforementioned hypothetical polls would be useful. Just as personality can be measured according to a personal survey, a person should in theory be able to measure things such as their nerdiness or hipsterness (etc.) according to such a survey. I don’t mean an internet or magazine quiz that somebody quickly wrote up just for the fun of it; I mean a scientifically accurate questionnaire. But that would require a very specific definition of each stereotyped label. And since these labels are socially constructed, it would take a sociological study with a large number of participants in order to properly define them.

Someone needs to organize such a study. If I was a sociologist, I would totally do it. If any sociologists are reading this, I request that you do it, and I hereby volunteer to participate. You’re welcome.

An Unreasonable Explanation for an Unexplainable Reason

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A few days ago, for just an instant, my wrist hurt for no readily apparent reason. “Ouch,” I said to myself, and looked at my wrist in search of a readily apparent reason. Of course, I didn’t find one, but by that time, my wrist had stopped hurting, and so the incident was past. A normal person would have thought nothing of the matter and probably would have entirely forgotten about it within minutes. However, I am not a normal person. I am a ridiculously weird person who also happens to be a bit of a science fiction nerd, and so I felt the need to explain this mysterious event in terms of a complex and convoluted theory.

This didn’t take much thought, because as it so happens, I already had a theory for this type of thing. In all fairness, I have to credit my sister with this theory, although her version is different than mine, and I’m not sure she entirely approves of how I’ve changed the idea that she created. Fortunately, since the biggest difference between these theories is the terminology, I can pretty much do whatever I want with my version without it having any bearing on her version.

Parallel universes

The original theory was that random and inexplicable sensations of pain occur when one’s self in a semi-parallel universe gets hurt. The problem with this idea is that there is no such thing as a semi-parallel universe because the phrase semi-parallel is meaningless and mathematically absurd. Therefore, I have proposed that such alternate universes be called perpendicular universes. They must intersect in order for physical sensations to cross from one to another, and any time things intersect, that geometrically proves that they aren’t parallel.

Perpendicular Universes

Technically, they aren’t actually perpendicular, either. Perpendicular things only intersect once, and these alternate universes apparently intersect more than once. Therefore, it is my opinion that what I call perpendicular universes are actually complexly looped and tangled, like strings of Christmas tree lights after being stored in a box for the good part of a year, or the cords of earphones that have been carried in a laptop case for the course of a long road trip.

This is an accurate metaphor for the way the multiverse works.

This is a simplified, but more accurate illustration of the relationship between the alternate universes.

Of course, this theory really gets complicated when you take into account the fact that universes are not lines. Lines are one-dimensional, and universes are nine-dimensional. (Yes, that is something that I decided myself without any basis in scientific knowledge, but I do actually have an explanation for what each of the nine dimensions is, so I’m going to stick with that number. This is science fiction we’re talking about here, not real science, and the two have almost no relation to each other.) For the sake of my diagrams, though, we’re just going to pretend that universes are only one-dimensional, because I have no idea how to visually represent something in nine dimensions.

So there you have it. A few days ago, my wrist hurt momentarily because my self in a not-really-perpendicular and totally-not-parallel universe probably bumped it walking into a wall or something like that. My alternate self should be more careful.

The Mancala Algorithm

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One of my projects for this summer is to work out an algorithm for winning Mancala. Really, Mancala is a very simple game. At any given time, a player has a maximum of six possible moves, which makes it strategically much easier and much more basic than a complex game like chess or scrabble.

In case anyone reading this doesn’t know the rules of Mancala, I’ll describe the game briefly. The board is set up with the long sides facing the two players and four stones in each of the circular holes. The oval holes at the ends are the mancalas; each player’s mancala is the one on the right side from his or her perspective. In each move, a player picks up the pieces from one of his or her spaces and puts one piece in each subsequent space, moving in a counterclockwise direction around the board. They put a piece in their own mancala if they pass it, but they skip over their opponent’s mancala. If the last piece ends in the mancala, the player gets to move again. If the last piece ends in a space that had been empty before then, and it is across from a space in which the opponenet has pieces, all of the pieces in those two spaces go into the mancala and the player gets another move. After every move that does not end in the mancala and is not a capture, it is the other player’s turn. The game continues until one player has no pieces in any of his or her six spaces. Then the other player puts all of the pieces on his or her side into their mancala and both players count how many pieces are in their mancalas. The player with the most wins.

For the most part, the strategy is pretty obvious and straightforward. Whenever you have a move that will end in your mancala or that will result in a capture, it’s a good move. You always want to be aware of how many pieces are in each space because you don’t want to let your opponent make a capture. It’s good strategy to have a few empty spaces on your side at any given time so that your opponent will be forced to make certain moves to avoid having pieces captured. My strategy, which generally works well, is to accumulate a lot of pieces in a couple spaces and then to not move them unless it’s necessary. It’s safer and gives you more control when you have more pieces on your side of the board than your opponent has on theirs, but it does mean that you’ll lose if they can get a capture. The strategy is simple enough that, if both players are fairly good, the person who goes first will almost always win. My project now is to develop a more specific strategy that is infallible and always wins, if such a strategy exists.

So basically, this summer, I’m going to play a whole lot of Mancala and write down every game. I haven’t bothered to calculate the exact number of possible games, but I’ve estimated it to be a little under 10 million based on the average length of a game and the number of possible moves at any given time. Obviously, I’m not going to play out all 10 million of those games, but I will need to play at least a couple thousand. There probably is a faster way to develop this algorithm, but I’m too lazy to figure out what it is.

If that sounds like an incredibly nerdy way to spend my free time this summer, I’ll have you know that I am planning to do a lot of other stuff, too. Like writing science fiction and reading a lot and playing lots of online chess and scrabble and making a new list of favorite songs (This one will be either the top 200 or the top 250, I haven’t decided yet) and developing a system for quantifying emotions and doing scientific experiments to determine how I learn best and… actually, I guess we’re going to just have to face the fact that I’m totally going to be a nerd this summer.