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Personal Record

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Well, by getting this in before midnight I’ve set a new personal record for blog posts in a month, whatever that means. Whether or not anybody actually reads it, I find the practice a helpful way for me to get a lot of the things that bounce around my head all day out – plus at times it saves me from having to tell the same story over and over.

I went down to Annapolis today for the first time to help lobby a joint committee of the Maryland State Legislature to create a dedicated source of funding for higher education. Click the link if you want more of the details, which I posted over on the SGA Blog.

As is often the case with these kinds of things, times got pushed and some things took longer than others, so we didn’t end up getting back until much later than was originally anticipated. There were way too many lobbyists crammed into too small of a time space, that’s for sure. At any rate, things worked out because earlier in the week my piano teacher had rescheduled all her Wednesday lessons for Friday, so I didn’t even have to worry about missing or not being prepared for my lesson today!

However, to counter that pleasant turn of events, I lost my nice light jacket somewhere between leaving the apartment this morning and going to work at AV. I had stupidly brought it with me into the day without wearing it because while it is comfortable, it causes so much static electricity that I have to find a way to ground myself before putting it on or taking it off. This method clearly made it very easy to misplace. I know I had it in class at 9:00 this morning, but I have no idea if I had it with me when I left or when I got on the bus. I know I didn’t have it with me when I got off the bus, and I couldn’t look for it later because I rode back with Josh since I stayed for the hearings.

I’ve done some looking around but usually in these kinds of situations the object has immediately been lost for good. It frustrates me a whole lot when this happens – I remember so much other complicated stuff and yet I lose things at the drop of a hat! If you happen see a fuzzy navy blue zip jacket with no hood that causes a lot of static electricity and repels water, track me down.

What a weekend!

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For many people, a title like this would begin a sordid tale of a crazy Halloween party involving alcohol, beautiful women, and memorable behavior. However, in case you didn’t already realize I was a geek, my crazy weekend story involves the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire (see the title link), carving pumpkins, Olney Field of Screams, and the Halloween party for the kids at Villa Maria. And, of course, a beautiful woman, but I think we all know who that is… ;)

Saturday morning began early, which isn’t all that big of a deal for Rachel and I since we’re used to getting up for church. We were supposed to be heading over to Villa Maria to help with their Halloween party for the kids there. Pre-Med Society, Golden Key, and Honors College were all going to help out, and since I’m in all three I figured it would be a good idea to contribute. Like many other days last week, it was pouring down rain, so we found shelter in the Commons and waited around until we started seeing cars gathering. After which we charged out into the rain, prompted dampening our socks – me because I was wearing my old shoes that have leaks in the sides, and Rachel because she was wearing those ridiculous Crocs shoes to go with her nurse’s scrubs. She says they’re comfortable but I just can’t get past how ridiculous they look…

At any rate, we decorated the gym with posters, fun halloween objects, and by stringing all six basketball hoops together with orange and black crepe paper. There were a whole bunch of tables stocked with different activities that the kids would come through, getting candy and a prize as a reward for completing it. Rachel’s and my table had to be one of the easiest – we just took their pictures behind a Frankenstein’s monster cutout (you know, the kind you put your face through?). The hardest part for me was making sure the little ruffians didn’t take more than their fair share of the candy. I’m really bad at disciplining kids. Rachel, of course, had no problems keeping them in line.

After we got back we took a nap, ate delicious cheese enchiladas from El Azteca, my favorite local Mexican restaurant, and went back to my mom’s house to carve pumpkins. It’s become my favorite Halloween tradition and I think we’ve always managed to do a pretty good job. Check out the picture above! Rachel did the “Happy Halloween” tree all by herself, which very much impressed me since she picked the hardest design in the whole flippin’ book as her first ever carving attempt. Du and I worked on the skull while Mom roasted all the seeds to make a delicious snack.

The Olney Field of Screams followed, an event that Du loves even though the admission price seems to increase every year. I missed it last year thanks to an Organic Chemistry test so I thought the whole thing had improved a lot. I’ll admit it, I jumped on quite a few occasions. The four people in front of us were hilarious though. They got scared at almost every single thing and would literally turn around and run back toward us, trying to use our bodies as shields. That right there made the whole experience worth it.

Naturally we didn’t get back to Rachel’s house until late, and then had to get another semi-early start to go to the RenFest with Rachel’s good friend Kim and her boyfriend Paul. It was a shame I forgot my camera because there were some excellent costumes. The stores in PA are definitely superior to those at the MD one, although I think the shows are better in MD. After all, we have jousting, and that’s pretty darn cool.

We took another nap when we finally returned from PA but didn’t remember to wake up until 2 or 3 AM, upon which we realized Rachel still had to drive me back to UMBC. Life’s always such an adventure…

Anyway, this entry got me exploring Picasa as it has a nice way to insert pictures into your blog. Maybe if I can get all this working I can have picture galleries here to go with some of the posts. We’ll see.

Posted by Picasa

Changing the World, Starting with UMBC

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Something I recently realized wasn’t inherently obvious in the posts – the title is actually a link to something I found interesting or in some way relevant (sometimes remotely) to the content of the post.

Today got off to a horrible start when I opened my eyes and realized I had slept through both my alarm and my class, and had just twenty minutes to get ready and be at a very important meeting concerning one of my Senate campaign issues, Food Services. To make matters worse I was supposed to take Amir’s CPS clicker to class with me so he could skip it to check our myoblast colonies for Cell Lab, so I let both of us down a participation point. I was feeling like the day was already on a crash course to be terrible but I got to talk to Rachel on my way to the meeting and she convinced me it was going to be a good day after all.

As it turns out, she was right, or maybe because of talking to her my attitude changed (more likely). The Food Services meeting went very well, and I left feeling confident that many (if not all) of the proposed changes would end up taking effect. There was a very positive environment toward change and improvements in that conference room which is exactly what somebody in my position wants to see. I’m really excited to see where this all goes in the upcoming months.

After that meeting I starting working on a more immediate project, advertising for SGA’s upcoming Prove It! initiative. We were able to get together with Cliff, one of the Marketing Interns, who offered us some excellent advice on making our campaign as appealing as possible to as many students as possible.

From there I ran (literally) to my Spanish exam, which I’d say went pretty well over all minus the fact that I had no idea what the final article was saying. I was supposed to summarize it and pretty much BS’d my way through it using phrases I was able to decipher from the text. We’ll see how much of that my teacher bought. I sure wish there had been some fill-in-the-blank questions.

All the rest of my day was spent doing SGA stuff related to either Senate or Prove It. Since I don’t have the time to come up with a good logo for it, we’re soliciting designs from some other student organizations that are replete with such “artsy folk”. They’re going to put out some pretty sweet stuff, I think, especially since we’re giving $75 to the winning entry. Nothing like cash as an incentive, right?

Finally, my best friend has finally found himself what sounds to be an excellent girl, and for that I am extraordinarily pleased. Oh, and I’ve been rocking out to the new Coheed and Cambria album, which explains the title link. And they posted the pictures from the Governor’s visit on his website. If you feel like seeing my eyes characteristically “smiling shut” simply click here.

Just a lil’ bit excited…

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Yesterday Governor O’Malley came to UMBC to talk about his plan for the state budget to resolve Maryland’s current $1.6 billion structural deficit. Many SGA members were invited to be there including Jay, Elani, Josh (who gave the first introduction), Steve, Gabe, Brady, Brian, James, and myself. As I mentioned in my previous post, we spent the night before researching his plan and preparing questions to ask him to hopefully put a few seeds in the Governor’s mind about our concerns. My question involved the proposed increase in the sales tax, which effectively increases the cost of most items college students purchase. I was really excited about being there and getting to ask my question and shake hands with the Governor, even if he wasn’t my first choice for the job. All the SGA members present got a picture together with him, so that’s kind of a fun one for the slideshow. Once it gets put up on the Governor’s website I’ll link to it or something.

Interestingly, the Baltimore Examiner picked up the story and featured some quotes and from Elani and I, although they didn’t get all our background information correct. For the record, I’m going to repost my complete question at the end. The event was an excellent opportunity and I feel very privileged to have been a part of it – and that I didn’t even have to miss any classes to do so!

Links:
Official Press Release

Baltimore Examiner Article

Text of question:
According to the College Board, the average student at a four-year public institution spends $863 on textbooks per year. Other studies have shown that the average student spends $606 of their own money on college-related merchandise alone, and $287 a month on discretionary items.
However, the tax reliefs for income and property taxes will not impact students. In affect, taxes are being raised on college students through the sales income tax. How can we help students meet these rising costs?

EDIT (10/22): Pictures are up!

Tengo Mucho en mi Plato, y no Tenedor

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Today has been rough, and there’s still a lot more ahead. It started with Developmental Bio, after which I went jogging around the loop for Jogging class, as opposed to the track. The day was just too beautiful to not enjoy for at least a little portion of it. After that I had to hurry back to my apartment to take a shower before going to get my haircut, which had been growing for five or six weeks and desperately needed a shear.

From there I rushed back to The Commons for a meeting with Steve Gilmore and David Hoffman about the many things we are trying to do in SGA this semester, a meeting that went right up against my time to start work at AV Services, where I am now. After I do all the 7:00 deliveries I have to duck out and go back to The Commons to meet with the students who are going to be with me at the conference with Governor O’Malley tomorrow. We are determined to make this an actual discussion, not just a cute photo-op for the Governor.

I work here at AV until 10 tonight, but at some point I have to run home and get a dress shirt and tie for the meeting tomorrow, because I think I should look a little nicer than the polo ‘n khakis. I also have to write up a 500 word essay on a cultural event for my Spanish class that is due tomorrow afternoon. Add to all this that I have a test in Developmental Bio Thursday morning and Amir has been trying to study with me all week! Oh, and since I didn’t get my lazy behind moving fast enough this morning, I haven’t even touched the piano, which also sucks as my lesson is on Wednesday.

I also made the mistake of not printing out a second copy of my essay outline to bring to work with me, so I can’t really work on that right now. I’ve been trying to get a little further on the Devo studying but it’s been hard to concentrate with all of this on my mind. I think my best bet is to go the Friday Cell Lab lecture rather than the Wednesday one, so I can either pick up my clothes then or use that time to write my Spanish essay.

As much as I hate moving about like a decapitated barnyard fowl, I think I really thrive on keeping myself busy. That’s one of the only explanations that works.

Bodies: The Exhibition

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This weekend Rachel and I went with some friends to see Bodies: The Exhibition in D.C. It turned out to be quite the adventure as we got lost part of the of way there and had to call them for directions. They allowed visitors in until 11 PM, however, which I thought was a brilliant idea, not to mention it took a lot of the rush-stress out of getting there.

We had free tickets to the exhibit from Jess and Golden Key – they had to buy a bunch of tickets to get a group rate and Friday was the last night they were valid. The exhibit itself would have been worth the $26 though. They have whole bodies that have been excellently dissected and had all of the water in them replaced with silicone in a process known as Polymer Preservation. So every body looks pretty much exactly the way it did when they first cut it open, with the added benefit that there is no decay.

Probably my favorite parts were the whole bodies in various states of dissection that had been posed – it gave me a real feel for what is going on beneath the surface in everyday activities. Some bodies had everything but the blood vessels removed showing just how much circulatory network is present throughout your anatomy.

The whole presentation was incredible and it really made me even more excited about my decision to pursue medicine than I was before. There is just so much going on at any given moment just to keep you alive, it’s absolutely mind-boggling. It really piques my desire to learn more about what makes us behave the way we do – how all of these biological systems contribute to individual behaviors, personalities, and decision-making. Rachel purchased an excellent-coffee table book with images of all the bodies, including some that weren’t on display at our particular exhibit. An excellent piece for a medical household, I think.

To top the whole adventure off, we got free parking. Nobody was manning the payment booth and the gate was open, so we waited around for a while and then just drove out. Whoops?

Thanks again to Jess for giving us this amazing opportunity, and thanks to Rachel and company for being crazy enough to take the trip.

The Orange Box

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I preordered The Orange Box over Steam not too long ago and scored five games for $45. Unfortunately I already had two of the five (Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One), but I’m recouping some of my expenditure by passing those two along to Omar for a small fee. He started playing Half-Life 2 last night and I think I’ve managed to get him hooked. Hey, it’s one of the greatest PC first-person shooters of all time, what can I say?

Currently contributing along with homework, studying, and other such nuisances to my not-playing of Bioshock is another one of the Orange Box components: Portal. I was intrigued when I first saw the trailer a while back, and the gameplay has definitely upheld my expectations. It is a puzzle game based around an intriguing concept – imagine being able to directly connect any two planes in space with a portal. Now imagine puzzles based around that ability, where you have to do mind-bending tasks such as jumping down to get enough velocity to travel upwards. It’s a really clever idea and well-executed on the technical level. There are many opportunities to look through one end of a portal and see what is on the other side, which means you can actually chase yourself around if you so wish, or force objects to bounce around in an infinite loop. The player is given many chances to invent clever solutions to the puzzles as many times there is more than one way to reach the goal.

I managed to beat the game in the first few days after its release and reached a very satisfying ending with a priceless song over the ending credits. There is a bit of storyline surrounding the game that ties in with the rest of the Half-Life universe, although exactly how it does so remains unclear. I’m looking forward to starting on Half-Life 2: Episode Two, seeing as I only finished Episode One a month or so ago and the story is still fresh in my mind. Alas, Bioshock, you are destined to remain on the shelf for a while longer.

Harry Potter

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After several weeks of returning to my room, rudely deserting my appalled roommates and shutting myself away until the wee hours of the morning, only to wake up exhausted the following morning, I have finally finished the Harry Potter book series. Yes, I know, I’m about oh, say, four or five years behind the rest of the world (generously speaking), but I kind of missed out on the whole craze while it was happening and thus never really felt the need to get involved. Only after Rachel checked the first two out of the library on her card, thrust them into my hand, and insisted that I read them, did I give the now-wealthy Rowling a try. The outcome of the experiment has already been made clear – I spend my precious free time over the next several weeks finishing the remaining books one after another like an experienced chain smoker. I’ll admit, they aren’t the most spectacular pieces of literature I’ve ever devoured, but they are pretty darn addictive.

Much to Rachel’s surprise, Harry Potter is not my favorite character of them all – for me Hermione takes that prize. Some of the things he does just strike too close to “little Michael” for me. Plus, Hermione’s the intellectual and that’s certainly a position with which I can identify (darn people always wanting to copy your work…). Anyway, I held out for a long time, but in the end I think the reading was worth it. At the very least I can rejoin the world with a slightly better understanding of popular culture, and enjoy such things as Potter Puppet Pals.

Don’t You Just Hate When You Forget

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I can’t stand it when I have the perfect idea for something to write here, and then forget it hours later. It’s like the more information I try and cram into my brain, the more stuff falls out the back, forgotten.

At any rate, my day got off to a poor start when I was leaving my fiancée Rachel’s house and noticed that three accidents had occurred, all along 95-S. Her dad helpfully suggested I take an alternate route I had never tried before as a means of bypassing the congestion. However, in my naivete I first went the wrong direction on 40, then the wrong direction on 695, with the end result being that I still ended up sitting in different traffic, the whole excursion took two hours and fifteen minutes instead of the normal, non-accident time of approximately 45 minutes, and I ended up fifteen minutes late for class despite leaving her house at 6:45 this morning. Lovely!

However, in typing this I remembered the beautiful sunrise over the water I almost pulled over the photograph, at which an official sign had been posted with the following text:

CRIMINAL ACTIVITY PROHIBITED

Consider that one at your leisure.

I also got my nice shoes covered in mud, thanks to my mid-journey consumption of a Red Bull, the onerous, neverending traffic line, and my mounting need to “relieve myself.” That is to say, I really had to pee and ended up cutting off a few drivers on my way to the shoulder, hopping over the guardrail, and half-walking, half-sliding down a small ravine to a flat area where was able to do as nature required. Alas, the poor shoes.

In other news, I ate at the Skylight Lounge today, being careful to take multiple helpings to ensure that I got everything I could out of the eight Flex Dollars I spent to get in. The food was pretty good, especially compared to the offerings Downstairs, but now I’m going to have to work additionally hard to use all my meals this week (another unnecessary expense).

SGA has been doing some good work as well of late, with the SGA-Students blog preparing to launch tonight and the newsletter taking shape. However, I was recently shown just how out-of-date the content on http://sga.umbc.edu/ really is. Hey, at least it looks a lot better (thanks, Nikki!).

Interview

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The other day I had an interview with a new research professor on campus. During our conversation, she abruptly asked me, “Michael, what has been the most difficult part of your life thus far?” I looked her right in the eye and answered promptly with a single word, “Gastrulation.”