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The Bohemian Boolean

My Audition for the School Newspaper

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I was recently named co-editor-in-chief of my school newspaper, the Westerner (I designed the website! More on that in a later post!).


Anyway, I thought it would be a great idea to revisit the paragraph that got my illustrious journey as a journalist and writer all started. But since my D’Nealian handwriting practice books are lost temporarily misplaced somewhere in the clutter chaotic beauty of my basement, I instead chose to dig deep into the archives of my Google Docs and pull out the article that I wrote for my Westerner application. Inspired by the recent release of the movie World War Z, as well as what I had recently learned about death rates in biology and density-dependent equations in multivariable calculus, I tried to write the article in the style of Randall Munroe’s What If?, but adding my own twist onto it.
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Tips for future applicants:
  • DO write your article well in advance, because you never know what last-minute commitments you may need to attend to
    • DO NOT stay up until 5am writing your piece, especially when you have a 3-hour math competition like the AIME the same day, you just finished the two-hour National Spanish Exam and you still have to take the National Exam for the Biology Olympiad the next day.
  • DO make sure that everything is shared for CAPS and ask friends/family to read it over for clarity! (It is an application for writing on a newspaper, after all!)
  • DO make sure your topic is relevant, timely and interesting to students if you are writing a column.
    • *In MY opinion, zombies are always relevant. The fact that “Fear the Walking Dead”, HBO’s spinoff of its first zombie-based show “The Walking Dead” is highly rated by critics and audiences despite how long the original show has aired serves to prove my point. However, I would probably choose something a little closer to home/school and something a little more relevant, considering that the last major epidemic that people were so concerned about–H1N1–was several years ago.*
  • DO make sure you are talking to a variety of sources and obtaining several perspectives to a story that represent the general populace, if you are writing a news story. 
    • DO NOT just talk to your friends or stay within the same circles, or obtain generic quotes
    • DO be resourceful and contact other people, teachers, experts
    • DO keep asking questions until you get an interesting angle on the story, unique quote or something that really shows personality

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Ever since I saw World War Z, I have had nightmares about contracting the zombie virus. I have heard that diseases spread faster in enclosed environments, so unfortunately, I can no longer go to school. Do you know when the zombie apocalypse will happen and how I can prepare?
  • Jake


Readers, if you are like Jake, you are not worrying about your date for the Spring Fling, agonizing over what you’ll do over spring break or looking ahead and fretting about finals and AP Tests. No, you are focused on what truly matters – the impending zombie apocalypse.


But before you start planning what to put in your secret bunkers, it is important to consider if the zombie apocalypse will be a threat.


First of all, let’s get the nonsense out of the way. Dead people cannot be reanimated to become zombies. That’s just common sense. However, it is very possible for a mutated virus to travel up a human’s nose and into their brain, putting them in a zombie-like state. 2


With recent outbreaks of diseases like Ebola, we see that the best course of action is to contain the disease. But this cannot be done quickly enough, if the disease is too contagious. Since we have not directly observed a zombie virus, it is impossible to know how contagious it is. However, we compare it to one of the most contagious diseases known to humans – measles. Measles can spread to about fifteen people (its reproductive ratio), on an average, and takes almost two weeks for symptoms to show (its serial interval). This interval means that the zombie virus can spread to others, from people who do not even know they have it, yet.


I created a mathematical model3 to track how quickly such a disease would spread.4 The rate at which diseases spread grows logistically, meaning that the graph grows quickly at first and then slows down. The model predicts that it would take about three months before virtually all people who live in urban areas (54%) would contract the zombie virus. In a little more than a week after that, 90% of people would become zombies.


A disease such as the zombie virus would be devastating. With a 100% affliction rate, no cure and no hope of getting better, humankind, as we know it, would be done for. Thankfully, no disease ever observed has met these conditions. Any threat would be very low. Also, if the world ever had a humans vs zombies conflict, natural selection tells us that only the fittest would survive. Zombified humans, as we all know, do not possess two evolutionary advantages that humans have –  high-level mental faculties and speed.

So if you ever want to defeat a zombie, just use your brains. Or, if worse comes to worse, run away faster than the guy standing next to you. See ya, Jake.


1 Seriously. Science says it’s, like, possible (even if very, very, very, very, very, very unlikely).
2 For example, certain fungi cause ants to acts like zombies.

3 Just trust me. You don’t want to see the equation.

4 Oh, ok. I guess I’ll show you the equation. But it’s only because you asked for it, not because it’s interesting and definitely not because I spent a long time creating an accurate mathematical model and just want to show off my equation.

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