Category → life

[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:

(paraphrased) 15 rays starting at the same point are drawn. What is the maximum number of pairs of rays that form obtuse angles?

This happens really close to the test starts and although I have this feeling it’s isomorphic to a notable combinatorial problem, I don’t manage to articulate the isomorphism until it’s too late and they have to go. Indeed, this is more or less equivalent to (ROT13) Ghena: gur tencu unf ab sbhe-pyvdhr naq n pbzcyrgr guerr-cnegvgr tencu vf pbafgehpgvoyr. After thinking though the solution on their book, though, I realize I’ve never seen this proof of said theorem before! (But later I realize it’s actually the just very first proof that Proofs from the BOOK offers. I probably skipped it because it involved induction as well as some algebraic manipulations that looked much less intuitive and natural than they really were, so it didn’t look as cool as the later proofs. Oooooops.)

I suspect I wouldn’t do too well if I had to participate in that contest right then. But anyway, excursion.

After a long bus ride, we arrive at our first destination, Jingyuetan (淨月潭 lit. Clear Moon Lake2), allegedly the sister lake to Taiwan’s own famous[citation needed] Sun Moon Lake. We tour the place on a wall-less car and look at the lake and lots of trees. During a stop, I take some pictures of sunflowers and bees, as well as a stand selling Taiwanese sausages.

[Lake and ferry]

[Bee and sunflower]

[Sausages advertised as from Taiwan!]

The car blares weird music during the tour, such as a version of Für Elise with all the accents on different beats and a disjointed remix of the viral Chinese song 小蘋果 (Little Apple)3 with two other Chinese songs, connected with mumbling English rap segues. We also eat boxed lunches here while sitting on tiny, cramped foam mattresses on the dirt floor.

Our next stop is a museum, where there are lots of ancient historical artifacts I’m not very interested in. I find a collection of certificates involving or quoting Chairman Mao more intriguing: [Certificates with quotes and/or pictures of Chairman Mao]

[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 vpn.mit.edu) 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.)

Backstory

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.

Arrival

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.]

Phone

tl;dr: anybody want to add me on Line or tell/remind me about other phone chat apps? betaveros as always.

Wow, talk about uninspired post titles.

I got a new phone today. Or, well, it’s second-hand, actually. I try to make electronics last a long time, but I think this was justified given the state of my last phone’s screen:

old phone screen, with a visibly malfunctioning black patch

Besides, I’m going off to college and all. Anyway, the phone is pretty cool. It’s a slick shade of red, it came with a cover and everything, and it has one of those fancy 3x3-grid locks. How secure are those again?

Well, we could just find the answer on StackOverflow, but that’s boring.

Drop-In Filler

(streak) I’ll probably be making filler posts for a while until I make decent progress on linear algebra and programming work, including another presentation. Let’s listen to some more music. This is a Deemo song and even though there are a lot of things I could snark about in the grammar, scansion, and execution of the video (less flashy lyric video here), I kind of want to forgive all that for the (really really dark) poetic image.

Last Step

It is more than slightly intimidating to go into the room through the big sliding door and see everybody dressed up in full-on green surgical garb with masks and hair nets. I don’t remember this part. Feeling a little vulnerable, I change my clothes.

I ask to listen to my iPod during the operation — I remember being able to do this during the operation four long years ago when the subject of today’s surgery was inserted into my shoulder — but the nurse(?) says it’s best not to do that because they’ll be using something electric to stop the blood. Instead I can listen to music played from a computer in the operating room. Well, okay then.

She escorts me through a bunch of twisty little passages to said room. The computer is a dual-screen Windows XP. The nurse shows me that there is a folder with random albums sorted by year. I poke through the folders and create a playlist in Windows Media Player interleaving 1989 with a collection of classics from 五月天(Mayday). Then I get on the operating table and wait. One of the nurses compliments me on my choice of the latter band. A few tracks later, I deduce that my interleaving had been to no avail because the media player was set to shuffle. I spend a lot of time on the operating table at first not doing anything except stare at the ceiling. There is a white three-legged contraption there, with each hinged limb ending in a large blue-rimmed circle of surgical lights. There are white sans-serif letters inscribed on the rims, saying Chromophare® E 668 and Berch-something. I think the “something” was a synonym for “say” or “tell”. An after-the-fact search says it’s Berchtold. Typical human memory.

Later I am covered with lots of green cloth, which blocks out the ceiling. Instead, I can only see a clipboard and random paper forms on the left side of my peripheral vision, presumably propping up the cloth. The clipboard is a highly translucent pink. The form on top is yellow and has a box saying something about somebody paying; the form on bottom is white with a black-and-pink-striped right border. The clipboard’s clip also has random streaks of black marker across a white sticker.

Scary Cars

(Part of a daily posting streak but for once I don’t think I need to apply the disclaimers to this. If you thought for even one second that the title was a palindrome, I’ve succeeded. It’s not. I don’t have a good title. Okay, maybe slap the disclaimers onto that part.)

The first time I drove a car was on 5/18. I think. I might be off by a day or so. Most of that day’s lesson was spent learning to go forward and backward, accelerate and decelerate smoothly, and turn the wheel without getting my hands tangled up. My coach made me count out loud how many circles I was turning: 一圈半圈半圈一圈etc. It felt kind of stupid when I was doing it, but I guess in the end it helped, and eventually once I got the hang of turning the wheel, I just subvocalized it and my coach also tacitly stopped bothering me about it.

The first time I activated a turn signal light was probably on 5/26. That was the day I wrote in my TIL log that, when you turn the steering wheel back from the direction you were turning, the turn signal lights turn off automatically. After you think about it, this is a pretty sensible thing for turn signal lights to do, but when I first learned this my mind was utterly blown. Wow!

It’s like when you’re turning and you turn on the turn signal and it starts clicking this steady beat to increase the dramatic tension, like you’re doing a trick in a sports driving game and you have to quickly hit the right sequence of buttons on the controller. Then you actually turn the corner and then turn the wheel back, and as the wheel makes its smooth sliding sound back to its upright position, the beat stops like a resounding V7 to I resolution, as if to congratulate you on executing a beautiful turn without crashing into another car or driving off the side of the road.

That’s what it feels like, anyway.

On slow days, when you’re halfway through a turn but the drivers ahead of you are waiting in a queue that stretches on forever on the practice track, you can shift to the parking gear and use the turn signal’s beat as a metronome and sing along to it too. I do.

Or, of course, there’s the obligatory xkcd:

xkcd


A Commitment

Obligatory life update: I have graduated [from] high school.

But that’s not what this post is about. I contemplated setting up a schedule for my blogging three long years ago, and decided against it, because I didn’t think writing was a high enough priority for me. Well, I am setting up a schedule now: I am going to post something on this blog every day until I have to leave the country (which is happening once before college, so it’s not for as long as you think; but I might decide to continue the schedule anyway after I get back. We’ll see when the time comes.)

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. (Broken into headers for easy skipping by people who don’t care for reading about certain categories.)

College Questions (unprotected ver.)

This post, or most of it, was published password-protected once because… well, I explain that below. (To the one person who actually bothered asking me for the password, just so you know, I did add and rewrite parts. More than a few.) I forgot how distinctly powerful a disincentive a large 2300-word block of text is to the average person, especially when the subject of half of those 2300 words is teenage angst (I’ve already linked to xkcd 1370 in enough places so I’m not even going to embed it here) interweaved with an insufferable amount of rationalist jargon. This will probably filter my readership more than sufficiently already.

I have still decided to protect one detail of the thought process, though. But even after that, I guess I do care more about how many people read this than I do for most of my other posts, so here’s a primitive attempt to gauge interest; if you choose anything beyond the first choice, I would also appreciate if you leave a comment, even if you don’t think you have anything to add:

edit: This poll has been removed, it wasn’t very interesting anyway.

I haven’t posted for a long period again, but I don’t feel too bad about it.

Well, until I look carefully at my blog draft folder and remember that I have 90%-finished drafts about the two debate competitions I went to (November 2013 and March 2014), and winning the previous Mystery Hunt (January 2014), and my summer trip to Penghu (July 2013). Which will probably never get posted out of awkwardness.

Oops.

But I’ve been busy, completely righteously busy, with college apps to write and algorithm classes to teach and speeches to write and a math club to sort-of lead and all the typical homework besides.

And then (for those of you who don’t have me as a friend on Facebook) I got accepted to MIT and Caltech early.

And for a few days after that, I checked Facebook about sixteen times a day for the Class of 2019 group discussion, except for one day when I really needed not to, thanks to the power of committing to my HabitRPG party to do something. I am increasingly learning that procrastination is something that has to be actively and strategically fought. But that’s not what this post is about.