First Hackathon

Hello, you guys! It’s being a while! I hope you’ve been having a great summer! We have only a few weeks left :/ For me, this summer has been a really good one; a perfect mix of fun, Netflix, and code. One of the highlights of my summer was competing in the Detroit Public Library’s #hackDPL Hackathon. Business and technology association Automation Alley offered computer programmers and mobile application developers $5,000 to develop an app for Detroit Public Library, so I and two other interns at Detroit Labs, Andrew Giang and Nick Virag, decided to form a team and sign up for the Hackathon. The 24-hour Hackathon was scheduled to run from 7pm July 11 to 7pm July 12 at Automation Alley’s Detroit office, located inside Grand Circus Detroit on the 4th floor of Broderick Tower, 1570 Woodward Ave.

Andrew and Nick were both experienced Android developers. I was the only iOS/iPhone developer in the group, so we opted to work an Android app for #hackDPL

From left: Andrew, Nick, Tobi

From left: Andrew, Nick, Tobi

Hackers. I'm somewhere in there

Hackers. I’m somewhere in there

We spent those 24 hours writing a lot of code, designing, eating snacks, and drinking 5-hour Energy.

In the end, we were able to come up with a very good Andriod app. We built an app that allows users to scan the barcode of any book, get info on that book, and place a hold on it. The app also gives users up-to-date news about Detroit Public Library, important events (with ability to add any of those events to calendar), and general information about the library. Another feature of the app was “Ask the Librarian” which allows users to send questions to the librarian.

Our app placed second! We received $300 worth of gift cards! I haven’t still finished using mine. All the free lunches! Life is good. I gained a valuable lesson from #hackDPL: I/you can create things and make things happen, if I/you just put in the time. Shut out the distractions and get stuff done!

It was a really good experience for us. We were able to build a great app in just 24 hours. I’m definitely looking forward to participating in more hackathons. Also, I found out that I can get very loquacious when I stay up for too long. 🙂

That’s it for now. Enjoy the rest of your summer! And see you y’all on campus soon!

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Defining a City – Concluding My Manchester Visit

L.S. Lowry’s depiction of Piccadilly Gardens

For many Brits living in the mid-20th century, the above image defined the city of Manchester. “Everybody thought we walked around with little dogs,” my landlady Kate told me, mocking the impression of Manchester that still stays with many citizens of the UK. In a time before the internet, though, paintings such as that of L.S. Lowry’s might have been the only way some people experienced the town at all. Plain, hunched over “matchstick men” walked from shopping centers or rust-colored factories that billowed with smoke. Ailing children stood with pained expressions, some on crutches or suffering from amputations. Lowry did not idealize; he painted an unadorned industrial life. And yes, there were plenty of dogs.

And, at that time, it was a good representation of life in Manchester. It’s a city that came to be known for its cotton industry during the mid-19th century, and while this brought growth and progress to the city, it also brought conditions of illness and a lack of sanitation described by one historian as “Hell upon Earth.” Mark Twain once said that he would like to live in Manchester, if only because the transition from life in the city to death itself would be an easy one.

This was, of course, over a century ago. The Lonely Planet guide describes Manchester as “a modern metropolis that has embraced 21st-century style and technology like no other in England.” In a lot of ways, it is–my visit was marked by trips to museums, concert venues, and plenty of restaurants, all attracting young college students studying in the city. While one man on a BBC message board claimed Manchester was little more than “unemployment, deprivation, poor health, and rain,” another man quickly fired back that Manchester stands among Europe’s greatest cities.

Well, I was there for a little more than four weeks. So which is it?

Actually, I have to wonder if it’s the sort of question we should ask at all.

If Lowry had painted Manchester during the 90s, he may have painted a scene like this. During this time, the area was referred to as “Gunchester.” Talking to a neighbor I learned that only a few years ago a man sat on our street wearing a bulletproof vest, hoping to slash tires and steal stereos. This story was followed up by the legend of a particular gang member who tried on a vest at a local gun shop, only to shoot the store owners when they asked for a deposit.

All of this took place very close to an area of Manchester known as Moss Side. I walked through the neighborhood countless times during my stay in Manchester. It was an area of brick homes, ivy climbing its surfaces to cover fading graffiti. Children played near the Moss Side community center as locals escaped the rain under the roofs of bus stops. There were many storefronts in the area that sold fruits or other groceries, but it was mainly a residential area–it was a place where people lived and raised families.

After I heard about the area’s history, though, I became nervous during my routine walk. People I had before ignored began to look dangerous; I could feel my heart beating as I made a trip to ASDA around 11 pm at night.

Later, I told my adviser about the area. “Moss Side is nothing, it is fine”, she told me. And it seems to be; when Manchester was, in 2009, described as imitating The Wire, the remarks were met with dismissal. Police reports showed that gun crime had fallen by over 80% in the previous year. Such a comparison to the gang-related crime and violence of the HBO TV series was called “sensationalistic.” Hearing about this, I felt ashamed to have let legends of the area’s crime prevent me from enjoying my nightly walks.

That’s why I hesitate to describe Manchester in a few sentences when people ask me what the city is like. It’s a vibrant yet humble working class city that is hailed as the rising star of English towns and demonized as a crime-ridden slum. People are polarized when it comes to Manchester, it seems, and the opinion you get of the city will depend heavily on the background and experience of the person you ask.

After all, would you visit Flint if this bumper sticker was all you knew about our city? Most of us are rightfully upset by this sort of representation. At the same time, though, can you really understand Flint if you are unaware of the depiction it faces? It’s for this reason that I wouldn’t want to tell somebody Manchester was “a modern metropolis”–what does this really say? Not much. The same could be said of countless cities, all with entirely different characters. Something is lost with such a sanitized, focus-group approved description. What you’re getting is just one piece of the puzzle.

Puzzle pieces found near Stamford St, Manchester

Another piece of that puzzle would depict troubles with gang-related crime. Several others would illustrate inventions and discoveries such as the Manchester Mark I or graphene. Countless more would tell the stories of those I met during my stay: artists, music journalists, scientists, professors, all willing to offer hospitality and a new perspective on the UK and life itself. A few more of those pieces would probably also show Manchester exactly as Lowry saw it, matchstick men and all. The truth is, though, that having been there only five weeks, I don’t know if I can put the puzzle together.

When I think about my experiences, though–bus rides past the Church of Saint Mary, a walk through the intricate Whitworth Hall past the old office of Alan Turing, or even the sweater-wearing ram at the University of Manchester Museum–the pieces start to fit together a little bit better.

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Who Owns Scotland? – A visit to the Highlands

Me in Scotland

Behind me in the above photo is Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain. Its Scottish Gaelic name means “mountain with its head in the clouds,” but the tour I took provided a rare, unobstructed view of the peak. Other than a few sheep and some simple farmhouses, the Highlands appeared idyllic, even untouched.

This simplicity can be found in Scottish law too, as, according to the tour guide, Scotland has no trespassing laws–ancient pagan beliefs dictate that the region’s memorable landmarks, such as the malformed and overwhelming Glen Coe or mythical Loch Ness, cannot be owned by any person. Instead, they are open to farmers, visitors–and yes, trespassers–at any time and for any reason. This belief even applied to Scotland’s only queen: Mary, Queen of Scots. The title “Queen of Scotland” would have been unacceptable as it implies land ownership; Mary faced unending controversy in her rule, 18 years of imprisonment, and finally betrayal and execution at the hand of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, all without ever “owning” a single acre of Scotland. The freedom to roam is to be taken seriously in Scotland, and, to many Scots, the land is treated with a sort of holy reverence.

Except, in reality, this is mostly myth.

Visiting a Scottish castle

Visiting sites such as the ruined Inverlochy Castle may give the impression that land in Scotland is truly free; no fences guard the 13th century structure, no attendants remind you of any visitor fees. It’s completely open to the public, and any passerby can spend time in its towers or climb the weathered parapets.

I found it surprising, then, that land ownership is such a heated problem in Scotland.

According to The Guardian, fewer than 500 people own more than half of Scotland–in fact, it is considered to be the most inequitable land ownership pattern in the developed world. In warmer months, wealthy vacationers flock to private estates where they may pay thousands of pounds to hunt grouse or fish for salmon. This type of extravagant holiday represents, in a sense, the remnants of a feudal system that still haunts Scotland’s lower class. In fact, feudalism–a system in which lower class peasants are expected to perform services for their land-owning lords–was only abolished in Scotland in 2004.

Today, though, not much has changed. Vast swathes of land are owned by modern aristocrats that are able to evade taxation and regulation. Land owners claim to be investing in the community, although their avoidance of taxes raises property values to costs beyond the means of the surrounding community, effectively relegating the prospect of property ownership to the wealthy.

Last week, though, legislators in Scotland moved to reform land ownership policies in the region. While contested by land-owning interest groups, the legislation would limit the amount of land that may be owned by the wealthy and increase land taxes. Can Scotland expect change, though? Earlier attempts at land reform have only been met with disappointment–in 2012, the Scottish Land Reform Review Group formed. Land reform advocates went as far to call its first report “the most useless 52 pages ever committed to print”.

Scottish independence

This might all change, however, due to the recent push for Scottish independence. While the region has been a part of the united Great Britain since the early 1700s, a referendum will be taking place this year on September 18th to decide whether Scotland will secede. For many, this introduces the possibility of higher taxes and greater financial instability. Scottish nationalists, though, view it as a means to fulfilling a goal over 300 years in the making. Some would even vote for secession if only to rid Scotland of the still rampant effects of feudalism.

Can this struggle, then, be reduced to one of economics or pure politics? Not exactly. What Scotland is facing seems to be tension between its many cultural influences. Paganism wishes for the land to be free while feudalism remains in contest, pitting vassals against lords. Modern capitalism and laissez-faire economics battle a more egalitarian, progressive approach of land redistribution and higher taxation. These are all voices of the Scottish culture, and it is unclear which will speak loudest and demand its way be accepted over the others.

When my tour guide was asked of the referendum, he did not refer to any economics or party politics. “It would be an insult to our ancestors,” he said, “for us to stay home on polling day.” With the unsure effects of secession in the face of oppressive land ownership, though, it’s hard to say whether the man’s ancestors will rest peacefully below a more equal, independent Scotland any time soon. And if independence means economic ruin, would these ancestors really wish to see their country fail? Unfortunately, a solution to such a complex problem may be as mythical as the monster at the bottom of the loch.

Nessie

Photo credit: Kevin Johnston

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Home Away From Home

Well, this is weird. My first summer staying in Flint the entire summer. In the months leading to summer, I was extremely excited. Finally, living on my own, having a full-time steady job, and a slight feeling of the grown up world. As many of my friends complained about the struggle of having to go back home and find a summer job, I was pretty content in my decision to stay. However, as the last day of the semester approached and everyone started to pack up their belongings, I realized I had nothing to pack. A task which had obviously turned into an end-of-the-year ritual was no more. To be honest, I somewhat panicked. What would I do up here by myself for four long months??? All my school friends were going back home and my back home friends would now be quite a drive away.  The first night after everyone moved out, I sat in my room and observed the silence. The echo of nothingness bounced off the walls so loudly I couldn’t sleep..

…Janelle, you’re all alone.

Alone

However, waking up the next day, I actually felt better. I think I just needed to come to the realization that change was here. Change is inevitable in life. You can’t run from it, you must tackle it head on. That is the only way you can grow. In the past two weeks I have realized that being by myself has allowed me to focus on things that I never had time to during the school year because of homework, or brush off in the summer to hang out with friends. Things such as taking the time to cook healthy rather than going out, using downtime to volunteer and prepare for life after graduation (May 2015!!!), and learning outside of the classroom. I mean things like reading, watching seminars and lectures pertaining to my career goals, and learning about skills I could enhance during my free time in the summer. So this is turning out to be a great decision! Plus, some of my friends are still up here and I have been meeting new people as well. I’ll keep you posted here on the blog and mostly Instagram on my adventures this summer. So follow us at @UMFlint on Instagram to see all my pics, like from the Tour de Crim I volunteered at earlier this May right here downtown! So much fun and many more pictures to come.

Tour de crim volunteer

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Finding Duende in Manchester – My visit pt. 3

In 1933, Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca gave a lecture entitled “Play and Theory of the Duende.” The goal of this speech, he said, was to “try to [give a] simple lesson in the hidden, aching spirit of Spain.” What followed were words tinged by ancient mystique and gypsy culture as Lorca described the artistic inspiration of the duende.

The duende’s arrival always means a radical change in forms. It brings to old planes unknown feelings of freshness, with the quality of something newly created, like a miracle, and it produces an almost religious enthusiasm.

Challenging, colorful views such as these, though, would mean death for Lorca. Three years later, civil war broke out in Spain. The poet was soon imprisoned by  nationalist forces led by Francisco Franco, and on August 18, 1936, he was taken to a courtyard outside of Granada. There, along with a teacher and two anarchists, he was executed by firing squad at the age of 38.

So what is duende? It’s a word that does not translate well into English. The closest approximation would probably be catharsis – a sort of physical, indescribable reaction to a work of art. In the video below, celebrated flamenco singer Enrique Morente describes duende as the mysterious transmission found in art. This performance is a good introduction to the term – the simple rhythms and powerful voices seem to resonate with the old Andalusian bath.

YouTube Preview Image

My adviser, Eva, first explained the term to me in connection with Lorca and Morente, two artists she admires greatly. She went on to explain that she hopes to bring the concept of duende to the sciences as well. This may, at first, seem like an abstract concept, but scientists of radical and daring work have described a sort of duende-like response to their discoveries in the past. Albert Einstein himself, having had his general theory of relativity confirmed through the orbit of mercury, recalled being “beside [himself] with excitement” – he even experienced heart palpitations.

Later, he would tell his friend, he felt sure that something inside him had actually snapped.

Manchester, in fact, has produced many scientific revelations. Across the street from my research office is the Rutherford Building, named after physicist Ernest Rutherford, who worked in the building’s laboratories. In 1911, he proved the existence of the atomic nucleus, and just six years later he was the first to “split the atom” through the artificial disintegration of nitrogen atoms. Rutherford described his discovery of the nucleus as “the most incredible event that has ever happened to [him] in [his] life.” Today, a plaque commemorates the man’s discoveries.

Rutherford’s Mancunian contribution to atomic structure was outdone only by Niels Bohr, a theoretical physicist who also worked in Manchester. In 1913, he extended quantum theory to atomic structure, effectively replacing Rutherford’s classical model with one that included the now-familiar orbitals. Remembering this discovery, Bohr explained his motivation as the need for a rebellious approach:

. . . that was the point about the Rutherford atom, that we had something from which we could not proceed at all in any other way than radical change. And that was the reason then that [I] took it up so seriously.

While the contributions of scientists such as Einstein, Rutherford, and Bohr may have been unique, they were all driven by a need for radical change. For figures such as Einstein (or, in a more understated sense, Rutherford), this change, when realized, produced a great physical reaction – almost a transformation. This feeling is not unlike that of duende described by Lorca; Bohr himself, having introduced quantum mechanics to what was a classical approach to the atom, worked to “[bring] to old planes unknown feelings of freshness” as duende did for Lorca. He would further this notion of the “unknown” by claiming that physics is at all times ambiguous and imperfect – it is only able to describe what humans can say about nature, not what nature truly is.

The powerful change brought upon by science or art, though, is not always positive. Lorca said of duende that “he rejects all the sweet geometry we have learned, that he smashes styles, that he leans on human pain with no consolation and makes Goya . . . work with his fists and knees in horrible bitumens.” For Goya, the artist mentioned, the rejection of traditional styles came in the form of madness and isolation. Working alone, he produced his “Black Paintings“, uncommissioned  works he intended to never leave his home.

“Two Old Men Eating Soup”, an example of Goya’s “Black Paintings”

While Goya’s paintings may have taken a dark turn, Rutherford’s contributions would lead to actual deaths. The splitting of the atom initiated the creation of the atomic bomb that would kill thousands in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In my own trip to the Manchester Art Gallery, though, I found the feeling of duende through the work of British artist Frank Auerbach. His works challenge conventions of portraits; working with drawings he has made, he obscures the details of his subjects with mountains of oil paint.

Frank Auerbach’s “Head of E.O.W.”

Works like Auerbach’s offer a unique new take on traditions such as the portrait, but it’s difficult to avoid being taken aback by the change. The figure in “Head of E.O.W.” looks almost skeletal or corpse-like in a pallid yellow. Many of the museum’s patrons, I noticed, seemed put off by the works. They moved quickly from Auerbach’s exhibit to a Victorian wing filled with the youthful glow of cherubs.

For Lorca, though, revolutionary change meant the acceptance of death. “Everywhere else, death is an end”, he said. “Death comes, and they draw the curtains. Not in Spain. In Spain they open them.”

While the effects and outcomes of radical change may be unknown and even foreboding at times, art like that of Auerbach’s, I feel, is a way for us to open the curtains.

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Farewell, UM-Flint

It’s been more than a week and it still hasn’t really sunk in that I’m a graduate of the University of Michigan-Flint.

Graduation was such a surreal experience for me. It never really hit me that I was sitting on stage with faculty and staff of the university, prepared to make a speech in front of 365 of my classmates and their closest friends and family members. Not while standing in wait in the basement of the Perani, not while everyone was processing in to the arena. It finally sunk in when the chancellor approached the podium and said that she was going to introduce me as the student speaker. In that moment, everything kind of slowed down, marking the fact that this was the culmination of the last four years – me walking up to the stage to deliver my speech. I have to say, it was really an incredible moment, one that I surprisingly wasn’t nervous for. Once she called my name, it all just kind of happened. I got up, delivered my speech, and moments later I received my diploma. That was it – commencement complete.  As quick as it felt, I’ll never forget it.

Commencement

It’s crazy to think that all that I’ve done at UM-Flint is over, which is why I’m choosing to look at the move forward as an extension. My job in the Student Success Center is coming to a close, but I do get to work on campus through the summer and see UM-Flint’s first two-day, overnight orientation get off the ground. I’m looking forward to further pursuing my passion for new student programs as I begin Michigan State University’s Student Affairs Administration graduate program this fall (cue boos and hisses for mentioning Spartan territory).

Orientation

As much as I’ll miss being a part of the Campus Activities Board (CAB) programming board, I’ll still get to see those activities happen, just from afar. CAB was my home away from home, and I met some of the most amazing people on campus through the organization.  I really enjoyed being a part of something so awesome.

CAB

And as connected as I’ve gotten to the Flint community, I look forward to finding new service opportunities in and around East Lansing. I’m definitely going to miss volunteering with Outreach and participating in UM-Flint’s Alternative Spring Break.

Alternative Spring Break

My journey at UM-Flint has been an a-MAIZE-ing one–four years that I won’t soon forget, full of great times and great people. I’m thankful to all of the people who helped shaped my experience along the way. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest professors during my time at the university, and my experience wouldn’t have been what it was without so many stupendous staff members. While I’m definitely going to miss all of the awesome people that I’ve gotten to know, I look forward to creating new memories and friendships throughout grad school.

Words can’t express how grateful I am for being a part of this university. Choosing to attend UM-Flint was one of the best decisions I’ve made, and although I may be going on to say “Go Green!,” my heart will always bleed maize and blue.

Enjoy your summer, folks, and GO BLUE!

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Cultural Growing Pains – My Manchester visit continued

“I said I would never touch American soil,” my adviser Eva told me, laughing as we walked the streets surrounding the University of Manchester. Having grown up in Spain, she heard a great deal about US intervention in South America. In countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Cuba, the US government had supported rebel groups and sponsored coups in order to prevent what it considered to be “anti-American” activities. In the instance of Guatemala, the American interest involved was primarily the United Fruit Company, a powerful business that exported bananas while ensuring low wages for its workers. To Eva, then, the recent appearance of a Starbucks coffee shop in her home town in Spain represented the imperialistic, ultra-capitalist spirit of the US she had come to hate.

“But then,” she told me, “I got to know the people.”

Throughout my first week in Manchester, I was also getting to know the people–and, of course, the culture. When I told my family I was going to the UK, the predominant response concerned the food. Americans like to paint a grim picture of the English diet: grisly blood sausages follow the unthinkable breakfast of beans on toast, there’s gravy on everything and no hamburgers to be found.

Fashion is also important. Only tourists wear blue jeans or shorts, I was told. I had second thoughts about packing them.

So far my experience has been the complete opposite. I have eaten felafel, vegetarian pastries, Caribbean jerk chicken, kebabs with naan, and strange Chinese fruit called loquats. The streets of Manchester are filled with restaurants, shops, and places of worship that reflect countless cultures and identities. And yes, some people even wear blue jeans.

Manchester neighborhoodA deceptively British-looking neighborhood found on my way to Chorlton

Looking at the above neighborhood, it may not be obvious that Manchester is incredibly diverse. Taking one of the many side streets or back alleys, though, will often reveal some surprising finds. At one point, an Afro-Caribbean hair salon stands between Thibetan take-out and an Islamic cultural center. Pizzerias feature logos with typical Italian chefs above Arabic that reads “halal“. In fact, I often find my way home by looking for the New Testament Church at the beginning of my street or the Sunni mosque at the end of it. Statistics show that this influence of other cultures is growing steadily in the UK–the African minority has grown four-fold since 1991, and other groups such as the Chinese and Pakistani minorities have seen similar growths.

“I think it’s wonderful,” my landlady Kate told me. She was kind enough to clue me in on some of the city’s nearby offerings, most notably the Curry Mile, an entire mile of Indian restaurants. Visiting the famous mile with some of my American friends, we discovered the great bhaji of Al Bilal as well as some tiramisu ice cream in a nearby shop.

For some, though, this cultural diversity is unwanted.

“We’re getting a bit fed up with it,” I was told by an employee of the local ASDA (a popular supermarket chain).

I struck up conversation with him on the subject and found that, to him, immigration has become a burden. “The EU is letting everyone in,” he remarked. In fact, he had a great deal of disdain for Manchester, preferring instead the US. When I told him I was from Michigan, his face lit up. “‘sfrom Michigan that boy!”, I heard him tell his wife. To him, the US  represents a move away from what is perceived as an economy overburdened with immigration.

As it turns out, he is not alone in his opinion.

Last week, I picked up a pamphlet that had been delivered in the mail. “Only UKIP will take back control,” it proclaimed. UKIP is the UK Independence Party, a political organization whose membership has recently grown to over 37,000 members. The “control” the pamphlet referred to was that of immigration restriction. According to UKIP politicians, the UK’s participation in the European Union has allowed for “open-door” immigration that they believe harms British wages and job outlooks. “Get your country back,” the brochure proudly demanded in bold font.

UKIP

A UKIP billboard found in southern Manchester

Billboards like the above have been springing up across the country. The image decries waning UK influence in the face of a growing EU presence. However, this message may not have fared well in my neighborhood of residence. I recently found a billboard similar to the one above not far from the ASDA in Manchester, its UKIP message covered in bright orange graffiti. The anonymous artist had answered the ad’s question: “WE DO.” A few days later the ad was replaced entirely.

While it is clear that increasing influence from other cultures has caused some tension in the city, my experience in Manchester has been colored by the neon lights of Indian restaurants on Rusholme and the bright adornments of nearby mosques and temples. It’s hard to speculate what might happen if the message of UKIP is carried out in the UK, but it’s certain that cities like Manchester would look much, much different.

The idea that immigration creates the problematic Other instead of valuable cultural development is convenient and easily sold in a time of economic need, but I feel it’s counterproductive when I (and many others) have enjoyed the contributions of other cultures to such an exciting city. The cause of anti-immigration, though, gives people something to fight; it represents a sort of faceless, nameless threat that is as frightening as it is alien and unknown.

Maybe, as Eva found, it’s time for the citizens to get to know each other.

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Summer of Code

This summer, I will be interning at a mobile application development company called Detroit Labs–“a group of talented mobile app designers, developers, and more in Downtown Detroit.”

At Detroit labs I’ll be learning iOS programming, and developing apps for iPhones and iPads. As a newbie to iOS mobile development, I spent the majority of my first week studying about the iOS ecosystem. And it’s been a fun ride! I’m loving it!

So far, my experience in downtown Detroit has been amazing! Since moving to Michigan, I haven’t really spent time in Detroit. I once went to see the Tigers play (GO MIGGY!), but that’s about it. Although, like everyone else, I’ve heard/read not-so-great things about the city of Detroit. So going into this summer, I had some worries about working there. But to my pleasant surprise, I’ve enjoyed every second in motor city! Except the traffic. Nope, I have not enjoyed the traffic.

I commute from Flint to Detroit on a daily basis. On my first day, my commute to work took two hours (7:30am – 9:30am)! So my first goal for the summer was to find a proper time to leave Flint in order to beat the traffic. Two days in, I finally figured out the right time to leave Flint to get to Detroit in an hour. Now, I usually leave Flint at 8:30am and get to work around 9:30am. Leaving any time earlier would pretty much mean driving in a parking lot all the way to Detroit.

I’m really looking forward to my summer of code. This is a great learning opportunity, and I hope to make the best of it. I’m excited to intern at Detroit Labs, and also explore the city of Detroit at the same time! PS. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, I promise to include pictures in my following posts. ☺ Have a great week!

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Programming Pilgrimages – My visit to Manchester (so far)

When I told people I had never flown before, they were pretty surprised. “Never? . . . Not once?”, they would ask. Nope, never.

So when I told them I was going alone to Manchester, UK, they were even more surprised.

I arrived after a 24-hour delay last Friday, having faced the loss of a bag in Chicago and a pretty inhospitable border security guard. Not too bad for my first trip out of the continent.

zm1small

Here I am on the steps on my place in Manchester.

I am Zach Scott, a senior studying Computer Science and English at UM-Flint. As a participant in the Honors Program, I have been allowed the opportunity to study abroad in Manchester, UK. For four weeks, I will be working with Dr. Eva Navarro Lopez in the Computer Science department of the University of Manchester.

Our project deals with “hybrid dynamical systems”–a term that, when pronounced in a proper British accent, sounds pretty smart indeed. In fact, it’s not too complex; a hybrid system is something like a thermostat, for example. This system has multiple components, namely temperature and a control mechanism. Temperature is modeled as a “continuous” variable–it is a real-world value that can be any number on the number line. The controls, though, are digital. The fancy computer science term we would use for the switches involved is “boolean”–they are either off or on. Hybrid dynamical systems attempt to model the relationships between these components in a given system.

My work, then, will deal with modeling some type of hybrid dynamical system using a program called Ptolemy. The overall goal of the project is to create some sort of “formal language,” like a programming language, that will be able to determine whether a system is behaving properly or not. Fellow comp sci students who have taken Dr. Panja’s CSC 381 class will know what I’m talking about!

You can read more about the actual project here.

Eva and the staff at the university have even been kind enough to set me up with my own office!

Manchester office

This space may seem innocuous enough, but in fact this same office was last used by the final student of Alan Turing! Turing is a sort of comp sci idol and martyr. His contributions to computer science culminated in the formalization of computation theory (the Turing machine being a great example familiar to us students!). In fact, the University of Manchester is able to boast the construction of the first stored-program computer back in 1948. Turing himself worked on a later computer, the Mark I, at the institution.

Turing’s life, though, was soon struck by the cruelty of England’s Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. Turing was persecuted as his homosexuality was considered a crime at this time. He was humiliated through hormone treatments that greatly affected his demeanor, and his conviction meant his work was halted. In an act that mirrored Snow White, his favorite fairy tale, he consumed an apple poisoned with cyanide and died at the age of 41.

While the British government has apologized for this treatment, and the law itself has been repealed, Turing still stands as a figure of brilliance despite what was then a highly oppressive atmosphere.

For me, then, this experience has become a sort of pilgrimage. Yesterday I took the bus to Oxford Road. This same road was where Turing began the relationship that was so heavily stigmatized. I have walked through the same buildings Turing walked through, and to be completing research in a place so charged with exciting history is very meaningful to me. You can read a bit more about the university’s computer science history here.

More updates to come as I begin my work and explore the surrounding area. I have heard rumors about a sort of “free jazz church” which I will have to visit while I’m here!

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Thank You, UM-Flint

I heart UM-Flint

I have come to the end of a long journey. It has taken me six years to complete my undergraduate degree, with five of them being here at the University of Michigan-Flint. I don’t believe I have the skills necessary to translate what this adventure has meant to me, but one thing I know I can do is give thanks to those who helped me along the way. Below are the influential people, offices, and groups who have had a hand in making me.

 

CAB E Board

The Campus Activities Board

I have been a part of this amazing organization for the duration of my stay at the university. Going from general member, to an event coordinator for two years, to vice president, to president, and now giving over the reins to the next generation of CABbies, it is what kept me in college a lot of the time. These people have been my rock and have influenced every aspect of my life. My education would not have been worthwhile had it not been for what CAB has given me. It has been a blast learning how to be a leader with these folks and working for my peers on campus and making their college years memorable.

The Office of Financial Aid

My first job on campus and, more importantly, as a young adult. This office became my home for the first three years and made sure I was able to support myself. Beyond providing employment, they also cared about my life as a student and were always encouraging when it came to my academic endeavors. It’s no wonder I am now heading into the same field: I had stellar examples of what it means to care for the students you work with every day.

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Dr. Hillary Heinze, Dr. Thomas Wrobel, Dr. Jeanette Stein, and my fellow First Year Experience: Intergroup Dialogue Peer Facilitators

Working on campus gave me an opportunity to provide for myself, which First Year Experience (FYE) was, but it evolved into much more as I realized what impact I was able to have on my peers. This opportunity blossomed into a position that has not only shaped how I interact with the world but also, honestly, probably got me into graduate school. I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing Peer Facilitators over the years and even more amazing students who end up learning about their own identities and how they affect everyone around them. And this was all done while working with the best supervisors a student like myself could ask for. Dr. Heinze, Dr. Wrobel, and Dr. Stein all worked closely with us and treated us with a respect that has made me love higher education.

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Tiffany Lane, Jennifer Salamone, The Ellen Bommarito LGBT Center, and PRIDE

My identity has been a huge part of my journey here at UM-Flint. It has meant an environment where I have felt safe to be myself and express it in ways I found appropriate. It was because of great coordinators of the LGBT Center like Tiffany and Jen that I started to value myself and understand what it meant to me as a whole person. With that new confidence in myself, I was able to help shape the campus by being a member of the LGBT advocacy student group PRIDE, even serving as Treasurer for a short time. UM-Flint not only gave me a place to get an education, it gave me room to learn and be myself.

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Brian Proffer, Jessie Hurse II, Kimberly Butka, Dr. Mary Jo Sekelsky, Quiana Smith, Keith Flewelling, Dr. Tamara McKay, Dr. Michelle Rosynsky, Dr. Jacob Blumner, Alaina Wiens, and other Staff Members

I mention these folks for a myriad of reasons, but it all boils down to that they have given me an opportunity, encouraged me, or provided some insight during my stay here. They have been mentors, advisors, colleagues, and friends. With their help and guidance, I have been successful while at UM-Flint and will continue to be while I am starting the next part of my life. They’ve all shown me what it means to be a professional and how to care for the people you work with daily.

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Friends and Family

Through all of this, there have been my friends and family. Five years is a significant chunk of time for someone who is only 24. Many relationships develop, with some ending and others still evolving, but despite it all I have had a support network of people who encouraged me, showed me why I was here, and supported me when I would have not otherwise been able to continue. My mother instilled in me the importance of education at an early age, and through that kind of support from my family and friends I have persevered.

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Everyone Else

For anyone who I forgot to mention, who I have neglected to include in one of the previous categories, I wanted to be sure I included a space for them. While at UM-Flint there is a continuous stream of people who enter and exit your life on a day-to-day, month-to-month, and even year-to-year basis that influence you more than you may realize. It is easy (and worthwhile) to get lost in the college lifestyle. This is the time to be an involved student, take classes, and plan out your future. You are constantly making connections with everyone you actively or passively interact with. The significance of that is not lost on me. My visibility at UM-Flint has been a great lesson in understanding how you being your authentic self can be powerful not only for you but for everyone around you.

And I think that is what my experience here at UM-Flint has ultimately meant. Being authentic in how I deal with the world is important to me. My university has challenged and encouraged me to continue being the person I need to be. Although it has only been five years out of a hopefully long life, I know my experiences here set me up to be myself in the future. After May 4, I will be saying goodbye to the University of Michigan-Flint and most of these amazing people I have grown to know. But I am excited for my future prospects at Michigan State University, studying in the Higher Adult and Lifelong Education: Student Affairs Administration master’s program. I know the wisdom I have gained will carry me through and make everyone proud.

Thank You, UM-Flint.

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