Glowstick Fragments

Echoes.


On the HSR we kill time with weird games from Kevan Davis’s Freeze-Dried Games Pack, mostly Thirty-One. Then we’re there!

On the bus we kill time with karaoke, until people complain. Sorry.

Lunch at Chinese restaurant. Beach resort.

I spend the first one and a half hours holed up in my hotel room watching television, first a quiz show where the host asks foreigners living in Taiwan questions about the country’s culture and society, then Disney and Cartoon Network cartoons. During the commercial breaks I do cryptic crosswords I had brought along. This is something I self-deprecatingly talk about for the rest of the trip, but I have no regrets because the three cartoons I watch are literally my top three guilty pleasure cartoons, Ben 10, Teen Titans Go!, and Jake Long: American Dragon.

Then I wander around and join some guys playing pool. I do better than I expect, once pocketing three balls in sequential moves. There is also a Kinect with a dancing game, which I also score surprisingly well at and have lots of fun playing.

Dinner, in which I eat 小卷 (“pencil squids”?) with way way way too much wasabi. I stuff myself and walk around chatting and eventually learn there are freshly-made 手卷 (“temaki” / “hand roll”) downstairs. Since there’s lots of time I wait until I’m less full and eat two.

Group activity outside corresponds eerily to the one three years ago: shouting, dancing, waving glowsticks, arbitrary dance moves, punishment games, cooperation games, a competition where the guide gives out points that don’t matter like on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Empty promises… but okay. Class songs. (This is the explicit version. This song is well above the normal offensiveness rating of this blog and I usually prefer official videos, instead of shady lyric videos probably made from Windows Movie Maker that might get taken down, but honestly I find the pathetic execution of censorship in the VEVO version more offensive.)

After it we have a sentimental moment listening to “See You Again”.

At night our room flips through television and watches the second half of Iron Man 2.

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[CIMC 2015 Part 3] Monsters and Pandas and Tigers, Oh My!

My inner perfectionist is crying that I have to post this, in particular over my pathetic snowclone title, but my inner pragmatist knows that, judging by my old blogging patterns, it’s now or never.

18.06: 56%, haven’t touched it in a while, but I think I can do lots more on the plane.


As a non-contestant, I confess I feel totally uninvested in the results and find the Closing Ceremony boring. All contestants go up, country by country, and have their awards read off. No effort is made to make any sort of buildup to a climax. But maybe this is for the best; we don’t want anybody feeling shafted or discouraged from continuing to do math due to a mere elementary-/middle-school competition. Meanwhile, though, I’m browsing reddit on my phone.

After this ceremony, the entire Taiwan delegation spends some time walking around outside while the guides make confused phone calls trying to decide where we eat lunch. My parents offer me some potato chips they bought somewhere, which are (as the label is really eager to point out) baked, not fried. Some time passes this way; eventually, the guides figure it out and we go through amazingly long queues to eat at the cafeteria, as usual. Then we are sent to a massive shopping mall for the afternoon, a place so large that its exits have number labels that go up into the double digits so that people don’t get lost.

I take trippy failed panorama photos from the bus windows.

[trippy panorama of a shopping mall]
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Hunter on Vacation

Very faint rainbow

Faint rainbow

So winter vacation started and parents had planned a trip to southern Taiwan, to get closer to nature and walk around and stuff.

Also, the MIT Mystery Hunt, the absolute granddaddy of all the other puzzlehunts in terms of age, structure, and size, happened this weekend. Originally, I didn’t have a team and just planned to look at the puzzles after they got archived and try solving some puzzles read the solutions while constantly thinking, “How could anybody ever solve that?” Because of that, I wasn’t planning to even bring my laptop at first; then I could force myself to study some long-overdue ring theory during the nights. I was taken aback by a private message on Saturday morning from somebody with many different names inviting me to remote-solve for Random Thymes.

Me: !!!!!!!!!!

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Summer

[A collection of summer vacation homework books]

Well, that was disarmingly quick. Less than 24 hours and all of a sudden all of my summer excuses for doing nothing important have been whisked away from under my feet. Old version of biology textbook and questions (thanks, Jonathan)… check. Two books plus one extra just in case from the reading list… check. All of the bookstore websites said there were no copies left, but we went to Eslite and handed the titles to the information desk girl and she said there were plenty of then on the shelf. Easy to find, too. And now I have to start working instead of endlessly refreshing certain web pages. And I am having tremendous difficulty with this.

I have always wished they would split our vacation periods into shorter blocks and scatter them throughout the year, because once vacation drags out, the amount of relaxation you can get out of it becomes less and less. I get sick of relaxing after a while and even the number of work-ish projects I have feel homogenous. I don’t even feel motivated enough to playing pointless flash games. (My most recent Anti-Idle save file is still on the old laptop and I don’t feel like getting it. If you don’t know what that is consider yourself lucky.)

I have finished Fahrenheit 451 and it was good, but not un-put-down-able with excitement. I imagine I’ll probably have to go through it again, especially the ending. But I wasn’t expecting they’d put any thrillers on the book list, only books with lots of room for interpretation and many places to discover a social criticism or philosophical message or metaphor for human nature. I don’t have any issues with that sort of things in a good book, but I have to wonder if we’re looking too deeply between the lines occasionally.

Anyway, this leaves one other book, plus the guided reflection assignments on them, plus eight chapters of exciting scientific reading and responses to questions! Wonderful. Also, it’s hot and sweaty and I’ve run out of descriptive words for this a long time ago, although obviously if I were a serious, attentive reader I should probably have been able to pick up a few extra relevant figures of speech from Fahrenheit 451.

Well, I like this segment of figurative language.

The pains were spikes driven in the kneecap and then only darning needles and then only common ordinary safety pins, and after he had shagged along fifty more hops and jumps, filling his hand with slivers from the board fence, the prickling was like someone blowing a spray of scalding water on that leg.

And indeed, it’s absolutely irrelevant and I’ve gone off topic again, but if I never got off topic then I think this post would be boringly short.

Okay, summer plans! The next week is the highly unofficial IMOCamp, which I am participating in not as a student or as a teacher, but as a more-or-less bystander providing a couple extra board games. Also I get to provide stories and maybe teach everybody how to get partial credit on problems. Then there are about two weeks of vegetating at home trying very hard not to do my summer homework, probably punctuated by a few trips to random places for the sake of getting out there. Then there will be three to four days of cramming. Who says I’m optimistic?

The point is that now, when I’m procrastinating, such as by writing blog posts documenting no events of significance whatsoever (e.g. this one), it is much more authentic procrastination because there are actually moderately important, non-self-imposed tasks being put off. So, I am quite possibly going to keep on blogging with the same frequency but greatly decreased post quality because I’m not blogging to blog anymore.

Nope, I lied; there is no point to this post, it’s just less boring than some of the alternatives at this point. At the pace and the level of perfectionism at which I’ve been writing “serious” posts, which don’t include this one, it could be winter vacation before I finish the IMO series. Oh well.

And no, no matter how much it looks like it, I did not select my books by how many numerically meaningful words they contained in their titles. If I wanted math I would have gone through The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (read its Wikipedia description) again, but I read it a long time ago and would rather try something different. Furthermore, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is more combinatorially suggestive, don’t you think?

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Glowstick Memories

So. It looks like I’ve officially graduated.

I have to wonder whether it really means anything. Taiwan’s system classifies the grades neatly into 6/3/3 sections, but then our bilingual department also uses the somewhat illogical and faintly sexist freshman-sophomore-junior-senior naming thing, in which the big jump happened last year.

Neither of these naming issues, of course, really matter. Shakespeare says, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Nor, I would think, do the different color of uniforms we have to wear (pink, if you didn’t know.) But AP classes probably count for something.

I am going to take AP Biology. Why did I pick AP Biology anyway? It seemed like a reasonable default choice. I guess I would like to know something more about the mysteries of life and consciousness to guide my philosophical side, and many of the other courses looked too murderously intense. The perfect stepping stones into the giant hamster wheel of overachievement that everybody is crazy about here. But then I learned I still received eight chapters to study by myself during summer vacation, alongside the English reading assignment. Oh well, so much for relaxation.

You know, I used to think of this issue, about all the academic work we students pile onto ourselves and all the ensuing stress and chaos, from a strange detached third-person viewpoint. Not everybody has a mind that is fit for all that brainwork. Some people have to do the artistic, imaginative things. Some people cannot function optimally in our intense learning environment. Somehow, imperceptibly, according to my apparently not-all-that-bad grades, I put myself in the crazy book-grinding category, and I am having second thoughts.

I don’t feel the energy for all this intense future yet… The past is still so close, so vivid, so attractive. Our graduation trip, for instance.

Yeah, okay, fine, I admit it, what follows is a rough record of our graduation trip that has been stuck in draft limbo for approximately forever, and I was trying to segue into it. I’m a perfectionist, what can I say?

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Chinese New Year

A habit, almost a ritual, to see off the old year and usher in the new: gambling games.

The basic idea of 十點半 “Ten and a Half Points” is like Blackjack. Ace to ten are worth their face value in points; face cards are worth half a point; the basic hand for player or dealer is just one card; you bust if your total value hits 11 or higher, and you get double payoff with hitting 10.5 exactly or until you have five cards without busting. With an infinite, evenly-distributed deck you have better-than-even odds of not busting with an extra card at any point value 6.5 or lower. Of course, that doesn’t mean that’s the optimal hitting threshold. If I had any homework, I would probably start compiling a table.

Games of Mahjong as usual as well. Yesterday Charley, my younger cousin, joined the table for the first time and became vaguely anxious because he won twice in a row, which meant he had to continue playing as dealer, and was coaxed to stay instead of apparently computer games. It also marked my first “gàng blossom”, a win with the replacement tile for a drawn-onto-melded gàng, which is just moderately rare but very dramatic to execute and experience. At least for me. Probably not for my elder relatives, who have easily played thousands of games. (The canonical minimum for a game is four rounds of four hands each, plus any dealer-win extensions. On the rare occasions when our parents take out the tile set at home, we usually stop at one round. Time is crazy.)

In the movies, drama is injected into mahjong games rather differently. Aside from complicated blackmails and threats outside any given game, it’s hard to portray strategic considerations very interestingly, so mostly, it’s completely ridiculous luck or cheating techniques. Luck: things like the dealer winning with his/her starting hand, which is worth a crazy number of points. It happened in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (I strongly doubt this is a spoiler; if the chapter of Mahjong accomplished anything plotwise, it was strictly in the conversation. Anyway, the ending is, I don’t know, epic. I digress.) Cheating: people who can crush a perfect-looking circle into the middle of a Four Circles tile with their bare hands. Circles with millimeter-thick designs in them. I know that checking for reality in a movie of this type is completely missing the point, but seriously.

Anyway, the basics of this game are not too complex but there are amazingly many corner cases. Of course 90% of the opportunities I have to play are holidays and family gatherings like these in Taipei, but that’s been enough to respond smoothly with three other experienced players. I’m still learning of obscure rules: apparently there’s a rule that you can’t declare mahjong on the tile drawn from claiming a discard for a kong. How many games does one have to play to know something like this?

And this is only in the Taiwanese variation; Wikipedia lists sixteen of them and an outside source has 23+2, or, er, 26. We play with three more tiles than everybody else, which makes cool winning hands harder, and is presumably the reason we don’t have a lower bound on point count. How interesting. I’ll probably have to get all confused about learning a variant if I ever want to play in the distant future.

I still can’t keep track of the prevailing winds and seat winds while playing, or reflexively count out where the dice start the tile draw. The algorithm goes a bit like: count sides counterclockwise with the dealer as 1 for the starting wall, then count tile-pairs clockwise with the same number (wat) for the offset, and start taking tiles four by four. Scoring is so intricate it gets its own Wikipedia article, which doesn’t even have any of the interesting parts. The Taiwanese scoring criteria table has… no, I’m not going to bother to count how many rows there are.

What else happened? I didn’t eat as crazily as a couple days before (but still pretty crazily) and have not yet gotten a second stomachache. Tada. Some people were setting off firecrackers or fireworks or something very loud and noisy at pretty darn exactly six in the morning. Note to self: acute = áéíóú, grave = àèìòù. That is all.

Goals

The time I feel strongly about achieving a goal is pretty much fixed regardless of how huge the goal is. Afterwards I end up procrastinating to not look at the goal I set and how miserably I’m behind progress. Hence, two hours of TVTropes. How many times do I have to repeat this before I do something about it? <insert generic rage sound>

Maybe this has something to do with the way I’m no longer carrying and flipping through my planner around everywhere since school has let out. This should be easy to fix. Or maybe it’s just the fact that Reddit is now an option (and, due to the SOPA & co. clash, much more interesting than usual) all the time, in which case I’m screwed. Look, another reason to fight the bill like crazy.

Lived through: 15×15 Nurikabe breaking three-quarters through construction; stomachache; two spontaneous short lucid dreams in adjacent nights; long and disorienting nature walk on and about the Maokong Gondola; two hours on TVTropes, which I already mentioned; two days of forgetting to charge my iPod.

Accomplished: nothing?