The More Things Change

It seems to me like lots of people want this year to be over. Among all the other things, 2016 is also apparently the year I totally abandon this blog and put off certain planned posts by several months.

I guess this is what happens when you take five technical classes at MIT. The extracurriculars aren’t helping. And the fastest and most confident writing I do is still reactive, when there’s an externally-imposed deadline or when “somebody is wrong on the internet”. This blog isn’t.

Oh well, time to make up for it in 2017.

What happened this year? I’ll start with some serious categories:

  • Academics: Complexity theory is great. On the other hand I don’t think machine learning is my thing. Plus some other math and CS classes. If there’s a theme, it’s that there’s a certain masochistic delight in reading old papers and griping about badly written parts. Outside my major, I also took and enjoyed some music and neuroscience classes, which made me cherish MIT’s flexible math major requirements even more.

  • Competitions, more or less: 5/28, Round 2 of Google Code Jam: I somehow get a perfect score and place 4th, which is more points than tourist! Check that off the bucket list. Unfortunately, my luck doesn’t hold in the next round.

    More importantly, though, I form an ACM-ICPC team with Andrew and Steven, and we manage to get to represent MIT at the World Finals. (Wow, that was still this year. You can’t tell from this blog at all. Sigh.) We travel to Thailand and place sixth, playing a lot of Napoleon, Set, and crosswords along the way. I also do a lot of idiotic things on Twitter to get a t-shirt.

    Finally, I sign up for the Putnam, then back out at the last minute because I’m too hosed and there’s no way I’m going to get anything anyway. In case you were wondering.

  • Extracurriculars — hoo boy:

    • In February, I was elected a SIPB member-at-large and, although I didn’t know it right away, also became the de facto acting secretary. I become a little bit better at typing.
    • In March, I more-or-less-formally joined ESP and absentmindedly hacked on the website a little. learning-unlimited/ESP-Website instantly jumped to the top of my GitHub “repositories contributed to” column. After lower activity during the spring, in the fall I “wrangled substitutes” for Splash, and then hacked on the website a lot more and got myself elected to two-and-a-half officer positions.
    • In the fall, I joined Techiya. We sang a bunch of songs and held a concert with Pokémon skits. Check those off my bucket list too. Sweet.
  • Gaming: Now that I finally feel comfortable throwing money at things, I can follow discussions and suggestions of quality games from everywhere in my social media. Two halves of winter sales and one summer sale later, my Steam library consists of: Antichamber; The Beginner’s Guide; Braid; Cubot; English Country Tune; A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build; Hacknet; Her Story; Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes; Papers, Please; Portal; Portal 2; Sokobond; SpaceChem; TIS-100; Undertale; and Waveform. The Gaming post has some thoughts on the matter I won’t repeat here. Some thoughts I did not write there: Napstablook is my favorite character, Ghost Fight is my favorite leitmotif and track, and by now I’ve probably spent more time listening to parodies like the Stronger than You rewrite, remixes like this boss theme medley, and weird dubs of Undertale on YouTube than playing the game itself.

  • Puzzles: The first MIT Mystery Hunt I solved on-site needs no introduction. Unfortunately some of the biggest puzzlers have graduated from floorpi, and so we didn’t do very much for some puzzle hunts (Mark Halpin’s Labor Day Extravaganza); but then I did Berkeley Mystery Hunt in a Galactic Trendsetters + teamMATE team while interning at Dropbox, plus a student floorpi group in the Boston run of What’s That Spell on 9/24, during which I guessed my way through a non-unique hexagonal Akari to read the correct message, and accidentally met Zotmeister when he notices my “betaveros” nametag. Floorpi also did the Australian triad as usual:

    • 5/9–14: MUMS puzzle hunt, during which I get us unstuck on one puzzle by dumb Googling and extract the meta after lots of false starts.
    • 10/10–18: The inaugural mezzacotta puzzle competition, for which I adopt a caricature of biphasic sleep to solve puzzles as they come out at 3 AM EDT. We win a copy of Hanabi, which we already have, so we get the organizers to send us a copy of Sushi Go! instead. All is good.
    • And now: SUMS puzzle hunt…
  • Adulting: I interned at Dropbox, which means I learned a lot about modern web development and software engineering as a profession, met lots of awesome people, became good friends with ag, sang a lot with Dropbox’s a cappella group, and played a healthy amount of DDR (which is really effective cardio at high levels). Oh and of course I got some transfers into my bank account. And new shoes and a Fitbit, because of a wellness reimbursement.

  • I also bought a domain! I guess I might as well show off beta.vero.site. I spent too long late one night drawing the logo. HTTPS is Coming Soon™.

And I’ll end with the usual nonsensical list of one-time occurrences:

  • 1/18: I realize I have forgotten my GPG password and spend the afternoon trying to remember it. Lying in bed the next day, I succeed.
  • 1/22: I win the Python Bee at Bad Ideas weekend.
  • 1/24: I receive a Night Fury plush! After a while, I decide to name it Noctoros, which is again not entirely namespace-collision free but close enough.
  • 2/19: Several layers of yak-shaving away from 6.01, I send a pull request to hdevtools. #procrastination
  • 2/19–late February: my first serious sickness at MIT, to the best of my recollection, during which I clean out our floor Medlink’s over-the-counter medications.
  • 2/21: After asking ec-discuss@ and friends, I finally decide to order a Nexus 5X with Project Fi, Google’s phone plan, which is relatively normal among my MIT friends (there are many Googlers) but is constantly considered a weird MIT thing by everybody else.
  • 3/6: I watch Zootopia.
  • 5/11: Some casting producer for FOX finds me via the Putnam while “looking for mathematicians and people who love puzzles” for a show where people accomplish mental and physical challenges on television. I politely decline because I don’t think I have any televisable skills of that sort.
  • 7/2: I reach 10,000,000 Neopoints.
  • 9/13: I reach some sort of inflection point in the number of furry chats I’m a member of.
  • 9/25: I kick off the process for [other-redacted]. I can still say “stay tuned” for this one without shame, because the onus isn’t really on me to finish it. Yay!
  • 10/20–12/3: I join a MIT Media Lab study that tracks parts of my behavior, like sleep, and correlates it with my well-being. Or at least it tries. The app is pretty broken, to put it mildly, but I make some suggestions and they improve parts of it. Throughout the study I wear three dongles on my wrist (a watch, the Fitbit from Dropbox, and a Jawbone tracker the study lent me), which turns out to be a pretty good conversation starter.
  • 12/19: After getting reintroduced to QuizUp in ESP, I discover there’s a “Dragons” category.

This is much shorter because I was terrible at keeping track of 2016 because… I don’t even know. But yeah, it’s over! (For me here in UTC+8!)

See you in 2017!

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oblig

This is two days late and it’s not even the post that was supposed to be here. That will have to wait until I’m less hosed. ESP just finished running Splash, our largest annual event in which thousands of high school students come to MIT’s campus, and MIT community members (mostly) teach whatever they want to the students. This was the first big program I participated really deeply in as an ESP admin, and it has this way of eating you alive and spitting you out full of joy and immersion in life but devoid of energy and buffer zones for finishing other things by their deadlines.

On a similar note, thanks for all the birthday wishes from everyone everywhere. I’m sorry I haven’t found the time to respond or sometimes reciprocate. This made my day, and probably last couple of weeks too.

“It’s an early iteration of a dragon curve because this kid is a dragon!”

[birthday cake with dragon curve on it]

Stay tuned. Really.

Time, Money, and All That Good Stuff: Part 1 of ∞

I had this 5,000-word draft, but I half-abandoned it for being sappy, boring, pointless, and impossible to rewrite to be satisfactorily un-cringeworthy. Instead, let me just tell you a couple random stories and anecdotes that went somewhere near the start. Maybe posting them will motivate me to salvage something from the 4,500 words that go after it and post it. Eventually.

Some time ago, Namecheap had a discount, so I bought a domain name for 88¢. Unfortunately, the discount only lasted for one year; afterwards, it would cost $29/year to renew. Even though I bought it on a whim and didn’t have much use for it, I found myself wanting to keep it more and more and had a huge mental struggle over whether I could afford it, because wow, $29 is a lot!

Meanwhile, during the same school year, more or less:

  • I paid $20 in maintenance fees on my savings account because I thought I had set up auto-transfer but didn’t.
  • After I lost my umbrella (which I got at IOI 2014), I bought a new one with one of those fancy open-close buttons for $23… then promptly lost it too after 1½ months.
  • I’ve spent ~$40 on boba alone in SF this summer…
  • I was a teaching assistant at IDEA MATH on the weekends and randomly got $50 bonuses whenever we were short on actual teachers and I had to lead a class on my own. This happened about half the time and I am now metaphorically sitting on this pile of random bonuses.
  • I placed 105th in a HackerRank contest where the top 100 places received $75 Amazon gift cards, because I was too lazy to get partial credit on the last problem.
  • I’ve spent $120 on escape-the-room games alone in SF this summer…
  • I bought a Nexus 5X for $300 so I could use Project Fi, Google’s mobile carrier that nobody has heard of unless you’re really deep into tech circles like me. A few weeks later, I randomly happened to visit the Nexus 5X site again, learned that they had just started a discount where Nexus 5Xes cost $150 if you bought them while signing up for Project Fi, and was pretty miffed that I had just missed it, but filed it away as something I couldn’t do anything about. A few days after that, I randomly happened to visit /r/nexus5x and learned that others had been getting the discount retroactively by contacting customer service, so I did that and got $150 back.
  • Remember the $20 maintenance fee? I could have paid a lot more if I hadn’t accidentally noticed it while figuring out if I gave somebody the wrong account number to wire a ~$200 reimbursement for. (Which I had, I think; but fortunately I figured it out, told them the right number, and got the reimbursement anyway. Still…)

I write this having returned from a trip to UC Davis that cost $55 (and 30¢) in terms of transportation only, and somehow I barely hesitated in spending that. I definitely have no doubts about it now.

Something’s changed, I guess. And yes, there are a few really obvious somethings that changed, but I think there were also a few rather subtle somethings.

Um. Stay tuned…?

Conversations

One of the most unexpectedly different facets of life during my internship has been the meals.

I’m not talking about the food; it’s certainly different in a fantastic way (Dropbox’s food (link to Facebook page) is like something out of a high-end restaurant), but I knew that before coming already. Also of note is the way I started eating ∞% more ramen over the weekends than I did over the entire school year at MIT, because here I can’t buy that many groceries without them spoiling and am amazingly lazy in this new environment.

No, this (deadlined, so not that well-thought-out, but whatever) post is about conversations at meals, which happen basically every lunch and some dinners when my team eats together.

I’ve never had any regular experience like it. Of course I’ve had many meals at home with family, but they feel different because, well, it’s family and we have so many topics in common. I went to the same school for twelve years and we didn’t generally use a cafeteria; we just ate at our desks in our classrooms, or while doing things like attending club meetings or taking makeup tests. Sometimes if people felt like it they would push desks together to eat, but eating by oneself was totally normal. (At last, I feel like that was what it was. It seems so far away now that I don’t trust my memory, which is pretty sad… I faintly suspect I would have this experience in a more stereotypical American high school. But this is mostly just based off the cafeteria in Mean Girls, a movie I only watched in its entirety on the flight here, which is weird because I know I’ve seen the “The limit does not exist!” part much much earlier. /aside)

And at MIT? “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

I am glad for these conversations over lunch because I get to know my team more personally (and don’t have to awkwardly eat alone in the bathroom), but they’ve also given me a lot of time to ponder my (lack of) conversation skills.

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Zootopia

(So. It’s spring break. Two-week-late post, and somehow by the end it’s all aboard the angst train again?)

Two Sundays ago, I mobbed with a small group of MIT furries to watch Zootopia, the recent highly-reputed Disney movie.

(Before anything else, first there were the previews. I was impressed that every single one of them — there were six or so — was about an upcoming movie featuring anthropomorphic animals front and center. Let me see if I can remember all of them… in no particular order, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Secret Life of Pets, The Jungle Book, Storks, Finding Dory, and Ice Age: Collision Course. edit: Oh, also Angry Birds. Wow, I said, they know their audience.)

I went into the movie with a vague impression that Zootopia was more adult-oriented than most Disney films — not in the naughty way, but in general making a lot of jokes and invoking a lot of parallels that I think only adults might have the experience to get. My suspicions were confirmed a few lines into the movie, where there was a joke about taxes I cracked up at but can’t imagine that children a few years younger would have found funny. If you the reader haven’t watched it, I hope that was vague enough not to ruin the start for you.

(To be fair — and, uh, some parts of the internet are kind of big on this fact — the film also at one point enters a nudist colony. Fortunately (?), Animals Lack Attributes.)

Humor aside, I think the movie also deals with some weighty and nuanced themes, ones that would take more life experience to fully appreciate than the themes of most Disney movies. The social commentary is very clear. Possibly bordering on too blatant for my tastes — even though the whole movie is kind of Funny Talking Animals, there are some animal species for which it’s really easy to guess which human demographic groups they might be symbolizing, to the point where I can already imagine the other side of the debate. You won’t need a PhD in literature to figure out the parallels; you wouldn’t even need an AP English Literature class. But, I think, it still works. It’s like Animal Farm on training wheels.

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Brand New

(all the times that you beat me unconscious I forgive)

angst [████████  ] (8/10)

We’re overdue for one of these posts, I guess.

(all the crimes incomplete – listen, honestly I’ll live)

Last-ditch feeble attempts at cleaning and reorganizing my desk and shelf before I figuratively drowned in academics led to me finding

  • the Google physical linked puzzle, which I placed in the Kitchen Lounge to nerd-snipe people, successfully
  • a Burger King crown from the previous career fair
  • ID stickers from the Putnam, one of which is now on my keyboard cover cover (← not a typo), just because
  • assorted edibles, like candies and jellies, which I ate; as well as the half-finished Ziploc bag of candy from my FPOP, six months ago, which I just tossed in the trash
  • a box. It’s just, like, a box. I don’t know what goes or went into it

I feel more in control of my living quarters. Marginally. Guess I’ll be fine.

(mr. cool, mr. right, mr. know-it-all is through)

Pros and cons of having a departmental advisor in your area of interest:

  • Pro: the advisor knows something about the classes you want to take and can help you choose classes
  • Con: the advisor knows something about the classes you want to take and can help you choose classes

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Ascension

I wasn’t sure what would be the right song for 2015 until I set foot on MIT. Then it was a no-brainer.

Where do I even begin?

  • I thought cooking was hard. Then I ended up in the kitchen on the third floor of the west parallel of East Campus and had to produce something edible. So I figured out how to acquire chicken and put it in a pan with some onions and heat the whole thing up. It wasn’t even that bad! A few weeks later, I graduated to cooking in a rotation for six people. All this from a guy whose culinary abilities only went as far as frying eggs a few months ago. It’s incredible where life takes you sometimes.
  • I thought I couldn’t productively listen to lyrical music while doing homework, because I get distracted and/or bogged down by the feels. Turns out there’s a category of metal songs with great atmosphere and terrible lyrics that does the trick.
  • I had planned to suffer through introductory chemistry my freshman fall and introductory biology my freshman spring, and thereafter be done with required classes. Well, I took chemistry, but there was barely any suffering involved, and now biology fits nowhere on my freshman spring schedule.
  • I had some outlandish hopes I’d walk into college and be able to become mildly financially independent because people would throw high-paying jobs at me that I could learn from, but I didn’t expect it to happen. Life isn’t that easy!

    Well… it happened.

  • An incredible number of redacted things.

    I’ve never been that kind of guy. Honest and innocent to a fault, no secrets except those arising from paranoid self-assigned concern about others’ privacy: that’s me. Until this year.

    Oh well, I can’t blog about it.

    [redacted]

  • But mostly, of course, I actually graduated. The teacher-appreciation dinner happened (6/4), where I debuted my graduation song (woo!) and ate some good cake (double woo!); senior prom happened (6/7), with some awesome photos; and then, actually, the graduation ceremony. (6/10, same day I realized I had recently passed 100 starred things on GitHub.)

    ::looks at self:: I’m actually a college student now.

    Every one of these stages of life seems like it should be a big deal, like I should pass through and suddenly know all the things about maturity and aspirations and life that are expected of college students, but it never happens that way.

    At least, all things considered, I think this transition was very successful at taking my mind off the angsty side of things. This post is actually surprisingly unangsty. Sorry to disappoint if that’s what you’re here for!

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