2048 · 12 April 2014

2048. It is just a number. Two-thousand and forty-eight. But it is annoying.

(By the way, I know that you are not supposed to start sentences with numerals. But I am going to ignore that rule because I do not want to spell out all the numbers I use as first or only words in sentences today. Sorry if that is annoying.)

In truth, 2048 is a special number. It is 2 to the 11th power. That is 211. In binary is a one followed by eleven zeroes. 100000000000. In hexadecimal (base 16), it is 800. As such, it is special mathematically, but it is even more special in the computer world.

Back in the early days of computing, having 2048 bytes of RAM was significant. Having 2K of RAM was amazing and people who had that much were bragging that their computers were state of the art. The rest of us marveled at both their buying and computing power. Today, people laugh when you tell them that. Indeed, students in my classroom think I made up the story to answer their complaints about RAM. But in reality, they have over 1000 times the memory of those amazing 2048 bytes of yesteryear.

As nostalgic as it is thinking about computing in the early days, 2048 has another computer significance. It is a game. A game that I wish I had never played.

Actually, 2048 is really a puzzle disguised as a game. It is a simple concept, but it is very tough to beat. In fact, for those of my faithful fans who expected to read my blog earlier in the day, 2048 was at least part of the reason I did not get it done on time.

2048 looks like one of those old puzzles where you are supposed to arrange the 15 tiles in the right order on a 4×4 grid. Usually, the tiles were just the numbers 1 through 15, but sometimes they were pictures. It was fun to play this game in the car going to Grandma’s house or when just hanging out with nothing else to do. Nowadays, you can even find variations of this game to play electronically.

My first encounter with the 2048 game was trying to get my students to work one day. For some reason, it was being played on just about every computer in the room. It was as if everybody had been brainwashed into playing the game. Even my most hard working students were distracted. (They all seem to have it on their phones now too.) I went from student to student to student trying to get them to work.

As I watched them not work I saw that at the lowest level, 2048 is just pushing tiles around. But I discovered that it can be a very strategic game.

2048 starts with just two tiles randomly placed on the 4×4 grid. Each of the tiles is either a two or a four. The concept is simple. You move the tiles either left, right, up, or down. Whichever way you want the tiles to go, they all go. A new tile (either a two or four) appears randomly in one of the empty spots. When two adjacent tiles are slid together, they become one tile with twice the value. So when two adjacent twos are pressed together, they become one tile with a value of four. Two fours become an eight, two eights become a sixteen, and so on. The goal is to get at least one tile to become 2048. Thus the name.

When I first saw the game, I thought it was silly. When I had it explained to me, I thought it was intriguing. When I started playing it, I found it annoying.

Even though I do not often play video games, I do like them. Unfortunately, when I have a new one, I usually play it to the exclusion of all else. At least until I finish it. Some people would say I do that because I am goal-oriented. Others would say I am just an addict. Either way, I figured I could play 2048 a couple times and finish it so that I would not need to play it again. Fat chance.

The first time I played 2048, I got one tile all the way to 1024. I figured I would finish it the first time out of the gate and I would be satisfied. Then, the iPad ran out of juice. I rushed to plug it in and even tried to play right away as it was charging, but all I saw was the battery icon slowly filling with red. When I finally did get back to the game, I found it had not saved my progress. I was crushed. It was late and I did not want to try again that night.

I tried again the next day. Again, I got to 1024 before losing. I got that far several times during the half week of playing. Then, I finally hit a speed bump. I only made it 512. So I had to go again. And again. And again. I still have not beaten the game, so I call it dumb, even though it is really me who is the dumb one. After all, I am the one playing it.

Even though 2048 is a game, it really is just a number. Sure, it has significance in math and computer circles, but it is still just a number. So it cannot actually be annoying. But I think it is.

[Note: I finally got to 2048. The day after I posted.]

© 2014 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Not a Nature Photographer · 5 April 2014

Even though I like photography and nature, I could never be a nature photographer.

I enjoy watching nature shows and seeing nature pictures. I remember being a kid and watching Marlin Perkins wrestling with an anaconda on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I remember seeing shows where the big cats take down large prey and crocodiles ambush unsuspecting animals drinking. I remember seeing fish fight their way upstream and birds taking flight. I still enjoy seeing these things as well as still photos from National Geographic and other sources of animals and lands both near and far.

I always wondered if I could film or take videos or even stills like those I remember. If I had the eye to capture the scene with all its wonder and ferocity and beauty. I always wondered. And yet I realize that I do not have the constitution for it. I do not have what it takes to be a nature photographer. I do not want to be stuck out in the jungle heat or arctic cold waiting for the special moment when an animal does something amazing or the sun rises spectacularly over the horizon. I do not have the patience or wherewithal to take thousands of pictures to get that one fantastic shot.

My wife, The Mindboggling Mrs. Miyoshi, might argue with that last statement. After all, I do take hundreds of pictures each year. Some of them make it into albums or get printed individually. But most of them just sit on the computer. A few make it to Facebook on my wife’s page. But usually, the only animals in them are of the human kind and are part of our family.

Even though most of the pictures I take are of family and friends (which might arguably be considered nature photos), I do like to take nature photos. As long as I do not need to sit in the swamp or otherwise be too uncomfortable to get that spectacular photo.

I like that I can see the bird in the sky or the dear in the meadow. That I can see the plants and scenery in their full splendor. That I can and do take pictures of nature all around me. And I like that sometimes, I get lucky and see something spectacular happen right in my front yard. Sometimes, nature comes to me.

The Mindboggling Mrs. Miyoshi recently saw a hummingbird gathering cobwebs on the front porch for a nest. She did not realize that the hummingbird was making that nest on our wind chimes. When I saw firsthand what the hummingbird was doing, I decided that I needed to write a piece about being a nature photographer. And that I needed a picture to go with the piece. So I got out the tripod and the camera, set up the gear, and waited.

While I was waiting, I took a few shots to set things up. I tried to be a real nature photographer. I changed the shutter speed and tried using a flash even though it was through the window. We do not have a super fancy camera, so my options were somewhat limited, but I got a couple good shots of the nest and the hummingbird. And I even took a short video. Not quite like Marlin Perkins, but it was fun to shoot a hummingbird video.

Fortunately, I did not need to leave my own home to get these nature shots. I was in the living room where it was warm and comfortable. Still, while I was waiting, I imagined being on safari hiding out in the tall grasses with my camera trained on some large animal far away. Thankfully, imagining does not include the heat or the sweat or the buzzing insects. It does not include frostbite or blizzards in the arctic. But it always includes great shots. If not by the camera, at least by the mind. And in reality, I got a couple good shots.

I enjoyed being a nature photographer in the comfort of my own home. I did not need to worry about being eaten by ravenous beasts or getting munched by stinging insects or freezing my tush off in the cold. All I had to do was be patient enough to wait for the hummingbird to come back to the nest it was building so that I could take pictures without all the hardship. After all, I know that as much as I like nature and photography, I do not want to be a true nature photographer.

© 2014 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Classical Music · 29 March 2014

This work is in the public domain.

One of the reasons I like classical music is because of the images I see in my head.

There are many reasons to like classical music, but when trying to sell kids on its merits, we often point to things that really make no difference to them. They do not really care that it might give them a greater appreciation of all music or make them smarter, especially in math. They just want to know why they ought to like it. I see this when I tell kids that I like classical music and their eyes glaze over. They think that I, like so many others, will try to tell them why classical music is good for them.

Fortunately for them, I do not really like to extol the virtues of classical music. Partly, because I do not really care that it might make me smarter (although that is good incentive for listening). And partly because I did not really know why I like classical music until recently.

I had the revelation as to why I like classical music while I was listening to the radio on the way to work one day. It was tuned to our local classical music station, Classical King FM. The song playing was one I had heard many times. But not on the radio. It was the Overture from The Barber of Seville by Rossini. As I listened to the music in the car, it took me back to many a Saturday morning watching cartoons as a kid. I could see Bugs Bunny massaging Elmer Fudd’s head with his feet to the sound of the violins playing. It was then that I realized exactly why I like classical music. I like cartoons.

Actually, as I thought more about it, I realized that TV and movies and even internet videos have music. Often classical music. I cannot think of Darth Vader without hearing The Imperial March. Or Alfalfa and Our Gang without hearing “Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!” from The Barber of Seville. Or the Lone Ranger without hearing the William Tell Overture.

It goes the other way too. These songs and others bring to mind specific images in my brain. I like to hear Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf so I can remember the Disney animated short. I see Mickey Mouse when I hear Paul Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There are so many classical songs that bring so many images to my mind. These images, whether cartoons or not, are really the reasons why I like classical music.

When it comes right down to it, there are really no right and wrong reasons to like classical music. We can like it for its musical significance or its impact on history and civilization. We can like it for the feelings we get when we listen. We can even like it because we think it might make us or our children smarter. I like classical music for all of those reasons, but mainly I like it because I like cartoons. Because I like the images classical music conjures up in my head.

[Note: I wrote a piece like this a few years ago (Classical Music and Me), but do not tell anybody that classical music might not help the memory.]

© 2014 Michael T. Miyoshi

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