About Jordan M.

Neuroscience / Computer Science double-major at Johns Hopkins University. No artificial additives.

Left Coast Shenanigans


Disclaimer: Jordan severely injured his right hand a few days prior to writing this post. As such, his line drawings have been drawn exclusively with his left hand.


Well, I’ve gotta hand it to you left-coast folk. You have far better weather.  Admittedly, there’s no snow here in San Francisco, but it’s certainly a far nicer climate than my native New Jersey’s. (That being said, I was surprised to see people flee for cover when it started drizzling. So it goes.)1

Over the school year, I was given the opportunity (as a Hopkins student — see, there’s yet another reason to come to JHU) to tutor students online via a hip-youngfolk-startup called InstaEDU. That’s a hyperlink instead of just plain text because, a few weeks before finishing class, I interviewed with them for a software development position, and I now work for them. This was, no doubt, largely due to the incredible help I got from the on-campus Hopkins Career Center; without them, I’d still have a sprawling resume, very little direction in terms of interning or job-hunting, and one less cup of free coffee in my history.

That might not be a bubble, but I wouldn’t put any money against it.

I will skip over the whole packing / finding-a-flight / finding-a-house epic quest, as it’s definitely a story better suited for a time when the two of us can sit down over a warm coffee in Brody and make fun of the San Francisco housing market for a few hours together. Suffice to say, San Francisco may very well be in a housing bubble right now, and so I am living in Berkeley and commuting to San Francisco’s financial district daily.

For those of you who are, as I once was, unfamiliar with the geography of the tech industry, I’ll explain:

This is how San Francisco'ers view America.

This is how San Francisco’ers view America. (I tried to make a ‘silicone valley’ joke about Hollywood but I thought that’d be bad form. Oh whoops I just said it)

Anyhow, long story short: I wound up finding out I was moving, moving, and settling down in Berkeley in approximately a 24-hour period. (If you’ve ever been stressed before, no you haven’t. I thought finals week was a test of patience. HA. Try moving across the country without notice.) Now that I’m here though, I’ve really been able to enjoy the crazy-amazing things that this city has to offer.



This is sushi. No, I'm not messing with you.

This is sushi. No, I’m not messing with you.

If San Francisco and Berkeley weren’t known for being, respectively, techy and Berkeley, they’d be known for their food. Though I’ve been at work for about four weeks now, I haven’t eaten lunch at the same place twice, despite the fact that I’ve never gone outside a block and a half for food.  San Francisco has definitely become a crossroads of very diverse cultures, and the Venn-diagram cross-section of noms nearby is the perfect representation of this.  For instance, today I had two different kinds of burritos: One, a ‘sushiritto,’ which is literally sushi prepared like a burrito, and two, a burroti; Indian food hiding in a naan-ish holder.  Both were absolutely spectacular, and, as any programmer knows,  burritos are one of the best code-fueling systems in existence.2

Another good code-producer: Coffee, as I’ve mentioned before. My office is less than two blocks away from three Starbucks (not including other coffeehouses). Feel free to feel jealous.


Well okay I’ll admit I haven’t been to any concerts yet (though I did miss Sigur Ros by only a few days, can’t express how angry I am about that) and I also missed The Girl with the Pearl Earring3 which was on display here until the day I arrived. Also also the MoMA just closed for major renovations. But listen, I swear there’s an awesome art culture here.

I wish I had gotten a better picture. But Google it if you like awesome things.

I wish I had gotten a better picture. But Google it if you like awesome things.

Ah, okay, here’s a good way to prove my point: Try googling the Palace of Fine Arts in San Fran. Check out that building. Don’t even go inside just yet; just look at the outside. Mmhm. Yep. That’s what I thought.






Hint: never use a knife to unpack another knife.

Hint: never use a knife to unpack another knife.

My native friend Mana took me (along with Emily, a friend and coworker in Medella) on a crash-course tour of San Francisco, and we hit up a ton of places, the majority of which I completely forgot to photograph for you — the most obvious of which is, naturally, the Golden Gate Bridge. Here’s a drawing I made of the Golden Gate Bridge when my hand was hurt:

2013-06-08 16.41.51


However, I did remember to snap a nifty photo of the Bay Bridge.

In lieu of a story behind this picture, I will leave you with some words that hopefully explain why I didn’t type or draw more for you:

Never ever EVER try opening a knife package with another knife, because explaining it to the ER nurses is too embarrassing.




1 My first thought was, ‘psh, these west-coasters sure are wimps,‘ until I remembered, oh yeah, earthquakes.

2 Another really good one: All your friends going out together and you having code to write. You’d be amazed how fast you pump out that python.

Kind of like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo except for everything.

My Favorite Academic Experience: Medella Medical

I never knew how extensive the entrepreneurial community at Johns Hopkins was until I became a part of it. When examining the school as a whole, it’s hard to ignore its research-based culture, the astounding discoveries that are made here, and the generations-old hue of academia. However, along with enthusiasm for research comes the need to invent new things, to improve current solutions, and to spread new knowledge and new technologies. Hopkins and entrepreneurship go hand in hand, which is why my most memorable academic experience wasn’t exactly academic.

Over the past few months, a group of friends and I have been working on founding a company called Medella Medical. All of us have some interest in medicine or in medical technology—we have three biomedical engineers, two computer science majors with an emphasis in Biology and Neuroscience, and a particularly adaptable mechanical engineer—and we are all aware of a problem in healthcare technology.  We decided that we should find a solution.

The problem we’re addressing is the poor usability of electronic health record systems. Doctors are strongly incentivized by the government to use some sort of system to electronically store their patient data, but the products currently on the market are overly-complicated, confusing, and inflexible. Patients often complain that they never make eye contact with their physicians anymore, who are constantly typing into clunky interfaces. We wanted to make something that didn’t interrupt a doctor’s normal workflow, that was intuitive to use, and that can easily be integrated with other health-related applications and technologies.

It was incredibly exciting to find a group of like-minded people who were all enthusiastic about solving this problem, and since working on this project, we’ve encountered an immense network of people from the University interested in helping us along the way. We’ve met with other health-related companies founded at Johns Hopkins, innovative-minded doctors willing to provide us with suggestions as we build, and people from the Carey School of Business and from the other Hopkins-related business organizations. In fact, Johns Hopkins has a surprising number of business-oriented people. Many of them simply have a good idea and want to see what comes of it, but many others have discovered something through a lab, a research project, or in a class, and want to implement it in a useful way. At Hopkins, thousands of people are working tirelessly to solve problems and to improve people’s lives, and it only makes sense that when a discovery is made, they then want to see their solution spread.

While this experience has not necessarily been academic, through it I’ve learned quite a lot. I’ve become proficient in new programming languages, learned to use new technologies, improved my marketing skills, and discovered countless things about the medical profession.

And this is just the beginning. We’ve hardly left the planning stages, and we’re already pulling multiple all-nighters in a row to build interface mock-ups. We’ve already sifted through hundreds of articles about healthcare IT. We’ve already worked tirelessly to get as much feedback as possible from healthcare professionals. As a group, we’re aware that this is a huge project. We’re aware that what we’re trying to do may seem insane. However, we’re all incredibly inspired to keep working. I leave a meeting knowing that we’re building a tool that could be revolutionary. We’re building something that could affect millions of people worldwide. We’re building a solution, and that knowledge is incredibly motivating.  I am finding myself to be part of the entrepreneurial culture at Hopkins that I admired so tremendously.

The largest thing that I’ve learned from this experience is about my community. People here want to build, to always strive toward something better, and to solve problems. It’s inspiring to be in a community that simply won’t limit itself to the status-quo. A group of friends got together, and found that we were all interested in a problem. So we decided to solve it. That mindset is wholeheartedly Hopkins, and one of the reasons it’s so incredible to be a part of this University.

(If you’d like to learn more about the project, you can find our website here. You can also check us out on Facebook or Twitter!)


I asked Keith Haring, and we're pretty sure this is how it works


As has been said previously (and as JHU_JackieC has wisely reiterated), mathematicians are devices for turning coffee into theorems. Though, in my opinion, it can equally well be said that computer scientists are machines for turning coffee into code, or writers are machines for turning coffee into words — and I think ultimately you wind up just proving that coffee is really good at making people productive.1

Hopkins happens to be a place with lots of productive people. In fact, Hopkins has more productive people than the Vatican has people (saying nothing of the productivity therein — just making a point, folks). Naturally, it follows that Hopkins needs a lot of coffee, in much the same way that a powerful car needs lots of gas. As inquiring minds undoubtedly want to know, I’ve compiled a list of the best places to get coffee around campus.





Take note: This will be a pretty coffee-focused blog post. If you’re not a coffee person, feel free to stay tuned — there may be a tea post in the next few decades. (To give you an idea: I have a mug with the caffeine Lewis structure printed on it, and there’s an orgo-chem modelling set from my aunt shaped like caffeine on my desk at all times. I do not have a problem, I swear.)

“I’m on the struggle bus for chem and I can’t focus so I’m using coffee as motivation.” ~ Friend


Wolman Hall was actually where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived, not Einstein.

Einstein’s is technically a bagel place, but that doesn’t mean that their coffee isn’t superqualitytastic. Just try out their Hazelnut coffee and I dare you to tell me their coffee is bad. Or, stop by around holiday season and check out the holiday-themed peppermint-dark-roast flavors. Om nom nom.


The physics building is depressingly far away from the rest of the world campus, and so I feared that my morning classes there would be met with a dramatic dearth of coffee. I was wrong. The Bloomberg Building has its own cafe with talented baristas that somehow manage to communicate amicably with physics majors, a feat no one else has yet mastered.


Not amazing coffee here, I’ll admit. It doesn’t come anywhere close to real, proper coffee (made in a proper copper coffee pot), but if you’re in a fix and need a fix (I don’t feel good about saying that), the FFC is pretty easy to get to, and as a freshman with anytime dining, it’s free.  I have, on many an occasion, gone to the FFC expresslyfor coffee. Worth it? Totally.


The Brody Learning Commons is brand new, and it came with an awesome cafe and dining area that smells of espresso, cafe-sandwiches, and whatever the repeated phrase, “oh god how am I going to finish this in time” smells like. I’ve raved about Brody (and the cafe) in previous blogs, but let it just be said (again, if necessary) that Brody is the best, and their coffee is both cheap and delicious. This is coming from a person with NY/NJ taste in coffee, so you know I’m not lying.


But actually. Good thing every college student has unlimited disposable income.

I don’t care how pretentious you’re feeling; Starbucks has good coffee. It might not be the best, but it’s certainly quite passable, especially if you — as I do now, and will next year — live about a block away. Granted, it’s a bit on the costly side (coffee in Brody and Einstein’s costs about $2 per cup of regular coffee, but in Starbucks it can run you around two kilograms of gold plus your firstborn), but it’s a great place to, say, read over your neuroscience notes right before a midterm. As I’ve done.

There are more places for coffee, of course — but I’ve run out of motivation3 and I think this has given you a decent idea of what kind of coffee outlook you can expect. Coffee is good. Drink lots of coffee. Coffee coffee coffee.

Click to enbiggen.

1. Fermat’s last theorem would have fit in that margin, but there were coffee rings so he had to write it elsewhere. Not true, but wouldn’t that be interesting.

2. I’m trying to figure out how to tie in ‘expressly’ with ‘espresso’ for a good old-fashioned coffee-pun, but at the time of writing, I’ve got nothing. If you have any suggestions, I’d be more than willing to edit.

3. Actually I’ve just run out of coffee. Sorry.

A Wintery Mix: Bad Weather on Campus

It deserves to be said that Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Campus never suffers from bad weather. Ever. It’s always sunny here.

But we’re speaking hypothetically. What if it were snowy or rainy on campus? What’s that like?

Admittedly, my logic was somewhat flawed.

This is the kind of scenario most colleges don’t really like talking about to prospective students. When you see a campus in the rain, it can really skew your perception of the college as a whole — I certainly remember that I visited one college in the rain, and the fact that I didn’t apply (or even like the campus that much) was probably largely a consequence of having been in ‘blow-your-umbrella-inside-out-and-then-soak-you’ weather when visiting. (In retrospect, the campus is really quite attractive, though certainly not as good-looking as Homewood.)

“So, Jordan,” you ask: “Why would you want to give us a rainy-day look at Hopkins?” It’s because JHU still rocks. Even when damp.


Rain is lame. When it pours, no one wants to be outside. But Homewood has a few bonus features that make getting around in the rain a little easier. One of the most noteworthy features is the surprisingly well-connected nature of the buildings. The Lower Quad — also known as the Engineering Quad — can be almost entirely circumnavigated using hallways that lead from each building to the next. Sometimes finding these takes some hunting; my friend and I have gotten quite sufficiently lost in the basement of Maryland Hall… But ultimately, there is a way to get where you need to go.

Unfortunately, this is generally how it works for me.

Another useful feature is the underground parking lot beneath Mason and Hackerman Halls. Even though this is technically not a conduit by definition, I’ve used it to get from Mason Hall (where admissions resides and we bloggers regularly meet) to Hackerman Hall, where the daVinci bot spends her days being preened by affectionate robotics-students (and where there is also a really awesome ‘workshop-style’ playground for BME majors).

If you are going to brave the wet world above and head out into the rain, then you can rely on the large network of convenient, not-particularly-slippery brick paths that lead to most main attractions to keep your feet out of the mud. The brick paths, it should be noted, have actually been specifically designed to maximize proper drainage. The bricks are laid in V-shaped patterns that point to a lower, central drainage canal that eventually leads to a drain. (This central canal also serves nicely to keep pedestrians on the right side of the road — essentially, it’s a solid yellow line. Niiiice.)


There is nothing more beautiful than Gilman except for Gilman in the snow. You’ll have to see this to believe it, and this winter, we got to see it several times. Baltimore, generally speaking, has very similar weather to the rest of the north- and mid-east coast; Up to around 100°F in the summer (though generally less), and down to 0°F in the winter (though generally more). Those of you coming from NY, NJ (go New Jersey woo), DE, and PA know exactly what I mean. Those of you from California are going to think the world is ending. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to be like that, it’s called ‘snow’.

Given how much of a surprise many of the snowstorms were this year (we had maybe 24 hours notice for some), I must say that the groundskeepers on campus really kept up with the plowing and salting quite well. They actually have this one (terrifying-looking) snow-plowing machine that they drive along the brick paths to keep them clear: It has a giant steel-roller brush on the front, much like a carpet vacuum cleaner (except scarier) that literally scrapes off the ice from the paths, and then salts them, leaving them just as clear as they are at any other time of the year. (I openly admit that this machine followed me almost all the way home one night and scared the bajeezus out of me because it was so quiet until it was, like, ten feet behind me and then it jumped up and growled and I swear I’m not lying.)


Response-time from maintenance was fast. Not sure it was this fast, but it was still pretty good.

So. Somehow (and I have no idea how), we managed to catch a hurricane this year. Hurricane Sandy kind of ripped up the Northeast, and we were lucky in that we only got the tail end of it. However, there was some leaking in some of the AMR rooms, and a lot of the window screens got knocked about a lot in McCoy and Wolman and needed to be fixed. I (along with some friends in the AMRs) was extremely pleasantly surprised (and impressed) by how quickly maintenance repaired the problems.


Though I won’t say that Hopkins’ campus is perfectly equipped for inclement weather, I would argue that it comes pretty darn close. And, if you ever get a chance, be sure to come see Gilman in the snow; it really is something beautiful. (Optimally, come see it for the next four years. Your call though.)

I couldn't find the picture I took of Gilman in the snow, so here's a picture of it in the middle of summer. Close enough.

How To Time Management All Over — For People Who Totally Have It Down And Don’t Have To Worry About All That Stuff

The fact is, if you’re an incoming freshman, you don’t know how to manage your time.  Sure, you may have been really on top of stuff as a high school senior, but buddy, this ain’t no high school, and you ain’t no senior.

I know I know.  It’s probably hard to hear this.  But ask your parents — they know. When you ask them about their time management during first-semester freshman year, your mother tells you that it took a while to figure everything out…then she shoots a sharp glance at your father, who quietly mumbles an agreement and then whispers out of the corner of his mouth that these are stories he’ll tell you when you’re older.1

There’s no way to learn how to manage your time other than simply managing it.  But throughout my time at college, I’ve come up with some convenient tips that can make the transition period a bit less shocking.



Yes I wrote a haiku about using Facebook to procrastinate. Deal with it.

Okay. I admit it. I have a problem, and it’s got a blue border and a News Feed. Sure, Facebook’s a great place to procrastinate.  But it’s also a great place to get work done.  When you’re in high school, talking to classmates for a certain class can be relatively easy — generally, you know the majority of kids in your class.  But in college, there’s no guarantee of that.  Which is why it’s good to have an easy-to-access (read: online) meeting place.


Piazza in all her glory. There's something about that shade of blue that social networking sites love, I guess.

Some professors — many in the Computer Science department — use a website called Piazza to facilitate online conversation for just that reason.  When you’re sitting in your room and you’re not sure if that assignment is due in ten minutes or in a week, ’tis a far better thing to ask 40 people than to text a few close friends in the class.2

If your class does not have a Piazza-like system in place, make a Facebook group.  I’ve made several — in fact, I made one for each AP class I took in high school.  It was a great place to vent about assignments, freak out together about tests, organize study parties, and share in communal terror.  It gives you a way to segue from Facebook to school to work.  You kind of sneak productivity up on yourself.



Can't tell you how many times I've watched this happen. (twenty)

Some people work with music on, and some people don’t. Some people can work while talking, and some cannot. Know which one you are.  You probably have an idea by now since you’ve been a hardworking high school student for so long (but in order to figure it out, why don’t you read my article on how to productivity?).3  There are so many things to do around campus — and some are as accessible as your own common room — but if you’re not going to be productive while talking out in the common room, it’s not a good use of your time.4

To be perfectly honest, I was not a social worker in the beginning of the year.  I had to shut myself in my room on several occasions with a pot of coffee and earphones (8tracks.com is your friend) and buckle down for a few hours until I was close enough to finishing that I could afford to go back outside into the real world and play with the other children.5


Heh you wish.

What’s your ratio?  It’s your sleep-to-work-to-play number.  It takes a while to establish what your ratio should be, but a good place to start is eight hours of each.  That gives you a solid eight hours of sleep each night, and eight hours to mess around.  That means that, with a 9am class, you can have the whole day from 5pm onward to yourself, and go to bed after midnight.  Good deal? Yes. Good deal.  This is a lot harder than it sounds though — it’s unlikely your ratio will be 8|8|8. But if I can put in a day with eight hours of work, I’ll go to sleep that night amazed by how productive I felt that day. Try it for a week — if nothing else, get those eight of sleep — and then play around with the work|play ratio. See where you operate best.  Remember, all sections are equally vital, so no cutting out any of them entirely!

If you already have a feel for your ratio, post it in the comments section below, I’d love to hear!



Ignore my inability to draw for a moment and appreciate that COLOR, man.

Don’t ever tell yourself, “I have to do XYZ.” Instead, tell yourself, “I’m going to do X.” Then, when you finish X, start Y. And then finish Y. And then start Z. And then finish Z. And then have a dance party.6

When you’re overwhelmed, that’s when time management means the most.  It’s super easy to avoid hard tasks because they’re too cumbersome, but they’re going to catch up with you sooner or later, so you might as well get them out of the way while you still have time to enjoy being finished with it afterward.  The best way to get un-overwhelmed is often to stop looking at what you have to do, and start looking at what you’ve done.  Go check some things off your to-do list. Seriously. Make them up if you have to, just so you can check them off.  I’m not joking.  It seriously helps. (Chocolate also helps.)

Remember that if you start right away, you almost always have way more than enough time to finish all your work, do your hair, get on a plane, visit Sri Lanka, and return before the due date.  The trick is just getting started early enough.



I put this one off until last because, naturally, procrastination is the hardest hurdle to hurd when dealing with time management. But I have a system for you. And it will save your life.7

Remember those to-do lists from blogs past?  Pull them up again. And give each task a due-date.  What should the due-date be?  Not the date the assignment is due — certainly not!  It’s due tomorrow.

That Thursday felt as bad as that Saturday felt good.

“What?!”, you exclaim.  “Tomorrow? I can’t write a 15 page paper in one night!”8 But, if you read my section on to-do lists, you’ll realize that “write a 15 page paper” should never show up on your list.  Rather, you should have “research section 1 of paper”, “write intro to paper”, etc… on that list.  Make them all due tomorrow.

Now, as you accomplish tasks, you can check them off as normal — but when you don’t, you have to go to the trouble of reassigning them all for the following day.  So when you wake up, grab your list, and move everything that you didn’t do yesterday onto today’s list.  The accumulation of tasks (and the huge pain that is moving forty tasks every day) starts to convince you that you need to get in gear.  And, for whatever reason, your brain begins to decide to work. (Hint; this works even better when you get enough sleep).


Obviously, these tips aren’t comprehensive or exhaustive, and they may not be for you at all.  But they’re a starting point.  And that’s the trickiest part — starting.  Once you’ve started, you’re only one step away from finishing.


1 This is how it works in my household, I’m just assuming that this situation is universal.  As is observantly noted in My Big Fat Greek Wedding; “The man is the head [of the family], but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”

2. Incidentally, sometimes it’s nice to have a place to discuss class matters without faculty overseeing your posts. Facebook’s a perfect place for that since, hey, you’re already on there anyhow, no reason to switch sites now.

3. I just linked to my own blog. Twice. In the same paragraph.4

4. Grand total: Three links to my own blog in one paragraph. I am king of my domain.

5. On one particularly bad evening, I wound up shutting myself in my room, closing the curtains, turning off the lights, putting in earbuds, and staring at a piece of code on my computer for three hours before finally emerging as a free man. It was like an intimate date with Despair.

6. This is, I’m told, how I was potty-trained.  And so far, that seems to have held up relatively well.

7. Probably not.

8. Okay first of all, yes you can.  During the last week of finals, I watched like TWENTY people do that.  But I digress.

Things To Do On A Rainy Day (or: This Is Not About Finals)

This post is not about finals, though finals happen to be all ovahh my mind right now like white on rice or whipped cream on a properly formed grande mocha frappuccino.  This post is about how my floor-mates and I found ways to pass the time when we were rained-in, or too lazy to leave the building.

The purpose of my writing is twofold; one, to show you how awesome the people on my floor are.  And two, to explain that, yes, Wolman is a social dorm.  (We even have a common-room.  Do the AMRs have common rooms? NO. We’re better.)


Discussing worldly matters. Chris makes a cameo, far left. The utterly ridiculous show, "Made In Chelsea," plays, far right. A contrast is presented to the reader.

My-main-man Chris and my-other-main-man Sean go to a BJJ club periodically (and by “periodically,” I mean anything between twice a week and once a month), and oft-times, as we sit discussing worldly matters in our common-room, a moment will arise in which it is absolutely mandatory that the two of them teach me how to be successfully humiliated via Brazilian ju-jtsu.

This is kind of what it looks like.

BJJ largely involves “sparring” on the ground, which looks strikingly similar to something one might find on Animal Planet or the sketchier areas of the internet. However, as I learned recently, utilizing the ground as a leverage-point gives an experienced sparrer a tremendous advantage over his opponent. Go figure.



Deceptively difficult.

Bite-The-Bag is a game we’ve played several times in the common room.  The premise is simple; each player gets three tries to pick up a brown paper bag.  The catch: You must pick up the bag with your teeth, and you must be standing on one foot.  The complication, naturally, complicates matters — each player winds up hopping around trying to avoid putting down a hand or a foot as they strategize methods of attack on the paper bag.  After everyone has either succeeded or failed in biting the bag, the top of the bag is folded down one cuff, and the next round begins.  Trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds.



I have no idea what to call this game, but since Chris introduced it to the floor, it’s called “Chris’s Game” to you (feel free to comment with the actual name).  Chris’s Game is played much like a homebrew version of Taboo, wherein each player writes down two nouns on a card and adds them to a deck.  Then, each player picks a partner.  Each person is then given one minute to get their partner to guess as many of the cards out loud as possible.  If the partner guesses the card, the two can add it to their own deck.  This takes place over three rounds (with the same cards):

  1. The partner can say anything other than what’s on the card.
  2. The partner can only act out what’s on the card — no talking!
  3. The partner gets one word and one word only — no other information!

Though the game seems easy enough, it accelerates quickly, because by the third round, everyone has heard all of the cards guessed twice before and so there are interesting word-associations made.

During one particularly awesome instance of this game, my one-word suggestions for my partner included “toast” (to guess “honey badger”) — among others.  If it seems confusing, ask me next year when you matriculate here.



When we were ‘stormed-in’ during the monster that was Hurricane Sandy, we took full advantage of the fact that, between everyone on the floor, we had over a terabyte’s worth of movies.  If you’ve not watched Primer, I highly suggest you do so.



What can I say. We’re all ninjas.

[ movie removed ]



Heh. Yeah right.

How To Productivity When Everything Is Sucks

It is said that the best way to get something done is to assign it to the busiest person you know.  While this is generally true, it’s also a horrible thing to do. Don’t do this.

It can often seem very difficult to juggle the million-and-a-half things on your to-do list, no matter if you’re in college, high school, or wherever else it is that this statement would apply readily to.  But there are easy ways to make the workload seem less serious. And I’m going to share some of my tricks for productivity, because I’m just that great of a guy.


…and while to-do lists are generally a good format, you might prefer to go with a different method of to-do-keeping.  A study performed by DARPA in 20041 noticed that only about 14% of the surveyed population used a list in its purest form. Others used online calendars, PDAs, sticky-notes, etc.  However, the to-do lists were one of the best methods — that is, a higher percentage of listed to-do’s got done after a week than, say, sticky-noted to-do’s.  The important thing is, it works for you.

Now you know my secret. Use it wisely.

My pesonal favorite for task organization is Google Calendar. If you enable the Tasks feature, you can schedule check-off’able tasks for certain days.  This is useful in that it allows you to prioritize your list in terms of chronological urgency, while still giving you a visual list-style dealio.  It also lets you nest tasks, so you can make tasks part of other tasks. Lovely.

"Take a shower." Check.

Your to-do list is going to be huge, because you’re a busy [fellow | gal] and there’s a lot on your plate.  So fluff it up a bit with easy stuff so you can check some points off early.  I know, I know… It seems stupid, but it feels good and it gets you on the right track for productivity.

Add things that you were going to do anyway. Hey, you were going to do your homework anyway, right? Well, you were going to eat breakfast anyway too. Get some nice crossed-out lines on that list straight away. No one is going to judge.

In the words of the great comedian Brian Regan,

  • Eat a bowl of apple jacks
  • Take a nap
  • Do work

Make your list exhaustive, and make it the place where you keep all the things you need to do.  That way, when the list is done, you don’t have to wonder, “did I have something else I needed to do…?” As you get more work, add it to the list. And as you finish, check it off.


I’m a huge proponent of sleep. Sleep’s totally awesome. And you need sleep!  There isn’t a study anywhere that disagrees with me.  Consider a 2008 study2 that directly correlated SN-TSD (single-night total-sleep-deprivation, or, more simply, an all-nighter) to lower GPAs, increased signs of depression, and less social activity. (It seems that not sleeping turns you into an engineer… lulz.) Getting the suggested minimum of eight hours of sleep per night means that you can still head to bed at around midnight and be ready for a 9am class the following day. It’s totally doable. (9am’s are, by the way, a huge pain. You get super lame about the whole waking-up thing in college.)

Don't be like that.

That being said, coffee is really quite good for waking you up, and there are all sorts of studies that tell you how good coffee is for your cardiac health. So… That.



I know what you’re thinking.  You’re looking at your freshly formulated to-do list, and thinking, “ain’t nobody got time fo dat!”  But think again — breaking up the workload into smaller chunks and separating these chunks with fun things makes getting work done a lot less unpleasant.

For clarity's sake: No, I do not have an upright in my room. But I couldn't draw a keyboard convincingly.

I have a piano and ukulele in my room, and generally I’ll do a one-hour work session and then a one-hour fun session.  If you really put in a solid hour of work, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get a little reward. Or, hell, a big reward. It’s up to you.

True story: I was once playing piano and my neighbors came over and asked if I was okay.



You know what I’m going to say here. I’m not even going to go there.


I’m a bit of an audiophile, and I like having music play while I study or work.  Just so you know, this is an awful productivity strategy, but if, like me, you absolutely must have some tunes going (otherwise, the silence of you sitting in your room tapping on the keyboard becomes overwhelming and you feel so lonely, maybe I should go text some friends okay), make them comparatively quiet.

I like iTunes’ mini-player feature on Windows — it leaves a little control panel open on your taskbar so you don’t have to open up the iTunes interface every time you want to skip a song.  But if there is some advice I can give on the topic of music; change it as little as possible.  Every time you switch songs or change a rating or whathaveyou, you lose your work groove and it takes time to get back.

My current go-to studying/homework playlist. You could learn a thing or two.

If you’re playing music, it should be like a quiet companion, not something that competes for your attention.  Nothing you can sing along to.  Words in the music are bad in general, because they detract from your brain’s ability to process other syntax (Broca and Wernicke would be so proud of me for knowing that). Classical music is good for this, because you can listen to the same piece for a long time without having to really think about it. Jazz is also good (contrary to my mother’s belief) for studying.

Another good idea is to minimize your input in music selection entirely — check out something like Pandora or Spotify’s radio feature so that you can just let it play and not have to worry about what to listen to next.  Or, make a Studying playlist. Or or, find an existing studying playlist on something like 8tracks. Or or or, don’t listen to music.

Really, the important thing to remember is that the music (or the to-do-lists or the work-flow or the sleep schedule) is to maximize productivity while minimizing stress. Stress is bad for you. Productivity is good for you.  So find what works, and work it.


1. The study is available here. Naturally, DARPA is awesome, and was trying to come up with a way to automate the easy parts of someone’s to-do list WITH ROBOTS ZOMGZ

2. That study is backed up by about a bajillion other sources that tell you to get lots of sleep. So get lots of sleep.

The State of the Arts in Baltimore – A Duology sans line drawings because I somehow lost the program that I use to make them

A duology is a two-part series, like a trilogy is a three-part series.  (I was initially going to make up and use the term ‘bilogy,’ but a ‘bilogy of the arts’ really just sounds a bit too disturbing to be usable, so I had to Google the proper term.) This duology will be about classical music and Wikipedia. Non-nerds, you may leave now.

Jimmy Wales visited Johns Hopkins University this past Wednesday and gave a talk on the origins of Wikipedia and the future of the internet. including the role of the web in modernizing the infrastructure of developing countries.  He talked about some pretty wild concepts, including low-expense phone systems in use currently in India and Nigeria, and the future of app development.

One quote that definitely stuck with me from the presentation was the condemning of the term, “crowd-sourcing” when referring to Wikipedia.  Wales said that considering Wikipedia a ‘crowd-sourced’ encyclopedia would be like calling a bowling alley a crowd-sourced bowling-game-results device.  It’s not a means to an end — it’s a means.

That ‘means’ brings “the sum of human knowledge” to the people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to have access to, say, advanced quantum theory, or the complete history of the world. Quite a feat, if you ask me.

However, more than anything else, this presentation just made me feel jaded and lame for not regularly reading Wikipedia articles and taking advantage of the immense trove of knowledge always at my disposal.  So I’ve started doing that. (#hopkinsnerd)

…and then.


This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of going with my friend Carolyn to see Mozart’s Don Giovanni – an opera that, in short, follows the life of a nobleman playboy as he courts and beds thousands of women before accidentally inviting a (plot twist!) marble statue to dinner, who then reciprocates with AN INVITATION TO HELL. Which, naturally, Don Giovanni accepts.

Despite the fact that the storyline is a bit lacking in the ‘realism’ department (“oh I am slain, let us sing together”), the opera itself is a tremendous testament to (1) Mozart’s artistic prowess, and, albeit less directly, (2) the fantastic cultural environment in Baltimore, both in and around Johns Hopkins.



If you squint and tilt your head, this looks like a giant mouth with one tooth about to eat the audience.

I’m as good at organizing trips as starfish are at playing the harpsichord (hint; not very), but getting to the Lyric, a Performing Arts Center right next to the immensely accessible Penn Station, was as easy as could be.  Once we arrived and found our seats (which were perfectly located right in the dead center of the balcony, both Carolyn’s and my favorite place to sit when watching libertines do their liber’ing), the show began.

And it was good.


The fine arts are alive and well around Johns Hopkins — as I will re-demonstrate in Part II of this duology when I tell you all about the concert I’m attending next week right on campus in Shriver Hall — the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra presents Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Strauss’ Don Juan (how apropos), and Gershwin’s An American In Paris. 

Ooh yeah, it’s going to be good.

JHU_Jordan’s Comparatively Realistic and Somewhat Cynical Guide to Applying to College

This is a post for the applicant who, like me, was a perfectionist in their applications, relying on the stress to make the application everything it ought to be. Who couldn’t stop editing their billionth-draft college essay.  Who re-read their address and last name fifty times to make sure they hadn’t messed them up.  Who had looked through their resume so many times that they could add ‘resume editor’ to the end of it. Who memorized their social security number and the credit card number and could type them out faster than their own phone number.

This is a post to let you know that you’re doing it right.

All too often, college applicants are reassured by current students, older siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends — “…just don’t stress about it.  Everything turns out fine.” Obviously it’s been a while since these folks applied to college, because “just not stressing” isn’t exactly a viable option.

Do not relax.
Do not take it slow.
Do not — under any circumstances — ever — calm down.

This is your future in five hundred words or less.  This is your future in a manila envelope.  This is your future in an 8.5×11″ array of numbers and course listings.  Sealing this envelope seals your fate.

So do not relax. Do not take it slow. Your first and biggest college test has begun.

Fair warning: This is not going to be a warm-fuzzy blog post.



You’ve found yourself at the threshold of adulthood and collegehood, and you suddenly realize that your life is about to be summed up in a half-page essay and some test scores.

“No…” you tell yourself. “That one test I failed in freshman year bio is going to show up again…” You bet it is.  Everything you’ve ever done in your entire life is going to be put into text format and sent to some of the most (professionally) judgmental people you’ll ever meet. (Hint: This is actually a good thing. And I daresay that admissions officers at Johns Hopkins are some of the most fun and awesome people you’ll ever meet too. So take that bit of advice with a grain of salt.) Some helpful tips when adding things to your CV:

  • YES you should add impressive things that you’ve done.
  • NO you should not add that spelling-bee participation award you won in kindergarten. You’re trying to impress these people, not bore them to death.
  • If you’re not sure if something is impressive enough to put on your resume, yes it is.
  • If you don’t have enough things on your resume, yes you do. DO NOT HUNT FOR THINGS TO ADD TO A RESUME THEY TOTALLY KNOW WHEN YOU’RE DOING THAT

Then, a flash of perspective interrupts this train of thought — you only have one more month to finish your college essays!

The trick is to find that happy middle ground. Edited, well-written, and NOT a conglomerate of everyone-you-ever-knew-helped-out. My teachers cringe as they see I didn’t put a title or scale on my graph.

Listen carefully: No matter when you start writing your college essays, you’re going to be pressed for time. You’ll be editing them at T-minus-ten-seconds to submission (I know I was).  There’s nothing you can do about this. You’re polishing your spotless new car — no matter how much you tend to it, there’s still room for improvement.  Accept the fact that you’re going to turn it in with only 90% of the edits you wanted to make. (I found my essay last week and thought, “ooh, I should have phrased that differently.”) Everyone knows when reading these essays that they’re a bit rushed — no need to make it look like your magnum opus, ya dig?  Make it good, and make it memorable, and when you turn it in, do not look at it again for at least a year. Trust me.



I’ll be perfectly honest with you: It’s not particularly fair.  There are simply too many variables for the admissions process to be fair. That’s not to say that it’s not comprehensive and holistic — if there were any way to make it fairer, it’d be fairer.  But asking for a completely fair admissions process is like asking for a completely profitable stock portfolio. It just doesn’t happen.  Sure, you can get close — as, in my opinion, Hopkins has — but you’re never 100%.  It’s not fair. And you’re right to get angry.  But that anger should NOT be directed at the college or Admissions; they’re incredibly competent people who want what’s best for everyone. That anger doesn’t have a direction — it’s just anger — and a lot of that directionless anger is just stress in masquerade.

I may have also taken up anatomical drawing as a hobby… It was a dark time in my life.

While you shouldn’t be calming down — your fate, after all, is in someone else’s hands, which is not comfortable territory by any means — you can be finding ways to make that stress productive. Find a goal. Make it high — VERY high.  Mine was Debussy’s Danse Tarantelle Styrienne, a six-minute piano solo; a nearly unrealistic goal for me when I started it.  Yours doesn’t have to be musical — decide to get in shape, or learn a language, or ride your bike up that huge hill all in one go. Or memorize Hamlet’s To be or not to be… or read the biographies of the Founding Fathers, or build some model planes, or learn to make ice sculptures (I may or may not just be stealing ideas from Groundhog Day whoops).  You need an outlet, and you’re going to have a tremendous amount of productivity-potential. Don’t waste it.


It doesn’t work, trust me. Just don’t bother.


This is your senior-year slump. This is the middle ground between “WOO I’M FINALLY A SENIOR” and “WOO I’M ACCEPTED TO COLLEGE!” It’s a long, long journey between these, folks.  Don’t get stuck a-slumpin’. This is a good time to perfect your piano solo, if you’ll excuse the extended metaphor.  If you think that post-college-application-submissions is a good time to relax for a while, you are dearly mistaken. Do you think colleges won’t notice? Now is not a good time to go get caught doing stupid things with your friends at Old Mister Anderson’s house. Now is a good time to show your college-of-choice that you don’t need to impress anyone, you’re just awesome because you’re awesome.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the term senioritis. Don’t be. Cast the very thought from your mind. You still have AP tests to study for, my friend. And that’s not the end — everything you learn now will come back to eat you while you sleep if you don’t remember it for fall semester of freshman year.

Now is a good time to practice that piano solo, if you catch my drift.


…but then… The letters.
This is why it’s all worth it.
(An acceptance haiku)

Generation after generation apply to college because it is a completely unparalleled experience.  It is the pinnacle of education (until you begin the whole applying process over again).  And you never apply alone. While this post might have scared you a bit, remember that there’s always a huge support network available for you when you’re applying, or when you’re deciding which school to accept in return.  For instance, the Hopkins-Interactive forums are an amazing resource that I now wish I had used more frequently. Take advantage of that place! Ask away — we literally sit at the edge of our seats, waiting to swoop in and answer questions.

And, most importantly: Though you’re going to be stressed and you’re going to be worried sick, you can also enjoy your applications.  I have fond memories of sitting with my parents in the living room, reading over an essay or supplement, and then having to jump up, rush to the piano, and try that one ascending passage from page six again (stress level successfully diminished for the next ten minutes).  Remember that this is a big decision, but it’s not the only decision. Yes, this decides your future.  But you also decide your future. Don’t think that this one moment in your life has the ability to stop you from doing what you want to do.

Because now you’re Accepted.  You get to proudly wear your new colors to high school on Monday: You’re basically king (or queen) of the world.

It may be time for a celebratory piano solo.
So maybe you can calm down a little after all.



“Parents Weekend” – as expressed through disgracefully rendered line drawings (and a few blurry photos)

When I was younger (so much younger than today), my mother told me a story ab–excuse me get back here, just because I’m going to be sappy doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being funny, you can stick around– a story about warm fuzzies. Warm fuzzies are those feelings you get when things are good. When you get an A on an exam in your AP Biology class, or when you win the lottery (I would imagine).  The story’s plot isn’t entirely relevant here, and I admit I don’t remember it particularly well, but the premise was that everyone is given a bag of warm fuzzies, and the quantity of one’s possessed warm fuzzies was largely proportional to how many they gave away. Take-home lesson: Be nice, yadda yadda yadda.

Unfortunately, in my bizarre and disturbingly analytical young mind, I somehow came to the assumption that after long enough, even whatwith giving enough warm fuzzies away, which was technically supposed to bequeath more warm fuzzies, one’s supply could dwindle — one’s bag could be left nearly empty through occurrences such as nightmares or long stretches of time (this was my scientific explanation for why you need to get in bed with mom and dad after a bad dream).

Fortunately, in my bizarre and disturbingly analytical young mind, I also came to the assumption that parents were sources of infinite warm fuzzies. (Ah, now you see where this is leading, methinks!)

An artist's rendition of a bag and a warm fuzzy. (I genuinely have no idea where this idea came from, but I've always pictured the bag as this brown-paper-bag number, and warm fuzzies as, I guess, dust-mops.)

This past weekend at Hopkins was Parents Weekend.  And I needed my warm-fuzzies bag refilled. (Midterms will do that to you, I’m afraid.)

Parents Weekend this year could have been more aptly named “Parents, Sister, Grandmother, Aunt, Uncle, and Baby Cousin Weekend” , for what I consider to be relatively obvious reasons.

Bringing my family on a tour of campus gave me a great opportunity to brainstorm what places on campus were optimal ‘gotta-see-it’ sights, and bringing my baby cousin on a tour of campus gave me a great opportunity to brainstorm which of these sights were interesting enough to be viable; “patience-of-a-two-year-old”-wise.  Interestingly, the attention span of a two-year-old is roughly comparable to the attention span of a blog-reader on a page they find only mildly interesting. So I’ll make this tour fast.


Hopkins students are not sabre-toothed carnivorous serpents generally speaking.

OUR FIRST STOP IS THE FFC. The FFC holds what they call the Sterling Brunch during Parents Weekend, which is essentially what the FFC would look like if it catered to, say, James Bond, rather than starving, appetitially-indifferent college students (I made that word up). Alas, while Bond is a model of class and sophistication, the effect the Sterling Brunch often has on students is rather the polar opposite.

Naturally, I bring my family to the Sterling Brunch — “Matelsky, party of 8 please” — and while my family enjoys ‘seeing what college is like for Jordan’, I enjoy using my baby cousin to attract girls. Don’t you judge me, people — college is a harsh environment for a boring fellow like myself. We do what we must. Because we can.

We snag some delicious dessert, and some delicious coffee, and some delicious everything else, which was all surprisingly close to the FFC’s normal fare (I swear by FFC cookies), and my sister confesses she has some homework to do. Duly noted.

This building is seriously gorgeous, and it backs up onto the Hutzler Reading Room, which is also gorgeous. I loves mine campus. (my cousin and I have the same ecstatic reaction to this room)




NEXT, WE APPROACH GILMAN. We’re checking out the Atrium, which is this freakin’-awesome giant open-air study-space that literally screams ‘collegiate’. There’s a coffee place in the back, and now, there’s a giddy baby in the front.  Also me. We’re both giddy.



If you don't think this is an awesome window, you're wrong. This is the Scarlett Johansson of windows.





Behind the Atrium is the Hutzler Reading Room, or “Hut” for short. It’s also good-looking enough to elicit some serious photo-taking by my aunt.  Equally photogenic? The stained-glass windows in the front.



Incidentally, Gilman is one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen.  First of all, it’s cool-looking all the time. I can’t walk by it once without commenting to myself, or to my imaginary friends, on how shweet it is. Check it out below.  This attraction is evidently hereditary, I learn, because my family stops to look and snap photos as well. We are not, I would like to point out, the only family doing this.


Gilman -- the closest to Hogwarts' eternally shifting network of stairs reality is willing to get

SISTER’S GETTING A BIT ANGSTY NOW ABOUT FINISHING HOMEWORK (YAY RESPONSIBILITY), so we decide to head back homeward-bound. Or, more specifically, Wolman-bound. On the way, though, we need to hit up Brody.  Brody, as I’ve mentioned before, is my favorite building right after that Gehry building on Spruce St. in Manhattan. It’s fitting that we should tour.

My expression upon discovering the Quiet Reading Room of Brody -- my life changed forever. Baby Noah is pictured in case those sorts of things will make you like me more.

We enter Brody, good work everyone, huzzah, and then my grandmother and aunt begin moving in a direction I’ve never before gone — to the Quiet Reading Room.

I’m generally not a quiet person whilst studying. Some good music, a nice car alarm, and someone stomping on my timpanic membrane while playing accordion and kicking a garbage can down the stairs really gets me in the educational mood. Nonetheless, this room has its merits — merits that I, up until today, had never witnessed. On their first day on campus, they showed me something I’ve never seen before in my own college — go figure!


IT’S TIME FOR HOMEWORK — both my sister’s as well as mine, plus I have a blog post to write, so we head back to my dorm, which, by the way, is super clean because I have my grandmother coming over oh my god it needs to be spotless.


Notable occurrences while studying include my aunt helping me review the sensorimotor system for my neuroscience class, and my sister teaming up on me with my friends to be mean to me. Ahem, moving forward.

BEFORE I COULD EVEN REALIZE IT HAD BEGUN, my Parents Weekend is finished! There’s never enough time left when one is in good company, but this weekend was fantastic through and through. Though our brief tour of campus wasn’t even close to scratching the surface of all the cool features of the university’s many buildings, it was a good first taste.  Speaking of tastes, it’s time for dinner at Tambers!

Tambers is conveniently located just off the east side of campus (and now also in my tummy), across from the Barnes & Noble and down the street from Wolman. Upon writing this, my stomach is as full as my warm-fuzzies bag, which means it’s time to say goodbye to my family.  Adieu adieu, parting is such sweet sorrow!*  Until Thanksgiving Break — I’ll keep you up-to-date on the goings-on at my home-sweet-Homewood, Johns Hopkins!

(*This is a quote of Shakespeare, which is a good place to insert the fact that I gave my mom a Shakespeare book for her birthday which is this Tuesday, everyone say Happy Birthday Robin!)