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Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Most Powerful Computer

The computer has become a key element of our future, and especially in our Silicon Valley, they are central to innovation and technology. For example, a computer AI used machine learning to develop its abilities to eventually defeat the world’s best players in both chess and Go. With all the computers that are being made around the world, they have become commonplace in our lives. The processing power of computers is truly mind-blowing, able to do millions of calculations per second. If you can, imagine a computer thousands of times as powerful as the computer you are reading this with. Process that thought for a second, and think about how many thoughts you were able to have compared to the sheer number of calculations a computer like that could do in the same amount of time. The computer that you are imagining is the Sunway TaihuLight: the most powerful computer in the world.

The Sunway TaihuLight, a Chinese supercomputer, was completed in June 2016, completely toppling over the old reigning supercomputer, the Tianhe-2, with its max processing power of 125 petaflops per second, which happens to be several times more powerful than the Tianhe-2. To put that into perspective, a petaflop is 1000 teraflops, or 1 with 15 zeros behind it. That’s how many floating point operations it can do in just one second! As humans, we could probably only do one, maybe two calculations in a second. With the Sunway TaihuLight, China now has the world’s fastest two supercomputers, both of which are more than TWICE as fast as the 3rd fastest computer in the world, the Titan, an American computer.

The TaihuLight has custom-designed SW26010 processor, and compared to older supercomputers computers, which averaged around 2 gigaflops per watt in terms of efficiency, the TaihuLight is able to run at about 6 gigaflops per watt. In other words, the TaihuLight can do three times the work with the same amount of power!

Overall, the TaihuLight took $270 million to make including the research and creation of the supercomputer. Do you think that America will be able to top China’s supercomputer in the coming years? Or will China remain the world’s leader in supercomputers? Write your thoughts in the comments below.

Post Written by Howard W., Homework Assistant


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Haunted Places

Ever been spooked by a creaking in your house, an apparition in the corner of your eye, or something that seems just a little supernatural? As it turns out many spooky local places share their tales of haunted spirits and curses. Which one of these spots will you visit?

     Winchester Mystery House

A widow to a wealthy man, Sarah Winchester was left alone and found comfort in building a mansion, so she ordered for 24/7 construction until her death. The 160 rooms, "doors that lead to nowhere", and odd details were part of the $5.5 million she spent on this spooky place. Sarah’s spirit is said to loom in the halls of this haunted mansion. On Halloween night, you can even tour it in the dark!

      Redwood Road Castro Valley
There is supposedly a preschool at the end of this road where a man stabbed a bunch of people with a single knife in 1980s. Urban legend? Maybe, as I couldn’t find anything really substantial on this occurrence. But get this: the only evidence left of the old preschool is its swingset, that has swings move by themselves with no explanation. Creepy...
                                                                                     City of Colma
Known as the “City of Souls,” Colma is a small town between Daly City and Millbrae that houses more dead than living people. In a span of two square miles, there are 2 million people buried in 17 different cemeteries and only about 1600 residents. San Francisco passed a law against burying people on valuable city space, so the dead folks are now sent to Colma. 

     The Blue Lady of Moss Beach Distillery
70 years ago a woman in a prohibition-era Moss Beach had an affair with a man named Jack and they shared romantic walks alongside the coast by the Distillery. She died tragically by falling off the cliff, and ever since then, multiple people have reported spotting a lady in blue late at night in the vicinity. 

       China Town Ghost Tour
So basically, you can travel through the streets of San Francisco’s China Town at night and go to a lair where a magician supposedly conjures up a Chinese spirit before your eyes. You get a bonus by learning all about the folklore and history of China Town. Just make sure to reserve your tickets in advance!

Which of these places will you visit? Stay safe out there and let me know if you find any supernatural activity.

Post by Katia G., Homework Assistant

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Smallest Warrior on Earth: the Water Bear

Tardigrades, also known as water bears or moss piglets, are one of the most unbelievable animals on Earth. A weird mix of cute and alarming, water bears are 0.5 mm long, short and stubby with eight dainty legs. They are extremely diverse, found on all corners of the planet. Scientists estimate that for every one of us, there are at least a billion of them. But what is most incredible about water bears is their unimaginable resilience.

Water bears can withstand temperatures as scorching as 304° F or as freezing as -458° F. When exposed to the vacuum of space, they were not at all affected by microgravity and cosmic radiation. But perhaps most amazing is the water bear’s ability to survive for more than 30 years without water. Thirty years, or more than 10,950 days, is more than 3650 times longer than the average human can survive without water!

Their incredible resilience is made possible by a very special ability. When sensing an oncoming dry period, the water bear brings its head and limbs into the exoskeleton, making itself into a tiny ball, like a roly poly. It will remain in this stasis, unmoving until it’s reintroduced into water.

Tardigrades are found everywhere, from parking lots to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, very common and accessible. Up until this year, scientists were unable to crack the mystery of the water bear. Some hypothesized that the sugar trehalose was responsible. In other organisms like the brine shrimp, to prevent desiccation, trehalose would be produced to replace water and prevent the degradation of molecular structures. Others even believed that, because of their unique ability to survive in outer space, tardigrades might be extraterrestrial! Only recently was a researcher at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill able to uncover exactly how tardigrades can handle such extreme stresses.

Tardigrades have unique genes that allow them to create a glass matrix to protect their cells, a process known as vitrification. Proteins, TDPs, form a glass coating. The tardigrade remain in a suspended state until re-hydration, when the proteins melt, and the tardigrade can continue on with its little life. In the near future, this discovery might enable scientists to use TDP to freeze-dry vaccines and medication to areas lacking immediate access. In the distant future, this discovery might even enable placing humans in stasis for space travel or when they have a dangerous illness to await a cure.

Post by Swathi P., Homework Assistant

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Unless you’re an identical twin, chances are you’ve never met someone that looks exactly like you. But imagine just how weird it would be to come across your very own look-alike, your doppelganger.
The German word doppelganger translates to “double-goer,” which was originally the sinister idea of an evil twin, and superstitions claimed that encountering your look-alike would bring trouble. Today, though, I think we consider it pretty lucky to meet a spitting image of ourselves.

As it turns out, doppelgangers are more common that you think, because there is only so much variety in faces. In fact, the claim is that you have 7 doppelgangers out there, meaning your “unique” face is actually one in a billion! There’s no doubt that you have a twin somewhere out there—the question is whether you will ever happen to be at the same place at the same time.

Thanks to the viral nature of the Internet, doppelgangers are becoming more and more common. A few weeks ago, a girl found her doppelganger at the mall, posted a photo to Twitter, and got dozens of other girls tweeting at her to say they were also long lost twins! People are even finding historical look-alikes for celebrities, for instance actor Alec Baldwin and former president Millard Fillmore.

I am still waiting to turn the corner one day and run into my own doppelganger, but the odds don’t look very high. Instead, you can take to the web to try to find yours! The Twin Strangers Project now connects identical faces from around the world with an algorithm that matches your facial features to someone else’s. You can try it out for 6 months and connect to a million twin strangers for $3.95. Or you could try a reverse Google search for free and find visually similar images to your own face… it’s worth a shot!

Have you met your doppelganger? Or are you, like me, still waiting to find your identical twin?

Post by Katia G., Homework Assistant

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How many tears will you shed in your life?

Have you ever thought of quantifying the little things that happen in your life? Like how much you eat in a lifetime, how long you sleep, or other interesting factoids. Read the infographic and comment what surprises you most!

Post by Katia G., Homework Assistant

Monday, March 27, 2017

What is the Eagle Project?

An Eagle Project is a service project done by boy scouts in which the Scout helps out a school, religious institution, or community and is part of the Eagle Scout requirement. The Scout would direct the project and lead it to its completion while enlisting the help of others. Because of this, the Eagle Project is a symbol of leadership while also being a special contribution to your community. And remember, you should get the help of friends to complete your project - teamwork is key! Here are some ideas for where to start:

Here are some ideas for where to start:

Make a shed for your local elementary school or church! Sheds can be useful for helping the school or church keep gardening supplies or other items. Or, the school can use your shed as a ball shack. Plus, you’ll learn how to build and design your own miniature building!

If you are the computer kind of person, maybe you’ll want to make a database for your local museum. For example, you could program a database with pictures and descriptions of different cars or planes! Your database could even be on display for the public to use at a museum if you did the project for the museum.

Blaze a ¼ Mile Trail:
Perhaps you are the adventurous kind of person and your greatest desire is to hit the woods. But this time, blaze your own trail instead of using an existing one! You can blaze a trail through the woods with friends for your local park or reserve.

Butterfly Garden:
If you enjoy the beauty of nature, you could plant a butterfly garden to attract butterflies to your local school or church! Make your school more beautiful by adding butterflies and flowers to the scene. You could also take this as a chance to learn about different flowers and how to grow them.

Beach Volleyball Court:
                Maybe your passion is for sports. If so, you could make a beach volleyball court! The same applies to a tennis court, baseball field, or whatever sport you’re interested in. You could be the first to play on your very own court!

                You could make a carnival for your local community, and fundraise for your church or school! This is a way to not only have fun organizing the carnival, but also creating a big impact in your school or community. You can invite all your friends for food and entertainment.

Remember, these aren’t the only ideas for an Eagle Scout Project. Be creative! Helping the community is a broad category, so you can use your wildest imaginations. Good luck with your project!

Other  Fun Eagle Project Ideas:
1.      Arch Bridge
2.       Benches
3.       Wheelchair Accessible Picnic Table
4.       Helicopter Landing Pad
5.       Painting Map of the USA in an Elementary School
6.       Movie Night
7.       Web Page

Post Written by Howard W, Homework Assistant


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hip Hop and Shakespeare

Hip Hop and Shakespeare

Recently, I watched an interesting TED talk by award-winning hip hop artist Akala, a social entrepreneur who works at the convergence of two art forms that many would consider completely different: hip hop and Shakespeare. His music and production company explores the social, cultural and linguistic parallels between the works of English playwright and poet, William Shakespeare, and that of influential modern hip-hop artists.

Hip hop and Shakespeare share a broader appeal, with surprisingly similar themes and influence. Hip hop is frequently the expression of people who don’t feel as though they have a voice, such as youth from disadvantaged neighborhoods. While Shakespeare may appear elitist, most of his audiences were the people, those who could not read and faced the constant turmoil and poverty common to the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Both art forms communicate social messages while providing entertainment, with themes of self-boasting of one’s ability and potential and political commentary being especially common.

Image result for to be or not to be iambic
Similarly, the mechanics and effects of hip hop and Shakespeare are alike. The iambic pentameter, described by Akala in his TED talk as the “heartbeat of life”, is used to communicate feeling. Shakespeare is often commended for his illumination of the human experience, how perfectly he was able to capture complex, yet common, human emotions in words. The feeling expressed by hip hop and Shakespeare utilizes imagery, metaphors, irony, tone and diction. Lyricism and authenticity, or keeping it real, is sought out and praised. Both reflect themes of social change relevant at the time, a platform for issues such as racism, poverty or social structures.Whether in dance and fashion or language and philosophy, hip-hop and Shakespeare have undeniably impacted and inspired people of many different times and backgrounds.

What are your favorite hip-hop artists and Shakespearean works? How have they influenced your life today?

Post by Swathi P., Homework Assistant