The iPhone Ringtone

I was at Kroger with my mom when I heard the iPhone Marimba ringtone. I instantly reached for my BlackBerry (yes, I liked it so much that I put it on my BlackBerry) before realizing that it wasn’t my phone.

That ringtone seems to be everywhere, and every few days, I find myself in a similar situation. And today, as I was staring at unripened bananas, I realized that this situation wasn’t about ringtones. It was about how ubiquitous and widespread this particular ringtone, and for that matter the iPhone, iPad, and iPod are. And inevitably in this process, the image of Steve Jobs came to mind.

Steve Jobs has been gone for a little over a month now, but the world still remembers him and probably will for a long time. Just this morning when I was searching for reviews on an app, I came across a site that had a banner across the top saying “AppAdvice wouldn’t exist without Steve Jobs”. Not only did he create Apple, and all the products that went with it, he created an entire industry of apps, docks and other accessories. His inventions allowed others to become inventors.

He reminds me of an old Hindi quote (no it isn’t from Bollywood), it’s from Kabir:

“Jab Paida Hue To Jag Hansa Hum Roye
Aisi Karni Kar Chalo, Hum Hanse Jag Roye”

When you were born, you cried, and the world rejoiced. Do something so that when you die, the world mourns and you rejoice.

We will all die someday, and in most cases, nobody will really care. Nobody will care that we lived and nobody will care that we died. But for those like Steve Jobs or Newton*, the world cares.

I want to be among these select few. I want to be among those that bring inspiration to others by their life story. I want to be synonymous with something positive – like genius and innovation.

Simply put: When I die, I want the world to notice.

It’s time to get cracking.

*Inventing Calculus and Physics might also call for loathing 😛

Summer Research at UH

For the past two summers (before my junior and senior years) I spent a lot of time in lab at the University of Houston in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry in the lab of Dr. George Fox. Most of what I worked with had to do with DNA related things and I found it really cool to be seeing in front of me, on a computer screen, nearly 3.5 million DNA positions. As I looked at a mind-numbing amount of data, I learned the different ways to separate the positions in order to find where mutations occurred. In this process I came to love Linux, and well…the same cannot be said about Windows. I learned new tools like awk and picked up bits of programming languages such as Python.

The first summer I worked mostly with the bacteria DNA. I knew what the species was and by using the different indicators on each DNA position, I tried to separate the normal from the abnormal. Of course, it’s almost impossible to go through several million positions one-by-one, so I wrote scripts in awk in so that it would go through the data for me. And often times, I got to upload my scripts and data and run them on blazing fast supercomputers. For a geek, that is exciting. From the several million, the lists of interesting, potentially mutated positions came down to a few thousand, and these had to be examined properly.

The next summer, I worked with something even cooler. This time I just had DNA, but had no idea which species it came from. What made it even better is that this DNA was found on space shuttles (in space). I learned how to use various software in order to figure out which areas of the DNA were continuous. Then I wrote a script in Python in order to compare it to a huge repository of DNA information available on the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI)’s website. Unfortunately it seems that the strand that I was working on was a mix of several different organisms and so it was difficult to match it up to any of the organisms in the database. Around this time, it was getting to be the end of my time there (I think I was there for about 5 weeks this last summer, because before that I had Boys State and HAS, and after that I went on a road trip, temple camp, and then school started).

So after I left, they were working on getting new samples from space. Luckily, because of the way I wrote my script, they will be using the same script in order to go through the new samples as well, and so this should save a considerable amount of time. And currently there is a paper in the works on this, and I’m going to be acknowledged in it for my part :).

During this time, I normally took a ride with a CS professor…because I really didn’t want to get a parking pass. So one day, he took me to his lab and made me an experiment subject. Apparently, I’m not a very good one -_-.


On September 11, 2001 I was a naive second grader.

I woke up that morning looking forward to a circus or carnival or something I was supposed to go to with my best friend in the evening.

As the school day progressed, a strange thing happened. Kids started getting picked up by parents left and right. All I thought was that it was odd that so many kids had doctors’ appointments on the same day. And all I hoped was that the friend with whom I was going to the circus didn’t have to go to the doctor too.

If my teacher knew about what was going on, she gave no indication of it. As far as I remember, other than many children leaving, everything was normal.

Finally, the familiar voice of our principal came over the loudspeaker dismissing us by bus. Once again, no indication of anything being amiss. As the principal called my bus, MR 3, I looked at my friend and smiled excitedly. Finally it was time for the carnival.

We both rode the same bus; we got on together. But obviously we didn’t sit together. She was a girl. If we sat next to each other, someone would tease us…and in the second grade, that was the end of the world. So I strolled to the end of the bus and tried to find a seat where all the cool kids were sitting. Because that was the only thing that mattered in the second grade.

We soon pulled into my neighborhood and I got off of the bus and ran inside. “Dad, Mom, what time do we have to go?”. My parents simply said that it had been cancelled, and for a brief moment I felt as if tragedy had struck. Dejected, I turned my attention to the television that had been on this whole time.

Up until that point, I had no idea that some people had crashed planes into buildings 36.2 miles away from where I was standing. Needless to say, it didn’t make any sense to me.

In the days after 9/11, it felt as if everything had changed. The next day during PE, our teacher locked the door that was normally left open for air to come in. He told us to be aware of suspicious threats. The way he said it made us almost afraid of going out to the monkey bars or the blacktop. A few days later we practiced lock down drills, so that we would be prepared if someone bad was nearby. There was a distinct feeling of uneasiness that loomed over my school for a long time.

A lot has been said about whether we are safer now than we were then, and I’m not going to talk about that. But what I will say is that that day robbed us, at least for a while, of the carefree naivete that is such an integral characteristic of any second grade class. Before 9/11, I don’t think I had ever even heard the term “terrorism”, but after 9/11 it became one of the most common words that came from the television.

The Sad State of Volunteering

It seems to me that the value of volunteering has gone down from work that is done simply out of the kindness of one’s heart and in order to help another with no expectation of getting something in return to a something done simply in order to fulfill a requirement in an organization. Most people these days don’t say “Hey, I need to volunteer and make the community a better place” but rather “Hey, I need some hours”.

And before we go any further, let me state that I’m not saying that one should not be recognized for their service, I’m simply saying that a signature on a piece of paper with a number of hours should not be one’s only impetus for volunteering.

But sadly that is what it is today (obviously this statement does not necessarily apply to each and every circumstance). Service is not done for the joy it brings to our hearts, but simply so that we remain in good-standing with the National Honor Society. It seems to me that these hour requirements are destroying the true meaning of volunteering and instead transforming it into a transaction of sorts – a transaction just as mundane as buying a pack of gum from a corner store.

So I propose that all hour requirements be removed from any organization that currently requires them. Now many may argue that this will decrease service output. To respond to this, I will refer to the list of service hours and activities for my National Honor Society chapter. Going down that list yields things like “Helped Aunt Move In” for 5 hours (which is half the total requirement of one semester) or taking myself as an example: “Math Club Registration Booth” in which I literally sat at a table, did my summer math table and yelled at a few people passing by to join Math Club. Then I see things like “Choir Car Wash” and “Theater Car Wash” which, to me, seem to be a little bit of double dipping, if not outright immoral. On one hand you are working to get money for an organization in order to fund your activities (which is perfectly fine) but on the other hand you are reporting that as service. That’s analogous to someone reporting the work they do for a living as community service. Which…is totally absurd. So yeah, perhaps those not genuinely interested will stop volunteering, but will it really make any real difference in society? I don’t think so.

And with these silly requirements gone, I think people genuinely interested in serving others will be able to take on projects with much greater societal impact, without having to worry about getting some little piece of paper signed.

I think that this is worth experimenting upon. We can take two schools with a similar output of volunteer hours and remove all requirements from one. At the end of a few years, we can evaluate for which school had the greatest social benefit.

Disclaimer: I honestly do not mean to demean any form of volunteering, even the examples I chose. All I wish to do is ask us all to reevaluate what service currently means in our society, and if needed work towards reforming that.

2011-2012 Schedule

  1. AP Physics B (why can’t Physics C make? >.<)
  2. AP English 4 (this has got to be fun)
  3. AP Music Theory (curse you Fine Arts requirement and my unwillingness to take a regular class. But this will probably be immensely helpful in AcaDec)
  4. AP Environmental Science/AP Gov (1st/2nd Semester, respectively. Hopefully something will work out to where I can take APES all year long).
  5. Academic Decathlon (No Regrets.)
  6. Hons/AP Psych (meh)
  7. AP Statistics (:D)

The Folly that is Standardized Testing

Most of us hear the words “standardized testing” and begin to groan. Four hours (give or take) of sitting in a room with a number 2 pencil staring at a piece of paper with hundreds of little circles and ensuring that our marks are clear, our erasures are clear and our sanity is not lost. All within a specified amount of time. These tests are supposed to measure something or other. But really they measure nothing…nothing but how good of a tester, guesser and BSer you are.

Sometime ago I received my AP test scores and I think they are pretty good scores (Chemistry could have gone a bit better :P). But the point is that right now if you ask me to describe to you how capillary action, intramolecular forces or Taylor Series works, I would stare blankly and then talk about something else…like Big Bang Theory, economics or politics. The thing is that I don’t understand all of those concepts and one would think that in order to score so well on the AP test, I ought to know those concepts.

I could go on and on about the problems of standardized testing (and I’m sure you could too), so onto solutions.

Here is my thought: get rid of standardized. Society wants to put everyone into a cookie-cutter mold so that we all grow up to realize the “American Dream” – own a house with a white picket fence, and have 2.2 children. This is what standardized does to us. It tells us that everyone should know the same concepts, have the same thought process and reach the same conclusion. This is wrong. We need to fundamentally understand that everyone is different (this brings up another point – everyone is not equal – but that’s something I’ll save for another time). And furthermore we need to encourage everyone not to be afraid of being different. Difference needs to be celebrated, not condemned.

That being said, we do need to ensure that a person has a certain breadth of knowledge, so I think the following suggestion would be on top of the currently instituted testing process.

So here goes: in addition to what is already in place, if a student would like to receive college credit, the student would need to create a substantial report or presentation, that would be acceptable to real college professors and students, on a single topic. This product should, unlike the testing, go into considerable depth on this certain topic.

What this does is that it requires a person to actually understand a concept. I repeat: actually understand a concept. I can guarantee to you that if such a thing was part of my AP testing, I would not have passed many of tests.

I realize that many people won’t like what I just said. Which is fine because these tests should not really care about the personal fancies of the people that are taking them. I mean, if it were up to most of us, we’d get rid of the AP test altogether and want to claim credit for just taking the AP class. And in such a situation, how do you ensure that students actually learned the content of a class to a sufficient level?

Summer Reading List

  1. Finish The Hobbit (I started this a while ago and never got around to finishing it) by JRR Tolkien
  2. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  3. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
  4. Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  5. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  6. The Oz Principle by Roger Connors, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman
  7. The Journey Home: An Autobiography of An American Swami by Radhanath Swami
  8. American Veda by Philip Goldberg
  9. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda
  10. Inside Larry & Sergey’s Brain by Richard L. Brandt
  11. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad at least a bajillion times!
  12. Other books I got as gifts years ago that I haven’t read yet…

Feel free to suggest more!