Category → life

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


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.

  • 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!


There are 30 minutes until my laundry finishes.

It is 2:30 in the morning as I write this. Normal people are not awake at this time of day. It’s possible that normal MIT students are, though.

I’ve been meaning to blog for a while, but things happen and other things happen and still more things happen. From a state of total inexperience in the kitchen, I’ve already managed to single-handedly cook six six-person meals for my co-op, not to mention all the weird meals I make for myself (which is just as well, I don’t think they are of typically mentionable caliber.) I’ve already taken two exams in three of my classes and the big midterm for my fourth. Four puzzlehunts — Simmons, aquarium, Palantir, ΣUMS; five if you perhaps include Next Haunt. Six SIPB meetings. A few bottles of Soylent; I lost count and don’t want to check my room because that’ll disturb my roommate. Θ(3000) zephyrs. And after many weekends of eye-opening group practice, tonight I have to catch a flight to Rochester, NY for ACM-ICPC regionals.

Jam-Packed Fun and Games

Did I say “fun”? That was short for function calls. Which are fun too, admittedly. Blah, I always go to such lengths to come up with snappy yet justified post titles and end up achieving neither.

One more complimentary breakfast later:

This is it.

Google Code Jam World Finals. [Google Code Jam 2015 name tag with my name and handle and country] Let me take a moment to reflect. Seriously. I do not know how I made it this far this year. I guess I might be a top-500-ish competitive programmer globally, maybe even top-150-ish, but definitely not top-25-ish. And Log Set, the hard problem that got me through Round 3, doesn’t seem like it plays to my forte particularly either. It’s a bit mathy, but the math bits aren’t the hard part; I think it’s largely implementation, with one psychological hurdle where you have to realize that, because of how few distinct integers there are in S′, you can efficiently solve the subset-sum instances you need to produce the lexicographically earliest answer. I’m actually kind of impressed I got that. It seems like the sort of hurdle I usually get stuck on. How did this happen?

Maybe randomness. Maybe I was just particularly clear-minded during the round and wrote less buggy code than usual, because I had no expectation of making it whatsoever and so could look at the contest detachedly (until midway through the contest I accidentally noticed that my rank was under 20, and even then I tried very very hard not to think about it, and it kind of worked).

But it happened, and now I’m here. Time to roll.

In some emails much earlier in the Code Jam logistical process, Google had asked for “requests for changes and/or additions” to the software that would be installed on our competition computers, and I had sent them a long list:

Here are some things I’d like if they were installed, in decreasing order of priority:

  1. The Vim plugin syntastic ( )
  2. a Haskell compiler (probably Haskell Platform 2014.2.0.0 even though it’s a year old)
  3. the Haskell package hdevtools ( ) so that the above two may be integrated
  4. (I don’t have enough Linux experience to name a specific thing to install, but command-line utilities that are the equivalent of pbcopy and pbpaste on Mac OS X, which allow me to redirect text into or out of the clipboard from the command line easily)
Of course, this is my first Code Jam and I don’t know how reasonable these requests are. Any nontrivial subset would be appreciated.

Orthogonal Planes

I have a backlog of at least 6,000 words and still too many events to blog about, so these posts will not reflect things currently happening to me for a long, long time, except for the little blurbs on top of posts like this one when they exist.

Blogging is hard.

Also, I don’t have a good title.

It begins with an airplane.

[View of airplane wing and clouds from airplane]

For Zarquon’s sake, you’re entrusting me with my own passport and airline tickets and luggage and all this stuff I can’t even. I still layover people for months on end in Pocket Planes sometimes. (Watch the graceful descent of this reference into personally overused snowclone territory.)

Source: Taiwan, my home for the previous twelve years, which I am now bidding farewell to for the longest time in forever (…which is only (“only”?) five months, assuming I fly back for winter break as already planned). Destination: Seattle, for this year’s Google Code Jam World Finals, which I still don’t know how I managed to qualify for (more on that in later posts); and, before that, an accompanying interview for an internship that I scored as part of the bargain.

I successfully get on the plane, sort some nice things to have on hand into my MIT tote bag (how did I ever survive airplanes without keeping a tote bag on hand?), and put my backpack with the rest of my stuff into the overhead compartment. An old-ish guy who is probably Korean sits next to me. Plane takeoff is a bit delayed due to traffic congestion. Once during the flight, after an attendant passes out forms to everybody entering South Korea and I tell him I’m not, the guy asks me where I’m going and we have a short conversation. But for the most part, it’s typical airplane shenanigans. I listen to Avril Lavigne and Ellie Goulding, do a little homework, and eat the airplane food. Nothing remarkable happens.

Until near the end of the flight: a guy in a suit shows up in the aisle and, looking at some sort of checklist, calls my name.

Glowstick Fragments


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.)

edit from the future: There used to be an explicit YouTube video of Shots by LMFAO ft. Lil Jon here, which has since been taken down for obvious reasons. Yes, it is a very crude song. I never went to a party that was a tenth as wild as the song describes. Maybe it was my means of vicarious escape.

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.

[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]

[CIMC 2015 Part 2] Journey of the Blue-White Slippers

(Nontopical life update: Current 18.06 homework status: 34% (mildly screwed, probably won’t finish before I leave my cozy home for the U.S. and I usually struggle to get into the mood for homework while traveling, but I guess I’ll have to)) [18.06 status panel: 34%] (I’ve been spending most of my uptime doing said homework and running errands, and my downtime catching up on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver while farming the Flight Rising Coliseum. And, okay, making the above status panel. Live version here courtesy of Dropbox’s Public folder. No regrets.)

Day 3 (Excursions)

Morning routine snipped. We come to the middle school again to eat breakfast and gather; the contestants will be taking their tests here (accompanied by one bottle of “Buff” energy drink each) while the rest of us will be going on an excursion. Before this happens, though, two Taiwanese contestants ask me and Hsin-Po some math problems. There’s a geometry problem, which I fail to solve:

(paraphrased) In triangle △ABC, ∠A is 40° and ∠B is 60°. The angle bisector of ∠A meets BC at D; E is on AB such that ∠ADE is 30°. Find ∠DEC.

Hsin-Po figures out that, once you guess (ROT13) gur bgure boivbhf privna vf nyfb na natyr ovfrpgbe naq gurl vagrefrpg ng gur vapragre, lbh pna cebir vg ol pbafgehpgvat gur vapragre naq fubjvat sebz gur tvira natyr gung gurl vaqrrq pbvapvqr.1 Then, there’s a combinatorics problem in a book with a solution that they’re not sure about:

[CIMC 2015 Part 1] Rainy Days in July (and Other Months)

We get up at 3:40 AM. By 4 AM we have left our house, speeding like a bullet into the dark.

(Ohai. Somehow it slipped my mind that I was ending my streak by leaving the country for a competition that would likely be highly bloggable, like my last two international olympiads, both of which led to notable post sequences on this blog. (Admittedly, the first one was never really completed…) My only excuse was that I was worried I might not be able to access my blog from inside the Great Firewall, but I did (via and even if I hadn’t, I could still have drafted posts locally in Markdown as I usually do, so I don’t know what I was thinking.)

(Also: because, as I’ve said way too many times recently, I need to do linear algebra homework, these posts aren’t going to be as complete or as perfect as I’d like them to be. Although I’m probably just saying this to persuade myself; I tend to include many of the boring parts as well as the interesting parts of the trip, which maybe benefits my future self at the expense of other readers. I probably need to get out of this habit more if I want to blog for a wider audience, though. Oh well.)


The International Mathematics Competition (IMC) is, as it says, an international mathematics competition. But I should add that it is for elementary and middle-school students (in other words, I am not competing, okay??). (edit: Also, one or two letters are often prefixed to indicate the host country, for whatever reason. This year it would be CIMC, C for China.) I am tagging along because I am a student of Dr. Sun, one of the chief organizers, and have been slotted to give a talk and possibly help with grading the papers and translating. My father is coming to help arrange a side event, a domino puzzle game competition, which he programmed the system for; and my mom and sister are also coming to help with translation and other duties. Other people in our group: Dr. Sun himself, his longtime assistant slash fellow teacher Mr. Li (wow I’m sorry I forgot you while first writing this), my friend and fellow math student Hsin-Po, who is an expert at making polyhedra from origami or binder clips (and at Deemo); Chin-Ling, my father’s student/employee who also programmed lots of the domino puzzle server and possesses a professional camera; and, of course, all the elementary- and middle-school contestants, as well as most of their parents.

I don’t think I’ve ever given this amount of background exposition about any event I’ve attended to my not-so-imaginary audience before. It feels weird. Some part of me is worried about breaking these people’s privacy by posting this, which makes a little bit of sense but not enough for me to think that it’s actually a valid reason to avoid or procrastinate blogging. I think it’s a rationalization.

Here we go.

Day 1

The only interesting thing that happens at the airport is a short loud argument in the queues for luggage check-in, perhaps partly fueled by our high number of people and of heavy boxes (gifts for other countries and raw materials for Hsin-Po’s polyhedra). I don’t know whose fault it is.

In case I fail to scale the firewall, I attempt to download Facebook on my phone for one last look before boarding, but it fails during installation twice and I give up.

Our plane is not fancy enough to offer personal screens and entertainment centers for everybody, but thankfully the ride lasts only three hours, so this is tolerable. Instead, the plane plays the second Divergence movie on overhead screens, which I watch half-heartedly. The plot setup seems interesting but the ending seems to me to involve two Ass Pulls™, although since I haven’t been paying much attention I am not confident if I just missed some foreshadowing or character development. On the flight, I also read the proof of the irrationality of powers of e in Proofs from THE BOOK and leaf through the magazines.

I don’t hear any good music on-board, except maybe “Space Oddity”, which is a little freaky to be listening to while cruising at so may kilometers in the sky. Perhaps because of this, I find myself singing and humming “Space Oddity” unexpectedly often over the next few days.


The very first sign we see after alighting the plane consists entirely of characters that are the same in Simplified and Traditional Chinese — if I remember correctly, 「前有坡道,小心慢走」1. The Changchun airport looks like any other airport, coolly blue-themed with moving platforms. The restrooms have fancy bright purple soap. Even though I consciously think about how I have suddenly arrived in a country that places notable restrictions on freedom of speech and Internet access, I don’t feel it. Eep, what an anticlimax.

[People dragging luggage boxes over gravelly ground outdoors.]

Translation Party

Just a short anecdote for the streak today. Hmm, I guess this developed beyond being just another filler post, which is good.

In addition to preparing my presentation, the other job I have to do for the math competition I’m attending in a week or so (not as a participant, okay?) is translating various guests’ speeches between English and Chinese.

The speeches’ length and formulaicness really get on my nerves, but then again my standards for speeches were skewed upward by Richard Forster’s speeches during the opening and closing ceremony of IOI 2014, but on the gripping hand I don’t think it’s that hard to at least try not to be formulaic and I really can’t see any effort on their part whatsoever. Off the top of my head, pretty much all the speeches tend to go like this:

  1. Welcome!
  2. Math is great!
  3. This competition is great!
  4. The city hosting this competition is great!
  5. The college hosting this competition is great!
  6. You contestants are great!
  7. Good luck!

Except each bullet point is a paragraph that lasts a minute.

(Ninja edit: Which is not to say they didn’t put any effort into their speeches at all, but that much of the effort seem misguided to me. I don’t see how anybody who has been in the audience for one of these speeches can overlook the same flaws in their own. Unless it’s like, at some point in the natural life cycle of the human brain, people spontaneously start enjoying these safe and repetitive speech topics instead of some earnest and maybe lighthearted advice and anecdotes and jokes? Like how people somehow start enjoying spicy stuff, or the bitter flavor of beer and wine, or writing teenage-angsty ranty posts complaining to nobody in particular like this one? Tough questions.)

Anyway. My mom actually does most of the translation but I am the grammar stickler post-processor and we work together on the hard parts. The second hardest things to translate are idioms. The hardest things to translate are quotes. It turns out that lots of people find translated quotes to Chinese and it can be incredibly difficult to reconstruct their English versions. Here is the quote that today’s story is about, which we were tasked with providing the English translation (or original) for and which the speech attributed to 克莱因 (trad.: 克萊因).