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