ESP Biography



MEGAN BELZNER, MIT junior studying Computer Science




Major: 6-3 CS

College/Employer: Skillshare

Year of Graduation: 2016

Picture of Megan Belzner

Brief Biographical Sketch:

Hi there! I'm a current junior at MIT studying Computer Science. I'm a web developer by trade, but my interests range from artificial intelligence to educational technology to linguistics and psychology. I enjoy knowing a little bit about a lot of things, and spreading that knowledge to others.



Past Classes

  (Look at the class archive for more.)


The Art of Twitterbots in Splash 2016 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2016)
A Twitterbot is a program which automatically generates and posts tweets, and can be used for anything from spam to reminders to generative art. We'll look at a variety of Twitterbots from across the platform, ranging from the bot that screams at regular intervals to the bot that tries to describe the contents of a photograph. From here, we'll think about the role of Twitterbots as a form of art and as a medium of internet culture, examine some of the possibilities and (in)famous failures of bots, and talk a bit about how to make a Twitterbot yourself.


The Memecosystem in Splash 2016 (Nov. 19 - 20, 2016)
The meme ecosystem, or memecosystem, controls the internet at the highest level. Come explore it! We'll discuss what memes are, where they come from, and what makes a good meme. If you ever wanted to overanalyze silly internet jokes, this is the class for you.


Nonsense! in Spark 2016 (Mar. 12 - 13, 2016)
Explore words like "antidisestablishmentarianism" and sentences like those in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" or Dr. Seuss's "Fox in Socks". Along the way you'll learn about many of the fascinating properties of language and get a chance to create some "nonsense" of your very own!


Copyrights and Copywrongs in Spark 2016 (Mar. 12 - 13, 2016)
What do you have to be careful of when inventing something new? If you write a book, when are other people allowed to use excerpts from it? Why can't you create a new website and call it 'Google'? The answers to these questions lie in the realm of intellectual property law. In this class, we'll look at how the laws of patents, copyrights, and trademarks play out, both historically and today, through a combination of real cases and interactive simulations.


How Computer Systems Break in Splash 2015 (Nov. 21 - 22, 2015)
It's been said that "complex systems break in complex ways", and computer systems are getting more and more complex every day. So how do they break? What can go wrong when they do? And what happens when someone tries to exploit these errors? We'll take a look at some major system failures over the past several decades, how they could have been avoided, and why building an infallible computer system is so hard.


Interactive Introduction to the Internet in Spark 2015 (Mar. 14 - 15, 2015)
Ever wondered what happens when you type 'esp.mit.edu' into your address bar? In this class, you'll get to act out the protocols that underlie everything you do on the internet, from 802.11 to TCP to DNS. Learn what makes the World Wide Web tick!


Con(structed) Lang(uages) in Spark 2015 (Mar. 14 - 15, 2015)
Saluton! ─łu vi parolas Esperanton? Conlangs (such as Esperanto, lojban, and many more) are languages which have been deliberately invented for a variety of purposes, ranging from simplifying communication to creating more vivid fictional worlds for stories. Learn a bit about the history of conlanging and some example conlangs, and explore what it takes to design your own language!


How to Speak Machine in Splash 2014 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2014)
Coders, Assemble! What are we assembling? Why, programs of course! An assembly language is a low-level programming language with a strong (or one-to-one) correspondence with the actual machine-readable instructions. This class will cover the structure of a simplified machine instruction set by writing some small programs and exploring how they're interpreted by the machine.


A Brief History of the English Language in Splash 2014 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2014)
Did you know that differences between the name of an animal versus the name of its meat (cow, beef) are the result of the Norman conquest of 11th century England? Or that the pronunciation of some vowels changed dramatically between the 14th and 18th centuries, in an event known as the Great Vowel Shift? Learn about these and many other fascinating events in the history of English, and get a glimpse into the ways all languages evolve with time.


Fundamentals of Web Design in Splash 2014 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2014)
There are plenty of terrible websites out there - how do you make sure yours isn't one of them? This class will talk about some of the considerations that go into designing a website - or designing anything - and provide a crash course in everything from aesthetics to typography to user experience.


Nonsense! in Spark 2014 (Mar. 15 - 16, 2014)
Explore words like "antidisestablishmentarianism" and sentences like those in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" or Dr. Seuss's "Fox in Socks". Along the way you'll learn about many of the fascinating properties of language and get a chance to create some "nonsense" of your very own! This class has been offered previously as "English that looks like nonsense (or vice versa)"


What Is It Like to Be a Bat? in Spark 2014 (Mar. 15 - 16, 2014)
Have you ever tried to imagine what it's like to be something else? Like a bat, or an octopus, or even another human being? Even if you know every detail of "how" something happens in the brain, you still can't imagine what it's like to have an experience you've never had before. This class will discuss the attempts made to explain this phenomenon, and the challenges these explanations pose to some popular theories of mind.


Dreamcatchers and Native American Mythos in Spark 2014 (Mar. 15 - 16, 2014)
The dreamcatcher is a decoration hung above one's bed, which is designed to catch bad dreams in its web while letting the good ones pass through. In this class, we'll make dreamcatchers and learn a bit about Native American legends and traditions ranging from Pueblo feast days to stories of Coyote the Trickster.


Journey Through the Interwebs in Spark 2014 (Mar. 15 - 16, 2014)
How does the internet work? When you go to google.com (or esp.mit.edu), what happens? This hands-on class will talk about the world wide web, from the series of tubes that bring content from servers to you, to the languages that comprise a web page.


Web Design for Fun and Profit! in HSSP Spring 2014 (Mar. 01, 2014)
You're the newest employee of HSSPweb (the world's leading web design company), and it's time to get to work! Learn the basics of web design, from HTML to CSS to Javascript and more. Then put your new knowledge to work in a series of design tasks, culminating in the creation of a website for a (fictional) company that has hired HSSPweb to design their site!


"You Talk Funny": Dialects and Other Language Change in Splash! 2013 (Nov. 23 - 24, 2013)
G'day, mate! Want to sit down with a spot of tea* and discuss how they speak across the pond? Ever wondered aboot why some people's English sounds a bit funny, eh? If yer hankerin' to know about dialects, this is the class for ya! Want that translated into something you can understand? This class will talk about just that. We'll cover the ways in which languages can differ, and how they can change over time. Learn about the history of past-tense verb forms and the gradual process of regularization, how some people say sounds a bit differently and the rules that govern this, and where the line is drawn between dialects and languages (answer: wherever you want, really). Understand how and why "that funny way of speaking" came to be! *actual tea not promised


A Brief History of Web Design in Splash! 2013 (Nov. 23 - 24, 2013)
Ever wondered what web developers spend their time thinking about? Want to know how we got from "text on a page" to today's intricate and highly interactive websites? Want to know how to make more website with less code? This is the class for you! In this class, we'll discuss the timeline of web design paradigms and technologies, from the first days of the World Wide Web to today. We'll get an overview of the different basic technologies, where they came from, and how they work together. Then, we'll see some of the new ideas and technologies that make modern web design possible. Finally, I'll send you home with some tips on how to start learning this stuff yourself.


How to pass the Turing Test in Splash! 2013 (Nov. 23 - 24, 2013)
Have you ever wondered whether the person you were talking to over the internet was secretly a computer? In this class we'll discuss a simple test for artificial intelligence which measures whether a computer and a human can be distinguished in conversation. We'll discuss some of the potential pitfalls of such a test, as well as look at some real life examples from ELIZA to Cleverbot. From here, we'll touch on the nature of intelligence, and the ways in which machines are (or are not) intelligent.


The Science of Illusions in Splash! 2013 (Nov. 23 - 24, 2013)
Why do things sometimes look like they're moving when they're really not? How do you trick your brain into seeing colors on a white page? What cues do you use to understand speech? This class will explore the explanations behind a range of different perceptory illusions, discovering the limits of the mind and looking at the subconscious tricks we use every day.


LED Creativity Lab in Splash! 2013 (Nov. 23 - 24, 2013)
Arts and crafts - with LIGHT! Build miniature lighthouses, figurines with light-up eyes, light up dice, and whatever else strikes your fancy. In the process, learn a bit about basic circuitry. Craft supplies and LEDs in a variety of colors will be provided.


How to be an AI in Splash! 2013 (Nov. 23 - 24, 2013)
This class will discuss some of the topics covered in MIT's Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course. But there's a twist - you'll be playing the role of the AI! Ever wondered how the facial recognition software in your camera works? Or what sorts of rules govern decision making? Learn about the algorithms that make an artificial intelligence tick in this interactive class.


Sprinkler in HSSP Summer 2013 (Jul. 07, 2013)
Learn ALL the things! Take a different class each week from among several choices. Offerings range from "The Science of Hair" to "Dreamcatchers and Native American Mythology" to "Super-Fast Intro to Programming" and much more. It's like a mini Splash every week!


Games and Strategies in HSSP Spring 2013 (Mar. 02, 2013)
Learn about math through the lens of games! From Nim to Chess to Sudoku to dating or crime, we'll explore games and "games" of all sorts. Along the way, we'll learn about combinatorics, game theory, probability, artificial intelligence, and much more!


LED Creativity Lab in Spark! 2013 (Mar. 16, 2013)
Arts and crafts - with LIGHT! Build miniature lighthouses, figurines with light-up eyes, light up dice, and whatever else strikes your fancy. In the process, learn a bit about basic circuitry. Craft supplies and LEDs in a variety of colors will be provided.


English that looks like nonsense (or vice versa) in Spark! 2013 (Mar. 16, 2013)
Explore words like "antidisestablishmentarianism" and sentences like those in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" or Dr. Seuss's "Fox in Socks". Along the way you'll learn about many of the fascinating properties of language and get a chance to create some "nonsense" of your very own!


Linguistic Polyglotism in Spark! 2013 (Mar. 16, 2013)
Ever wanted to speak ALL the languages? Maybe you tried once. But maybe you realized that there are an awful lot of languages. And there's no way you could possibly learn them all, right? This class doesn't promise to teach you every language. In fact, it doesn't even promise to teach you any language. What it will teach you, however, is some of the patterns and structures common across languages. This class will provide a brief introduction to linguistics, and show you that the differences between languages may not be that great after all.


Live-action Coding Challenge in Spark! 2013 (Mar. 16, 2013)
Ever wondered what it's like to be a computer program? Now you can find out! I give you a goal (ranging from "calculate the nth Fibonacci number" to "make a paper crane" to "walk around an obstacle") and you "code" a program to meet that goal! Then, you'll trade off your code with someone else and act out each other's programs. Test your algorithmic thinking and your acting skills all at once!


English that looks like nonsense (or vice versa) in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Explore words like "antidisestablishmentarianism" and sentences like those in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" or Dr. Seuss's "Fox in Socks". Along the way you'll learn about many of the fascinating properties of language and get a chance to create some "nonsense" of your very own!


Base-ically: An introduction to Numeral Base Systems in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
The number "10" looks pretty familiar, right? Well what if I told you it meant "3", or even "16"? If it was in trinary or hexadecimal, I wouldn't even be lying to you! This class is a brief introduction to bases besides the decimal system that you all know and love. We'll discuss how to convert between bases, the applications of different bases, and the history of numeral systems. This section will go at a slightly slower pace, with less focus on non-whole numbers in other bases and other such concepts. Lastly, my sincerest apologies for that horrible pun in the title.


Base-ically: An introduction to Numeral Base Systems in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
The number "10" looks pretty familiar, right? Well what if I told you it meant "3", or even "16"? If it was in trinary or hexadecimal, I wouldn't even be lying to you! This class is a brief introduction to bases besides the decimal system that you all know and love. We'll discuss how to convert between bases, the applications of different bases, and the history of numeral systems. This section will go at a slightly faster pace, with a more detailed look into the mathematics of and behind base systems. Lastly, my sincerest apologies for that horrible pun in the title.


The Science of Illusions in Splash! 2012 (Nov. 17 - 18, 2012)
Why do things sometimes look like they're moving when they're really not? How do you trick your brain into seeing colors on a white page? What cues do you use to understand speech? This class will explore the explanations behind a range of different perceptory illusions, discovering the limits of the mind and looking at the subconscious tricks we use every day.


Base-ically: An introduction to Numeral Base Systems in DELVE (Spic)
The number "10" looks pretty familiar, right? Well what if I told you it meant "3", or even "16"? If ...