Category → life

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.

Music plays.

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:


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

Spontaneous Thoughts on Teaching

(Disorganized and probably incomplete blog content, posted as part of a daily posting streak I have openly committed to; standard disclaimers apply)

Okay, I’m actually going to try starting this blog post and posting it in the same day.

Story: As a sort of extracurricular activity slash side job, I taught a math class after school once a week to six fifth-graders. It was nominally geared towards some Australian Math Competitions, which my math teacher administers in Taiwan, although in the end I don’t think I achieved this end very well.

After writing this brain dump I realized this was a pretty terrible hackjob; I had absolutely no idea how to teach fifth-graders or how to organize an after-school class, and I still mostly don’t. Parents did most of the organizing, really. And provided refreshments.

And I get paid for this????

Bulleted list of other thoughts:

  • Wow, I didn’t realize / remember how serious the gender gap between elementary-school students is. I don’t mean the difference between their performance (that might have been the case, but I don’t think I felt a significant enough difference to conclude anything); I mean how fifth-grade boys and fifth-grade girls don’t like to mingle.

    When given the opportunity, they would pick team names like, “[members of my gender] Rule, [members of other gender] Drool!” They wouldn’t discuss with each other either. If prompted, they would sometimes point out mistakes in each others’ work, though.

    I think this is a phase that people grow out of, and I probably did it myself when I was young. I don’t remember when it ends, but in any case, ugh, it’s so unproductive that boys and girls separate themselves for any length of time at all.


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.)

Three Standard Deviations


Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,
and you’re hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No — not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you’re passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you’re hoping.

— Piet Hein

(By the way, apparently spinning a penny is a terrible randomization process; studies have shown they come up tails 80% of the time. Tossing or flipping is better but there’s still a faintly biased 51% chance it lands with the same face it started with (PDF link). Entirely irrelevantly, is the meter amphibrachic? Nice. I’m sorry, but the impenetrable English names they give to metrical feet just sound so cool.)

As May 1 has been coming up, I’ve been half-seriously giving this advice to others who still haven’t decided. But I knew this wouldn’t work for me. I knew where I intuitively wanted to go all along.

The reasons holding me back were more… reasonable. Mostly the money. Call it an id-superego conflict.

I don’t know if the difference between my choices would mean I’d have to take out loans, or work a lot during college, or both. I don’t think either of those things would be difficult. I think tech internships over the summer could just cover the parts assigned to parental contribution (which I’m not going to let my parents pay, unless they start earning a lot more money than expected) and I think I have the skills to get those internships. But of course that’s a tradeoff. Maybe there will be something more self-actualizing or more helpful to my future career that I could do during the summer. I’m not so sure that I’ll find the same drive to program for a job instead of for a personal project I really want to use myself, or for putting off something more boring. I don’t know yet.

(Get it? Drive? Program? Um, never mind, I guess that’s a hardware problem.)

Moon Shoes

Okay. So. These things: These things are a thing. They’re like mini-trampolines that you are supposed to strap onto your feet and jump around on to have fun, if you’re, like, six years old, maybe? Anyway, if you happen to run into a pair of these, please be careful, and please think twice before doing something like, I don’t know, immediately strapping them on after you see them and jumping as hard as you possibly can, especially not when you are jumping on a hard unforgiving surface, or when you are surrounded by a bunch of impressionable children whom you could be concerned might follow your example or be swayed by your bad influence or something.


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.


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.