Sep 19, 2010
Posted in: Life & Culture
Approximately one three-hundred-sixty-fifth of the people who read this blog post on any given day will be floored that some MIT admissions blogger is honoring them for their birthday, not to mention a little creeped out (ahh! Is Kate stalking me?). The rest of you are probably just confused. Let me clarify:
If today does happen to be your birthday, have a good one, but believe me it’s just a lucky guess! (Read: I’m not a stalker, promise!) I’m writing about birthdays because this weekend I experienced my first two college birthdays. Okay, I should clarify that too: *I*’m not two years older than I was last Saturday, I was celebrating with friends. The important word to understand in that sentence is ‘celebrating,’ which means something completely different at MIT.
The first birthday belonged to Esther J. ’14, my roommate, who turned 18 last Friday. As her roommate, my floor’s tradition dictated that it was my responsibility to bake her a cake. She was in one of the dorms in West Campus studying for most of Thursday evening, so we had time to make her an awesome chocolate banana cake (Aside: making banana [blank] is a really good thing to do when you’re stressed. Mashing up overripe bananas with a fork is such a good way to vent!) with homemade butter cream frosting. We raided the hall’s baking supplies and found sprinkles and icing, and voila:
We finished up right around midnight, which meant that it was Friday morning, which meant that it was Esther’s birthday already, technically, so why wait? We called her home from West Campus and gathered the entire hall into the kitchen to ‘sing’ Happy Birthday. Why the quotes? That will soon become clear. Apparently, 18 candles is too many to just keep around, so we expressed Esther’s age in binary, using 5 candles and only lighting two:
The candles were lit, and it was time to sing. All of the upperclassmen on my floor opened their mouths…and proceeded to shout, really loudly, continuously, for several minutes. According to some of them, people are actually singing Happy Birthday during this time, but all at different rates and pitches. So far as I can tell, people weren’t really forming words, just stopping to draw breath. It certainly didn’t sound like anything; I just shouted along for the fun of it.
Let me talk a little bit about cutting cakes. Usually, when you have a square or rectangular cake, it gets cut into square or rectangular pieces. If you have a round cake, you cut it into wedges. There’s a body of mathematical work about how to fairly cut a cake so that everyone feels they’ve gotten their fair share. The most imaginative cake-cutting I’ve ever seen comes from my Uncle Dennis, who takes requests from my cousins and will carefully carve out such shapes as “the D, the S, and Pikachu’s left ear.” Esther’s rectangular birthday cake was cut in none of these ways. With instruction from our upperclassmen, she was handed a knife and proceeded to slash the thing into bajillions of tiny, triangular pieces, which disintegrated into crumbs in our fingers as we tried to eat them. It was a unique, hilarious, and no less delicious approach to cake-cutting.
The next night, I celebrated with Natalia G. ’14 at the Tech Catholic Community’s Friday night pasta feed. Her birthday was actually last Thursday, but we celebrated with another homemade cake. While we were raiding the religious center kitchen for birthday candles, I told the story of Esther’s binary birthday. It turned out that a few of the people there had never learned binary, and didn’t know what all the fuss was about. And somehow, I found myself with a brown expo marker in front of a whiteboard in the small community room, teaching a mini-lesson on binary! We ended up finding plenty of candles, so the cake didn’t end up being that nerdy, and it was cut in nice, sensible, easy-to-eat rectangles after a much more musical rendition of Happy Birthday—a nice return to something resembling normalcy. Happy birthday, Natalia!
Speaking of teaching, I’ve gotten a job through MIT’s Educational Studies Program, or ESP. I’ll be teaching math for SATprep on Sundays for about 10 weeks. Just when I thought I was done with standardized tests forever, I’m getting myself involved with them. ESP runs many more programs than just SATprep: they have an AP preparation series, intensive summer classes, and a weekend in November called Splash, when thousands of students descend on MIT to take classes in anything a teacher wants to teach. I still don’t know what I want to teach for Splash, but I have some ideas…
There’s another birthday on my hall today (Happy Birthday Kamal N. ’14), but I swear after this blog post I will not be updating you on the birthdays of everyone I know. That’s what Facebook is for, anyways!