Category → life

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


8 Songs for 18 Years

At some point I thought, hmm, maybe this blog would benefit from some more sentimental, memory-capturing music/videos, like I chose for my end of 2013 post or my end of 2014 post. (Yeah, I link to my own posts alarmingly often. I think that’s kind of weird. I don’t know.)

Obviously, because you’re reading this already, I decided to follow through with that idea. There’s no particular significance for posting this now — it’s not my birthday or anything, as the title might suggest; it just has a nice ring to it — except of course that I’m starting to get mildly desperate for content for my daily posting streak exercise. Standard disclaimers apply.

This is mostly for my future self. I should note that, although I like these songs, this is not a list of my absolute most favorite songs ever. You can tell because there isn’t any Coldplay or fun. (the band.) Instead, each of these songs was chosen to be meaningful to myself and my life in at least two different ways that generally don’t overlap with the other songs. This was difficult but I think I managed it — you know, how constraint breeds creativity and everything? Also, they’re arranged by approximate chronological order of impact. But it also means that this list isn’t going to be that meaningful to anybody other than myself.

Also, I have a long list of class-of-2015 sentimental songs, which I’m not including here because I think there are so many that they deserve a separate post. Will I avoid procrastinating and feeling awkward for long enough to make such a post? Stay tuned!

shrugs Whatever, enjoy the music or stop reading now if you want.

1: Simon & Garfunkel - Scarborough Fair/Canticle

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.

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.

College.

[IOI 2014 Outtakes]

Miscellaneous observations that didn’t make it into a compelling narrative, sometimes because I have forgotten exactly when they happened, sometimes because I only remembered when they happened after blogging about it, sometimes because it just seemed too tangential, sometimes just because of the circumference of the mooooooooooooooooon! (That made no sense and I’m not going to remember what I’m alluding to in a few months.) During the first day a guy came into the secret computer room that the Taiwan team had concealed themselves in, saw us watching anime (SAO 2 among others), and innocently asked, “Are you the Japanese team?

[IOI 2014 Part 4] Shades of Xanthous

No, I didn’t forget. Not for one minute. I was doing homework. I am very happy because that means I was actually carrying out my priorities as I envisioned them. I’ve probably edited this post too many times, though. Meh. But it’s the first weekend after finishing summer homework, so here we go again!

Fun fact: This is by far my favorite post title in the entire series. Possibly in the entire history of this blog.


In the morning of the last day of official IOI activities, there were a bunch of cultural activities, e.g. writing Chinese characters calligraphically, doing tricks with the diabolo, or picking up beans with chopsticks, and noncultural activities, e.g. getting somebody to pour water into a cup on your head while he or she was blindfolded. Due to the last activity I got wet, but my shirt dried really quickly. And alas, even though I had taken calligraphy summer classes a long time ago, my calligraphy was awful — robotic, lifeless strokes without the right aesthetic proportions to make up for it. Blargh.

Anyway, lunch followed, and then it was time for the closing ceremony, in the same building as the other ceremonies and contests. Our team caught the ending song of in a Chinese musical being rehearsed as we walked into the auditorium. While we waited for everybody, we milled about waving flags that our various teachers had brought, including not only Taiwan’s flag but also flags of my school, thoughtfully brought by teachers who had volunteered. A little later our leader told us that all the leaders had discussed the matter during a meeting and decided that we shouldn’t bring any flags to the stage while receiving our medals, so we were going to have to make do with being patriotic and school-respecting off stage.

There were a few performances, including two aboriginal music performances and the musical we had seen rehearsed ealier, which was a fun rock musical rendition of some Chinese tale that seemed to have been sharply abridged, giving it the plot depth of a Wikipedia stub-article synopsis — a conflict, boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love, and a lamenting Aesop song conclusion with thrillingly vague general applicability. But the singing and counterpointing and atmosphere were good. I guess it was proportional to the relative importance of the performance to the closing ceremony. The program interleaved them with the long-awaited medal presentations: one round of bronze medalists, one round of silver, one round of gold.

Dum-dum-dum-dum, medals! The home team advantage was really obvious here; the cheering and the medal-presenter handshakes were both significantly more forceful for Taiwan’s medalists.

I think our leader made this. Thanks.
I think our leader made this. Thanks.

Naturally, after the normal medals had been exhausted, the three full scorers received bags with prizes that may forever remain unknown to my sorry self, as well as a standing ovation from everybody in the auditorium. The orchestra had been going through ABBA songs during the ceremony, and very considerately played “The Winner Takes It All” for this part. It was impossible not to mentally fill in the lyrics.

The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complaiiiiiiiin?

Speeches followed. Most were just average forgettable speeches, but Forster gave another speech that was somehow even better than the one he gave at the opening ceremony, with nonstop golden quotables such as:

[IOI 2014 Part 3] Games of Luck and Strategy and Really Weird Noises

Shamelessly getting unfinished business out of the way. Yup, that’s me.

Excursion Day 1. We traveled down to Yilan on a bus. I played guess-it with Paul.

I was quite surprised at myself for remembering this game, but I think it’s simple and little-known enough to be worth mentioning. Guess-it is a remarkably pure game of luck and bluffing from one of Martin Gardner’s columns, played with a small odd number of cards, e.g. the 13 cards of one poker suit. The cards are dealt evenly to players (who can look at them) with one card left over, which is kept face down; players take turns choosing one of two actions:
  1. Name a card and ask the other player if he or she has it. These questions must be answered honestly.
  2. Guess the left-over card. The guesser wins if correct; the other player wins if not.

Guess-it is not trivial because sometimes you should ask the other player if he or she has a card that you already see in your hand; otherwise whenever you answered “no” to a query you’d immediately guess that the asked card is the hidden one. It is actually a solved game in the sense that the probabilities of the Nash equilibrium strategy for when to guess and when to bluff have been worked out already, but they’re not simple probabilities by any means and humans are terrible randomizers anyway. A few rounds of it sure beats rock-paper-scissors. I was very amused to lose almost all our games with 11 cards but win almost all of our games with 13.

Okay, no more gratuitous narrative excursions into game-theory. The first stop, National Center for Traditional Arts, was a very laid-back culture place with old-fashioned retro shops and streets.

We watched a 3D glove puppetry (布袋戲) video, in the same session as a lot of the leaders.

519

[IOI 2014 Part 1] Everything is More Exciting with Lightsabers

Okay, I guess it was really naïve of me to suppose that I could get any considerable amount of blogging done before the IOI ended. Onward…

We left off at the end of the practice session. As if somebody were taking revenge against us for not having to suffer through any airplane trips, we were served a cold airplane meal for lunch.

Seriously, the box had a sticker that noted its manufacturer as something something Air Kitchen and another translucent sticker that badly covered an inscription saying the same thing in much bigger letters. It contained a cold apple salad, a cold chicken bun, a cold flat plastic cylinder of orange juice, and a package of plastic utensils that was exactly like the utensils that came with every airplane meal ever. I was disappointed, but at least the salad tasted okay, and I ate an extra one because two of my teammates volunteered theirs.

To pass the time, we played an extra-evil ninety-nine variant. Apparently this is a very Taiwanese game because lots of student guides were teaching their teams the game, although our special cards differ from the ones Wikipedia lists in a lot of ways and our evil variant created more opportunity for sabotage and counter-sabotage and bluffing. 7s are used to draw your replacement card from somebody else’s hand, and that person cannot draw again and will have one less card; aces are used to swap your entire hand with somebody else, who also cannot draw a card; small-value cards can be combined to form special values (e.g. play a 2 and 5 for the effect of a 7) but after playing a combination you can only draw one replacement card; and later, to speed up the game, we added a rule where all 9s had to be unconditionally discarded without replacement but would still get shuffled back into the draw pile. Players lose if it’s their turn and they have no playable cards, including no cards at all.

While we were playing and repeatedly reveling in everybody ganging up to beat the winner from the last round, an instrumental version of “You Are My Sunshine” played on repeat in the background for literally the entire time. It wasn’t a very good version either. If you didn’t listen carefully for the fade-out and few seconds of silence at the end of each loop, you’d think that the loop was only one verse long.