Archive for March, 2012

iTunes Media Key Fix, Updated

March 25th, 2012

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

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

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.