Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Chemistry Woes July 4, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 10:26 AM
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To my great distress, it appears that I have actually retained something from HL chemistry. (I warn you – a lot of it will appear in this post. Read at your own risk.)

I understand this. That’s not natural.

This sorry tale began when I was perusing the Sunday newspaper. I had a list of chores waiting, so naturally I took my time. When I flipped over a page, I was confronted with an ad for a ‘miracle pill’. Everyone knows the type. They slow aging, make heart problems vanish, make you bleed rainbows, whatever. These were for weight loss.

What caught my attention was the introduction paragraph, which announced that new pills had appeared quickly after the FDA pulled old versions off the shelves. Besides the obvious problem of the FDA taking action, ‘quickly’ made me nervous. We spent a whole class period on drug research and formation. From isolating a lead compound to putting bottles on the shelves, the process should take around ten years. Faster isn’t safe.

Skepticism fully engaged, I read further. The chem part of my brain grew more and more distressed. The ad (and the website I checked later) did not specify a lead compound (active ingredient). Instead, it used vague terms like ‘complex phenylethylamine’. (I drew this structure and was interested to see that it was very close to amphetamine.) They were selling these pills without explaining what was in them, escaping necessary regulations and testing by marketing them as supplements rather than medication.

I launched into a rant to my family about corporate irresponsibility and consumer stupidity, referencing vocabulary terms like ‘chiral center’ and Thalidomide. Partway through, I stopped in horror. What was I doing? Chemistry was over. I shouldn’t be scrawling organic molecules’ structural formulas all over the newspaper.

It’s depressing, but it’s also depressing that companies use people’s ignorance to sell products that could be dangerous. A word to the wise – miracles usually stay in fairy tales. Avoid pills promising unnatural results, especially if they won’t tell you everything. Or just call in a chemistry student. We’ve got your back.


We Survived May 28, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 3:22 PM
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Well, I’m back. Again. I do tend to take long breaks, but I should be good for a while, since I just finished the main culprit.

That’s right. On May 22, I took my last International Baccalaureate test. Let me tell you – it felt good.

For students all over the world, this summer marks the end of a long and crazy journey. Non-IB people probably can’t grasp how much of a relief it is. The last two years were the hardest of my life. I cried, broke down, and worked more than I ever had before. People asked things of me that I didn’t know I could do, but I did it anyway. I took 17 and a half hours of tests this year and six hours last year. In between, I wrote hundreds of essays, gave loads of oral presentations, and shed bucketloads of tears. Now I’m done. For me and many of my classmates, everything feels surreal. We don’t know what to do with our lives. While I remain unsure of where I’m going next, I’ve had time to reflect on what I’ve done. This post serves as a summary of my reflections, and I address it – and dedicate it – to all IB grads, especially the class of 2012. No matter where you live or what language you speak, this is for you.


When the average high school student graduates, he throws his cap in the air and thinks “Yeah! I graduated!” When an IB student graduates, he throws his cap in the air and thinks, “Wow. I survived.” This year, my class proposed a group shirt with a Survivor icon and the words ‘Outwork, Outstudy, Outlast.’ On the back it read ‘I survived’. The shirts never hit the printing shop (partially because it burned down, annoyingly enough) but the sentiment remains. This year, our focus and our greatest triumph was in survival.

Think back to your freshman year. If your school worked at all like mine, there were lots of pre-IB students. Now think about the group that graduated with you. A lot smaller, right? You – we – are the ones who kept going, kept working, and made it to the end. Congratulations.

I could talk about chasing dreams and following stars and all those clichés, but this isn’t a graduation speech. You’ve probably heard that all before. Instead, reflect for a moment on what you’ve done. You’ve colormarked more sheets of paper than the average Harry Potter book. You’ve tried and failed to understand ridiculously ambiguous novels and poetry. You’ve written hundreds of essays, some of them in different languages. You’ve conducted psychology experiments and quite possibly blown things up in chemistry labs. You’ve cried, groaned, and despaired of ever making it past senior year.

But I hope you’ve also laughed. I hope you’ve learned something – not just about complex differential equations or electron configurations – but about yourselves. You’ve argued, talked, and made friends who will last forever. You’re part of a community that stretches across the globe, full of people with some of the best educations public schools can provide. These are the people with the skills, intelligence, and determination to change the world, and you’re one of them.

Some high school students might come back to their twenty year reunions and talk about their kids. I challenge all of you – all of us – to come back and talk about being a CEO of a huge company, or having several best-selling novels published, or finding a cure for cancer. Every singe graduate is capable of accomplishing amazing, impossible things. How do I know?

We already did.

Congratulations, IB class of 2012. We survived.



In Which I Put the Fear of God (Or IB, Same Diff) In Your Hearts April 4, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 6:07 PM
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I haven’t been posting on here very much. It’s lucky I don’t have a million devoted followers. If I did, I might feel worse about vanishing for long periods of time. However, I’m pretty sure no one’s actively thirsting for my blood because I don’t post every other day, so it’s all cool.

Why do I keep disappearing? you ask. I’ll give you a hint: The answer includes two letters, a whole lot of pain, and is pretty much the center of my life.

IB. You guessed it.

Although IB failed to net me the giant scholarships promised (ok, more like implied) I still have to finish it. Our coordinator assured us that “it’s the journey, not the destination”, but that won’t stop me from crying if I end up as one of the 20% who don’t get the diploma.

Testing is in a month and a half. Therefore, my posting will be sparse and sporadic for a month and a half.

Why do I need to review so early? non IB students might ask. The truth is, I probably should have started sooner. For example, I have roughly six inches of Chemistry notes from two years to go through. I also need to memorize significant quotes from four books. This is only scratching the surface. And you thought multiple choice tests were hard.

The bottom line is that I won’t be on here very much, and any posts I do make are likely to be short. Good luck to all test takers and see you at the end.



Death, Lung Cancer, and Failing Grades: Welcome to HL Chem February 25, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 12:54 PM
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It's sad because it's true. Credit:

“Ok, guys. If I tell you to drop everything and run, just do it.”

I paused my futile attempt to tie a decent knot in my apron. “You think someone’s going to blow us up?”

“It’s better to be on the safe side,” my Chemistry teacher answered, neatly avoiding the question.

I gave up on the knot – how can you tie something behind you anyway? – and headed over to the goggles cabinet. She was probably right.

We were doing our Chemistry IAs (Internal Assessments, for those of you who aren’t IB grads). With very little teacher aid, we’d written our own experiments and were now doing everything in our ability to screw them up.  Our last attempt had netted us dismal grades ranging from 8 to 1 out of 18, and I for one was determined to at least do slightly better.

Even if, I thought, staring glumly at the pile of copper and aluminum foil shreds that needed to be separated, it meant going through piles of gunk with tweezers.

The teacher never did order us to evacuate, but she probably could have. A guy on the other end of the room put a beaker above a bunsen burner (using a complicated iron ring/clay triangle/wire gauze apparatus that would need a diagram, so I won’t explain it) and the room promptly filled with choking fumes.

“I was just trying to boil it,” he explained as we all ran for cover.

“Your boiling license is revoked,” our teacher snapped.

It would be easier if we had teacher assistance, but any help is strictly limited. IB officials want students to be self-sufficient. I suspect that they may just be sadists, because this rule means that teachers can’t tell us when an experiment is going to go terribly, horribly wrong. Last year, a girl using zinc and hydrochloric acid had to wait two hours for the reaction to end. Last semester, an injudicious mixture resulted in a gout of flame.

I had three beakers reacting and two more slowly filtering out. Clearly, it would be necessary to stay after school. I scratched a few notes on my observations table, wondering how I always managed to create an insanely complicated experiment.

“I’m done,” boasted the Extremely Unbalanced Kid at the counter behind me. “I have all this acid left over.”

“Good for you,” I grumbled, and ignored him. My preoccupation with drying filter papers meant that I missed the moment when EUK decided that it’d be a great idea to dump all of his excess chemicals into a big beaker of 6 molar hydrochloric acid. I did not miss, however, the loud hissing noise and subsequent cloud of smoke. Panicked, EUK dumped the whole mess down the drain. Even more panicked, our chemistry teacher ran over with a box of baking powder, reminding us that we’re Never Ever supposed to pour non-neutralized acid down the drain. I made a mental note not to drink from any water fountains for the rest of the day.

Why didn’t I HL in history?



Oh IB, What Have You Taught Me? Let Me Count the Ways… August 16, 2011

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 11:03 AM
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The new school year, which was comfortably far away, is now frighteningly close. I will be a senior. I will be facing four IB tests. I will be taking an HL Chemistry test in the first week. (Because it’s not fun if you don’t have a chance to fail by day three.) Some people ask me why I signed up for this thing. I ask myself why I signed up for this thing. So before despair sinks its claws into me and pulls me down into the land of mental breakdowns, I’m going to reflect on what IB has taught me over the last year.

IB students take one test from each side. So far - two down, four to go.

Math Studies SL: Um… not much. Mostly that any math over Algebra II is pretty much useless to the general public. Sure, if you’re a math teacher or an architect or something, trig might come in handy. But however much my math major father snorts at my opinion, in real life your boss isn’t going to say “Hey Kat – find the derivative of this quadriatic function, will you?”

History 20th Century Topics SL: This class was totally useful, even if I’ve had second thoughts about SLing. I can feel like a true member of the 21st century now that I know who Mao Zedong is and what the heck went on in Cuba. I’ve forgotten all the dates, but I have the general gist of it. I also learned why the Cold War was a huge waste of time, and am pretty sure that the US is going along the same road of total collapse as the USSR. Isn’t that great?

English Language HL 1: Spanish… literature… *bangs head against wall*. I have had too much of this. If anyone wants to be severely confused, I suggest reading Pedro Paramo. You’ve got to love a book our teacher introduced by saying, “It’s like a big LSD trip we all take together!” Fun.  This class also cured me of perfectionism. I was happy if the stupid essay was done. There was no way I was going over it five times to make everything ‘perfect’.

French HL1: My school doesn’t even offer this class, so I ended up taking French 4 with non-IB students. This was… fun. Two dropped out, two never showed up, several slept, and one smelled like pot. The only students who were doing well were me, the foreign exchange student, a sophomore from Germany, and a guy who was half French. Nevertheless, I did learn lots of fun French history. I even know why William the Conqueror was so determined to take over England – he needed some way to change his name. ‘Guillame le Bâtard’ isn’t very flattering.

Chemistry HL1: Medicine is bad, PVC pipes will kill you, and the answer to every question on the exam is either margarine or coma, death. Seriously. Oh yeah – I also learned that this is the class most likely to cost me my diploma. Why did I sign up for it? Not sure. I plead temporary insanity.

Looking back, I realize that it doesn’t look like I learned a whole lot. However, I really did, and I’ll argue IB superiority with an AP student any day. This year, I’ll keep the beacon of fat scholarships in my mind’s eye as I struggle through senior year. College is almost here, and the hardest two years of my education are halfway over.