Category → school

MIT Course Number Mnemonics

When I first realized it might be helpful to start trying to remember the correspondence between MIT courses and their numbers, I expected a list of mnemonics for this correspondence would be one of those Things That Should Exist On the Internet. I’m pretty surprised it doesn’t. I mean, MIT has, what, at least 100,000 alumni; as far as I know, nearly everybody who goes there speaks the number correspondence fluently, so they have to learn it; and the science of mnemonics has been with us since the ancient Greeks and people who understand its usefulness can’t be uncommon, especially not in such a prestigious institute of higher education.

What gives?

I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just that nobody has posted their mnemonic set on the Internet out of embarrassment? My mnemonics are pretty bad too, but hey, Cunningham’s Law — if you’re reading, feel free to add better ones in the comments, or to criticize my horribly unenlightened and stereotypical characterizations of your courses, to make this thing better. Or maybe it’s out of concern that nobody else will find it useful? I get that feeling but my streak compels me to ignore it now, as it has for the last dozen posts or so. Or maybe they just didn’t optimize for search engine findability, so I can’t find it? I hope this post fixes that.

Actually, I guess the most likely reason is that maybe most people don’t actually have all the course numbers memorized with perfect recall, only the handful of most common ones they and their friends are in, and it’s perfectly fine to ask for clarification when an unknown number comes up in conversation, so nobody ever feels like they need to bother with mnemonics for every single course. Feels sensible to me.

But anyway, I’m not most people.

The most comprehensive resource of courses and numbers, including their history, appears to have once been at Many, many links point there. Unfortunately, it is dead and I cannot find its new home, if it has one. Fortunately, there is an archived version on; on the other hand, I am not sure whether any updates have occurred since it was archived. A more recent version with course populations from 2005 is this chart linked from the MIT Admissions blog post Numbers are names too.

Signal Boost

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

For the interested, I wrote a post summarizing issues in copyright and patent law on a new blog for a school club. Actually, if you’re reading this post, you’re probably already interested enough / bored enough to read that post, so go read it. I think the videos are worth watching despite their length, but I tried to summarize the key points in text, so decide how much to read or watch depending on how much spare time you have.

I don’t know if that blog will work out, but anyway WordPress tells me I have 8500% more followers on this blog than the other one, even though I have doubts about how many of those followers actually read anything I post at all, so I thought I should link to that post here. Also, by publicizing the blog, I get to shame my friends and fellow club members into posting so that it doesn’t look so empty. Social media expertise, you know?

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.)

Adventures in Unicode Forensics

What do you do when you get a bunch of files like this from a zipfile? I’ve blurred the messed-up file names because I’m not convinced it’s impossible to reconstruct the Chinese names of people from them and I’d rather err towards being paranoid about privacy. Except for the one file name whose author’s identity I’m OK with disclosing. Back story: I have been tasked with collecting everybody’s Chinese assignments for this semester.

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.)

Re-Re-Revisiting the SAT

First, I got worked up about the test. Then I got a score and ranted about it on this blog. (I’m still uncertainly hoping that didn’t come off as arrogant. Let me add, I did not get a perfect PSAT.) Then a friend pitched to me the idea that I write an article about it for my school newspaper, which I did. It was far too long. As if that weren’t enough, I then decided to examine whether the SAT was an accurate prediction of “academic ability and success” for my English research paper. Now I’ve come full circle to this blog, where I’m going to try to synthesize and conclude everything, free of the shackles of the research paper format, to allow me to move on with my life. This post contains bits lifted from all three essays and lots of new stuff; I’ve been editing it for so long that I feel like I have it memorized. Its word count is around that of the newspaper article plus the research paper, i.e. far far far too long.

But whatever, nobody reads this blog anyway and I have to get this out of my system. When I said I wanted to “move on with my life”, I really meant my winter homework. Oops!

Disclaimer: I am not an admissions officer. I have not yet even been accepted to a prestigious university (despite rumors to the contrary…), for whatever definition of “prestigious”, unlike some of the bloggers I’m referencing. So some of this is pure speculation. On the other hand, some of it is researched and referenced, and I think the pure speculation still makes sense. That’s why I’m posting it.

Okay, here we go…

Let’s start with the question of accurate prediction. The SAT is a useful predictor, but not as useful as one might assume. Intuitively, it ought to be more accurate than other metrics because it’s a standardized test, whereas GPAs other awards vary by habits of teacher and region and are hard to compare objectively. But as a study from the College Board itself (PDF) found:

the correlation of HSGPA [high-school GPA] and FYGPA [first-year GPA in college] is 0.36 (Adj. r = 0.54), which is slightly higher than the multiple correlation of the SAT (critical reading, math, and writing combined) with FYGPA (r = 0.35, Adj. r = 0.53).

Of course, that doesn’t mean the SAT is worthless, because combining the SAT score and high school GPA results in a more accurate metric than either one alone. But by “more accurate” I refer to a marginal improvement of 0.08 correlation.


Parts of this (a majority of questions, I hope) are intended as satire. Other parts of this are silliness created to blow off steam from being coerced into spending nine unproductive hours. Still other parts exist simply because I wanted to have equally many questions per test. Also, 256th post w00t. (2019 edit: after the migration, this post count is wildly incorrect, but whatever.)

“Verbal Reasoning”

Directions: The questions in this test are multiple-choice. Each question has four possible choices. Read each question and decide which answer is the best answer. Find the row in your answer sheet that matches the number of the question. In that row, fill in the oval corresponding to the answer you selected.


This is beautiful. Why do they have to make it sound all mysterious and difficult? That’s (the reciprocal of) the golden ratio, by the way. Transcript since the resolution is far from awesome: “Most angiosperms have alternate phyllotaxy, with leaves arranged in an ascending spiral around the stem, each successive leaf emerging 137.5° from the site of the previous one. Why 137.5°? Mathematical analyses suggest that this angle minimizes shading of the lower leaves by those above.

On writing

Note: My 2012 self wrote this. It’s a bit dated, but it’s okay, and also is of historical interest for featuring me explaining the CSS I learned from English class.

Every time I notice that I have hoarded a large number of strange assignments and essays from another school year of work I get all guilty. First there’s the knowledge about ancient Chinese dynasties and plant hormones that I only have shadows of recollections of, which makes me wonder whether all the time and effort invested by teachers, classmates, and myself have gone wasted.

I know, though, that given that I still sense these shadows, it shouldn’t be difficult to look up and relearn this stuff if I ever need to do so. This brings me to the non-factual parts of the learning, such as writing skills with all its variations. There’s persuasive writing, which I don’t use much because I can’t usually even persuade myself to take a side in anything, let alone others. There’s descriptive writing mode, which I don’t use much because the most vividly describable things I encounter are food, and the shallowness of piling flowery adjectives together to talk about food just makes me cringe nowadays. Previously, I wrote at least two such compositions in sixth grade. Blech.

Glowstick Memories

So. It looks like I’ve officially graduated.

I have to wonder whether it really means anything. Taiwan’s system classifies the grades neatly into 6/3/3 sections, but then our bilingual department also uses the somewhat illogical and faintly sexist freshman-sophomore-junior-senior naming thing, in which the big jump happened last year.

Neither of these naming issues, of course, really matter. Shakespeare says, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Nor, I would think, do the different color of uniforms we have to wear (pink, if you didn’t know.) But AP classes probably count for something.

I am going to take AP Biology. Why did I pick AP Biology anyway? It seemed like a reasonable default choice. I guess I would like to know something more about the mysteries of life and consciousness to guide my philosophical side, and many of the other courses looked too murderously intense. The perfect stepping stones into the giant hamster wheel of overachievement that everybody is crazy about here. But then I learned I still received eight chapters to study by myself during summer vacation, alongside the English reading assignment. Oh well, so much for relaxation.

You know, I used to think of this issue, about all the academic work we students pile onto ourselves and all the ensuing stress and chaos, from a strange detached third-person viewpoint. Not everybody has a mind that is fit for all that brainwork. Some people have to do the artistic, imaginative things. Some people cannot function optimally in our intense learning environment. Somehow, imperceptibly, according to my apparently not-all-that-bad grades, I put myself in the crazy book-grinding category, and I am having second thoughts.

I don’t feel the energy for all this intense future yet… The past is still so close, so vivid, so attractive. Our graduation trip, for instance.

Yeah, okay, fine, I admit it, what follows is a rough record of our graduation trip that has been stuck in draft limbo for approximately forever, and I was trying to segue into it. I’m a perfectionist, what can I say?