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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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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Sharpies

As readers of this blog probably know, I am not an MITAdmissions blogger. It was kind of disappointing at the moment, but now I rarely think about it except when I come up with good reasons why I shouldn’t be an MITAdmissions blogger. One reason is that I am not very good at coming up with advice that could generalize to a wide audience, even an audience only as wide as people at or coming to the ‘Tvte. (There can be only one!) This by itself probably wouldn’t be so bad because there’s plenty of generalizable advice to go around, but I also don’t like repeating well-known stuff. Don’t skip class, except when you really know when you’re doing, which you probably think you do when you skip class. Get enough sleep, maintain good study habits, set aside time to keep up with old friends, back up your zarking data, alternate alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, do not forget the factor of one-half when computing the area of a triangle. You get the picture.

There’s only one piece of advice I can say that I believe is generalizable to any degree, and in particular I think my past self would have appreciated and also had not heard, even in passing, from any other source: Get a Sharpie.

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MIT Course Number Mnemonics

When I first realized it might be helpful to start trying to remember the correspondence between MIT courses and their numbers, I expected a list of mnemonics for this correspondence would be one of those Things That Should Exist On the Internet. I’m pretty surprised it doesn’t. I mean, MIT has, what, at least 100,000 alumni; as far as I know, nearly everybody who goes there speaks the number correspondence fluently, so they have to learn it; and the science of mnemonics has been with us since the ancient Greeks and people who understand its usefulness can’t be uncommon, especially not in such a prestigious institute of higher education.

What gives?

I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just that nobody has posted their mnemonic set on the Internet out of embarrassment? My mnemonics are pretty bad too, but hey, Cunningham’s Law — if you’re reading, feel free to add better ones in the comments, or to criticize my horribly unenlightened and stereotypical characterizations of your courses, to make this thing better. Or maybe it’s out of concern that nobody else will find it useful? I get that feeling but my streak compels me to ignore it now, as it has for the last dozen posts or so. Or maybe they just didn’t optimize for search engine findability, so I can’t find it? I hope this post fixes that.

Actually, I guess the most likely reason is that maybe most people don’t actually have all the course numbers memorized with perfect recall, only the handful of most common ones they and their friends are in, and it’s perfectly fine to ask for clarification when an unknown number comes up in conversation, so nobody ever feels like they need to bother with mnemonics for every single course. Feels sensible to me.

But anyway, I’m not most people.


The most comprehensive resource of courses and numbers, including their history, appears to have once been at http://alumweb.mit.edu/clubs/sandiego/contents_courses.shtml. Many, many links point there. Unfortunately, it is dead and I cannot find its new home, if it has one. Fortunately, there is an archived version on archive.is; on the other hand, I am not sure whether any updates have occurred since it was archived. A more recent version with course populations from 2005 is this chart linked from the MIT Admissions blog post Numbers are names too.

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Time Management

All through high school I had really high standards for myself. Not the grades, mind you (I admit, humblebrag, my grades were always uncomfortably high, probably as an expected but still sad byproduct of this process (yes, I’m actually complaining about grades being too high. I don’t want my report card to have lots of Bs or Cs, but I really didn’t need to pour enough resources into schoolwork that I graduated as valedictorian, when there were so many other personally and socially meaningful things I could be dedicating effort into creating — but that’s a subject for another post (humblebrags all the way down. Somebody get some internet pitchforks and poke some sense into me))), but simply how I managed my time for doing homework.

In my opinion: not very well. I always spent too much time surfing the internet and doing things less urgent than homework, then ended up sleeping at midnight or one o’clock or whenever often to finish what I should have done earlier.

And yet, compared to many of my friends (definitely not all, though), that’s not late at all and the amount of buffer time I had between finishing work and having it due was positively luxurious. But then, I suppose, I didn’t have the same amount of math homework. But to counter my excuse, I had additional responsibilities such as practicing olympiad problems and preparing weekend presentations and translating the school newsletter. So I don’t actually know if my workload was significantly lighter than average or not, ergo I don’t know whether my time management skills were significantly better than average or not. It seriously doesn’t feel like they would be.

And allegedly, even when I’m procrastinating, it’s more productive than my friends’ procrastination, maybe even Paul Graham’s good type of procrastination. Often when I gripe about how much my former self procrastinated they will ask me what I’ve been doing and, after hearing the answer, tell me this. What have I done to put off homework? Oh, I did some olympiad math problems, committed to my GitHub projects, read a bunch of programming blogs, organized my old chemistry notes from two years ago, and surfed the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Yeah. Total waste of time. Meanwhile certain friends surf 9GAG whenever they get the chance. (Which is not to say that I don’t procrastinate in obviously unproductive ways sometimes — I surf reddit, YouTube, and TVTropes of course. Sometimes I even just read my own blog or dig through old folders in my computer. I’m weird. But anyway.)

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Quixotic Reimagining of Standardized Tests (Part 2)

If you remember, Part 1 was here and my goal is to construct a theoretical system of standardized tests that I would be satisfied by. Here’s what I’ve got. As usual, because of the daily posting streak I have openly committed to, standard disclaimers apply.

  • We’d have a first-tier test like the SAT, except this will be explicitly designed not to distinguish among the high performers.

    The goal of the test is to assess basic proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics. Nothing else. Most good students, those who have a shot at “good colleges” and know it, will be able to ace this test with minimal effort and can spend their time studying for other things or engaging in other pursuits. Students who don’t will still have to study and it will probably be boring, but the hope is that, especially if you’re motivated to get into a good college, there won’t be much of that studying.

    For colleges, the intention of this test is to allow them to require this test score from everybody without having to put up disclaimers that go like,

    there is really not a difference in our process between someone who scores, say, a 740 on the SAT math, and someone who scores an 800 on the SAT math. So why, as the commentor asks, is there such a difference in the admit rate? Aha! Clearly we DO prefer higher SAT scores!

    Well no, we don’t. What we prefer are things which may coincide with higher SAT scores…

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Quixotic Reimagining of Standardized Tests (Part 1)

Life update: I got my driver’s license from the place where I learned to drive. Then I drove home from there with my mom, and it was zarking terrifying.

Also, WordPress says it has protected my blog from 38 spam comments.

Early in the morning tomorrow, I have a small surgical operation, so I can’t sleep too late. (Well, it ended up being pretty late anyway. Darn.) Therefore I think I’m going to do something unprecedented on this blog for the daily posting streak: I’m going to post an incomplete non-expository post.

Yes, the only purpose of the title is to get initials that are four consecutive letters of the alphabet..


One of the more argumentative post sequences on my blog involved ranting against standardized tests.

My very first stab was probably the silly satire directed at the test everybody has to take that takes up two hours per day of an entire week. Once college became a thing in my life, I wrote a humblebrag rant after I took the SAT and then a summary post after I snagged this subject for an English class research paper and finished said paper.

It should be plenty clear that I am not ranting against this part of the system because it’s disadvantageous to me.

But it should also be said that I’ve read some convincing arguments for using standardized tests more in college admissions (Pinker, then Aaronson). Despite the imperfections of tests, they argue, the alternatives are likely to be less fair and more easily gamed. The fear that selecting only high test-scorers will yield a class of one-dimensional boring thinkers is unfounded. And the idea that standardized tests “reduce a human being to a number” may be uncomfortable for some, but it makes no sense to prioritize avoiding a vague feeling of discomfort over trusting reliable social science studies. Neither article, you will note, advocates selecting all of one’s college admits based on highest score. Just a certain unspecified proportion, one that’s probably a lot larger than it is today.

And although I wish the first article linked its studies, I mostly agree with their arguments. So this puts me in a tricky position. These positions I’ve expressed seem hard to reconcile! So, after arguing about all this with a friend who told me things like

I think you fail to understand how anti-intellectual american society is

(comments on this statement are also welcome) I think some clarifications and updates on how I feel are in order.

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