I’m going to do it again! I’m going to break a post into parts to milk it for the daily posting streak. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
This is mostly a self-analysis post though.
WARNING: This post contains many, many TVTropes links. If you are like me and need to be productive but are liable to being sucked into TVTropes, maybe you should find a way to commit to not clicking on any of these links, or just stop reading. The obligatory xkcd is kind of long and also featured on one of the TVTropes links I’ve already made, so I’m not going to embed it.
I blogged about this before in 2013 — how I felt that the analysis trained into me by English class was dulling my ability to appreciate and write the types of fiction I really enjoyed. After thinking about it I realized the mismatch goes deeper than that. Because the things I seek the most in fiction are escapism and entertainment. I like simple fiction with obvious (though maybe not that obvious) Aesops and extreme economy of characters via making all the reveals being of the form “X and Y are the same person” (which does not quite seem to be a trope but may be an occurrence of Connected All Along, with the most famous subtrope being Luke, I Am Your Father (which is a misquote!), and is also one common Stock Epileptic Tree, so maybe this isn’t the best example), because not only are such reveals fun, they make the plot simpler. What can I say, it works.
The qualities of being thought-provoking or heartwarming are only bonuses for me; needless complexity in the number of characters or plots is a strict negative. Sorry, I don’t want to spend effort trying to remember which person is which and how a hundred different storylines relate to each other if they don’t build to a convincing, cohesive, and awesome Reveal, and often not even then. And I like closure, so I feel pretty miserable when writers resolve a long-awaited plot point just to add a bunch more. Because of this I am ambivalent about long book series; most of my favorite works of fiction have come in long series but starting a new one always gives me Commitment Anxiety. Even when there’s closure, when I finish an immersive movie or book I’m always left kind of disoriented, like I’ve just been lifted out of a deep pool and have to readjust to breathing and seeing the world from the perspective of a normal person on land. I like when I’m reading good fiction, but I don’t like going through withdrawal symptoms. If I want to read complicated open-ended events, I’ll go read a history textbook, because at least the trivia might come up useful some day; if I want tough problems I’ll just look at real life and think about the possibility of college debt and having to find a job and everything. (If it wasn’t obvious yet, this is why I hyperbolically hate on Game of Thrones often.) Even worse than all of this is multiple paragraphs full of scenery and nothing else, unless of course parts or maybe all of the scenery are Chekhov’s Guns.
Some part of me is embarrassed to admit this because I’ve been educated for so long about deep literature that makes social commentary or reveals an inner evil of humanity or whatever. But then again, I don’t really need an education to appreciate the simple, fun fiction I apparently do.
So: there are a lot of famous classics or mainstream works I can’t really enjoy too much, or in some cases, at all. And yet, sometimes a random story or webcomic will appear and I just won’t be able to stop reading. Why? I decided to try making a list of things I like in fiction:
(Disjointed blog content, posted as part of a daily posting streak I have openly committed to; standard disclaimers apply)
Blogging is weird. I’m still nervous when I post stuff because I’m concerned I’m wrong, and end up looking unprofessional or attracting a bunch of Cueballs or something.
Before I told people about this blog, during the time when 100% of its traffic came from its coincidental placement in search results, I didn’t have to worry about this. Now, I choose my words. Because some Important Person™ might show up. Maybe even misinterpret something I said and/or get furiously offended at a badly phrased joke.
I also fear that I’ll update my beliefs quickly; maybe I’ll change my mind or discover a much better argument for the other side really soon. But the blog post would still be there, displaying my old belief, giving the reader an inaccurate or misleading impression of myself. People might even chat with me to argue about it, and then I have to admit I’m wrong oh no! It feels a lot better admitting I’m wrong on my own turf, in my own time.
This passage from Lord of the Flies comes to mind (I had hurriedly reread the book as ammunition for the AP Literature test and noticed that my past self had marked it):
(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:
(Faux-philosophical blog content, posted as part of a daily posting streak I have openly committed to; standard disclaimers apply)
This is a hard essay to write because (1) it’s very irrational and I should (and I do) know better — death by car accident is much more likely than death by an airplane crash, but the latter is scarier because it’s more vivid and we have less control over it, and (2) people don’t like talking about it. When I tried writing it, though, I realized I already burned through most of the down-to-earth worries in the posts I made between April and August of 2010. They still coherently and accurately sum up my current thoughts surprisingly well. And most of the irrational, overly philosophical fears appeared in Thoughts at Midnight. So there used to be a lot of fluff here like this, which was inducing procrastination because I don’t know what to include and what to cut, but now that I have a daily deadline, I cut most of it. Here’s what’s left.
Two, bonus quote: As really-long-term readers know, I have had a reason to think that I might actually die in the past few years, a real reason that has stayed with me and gotten me thinking now and then about what my meaning of life is, instead of a short-lived fuzzy philosophical feeling obtained from reading Tuesdays with Morrie (which is not to say that Tuesdays with Morrie isn’t a good book; I just suspect no book can convey everything a personal experience can.) Anyway, it’s over in all likelihood, but the point is that in the middle, I wrote an essay for class in ninth grade, which I find equally coherent and equally representative of my views. The conclusion runs thus:
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:
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.
First Google Code Jam!
The format of this competition, allowing us to run programs on our own machines, brought up a very interesting issue for me: what programming language should I be using? (I had had similar considerations for IPSC 2013, but GCJ’s problems are closer to the traditional ACM-ICPC style.)
The obvious choice is C++, the language I use for roughly every other competition, but its safety (or lack thereof) is not very appealing. I need speed, but not that much speed. Unfortunately I still haven’t gotten around to learning any other friendlier mid-level languages (on the list: D, Go, or Rust), so I have no close substitutes for C++ right now.
Python is certainly available for a reliable arbitrary-length integer type, if nothing else.
As for non-candidates, Java has
BigInteger and memory safety, but all in all I decided the benefits are too minor and it’s too ugly without operator overloading. Scala is probably way too slow. So I don’t expect to be writing either language.
The only difficult choice I have to make is, of course, Haskell — which can be quite fast, even while it’s ridiculously type-safe and expressive and referentially transparent and easy to reason about, once you’ve:
- figured out how to do the problem
- scrapped step 1 and actually figured out how to do the problem functionally
- gotten the thing to compile
Even if I can handle step 1, step 2 is by no means a simple task, as my struggle to implement a mere Sieve of Eratosthenes efficiently shows. That is fun, but not at all intuitive; I am doubtful I can do this under contest conditions. It is extremely difficult to transfer my skills in learning how to implement, say, a segment tree or treap into this language.
But! Google links to the programming language breakdown for 2010 Qualification Round as an example, and much to my surprise, Haskell ranks somewhere between sixth and tenth place in popularity (depending on what you sort by), so there are functional superprogrammers who can presumably do something like this.
As it happens, I ended up implementing all four solutions to the qualification rounds in Haskell, because of the relaxed time limit and lack of any involved algorithms and data structures. I think it was worth it.
Yes, a “big” crazy mutant puzzle for a “milestone” (as seen on xkcd), both for this blog and for my life. Things are rough now, but I prepared this ridiculously ahead of time. It’s still not really big, but I’m not so experienced and I don’t have the inspiration for something like an entire mini-puzzlehunt. Also, I think I should attempt more word-bank-based puzzles some day so I won’t fail as completely at them.
But anyway: This is a Slitherlink combining MellowMelon’s Crosslink and Liar variations. Draw a loop through vertices that can intersect itself but must go straight both times if it does; each number normally indicates how many of the four edges around it are draw, but exactly one clue in each row and column is false. Have fun.
Yes, it’s official now. I’m on the 2012 International Mathematical Olympiad team bound for Argentina, and if I didn’t make a post about this I would be ashamed to call myself a blogger. So, a little moment of smug self-satisfaction should be justified, I hope? And not to mention, last year’s title of youngest Taiwan contestant is not yet passed? Let’s cue the evil laughter!
…or maybe not.
Here is a simple tabulation of our selection problems:
Algebra x9, Combinatorics x7, Geometry x12, Number Theory x8. In other words a distribution in perfect negative correlation with my estimated ability in each subject. At least, that’s how I’ve always estimated them before about a month ago. Ouch, the last stage was the only one of the three where problem distribution for combinatorics actually reached its fair share. (Alternative interpretation: 2011’s distribution was majorly f123ed up with only one real geometry problem, which just means that this year’s battle will probably be difficult for me. (Alternative alternative interpretation: the evil, nasty, wicked, depraved windmill was actually an outrageous negative for me. Gee, I don’t know how to feel. But I should actually do stuff instead of wildly speculating; let’s get back to the topic.))