Category → life

Olympiads: The Infinitely Overdue Retrospective

I put this question in my FAQ, because at least two people have asked me this question, and that’s how frequent a question needs to be to be on my FAQ: I got an IMO1 gold medal in 2012, as a ninth grader, and an IOI gold medal in 2014, as an eleventh grader. I could have kept going to either, or even decided to try taking the IPhO or something, but I didn’t. Why not?

The short answer: It was a rough utilitarian calculation. By continuing, I would probably displace somebody else who would gain more from being on an IMO/IOI team than I would. Besides, I wanted to do other things in high school, so I wasn’t losing much.

I think the short answer actually captures most of my thinking when I made the decision back then, and it’s not really new; I said as much at the end of 2013. But behind it was a lot of complex thoughts and feelings that I’ve been ruminating over and trying to put into words for the better part of a decade. Hence, this post.


There is a natural question that precedes the frequently asked one that I have never been asked, something I am now realizing I never honestly asked myself and never tried to answer deeply: Why did I participate in the IMO and the IOI in the first place?

The Prose and the Passion

I was pretty torn between this and “The Future Soon” as the Year-End Song on this blog, but in the end I think I feel more threatened by the bland existence of the soulless adult than inspired by the starry-eyed-idealism-with-misogynist-undertones of the twelve-year-old, plus I get to show you the best kinetic typography video I have ever seen.

Halfway through 2018 I thought this would be the year of ephemeral phases. I felt like I went through a different phase every month — Online Dominion in April, crosswords in June, Only Connect in July, Jonathan Coulton in August, a brief stint of trying really hard to barre my guitar chords in October. Somewhere in the middle, I discovered Kittens Game (“the Dark Souls of Incremental Gaming”) and my summer internship mentor got me to pick up Pokémon Go again. A few intense periods of typographical study were interspersed, which involved watching the above music video dozens of times, teaching a Splash class on typography, and developing a new awareness of how Avenir was everywhere. During the last month, I went hard on Advent of Code and got second place, apparently the only person to make it on every single leaderboard. I also did a related golf side contest and poured a couple more hours into Paradoc, my personal golfing language, for rather unclear gain. At least I got a lot of GitHub followers?

It would turn out, though, that a lot of these phases had more staying power than I expected. Pokémon Go is a much better game than it was two years ago and has actually fostered a significant real-life community, which seems like one of the best possible outcomes of an augmented reality game, and I’ve found a steady pace to play at. I spread the Only Connect bug and people on my hall, intrigued by the format but annoyed by the overwhelmingly British trivia1, started writing and hosting full games for each other, with our own MIT-slanted set of trivia. One of us developed a custom site and tool to host these games. It took me a while to warm up to Jonathan Coulton’s latest album, but since it happened, I cannot get Ordinary Man or Sunshine out of my head; I’m still listening to JoCo as I finish typing up this post. Although I never got back to the peak of my crossword frenzy, I still study crosswordese from time to time and compose crosswords for some special occasions, like this one (.puz file).

The academics and technical aspects of this year have all blurred together, but I think my interests are finally crystallizing:

Transformation

I think this is the right video for this year.

I love the music and the animation. The music video spells out the central conceit somewhat explicitly, but I think the lyrics by themselves have a hint of ambiguity — is it a harmful addiction that you just can’t escape from, or an essential part of your identity that you just can’t deny?

What parts of me can I just not deny, huh? Unfortunately 2017 is also the year I decide my online presence should probably be a little more professional, so you might have to read between the lines a bit.

The More Things Change

It seems to me like lots of people want this year to be over. Among all the other things, 2016 is also apparently the year I totally abandon this blog and put off certain planned posts by several months.

I guess this is what happens when you take five technical classes at MIT. The extracurriculars aren’t helping. And the fastest and most confident writing I do is still reactive, when there’s an externally-imposed deadline or when “somebody is wrong on the internet”. This blog isn’t.

Oh well, time to make up for it in 2017.

What happened this year? I’ll start with some serious categories:

oblig

This is two days late and it’s not even the post that was supposed to be here. That will have to wait until I’m less hosed. ESP just finished running Splash, our largest annual event in which thousands of high school students come to MIT’s campus, and MIT community members (mostly) teach whatever they want to the students. This was the first big program I participated really deeply in as an ESP admin, and it has this way of eating you alive and spitting you out full of joy and immersion in life but devoid of energy and buffer zones for finishing other things by their deadlines.

On a similar note, thanks for all the birthday wishes from everyone everywhere. I’m sorry I haven’t found the time to respond or sometimes reciprocate. This made my day, and probably last couple of weeks too.

Time, Money, and All That Good Stuff: Part 1 of ∞

I had this 5,000-word draft, but I half-abandoned it for being sappy, boring, pointless, and impossible to rewrite to be satisfactorily un-cringeworthy. Instead, let me just tell you a couple random stories and anecdotes that went somewhere near the start. Maybe posting them will motivate me to salvage something from the 4,500 words that go after it and post it. Eventually.

Some time ago, Namecheap had a discount, so I bought a domain name for 88¢. Unfortunately, the discount only lasted for one year; afterwards, it would cost $29/year to renew. Even though I bought it on a whim and didn’t have much use for it, I found myself wanting to keep it more and more and had a huge mental struggle over whether I could afford it, because wow, $29 is a lot!

Meanwhile, during the same school year, more or less:

Conversations

One of the most unexpectedly different facets of life during my internship has been the meals.

I’m not talking about the food; it’s certainly different in a fantastic way (Dropbox’s food (link to Facebook page) is like something out of a high-end restaurant), but I knew that before coming already. Also of note is the way I started eating ∞% more ramen over the weekends than I did over the entire school year at MIT, because here I can’t buy that many groceries without them spoiling and am amazingly lazy in this new environment.

No, this (deadlined, so not that well-thought-out, but whatever) post is about conversations at meals, which happen basically every lunch and some dinners when my team eats together.

I’ve never had any regular experience like it. Of course I’ve had many meals at home with family, but they feel different because, well, it’s family and we have so many topics in common. I went to the same school for twelve years and we didn’t generally use a cafeteria; we just ate at our desks in our classrooms, or while doing things like attending club meetings or taking makeup tests. Sometimes if people felt like it they would push desks together to eat, but eating by oneself was totally normal. (At last, I feel like that was what it was. It seems so far away now that I don’t trust my memory, which is pretty sad… I faintly suspect I would have this experience in a more stereotypical American high school. But this is mostly just based off the cafeteria in Mean Girls, a movie I only watched in its entirety on the flight here, which is weird because I know I’ve seen the “The limit does not exist!” part much much earlier. /aside)

And at MIT? “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

Zootopia

(So. It’s spring break. Two-week-late post, and somehow by the end it’s all aboard the angst train again?)

Two Sundays ago, I mobbed with a small group of MIT furries to watch Zootopia, the recent highly-reputed Disney movie.

(Before anything else, first there were the previews. I was impressed that every single one of them — there were six or so — was about an upcoming movie featuring anthropomorphic animals front and center. Let me see if I can remember all of them… in no particular order, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Secret Life of Pets, The Jungle Book, Storks, Finding Dory, and Ice Age: Collision Course. edit: Oh, also Angry Birds. Wow, I said, they know their audience.)

I went into the movie with a vague impression that Zootopia was more adult-oriented than most Disney films — not in the naughty way, but in general making a lot of jokes and invoking a lot of parallels that I think only adults might have the experience to get. My suspicions were confirmed a few lines into the movie, where there was a joke about taxes I cracked up at but can’t imagine that children a few years younger would have found funny. If you the reader haven’t watched it, I hope that was vague enough not to ruin the start for you.

(To be fair — and, uh, some parts of the internet are kind of big on this fact — the film also at one point enters a nudist colony. Fortunately (?), Animals Lack Attributes.)

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

Ascension

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.

    [redacted]
  • 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!