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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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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Rewind

As per item 3 of 50:

InfiniteLooper version

Well, there are better memory-triggering songs but I think this pretty much sums up how I feel about blogging right now (possibly including the very act of choosing that song.) And college apps. And life. Plus, the music video is silly in its own incredible way.

Anyway. Around this time a year ago, I made a post talking about how around a year before that,

I paused my participation in big high-school competitions, for a variety of reasons.

And then I rambled on life and programming competitions.

If you didn’t get it yet, this post so far has been written to meaningfully echo the last one. Nothing so abrupt has happened this year, but I just realized how nice it was to have a paragraph humorously listing the weird stuff I had gotten myself into over the course of 2013, so I’m going to do so again, even more completely.

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The Sands of Time

Random video! Although I feel that I’ve heard it earlier, my first conscious memory of getting linked to it is from this post. At first I thought it would be the right background music for this post, but upon further reflection I think it mainly suited me while I was writing this post. Well, it’s topical if you mentally replace “day” with “year”.

Anyway. Around this time a year ago, I paused my participation in big high-school competitions, for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, I stopped attempting to make IMO both because I wouldn’t get that much from the training and because other people ought to have the opportunity. I was concerned that I might condition myself to only be able to do math with the short-term motivation of contests. Better to focus on college math and maybe some original research, I thought. During the year, I did lots of the former and very little of the latter. Meh.

As for the IOI, my obvious next target: I was tired of training and going abroad while paranoid about whether my immune system would hold up. I didn’t feel that the IOI was worth that. To some degree, I also felt burned out about programming. Long story short, my treatment should end soon, and learning Haskell completely resolved the burnout problem.

But the most important reason, I think, was that “high school was too short”. I started math competitions ridiculously early and didn’t spend much time exploring other interests. I thought I knew myself well enough that I could say I didn’t have many more interests at all, but I was completely wrong (psych nerds will reflexively note this to be the Dunning-Kruger effect). I coded lots in weird languages — Haskell, as mentioned previously, plus Scala, plus all manner of other magical command line tools. I wrote my first math problem and submitted it officially, picked up a new instrument, went to a debate competition, served as an unimportant tech guy for MUN, discovered and became hooked on Pentatonix, participated in three puzzle hunts in Australia and one in Massachusetts, figured out my rough political stance, rode a boat, got retweeted by @eevee and @Kyrgyzstan_News, increased my Neopets™ fortune by over 3400%, and lurked on FurAffinity a little too much.

But now, dear competition world, I’m back.

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