This is beautiful. Why do they have to make it sound all mysterious and difficult? That’s (the reciprocal of) the golden ratio, by the way.


Transcript since the resolution is far from awesome: “Most angiosperms have alternate phyllotaxy, with leaves arranged in an ascending spiral around the stem, each successive leaf emerging 137.5° from the site of the previous one. Why 137.5°? Mathematical analyses suggest that this angle minimizes shading of the lower leaves by those above.”

\frac{137.5^\circ}{360^\circ} = 0.3819\ldots = 1 - 0.6180\ldots = 1 - \frac{1}{\phi} = \phi^{-2}

edit: Go figure, the angle itself is called the golden angle.

(On the scientific “theory”)

If you are ever bored online (I am, obviously) you will wander into the large silly debate over evolution and “God-did-it” aka creationism aka intelligent design etc. And somebody on the other side will say, “It’s just a theory!” And some fearless defender of science will have to explain, for the umpteenth time, that in science the word “theory” means a rather well-tested and well-developed broad explanation.

I thought this was a particularly silly point for the creationists to try to argue. They’re not even trying to invoke scripture or intuition here, which might even make conceivable arguments; they’re arguing over the terminology of their opponents that they don’t need anyway.

But recently I realized that I had not-quite-consciously attached the same wildly-speculative label to other “theories”, now that I’m in AP Biology and ever-so-slightly closer to the frontiers. For example, the endosymbiont theory. It’s not of course that I think I should accept these things dogmatically — that’s always against scientific values — but I still feel like I’ve been tricked into being overcautious.

So now I genuinely think the scientists, or just whoever came up with this crappy idea to use “theory”, are at fault here. A new made-up word or phrase would totally be worth it here. It’s not like you guys pulled any punches with naming the organelles, or amino acids, or nucleic acids, or polysaccharides, or functional groups, or the elements of the periodic table. Don’t even get me started on the blasted months of the year.

Seriously, anybody who is responsible for naming stuff in the future, think of all the memory that could be used for better purposes.

Seriously. Two mating types and you call them a and α. There are no words for this feeling.

AP Biology Summer Homework

I finished it!

(I also changed my blog title to something that means something, kind of! But if I ever write about that, it will be in a separate post.)

Alright, when the correct edition of the book arrives with chapters that are numbered so that they actually correspond to the section titles, my perfectionist tendencies will probably make me check everything again and rewrite a good deal of it, but for now I finished it!

Highlights of my journey:

  • drawing a Hierarchy of Structural Levels in Biological Organization without having any idea what the point was supposed to be

    Hey, it told me to “draw”!

  • parsing a question that wanted me to “[d]raw a molecule that is covalent, polar covalent, and ionic”. It’s okay if you don’t get the point, I’ll explain because I’m nice and don’t have anything better to do. A molecule is covalent by its definition and cannot contain any ions; the term that also covers salts (i.e. ionic compounds) is “chemical compound”. I’m probably technically wrong about all this somewhere because I scraped it together from Wikipedia fragments while half-asleep and have not really learned any chemistry yet. So, like the hypersubmissive student I am, I took the liberty of completely reinterpreting the problem and drew two molecules and one ionic compound with one sodium and one chloride atom. Don’t say I didn’t try.
  • coming up with a “shoe factory analogy” for, among other things, a tight junction! In excessively simplified words, a tight junction is where two cells’ membranes join together to form something liquid can’t pass through. So the million-dollar question is why two shoe factories would want to join their walls together to form something liquid can’t pass through. I’ve stared at this sentence for ten minutes and can’t come up with a funny follow-up, so it’s left to the reader as an exercise!

Now, I’m sad because this should be such an exciting achievement and I make it sound anticlimactic. And because I’m running out of interesting things to do in the summer… to the point where I occasionally find myself… washing dishes randomly. And I know I will feel like the exact opposite once school starts.

Why isn’t anything interesting happening around here!?


[A collection of summer vacation homework books]

Well, that was disarmingly quick. Less than 24 hours and all of a sudden all of my summer excuses for doing nothing important have been whisked away from under my feet. Old version of biology textbook and questions (thanks, Jonathan)… check. Two books plus one extra just in case from the reading list… check. All of the bookstore websites said there were no copies left, but we went to Eslite and handed the titles to the information desk girl and she said there were plenty of then on the shelf. Easy to find, too. And now I have to start working instead of endlessly refreshing certain web pages. And I am having tremendous difficulty with this.

I have always wished they would split our vacation periods into shorter blocks and scatter them throughout the year, because once vacation drags out, the amount of relaxation you can get out of it becomes less and less. I get sick of relaxing after a while and even the number of work-ish projects I have feel homogenous. I don’t even feel motivated enough to playing pointless flash games. (My most recent Anti-Idle save file is still on the old laptop and I don’t feel like getting it. If you don’t know what that is consider yourself lucky.)

I have finished Fahrenheit 451 and it was good, but not un-put-down-able with excitement. I imagine I’ll probably have to go through it again, especially the ending. But I wasn’t expecting they’d put any thrillers on the book list, only books with lots of room for interpretation and many places to discover a social criticism or philosophical message or metaphor for human nature. I don’t have any issues with that sort of things in a good book, but I have to wonder if we’re looking too deeply between the lines occasionally.

Anyway, this leaves one other book, plus the guided reflection assignments on them, plus eight chapters of exciting scientific reading and responses to questions! Wonderful. Also, it’s hot and sweaty and I’ve run out of descriptive words for this a long time ago, although obviously if I were a serious, attentive reader I should probably have been able to pick up a few extra relevant figures of speech from Fahrenheit 451.

Well, I like this segment of figurative language.

The pains were spikes driven in the kneecap and then only darning needles and then only common ordinary safety pins, and after he had shagged along fifty more hops and jumps, filling his hand with slivers from the board fence, the prickling was like someone blowing a spray of scalding water on that leg.

And indeed, it’s absolutely irrelevant and I’ve gone off topic again, but if I never got off topic then I think this post would be boringly short.

Okay, summer plans! The next week is the highly unofficial IMOCamp, which I am participating in not as a student or as a teacher, but as a more-or-less bystander providing a couple extra board games. Also I get to provide stories and maybe teach everybody how to get partial credit on problems. Then there are about two weeks of vegetating at home trying very hard not to do my summer homework, probably punctuated by a few trips to random places for the sake of getting out there. Then there will be three to four days of cramming. Who says I’m optimistic?

The point is that now, when I’m procrastinating, such as by writing blog posts documenting no events of significance whatsoever (e.g. this one), it is much more authentic procrastination because there are actually moderately important, non-self-imposed tasks being put off. So, I am quite possibly going to keep on blogging with the same frequency but greatly decreased post quality because I’m not blogging to blog anymore.

Nope, I lied; there is no point to this post, it’s just less boring than some of the alternatives at this point. At the pace and the level of perfectionism at which I’ve been writing “serious” posts, which don’t include this one, it could be winter vacation before I finish the IMO series. Oh well.

And no, no matter how much it looks like it, I did not select my books by how many numerically meaningful words they contained in their titles. If I wanted math I would have gone through The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (read its Wikipedia description) again, but I read it a long time ago and would rather try something different. Furthermore, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is more combinatorially suggestive, don’t you think?

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Biology Quotes

Looking at something under the microscope. I think it was banana.

“Teacher, is this slice too thin or thick?”
“[garble warble]”
It was even worse with “hypertonic” vs. “hypotonic” solutions.

Today the teacher was talking about DNA and transformation and something “S-shun”.
S-what? “Estion” or “S-shen”? Some obscure biological compound or process not in the textbook or my vague scientific concepts?
“S-shuuuun!” exclaims the teacher and flips back a few slides on our kludgy SmartBoard.

She was talking about the “S strain”, the strain of bacteria that were causing lab rats to get pneumonia and flip over in those silly Flash animations. This is the negative side of being so fully bilingual: accents too easily make people’s talking completely indecipherable to me.

(Oh yay let’s retroactively tag a bunch of posts for no reason!)