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Friday, December 18, 2015

DIY Holiday Gifts

Christmas is coming up, and that means gifts. Not just receiving, but also giving. If you don't have the time to go out to the store or just want something with a more personal touch to it, check out these do-it-yourself gifts.

This gift is simple to make, personal, and practical - it pretty much has it all. Decorating a mug is as easy as talking some sharpies, drawing a design or writing a message on a ceramic mug, and then baking it in the oven. You can make the design however you like, so you can suit it to the person easily. For example, I made one for my friend that loves science, so I drew the chemical structure for caffeine. Be careful though, it's a bit tricky to draw on a curved surface! (Pro Tip: Alchohol can erase sharpie if you make a mistake.) 

This is another fun, practical gift that is perfect if you have a sibling or friend in college that is coming home for the holidays. This idea consists of getting a container (perhaps a shower caddy or a laundry basket) and filling it up with college essentials. How you define "essential" is up to interpretations. You might consider filling it up with notebooks, pencils, and pens or maybe putting a lot of candy and top ramen.  

This gift is perfect for a geeky or retro-minded friend. It involves drawing a grid on corkboard, cutting out a shape, then painting in the squares to create an authentic-looking pixel design. This can range from flowers, to stars, to iconic 8-bit symbols (this instruction video shows how to make hearts from the Legend of Zelda series).  I have made this for myself and even though it took more time than anticipated, the result looked fantastic. 

I hope you enjoy these! And if not, don't worry: there are a plethora of DIY gift ideas floating on the internet.

Written by Jenna M., Homework Assistant. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Three Things You Didn't Know about the City of Mountain View Part 1

Mountain Bay Plaza during & after costruction

1. That giant office building on Castro Street? It's kind of a funny story. 
After construction was completed on 'Mountain Bay Plaza', the building was left empty for over a decade due to city foreclosures and parking disputes. Instead of hiring a squad of security guards the ownership hired a team of Doberman Pinchers--that's right, dogs--to protect the empty building.

2. We have two Sister Cities: Iwata, Japan and Hasselt, Belgium

Hasselt, Belgium
In 1974, Mountain View adopted Iwata, Japan as its Sister City. At
Iwata, Japan
that time, both towns were known for their agricultural economies: Mountain View for apricots and plums and Iwata for cantaloupes. Today, students from Mountain View High School and Iwata Minami High School participate in an exchange program each year. In 1988, Mountain View adopted Hasselt, Belgium as its second sister city. Hasselt is a university town renowned for its museums and other cultural attractions.

3. The Computer History Museum is home to the largest collection of computing artifacts in the

Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum is one of Mountain View's greatest attractions, Rooted in the heart of the Silicon Valley, the Computer History Museum is home to the largest collection of historical computing artifacts in the world. One such artifact is the Cray-1 supercomputer, one of the world's best known and most successful supercomputers.

Stay tuned for more little-known facts about Mountain View! Part 2 is coming soon!

Post by Allie C., Homework Assistant 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Finals Survival 101

FINALS. For most of us high school students, these next few weeks will culminate the first semester of school with our final examinations. It is usually one of the most stressful, exhausting weeks of school- but it doesn't have to be that way. While your mind is crammed with figures and formulas, try the following tips to maximize your study time and stay healthy.

1. Say bye to Instagram and Facebook!
I know, I know, it's hard to turn away from our smartphones, but you wouldn't believe how distracting social media accounts can truly be. Even just a quick scroll through your 'feed can add up when you consider how many times a day you are checking various media accounts. Don't believe me? I tried out RescueTime for one month, a tool that measures your internet productivity, and I was shocked to learn that I spent up to two hours on Facebook some days. Seriously guys, do whatever it takes: turn off your phone, hide it away, or log out of all your accounts. 

It seems unoriginal, but it is the best thing you could do for your body.  You wouldn't willingly sleep deprive yourself on a normal school night, and finals is no exception. If anything, aim to get more sleep. Get in bed a little earlier, as it may take longer to fall asleep because the nervous jitters and all the material in your head can keep your brain wired.

3. Eat healthy!
Stay hydrated and avoid eating a solely junk food diet. Make sure to have a supply of healthy snacks on hand to energize you, as what you eat can affect your study focus and test outcome. Try fruits, nuts (secret protein!), and veggies to start. The University of Kentucky has compiled a great list of finals-friendly foods to keep you covered.

4. Come prepared.
Don't be that kid that has to ask to borrow a pencil - and a piece of paper - and an eraser.... Bring whatever you need on test day, including your appropriate calculator, pencils, and note cards. This experience is already going to be stressful, so try to reduce the last-minute frenzy by coming at least with the necessary supplies.

Best of luck on your finals! After reading this, I hope you'll try these tips and sit down for distraction-free study time. Your grades will thank you as your hard work reflects on your exams. Best of luck :)

Written by Katia G., Homework Assistant

Thursday, December 10, 2015

New Starbucks Holiday Cups

When I went to Starbucks this weekend to satisfy my craving for a pumpkin spice latte, I noticed something a bit strange about my cup  (besides my misspelled name): it was noticeably plain.

This year, Starbucks has unveiled a new holiday cup with a simple red gradient and lacking the holiday symbols of years past, which have included snowflakes, snowmen, Christmas tree ornaments, and nutcrackers.
2011 Holiday Cup 

This Year's Holiday Cup 

This decision has caused sizeable amounts of controversy, with claims that it is another causality of the "War on Christmas", which seeks to eliminate all public mentions of Christmas from American society.

I (and many others) feel that these claims are a bit overblown. Removing the Christmas theme is not an attack on Christmas, but rather, a way to recognize that some people may celebrate other winter holidays or none at all.
2014 Cup

Another, more practical reason for the design shift is to make the cups simpler and less busy-looking. This trend has been going on for a while - just look at the relatively simple design of last years' cup, featuring only red tones and a subtle pine tree print. Simplifying the palette and design makes the cups more pleasing to look at and possibly decreases the cost of production.

But yet another group brings up a valid point: who cares? Arguing about the design of a Starbucks cup is perhaps the epitome of a "First World Problem". A Starbucks cup, at the end of the day, is simply a receptacle to hold an expensive drink before being deposited into a landfill (which some argue is the cup's biggest problem).

But what do you think about the new design? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.

Written by Jenna M., Homework Assistant

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Quick, Easy Ways to Relieve Stress

Sometimes it all becomes too much. Between school, extracurricular activities, work, and other obligations, the stress and responsibilities can just be a little too straining. If you want to de-stress without spending a lot of time or money, try these simple techniques:

1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation:
This technique involves tensing each muscle group, starting from the head to the toes (or the other way). You hold each muscle group for 8-10 seconds before adding tension to another group. Once you have tensed all of your muscles, you then relax all the muscles at once. By forcing your muscles to relax, you force other relaxation responses in the body (deeper breathing, lower heartbeat and blood pressure, etc.) Although difficult to execute, it is effective if you only have a few minutes to spare.

2. Listen to music (or maybe nature sounds?)
Or you could watch the Hotline Bling video
for some laughs. 
Listening to music may reduce stress by shortening the stress response, which is done in two ways. The first is by reducing levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme found in saliva that is released during stress. The second is by lowering levels of cortisol, a hormone that helps cause stress. However, these effects help stop stress after the stressful situation is over. To reduce stress while still in the stressful situation, research has shown that ambient nature sounds may be more helpful.

Child's Pose
3. Light Yoga:
No, this doesn't mean go buy a yoga mat and sign up for a class at the YMCA. By performing simple poses and employing controlled breathing techniques, anyone can reap the stress relieving effects of yoga (more specifically, reduced blood pressure and cortisol levels.) Some easy poses suitable for beginners include the eagle pose, child's pose, and my favourite, corpse pose. 

4. Don't Perceive Stress as a Bad Thing 
Hear me out: while not technically a way to relieve stress, perceiving stress as beneficial may help prevent serious health problems. As Kelly McGonigal explains in her TED talk, "How to Make Stress Your Friend", people who see stress as helpful do not harm their cardiovascular systems in their stress response as  much as those who perceive stress as bad. If this change of perspective seems impossible, she also recommends caring for others and seeking social support.

I hope you find this list helpful when prepping for the endless amounts of standardized tests or preparing for your next presentation. Feel free to leave some of your own stress relief techniques in the comments!     

Written by Jenna M., Homework Assistant 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What's up with the new SAT?

A few years ago, the College Board announced that they would rehaul the SAT. This redesigned SAT is being used for the first time in March 2016. For you current juniors, this means you have a choice in whether to take the new or old SAT. Although you probably have an idea of what the new test will be like because of this year's new PSAT, I thought I would run down the major differences.
  • Optional essay based off of analysis of a given source that does not affect the composite score 
  • New scale: from 2400 to 1600 (800 from a reading and writing section, 800 from the math section) 
  • No guessing penalty 
  • Replacing obscure vocabulary (like perfidy or calumny) with words that are used frequently in many fields (like synthesis or empirical) 
  • Removal of the dreaded sentence completion questions 
  • 4 answer choices instead of 5 
  • Emphasis on increasing opportunity - the College Board is partnering with Kahn Academy to provide free test-prep for the new SAT 
  • Questions asking for justification for a previous answer 
  • Fewer but longer sections 
  • Increased focus on complex questions that require critical thinking 
  • Addition of a non-calculator math section 
  • Questions involving diagrams or other informational graphs in the reading/writing section  
  • Trigonometry concepts in the math section
No matter what test you end up taking, I wish you the best of luck. And remember, your SAT score is one of many factors colleges will use when making admission decisions!

Additional Resources:

Monday, December 7, 2015

Plant Nanny: Cute, Fun Way to Drink More Water

I was scrolling through Instagram the other day and saw an interesting picture on my friend's profile: a simply adorable cartoon plant. I checked the description and found out that it was a screenshot from an app called Plant Nanny.

Something this cute deserves investigation.
Curious,  I downloaded the free app to my phone. I didn't really know what it was about, and I was delighted to find out that it was designed to remind its users to drink more water (something I have trouble doing).

When you first start the app, you input your weight, activity level, and preferred volume measurement. From there, the app will tell you how much water you need per day. I was surprised at how much water I needed, more than the 64 oz. that seems standard.

After you choose your plant, you give it some water every time you drink water in the real world. If you are drinking enough, your plant will look happy and sing. If not, it will be sad and thirsty. If you forget to water your plant for an extended period, it will die. For the forgetful, you can also set up the app so it sends reminder notifications after certain time intervals (I set mine to two hours).

For me, this app worked wonderfully. Before the app, I would drink maybe around 5-7 cups of water. Now, I drink around 10 cups and feel a lot healthier and more hydrated.

I highly recommend this app. Feel free to tell me how it goes in the comments!

Written by Jenna M., Homework Assistant                                          

Friday, December 4, 2015

After School Activities in the Teen Zone

Great new things are happening at the Teen Zone! Each school day, we will have a different activity for you to relax and rejuvenate yourself during study breaks. Especially with final exams approaching, it’s important that you take some time to just have fun. Read on to learn more about each day’s activity!

All of these activities take place from 3:30-5:30, they are free, and you don't need to register!

Mondays:  Teens Only Legos
Let loose your creativity with our giant tub of Legos!

Newsflash: Legos are just as fun as they were when you were a ten year old! Challenge your friends to a Lego-building competition for some spirited fun.
Tuesdays:  Coloring for Teens
Unwind with our stress-busting pictures and mazes.

This is coloring like you’ve never seen before! We’ll have plenty of artistic patterns and complex mazes for you right here at the Teen Zone! According to Huffington Post, "The practice generates wellness, quietness and also stimulates brain areas related to motor skills, the senses and creativity." 

Wednesdays:  Game On!
Get your game on with our collection of board, card, and party games.

Board games are a great way for you to have fun with your study group. We have an awesome collection of all sorts of games, so come by and choose one to play!
Thursdays:  Craft Break
 Duct tape, paperclips, pipe cleaners and more. Every week we will have a new craft.
Back by popular demand! Weekly crafts at the Teen Zone have been a patron favorite for years. We supply all the materials; just bring your creativity and craftiness!

Fridays:  Knit and Crochet Club
Open to all skill levels, ages 8 and up. Supplies provided for beginners.

All knitters—beginners, experts, and everyone in between—will enjoy knitting with us at the Teen Zone.  If you’ve never knitted before, come and learn this skill just in time for the holiday season!

Post by Allie C., Homework Assistant