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:
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.”
I am glad for these conversations over lunch because I get to know my team more personally (and don’t have to awkwardly eat alone in the bathroom), but they’ve also given me a lot of time to ponder my (lack of) conversation skills.
(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. 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.)
Humor aside, I think the movie also deals with some weighty and nuanced themes, ones that would take more life experience to fully appreciate than the themes of most Disney movies. The social commentary is very clear. Possibly bordering on too blatant for my tastes — even though the whole movie is kind of Funny Talking Animals, there are some animal species for which it’s really easy to guess which human demographic groups they might be symbolizing, to the point where I can already imagine the other side of the debate. You won’t need a PhD in literature to figure out the parallels; you wouldn’t even need an AP English Literature class. But, I think, it still works. It’s like Animal Farm on training wheels.
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.
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!
It is 2:30 in the morning as I write this. Normal people are not awake at this time of day. It’s possible that normal MIT students are, though.
I’ve been meaning to blog for a while, but things happen and other things happen and still more things happen. From a state of total inexperience in the kitchen, I’ve already managed to single-handedly cook six six-person meals for my co-op, not to mention all the weird meals I make for myself (which is just as well, I don’t think they are of typically mentionable caliber.) I’ve already taken two exams in three of my classes and the big midterm for my fourth. Four puzzlehunts — Simmons, aquarium, Palantir, ΣUMS; five if you perhaps include Next Haunt. Six SIPB meetings. A few bottles of Soylent; I lost count and don’t want to check my room because that’ll disturb my roommate. Θ(3000) zephyrs. And after many weekends of eye-opening group practice, tonight I have to catch a flight to Rochester, NY for ACM-ICPC regionals.
Did I say “fun”? That was short for function calls. Which are fun too, admittedly. Blah, I always go to such lengths to come up with snappy yet justified post titles and end up achieving neither.
One more complimentary breakfast later:
This is it.
Google Code Jam World Finals. Let me take a moment to reflect. Seriously. I do not know how I made it this far this year. I guess I might be a top-500-ish competitive programmer globally, maybe even top-150-ish, but definitely not top-25-ish. And Log Set, the hard problem that got me through Round 3, doesn’t seem like it plays to my forte particularly either. It’s a bit mathy, but the math bits aren’t the hard part; I think it’s largely implementation, with one psychological hurdle where you have to realize that, because of how few distinct integers there are in S′, you can efficiently solve the subset-sum instances you need to produce the lexicographically earliest answer. I’m actually kind of impressed I got that. It seems like the sort of hurdle I usually get stuck on. How did this happen?
Maybe randomness. Maybe I was just particularly clear-minded during the round and wrote less buggy code than usual, because I had no expectation of making it whatsoever and so could look at the contest detachedly (until midway through the contest I accidentally noticed that my rank was under 20, and even then I tried very very hard not to think about it, and it kind of worked).
But it happened, and now I’m here. Time to roll.
In some emails much earlier in the Code Jam logistical process, Google had asked for “requests for changes and/or additions” to the software that would be installed on our competition computers, and I had sent them a long list:
Hi, Here are some things I’d like if they were installed, in decreasing order of priority:
The Vim plugin syntastic ( https://github.com/scrooloose/syntastic )
a Haskell compiler (probably Haskell Platform 2014.2.0.0 https://www.haskell.org/platform/ even though it’s a year old)
the Haskell package hdevtools ( https://hackage.haskell.org/package/hdevtools ) so that the above two may be integrated
(I don’t have enough Linux experience to name a specific thing to install, but command-line utilities that are the equivalent of pbcopy and pbpaste on Mac OS X, which allow me to redirect text into or out of the clipboard from the command line easily)
Of course, this is my first Code Jam and I don’t know how reasonable these requests are. Any nontrivial subset would be appreciated.
I have a backlog of at least 6,000 words and still too many events to blog about, so these posts will not reflect things currently happening to me for a long, long time, except for the little blurbs on top of posts like this one when they exist.
Source: Taiwan, my home for the previous twelve years, which I am now bidding farewell to for the longest time in forever (…which is only (“only”?) five months, assuming I fly back for winter break as already planned). Destination: Seattle, for this year’s Google Code Jam World Finals, which I still don’t know how I managed to qualify for (more on that in later posts); and, before that, an accompanying interview for an internship that I scored as part of the bargain.
I successfully get on the plane, sort some nice things to have on hand into my MIT tote bag (how did I ever survive airplanes without keeping a tote bag on hand?), and put my backpack with the rest of my stuff into the overhead compartment. An old-ish guy who is probably Korean sits next to me. Plane takeoff is a bit delayed due to traffic congestion. Once during the flight, after an attendant passes out forms to everybody entering South Korea and I tell him I’m not, the guy asks me where I’m going and we have a short conversation. But for the most part, it’s typical airplane shenanigans. I listen to Avril Lavigne and Ellie Goulding, do a little homework, and eat the airplane food. Nothing remarkable happens.
Until near the end of the flight: a guy in a suit shows up in the aisle and, looking at some sort of checklist, calls my name.
On the HSR we kill time with weird games from Kevan Davis’s Freeze-Dried Games Pack, mostly Thirty-One. Then we’re there!
On the bus we kill time with karaoke, until people complain. Sorry.
Lunch at Chinese restaurant. Beach resort.
I spend the first one and a half hours holed up in my hotel room watching television, first a quiz show where the host asks foreigners living in Taiwan questions about the country’s culture and society, then Disney and Cartoon Network cartoons. During the commercial breaks I do cryptic crosswords I had brought along. This is something I self-deprecatingly talk about for the rest of the trip, but I have no regrets because the three cartoons I watch are literally my top three guilty pleasure cartoons, Ben 10, Teen Titans Go!, and Jake Long: American Dragon.
Then I wander around and join some guys playing pool. I do better than I expect, once pocketing three balls in sequential moves. There is also a Kinect with a dancing game, which I also score surprisingly well at and have lots of fun playing.
Dinner, in which I eat 小卷 (“pencil squids”?) with way way way too much wasabi. I stuff myself and walk around chatting and eventually learn there are freshly-made 手卷 (“temaki” / “hand roll”) downstairs. Since there’s lots of time I wait until I’m less full and eat two.
Group activity outside corresponds eerily to the one three years ago: shouting, dancing, waving glowsticks, arbitrary dance moves, punishment games, cooperation games, a competition where the guide gives out points that don’t matter like on Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Empty promises… but okay. Class songs. (This is the explicit version. This song is well above the normal offensiveness rating of this blog and I usually prefer official videos, instead of shady lyric videos probably made from Windows Movie Maker that might get taken down, but honestly I find the pathetic execution of censorship in the VEVO version more offensive.)
After it we have a sentimental moment listening to “See You Again”.
At night our room flips through television and watches the second half of Iron Man 2.
My inner perfectionist is crying that I have to post this, in particular over my pathetic snowclone title, but my inner pragmatist knows that, judging by my old blogging patterns, it’s now or never.
18.06: 56%, haven’t touched it in a while, but I think I can do lots more on the plane.
As a non-contestant, I confess I feel totally uninvested in the results and find the Closing Ceremony boring. All contestants go up, country by country, and have their awards read off. No effort is made to make any sort of buildup to a climax. But maybe this is for the best; we don’t want anybody feeling shafted or discouraged from continuing to do math due to a mere elementary-/middle-school competition. Meanwhile, though, I’m browsing reddit on my phone.
After this ceremony, the entire Taiwan delegation spends some time walking around outside while the guides make confused phone calls trying to decide where we eat lunch. My parents offer me some potato chips they bought somewhere, which are (as the label is really eager to point out) baked, not fried. Some time passes this way; eventually, the guides figure it out and we go through amazingly long queues to eat at the cafeteria, as usual. Then we are sent to a massive shopping mall for the afternoon, a place so large that its exits have number labels that go up into the double digits so that people don’t get lost.
I take trippy failed panorama photos from the bus windows.