Saturday, November 20, 2010

Junior Achievement Innovation Camp

I'm not the best in the world at giving context, so if you want a little more information, read here.

The following post is a summary of my notes, which were taken directly from thoughts. Coherency is not likely. Times are rough--I have more specifics, but I simply wrote the time down whenever I glanced at my watch, so it's more consistent to just write down the estimates.

8AM We were all ushered into a room after finding the building--which wasn't the easiest task, but once you found the right building via a one-block-ish radius of trial and error, there was a great big Junior Achievement sign in green. Breakfast included much fresh fruit, many pastries, and fruit juice. I was rather nervous about meeting the people at my table, but a young man--whom I'll call V due to lacking permission to use his name--started a conversation with me, and it got better from there.

This was the first Innovation Camp at HP, so that was cool. The music was rather random; it sounded like someone had looked through the top songs on iTunes with some unknown rules in mind.

They asked for some people to interview about the event, and encouraged us to talk about the event to our friends, and make posts on facebook/twitter/our blogs (hi).

Then they went over the main activity of the day. We would have to make a business plan, write a concept paper (what you might hand off to someone who needed to take over the project temporarily) and a Powerpoint, along with a three minute presentation to go along with it (our sell). The former was due rough at 11:30 and final at 2:00; the rough Powerpoint was due at 11:30 as well and the final at 3:00, along with our final presentation.

After came the icebreakers. We tore our elephant faces without opening our eyes. I tried to make eyes but ran out of time since we only had thirty seconds, a few others did, too, but not many succeeded.

We found our groups, which were assigned by the animal stickers on our ID holders. I was an anteater, and V was in my group, along with another person, and two more who would show up after the icebreakers. We made a tower out of only paper. That means no tape, no glue, no pins. Another team won by a hair--not over us, they were a level and an eighth over us, but only an eighth over another.

We were pointed to a facebook page for JA, and started brainstorming ideas for the prompt given. The prompt, by the way, was intentionally vague:
If you are given a chance to start a social enterprise to address a societal challenge, what would you do?

Explain: the product or service you would offer, the challenge it would tackle and how technology would help you achieve your goal.
The challenges we came up with were class divisions, drug abuse, crime, obesity, health care and (teenage) stress. We thought of a few different center-type projects, an settled on a teen center/rec center/"growth and wellness center" (I couldn't think of a good name, all right?). The idea was that teens would be working with teens, so the focus would be on teens teaching each other sports, peer tutoring, teaching each other to work in the garden, etc. There would be a library/study room, a cafeteria, a garden, a sports room, a learning center (tutoring), and a fun room. We decided on the T.Y.G.E.R. center, though didn't quite settle on what that stood for until a while later.

We split into groups to finish what we had left, since we only had thirty minutes left. I gravitated toward the most down-to-earth stuff--what do we need, why do we need it, etc. Not that I was the only one, or that that was all I did; it's just what I preferred. Our professional in the field that was going to help us showed up at 11:28, when we were mainly typing, and so was more help on the cleanup than the rough draft--which makes sense.

There was a countdown from 10 during the last 10 seconds, probably to avoid conflicting watches.

Lunch was served at 11:30, and was heavy. Good thing, too, considering most of us were twisting our heads around new ideas and quite a few of us were working on little sleep. If you can't get energy from A, B's not a terrible bet. I had a clif mojo bar and turkey wrap (as opposed to sandwich), which came with pasta salad and peanut butter cookie.

The table was quiet, so I people watched. Everyone looked thoughtful, and was comparing ideas, moving from place to place, or off in their own head.

A young woman I'll call L struck up a conversation about nothing much.

Speech time! A man from Dreamworks came over and spoke about Megamind, which one girl shouted out was, "Friggin' awesome!" so that was fun.

A new speaker, who was a self-professed geek and talked bout how he had been in movies/audio stuff a long time, and been with Dreamworks specifically about three years. He went over how 3D movies are made, and the difference between 3D and stereoscopic 3D. For those curious, 3D means the animators are working with 3D models, stereoscopic 3D is what most people call 3D, where the images appear to come near you. He went into a lot of technicals I found interesting but that would take too long to go into.

Random bits: Storyboards are still drawn by hand, by the way. The technology is specifically designed to facilitate that. And in How to Train Your Dragon, every dragon's flame was unique. C++ is still common. Animators look at how the voice actors act when animating, for realism and to see how person X got Y emotion.

Oh, and he said that literally everyone at Dreamworks is working on a script on the side, so you get readings all the time.

We met our advisers, and took a group photo.

1PM Back to work.
We went over how to get ideas communicated--basic, but good to hear aloud. If you talk a lot, step back, if you talk little, step up. We pressed the idea of it being a safe haven, and tried to figure out who would invest. Also figured that a 3-minute presentation, 180 seconds, needs to be planned down to the second.

We ended up going back and editing the acronym several times, but what we settled on was Technology Youth Growth Empowerment Rejuvenation. It occurs that growth was a pun--the teens and the garden.

Advertising seemed to be a pretty good point to push, especially since a sufficiently popular center would have infinite advertising potential, especially to a group like HP which advertises to just about anyone who could want a computer--a lower and higher age with each year.

Then it was 2PM

Then we took a break and went back to the room where we'd had breakfast and lunch, and would give our speeches. I shared with one rather nervous girl who would have to close the presentation the great secret of public speaking: "Thank you for your time."*

TECHNO (another acronym, didn't catch it) which had a pay-per-bid system I thought was interesting. You pay, not just when you win, but for each bid you make. This tends to improve profit margins.


SmartVision talked about connecting teachers in first and third world countries via smartboards.

The next group started out with a picture from 2012, and designed a virtual reality which reflects how the world will be if one keeps using this much energy, and gives you points--leaderboards. There was a nice contrast, one group member was upbeat and attention-grabbing, the rest were calm to the point of shyness.

The next group talked about putting touchscreens in desks. This would put all the textbooks there, and make the classroom paperless.

Zzz Band (pronounced Zz-zz band) talked about their band, which would tell one one's heart rate, cholesterol, all that good stuff. It would have a customizable design, and be marketed to teens.

Helping Hands was about teen pregnancy and would be on facebook and twitter. Incidentally, we almost called ourselves Helping Hands, that would've been awkward.

Education.reThought talked about eco-desks and Tablets would allow school without physical presence (if sick).

BAM was a social network.

Inspired would focus on cyberbullying, phoneline.

Nutrivend was about a vending machine that would give you a customizable salad in a sealed and cool vending machine. Not pre-packaged nor with preservatives, as a salad bar would be.

Change the Cycle--helping bullied and stopping bullies from occurring.

5:30 PM Dinner
I had chicken, rice, a roll s'mores pie, and a green bean, then a sour green apple fruit snack.

Awards Ceremony
Announced that we were 73 kids from 19 schools. The top five were: the 2012 group (which emphasized our relative intelligence in comparison to the rest of the world), TECHNO (the soft money payback in advertising), Zzz Bands--which was the only group to finish on-time, Nutrivend, and Education.reThought.

Rich Friedrich came up and spoke about how our generation has some novel stuff, and we need to know we're the first globally connected generation.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have run out of money. It is time to start thinking." --Sir Ernest Rutherford.

Third place: Nutrivend (HP backpacks)
Second place: TECHNO (HP backpacks, I think they had something but I couldn't see)
First place: Zzz Band (HP backpacks, mugs filled with candy, and netbooks)

We all got door prizes/goodie bags filled with: a water bottle, a "UFO logo"--it floats, illusively--a lanyard, a pencil, a USB stick, two vouchers for The Tech Museum of Innovation, and 50 free prints from Snapfish.

Then I went home, finished my homework, and fell asleep with a thud muted by the mattress.

*I came up with two more later, by the way: "Hello, my name is," and roll with it.

This post written in an hour and a half.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Portfolio 12 Short Story: Convection

I don’t know how long it’s been.

There are people I’ve met who will use that phrase flippantly. “Oh, I haven’t been out in I don’t know how long,” and laugh. I’ve stopped. I don’t know how long it’d been since I stopped using such terms so easily, but it happened. How many days, how many years, how many bodies, how many ages… I closed my eyes.

We’ll tell you a lot, if you ask. Any fallen angel will tell you the most horrible pain they’ve ever felt is the fall. None of them will ever say it was losing their wings—partially because we never speak of it, mostly because, no matter what the movies show, that’s not it. Demons don’t lose their wings, and if anything that is their curse.

The pain is the separation. When you’re there, you are a part of everything, you are connected to literally everything, by threads and cords and ropes and wires. And it is the most amazing thing I have ever felt. It is being a part of everything that is. Humans don’t notice it much, because they’re only connected by the one little strand that connects with a few other people. The nexuses, the ones that connect at least two people—and usually many, many more—are what goes up.

Is it really up? I wondered, not for the first time. I know that, technically speaking, it’s everywhere. But every time I go to earth, I feel like I fall. And I do remember having wings in that brief period that stretches for so long in my head, because I know really feeling my wings means I’m about to fall or rise again.

I opened my eyes and stared out at the crowd, sipping at a cup of coffee. The first few times, I’d avoided anything that could be considered even a little sinful. The absolute minimum food, always stuff I didn’t much like; the least comfortable clothes that didn’t call attention to my penance; and absolutely nothing that could be considered a drug. I’d gotten over it. Separation was punishment enough.

I rise, I fall. I wrote in my journal. It’s not the first time I’ve written it. Of course, the first time it wasn’t English. English didn’t exist yet, not really. Oh, I suppose you could say that the first time I’d gotten enough money together for a journal—because a journal helped, and I wasn’t sure if that was okay for the longest time—was technically in very old Old English, but that’s so far from modern English it makes about as much sense to call it German.

I rise; I fall. I corrected. No matter how long I’ve lived here, I still forget the semicolon. I’ve written this so many times; you’d think I’d remember, but when I started stuff like spelling and punctuation were optional. Anyway, it’s a journal.

You got cast out of heaven for any of the seven deadly sins. I’m not entirely sure if that goes for humans. They might just be floating in that rapturous tangle of thread and cord and rope so close and thick and not quite tangible that it’s more of a cloud. It’s still here, down here. The first few times, I couldn’t see it or feel it, but I’ve learned to sense it. That’s my special little self-made curse. Because, yes, I know how it feels. And, no, I can’t feel it.

Angels get to fall. We come down here and pay our penance, and pay extra for any other sins we commit while here. I wonder, sometimes, if the little sins add up, too. I wonder if I’ll ever get to stay. When you sin so many times, can you truly be forgiven?

I gripped the cup tighter. No. No. Not that cruel. Impossible.

I finished my coffee and picked up my jacket to go. It was a nice little place. You could sit in a dark corner or in the open air, you paid first, and it almost made me forget the little upside-down split V scar down my back.

Portfolios 22 and 23 Poetry: The Dark and Lit Twin

Written as a pair, originally "The Dark Twin" and "The Lit Twin".

The night is closing in.
But it isn’t. Not really. Not ‘closing in’.
That is far too harsh a term.
As the crepuscular time closes and full night comes, she beckons softly.
She wraps you, not in warmth, but in experience.
In the chilled air.
In those little smells that only come at night.
Maybe someone’s barbequing.
Maybe you can smell night blooming flowers.
But always she comes softly, leading you to a new land like a mother guiding your first steps.
A lover holding your hand through tough times.
Some only appreciate those warm summer nights, where the moon is full;
As if her job is to be a quieter day.
She does not work to become like him. She simply is.
She fills the sky with deep velvet, indigo, blue, black; her diamonds spread across,
Winking an eye, showing a flash of armor, twinkling like lightning.

Have you ever cried at the sunset or the stars just because they were?
Have you ever really looked?
Or do you walk only in the light, shunning the dark, shunning the crisp chill, shunning the void of black between stars?

Day breaks.
So much hope, so much love, in each new sunrise.
And then…
“Five more minutes.”
“I hate Mondays.”
And just like that, you’ve missed the day.
As surely as you had slept through it.
Just as we miss his twin, we miss him.
Not because we sleep, not because we’re scared:
Because we take him for granted or go out teeth bared.
Because we think of day as less sacred than night—
Just because of a little light.

Portfolio 19 Autobiography: First of the Night

This was a school assignment from last year. We wrote one entry a week. Here's one of the better ones. This was written to be performed aloud, and I sang the appropriate line.

I’m backstage. The world is fading in and out of focus, but it’s there enough for me to hear John: “I’m so nervous.”

I give a shaky laugh, “You’re nervous.”

I can’t imagine him being nervous. How long had he spent on this? A few months? It can’t’ve been more than three. It was impossible for him to be as nervous as he seemed, shaking a little from stress and excitement. If he messed up, then he’s messed up once, and he’s lost a few months. A few months out of your whole life is nothing really, even at fourteen. If I mess up…

If I screw this up, I’ve wasted fourteen years.

This swims through my head, and John turns to me, surprised. “You’re nervous?” Something calls him away.

It takes half a second for that to sink in. I grin. He can’t imagine me being nervous. I have nothing to be nervous about. Him? He’s spent a couple months, tops, preparing for this. He might mess this up. He’s still learning, barely even started. Me? I have spent fourteen years of my life moving toward this moment. This is my time. I get to show everyone why I sought for so many years, why I have practiced and pushed and tried for so many after that, no matter what. I get to show them why it matters.

And, I can admit now that I’m out of it, I got to show them-—every friend, every acquaintance, every stranger, every bully, and especially every bully-—that I counted. That no matter what else may happen, this I can do. This I can be. Tell me there isn’t a person in this world who truly cares for me, tell me I’m worthless, tell me I’m not even human. I may even believe you. But no matter; I sing.

I stride out onto the stage, spirit high and smiling. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I know now why that song felt like mine, and why it was so important to sing that song to them. It was my story. It is my story.

It’s the story of a woman who learned to fly.

My cue hits: “Something has changed within me.” Everything. My world may twist and twirl and stagnate into whatever it may be, but I know that this has changed me.

And as I sing, I come to her—-our realization. You don’t need to work for that one. You never did. You need to work for you. You may leave some old friends behind, but you’ll be flying free. You will find all you need.

The audience cheers mid-song and I grin. The music swells and I soar. I am the song, and I am glorious. I am triumphant.

One day in eighth grade, in my little red dress, I changed my world. I wrote lines of fire across our souls. And even if the marks fade on some, the memories burn bright.

And I got the first standing ovation of the night.

A case where the story inspired the trope (TV Tropes is addictive): I Am Becoming Song

Something New, Old, Wonderful

Unrealistic? Probably. I don't ever remember seeing this in real life.

I start by falling to that realm in my head, back/left/center that holds right. For a moment, I'm floating; it's dark, senseless. Not in a bad way, not insane, not anything. Truly. No sensations.

Then, slowly, it spreads. My head floats on my shoulders. My feet grounded, my body whole. No checking for where the connection between grounded and floating is. That twists, grounds.

Shhh... There. Unbothered, unsensed, thoughts floating, whirling, drifting, whispering... Almost asleep. Dreaming.

This time, the dark turns black. Alone for just a moment. Bells chime; white comes. Lovely, soft spots of cheery, chilly white. Almost spherical, all of them. All with natural sides, more freshly turned earth than bubbles. Lovely, they drift down. Or up. To me.

Oh, beautiful. They come into focus. The edges still not smooth, for they are what they are, and only closer for being in focus. One touches. And we're the same temperature. Whether I am chill or they warm, who knows. No way to tell. A little pressure, lighter than a feather, and consistent, runs across. Down a cheek. A hand. A leg. Not the same everywhere. But each run keeps the same weight.

And do they melt? Or do they simply stay as they are, part water? I'd need other instruments to answer that. Sight. Beyond what I guess of feel. Or another temperature, comparison. I could be cold.

What I can see, I know. Looking up. White, soft, drifting like fine sugar.

Snow. Wonderful snow.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Laughter is a full-body experience. The sound, the throat, yes, but also the chest, the belly, the twinkle in the eye. The way you move your feet to balance better, even if you're sitting. The way your entire face lights up with that little twinkle that some say is only from your eyes. The way that aura turns everything around pink for miles.

Laughter, on its own, is good. Bright, pink, happy, joyous, lovely. Undeniably so.

And then context sets in. Perhaps it is so, or becomes more so. Beautiful laughter, musical, bell-like, chiming, lovely, wonderful, infectious--one of the few times that word is used in a good sense. Such is the power of laughter.

But that makes it dark when it twists, doesn't it? Malevolent, maniacal, dark chuckle, like a curse. Can come before or after. The sound darkens from an infant's blanket's pink to deep blood red, not the scarlet of a thin set or the almost brown-black of dried blood, even twisted laughter is very much alive. That deep, dark, scarlet-black of fresh blood pooled deep. Still shining. Still alive. But oh so dangerous.

Yet, still, even as the bottom drops out of your stomach, you may find your nostrils flaring, or a smile in kind tugging your lips. An old feeling in your heart. Fresh blood is hunter's scarlet. It taps right into your instincts. Maybe you're prey this time. Chase or run, predator or prey...or maybe fight. Or maybe hit the deck. And don't ever think there's only one way to do any of those.

And then comes the bell-like laughter, chiming merrily through. Silver, striking. Not a child's color, not an infant's color, so very distant. Exotic is attractive. But a flash of silver, that's deadly. Context, context, context.

Laugh with me. See that little twinkle, feel your heart rise. And don't worry about the different kinds of laughter. I can pet my dog or kick my dog. They are both movements; that alone doesn't relate the two. Not in any way worth noting.

And even if you should note it, it doesn't take the shared joy from the pet, the pain from the blow. Everything relates, one way or another. The close ones are the ones people call opposites. If you remember things are opposites, they are truly entangled. Fire, water, firewater. Up, down, roller coaster. Air, earth, tornadoes. Clear, obscure, transparent. Can you see none of me or all of me? I can hide just as well being transparent as obscure. Better. You don't even know I'm there.

Well color me surprised.
© 2009-2013 Taylor Hobart