This is Very, Very Powerful: The Guantanamo Hunger Strike’s Voice

The New York Times recently published a Guantanamo detainee’s account of the brutal treatment he’s received at his prison. In clear, cutting language, the Yemeni prisoner tell us of his hunger strike — of the tubes thrust “up [his] nose” (and, once, “18 inches into [his] stomach”) that shovel food down his throat.

The violent imagery that he conjures is powerful. But more powerful is the man’s earnest voice. It’s a helpless voice, beaten down by 11 years worth of suffering and humiliation: He tells us of when he was denied toilet usage, and of when he wasn’t permitted to change out of clothes onto which force-fed food had slopped and dribbled. But, remarkably, his is a voice not yet broken:

“And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.”

When I first read this article a few days back, I thought that, perhaps, it would effect change, that perhaps the people might rally around it and call for the closing of Guantanamo, or at least ask why it was still open. NPR, The Atlantic, Huffington Post and others took note, and Reddit raised a storm. But I don’t think attention is enough. How do we translate attention into action? When will people demand Guantanamo’s closing? What will it take for Mr. President to belatedly make good on his promise? I don’t pretend to have the answers — but I’m frustrated just the same.

I really, really want to fly into space.

Update, April 24, 2013: Turns out I didn’t win. But I had fun nonetheless!

If you’d be so kind as to help a boy get a wee bit closer to realizing his dreams, please click here — every unique click I get slightly increases the radius of my guess and makes my yearned-for spaceflight a tiny bit more likely. Thank you very kindly!

Whether I’m biking through rugged creekbeds, tires squelching in quicksand-like mud, or sailing over a foamy blue sea under an oven of a sun, I like to think of myself as an adventurer. But I admit, with no happiness, that I don’t get to race down nature’s canals as often as I like, and that the only sailing I’ve embarked upon was virtual (Wind Waker, I think, ranks as one of my favorite games largely because it’s pervaded with a sense of grand adventure). At least presently, I’m more of an adventurer-at-heart than an adventurer-in-practice. I suppose that life as a fulltime student (and soon to be fulltime intern at Google) has its set of limitations.

A Lynx spacecraft! Purportedly, these travel up to Mach 3 and get you into space in but four minutes.

A Lynx spacecraft! Purportedly, these travel up to Mach 3 and get you into space in but four minutes. KLM will take a lucky winner and a companion of his choice into space on one of these.

I’m digressing. Back to the point that I’ve yet to make — I really, really want to fly into space. KLM is holding a really neat contest, and the winner gets two tickets (worth 95 grand a pop!) into space via the Lynx spacecraft. The premise of the contest is almost as cool as the prize itself: On April 22, KLM will launch a high altitude balloon from the Nevada Desert (despite my Google searches, I can’t pinpoint its location …) up, up, up into space, and the contestant who most accurately guesses its peak altitude and lateral drift wins. I think I must have spent close to two hours researching and deliberating on where to plot my guess in space.

Now, I recognize that my chances of winning are infinitesimally small; it’ll probably be some other lucky guy or gal that gets to rocket up above the heavens. But, at the very least (and it’s not very much “least” at all!), the contest introduced me to high altitude balloons — which, in case you need any persuasion, are awesome (hopefully that was persuasive enough). From my minimal research, it looks like people have launched DIY balloons and have posted tutorials on how to go about replicating their awesomeness. And I really do want to replicate their awesomeness, so I’m thinking, when I’m not busy at work and I’m not busy being not busy, I’ll spend my free time building (trying to build) a high altitude balloon. Even if I can’t launch myself up into space, hopefully I’ll be able to launch a big ol’ GPS-and-camera-equipped balloon up there.

Here’s a video taken from hobbyist Alexei Karpenko’s high altitude balloon. In case you couldn’t guess, I think it’s awesome.

Why study computer science?

The World of Programming

A nifty, if not exhaustive, infographic on the history of computer programming. Infographic by Adit Gupta of Smashing Magazine.

Think of something you’re interested in. Chances are, whatever you’re thinking of is somehow connected to computers. Do you enjoy video games, or perhaps animated movies? Computer science backs the animation engines behind the two. Cars? Computer science allows for assisted parking and even automated driving. Shakespeare? Computer science helped determine which works he truly authored. Shopping? Computer science enables the buzzing virtual fashion and e-commerce scene. Medicine, phones, social networks, Google search — the list goes on.

Computers pervade modern day society. With so many problems that need solving (an interesting aside: Stanford lecturer Keith Schwarz tells us that it’s been mathematically proven, via Cantor’s theorem, that there exist infinitely more problems than can be solved computationally), the world needs as many computer scientists as it can get. We celebrate our computer scientists — just look at Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak.

The best part? Computer science is fun. As a programmer, you’ll have at your fingertips the ability to create something live, right in front of your eyes. Bit by bit, you’ll piece together an application, elegantly and meticulously crafting it until you arrive at your end-product. When you launch it, and everything works, you’ll feel oh-so-satisfied; you’ll probably have a big ol’ grin on your face, too.

debugmusic: Zelda Reorchestrated

While I may not have time to fulfill my nostalgic urges to revisit Hyrule by playing Skyward Sword, I can at least listen to old Zelda tunes at Zreo Music offers on-demand streaming of faithfully recreated and subtly mixed MIDI Zelda scores.

Between scholastic obligations and extracurricular activities, it’s been difficult for me to find the time to play video games these days. And even if my Winter Break has allowed for intermittent bursts of Skyrim and Arkham City, I still haven’t gotten the chance to plop down on my couch for a good hour or five and really immerse myself in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. The urge to do so became particularly compelling last night. During the two hours I spent at the Cupertino Coffee Society working on journalism, my ears were treated to throwback Zelda classics, including the Hyrule score and “Saria’s Theme”, in addition to Mario 64 tunes like “Inside the Castle Walls” (the owners of the café must be Nintendo fans!).

But I can’t rely on Coffee Society every time a wave of Hyurlean nostalgia washes over me; for that, there’s Zelda Reochestrated, an ambitious recreation and archive of Zelda musical themes that can be streamed on demand. The name, unfortunately, is a bit misleading: The tracks are MIDI’s, although the team has been working on a fully reorchestrated Twilight symphony, for what seems like (or perhaps really is) ages. Regardless, the scores do sound impressive and conjure, at least for me, childhood memories of braving the oceans in Wind Waker, or swimming through the depths of Lake Hylia. And so, while I may not have the time to play Skyward Sword and create new memories, reliving old ones through music seems like the next best thing.

Video: Salman Khan Speaks at Monta Vista High, Elaborates on Educational Philosophy

On Jan. 6, students enrolled in Monta Vista (my high school) were graced by the presence of Salman Khan; no, not the Bollywood actor, but the founder of Khan Academy, a website hosting thousands of educational videos on nigh all high school subjects, and a few collegiate-level ones, too. As a reporter (as well as news editor and webmaster) for El Estoque, Monta Vista’s student news website, I scrambled with my fellow co-workers and assembled two videos covering Khan’s visit. The first video, located directly below, highlights snippets of Khan’s speech on his not-for-profit educational venture.

After his speech, I, along with a few other reporters, sat Khan down for an in-depth interview about his opinions concerning the current state of education and his reformatory ideas on how to improve it.

Both videos were originally published on and have been shared under a Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial, share-alike license. I posed questions to Khan during the video interview and, along with Kevin Tsukii, compiled and edited the footage for both videos. Footage was filmed by Carissa Chan, Christophe Haubursin, Nona Penner and Lisa Zhang. Additional reporting was done by Aafreen Mahmood.

Holding off on WordPress 3.3

Although WordPress 3.3 does have a slew of new, neat features, smoother back-end navigation and an improved media uploader among them, I’ve decided to stay on the reliable ol’ 3.2 for the time being — I’ll let others test the 3.3 waters for me before I take the leap myself. While most have updated to 3.3 without any hitches, some have complained about plugins breaking. While that in itself should be resolvable, a broken theme would spell disaster, especially for a publication like El Estoque; WooThemes’, well, themes seem fairly compatible with 3.3, although some are facing issues with the media uploader.

WordPress 3.3.1, released just today, did fix some 15 bugs and resolved a security issue, but I’ll wait until the dust settles before upgrading just to be safe.

Update (Feb. 20, 11:03 a.m.): I’ve updated both and this blog to WordPress 3.3.1, and everything is running smoothly, no hiccups whatsoever.

Moving with the Times: Tools for a Web Journalist

Some journalists lament the shift from print to online for the loss of creativity that they perceive accompanies it — articles, they fear, will be reduced to text chucked onto a page without further thought. But that needn’t be the case; reporters can use the web medium to add extra dimensions of interactivity and design to their works, while using tools that subtly yet significantly transform the journalistic process.

Robert Hernandez' interactive webpage allows you to explore a variety of tools for web journalism. As journalism becomes more web-centric, it's important that reporters learn to utilize the tools at their disposal.

Earlier this year, at the JEA Anaheim convention, Robert Hernandez, assistant professor at USC Annenberg, showcased an assortment of tools for the web journalist. read more »

A New Start: Migrating and Redesigning El Estoque

As webmaster of El Estoque, Monta Vista High School's student news publication, I migrated our website from Joomla to WordPress and revamped our site's design.

As odd as it may seem, the bulk of my experience in website development comes from my involvement in a news magazine. This past summer, as webmaster of El Estoque, Monta Vista High School’s journalistic publication, I facilitated our website’s migration from Joomla to WordPress.

Of course, as a journalist, I do have duties other than maintaining the website: I’m a news editor and staff writer as well. While you can see a collection of the journalistic content I’ve published here, this post will focus on my role as webmaster. read more »

Review: Spotify’s Musical (U.S.) Debut

Spotify is a polished music streaming service, complete with robust social integration.

Note: This review focuses on the free version of Spotify, although the paid alternatives are discussed.

After three years of European exclusivity, Spotify and all its tunes have melodiously drifted to the ears of the American people—at least, those lucky enough to have procured invites. With its clean library, slick organizational tools, and superb sharing system, this polished music streaming service deserves much praise; however, hindrances such as its limited musical selection keep Spotify from truly trouncing its competition.
read more »

debugmusic: Dire Dire Docks, a Mario Classic

When it comes to debugging your mind, listening to music is perhaps one of the most effective debuggers. The right music can submerge your mind in a cool, refreshing lyric pool and help you better take stock of the world around you. As such, I’ve decided to package my favorite music into blog posts through debugmusic, a soon-to-be recurring feature that highlights exemplary musical pieces from movies, video games, and really anything else.

In order to inaugurate debugmusic, I’d like to share a classic piece from my childhood: “Dire Dire Docks,” from Super Mario 64. As soon as that magical music starts playing, I’m transported back to my couch in Redwood City—I can see the 3-year-old me directing Mario through the watery depths of Jolly Roger Bay, only to discover that frightening, giant eel. Whether you’re a Mario fan or not, it’s hard not to appreciate the Dire Dire Docks theme. Take a listen:

read more »