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Happy Birthday to the Bard

Today, April 23rd, 2014, marks William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. If he had lived that long, of course.

For a lot of people, this day will come and go much like any other. But for me, Shakespeare means something. Shakespeare’s plays are timeless; some are funny, others are tragic, most are a bit of both, and all are widely respected. I first studied Shakespearean literature as a 6th grader, when I read The Comedy of Errors. I thought it was funny to read and then I thought it was funny to watch. I’ve seen probably a half dozen incarnations of the show, and loved each and every one for a variety of reasons.

Over the past decade or so, I’ve read almost half of the Shakespearean canon, and seen more plays than that. At some point in high school, watching all of his 36 plays made its way onto my bucket list. A few years later, reading them all showed up on my bucket list too. If I had money to burn, I would see every Shakespeare show put on at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival every summer, because those are often amazing. My favorite Shakespeare show ever was Julius Caesar there, in a black box theater and a stripped down stage and an atmosphere that made you question every ruler in every nation and every time period. Some of my favorite memories are at Shakespeare plays, like when Erin and I went to see Shakespeare in the Park 45 minutes away, and had wonderful conversations in the car there and back. Or that every single time I read in bed (aka, often!) I think about the weekend trip I took with Shalini and Emma and Vicky to Ashland.

One of my favorite shows under the sun is The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, in which all of Shakespeare’s plays are presented in two hours and one intermission.

I love that you run across Shakespeare references everywhere – in movies, in literature, in music, in life – and it is always fun to recognize them. I love that I can look at posters here in Prague and learn new words (like Midsummer) because I know the plays’ titles well enough to figure them out.

So anyway, Happy Birthday, Shakespeare. See you around.

My Newest Addiction

When I was a kid, I always ate everything on my plate one thing at a time. I wasn’t one of those kids who threw a fit if my peas touched my potatoes, but I always ate all my peas and then all my potatoes. Or all my potatoes and then all my peas, depending on if I was facing the worst first and saving the best for last, or visa versa.

I no longer eat all my food one item at a time, but I still have an obsession not too different. Instead of eating one thing at a time, I absorb things all at once. I might go on a Tess Garritson whim, and read all of her books in a few weeks. Or I might get really obsessed with the variety of games that on the surface require nothing more than a swiping finger and the ability to add 2+2 or 3+3. I’m talking, of course, of Threes and 2048, and all the subsequent versions that have boomed in popularity over the last month or so.

*In the interest of fairness to the creators, I will state that Threes existed first, and 2048 is a version of it. Actually, 2048 is a version of 1024, which I haven’t played; 1024 is a version of Threes. I will also state that the only official version of Threes is available as an app for $1.99. An unofficial version is here.

When you have a facebook wall full of math and science nerds from around the country, it is hard to not notice that a nerdy game is blowing up. And so you wander over to the website to see what the fuss is all about, and two hours later you’ve downloaded the game onto your iPad because you absolutely, positively, must have this game for your 45 minute commute every day. It has absolutely nothing to do with the desire to beat Madeline’s record, which has to this day proved impossible.

At this point, you probably want to know what exactly it is that I’m talking about. Below is the link to play, but I hope you’ll finish reading before you just go off and play. Because once you start playing, you will NEVER COME BACK. Before clicking the link, I warn you to set a timer or some other way to prevent yourself from falling into the dark hole of a time suck that 2048 is. Because it is a time sink. You think, “oh! I was so close! Just one more game and I’ll get there,” and then, once you do, “hm! that wasn’t so hard. I wonder if I can get to 4096 too…?” Apparently, I am not the only person who feels this way. Buzzfeed is very rarely good for anything, but here it gives an accurate impression of the mind of a 2048-player. Since you want to play anyway, here you go.

Threes and 2048 as fall into the only category of online games I truly enjoy – those that are a) incredibly simple to learn, b) easy to play and c) almost impossible to win. The premise is simple: combine like numbers to get to the highest numbers you can.

Threes

Threes starts with blue 1 and red 2 tiles. Combine them, and 1+2=3 (The 3 tiles are white, as are all the larger tiles). Each time you move, the tiles collectively move one square in that direction. You can see the next tile coming, but you don’t know exactly where it will show up. You do know, however, that it will come from the direction you’re swiping. So, if you move left to right, the next tile will show up somewhere in the left-most column. Usually, the new tile is a 1, 2, or 3, but sometimes larger tiles show up too. These are signified by a white tile with a “+” on them. Higher tiles become more and more adorable monsters, egging you on to find out what their elder brethren look like.

The furthest I’ve ever gotten was to 768, which apparently has been reached by less than 5% of the players of Threes. My next goal – 1536 – would put me in the 99.82% percentile. (See Threes’ official infographic)

The key to making progress in Threes is to keep an eye on what the next card is, in order consider both the moves you want to make on the board AND the next move you can make with your next card.

2048

2048, while similar, is different. For one, you’re combining powers of two, not three. Like in Threes, you get the low tiles thrown at you – 2′s and 4′s. But unlike Threes, you’re never going to get a bigger tile added in; you’re always going to have to build up yourself. In 2048, the tiles go all the way to the end, so if you swipe left to right, all the tiles go all the way to the right, which means it is easier to combine multiple pairs into bigger numbers at once. On the other hand, you have no idea what number will show up next or where, because any empty spot is fair game.

To beat 2048, you need to set up a line of increasing tiles that you can combine. If you have a 1024 next to a 512 next to a 256 next to a 128 next to a 64 next to a 32 next to a 16 next to an 8 next to a 4, beating the game is just a matter of combining two 2′s and completing the trivial steps to win. But then, it asks you if you want to keep going.

My personal highest card is 4096, although I did have one game with a 4096 and a 2048, so I’m well on my way to the 8192 tile. I’ve got to get there if I want to beat Madeline.

The Offspring

Like any good game, 2048 has spawned dozens of fakes. Most of which are stupid, but hilarious, but some are fun, and some are impossibly difficult. My personal favorites:

1. The Tufts Theater version. Tufts is full of Computer Science people, and even the Theater department isn’t immune. So, when the make-your-own-2048 website became a thing, Artoun was kind enough to take pictures of Tufts Theater people and create our very own version. Fair warning: there are no numbers, so this is not a game you want to play necessarily unless you a) know people in Tufts Theater or b) enjoy randomly hitting the arrow keys. Also, you will not find me in any of the pictures. That is what happens when you live backstage…

2. The Nuclear Fusion version. This one, I’ll be honest, is a version I have yet to master. Because, just like Threes and 2048 are different and thus have different strategies, Fe[26] also plays by its own set of rules. Complete with frustrating 3Helium when you want 4Helium, and inconvenient decays. Can you fuse atoms together to make 56Iron?

Please please please don’t forget that you have a life! And go outside sometimes too…?

Boston Marathon Bombings One Year Later

On April 15, 2013, two Chechen men – boys, really – planted a backpack with a bomb in it at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Today, April 21, 2014, is Marathon Monday again. I wasn’t at the Marathon last year, but it threw me all the same. I was supposed to be there, and I had friends running the Marathon. I had friends nearing the finish line when the bomb went off, who didn’t get to finish the race they’d been training all year for. But at the same time, I had friends who were just a little off their expected pace and as a result, my friends survived.

No-one I knew was one of the three people tragically killed last year, although they did number among the 264 injured. People I knew posted online to volunteer spots on the floors of their houses for runners who couldn’t get home because of the transportation shut downs. People I knew went to donate blood, and some of my close friends were the first to start the social media actions among Tufts students to make sure all our classmates were safe and sound. People I knew were part of the movement that proved just how true the saying Boston Strong really is.

Boston Strong JLW 2013

I’m not going to pretend I know what it was like to be on the finish line that day, and I’m not going to say I can identify with the people that saw that tragedy first hand. But it is impossible to be someone who was in Boston that day and to be unaffected by it. To be someone who woke up multiple times to notices from Tufts Police telling us not to leave our dorms, or to be someone who sat side by side with her friends glued to the TV screen, watching and waiting to see if the terror was moving closer to us. Everyone in the greater Boston area was affected by that horror. But all of us are moving on.

I told myself that very day that I was going to run the Boston Marathon because of the bombing. Because the bombing was a terrorism act intended to fill the city with fear. There is no way to know why the bombs were set, or what was intended to come as a result, but I know that I’m not one to cower in fear. So I said I would run the Marathon. And dozens of other people said the same thing.

This year, the Marathon has the second largest number of runners in its 118-year history – 36,000 runners. And though I can’t run with them, I’m with them in spirit. I’m rooting especially for the Tufts Marathon Team, and all the other Jumbos that are running the Marathon for the second time this year, and who are actually going to get the satisfaction of crossing the finish line.

I’m rooting for everyone that ran last year and then ran on to donate blood. I’m rooting for everyone running this year because of last year’s tragedy, and I’m rooting for everyone running in spite of it. If I was in Boston, I’d be running it too (and that says a lot coming from a self-proclaimed anti-runner. Although I ran again this morning, so…)

Boston Stronger JLW 2014

As horrible and frightening as the bombing was, it proved the strength of the Boston community. It proved that the Boston community has spread all around the world, literally. Boston Strong made it all the way to Prague, and made it back this year. The greater Boston region, the United States, and the world as a whole have united around the runners of this Marathon and every marathon, and the runners are staying Strong. Today and for years to come.

One Month To Go!

I have exactly one month between today and my day of departure. One month to do all the things I still want to do in Prague before I head out. One month to write all my papers (yikes!), one month to make as much progress as I possibly can in my Czech, one month to finish my time with my new friends.

It is crazy to think that I’ve already been in Prague for almost eight months, or to think that I’m almost done with my time here. It is crazy to think that my year of romping around Europe is soon to come to a close. It is crazy to think that in the next 30 days, I’m taking a 4 day trip to Italy and a 4 day trip to Malta and a weekend trip to grandma’s house. Which means that, though I have 4 full weeks left, 4 full weekends left, I only have one weekend left in Prague.

At the same time, I look back on what I’ve already done in Prague and I am amazed. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, and the things I’ve done and learned over the last (almost) eight months is truly incredible. I don’t want to write a super-sappy “my study abroad was awesome” post, because I’ll write that one month from now. But I do think that it is important to note that I have only one month left of this amazing experience, and to remind myself to make the most of the opportunities I’ve got left.

Český Čtvrtek – Eifelovka

Eifelovka je krasná. Všichni jsme viděli fotky, a viděli jsme filmy v každou film v Pařiži. Ale, pro mě, Eifelovka je dobrá protože je opravdu úžasnou techniku. Býla nejvyšší stavba pro 41 roky. Je silná, ale vypáda to křehká. Tady jsou moje fotky o Eifelovka.


The Eiffel Tower is beautiful.  We’ve all seen the pictures, we’ve all seen it featured in every single movie set in Paris. Every. single. one. And yet, what really struck me every time I walked by it, but especially as I was walking up it, is that is truly a feat of engineering. It was the tallest structure in the world when it was built, and held that position for an amazing 41 years. It is phenomenally strong and yet appears artistically fragile. Perhaps it was the white clouds on the day I really looked at the structure that made it stand out so well, or maybe the colored elevators going up the otherwise grayish black structure. Regardless, here are some pictures I took over the weekend that showcase what an amazing structure Eiffel gave to us.

elevator wheel

My Next Trip to Paris

I spent four days in Paris, jam-packed with sites I saw and museums I visited, and I feel like I saw nothing. I feel like I dipped my toe in the water, but didn’t even have time to put my whole foot into before I got pulled away. There are so many things that I wanted to see and do and I simply didn’t have time for it.

I didn’t get to see any of the bones I wanted to see. I wanted to visit the Catacombs, but the line was so long that it definitely was not going to happen. I wanted to wander through the cemeteries, where incredibly famous people are buried, but that didn’t happen either. Fortunately for me, the dead people aren’t going anywhere.

Neither is the art, thank goodness! I don’t think I could have spent much more time in museums than I did, but I don’t feel like I saw even close to enough. I spent four hours in the Louvre and barely saw any of it. I spent over two hours each in the l’Orangerie and d’Orsay and I could go back to each for easily twice as long. I didn’t get into any of the museums of modern art, or any of the historical or science museums. I didn’t visit the Rodin statue museum to see the Thinker, and I didn’t find the Rose Line, like I said I would when I first read The Da Vinci Code.

There are so many churches and gardens! I didn’t climb the tower in Notre Dame or go up to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. I didn’t see the other Statue of Liberty; I looked at but didn’t walk to the Arc d’Triumph. I wandered around so much, but I barely saw any of the city. (To read about what I did see, read this post)

I could spend a month in Paris, as a tourist every day, and still not see it all. In fact, maybe I’ll do just that.

Cheating the System in Paris

Step 1. Live/work/study in the EU.

Step 2. Be under 26 years old.

Step 3. Have the right attitude.

Steps 1 and 2 are really quite self-explanatory. The French government has a law that museums must allow EU students under the age of 26 into the museums for free. Some museums only allow students, some let any EU resident between 18 and 26 in. Some will only accept a valid passport/ID card/visa from an EU country, some only require your student ID. Some make you get a free ticket from the ticket counter, some let you in with just your documents. As far as I know, the individual policies aren’t posted anywhere in English, though if you speak French you can probably figure it out. We managed just fine by asking at information, or going up to the counter if the line was short, or just trying to get in straight away.

Technically, this isn’t cheating the system. It is just knowing the system. Thanks to Cordelia, who was the first person to tell me this convenient – and cheap – truth!

Step 3 is a bit more difficult. When Holly and I were discussing the whole French-people-always-look-perfect thing, we decided a lot of it is attitude. They put on whatever they put on, and then they rock it. So we decided to adopt the attitude of the French for the weekend. And we let this attitude roll over from our attire to our museum-going.

For example, we are pretty sure that having a student ID at the Louvre does not get you out of the security line. When we walked up to the Louvre in the morning of day 2, the line in front of the I.M. Pei pyramid was crazy. Probably over an hour long. I know there is another entrance to the Louvre, but I don’t know where, and neither of us were particularly excited about the prospect of standing in the sun for that long. Holly wanted to turn back, but then I noticed a second, empty, line. The line for people who already had tickets. Now, I don’t know if the French government would agree with my logic, but I figured since we didn’t have to buy a ticket, that was basically the same as already having it, right?

So we put on our best French attitudes, walked through the non-existent line, into the pyramid, had our bags checked by hand instead of by machine, and walked into the Louvre. Now, I’m not saying this would work for everything in Paris, but it worked at the Louvre. And it worked at the d’Orsay. And it would probably work in a lot of places, if you just tried it. But everyone, as Holly says, is a lemming – we see the line and we assume we have to stand in it.

We also manipulated the system a bit during our trip to Sainte Chapelle. That time, though, it was completely coincidental, and accidental. I wanted to see the Palace of Justice, which is right next door. They’re actually in the same building complex, and in the same courtyard. And their security lines are right next to each other. So when the line for the Palace of Justice was nil and the line for Sainte Chapelle was long, it wasn’t hard to convince Holly to see the Palace of Justice first. So we hopped in line, assuring not one but two people we were in search of Justice. We weren’t sure why we had to convince them until we got past security. Because the people who had waited in line for Sainte Chapelle were walking out of the door right next to us. We went right to the Palace of Justice, and they went left to the chapel. Our paths crossed. So, when Holly and I came out of the Palace of Justice, we skipped the security line and made our way to the chapel. Where the museum law applied and we got in for free.

Is this cheating? Maybe, maybe not. Manipulating? Almost certainly. Worth it? For sure. So if you’re on your way to Paris, or anywhere, really, adopt the attitude. Be observant, notice the other possibilities, and act like you know what you’re doing. And remember, if you get caught for some reason, you’re not going to get in trouble. The worst that will happen is that you get sent to that hour-long line, and maybe have to stand behind an extra five or ten people.

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