Playing for Two 4/14

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Two weeks ago at Banner Baywood, I went inside a nursing unit to play for two inhabitants. I asked my volunteer coordinator beforehand and also asked the nurses on the floor for their permission. They kindly worked with me to find patients who would like to hear music.

The two were sitting upright on their beds. I should try to avoid sharing any personal information of the patients. One was a middle-aged woman and the other was older. I played in their room for a little less than an hour. They were both extremely appreciative the whole time I was there. I could tell this would be just another boring afternoon for them if they had been left by themselves. After each piece I played, the middle-aged woman talked about something she thought of while I was playing, and shared her thoughts enthusiastically with her older companion and me. Sometimes it was: you know why I love string instruments so much, they can make such big contrasts so suddenly; that part you were playing where it got louder and louder towards the climax and suddenly dropped down again, only the violin could make such a glorious sound. Other times it was simply: he reminds me of my nephew…

A crowd of nurses gathered at the doorway, I used to think nurses were busy. I’m so immensely grateful for the opportunity. Throughout my time with the senior project, I mostly played in the background, and although that could be heard by hundreds of people, I derived much more satisfaction from playing for two and was able to create a much stronger connection with myself and my audience.

Cashier training and timescales

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First, some fun facts about the library, well only one fun fact. The not so fun fact is that the main branch of the Mesa Public Library is a grand lodge of the Freemasons; I’d add a picture but WordPress isn’t cooperating right now. The plaque is at the North-West corner of the building if you want to see it. For a fun fact, the library has a book-store and the prices are extremely low! Speaking of the bookstore, due to the level 2 background check coming back I can now man the register. And thus Thursday was spent mostly sitting at the register. Regarding the project, that of organising the science fiction and fantasy stacks, it was finished on Tuesday after re-arranging and double stacking a few shelves for more space. There’s not much space on the shelves for new donations, which is a real issue, but that bridge will be crossed once we come to it. Which will be when we figure out what to do with the other science fiction and fantasy section. Yes, that exists. The exact story of it I know not but from what I’ve gathered it was originally a place to collect science fiction and fantasy sets or more expensive books. Come time and changes in management it was forgotten and came to be yet another mess. When will this mess be handled, who knows. But it’ll require reshuffling both so probably after new carts come in so probably a week minimum.

On the book and literary history.

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So, science fiction. It’s a great genre with truly great authors, from Asimov to Leckie, Lem to McCaffrey, some of the greatest and most imaginative works of fiction have come from it (or fantasy, though given how much history the two share you can’t consider one without the other. Even Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine included some fantasy after all). From such a groundswell of creativity has sprung many a fandom (such as the original fandom, the science fiction fandom). Off of which has split many a subculture, most notably the furry fandom.

But enough about history as the story of history is not the focus of this project, the focus is writing and binding a book. The primary genre should be rather obvious given the brief introduction to the history of science fiction above, it is obviously furry. I jest as a fandom isn’t a genre, the genre is science fiction. I suppose it’s no longer the slice-of-life/romance I originally said it would be, as there isn’t time to write a whole romance plot, but the slice of life aspect is still there. If anything I’m just trying to not add twice the length of the narrative in appendixes since compressing around a decade of various notes and ideas about a universe into a short story (under the SWFA guidelines for story length) is certainly difficult, especially if you don’t take the simple route and drop someone who doesn’t know anything about the setting in. But who knows, maybe I will just add a lot of appendixes and make it an encyclopedia with a plot attached.

4/8/24: Dremel, Dremel, Dremel

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This week seems more unproductive than the last few, but nonetheless time continues to be poured into the helmet. The bowl of the helmet is officially polished and ready to be assembled, while the backside and rear still need more sanding. You can see that the front of the helmet has a very smooth look to it, while the backside is still choppy and doesn’t look too smooth. That is an easy fix using the new method of using a Dremel.

That being said, I had the opportunity to attach my first piece to the helmet that isn’t made of steel:

The brass edging covers three sections: the neck guard, and each of the two cheekguards. I also polished it with clay so it’s very shiny. That’s one down, two to go.

As for the inside, Romans historically would have made a leather basket-like harness that the wearer’s head would touch instead of the hard metal interior. However, partly for simplicity’s sake, as well as comfortability, I have elected to use closed-cell foam padding similar to what I’ve grown up using wearing inside of hockey helmets. An added bonus of this is that it doesn’t absorb water or sweat as easily as leather does.

Before fitting the foam, I want to ensure the inside doesn’t rust while it’s hidden from sight. To do this, I have sanded and spray painted it with Plasti-Dip, so over time rust cannot penetrate the steel and ruin the helmet. It also provides a better surface for the foam to be glued to.

Foam isn’t pretty, though. To counter this, I have bought some very fancy fabric — velvet to be exact, which completes the color scheme of the Roman flag alongside brass.

I am hoping that by the end of this week I’ll have the entirety of my sanding complete, and maybe even get started on the final assembly. All I have left to make are the two hooks a crest is fastened by, the carry handle, and the forehead brim. Most of these I was planning on making the past week, but sanding has taken more time than I anticipated.

4/8/24: Preparing to Interview the Curator

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This past week, I began preparing for my interview with David Rubin which will be occurring later this week. I’ve been unknowingly preparing this whole time by simply familiarizing myself with all events and controversies surrounding the Old Glory exhibit, but last week I listened to Rubin’s own words through radio and newspaper interviews. I particularly enjoyed listening to the radio shows (which have been digitized from cassette tapes) with jingle intros and segments where the public would call in to seek help with problems we today would typically turn to the internet to solve, like flea infestations or clothing stains. What I found from these interviews is that Rubin was very adamant about his decisions as exhibit curator and stood his ground against criticism which I admired and appreciated.

One radio show which also interviewed artists of the exhibit and allowed the public to call in with their opinions

Most of my questions for Rubin are related to the current political and artistic climate, because I’m wondering how the Old Glory Exhibit would be received today. Many questions like ‘do you truly consider this exhibit art?’ or ‘don’t you think that this exhibit is disrespectful to our veterans?’ were answered countless times by Rubin, so I’ll avoid asking those.

I also continued work on Old Glory’s finding aid, adding to the Historical and Content Note sections to provide context to the exhibit files.

4/8/2024: Classic Car Adventures

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This past week I spent time at both Classic Promenade, my site placement, as well as Classic Performance Restorations.

James and Chip have been working on a beautiful green Rolls-Royce for a few days to fix the hood which was out of place. The hinge to open the hood was bent which prevented it from opening and closing correctly. The hood of this car is different from a hood on modern cars as it opens sideways on both sides of the front before the headlights.

At Classic Performance Restorations, Ed, the primary mechanic, was working a Mercedes 300SL. The problems from last time were fixed (broken door latch and new tires), however they ran into new ones.  The alternator can only handle 40amps, but after new installations were made including AC and bluetooth, these additions took too much power and resulted in the car breaking down.

I am planning on creating some sort of documentary style video for my final project, and I have finally started working on it. I have the opportunity to call with Angela Ashmore, an engineer for Chip Ganassi Racing, this Friday when I will ask her questions about the IndyCar industry and her role within it.

Denouement: A Stressful Week: 4/7/2024

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This week at Places!, I had a brand new responsibility bestowed on me in light of tech week happening. I am in charge of the lightboard. One of the actors, Jackson, programmed the cues and all I have to do is activate them with a click when they appear in the script. Surprisingly it’s quite easy. This week is when rehearsals really start to ramp up for Urinetown as the show opens on Friday. There’s still time to get tickets!

A light board
The light board at East Valley High School.

I’ll be back at rehearsals for beauty and the beast starting this Tuesday.  I’m really looking forward to it.

In terms of my show, I have an announcement to make. Due to the unforeseen circumstance of the prom, my show now has to be moved to Thursday the 25th. I hope you all can still make it. Ms. Giles has given me some great advice on how to improve it. If I’ll be honest, I’m really stressed out. I was told that this is the week when something goes sideways for every senior project, and for me it’s me having to change the date. I hope I can get through this challenge.

Collaborating with a Fellow Volunteer 4/7

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Back in the first week of volunteering at Banner Gateway, I met another musician who comes to volunteer right after me. Don is an elderly man with a thick white beard and mustache, and he plays the piano. He carries a leather briefcase in which he stores sheet music that he gathered throughout the years. I glanced at my black puma backpack with a vague sense of inferiority. The corners of his eyes creased into a smile when he saw me. I can’t remember exactly what we said during our first meeting, but we agreed on playing some little duets in the future.

He was telling me that he had been volunteering by playing piano all his life. When he was young, he used to play at his mother’s church. One time after finishing a gig, someone yelled, “Do you know how to play the Beer Barrel Polka?” He did not, but since then he developed this tradition of starting with this piece at every gig. As he was saying this, he started joyfully patting the keys of the piano, creating a delightful beat. His motions were smooth and habitual. His fingers ran up and down the keyboard with ease, not at all concerned by the occasional goofy note. The music was simple, and filled with unpolished joy. I realized I have something to learn from this old man.

I saw him again the next week. This time he came a few minutes before his scheduled shift. He sat the briefcase down and surprised me with a single sheet of paper, titled “Le Cygne.”

The last couple of weeks and I need to actually do these weekly

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These last couple of weeks have been the epitome of busyness; between colleges schedules changing daily, and issues with the stress related it’s all been terribly horrible. Aside from that there’s been plenty of work done at the library. First, was my official project, organising the science fiction and fantasy stacks. If you’re familiar with the genres you might of already noticed an issue, there is significant overlap between them. I’m not talking about where it first appears to be one but is actually the other, such as Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, it is instead the established genre of science fantasy where there are significant elements of both science fiction and fantasy. This issue is solved through the tried and true method of… guessing, we have no better option other than vibes. Other than that the only issue is figuring how much cosmetic damage a book can have and still sell which leads to the eternally tragic moment of having to recycle books with either minor damage, damage that’s easily repairable if we had time, and purely cosmetic damage. It’s been a rather easy process so far, mostly just shuffling books around on the open shelves, but it’s led to the need to learn to weed out the damaged books and scan them for pricing. Especially with how many books needed to be priced it feels like these were just being thrown there without consideration, yes, they’ve been left alone to the point where there was a thick layer of dust on some shelves but you’d think that they’d be checked before shoved somewhere. Apparently not.

Unrelated to the project is that I took this “True Colors” personality test there. My first though was that it seems to be astrology but for bureaucrats, then I got The Sage/Magician/Wizard (depending on what card set you use) as a major archetype and and The Lovers as a minor. I mean Green and Blue. It’s all just silly astrology that’s still less neat than tarot or just classic star astrology.

4/2/24. Hypertuning the Hypersensitive Hyperparameters

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This past week, aside from my own studying of deep learning and figuring out how to use the programming library TensorFlow, I’ve mostly just been working on running new and updated GAN models for the ASU research project. So mostly just more of me tuning hyperparameters (configuration variables that affect the AI learning process) and having the model run in the background of my computer for hours upon end. One thing that I’ve noticed along the way is that GAN models can actually be very difficult to work with.

First of all, GAN models are incredibly sensitive to changes in some of their hyperparameters. For example, one of the hyperparameters that I tweak the most often is the learning rate. Both the generator and discriminator parts have their own separate learning rates. What these learning rate values actually influence is something I don’t understand well enough to explain, but it’s basically just the step size that each part of the model takes it optimize its performance. Anyways, the difference between a 0.0001 and a 0.0002 learning rate literally determines whether the model produces actual high quality images or just blank ones like the picture below.

Additionally, we’ve been gradually scaling up the GANs that we’re working with, which can cause them to sometimes become increasingly unstable and take much longer to run. The images that we’re working with are becoming bigger in pixel size, which means a lot more data to analyze, and GAN models are also running through more training iterations to make the results as accurate as possible. These models can now take more than 3 hours to finish running. Recently, I also accidently ran a model on my computer’s CPU instead of a GPU. I didn’t even realize anything was wrong until I checked up on the progress half an hour later and found that it hadn’t even gotten close to finish processing 1% of the whole dataset yet. The GPUs are just so many times more efficient that its not even comparable.