Posts in: Block 8

A Child’s Perspective of War

For class today, we were asked to read Thannha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again. I remember passing by the book in my school’s library when I was in elementary school, but I never really had the urge to read it. Poems were short and confusing, while books like Harry Potter were long and fantastical (meaning it didn’t really require me to think for too long). But reading Inside Out and Back Again now, even though it is a children’s story, was healing. Lai’s story was moving (to me) because of the childlike innocence the story has. I really felt like I was reading from the perspective of a child, especially when Ha talks about how, “no one knows,” that she buys less food so she can buy more treats, which makes her feel “smart” (31). When I was younger, I too thought I was smart and that I could get away with anything (i.e, playing my gameboy under my blanket when my mom said go to bed). However, part of growing up is learning that your parents knew what you were doing all along. Ha too learns that her mom knew all along that she was buying less pork to buy fried dough (231).

Ha’s confession signified growth and development in the way, she was growing older, admitting her secret wrongs. Unlike the other stories we have read, Inside Out and Back Again zones in on what a meant to to be a child during war. It showed what it felt like to not understand what was happening, the loss of something you never really had, and how it felt to see the things and people you love all from the perspective of a child. The story is so heartbreaking because we all understand what it was like to be at that age, ignorant, scared, (sometimes) selfish, and angry. It is so was easy to understand how Ha and her siblings felt, which made Lai’s story all the more accessible to both children, and adults.

The class is coming to an end this week and its a bit of a bittersweet moment for everyone. On the one hand, we will have more time for ourselves and relax. On the other hand, this class has been one of the most reflecting classes I have ever taken and… well not being in it anymore is going to be a little saddening. Asian American/Asian studies have been a way for me to explore my identity in a predominantly white space, for which I am always grateful.

Adventures in investigative reporting, or the physical manifestation of a bad simile

Investigative journalism can be a lot like foraging for mushrooms. 

As the book Shaking the Foundations points out, journalists pick up the spoor of a story in a multitude of ways: an anonymous tip, an overheard rumor, an overlooked piece of information anywhere. A healthy sense of skepticism leads a reporter to think— hey, something is a little off here. Like the forager, a journalist’s job is to decide whether a mushroom is edible or not; that is, if a story is something worth digging for in the dirt, something worth uprooting. 

I decided to bring this mushroom simile to life this block by focusing my investigative work on the decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms in my hometown of Denver. I chose this topic for my reporting class because I knew it would easily hold my attention for three weeks. Denver made history last May when it became the first metropolis in the United States to make magic mushrooms the lowest priority of law enforcement. Two California cities have followed suit, Oakland and Santa Cruz. 

A key to investigative reporting is the document trail. This kind of journalism seeks to uncover and expose corruption of people in power, often government officials, or at least shed light on their behavior and hold them accountable for their actions. In reality, this glamorous job is often accomplished by weeks or months of tedious work, involving records requests, interviews, and combing through documents and databases. 

This block I filed my very first records request under the Colorado Open Records Act, known as CORA. It was, to say the least, an unusual demand. When Denver decriminalized psychedelic mushrooms, it created the Psilocybin Mushroom Policy Review Panel—the first of its kind in the United States—to discuss and evaluate the effects of the initiative. My request? I wanted to see all emails exchanged between the 11 board members regarding their work on the panel—emails that, as government records, I was guaranteed access to under CORA. 

To my excitement, the mayor’s office got back to me within a week. 

But in looking through the email threads, I failed to unearth anything particularly groundbreaking. Not even a mushroom-inspired joke or a sprinkling of creative wordplay. This was serious business. The emails revealed the names of those appointed to the panel and in which room their first meeting would take place. The panel director, in forwarding her emails to the records custodian, summed up the contents perfectly, labeling it “spell-binding stuff.” 

I sent my other records requests to the Denver District Attorney, the Denver Police Department, and the Fourth Judicial District of Colorado. Someone in the Denver District Attorney’s office thanked me for my email and said the request could take four to six weeks to fulfill. I have yet to hear back from the latter two entities. Though agencies are supposed to acknowledge your records request within three business days, these are unprecedented times. Normally I love being a pest, but the pandemic made me hesitant, as I’m sure my request isn’t the highest of priorities right now. 

Impacts of the virus also completely changed the way I do my reporting. As I’m sure is the case with many of us, I spend my days in quarantine glued to my computer, conducting interviews for The Catalyst student newspaper over Zoom rather than in person, and asking the CC community questions via Instagram stories. I jump over hurdles created by COVID-19 and keep running. I remind myself that when society is able to function safely again, I will never take interviewing a source over coffee for granted. 

For now, I continue to forage. There is something comforting in the search for information that’s hidden in the ground or in plain sight—how just a little bit of digging has the potential to make the world a better place.   

AI Week 2: Coding Netflix?

We survived the first week of AI online but the second week felt much more daunting and I was honestly starting to feel pretty overwhelmed. My favorite thing about Computer Science on the block plan is how collaborative it is. We, as a class, are constantly working together to understand new material and finish our assignments. I have very rarely done the majority of my homework locked in a room by myself, I am always finding a friend in my class to work with or just working in the lounge of our coveted Tutt Science. With all this being said, I was getting frustrated by the lack of collaboration on assignments. 

I was incredibly thankful to have a friend in the class who I am often texting about class or assignments, and one night we sat on zoom for a solid 4 hours to pair program (programming together and bouncing ideas off one another). With this week being overwhelming as class picked up pace we also got a really fun and challenging assignment.

We were coding Netflix’s recommendation engine. As some people may or may not remember, Netflix started out simply by the user being able to order a movie to their house and then mail it back when they were done watching. I remember the days of waiting for the next Netflix movie to arrive. However, Netflix knew that if they could nail down their recommendation engine it would be incredibly profitable. After trying simply within their company they decided to release a lot of their data and start a competition. The first person to get it would win one million dollars. After much time and many being unsuccessful they finally made smaller prizes of 10,000 dollars for anyone who could make progress they deemed significant and post a research paper explaining how they did it. Long story short, the code that Netflix deemed most useful was from a guy who programmed in his college dorm.

We took ideas we had learned the week prior, with the nearest neighbor algorithm and worked to code the Netflix recommendation engine. Of course we did not use as much data as Netflix, but I would say that in the end it was a success story. I found myself really excited by this project which made me mourn not getting to be on campus. I am still grateful for zoom calls with my professor and classmates who are willing to work together despite being miles apart.

Artificial Intelligence Online: Week 1

Artificial Intelligence sounds scary in itself, but when you add on the online portion it sounds far too intimidating. While I was hesitant to take this class once it was moved to online, I decided to continue with it because it was something I had been looking forward to learning all year. The first day of class my professor announced that he knew this would be a lot of learning and adjusting as we go, everyone would be adjusting to online learning and Richard was willing to be flexible with us. In normal block plan fashion we dove into topics of AI on day 1. 

 

Our first task being to define, What is Artificial Intelligence? As we bounced around ideas we landed on AI being a classification problem, where one is taking labeled data and learning from examples. AI is a statistical analysis of data. For this class, we are focusing on machine learning, which goes hand in hand with AI. This class seems to be working with a lot of different topics including algorithms, linear algebra, and data science. The first week we worked a lot with implementing well known machine learning algorithms such as Nearest Neighbor Model. This algorithm allows us to plot different points on a graph based on our labeled data and ask the computer to find the nearest neighbor to a specific point. As you may be able to assume, this takes a lot of both math and computer science so a good portion of our lectures were simply making sure we were comprehending what mathematics we were going to have to implement. We work really hard in this class to understand the “why” and “how” of our problem before trying to start coding. 

 

While I will be the first to admit I am not a fan of distance learning I am a fan of having recorded lectures. I have found myself motivated (or confused?) enough to go through and watch my lectures again, to pause and take more detailed notes, and to keep track of things that I may have more questions about.

The Documentation of War

The dominant narrative tells and shows us that war looks like…

WW1. WW2. Vietnam War. Bombs. Guns. Men. Death. Enemies. Tension.

Glory. Honor. Power. Protection. National security. Memorials. Veterans. Social Mobility.

Beyond the romanticized documentation of war, war is scary as it affects everyone and all aspects of life. The US is an empire that has built its status and power through its military. This give-and-take relationship, in which the US military “provides” the resources to “improve” the quality of life in the foreign land while dispossessing the native people is a traumatic, painful, and violent experience. In the words of my block 6 Professor Nadia Guessous, living in America gives us the “luxury of distance” from war. In our day to day life, we do not hear or see planes flying above our heads – ready to drop a bomb anytime; we do not hear or see bullets piercing through skin nor people bleeding to death; we do not hear or see frantic cries for help. And with this “luxury of distance”, we somehow become normalized to think people who are not directly involved in combat wars are safe and well-protected. War is not always about direct combat. As Dolma mentions in her post, “Asian American in the Time of Coronavirus,” war can be used as a metaphor to describe intangible “enemies.”

War stories are references that we often rely on to catch a glimpse on how it affects the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of people with war memories. But how do we know what is a “true” war story? For all we know, the author could have written from his or her imagination or draw from memories with missing pieces and made-up experiences. The truth is complicated and we should be skeptical with the information we consume, especially if it fulfills our expectations that the story is written by men (as the majority war stories are) and about someone who participated in combat. Rather, peeling off the layers of war can show us that war stories are so complex. They can be about familial relationships between the parents who experienced war and their children, about the intergenerational trauma and identity struggles, about the different silences and sacrifices made, about emotions that are hard to express, about militarized spaces and intimacies, about racism, and more. As Tim O’Brien writes in “How to Tell a True War Story,” a “true war story is never about war.” I thought something my classmate said was very endearing – if we are so caught up with finding the “truth,” we will “miss the beautiful irregular mundaneness of these stories, how they speak so closely to our hearts.”

Asian American in the Time of Coronavirus

tw//death and violence

Last month, an Asian American family, including a two year old and a six year old, were stabbed in a Sam’s Club because they were thought to be carriers of the coronavirus. I remember reading the news and shaking it fear, realizing just how bad it was going to get from here on out.

It’s a little weird to be in a class about Asian Americans during a pandemic that people are so lovingly calling the “Chinese Virus”. How am I supposed to learn while the world is literally on fire? How am I supposed to function knowing my parents get attacked for being Asian at work? How am I supposed to function on finishing an assignment when so many people are dying?Don’t get me wrong, I love my class and am so grateful that my professors have been so understanding and kind, but I am one of the lucky ones. So many classes are trying to carry on like “business as usual” (not just at CC), but there is something that is just so ironic about the world expecting people to be “productive” right now.

However, even with the chaotic state of the world, there is something grounding about being in this class. On our first day, we talked about the metaphorical “war on the coronavirus”. War metaphors are fairly common; the war on drugs, war on poverty, and now the war on the coronavirus. Although the initial intentions behind these movements can be contested, they have all become wars that will disproportionately hurt those who are already vulnerable.

COVID-19 is no different. Instead of America focusing on preventing further spread of the virus and taking care of people, they have been focusing on who to blame. The coronavirus pandemic has made clear just how fragile America is, or better yet, how fragile the world is. Economies have fallen and people are dying, yet the the United States is worried about a “war” and refusing to give proper stimulus packages.

I know that staying informed during this time is important, but I want to kick and scream every time I open my phone. So in many ways, this class is a blessing and a curse.

 

 

Water, CO2, and more thermodynamics

Sorry this post is so late in the week—the past few days have been very busy. In class, we’ve learned about mineral-solution equilibria, greenhouse gases and the CO2 cycle, and the water cycle throughout Earth’s history.

Monday was spent learning about how to plot and interpret chemical-solution equilibria. This was wrapped up on Wednesday when we created an activity diagram of minerals that make up a typical granite.

Tuesday was spent focusing on two papers. The first paper by James C. Walker et al. titled, “A negative feedback mechanism for the long-term stabilization of earth’s surface temperatures”, focused on the relationship between atmospheric CO2 levels, surface temperature, and weathering rates. The second paper we read by Andy J. Ridgwell et al. (2003) hypothesized about the presence of different types of calcifiers and their connection to atmospheric CO2 levels. Tuesday night, many of us enjoyed a lecture by Professor David Montgomery that was part of the Roberts Memorial Lecture & Symposium in the Natural Sciences. During this talk, we learned all about soils—their degradation, what the impacts of their degradation will be, and how to fix this problem.

 

Professor Eric Leanord introduces Professor David Montgomery.                                                                                                   

On Thursday, we shifted gears and learned about “The Big H2O Cycle”. This means that we learned all about the movement of water in different reservoirs. This brought us back to the question: is there water in the mantle? If so, how did it get there and can the amount change? How? Emily told us about the research that she is currently doing and plans to do in the future, focusing on how water has changed over time. We also got the pleasure of taking Bessie and Pearl out for a walk during lunch.

We are still waiting to analyze the results of the tests on the water samples that we collected from Manitou Springs and the rock samples from Manitou and Colorado Springs.

 

Mining, thermodynamics, and oceans!

The second half of first week was spent learning more about thermodynamics, the lab work necessary for analyzing samples, the future of mining, and the details of ocean chemistry.

Steve Weaver teaches the class about the ICP.

On Wednesday, we enjoyed a talk given by Leigh Freeman titled, “Careers: Make a Difference in Mining”. Mr. Freeman spoke about the importance of mining and its future, focusing on shifting societal values about mining. While this talk focused on mining and geology, we also got a quick lesson in philosophy.

 

To begin class on Thursday, we reviewed what we’ve learned so far about thermodynamics and introduced new concepts like entropy, gibbs free energy, and chemical potential. This included lots of math and derivation of equations!

 

Friday was spent delving into ocean chemistry. Understanding ocean chemistry can tell you anything from paleotemperatures to life evolution. When you jump into the ocean, do you every wonder why it tastes salty? How did it get that way? The salts in the ocean come from chemical weathering of the Earth’s crust. This is from river flux and hydrothermal vents. The source of the salts can be traced using isotope ratios. After discussing the acidity of the ocean, we took a break for lunch.

 

The afternoon portion of the class was spent stopping at different outcrops in Manitou and Colorado Springs and collecting samples. Next week we will prep the samples for XRF analysis. This will be used to study ancient ocean chemistry.

Geofluids

Hi, my name is Helen Carter. I am a Junior at Colorado College and a geology major. This block one of the featured courses is “Geofluids” taught by Professor Emily Pope. I am currently taking this class and will be updating everyone on what we’re learning about for the next few weeks.

 

Professor Emily Pope teaches the class how to sample water at Iron Spring.

 

On Monday, we dove straight into the course by learning about what geofluids are. Put simply, they are gases and liquids that flow through the different spheres of the Earth. Why is this important? The flow of fluids is the dominant mechanism for transporting mass and energy through the spheres. On Monday we also discussed how the Earth formed and how/why it is so different than other planets in our solar system. The afternoon was spent using a website titled, “Build Your Own Earth”. We used this to learn about controls on climate and the environmental consequences of atmospheric changes.

 

Tuesday was a shift to the more chemistry and physics side of geofluids—the thermodynamics and geochemistry behind the movement of liquids and gases on Earth. The afternoon portion of class was spent exploring the mineral water springs in Manitou. During the fieldtrip we tested all of the springs in Manitou by recording pH levels, temperature, and collecting samples for further analysis in the CC labs. Some of us used more professional techniques of drinking water from each spring and comparing how they all tasted.

Students testing water at Seven Minute Spring.

Today we began the day off by discussing “Air density 2.7 billion years ago limited to less than twice modern levels by fossil raindrop imprints” by Som et al. (2012). This paper related to the “Build Your Own Earth” project that we worked through on Monday. Som et al. used raindrop imprints to determine air density 2.7 billion years ago. The reason for this was to help solve the ‘Faint Young Sun’ paradox—the Archaean sun was apparently about 20% dimmer than the modern sun but the Earth still had liquid water and a warm climate during this period. The rest of the class was spent learning about subduction zones and the possibility of large amounts of the water on Earth being lost to the mantle.

 

The rest of the week will be spent learning more about how to describe thermodynamic systems and the details of ocean chemistry. We will also do further analysis on the Manitou water samples. I look forward to sharing more about this class and I hope everyone enjoyed reading about what we’re doing!

Krimidinner

On Thursday night, as we neared the end of another busy week, the students of German 202, and a few members of the Max Kade house, CC’s German language house, gathered together at Professor Ane Steckenbiller’s house to eat a delicious home cooked, Mediterranean dinner, and to play an exciting German murder-mystery game. The game was set at a dinner party, and was centered around a group of characters, each one played by a different player. Through a series of clues and dialog between players, it becomes clear that the characters all have some connection to one another, and some connection to a murder that’s been committed, and that the murderer is in their midst. The goal of the game was to solve the murder by the time the dinner was complete. It took three hours, but with the help of the two native German speakers who were present, and some ice cream sundaes, we successfully completed the game.