Archive for the ‘Physics’ category

Nightmare before Christmas (on December 15th)

October 27th, 2011

Naively, I thought that after I finished applying early to a certain East Coast academic institution, the rest of my senior year would be a thrilling downhill ride that I would breathtakingly enjoy every scenic moment of. Well, breathtaking, yes, but not quite scenic, and definitely not enjoyable.

First of all, yes, I do need to also apply to a certain West Coast academic institution that I fell in love with this summer. I’m evidently quite tired of college apps, so I’ll put that off at least for a week or two. I still have competitions — Intel STS is going to be fun, especially — and I plan to put a lot of time into studying physics and seriously aiming for IPhO ’12 as US Team. Also, yes, I plan to miraculously jump from AIME to Red MOSP (pronounced “mop”), and that is going to take some serious mathematical work. Studying for competitions is actually quite fun (especially in comparison with college essays). Math competitions have been a frustrating area for me since freshman year, but that’s why I want to put in a final spurt. Unfortunately USAMTS conflicted with my early app this year, so I’m not participating and aiming for a gold (after all these consecutive years of silver and coming so close to gold… sigh). But yes, nationally speaking, I am quite dumb at math.

For the near future I guess I’ll review the Lagrangian and attempt to teach it to physics team — the Lagrangian is fun and I expect it to be fun to teach. Oh, but I guess not all of them know calculus.

My overbooking is especially apparent looking at my calendar (which I’d love to post a screenshot of, but no), it’s almost like one of those strange works of modern art that go in every direction with all these abstract arrangements of color and shape. Well, I appreciate my calendar, and I’ve become a bit better at following it (just a bit). I’ve gotten into the habit of entering my sleep times in there too. Later on in senior year I’ll have fun reminiscing on how little I slept.

Just to put it out there, yes, I am writing this blog post in lieu of working on my Chaucer essay. Also, I love my APENG teacher. I’d like the class if it wasn’t first period, but hopefully caffeine supplements will be able to remedy that.

My seat partner in English, Kenny, has been very good to me (despite my frequent sick leave — bad immune system, it’s true). In the last few days we’ve been discussing Asian music, and I’ve found I really don’t know much about Asian music, even J-Pop. It’s because I’m too contrarian, of course, but I definitely felt I needed to get out there and explore mainstream J-Pop and Mandarin music. I’m Chinese, after all.

I haven’t been following anime at all during the month of my college application internment. Coincidentally, Fall 2011 has many series that I thought I would be very eager to see, but now that I have had time available to watch anime, I find that I’ve only been keeping up with the series I’ve been watching previously (Beelzebub, Fairy Tail pretty much). Looking back at Shana, I don’t really want to watch Shana III (and that movie has been sitting on my hard disk somewhere, too). Mirai Nikki is great (beyond great, loved every page of the manga) but I feel absolutely no compulsion to watch it. In fact, I feel no compulsion to watch any new series, and I only forced myself to watch Fate/zero because… well, it’s Fate/zero and by all accounts THE anime of the season. Oh, it was epic all right, but I don’t feel eager to watch the next episode. For some reason, I don’t feel eager to watch anime. I guess it’s what a month without anime does to you.

So yes, I’ve only watched one episode of one series of Fall ’11 strangely, considering how many non-dumb stories this season has. By request, I’ll check out Guilty Crown soon.

Not watching anime has definitely freed up a lot of time, but somehow I still feel much busier. Most of the work is AP Mandarin, which I think I somehow still have an A- in despite my utter failure in every realm. I think I’m really learning a lot in this class, though, and I hope I can read 95% of a newspaper by the time I get out of high school. Still, I don’t feel AP Mandarin is really worth the effort, and I’m afraid college adcoms will frown on me for being Chinese and “taking the easy route” by taking Chinese in school. In this regard, I truly should have gone for French or Spanish (both languages I am very interested in anyways). Japanese would also be easy and fun.

I’ve picked up trying to read Japanese light novels again. After giving up reading untranslated manga. It’s just too difficult trying to look up words you don’t know. In light novels on the computer, all I need is a mouse-over or middle-click, and my definition is right there (courtesy of Yomichan or Rikaichan or any other member of this inordinate family of tools with -chan inexplicably tacked on). One more click, and a flash card of the word is added to my flashcard deck on my computer (I worshipped Anki).

Speaking of which, I haven’t had a chance to add AP Mandarin words to my Anki deck that I haven’t reviewed in half a year. Anki was even convenient for learning physics — it was quite useful memorizing facts and formulae for my physics competitions back in the day. I have a server set up to host the LaTeX notation rasterized into PNG files, and I can review my flashcards from anywhere on the globe with a web browser, or the awesome Anki Android app on my phone. So yes, I am plugging Anki for all your memorization needs. I have a cool Needs Statements flashcard deck with Precalc/Calc A and Calculus BC versions, if anyone wants. With really cool LaTeXed math notation, and word-for-word from the Needs Statement sheets. Ahhh, calculus feels so nostalgic. I also have my Mandarin 4 deck, but they changed the textbooks after my year.

With all this language-learning, physics, math, college applications, research, and much miscellaneous matter, I haven’t had a time to code, work on projects, and fix up my Linux servers. I need to put Altair to good use as my backup mail server. This summer I put lighttpd on Altair (Reverie has Apache2), and — by god — the performance is astounding! I have a fully-functional web server on maybe 30MB of RAM with Debian 6. I put nginx for Windows on Mizu (pretty much just used to host my flashcard media), and it’s been a snap to use as well. Apache is definitely going out of business. Well, I guess it’s open source, so that’s technically not possible.

Yes, I did set up FCGI on Apache (and suexec since I plan on doing shared hosting). Messing with Apache is not fun. PHP loads a lot slower than mod_php, but I can squeeze a lot more httpd processes out of my precious RAM. I wish people wouldn’t spam, so I wouldn’t have to run spamd. It eats like >70MB whether there is mail or not. It’s been great at blocking spam though, and I have it configured to automatically delete mail with a spam score over 15. It pained me incredibly, but recently I added the Spamcop and XBL blacklists to my Postfix configuration. I don’t like blacklists, but the spam volume annoys me. I purposely held off on the PBL list, because I am in support of people running private mail servers on their home ISP networks. I remember when I was running my copy of hmailserver on my Windows box through a crappy AT&T (those are synonyms, I checked the thesaurus) DSL line. Haha, good times. Fellow computer enthusiasts for the win!

My east coast college’s interview is coming up as well. I’ve been increasingly noticing the unpleasant, slightly nasal quality of my voice. Besides generally improving my speaking skills, I really need to train myself to not make that noise. From what I’ve read online, the key to getting rid of the nasal quality is to act like you’re about to yawn when you talk. The reason for the nasally noise is because the soft palate is not completely blocking the path to the nose, so some the sound from your vocal cords also passes into and reverberates through the nasal cavity. And when you yawn (and you can feel it yourself), your soft palate completely closes the passage to the nose so this problem is solved. I know close to nothing about anatomy, but this makes a lot of sense to me. Unfortunately, making sense does not make it any easier to put this into practice…

I’m thinking of getting this book or this from Amazon. The reviews are very laudatory, of course. Speech tutors/therapists must be expensive.

Rather than doing nothing but waiting for the nightmarish announcement coming on December 15th (and groundlessly hoping/praying for a fat envelope), I’m up to my nose.

I’ve spent too long ranting. Time to get back to work on that essay.

Edit: Amusingly, this blog post is longer than my essay.

Growing up is overrated

June 24th, 2011

Productivity is so much more difficult than entertainment.

Case in point: these first two weeks of summer. Swamped with invitations, banquets, potlucks, decisions, requests, favors, startups, plans, and whatnot. Keeping up with events on my calendar, following up on emails, managing and leading people, making decisions and planning meetings. It’s all so… productive. I’ve never felt so productive.

Productivity takes a surprisingly large amount of time. I see now why there are people whose jobs are just to “manage people” — it’s a lot of work!

Being productive and managing felt so grown-up, yet it really wasn’t that fun. Like, when you’re a kid you look up to grown-ups so much, and when they do their work on the computer you’re like “wow, so mature.” And now it’s like “wow, so retarded.” Growing up is overrated.

free food Physics Team Potluck

Major event that I wanted to talk about was our potluck. I was burned out after junior year, looking forward to the inactivity and lazy days that supposedly lay ahead.

Sucks for me that I have so much going on. Well.

Vincent, my longstanding role model, among many — there are so many respectable people in the world (I never thought I would hear myself say that — I’m usually way more cynical than that. I guess my personality must be different in the summer. Or maybe it’s just that junior year’s over.) suggested that I plan a Physics Team potluck to celebrate our achievements this year and let everybody get to meet each other.

I, in lazy mode, was initially annoyed at his eagerness to spend time that I would normally find wasteful. I was also kind of annoyed that it would be held at my house.

I had this cool back-and-forth with my parents, and the conclusion we reached at the end was that Vincent was lending me a friendly helping hand by nudging me onstage to manifest my leadership, because I wasn’t normally the type of person to arrange social functions. My idea was that the only reason the Physics Team would ever need to meet together would be to discuss Physics or Team. Groups are complicated.

Society is complicated.

Vincent had selected three hopefuls, the brightest sophomores from this year’s AP Physics B, and the last, as Arcadia High School would be phasing out AP Physics B for sophomores (which makes little sense). I’d petition the administration, but there’s basically no chance of restoring the class.

Oh, on a tangent, Calculus D was also killed. It especially sucks for me. I was really looking forward to taking that class.

There was an overage of food, of course, as Asian parents coursed in with armfuls of eatery munitions. We played badminton, basketball, ping-pong, Wii, and even a little soccer. The best part, I think everyone could agree, was our Ultimate Frisbee game.

Usually I don’t have fun during social functions. But maybe, just maybe, they’re tolerable.

Startup, Inc

As much as I try to learn from Vincent and his outgoing persona, social command isn’t all it takes. You do get places by telling people what to do, and having people work for you, but that’s somewhat dissatisfying and unsettling.

Our hush-hush project began with a clang– with a hotpot. Jason Jong loves hotpots, and I see why now. Hotpots are the perfect meal to eat at business meetings. It totally fosters a sense of eating out of the same bowl, and working together to cook the meat. Symbolism aside, it also tastes really good.

The hotpot restaurant we went to (next to the 99 Ranch Market, the leftmost one– for some reason there are two hotpot restaurants in the same plaza right next to each other) wasn’t very good, but I still enjoyed it.

I found myself unfamiliar with the teenager hangouts of Arcadia as we later went to that tea shop next to 99 Cents on Duarte and I ordered my first tea shop snack.

Life’s good. To be specific, mildly spicy with a numbing aroma (麻辣). Sweet potato fries.


That was all… two weeks ago. It’s all stuff that should have been blogged in detail, but weren’t, and only now get a brief amount of coverage.

I missed talking about the various gatherings of my Skype group, LSG. Happy really belated birthday, Hanchan!

Aeris dies.

Because of various circumstances, one week ago (hey, we’re making progress!) I started playing Final Fantasy 7.

Now, don’t be mistaken. By “play,” I don’t mean I was playing the game.

My ineptitude at gaming is legendary.

One of the most vital points towards my college application will be the claim that I have never once completed a game in my life. I’ve never beat any of my Pokemon games. Never beat Sonic Adventure 2. Never beat Crash Bandicoot 3. Never beat Ocarina of Time — I’m actually at Forest Temple, roughly the halfway point. That’s a record for the farthest I’ve ever gone in a game. And that was with cheats (load/save state on emulator). My two little siblings beat me constantly at Wii Sports.

I was reading synopses, character bios, game walkthroughs, scripts, and watching YouTube videos. I’ve given up on “playing” games. It’s impossible for me.

FF7 is so deliciously complex.

I also like the name Mint. It’s brilliant.


Today (wow big timeskip) I visited my new office.

Yes, you heard right. I was amazed too. I get my own office? …

Turns out I had to share it with this other guy, but that makes me feel less bad at getting my own office.

Wow. I get my own half office.

Looking forward to starting my research with spacecraft fault protection and interconnection on Monday.

Dang, I feel so privileged.

Coffee makes me sick

I hate coffee.

This morning I was at a coffeeshop waiting for someone, and, being considerate of the coffeeshop, decided to buy something. I was thinking of getting one of those cold milk-coffee drinks — Frappiccinos or something?

I don’t know coffee terminology.

Well, “cappuccino” sounds like “Frappiccino” so I ordered one. I expected sweet, I got freakin’ bitter. I expected milky, I got freakin’ black. I expected iced, and I got hot.

Stupid coffee.

College Apps

Let’s not talk about this.


June 8th, 2011

I wanted to post during camp. I wanted to post lots and lots, describing every last minute detail and juicing every last drop of emotion, lest they drift away as memories do, eventually rendered forever incommunicable.

I’ve disappointed you, my dear reader, yes, but even more, I’ve disappointed myself. Oh dear. Here’s to an attempt to atone for two-and-a-half weeks of no posts.

It’s so hard to post after not posting. Because then you have to post something good enough to make up for not posting. And to write a good post, you spend a lot of time and thought, further prolonging your post debt.

Well, I’ll start by finishing. I spent an inordinate length of time brainstorming and revising ideas for my Math Team captain speech. Being as dumb as I was in my childhood (as again, everything that happened to me before yesterday occurred “in my childhood”), I focused on things that would actually (hear the cynicism kick in) help the team.

That’s weird, I’m not in the mood for cynicism right now. I was brimming with it just this afternoon. Cynicism really doesn’t help you win any friends, after all, so I’m careful to not let it out. When it spills, troublesome things happen. Awkward conversations and strained relationships. First hand experience from just last week. But just let me finish here.

Besides the typical bragging (I hate bragging… I really can’t respect myself for doing that) about leadership and math skills, I brought up as a big topic my idea to keep members from “flaking” — ditching meetings and not doing work. Reduced to a single sentence or two, the idea was that every two months, if a member was absent for more than three meetings then they would have to make up the missed meeting time at home, studying by themselves. At the end of every 2 month period, we would set a moderate cutoff on the team selection exam for these people. This way they would be heavily pressured to make up at least as much time as they missed; in reality, more. And if they didn’t care enough about Math Team to study, they would be kicked. No changes for people who attend regularly; they are in no danger of being kicked. Simple.

The other point was my computer skills, of course; I offered to create a website for Arcadia Math Team just as I had for Physics Team, posting our weekly meeting agendas, homework assignments, and math resources, and providing a central hub for the team’s communications and scheduling via forums and calendars.

The question I was offended by during the “interrogation” session after the speeches was from Erik Krogen. Would you still create this website for our team if you weren’t selected as captain? Are you really dedicated to our team or are you just doing this so you can call yourself captain?

Ms. King was on my side for this question but I’m still thinking about this. Fine. Still angry about this, I’ll admit. Are you really qualified to ask me this question? I’m staking my entire captainship on a bulletproof anti-flaking system that will (and did) cost me the entire cake. Nobody will vote for me, because they don’t want to be kicked off the team for flaking. That’s how people vote, after all. It’s real phony, but what isn’t. It’s not how good or dedicated they think people will be; it’s who gave them candy, who’s their friend, who will keep them on the team next year. Do you think I’m doing this just for the name? Do you really have the right to accuse me of flaking, myself?

The above is what I should have said. Minus the emotional and angry tone. I suck at being emotional and angry off the page. Some people can do it and be effective, successfully intimidating people. My mom can do that. I can’t — I just sound wimpy and people laugh or bully me. At the very least, nobody takes me seriously and listens to what I have to say. That’s why I try to keep myself calm. May peace prevail in the world.

James totally deserves the captainship. I was rooting for him all the way. He was my only friend as a freshman in Math Team, and although we haven’t talked much lately, I remember walking down to Le Roy with him after every Math Team meeting. Now, allow me to be cynical about David Liu. Kind of a different sort of cynicism. Cynicism plus, what, admiration? He is amazing; in a class of his own, for being able to incite such excitement, enjoyment, and camaraderie radially around him. It’s even stronger than electromagnetism, whose force decreases by an inverse square law — I’m sure his powers are proportional to the first power inverse. (That was my attempt at the lame physics joke you were probably partially expecting of me today.)

Meh, let’s drop the topic.

I’ve had an issue with whether or not to be completely honest on my blog about things that would offend others. Something to contemplate. I like the motto of thinking twice before talking. Unfortunately I never seem to think twice when I open my mouth like an idiot and demonstrate the fool I am, and I always seem to think too much and eventually decide to keep my mouth shut when people take advantage of me and push work onto my shoulder for not talking and complaining and expressing my opinion.

The optimist in me (it’s somewhere inside all of us, I swear) tells me to just keep swimming, or something. Just try not to drown, and you’ll turn out all right eventually. Eventually. I think.

I’ve talked a bit about not letting cynicism spill out; keeping myself calm and not getting emotional or angry in front of people; keeping my goddamn unwarranted honesty to myself.

Jeng has been giving me a lot of work. Now before I present anything, I will tell you that I was wrong, and Jeng was absolutely right. First, some background on why I’m so mad about Jeng’s work.

It was only a few days before I left for Maryland. I had Vincent’s material from the previous year’s camp, which put me at a huge advantage (as I now know) in terms of making the traveling team. Basically all of the traveling members this year are returners. The camp is simply too difficult to do well in on the first try. There are so many new concepts to get used to. The second camp is basically the same, including the material, so knowing the material beforehand put people at a huge advantage. I had the material from a previous year. I could have had that huge advantage.

What I didn’t have, however, was time to study this material. Unlike those who were homeschooled or go to private school (which I wish my parents had done — let me homeschool myself), I had to make up all the work I was “missing.” Because I seriously learn stuff from this. Sarcasm. On a tangent, I also have to deal with annoying things like attendance, tardy sweeps, and mandatory homework in the first place. These things are made to deal with the problem students, the people who aren’t able to learn quickly and on their own and need school faculty to dish out punishments for not showing up and homework to force them to care and spend time. How much better my life would be if I had dropped out of middle school.

I’ll talk about the stupidity of public school as a part of my eventual post about US Physics Team and the camp.

I had this… unpleasant conversation with Jeng. It stemmed from an email I typed to her at the airport, at Baltimore Washington International while waiting for the other members’ flights to come in. I had done a boatload of work for her class, fearful for my English grade which tottered at a dangerous 92%. We had a group project, short stories written by women. Group projects in normal English… are impossible unless you do all the work. If there is one achieving person (notice how I didn’t even write “overachieving”)…

It’s not that I don’t respect non-achieving people. You don’t need good grades. You don’t need college, heck. My buddies at Methodist are the most optimistic, upbeat dudes ever. I love that job, and I have my first training session with somebody next Thursday. I’ll do my best to seem way cool.

Anyways… she noticed I did all the work for that group project. Worried, unlike some English teachers who don’t care at all, she sent me a friendly email asking about the project.

Alright, there I am in the airport, with what, five hours on my hands to commune with my netbook. (Now that I think of it, I should have spent this time chatting with the other members — they are all so exceptionally fantastic I wish I could have made more friendships than I did.) Alas, stupidity struck, and I listed the contents of my mind regarding her class and her work. Stuff like, this work is stupid, I don’t learn anything, there’s no helping my doing all the work for the project.

Well, I thought it was politely phrased and that she would appreciate getting to know my internal thoughts. After all, I really liked her. At the time I thought she was the teacher who knew me the best. When I got the email, I was extremely happy that she cared so much. I wanted her to know what I thought about the project, and while I’m at that, about the homework she gave, and the essay I had to do, all by my departure date.

Again, I am pissed that she gave me all that work, because otherwise I would have intensely studied Vincent’s material and had a greatly enhanced chance of going to Thailand. I am fairly confident that, on the semifinal exam, I was in the top 5. That’s why I got so emotional when I was talking with her after I got back, perhaps, in hindsight. Actually, I probably wasn’t thinking about that. I was mad that she “pretended” to care in her email to me but now is being my enemy. It was more of a semantics thing during the actual argument, I think, of whether or not she cared about me.

Moral of the story: Don’t goddamn spill out your innermost thoughts to some random stranger who you think cares about you. Nobody wants to hear your freaking honesty. Nobody really cares about your life story. If it comes to it, even, just lie, just lie and be done with it. Say “oh yes, I totally love your class, and your homework has helped me learn so much!” and make your teacher smile. See? There. You’ve made the world a better place.

My mom promised me she would deal with it. She promised she would deal with Jeng and my English grade and all my work. She told me to not worry about anything at camp, that she would take care of everything, and that I could just focus on what was in front of my eyes. That’s why it caught me by surprise when I got back and nothing had been resolved.

After the argument between me and Jeng, in which I almost cried (I did actually cry when dealing with Lee, and that was the most recent time), my whole end-of-school period has been not quite going so well.

Steven was elected the other Physics Team captain while I was in Maryland. For some reason, Glen is also tagging along in all the “meetings,” and it seems like he and Steven (they are very good friends) are deciding everything regarding the team now. I don’t mean to be a jerk or anything, but what exactly is Glen trying to do? Why are they ignoring me? They called me to a meeting at lunch today, and we basically did not do anything. Besides decide upon two or three more meeting dates during the summer. That we can spend doing the same thing: nothing. Seriously. Physics Team does not need to meet during the summer. Do you two really want to make me walk out to some obscure Starbucks in the middle of the day to stare at you guys for a few hours before walking all the way back?

I am pissed that they decided to run the team. Without me. I don’t want to meet during the summer. We don’t need to meet. Honestly, and here’s me being arrogant, I don’t think we need either of them. None of them have any physics achievements, really, although I can’t complain about that looking at Math Team captains and ASB people. Okay, I realize I’m now just dissing people left and right. At the very least, I don’t see why Glen is acting like he’s the third captain. Or, rather, that he’s the first captain, and I’m just some bystander.

Armed with these thoughts, I called Vincent. He’s very social, very different from me and all, but I suppose he’s still the person best suited for me to call my mentor.

I think that the advice you get isn’t important. When you ask for advice, the important thing is the act of receiving the advice. The act of giving the advice… is what’s significant.

Vincent told me to draw up my own plans. Instead of messing with Steven, I could draw up my own, and let him have some input. And I didn’t need to care about Glen, said Vincent, as I could override him. It’s unsatisfying advice, really. My plan for the summer is to do nothing. Just check up on the hopefuls every week or so. That’s all they need. And it just bothers me that Glen is there. So the advice is kind of moot.

But it made me happy to receive advice from Vincent.

James asked me whether or not I would still create the website for Math Team during the meeting today. He wasn’t here during the questioning session (we were interrogated separately — solitary confinement) so I don’t blame him. Do I sound like a selfish bastard for saying no? I’d probably give him the feeling that I was running for captain just for the line on my college app. Not that he or David or any of the other candidates weren’t guilty of the same.

It’s so phony.

I’ll end with a line that I liked to repeat to myself sometimes, a while back. It resurfaced this week.

A little bit of courage is the real magic.

still trying to hold on

May 15th, 2011

Here’s to my well-intentioned resolution to post every day. May it rest in peace.

I thought I should at least keep to posting once per week. So here’s my post for the week. I’m really looking forward to writing this post. It was an eventful week, full of delicious food, tender pride, sore elbows, childlike excitement, and broken gestures.

Thing about Jenglish… I have a really mixed opinion of it. She gives us more work than Villalobos did for Honors English last year. She’s very anal about my doing physics or other homework in her class, something I am very annoyed at her for. Her class activity on Friday was brilliant, however. We made Mother’s Day cards! She bought dozens of reams of pretty, flowery, expensive, professional design paper in all sorts of colors and variations, and a vast supply of scrapbooking supplies. We made beautiful cards. I made 3, one for me, and two for each of my siblings, to give to my mom. When I told Ms. Jeng about my 3 cards, she thought it was so kind of me that I almost felt like she was going to hug me.

One thing I have come to feel about Ms. Jeng — her goal in life seems to be “to bring happiness to as many people as she can.” She brings us food, candy, treats out of her own pocket money; makes us write down something that happened each day that has made us thankful. This Mother’s Day activity illustrated it best — Jeng wanted to bring happiness to hundreds of mothers that day. I’m sure she succeeded. My mom was very happy to recieve the 3 cards, although she figured out that I had made all 3 myself, in English class (Ms. Jeng had instructed us to tell our moms that we had made the card of our own intiative and not because she told us to).

My typical weekend goes through like this. The night before, I set my alarm for some outrageously early morning ear torture. The morning of, I sleep through all the alarms. Or, I get up, defuse the infringing eardrum explosive, and lie back down dreamily.

At sometime after noon, I sit up in my bed with a start. Oh no! Half of my precious day has drifted off into the silence! “What to do?” I think to myself, as I hastily brush my teeth and organize my thoughts. “So much stuff to do today!”

I sit down at my computer and turn on my 3 monitors. Oh yeah, I should check today’s anime. While I do that, I’ll flip through my email. OH, this week’s episode of THAT anime is out! Gotta download asap. Wonder what’s up on xda. Look, my ROM has been updated. I plug in my phone and prepare to load a new ROM, backing up my apps. Cool, my anime download finished. Wonder if there are any cool blog posts on Google Reader. Hey, there are five new chapters of manga! Google has a cool new product — I gotta check it out. Wow, that anime ep was epic. I wonder if there are any related anime. Gonna do a search on MAL. Oh wow, this anime was made by the same studio that did this other anime! And I’ve been wanting to watch that other anime since forever! I’ll download it immediately. While the torrent is running, why don’t I check up on Mabi?

Repeat for nine hours, with intermittent breaks for food and such.

By 9 or 10pm, I’m desperately trying to resuscitate the day’s productivity. This is sounding awfully like today. Huh.

I had a nice Mother’s Day. We went out to lunch at Zen Buffet — they were having a Mother’s Day special event. The venue was packed; if my mom hadn’t gotten a seat early we would have waited outside for hours. I haven’t had a buffet in months — long months filled with the void of non-buffet food. I’ve been dreaming about the food I had on Sunday ever since.

Breaded cheesesticks. They have pervaded my dreams for a week. I spent my early morning classes for the past week thinking about them. I’m not even sure what they’re called. Mozzarella sticks? Intensely craving them for days.

Monday was AP Physics C. I had a lot to say about my adventurous invasion of Alhambra High School, and I was completely planning on dedicating a post to their queer customs and savage rites. A paragraph will have to suffice for this topic.

Since over a month before the actual exam, I had been calling them every week to try and find out where, exactly, on campus the test was going to be held. I never found out before the actual day. Nobody knew (or cared enough to get out of their seats to find out for me). Finally, the receptionist just told me to give up on trying to find out, and just ask around on test day. Unsatisfied, but left without a choice, I agreed.

So I strolled into the gatekeeper’s lounge on Monday. When I say gatekeeper, I’m serious. The entire campus is completely fenced down. Nobody can escape. I felt like a visitor to a jail complex, almost, what with all the guards and patrolmen– “proctors.” Oh yeah, about the “proctors” — there was one proctor every 30 meters. It was during a class period that I came in (extra-early… at 9am or so), and I initially thought the proctors were… I don’t know, photographers documenting the school or something. There were so many! And they were everywhere! And they weren’t doing anything, because there weren’t any students outside anyways!

I’m sure if some student suddenly bolted out from their classroom door, thirty proctors would chase after him, tie him down and restrain him while others take down his prisoner student ID number to extend his sentence for another two years.

Luckily for me, all the proctors had a radio on them (like real prison guards! oh my god!), so they asked on the radio where my AP exam was, and I was directed to the library. Alright, cool. Let’s see. Three hours until the exam. Woo-hoo. I stare at the locked library door, where like two people are taking AP Biology.

I sat down next to a flower bed. Immediately, the nearest proctor aggroed me. He was a nice guy after finding out I was a visitor (not a prisoner student), and he helped me find a place to sit while waiting for my test. We went to the Career Center, and they gave me a nice table to sit at.

I did bring a backpack with some stuff. I wasn’t planning on studying for the AP Physics C exam though (psh, how hard can it be?) but I did print out a copy of the 2010 free-response questions. I took those out, and worked through the problems. The difficulty really surprised me, but I was able to figure out all of the questions. “Al-righty,” I thought to myself. I’m set.

Flash forward three hours. The library doors finally come unlocked to let us unsuspecting College Board victims in. I was surprised at their library. Shelves upon shelves of manga, comics, graphic novels. I would have loved it if our library had half of what they had. I’d go to the library every day. I’d never eat lunch anymore.

They made us rip the labels off of our water bottles. That was just… odd. They didn’t want us to cheat by writing formulas on our water bottle labels? Really…

We were sat down in a small corner of their fantastic library. Only about five people taking Mechanics, and that would dwindle to only about two other people taking E&M two hours later. It was the reference corner, and I was sitting next to some fifteen-volume World Cultures set that I’m sure nobody has ever touched since it was purchased by the school. All the manga in the library seemed well-used.

About the test… I found it difficult. On AP Chemistry, Comp Sci, and Calculus BC, I always had time (sometimes even more than a half hour) left after I finished questions. On all four sections of the AP Physics C exam, I was strapped for time. I found that odd, because I’m supposed to be like, the very best at this, or something. Oh, by the way, at this time I didn’t know that you only needed a 50% to get a 5. I’m still WTFing at that statistic. I mean, you’d actually have to TRY to not get a five if the curve was that low. But yeah, at the time I thought I had failed the test or something. I hate how the College Board made us pay twice for AP Physics C — it’s a shorter test, so come on!

I missed something rather important that was happening. As you might or might not know, my blog was hosted on my home PC (which is on 24/7 anyways). I had Apache, PHP, and MySQL running on it, along with an SSH server, hMailServer to serve SMTP and IMAP, and various other goodies. I’ve got lots of RAM, and not a lot of people visit my site, so it was fine, but I wanted a dedicated server in a real datacenter to play with and to put to use in my future endeavors.

I spent most of my Sunday researching virtual private server (VPS) services. Initially, I searched through big-name sites like HostGator, and the cheapest prices were $20 per month. I thought, “alright, my dad will be okay with that,” but of course, being me and suffering from chronic Refusal-to-spend-money-unnecessarily Syndrome, I furiously set out to find cheap VPS servers.

I was overjoyed when I found servers at $15, then $11, then– wow! six dollars! My amazement turned to awe when I discovered servers at $3 per month… $2.50… $2… $1.67! That’s twenty dollars per YEAR — as opposed to my original price of twenty dollars a month! God, sometimes my strange Syndrome does pay off as opposed to annoying people around me.

I made a brilliant Google Doc comparing the best VPS offers I could find. Here, I’ll even share it with my beloved readers. I decided that 128MB of RAM was too low for me. There was a really good offer for a server with brilliant specs, but only a 10M uplink. I thought to myself, even my home download speed is faster than 10M! So I decided on at least a 100M uplink (preferably gigabit). After sorting through more and more deals, I decided to go with my new friends at HostFolks. On Monday morning before I left for my AP exam, I sent them an email asking whether or not their RAM was dedicated (as some retailers oversold their RAM), and whether or not their servers had a gigabit uplink.

To my glad surprise, the man replied five minutes later! I was expecting him to reply in like, two days, one day at the best. But wow — what great service! Instant reply! The RAM was indeed dedicated, and the uplink was in fact gigabit! HostFolk’s deal was pretty perfect. I shot off another question that night, and again — near-instant reply. Late at night. What kind of customer service representative was awake at 1am in the morning? Outrageous.

I bought the VPS from them, and I spent my Tuesday and Wednesday setting it up. Took a break from school. School is tiring. Also, we wouldn’t be doing anything in most of my classes, especially on Wednesday when everybody would be gone for AP English. I actually kind of really regret not taking AP US History and AP English, even at some other school.

All the guides pointed to one thing — Apache sucks. It spawns fifty threads that take dozens of megabytes of precious RAM each. I was going to install lighttpd or nginx as my webserver, but my server had 512MB of RAM — plenty of RAM to waste. I still haven’t used up all 512MB of RAM yet, even with KDE running on top of vnc3server.

The thing that took me the most time to set up was email. By default, sendmail was installed. I installed exim4 and unsuccessfully attempted to set it up following some guide. Eventually I gave up and removed exim4, opting for a guide that was dedicated to my operating system (Debian 5 “Lenny”). I installed postfix, dovecot, various administration tools, following the guide. I ran into so many problems I won’t even document them.

I still need to lock down many parts of my system. Security is really a big thing these days, and it would piss me off if some lame script kiddie got into my hard-earned system with everything set up, and blew it up, and I had to start all over (and waste another week…).

On Thursday, Justin somehow convinced me to let him come over. Oh, it was also Ms. Jeng’s birthday. Hanchan had taken all of her leftover cake and cupcakes, interestingly, and brought them over to my house. No, I didn’t invite him. One thing I absolutely can’t resist speaking up about is how Hanning always sits on my bed (without asking) when he comes over. I sleep there. After showering every night. It’s clean. Your pants have been in six different chairs in six different classrooms throughout the day. They touch the pee-stained floor when you use the restroom at the high school. I wish you would refrain from rubbing them all over my blankets and my sheets. Also, please don’t put your socks on top of my pillow. My head goes there every night.

I’m really stuck on the topic of “friendship,” especially in the superficiality of society as it is, and even more especially in the superficiality of Arcadia High School. It’s troublesome. I think too much. Thinking is troublesome. Moving on, leaving this topic for another post on another day.

Yes, I am anal about cleanliness. Dust pisses me off. And there’s always so much of it in my room. I can never get rid of it all. I can remove every speck of it in my room, and tomorrow it’ll be just as dusty as it was before. I hate dust. It’s my mortal enemy.

I even bought a air purifier for my birthday present. Yes, instead of asking for a game or a car for my birthday, I asked for an air purifier. Really shows you how much I hate dust.

We watched Denpa Teki na Kanojo, and I’m worried that they didn’t enjoy my choice that much. I really should have shown them Bungaku Shoujo, since I still haven’t seen it yet, and it was sitting on my hard drive, but I stupidly didn’t think of it. I also seem to tend to get excited about anime and disrespectfully spoil things. I would imagine that most people enjoy anime more when watching with someone else, but for me it’s rather awkward, because I have to worry about whether or not the other watchers are enjoying the anime I chose or not, and whether or not that part was appropriate for them to see (Denpa Teki had some pretty adult parts).

Thursday was a tiring night. I conveniently had a history project due the very next day. When finally Hanchan and Justin left, and I was done with the other business I had that day, I sat down with Alfred and began working on the powerpoint. I showed Alfred our song (the version sung by me on both parts), and he approved. He found us videos, and wrote half of the powerpoint. He even wrote a rap, and printed out the lyrics as a review sheet. I loved the pun he made — the rap was a “wrap-up” to our presentation: a “RAP-UP”! Ahahaha~

I had written the song sproadically over the week before. Usually I procrastinate on things like these, but bashing Bush is fun, and I even chose writing the song over watching anime on several occasions. I was originally planning on finding a good MIDI file of the song (“A Whole New World” from Aladdin) and repeating the verses that needed repeating, and then rendering, but Sibelius refused to cooperate, so I ended up taking an instrumental backing recording and cutting it raw in Audacity. It turned out pretty horrible, but I guess that added to the hilarity of our presentation.

I found Alfred to be the perfect partner — we basically finished everything in one night besides the song and rap editing. Less than one night, really — we started at 8 or 9pm.

Friday was quite fun. Here’s period one. Originally I had planned on finishing my entire Game Project in one day (to demonstrate my brilliance as an act of defiance, or in an attempt to seek self-satisfaction), but I didn’t quite finish it on Thursday. I spent Comp Sci on Friday mostly preparing presentation stuff with Alfred, and not doing Comp Sci (not that anyone was doing Comp Sci, really).

Here’s period two. Alfred and I talked about stuff for maybe five minutes, I turned in my math team app, and I did the annoying Formal Logic homework. Period three was orchestra — Smooth sounded so good with full orchestra+percussion! Danzas Cubanas wasn’t bad either. And I had LesMis stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Ah, it’s moments like these when I love Orchestra.

In period four, I explained my leave of absence to Jeng. “Too cool for school, aren’cha?” I didn’t assume she would let me off on writing the narrative essay I heard about, and she didn’t, of course. I really wish my teachers would let me off on classwork and homework for these two weeks. I’m already stressed out enough. Well, teenagers aren’t supposed to expect adults to understand anything.

We also have a presentation in English next week. I really don’t see the point in wasting my time doing these things. This brings me to my convo with Andy last night, but I’ll get to that at the end of this huge post.

My dealings with Jeng took quite a while. I was originally planning on making an illegal trip to El Pollo Loco for some mmmmm– yummy cheese quesadillas. In fact, I had planned the trip a day before. I didn’t get to go, of course, and I ended up having a delicious chicken taco for $2. It was delicious. Seriously. Unexpected.

But of course, what I was really craving were mozzarella sticks. Ugh. Still dreaming about them every night.

In Period 5, I finished the lab I had started on Thursday with this bright man whose name I have yet to request. A lot of work in this class that usually gives no work. Why does it all have to be this week?

Finally, our presentation came to be on a clear Spring day in a classroom.

It was great.

Next up, I had an appointment with Mr. Zhang, my AP Physics B teacher last year. Sometimes I feel that he’s the person who understands me best in this world. If I were to make a list of the people who understand me the best, I would put these four people: my parents, K, and Mr. Zhang. In fact, K would be at the top of the list, actually. (It’s awkward reminding myself not to type K’s full name.)

He had invited me a few days before to do a new  “oscilloscope lab” and I, of course, accepted gladly. I didn’t expect him to also invite two sophomore girls as well, one of them Lucy Chen, who had scored only two points less than me on PhysicsBowl 2011. My impression of her was different from the actual her. I expected her to be similar to me, but she was in fact a talkative, cheerful kid. She completely reminded me of Rose, including her voice. I don’t think anything bad of her, it’s just that her personality didn’t match what I had imagined.

We were soldering circuits. The two girls worked on a frequency generator circuit, while I worked to repair a voltage regulator circuit. I like Mr. Zhang’s soldering gun. It heats up instantly, and its shape is so much more maneuverable than a conventional soldering iron. I failed to fix the circuit, and we tried many, many times to diagnose the problem, including replacing the voltage regulator chip twice, and replacing the resistor twice. Eventually we gave up on the circuit, and he brought out another one, which I was able to set up perfectly. I think there was either something wrong with the chip specifications, since it didn’t match the chip on the working circuit, or that the potentiometer’s range was too low. It was probably the latter — we measured currents of 2.0 A! That’s outrageously high current. It heated up the circuit so much I gave myself a pretty bad burn touching the voltage regulator chip.

We took Mr. Zhang out for dinner that night. Both girls had left, and I was having an extremely enjoyable conversation with him. We talked about biology, school, the future of the Physics Team, math, computers, his future plans, his tutoring program, setting up a website, and my experience with computers. We were interrupted by my mom, who dropped in because my phone was off. We decided to go out for dinner, and Mr. Zhang expressed his desire to eat at a buffet. Zen Buffet was packed to the max, for some reason, so we went to Hometown Buffet. The last time I had gone to Hometown was on Hanchan’s birthday. (I wonder if he dislikes me because of something his dad said that day. We talked a lot, and maybe he got the impression that his dad thought I was his perfect son. Maybe at home his dad gave him a painful lecture. Blah, now I’m overrationalizing.)

Naturally, the conversation drove towards college and my career. I hate talking about that. I hate it. I’m not even going to describe the conversation.

But the food. THE FOOD! I had been craving buffet ever since last Sunday on Mother’s Day. BUT NO! THEY HAD NO MOZZARELLA CHEESE STICKS! I will hate Hometown Buffet for all of eternity.

The other food was quite good, though. I liked the “dirty rice” — I’ve always liked variants of Spanish rice, and this rice was especially good. They also had some New Orleans something-or-other Chicken that was absolutely delicious. God, I want to eat buffet again tonight.

Saturday night was another stereotypical weekend. I didn’t attend ARML, and after much angst, decided to not travel to Las Vegas for the competition. I’m suffering from low self-esteem regarding math (been suffering it ever since 9th grade). One facet is due to the intense competitiveness of mathematics.

The reply to Dr. Merryfield’s email took me six hours to consider. My efficiency has been steadily dropping ever since — I don’t even know when. I haven’t watched anime for days, either.

Besides three weeks of homework that I have to finish, I also have to study physics for camp on Friday. It’s stressing me out. I need to keep up with those crazy academic monsters. I need to. I need to, in order to rescue my blurred self-confidence from a watery death.

The final brick in my tower of stress and worry was a conversation with Andy late at night. I had promised myself I would sleep early. I seriously needed every second I could save. I needed every minute of sleep I could salvage, because I know how hard-pressed I will be for sleep during camp. Yet, I stupidly allowed myself to be drawn into a Skype conversation at night. I told myself I was multitasking, but really.

I don’t know what I feel about Andy anymore. He was my best friend from fourth to fifth grade. We lost contact after that. I’ve always admired him, respected him for his uprightness. I’ve always looked up to him. Yet I feel something wrong, something distasteful about him now. It’s not that he rejected our idea. Now that I consider it, he’s quite right in many ways. It was one line, specifically. One idea that he conveyed during the conversation last night. He said this. He said that he was enjoying his high school life. He said that he wasn’t doing anything for his college apps. He said he was enjoying his high school life, and that his goal wasn’t college.

I can provide a probable reason for this answer, for this statement. His parents probably told him not to do anything for selfish, corrupt reasons like college apps and beating others at this college game. His parents probably told him to do everything for self-improvement, self-enjoyment, and that if he did that, he would naturally surpass others. And it’s really what you’re supposed to say to college admissions officers. You’re supposed to tell them that you learn because you love to, you did all that stupid APENG homework that had no contribution whatsoever to your education because you had fun doing it…

It’s just fishy. It stinks. It’s worse than admitting that you hate the system, and your teachers, and all the pointless work that you have to do every day. It’s very bad that you’re not only putting on the facade to admissions officers, but also to your friends. We’re his friends, right? I probably don’t have the right to say “best” (at least not anymore). I considered him my best friend since fourth grade. He understood me, understood the joy of tinkering with computers, and learning how things worked. I suppose back then, our motivation for learning was criminally sincere. We loved learning.

Maybe he’s still desperately trying to cling to that elementary school sense. Still trying to hold on, long after I had let go.

Spaceflight is a Spectator Sport

May 2nd, 2011

I’m so backlogged on anime it’s not even funny. (Almost two weeks behind, which is like 20 episodes. It would take me 10 hours to catch up.)

Alright, so I’m back. From Florida. Damn NASA scrubbed the launch. It was still fun though. I loved the exhibits at Kennedy Space Center, although the annoying sun made me have to keep swapping my sunglasses and my glasses whenever I went outside or needed to read something. We also went to Downtown Disney (they have one in Florida too). Before, I would totally call this trip a big waste of money, but it’s not good to be that pessimistic, and it’s not entirely true. I did have fun. True, the plane ride (I HATE AIRPLANE AIR) and the stupid alligator park was less than accommodating for me. But it was an interesting trip. I feel bad for my mom’s colleagues who came with us, spending money on plane tickets and all, and didn’t get to see anything. Well, we did see the launchpad, and random secret Air Force Base buildings or whatever. Friggin facility was bigger than LA. So that’s what they’re doing with my tax dollars.

You may have noticed that I have ignored the jubilant subject of US Physics Team. I’ll post magnificently later, I promise.

Anyways, got back last night at midnight. Very tiring. The airport parking lot shuttle was very late. Also, my phone GPS has been very stupid during the trip. It won’t hold a GPS signal in the car unless it’s like, taped to the window.

Other stuff… I was selected as the leader of my department in the hospital for next year (first thing during the interview: “Are you THAT Ben Li? That made it into International Physics Team?”). AP Chemistry this morning was fun. I had some time before the test, so my dad drove us to 7-Eleven to get some food, and I had some donuts. Alhambra HS still does not know where they will be conducting their AP Physics C exam as of today’s phone call. In fact, they just told me to ask at the gate. I’ll just go like 2 hours early then… I’m certain I will have extraordinary trouble finding the test site. Tomorrow is APCS and Wednesday is APBC. Interestingly, Ms. King is having a breakfast pre-AP party thing on Wednesday morning (which is great, I love American breakfasts). She also heard of my Physics Team thing and asked me if I was crazy. “Just a little.”

By the way, people, it’s not “International” Physics Team… although it’s fine really, I don’t mind (we are competing in the International Physics Olympiad/IPhO). We are the US team. Not the international team. I’m sure we could totally pwn the Martians at the Intergalactic Physics Olympiad.

I’ve been thinking to myself about my reactions to people congratulating me on USPT. I’m trying my best to not seem condescending or “of course I made it, I think I’m so smart and all, you guys are all dumbasses and losers”. Of course I’m probably totally overworrying and all. Re-rereading the post (and re-rerereading) to make sure I don’t sound like a stuck-up bastard. I really care about that too much.

Speaking of self-image, I practiced smiling for cameras in Florida. For USPT, we were asked to provide a photo of ourselves. I looked and looked, flipping through my family’s albums… and I could not find a single one where I was smiling. I don’t know, it’s not that I wasn’t having fun. They were pictures of my China trip, and that was one of the greatest times I’ve had in my life. I think I’m somehow unable to smile on camera, or my smiles don’t show up on camera somehow. I try to smile, I do, yet I never look happy in the photos despite my extreme excitement in China. Which is why I devoted myself to studying the art of smiling for the camera in Florida. I improved significantly, according to my mom. My smiles are very stunning and natural, she says.

On launch day, there were so many spectators in Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center watching the launch from a big LCD screen. The parking lot was completely full, and the Visitor Center was packed. I don’t get it — you’re watching it on an LCD screen anyways. Why come all the way to Cape Canaveral? Just watch it on YouTube later.

That’s what I’m going to do.

Five hundred words.

April 24th, 2011

I spent the greater part of my childhood doing what every other kid did: video games; Saturday morning cartoons; trading cards; frolicking around the playground in aimless circles with my playmate entourage in hot pursuit. We pulled pranks on girls and pilfered extra Popsicles during those hot, carefree Californian days. The playground was my empire, the twirly slides my castle spires, and I, high and almighty atop my noble swing, ruled it all. All of a sudden, just as it had begun, I lost interest, and began delving into more mature diversions.

My sudden loss of interest in orthodox childhood pursuits can be attributed to my discovery of books. I devoured the science encyclopedias lying scattered about my home, and savored the taste of knowing how things worked and why things were the way they were — the fundamental questions of physics. After I had depleted my house’s supply of fresh reading material, I plundered my local public library. Isaac Asimov’s organic chemistry primer The World of Carbon and its sequels intrigued me so much, I even learned web design to enshrine its teachings in the stormy internet. My love for technology can be entirely blamed on my parents. My dad got bored one day, sat me down in his lap, and taught me Java. I’ve been coding ever since.

Unlike the golden years of elementary and middle school, my high school experience was not as painless. My fanciful ideals were quickly crushed in the stampede of a competitive, nearly all-Asian public high school. My high school’s in-a-way excellent environment fostered the acceleration of maturity — young adults don’t often meet with this kind of disillusionment until college. It left me — a bubbly, optimistic  newfound teenager — with a jaded mindset that led me to believe that knowledge and problem-solving skills were expendable commodities in the real world, as they were in the microcosm of Arcadia High School.  That’s when I met Mr. Zhang, the teacher of my AP Physics B class.

He led me back through the spectacular world of physics, gently answering my strangest questions, and rekindling my inspiration. Along with one of his former students, he guided me through my intense study of physics. I would like to deeply thank Vincent Li, a member of last year’s US Physics Team, and my physics teachers Mr. Shenyang Zhang and Mr. Mauricio Eguez for their boundless support of my pursuits. Your encouraging words and friendly advice have changed my life forever.

I look forward to getting to know all of you at this year’s camp!

Sense of Impending Doom

April 19th, 2011

Things haven’t been going so well, and I’m just getting this horrible claustrophobic sense of loss and bad omens. First thing I saw after I got home today was an email from Vincent… apparently the USAPhO finalists had all received an email yesterday at noon… and I never got any email.

This is especially depressing when I consider that I was very confident, even thinking to myself that I had a perfect paper.

Next, Bank of America won’t give me back my money after a week of time wasted writing emails back and forth. I’m filled with hate for them at the moment, so let me catch my breath.

Oh yeah, I failed the AP Chem final, and the HUSH test yesterday, and nothing seems to be going my way recently.

And this… itchy mosquito bite. God is totally laughing at me up there.


April 12th, 2011

This is part two of a three-part series of posts on the month of March 2011, in all its fantasy and fragrance. I realize it is April now. This is the result of a curious phenomenon known to mere mortals as “procrastination”.

Life is but a dream. I dedicate this paragraph in memory of Alice Zhang, who lost her life yesterday in a fatal car accident. I cannot say that I knew her well, but as a fellow Arcadia High student and Physics Team member, I would like to send her my condolences from my little lilypad on this watery Internet.

Death, passage; it really makes you appreciate the frail beauty of life when you consider that you could have been the one in front of the headlights. And all the little crumbs of happiness you wade through on your daily crusade through life: they become something deeply cherished, dearly clung to.

I will now take the opportunity to explain the title. Titles are important: the first thing seen, the first thing considered when deciding whether or not to read, whether to skim or read slowly. First of all, this post has gravity. It is important. Serious. Second, I have striven to write with charisma; gravitation. Finally, the post is concerned with the United States Physics Olympiad, or USAPhO, which may involve universal gravitation.

I left early that morning. It was a Tuesday, the Tuesday after a three-day weekend. My parents were excited. Moderately. I was ferried to school around 7:30am. I checked in with Eguez. It had been pretty cold, and to prevent the weather from influencing my test performance, I wore a lot of layers. It turned out that, in the room we were to test in, the thermostat had gone haywire and the temperature was nice and warm. I found it nice and warm; Vincent and Eguez decided it was way too hot and messed with the thermostat to try and get the temperature down. Either way, I never had any problems with the room temperature that day.

The test took four hours; each section was 90 minutes with a break in between. Part A had four questions, and Part B had two questions. I don’t quite remember my answers or the questions very clearly, actually. The room we were testing in was a lecture room adjacent to Eguez’s classroom. The desks were of the fold-out variety in an auditorium setting; very small, but that didn’t bother me much either. Well, it wasn’t quite an auditorium. The room was quite small and there were no more than about four rows, with the back rows slightly raised in elevation.

After rendezvousing with Eguez, and finding nobody else had arrived, I left to turn in my portion of the English project to Ms. Jeng. She was surprised that I wouldn’t be there, and it was very awkward. Then, still finding myself with spare time, I went to the cafeteria window and bought myself the first bacon-egg breakfast muffin sandwich I’ve ever had at Arcadia High School, for a mere $1.50. I can’t believe how cheap that is, especially compared to how much everything else is, and how little they usually give.

If I could, I would buy a sandwich for breakfast every day. Unfortunately, 9.9 days out of 10, I barely even make it to class on time to escape the tardy sweep, much less have time to buy a sandwich and finish eating it before 8am.

Vincent had arrived, and we set up our testing environments. Eguez printed us each our answer sheets. Alfred dropped in a while before first period (students had already begun arriving for Eguez’s class) to tell us that he wouldn’t be taking the USAPhO contest because he was preparing for the ACS National Chemistry Olympiad (NChO) that would be the next day. He won, by the way, with a record high score of 58 out of 60.

All set with our scratch paper and answer documents, we began the exam. I didn’t quite take notice of Vincent at all during the exam, or anything else at all around me, so I can’t comment. The kids in the adjacent classroom were noisy, but it didn’t bother me too much. People I knew in Eguez randomly came in to say hi.

My recollection of the actual exam material will be wholly from memory. The first question was about bubbles or something — initially I thought it would be some strange mechanics or optics question, but it was actually a thermodynamics question. It didn’t stump me too much, except for one of the last parts which asked me to find the work done by an isothermic process. I didn’t figure out how to do that until I had finished all the other problems and come back for it, but I did get it in the end. I’m pretty sure I got all parts of that question (there were a lot of parts; it was a long question!) right. The second was a data table I believe, something involving a rotational system. I don’t quite remember, but I just picked two points to solve for some constant. They gave like ten points, however, so I’m not certain my answer was accurate enough. It made sense, though.

Question A4 was about a planet that emitted blackbody radiation. Luckily I knew the Stefan-Boltzmann black-body equation (although I think the question even gave it to us…). It was some really cool differential equation thing. I can’t remember exactly what I did, or what it involved (something about the planet generating constant power due to radioactive decay, and something involving the temperature gradient), or what it even asked for, but I was confident in my answer so I’ll remain confident. I’m afraid I don’t remember A3 at all.

B1 was a cool alternating-current problem. Vincent had told me not to study A/C much as it wasn’t important, but I had studied it before he told me that, so luckily I knew all the formulae. Barely. I called impedance “total reactance” or something. Wonder if I’ll get dinged for terminology. Nothing else I didn’t know how to do. Of course, knowing me, careless mistakes will devour maybe 1/4 of my points. B2 was also intriguing. It was very complicated and took me a while for me to understand the problem, and its complicatedness prevents me from recalling the exact problem, but I remember checking the last answer with Vincent and we got the same thing, so I think B2 is cinched.

So those were my three paragraphs of bragging to my future self who will be reading this about how smart and awesome I was in 11th grade. Unfortunately, in every contest before this I’ve screwed up in some major or minor way (misbubbling, especially… I could have made AIME last year if I had bubbled correctly, and I could have won 1st in state in PhysicsBowl… and the list goes on), so I was really relieved to have gone through the contest with no mess-ups at all. I did my best, as my dad would say, and everything else is up to Lady Luck. There was really nothing further that could have been done to improve my chances.

That leaves me satisfied.

Continue ≫

The March 2011 Trilogy:
thinly veiled apathy
coming soon!

thinly veiled apathy

March 21st, 2011

This is part one of a three-part series of posts on the month of March 2011, in all its fantasy and fragrance.

I was in a misanthropic mood this morning. The morbid cloudiness and bone-soaking chill probably contributed. Oh, and I had Opera Fantasia stuck in my head. I’ll admit that last sentence is non-sequitur.

I’m putting myself under a bit of pressure to write the best post I’ve ever written. That’s because, the weeks I’m covering in this series of posts is probably going to be the most important week in my life for quite a while. Important spans of time deserve important amounts of focus — and copious concentration is required to produce my best writing. As lately I’ve been watching a lot of anime to de-stress from the to-be-described events, I hope my cerebral tissue has not deteriorated enough to cause a reduction in the quality of my penmanship.


I’m a fast learner. No, strike that. I would like to claim that I am a fast learner. Memorably, I completed all of  introductory college level E&M in one weekend. However, like all of my flawed kinsmen, boredom sets in.

If I were to put out my own edition of the Bible, I would add Boredom as a Cardinal Sin. It is the one deterrent to human progress, both as an individual and as a society. France got bored of absolute monarchy, so Robespierre pulled out the guillotines. Dudes got bored of work and invented slavery. Totally against human progress. Steve Ballamer got bored of Google and invented Bing. God got bored of being omnipotent and omniscient, so he created mankind, its own biggest threat. (I told you I was misanthropic today.)

I got bored of physics. So I stopped studying, the Friday before the competition. I think the last practice exam I did was 2003 or something; I had started from 2009 and worked my way towards the past. Now don’t worry, this isn’t running towards any sort of tragic conclusion, so just listen. I was enraptured that Friday night in a web of feeling and meaningfulness that can only be attributed to art of Japanese nature.

(See how good I am at excuses?)


I like stories. The preceding line is likely to show up again in another post. That is simply because it is so true. I like stories. There isn’t really anything particular about anime sometimes. I simply like stories: beautiful, tragic, soothing, and thrilling adventures of the soul.

I’ll admit, I am very much a sucker for many of the stereotypical characteristics of anime sometimes. I choose anime and manga largely based on the art. No works are produced in any other country that can rival the art and production quality of Japan.

But, fact is, I like stories. I read because I like stories. I watch anime because, again, I like stories. Unfortunately, I have become too genre-savvy in my quest for new, original adventures to embark on through the mirror of my monitor.

Some plots never die. But most need to. Really need to. Some phrases and plot devices need to perish from the face of the planet. Really need to.

One of the plots that never dies for me is the idea of the Journey of the Hero. I hated 9th grade Honors English, but that is irrelevant. I like stories where the protagonist begins the story flawed, is called upon to embark on an adventure he’d never even dream of, make friends and sacrifices along the way, and return with a “foundation”, a sort of personal understanding of the reasoning behind society, of the cogworks that drive the world.

Why do a lot of children’s shows employ plots that often revolve around a neverending journey, besides the continuous status quo, maintaining its differentiability over all real numbers? Children often represent our pure, primal desires (or so I would like to believe but am led to see otherwise due to my rowdy siblings). The fact that this pure, untainted type of adventure appeals the most to kids must mean that the desire is present in all of us.

Personally, I would decline (I especially like the example on that page; it’s from Samidare, totally the best manga ever) a call to adventure. On the scale of male protagonists, with 1 being moralfag, and 10 being moron, I’d transcend the boundaries of the real number line as the lamest main character ever.

Anyways, I spent that time (the time I should have been spending reviewing for this really important national competition) searching high, far, and wide for a breathtaking story that matched my expectations. I wanted a protagonist that could score “just right” on the scale — not an insensitive bastard, and not a moral-obsessed catchphrase-spewing preacher. I wanted traveling companions that had depth and dimension. Something lighthearted on the surface, with a nostalgic or longing tone that belied great meaning and significance.

Closest I got, it seems, was Tales of the Abyss, which gets the journey and character development parts down, but is a bit lacking in general plotline and side character appeal. Most of all, the biggest gripe I have about Tales (I haven’t finished it, I still have about 5 episodes to go) is that the protagonist scores 10 out of 10 on the moron scale. I haven’t seen such a moronic MC since… I just haven’t. Which I guess was the point, in order to get his character development going, but… no.

To get to Tales, I was looking along the lines of Tears to Tiara. It’s probably the closest anime I have found to this ideal journey story. We have the best side characters ever, the awesomest MC ever (Arawn-sama!), and a very satisfying plot until the end, which was still OK by my memory. The fights were brilliant, and the animation and music were gorgeous. Tales… it’s a long shot.

In manga, though, I can name a couple. Negima comes to mind; the Magic World arc specifically. Samidare has the “interesting main characters” down pat — Yuuhi+Samidare brings me inexplicable joy, and I’m saving the remaining unread chapters of a manga like a dog buries his favorite toys. Then there’s Beelzebub, which does partially incorporate a journey into Hell, but mainly on the humor and general interest part. I realize most of these aren’t “journeys” per say — they’re not person-departing-on-journey-to-save-the-princess journeys, but more at-home journeys. I wish I could find more, but perhaps it’s just that the traditional journey is too cliched to use on a regular basis anymore.

I am and will continue to be incessantly on the lookout for new adventures.


Thus went my weekend, plus Pi Day. It intrigues me that the school has scheduled a holiday on Pi Day. Despite the fact that pi is wrong and should die, I think Pi Day should be a national bank holiday, and there should be celebrations around the world. We should hold an Arcadia Pi Day Competition… Arcadia Invitational Mathematical Olympiad. That actually sounds nice. The AIMO. It’ll totally be prestigious.

(There was not much to say about the first week of March. The only event of consequence listed on my calendar that week was the Orchestra Vertical Concert, and that’s not of very much consequence really.)

I also had an English project conveniently due on Tuesday, the all-important Day. I do my best to keep up with schoolwork, I swear, but there is still an order of things to my life. Really. There is.

First comes anim— I mean, first comes the physics competition. Then comes the math competition. After that is anime. The next thing is ACS, the chemistry competition, then Skyping, then Mabi, then cleaning my room and doing what my mom tells me, then listening to music, and finally, schoolwork.

I’m not dissing school or anything. It’s just that it serves relatively no use, neither as entertainment or mental-stimulation, as anime can do with its thought-provoking movements, nor as college-application page-filler (as long as you get an A, nobody cares how much you learned). It’s the truth of the matter, and I am free to complain about it as much as I would like to on my personal blog with an audience of about 5.

So Tuesday was United States Physics Olympiad semifinals.

Continue ≫

The March 2011 Trilogy:
thinly veiled apathy
coming soon!

Somehow, Today Was a Bad Day

February 22nd, 2011

It just was, despite the fact that most of the things that happened today were good. On another note, today I was marvelously thoughtful. Meaning, I thought about a lot of random, irrelevant things today during school. Of course, as do the contents of a dream, the contents of those self-conversations escape me. But it was simply entertaining to hear myself think such interesting thinks (as Dr. Seuss would say). I think I thinked an especially brilliant think during Orchestra today, but I can’t remember it for the love of God.

I had an unproductive weekend. It was unproductive compared to, say, the weekend before, when I read 10 chapters of E&M in two days, basically a semester of material. And then (not implying that this was a direct consequence) I caught the bug, and was laid up in bed (read: watching anime) for three days. That was a pretty horrible experience.


Oh, I also have to relate something that kind of perturbed me on Thursday. The day before was Bay Math League, and I have nothing fun to say about that particular event. I was sick that day, and came after school specifically for the contest. Dealing with Hank was particularly strenuous. But again, during fourth period (that’s Jenglish) I got a interesting yellow call slip (I seem to be getting those very, very often these days). “Come to the assistant principal’s office,” innocuously beckoned the note. “Come now!”

So there I was, face to face with Mr. Finn in his office. It was a really nice office, being in the new administration building and all. And getting there was a simple trip down the stairs from the top floor. Of course, I was bundled in about five layers of insulation, being that I was still affected by the cold (every now and then pausing to sneeze or perform the unseemly chore of squeezing some mucus out of my nose), and my face probably wasn’t quite as handsome as I would quite like to imagine.

“What’s your name?”

He flips through a stack of carbonless-copy forms. The white-yellow-pink pattern flashes across his thumbs. His eye catches my name. He pulls it out of the stack, and pushes it firmly onto the desk.

“Do you realize you were absent on January 28th?”

Yes, I probably was. I happen to be absent a lot, after all. I probably was absent on that day. I mean, it’s not like I keep track of when I decide not to come.

“You’re supposed to turn in a note when you’re absent.”

I always do. In fact, I type them myself. I have a Word template for them. I can print one in less than two seconds.

“You didn’t turn in a note.”

Before I could cut in, he continued.

“You were truant, and have been assigned Saturday School.”

Again, I tried to open my mouth.

“Are you listening to me? Can you understand me?”

Completely surprised, I replied with the affirmative, after a short pause.

“What ELD are you in?”

This line cracked me up. It didn’t crack me up at the time, but now, thinking back, it cracks me up. I’ll always remember the assistant principal calling me a “D”-student fob who speaks no English, ditches class, and smokes in the bathroom. The perfect reply would have been, “No, I’m in AP English!”

Unfortunately I’m not. Damn. I regret dropping AP English now. Just so I could say that to him.

After hearing my reply in fine, perfect, melodious English with no accent, I’m sure he may have been stunned. But he continued shortly thereafter.

“You’ll have to sign here, and report at 8 am this Saturday. Bring the signed form with you, and report to the counseling desk in the administration building.”

Hold it. I’m not truant. I’m never truant. I just get sick a lot, and happen to have a lot of orthodontic appointments scheduled during school hours. It’s true, I swear.

“Bring work to do for four hours.”

Oh. That’s not so bad then. I thought Saturday School would involve some combination of torture, writing “I will never ditch school again.” on the board continuously, and maybe some good ol’ coloring worksheets a la Dr. Pal thrown in for good measure. If we get to bring our own work to do, this Saturday School thing could work out to my benefit: I’d get work done. After all, if I didn’t have Saturday School, I’d either oversleep until 2pm or watch anime all day. Or both. Likely both.

So, walking back up the stairs into Jenglish, I weighed my options. I’m sure there must have been some sort of error, because I’m very punctual with my absence notes, and there’s no way I would be truant. Actually, I think my thoughts were bordering more on “Life Sucks (TM)” and such, but we’ll glorify my character for this moment. Oh, but that’s right. Don’t they give you a readmit slip when you turn in an absence note? I always keep those. I have a stack of them that’s thicker than my thumb.

Unzippering my front pocket and unpaperclipping the four paperclips holding the stack together, I thumb through and find it. January 28th. Ben Li. Ill. See?

Do I bring the readmit down and demand my freedom, justice, and liberty? Or do I sit there and take on this punishment, and get some real work done while I’m at it? It was a hard decision, I’m sure. I bolted back down the stairs.

It felt kind of awkward passing by the same people again. Other people were getting call slips to come in for their Saturday School notices too, and watching them unknowingly ask directions to the assistant principal’s office from the same people I asked was unwitting. They all knew what the children were being sent to Mr. Finn for, but when the girl in front of me asked what she had been called for, I felt a knowing smirk flash across the desk attendant’s face before she gave an ambiguous, innocent reply.

This same attendant was very helpful though. I showed her my readmit, and she directed me to Attendance. The attendance lady totally should have given me an “oh, it’s YOU again” glare, but she didn’t, and never does. I respect her for that, and her general kindness. I should learn her name. She probably knows mine.

The attendance office actually keeps every absence note in a manila folder. I’d imagine that would be a lot of notes in a lot of folders. It took a while, but she found my note for the 28th, and cleared my truancy. All set! See, Ben, aren’t you glad you stood up for yourself instead of quietly attending the punishment camp for delinquents and other assorted losers?

To conclude, guess what I did on Saturday? That’s right, I slept until 2pm and watched anime the rest of the day.


So, that was all last Thursday. That’s like, a week ago. Why am I blogging about things a week after they happen? That’s not right. I need to post more. So what was this post intended to be about?

Right. So today, a lot of good things happened to me, yet for some reason I was unhappy during school today. Well, I’m not allowed to be unhappy in period 6 as per Galloway’s class rules or something, so make that just one through five.

I got depressed by a lot of random, not-really-pertinent things. People always tell me I’m too thin-skinned. Onion-skinned. I get offended and hurt very easily, they say. Example: Mr. Lee. If anyone has any bright ideas on how to cure this flaw of mine, please do speak up.

So tomorrow I’m commuting to San Marino to take the AMC B contest at (wtf r u srs) 6 in the morning (crazy San Marino people… but I’m grateful for the testing spot!). I asked Ms. King in what was probably a very rude and incoherent manner to “not mark me absent tomorrow” because “I’m taking the AMC B tomorrow”. It probably sounded very stupid and offensive. So for some reason I was really offended by her saying “no”. Maybe it’s just that I’m too used to teachers all liking me that I get queasy when a teacher is annoyed at me. Such a spoiled child am I.

In Orchestra (besides thinking lots of interesting thinks), I hadn’t memorized any of the songs, so that was rather depressing too. Jenglish is always rather morbid. Having dropped from AP is awkward at best, and my clumsiness in social interactions probably exacerbated that awkwardness to a large extent. It was extra-awkward because the other day I was making up a test in Jeng at lunch, and I always seem to stutter and annoy people.

In Chem, we did a lab (spectrophotometry… it sounds cool enough). I got negative values for absorbance (optical density, if you prefer), and I never decided to ask Mrs. Young. After I took a look at it, negative absorbance is totally impossible, and now I don’t know how I’m going to do my lab. I’ll ask to copy Hank’s data I guess. And in history, we watched atomic bomb explosions. Yeah, seriously. It was fun. We had to use Google Video though. Youtube is blocked.

The bad things didn’t just end with school. It turns out that CSF applications were due on Friday. But the CSF forms weren’t out until like the last day… I checked the ASB website practically daily for them. That wasn’t fair. I’d complain more, but I just realized that I saved five dollars by not turning it in.

Also, the semifinalist results came out today. My mom (!) called me afterschool to tell me about them. So three people from Arcadia got into semifinals (out of like 300 nationwide, that’s pretty impressive!), and I decided to send out an email to the people who got in. The third person was “Yi Li”, and I thought that was this was one girl in Physics Team whose last name is Li, so I included her in my “Congratulations!” email. It turns out that “Yi Li” was Vincent’s Chinese name. I think I must have hurt her feelings, I mean, she seems to have tried really hard for this competition, and here I am emailing her about her NOT making it, and even saying “congratulations” as if I were mocking her. See, this is why I’m single (and not looking for a partner).


Of course, good crap happens, but nobody cares about good crap happening. You never see newspapers headlining good crap. Damn, this last section was stupid. Why didn’t I end it with my Saturday School story?

Maybe I’m too self-aware. Perhaps if I stopped caring about what other people think about me, people will think better of me. Or maybe it really doesn’t matter, and I really don’t need to care about what other people think of me. Ms. King, Ms. Young, that girl in Physics Team… maybe I shouldn’t care about what opinions they may form of me. That’s what they tell you. Be original. Be yourself. But I do need to care. I need to take care that Ms. King has a good opinion of me during officer elections, and when she writes my letter of rec. I need to care that my lab group is depending on me. I need to care about what girls think of me as a prospective partner. Well, I’m not so sure on that last one. I could care less. It’s my kind of lifestyle, or prospective lifestyle. I wouldn’t like some kind of less-interesting-than-me lady watching over my bank account, taking what she wants, and arguing with me every night. I think I’d be the kind of person who would be a professor at some university and study Superstring Theory for the rest of my life. Alone. Or maybe this particular view of myself has been forced upon me by my peers. Perhaps it’s just other peoples’ impressions of me rubbing off on me. So I do need to care what other people think about me, because it influences what I think about myself? That’s queer. That’s just… twisted.

Aaand my tangental stream-of-consciousness rant ends there. The first half of this post is far more advanced than the latter half. I really should have split this into multiple posts.


To conclude, I really like narrative storytelling. In fact, when I was in elementary school, my prospective occupation was probably “creative author” or “novelist”. It’s an interesting way to author a blog post. I haven’t reread my Saturday School account yet, but I felt that dialogue, description, and my internal commentary added flair to my writing.

Thoughts on any of the issues, events, topics discussed in this post? Narrative writing, what-do-I-care-what-others-think-of-me, my thin skinned and easily-moved-to-tears personality, my brief anecdote, or anything else? Remember, kids, always keep your readmits.