October 16th, 2013 by ben No comments »

My blog has been moved from to

It’s not like anyone linked to my posts anyways, so it’s fine (but links should be correctly redirected).

Oh yeah, I’m a college sophomore now. Hi!

Arcadia Predictions

May 13th, 2013 by k No comments »

We were having a Skype conversation about the direction Arcadia seems to be going in. The cheating scandal or something in Woodin, the death threat to Bishop, this removal of AP and honors classes controversy. I was saying that with all the conflicting forces – the students, the parents, the teachers, the administration – in such a competitive pressure cooker environment, it’s getting crazy. I made a few random predictions that I feel have a remote chance of coming true in Arcadia at some point in the future:


A more organized, larger cheating ring/scandal

More death threats against teachers

Actual violence against a teacher

Violence by a student against another student relating to academics/activities

A student suicide

A drug business primarily involving Adderall

The forced resignation of a high level administrator due to parental pressure


And other happenings in a similar vein. I just don’t see how the ridiculous environment is sustainable, especially as competition is constantly growing more fierce.

Japan Day 1 – Osaka Tenjin Festival

July 24th, 2012 by ben No comments »

I had images here, but this isn’t a photoblog (and I don’t have the disk space for that), so they’re gone. I should write instead.

Well — I expected Japanese festivals to be, well, what can I say, more like what you (constantly — it’s one of the staple episode plotlines) see in anime. The takoyaki was very good (and hot!), and there were some cool foods, but the cup of karaage (fried chicken) wasn’t particularly tasty. We didn’t see fireworks (at least, I think they put on fireworks at some point — not necessarily the day we went).

The train rides were more like what I imagined — people in festival dress chatting gaily on the train platform, returning home.

I guess we weren’t really at the right age for enjoying a festival — not interested in goldfish scooping (can’t bring fish home — won’t fit in my TSA-approved plastic baggy for liquid containers 3oz. or smaller) or shooting galleries (come on, I’m basically backpacking through Japan — everything I have in my backback when I came fit, and I want it to stay that way when I head back).


Japan Day 1 – Arrival & Osaka

July 24th, 2012 by ben No comments »


(there was a picture here)

Going to the airport.

(there was a picture here)

On the plane, coming into Honolulu.

I ran a speedtest. It came out as A-…

I am disappoint. Will write more later. Promise.

(edit June 21, 2013: haha… always happens)

(edit August 11, 2013: removed the broken photos)

Server move complete!

June 10th, 2012 by ben No comments »

All sites hosted in Houston, TX have been moved to our new blazing-fast site in Seattle, WA.

Sites hosted in San Jose, CA remain in San Jose, CA.

High school is winding down…

Server Move

May 8th, 2012 by ben No comments »

My annual renewal date has come up, and I will probably be moving to another provider. There will be downtime for all sites hosted in Houston. Stay tuned.

Intel STS – Day 4-7: Talking nonstop

May 4th, 2012 by ben No comments »

Intel STS Series – Jump: Day 0-1 | Day 2-3 | Day 4-7

I feel obligated to finish this. Besides an inexcusable total lack of posting in the month of April, I usually don’t end up finishing series posts (like the summer series… the USAPhO series… the US Team posts that, cough, never happened).

Well, more like, I just don’t post. Besides the Intel STS series, and miscellaneous non-content posts, my last post was in November of 2011. Add six months. It’s May. Each day without posting makes it harder to post the next day because I feel like I need to write something deep and shocking to make up for it.

Since it’s been a few weeks, I don’t remember exactly the events in sequence. Picture yourself rowing a boat, serenely swirling through the dark. The waters are calm. Bright glowing orbs light a liquid path. You gaze furtively over the rim of the boat, catching a few scenes from each fragment of my memory.


My trifold posterboard, awkwardly taped together from scraps of printer paper in all its black-and-white, Times New Roman glory. The title, left out and hurriedly jammed in at the bottom, stuck out like a sore thumb.

Supplied with army rations of bottled water and Lifesavers (for the sugar), we braved the siege, unrelenting, without even so much as a bathroom break.

At first they were sparse and few. A few interested passerbys, or a few of the backstage staff curious about the contents of these forty exhibits they just helped set up. Then came the elementary school class field trips, and the parents, of course. The parents of the other finalists were friendly. Many of them had technical backgrounds, and enjoyed the exhilarating presentations we just began rambling off.

It was still early, and we were still figuring out which lines to use and which concepts to simplify. We were still trying to decide on which figures to point out, which graphs to explain. Assembling the speech in our minds, putting in a nice-sounding line here, or a funny comment that one of the previous visitors had made. Mentally, each time an eager listener approached and we smiled and offered to explain our project, we went through the motions, point by point, figure by figure.

But it was still too soon. It was still too soon when they came.

At first it was just one or two. We didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary — the victims were silenced. But soon, out of the corner of our eyes in the middle of making a funny analogy to our captive audiences, we saw.

Towering, thundering through the crowds. Heavy-duty professional cameras, mounted on their shoulders like rocket launchers. Armed with boom microphones, stabbing like bayonets, inching ever closer to our throats, eager to taste the blood and vibration of our vocal cords.

The media was here.


We filed into the gate, government IDs in hand, knowing not what to expect. We filed into the building, where there was yet another checkpoint. They gave us badges on metal neckchains. We were separated into the citizens and the non-citizens.

We passed doors with impressive name plaques, elevators that we were not allowed to ride, and climbed flights of stairs, finally arriving at a bare, carpeted room that looked like its sole purpose was to receive large groups for photo shoots with the President.

Indeed, the walls were lined with shots of Obama around town. We lined up, stacked ourselves accordingly, switched places and rearranged our heights, gave up, started over by first ordering ourselves by height, and then re-ascended the risers.

Feeling special, and queasy, we proceed to wait another perhaps half hour. The photographers, the White House Press Corps, their own little battalion of shooters, lined up and took their places. It’s very tiring standing on risers doing nothing. Especially when you don’t know when suddenly you hear footsteps, and the President of the United States — at any second now — could walk into the room and stare you down.

So Mr. President walked in. We were gunned down by the photographers.

The shots kept firing as he gave an impressive speech and a big, you-can-tell-I’m-a-professional smile. He dove right into the middle of our euphoric gaggle and flashed that smile right back at the cameras going off.


Hanging out in the eLounge — Apples to Apples, ukulele, Super Mario Bros. Wii (which I later went on to play with my siblings at home), arm wrestling and push-up contests, and of course the obligatory Wii Sports. I thought I’d at least win the push-up contest. I actually do push-ups at home, after all. Although, you really couldn’t tell.

The fancy Gala in the National Building Museum: we even rehearsed for it the night before. My mini-poster board was, of course, just like my larger trifold. After embarrassingly performing emergency surgery and sloppily taping more printer paper to my unfantastic board (not being fantastic always disturbs me; habitual overachiever perhaps, I admit to it), I took my stance and conducted my presentation a few more times to gala guests. I saw an Intel storage researcher that I had talked a lot with on nights previous — they had a “reverse science fair” one day where the Intel researchers presented their projects to us Finalists; it was very enjoyable.

At my table was an important person from the US Chamber of Commerce, a kind lady from the office of a House of Representatives member that had spoken to us earlier in the day, a courteous couple, and many other distinguished guests. It embarrasses me to recall this table conversation as it was very awkward for me. I kind of mentally freaked out and didn’t know how to hold conversation with these important people, especially since they were so kind to me. Ahh, I’m embarrassed just thinking about it.

Ahh, here’s another good memory! Eating lunch in the House of Representatives cafeteria and talking to our guides from Intel was very cool. Here’s perhaps the best moment of that day: sitting in the House of Representatives, in one of the seats. Looking up at the roof, and then gazing at the podium in the center. Poking at the voting buttons around the seats. Those seats — cushions of power, wooden towers of American history.

Inside jokes — monkey physics and the Grand Unified Monkey Theory, the pretzel stand conspiracy, and Fred’s hilarious spontaneity! — good times.

Bowling — my amazing first toss (round? serve? whatever it’s called in bowling) was a strike. And then for the rest of the game I failed, hahaha! Oh, but the food they had at that bowling alley was beyond amazing. All of the food we ate that week was amazing, but the unlimited pizza and fries were a welcome reprieve from fancy seafood and elegant exotic pastas.

The last day was memorable: back from the gala, tired, weary of course. In the Astor Ballroom, where we had eaten many meals, watched many a presentation and met each other for the first time — a dance. Complete with a DJ, catered with popcorn and an ice cream bar. After eating a whole banana split and taking down a few more delicious scoops, we danced. To gloss over the one-second-felt-like-an-eternity final moments together in two words: we danced.

Hanging out in the no-longer-called-the-e-Lounge room, moving up and around and into hotel room and out, being asleep, being awake; it all felt like a dream after that, and I don’t remember a single thing about my plane flight back.

It felt good to be home, and I closed my eyes.


I hope you enjoyed reading.

Yes, I’m reusing the separators from Somehow, Today was a Bad Day all the way back on Feb. 22, 2011. I really like these.

Also, I don’t understand what the deal is today with me and violent imagery.

iTunes Media Key Fix, Updated

March 25th, 2012 by ben 3 comments »

My previous media key fix for iTunes 10.4 has been updated for iTunes 10.6.

What does this do? If you have a keyboard or laptop with a Play/Pause button, you can now use it to control iTunes while working in a different application, even when iTunes is minimized. The Next/Previous keys also work.

How do I install this? It’s simple. Drop it into your Startup folder (in the Start Menu) and restart or relogin. Drop and forget — easy!

Download (Windows EXE file)

Size: 295KB




Intel STS – Day 2-3: Judging

March 13th, 2012 by ben No comments »

Intel STS Series – Jump: Day 0-1 | Day 2-3 | Day 4-7

I started Facebooking today, and I swear I’m going to regret it. Regardless, I blog on.

I explained judging in the last post, and that was before I actually went through the experience. Which… wasn’t very different from what I imagined. Before our interviews, a few minutes early, we’d drop by the second floor of St. Regis where the interviews were being held. There was a waiting room there where Diane juggled finalists and schedules. They had bottled (glass bottled, mind you) sodas and cookies and such.

The meals here are extravagant, and I don’t think there’s ever been a day when we’ve finished more than 50% of the food they served. It’s sad to think that all of this expensive food — expensive, expensive food catered by the hotel (god knows how much they charge) — goes down the drain. And when we eat out (at gorgeous places), and they always order the best, most delectable dishes, I feel like we finish even less of the food. But about the glass-bottled sodas: soda tastes infinitely better in glass.

At the Judges Introduction Breakfast I spoke with someone who worked in energy and public policy, with very intriguing experiences. My first judging interview was in Room 3, and there were no physics questions. There was an unfortunate computer science question involving computational complexity — unfortunate both because I couldn’t really answer it, and because my project happens to be in computer science. Very embarrassing. The biology lady was amicable. We discussed genetic modification, fish farming, and ethics. Despite knowing close-to-nothing about biology. Then I headed up for a nap. You’ll notice that I tend to nap a lot between and after judging sessions.

Later in the day I went to Room 4, which I don’t remember all that clearly. Really, I can’t recall anything about this room at all. Whether that’s good or bad, I can’t say, but there were still no physics questions! You can’t imagine how devastating this was for me, because physics was where I had a chance to impress the judges.

Waiting Room #209 during judging was, perhaps surprisingly, not populated by balls of nervousness. The finalists were confident and the atmosphere was pleasant — there was always a conversation going on, usually about what question this judge in that room asked, and figuring out the solution before you had to go through that room. The conversations with this bunch of 40 are always fantastic, whether about judging, school, monkey physics, or college.

As for room 2, my last for the day, I had questions about Earth and the moon being tide-locked and about drink sweat on a water pitcher. Those were perhaps technically physics-related but they weren’t knowledge-based physics questions so I still wasn’t able to use my Physics Olympiad experience to my advantage. I heard a lot of people got asked very hard physics questions that I would have loved to have gotten, but as luck would have had it, the judges, whimsical, avoided physics.

I might have mixed up some of these questions — in fact, I probably have, and I will go back and edit if I ever figure things out. I have a feeling that future Intel finalists will be reading this post, judging interviews coming up in a few hours, desperately looking for clues, help, information, data, statistics, secrets — searching for the formula to succeed in these interviews. I’ll tell you, there is none, and it’s a lot more fun if you go in without staying up all night studying and preparing. What’s most important about being an Intel finalist here in DC is not the prize or how you do in the judging. Really, it’s about connecting with the 39 other brilliant minds. Talk and laugh and joke and smile.

We had Brian Greene speak for us that night, and I was honored to be at his table for the (again) gorgeous dinner at the Astor Ballroom. His speaking was dazzling. The spiel he came up with on the spot about competition leading us forward was brilliant and eloquently delivered, and his actual presentation was mind-blowing and flawless. I applauded vigorously, but that wasn’t all — Friday night, we also each had a minor planet named after us!

That is simply amazing. Speechless. We each received a certificate and ephemeris data so we could locate our minor planets in a telescope. This the first real estate I have ever owned. I hope someday to travel to my minor planet and invite some friends to party.

For dessert (being the sweet tooth bearer I am), they had a chocolate fountain, and I tried chocolate-coating various objects ranging from pretzel sticks and pineapple to… graham crackers. It wasn’t really good, maybe because the chocolate just wouldn’t harden. Maybe I’m more of an ice cream, cake, and pie person.

That day I also went to my media interview, and the media crew was impressively professional. Stacks of MacBooks, large professional cameras, boom mics, an elaborate lighting setup, and such. Very nerve-racking.

Saturday we had our portrait sessions. The photographer was extremely kind, and told me (I remember this very clearly) that I was very photogenic. After my final interview in Room 1 where a way-past-cool Indian dude who was the only computer scientist on the panel grilled me mercilessly, and I was ripped apart by the other judges in the room — ahem, after all that, we set up our posters at the National Geographic.

Now, I have a confession — being the eternal deadline chaser and procrastinator extraordinaire I am, my poster was incomplete. Not to mention, cheap and shoddy. Looking around at the professionally-printed, well-designed posters that surrounded my table, I was struck with extreme embarassment of my own poster, with few words printed on (hear this) printer paper! — and an incredibly lame attempt at being artsy, trying to vary the font sizes of my meager sentences.

Of course, I had to rush to finish my poster. Luckily, the Business Center in the hotel had an awesome printer (though unfortunately only black-and-white). Somehow, I finished, and double-sided-taped the scraps of printer paper to my board. I could go on for a rant about double-sided tape: it is godly.

Well, then we had a nice dinner and a strange tour of landmarks in Washington DC. It just passed 3am, and tomorrow is a busy day, so here’s where today we pause.

Intel STS – Day 1

March 8th, 2012 by ben 3 comments »

Intel STS Series – Jump: Day 0-1 | Day 2-3 | Day 4-7

Well, really the second day for me — the ten West Coast finalists arrived a day earlier and had a fabulous stroll through DC, getting completely lost and returning past curfew. I must mention the hidden TV in the mirror at St. Regis. It’s so strange everyone always mentions it. I assume the prime ministers and movie stars that stay here are so busy they only have a chance catch their television while brushing their teeth.

St. Regis, the hotel we’re staying at, is right down the street from the White House (2 blocks!). The rooms were gorgeous, but I prefer my own bed at home (not used to hotel pillows and beds). I had a sore throat before I left on my flight, and so far it’s been tame and hasn’t developed into a cold. The bad luck of catching a cold at the most inopportune moments has always bothered me — wiping my sore nose with brown, rock-hard bathroom paper at UMD during US Physics Team camp… haunting. Luckily, the 4-hour plane flight was quite comfortable, and I kept myself hydrated at every opportunity (discovering ginger ale). There were other finalists on my flight, but their seats were further back. I slept.

I think the 10-person West Coast group on Wednesday was awesome, and now that we’ve grown to 40 people, it’s a lot harder to socialize because the group is so large, and you don’t know everyone anymore. (My inaptitude at associating names is no help, of course.) I’m simply amazed by the other finalists. It’s like a re-run of US Physics Team, except with research geniuses and not olympiad stars. They have bright personalities and are in no way antisocial or shut-ins. I’m blinded and humbled by their brilliance.

Oh, that’s right — today Intel and SSP confirmed that we would indeed be meeting Obama this year! I can’t even list all of the crazy guests that will be coming in — the Intel President/CEO, Dr. Brian Greene…

It’s not all fun and games though. Judging interviews are tomorrow, and they say the best way to prepare is to not prepare (I wish more things in life were like this). In my opinion a lot of the possible questions will be physics questions, so I have a nice advantage (and experience with olympiad-type stumpers), but I think they will recognize this and try to equalize and make it fairer. Meaning, I will likely be blown apart with biology questions. With some mathematical grenades thrown in to heat things up.

My roommate is Andrey, who hails from Washington state. I’m still getting to know him better, but he is definitely very high on the cool scale, and his Russian+British accent must get all the girls back home. The finalists hang out in the e-Lounge, which is downstairs in one of the (probably way expensive) conference/meeting rooms in St. Regis. They have a huge library of Blu-ray movies, board games, Wii games, sofas and pillows and music, and most importantly, computers and internet access. But not just any computers: these twenty HP Folio 13-2000 ultrabooks are amazing. I want to take them home. These are the best ultrabooks I’ve seen, perfect form factor, perfect keyboard, amazing SSD and unbelieveably thin and light. It beats out a MacBook Air, hands down. I need to complain about the trackpad though, it’s still difficult to use, and you can’t press it down at the top. It’s also hard to drag, since the left mouse button is also part of the trackpad area. The processor is lagless and adequate, but if I were in the market for a laptop I’d wait for Ivy Bridge’s lower power. Also, the display is only 1366×768 — come on, where is the Full HD?

Half of the finalists are currently sitting in the e-Lounge (it’s about 11pm) working on the laptops or hanging out on the sofas discussing strategies for tomorrow’s judging. The judges split into four rooms, and through the course of Friday and Saturday each finalist has 15 minutes in each room. I like that, because it means we have (a ton of) free time when we’re not having our judging interviews. Tomorrow I have three of my interviews. Ugh, this ultrabook feels so nice!

Today the other 30 finalists arrived, and it was mostly an off day. Breakfast was gorgeous, lunch was fabulous, and same with dinner. I could get used to being treated like a VIP, but I miss my parents’ home cooking and Chinese food. Eternally Asian. I had a nice nap, and ran into Ari and Saurabh at lunch. Ari, foodie, graciously explained food facts and knowledgably led us around DC.


Traffic is complicated in DC. From 7am to 7pm, you aren't allowed to turn on red. Also, from 7am to 9:30am, on Mondays through Fridays, the direction of traffic on the street changes direction. From 7 to 9:30am and 4 to 6:30pm, Mondays through Fridays, you can't turn left. Except holidays. Oh, and no idling.

There’s a universe more to talk about, but sleep is highly valued for me right now, so I will retire to precious dreams.