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Pangs

I have this memory —

I was a tiny kid, lying in bed and trying to fall asleep, and I started thinking about death and nonexistence, and I thought about how one day I wouldn’t exist any more, that there wouldn’t be a me thinking my thoughts and perceiving my perspective, and suddenly I was terrified.

I got up and knocked on my parents’ bedroom door and asked them about this. Maybe. Or maybe I didn’t because the fear was less crippling than the social awkwardness of randomly knocking on my parents’ door in the middle of the night to ask them a question like that; I don’t remember. It was a long time ago, okay?


This approximate topic is something I think and blog about now and then, rarely but consistently. Mortality was the light-hearted rambling one; Thoughts at Midnight was the dark philosophically-unhinged one. There are many even older posts, from before I told anybody about this blog. I’m not going to find them and you shouldn’t either. They’re probably terrible.

It inevitably feels weird writing about them because I rarely feel these feelings and roughly never talk to anybody about them. As I said before, it’s just not a popular conversation topic. But when they happen, they happen, except now I don’t think there’s anybody whose door I can knock on, not just because I’m far too old for this stuff and living away from family, but because I’ve thought so much about these things that I doubt I know anybody who could give me a convincing and satisfying answer. I know there is too much we don’t know.

I am not having these feelings right now. There might have been a few minutes in the last week, but otherwise nothing for a month or so. (Remember, my blog drafts go back years…) For whatever reason, I had an especially vivid, and relatively realistically-grounded, moment like that for a few minutes on the flight home.

I was sad about the fact that I was going to die. That life is fleeting, and nothing lasts forever. I was sad about the days I had spent with my precious family and friends that had passed, and the limited supply I had left, and how I didn’t know the proper way to use them, how I felt like my future self would inevitably regret some choices no matter how hard I tried.

I was sad about the long future, that I wasn’t optimistic about living a long and happy life with all the uncertainties and x-risks and how humanity is still so terrible at cooperating, despite the growing capacity of a few lone defectors to ruin things for everybody. Global warming or environmental issues in general, a particularly bad strain of virus or a biological or chemical attack, and who knows what’ll happen with artificial intelligence.

I was sad that even if we got everything right, the future probably wouldn’t need me. Everything I was learning or would learn, everything the world valued in me, everything I valued in myself — there would probably be some possibly non-human entity out there that did it better. And yet in some other way, that seemed desirable, because some of those things would benefit a lot of people if they were done better by anybody at all. I was sad that I couldn’t tell what I wanted, that my big-picture desires conflicted with each other and didn’t make any sense. That even if I had a benevolent genie, I wouldn’t know what to tell it. That I’m trying to keep an eye on changing the world for the better, but a little bit reluctant to think too hard and too precisely about what the moonshot optimal world I was ultimately aiming for because I might not like it.

That’s as much as I can express what’s it’s like. But the details don’t matter, right? The point is the same. These things are faraway and there are no good answers, so thinking about them is unhelpful, so I should stop. Right?

(Sometimes it works. Sometimes I can’t call up the same emotional weight of those thoughts even if I tried. They just collapse into sentences, words in a relation dictated by syntax. My Amazon package is going to arrive in the next one or two weeks; the Earth is going to rotate about its axis over the next 24 hours; I am going to die. Facts. Boring.)

On one hand, focusing on the present — seizing the day, living without regrets — helps me make myself actually do things instead of think in circles about ungrounded ideas. On the other hand, not looking at the big picture of life makes it easy to let days slip away without having done anything meaningful. When I suppress these philosophical thoughts, am I suppressing an unproductive side of me, or am I suppressing the side of me that would actually be able to experience life the most deeply?

(Or both?)

Music II

When I first made myself commit to posting weekly, I was trying to make myself spend a little time every day of the week thinking and writing and whittling away at old drafts. Instead I’m here at 10:40 PM basically starting a brand-new post. Oh well.

I last blogged about music in 2013. I tagged two other posts with “music” since then, but neither is particularly deep: 8 Songs for 18 Years and Drop-In Filler. Let’s continue the tradition of self-analysis part IIs from nowhere…


I meditated a little bit in Conversations about “lacking experience or interest in a lot of the commonly discussed culture.” I think this applies to me and music as well, although not as fully. Back in Taiwan, when mentally bracing myself for coming to the U.S. for college, I sometimes worried about not knowing enough about pop music and bands and not listening enough to popular albums, and having trouble integrating into the culture for this.

Turns out, among the communities I wandered into and friends I made, it was a more frequent obstacle that I didn’t know enough about classical music and composers. Whoops. Some of the names rang faint bells from either music class or conversations with high school friends who did do classical music, but I could not identify or remember any styles or eras, and would remember composers only by unreliable first letters or unusual substrings of their names.

(Although this isn’t particularly unique to music, and is adequately explained by me just being bad at names. Fun fact: In first grade or thereabouts, during “computer” “class” where we practiced making Microsoft Word documents about things, I wrote some sort of introduction to Leonhard Euler and said that he proved that there were infinitely many primes. I believe my first-grade self conflated Euler with Euclid by assuming that only one important mathematical name would ever start with such an odd digraph. A digraph of two vowels at that.)

(Mental challenge: In two minutes, list as many of your friends whose names start with two vowels in a row as you can. Go!)

I don’t think that not following pop music helps either, but when I visited Taiwan over breaks, I realized my sister learned more about U.S. pop music by staying in school there than I did actually studying in the U.S.

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Gaming

It’s another weekend, isn’t it.

I’m out of deep things to say. I don’t usually have deep things to say. Sorry to anybody who subscribed hoping for more things like the last post. This is basically going to be a personal stream of consciousness post. But it’s a stream with a long ancestry, since I apparently wrote 400 words about it in a WordPress draft four years ago. This was way back before I even started writing post drafts in Markdown on my computer instead of directly in WordPress, so I guess it must be an interesting topic.

Four years ago, Brian2012 was suddenly struck by how many of the people he knew were such serious gamers. But let’s go back even earlier, shall we?


A long long time ago, when I was in elementary school or so, my parents had some sort of reward system where I had to do productive things, like study or do chores or write diary entries or practice the piano or something, to earn time on the computer for games. “Gaming time” was a currency. I enjoyed saving up lots of thirty-minute increments and knowing I had the freedom to using them slowly.

That much I remember; the details of how it worked are very fuzzy and I’m not sure what I played in those thirty-minute increments either. I think there was Neopets and Runescape and Club Penguin. (My Neopets account still sees sporadic activity, because I get really really bored sometimes…)

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On Islam, Headlines, and Definitions

This post’s topic might be the most controversial thing I’ve posted here ever. I hope the points I want to make aren’t.

One of the excuses for not blogging I came up with and then deleted while rambling about not blogging was that I’m getting more feelings about real-world real-person issues, things that people take heated positions on — it’s not topics like what food I ate or what games I’m playing in fourth grade any more — and my identity is pretty public here, so who knows what’ll happen. Oh well. I’m probably just paranoid.

It’s also delayed, as the articles I’m talking about are old; the latest two news items are the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and then the police shooting at the Dallas rally. That was also really sad, but I don’t think I have anything insightful to say about it. Let me point you to the MIT Admissions post, “Black Lives Matter”, and then for something a bit more optimistic out of a huge range of possible choices, this Medium article.

Although after I started writing this post, the story about a Muslim man preventing an ISIS suicide bomber came out, so now this is mildly relevant again. Anyway, I guess the delay is no different from how I put up life posts weeks after the life event happens. So today, I bring you two old news articles about Islam that my friends shared and discussed:

The second one first, whose argument is, to be frank, weak. I think this piece from The Atlantic by Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants”, is a better-researched overview of ISIS while still being pretty readable. One caveat is that it’s somewhat old. But its central claim is quite the opposite:

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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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No Excuses

Wow, this has been the longest silence on this blog in a long time.

I can’t justify it with lack of time either. Interning at Dropbox takes up all of my weekdays, but my weekends are much freer than I’m used to. I carelessly let two weeks at home in Taiwan pass by without doing much about blogging, and once again a lot of my few blog drafts have drifted into the temporally awkward zone, being too far away from the events they are about.

Neither is it for lack of things happening. At MIT, there was the Senior House turnaround and freshman moratorium. I can’t even begin to sum up the discussion around this issue, but I think the best response I’ve read is this open letter. Then there’s the official Senior House response. But that’s enough links, since I imagine the chances that this issue is relevant to you and you’d need this blog to link you to them if you’re reading this are pretty low. (Then again, the chances that you’re reading this are already pretty low. Although the chances you‘re reading this right now is 100%.)

Then there was the Orlando shooting of Christina Grimmie and nightclub shooting, which I even more probably don’t need to link to. I will just say that Vi Hart made this video and I watched it a couple times.

And finally, Brexit happened, which affects the most people but which I understand the least. Well, I do want to note that it seems lots of people are reading unreasonably much into the Google Trend about UK searches for “What is the EU?”

People seized on this as evidence that British voters didn’t know what they were voting for, but I don’t think it shows that at all, for a lot of reasons…

  1. The query is a very simple question; its search count will be exaggerated relative to more complicated queries, which might be phrased in slightly different ways that won’t get aggregated.
  2. Googling that question doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t know what the EU is; it might just be how you interact with Google and get a list of information or different opinions about the EU.
  3. The searches could come from children or tourists or others who couldn’t vote and only decided to learn about the referendum after it passed and started mattering. Even a few of these people could make the question rank highly; the ranking doesn’t have any absolute numbers.
  4. Why am I making this list. This takedown, Stop Using Google Trends, has far more details and is more entertaining anyway.

This is your every-so-often dose of unnecessary current events recapping. You are now all caught up. If you are reading this blog as your primary news source… stop doing that.

(And finally finally on a personal note, I didn’t make Google Code Jam World Finals, so I can put that aside, and maybe at some point put out the blog draft about last year online rounds…)

The question remains in the air, though; why haven’t I blogged?

I spent a long time listing a bunch of excuses and then deleting them. (I kept the above non-excuses because this post needs to have something in it.) I don’t have a good reason; the closest I can come is to say, it’s like I’m living a new life in a new place to a new schedule, a life that I haven’t integrated blogging into the flow of yet, and this post is actually part of that integration process.

So the commitment device returneth! Expect one post every weekend until my internship ends.