Trick-Or-Treating

The last Halloween I remember partaking in was 3rd grade when I was still in Toronto. I am faint of heart with neither the constitution nor desire for scary movies or haunted houses, so the opportunities of coming face-to-face with zombies at a party or being ambushed on private property aren’t particularly prized. This year, however, I ended up dressing up under the condition that I wouldn’t need to work to hard to make it happen, and I would not sacrifice my warmth on a chilly and potentially rainy day. I decided to go as a “news flash” by taping newspaper to my shirt, putting on a robe on top, and occasionally opening up my robe for a moment. Visual puns shoot for the groan: nothing more, nothing less.

Most of the Halloween parties on-campus were Saturday night, which I decided to skip since they are composed of “Halloween” and “parties.” On Sunday night, I went trick-or-treating in the faculty ghetto with Julie, her roommate, and her roommate’s boyfriend. Given my uneasiness with Halloween, this choice makes even less sense given that I didn’t really want the candy that much, either.

One candy-giver asked us if we weren’t too old to be trick-or-treating. And I kind of thought he was right. My effort in costume-making alone deserved no candy. If I really wanted the candy, I can buy the candy on my own, which probably means that I’m too old now. At one house, an elementary age girl dressed as a cat handed out candy to us. In all, I feel a little guilty about the whole experience, and it’s not quite clear why I enjoyed it so much.

I have quickly ruled out nostalgia simply because as a kid, I seriously just wanted the candy. Otherwise, I don’t see much being inherently good about Halloween. New Year’s is a time to reflect and blow things up, Thanksgiving has the food and company, April’s Fools has fun pranks, and Christmas has the spirit of giving if you incorrectly think that presents aren’t intrinsically good. I accept that costumes and candy might be a big appeal for others, but I wasn’t feeling it.

We had Unspecial Dinner in our House on Saturday night. Special Dinner is a tradition in houses around here to have a themed, dress-up classy dinner, so Unspecial Dinner was costumes and unclassy dinner of In-N-Out and Taco Bell. We had candy at the table, too, and the experience wasn’t particularly significant to me. Take away the costumes, candy, and food, and I think dinner would have been about the same to me.

But not Sunday night. Take away the candy and costumes, and my night was still different than it would have been otherwise. Without those formalities, trick-or-treaters wouldn’t have much reason to be ringing doorbells all evening, but it certainly would be something different. I can’t imagine any other reason I would have been walking around faculty housing with a troop of friends.

Strangely, we ended up at the homes of 2 psychology faculty members, one of whom I see on the stairwell regularly but awkwardly never speak to, and the other who I have talked to once when he was trying to figure out how to arrange furniture in the office he would soon be taking from me. In the latter case, I tried to hide in the back, feeling guilty about the whole experience. But maybe not. Were I to pop into his office randomly and see a bowl of candy, I would have absolutely taken a piece or two. Assuming I had a reason to be there.

The Other Times

Every kid, at some point, wishes that they could just eat ice cream for dinner. Food is food, and ice cream just happens to be one of the more delicious options. As pointed out by my friend KevBaum, my peers and I at that age where we can make our decisions but aren’t responsible enough to make consistently good ones. So for dinner a few night ago, I ate ice cream. It was delicious. And that’s a sign that our lives are great right now.

Classes ended 2 weeks ago, my finals a week after that, and my total freedom also as I’m already a half week into my summer job. The summer brings along exciting things to look forward to, but I think it’s my time to reflect on another year gone.

I learned that communication is a joint activity. I learned the lyrics to “Hey, Soul Sister.” I learned how to clean battery contacts with vinegar. I learned about what we do and don’t know about receptive field changes in neurons in visual areas. I learned about how schools are selected for bowl games. I learned that Hewlett 200 is not a good room for a comedy show. I learned about legitimately putting together a theme for a blog. I learned how to kayak. I learned how to play “contact.” I learned about how machine learning techniques can improve speed dating techniques. I learned how to put together a syllabus for a class. I learned about Merlinpeen. I learned how to integrate sensory details into nonfiction work.

It seems like I’ve themed my past year end entries around some big lesson of the year. Freshmen year of college was about seeing a bigger world. Sophomore year was actually figuring out why I liked what I was learning about. I think this year was about realizing that I have fun like a normal person, which kind of has two parts.

First, I can be a dork and not reinforce it with my every action. I’m not denying anything. Note several facts from the other day:

  • I made at least 2 Star Wars jokes
  • I lamented to my friend Ben, “Why can’t we have Starcraft 2 right now?”
  • I spent a good chunk of time this afternoon reading about cilantro/coriander

I feel blessed to be at college where this type of behavior isn’t cause for concern. I’m not beyond having long, late night conversations with friends about Starcraft 2, but among my regular group of friends, I think we’re far more likely to be talking about sports, movies, and burritos. I think I’ve been fighting my curiosity and fascination with pop culture for a long time. Thanks to the influence of my hallmates, I think I’ve listened to far more Ke$ha and Gaga than Canadian Brass and Gene Pokorny this year, and I might be better at 7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon than chess.

It’s not fair to say that I have a curiosity with pop culture. Said like that, I watch pop culture unravel as an academic analysis of societal trends and preferences. And that’s pretty dorky. After all these years of eschewing pop culture as mindless and unproductive, I’m beginning to see what the appeal is. It’s fun. And I think that’s something I was missing for awhile there.

As much fun as sophomore year was, junior year has been a huge bounce back for me. Particularly, my entire floor in Robinson is coming off a huge high that we had all of spring quarter. At first, we were just excited to be entirely reunited after a few people left for the winter to study abroad, but as the school year started to feel long, we never let up on the distractions. Whether it was a sleepover on the balcony or a continuous conversation in the hallway from after dinner to bedtime as people cycled in and out, I’m glad we found activities not centered around our N64 or YTMND.

Second, there shouldn’t be any guilt with having fun. The great news about summer is that there are firm boundaries and expectations about investment in work. Most jobs are 9 to 5, and when the clock strikes 5, it’s permissible to drop everything and move on with the rest of life. In essence, there’s no guilt about not working long hours for most jobs. In many ways, school is a job, but one very big difference is that the school day is never really over. During the school year, literally every moment is a potentially study moment, and with each tick, you’re either making it or wasting it.

Which is the worst possible way to think about it. Because we’re irresponsible college students, we spend time doing all sorts of random things, from watching Lakers-Celtics games to visiting Buddhist monasteries. Many extracurricular activities are done strictly for fun and relaxation, and those are moments spent not studying. I realized that as soon as I thought about that fact, I ruined the movie I was watching or the game of racquetball I was playing. Instead of enjoying and relaxing, I was worrying about my opportunity costs. It would be the worst possible use of my time: not studying and not having fun.

Having heard my lessons, you shouldn’t worry that I’ve lived some hedonistic lifestyle and forsaken my studies for fun alternatives. Although it’s cliche, this all boils down to me finding some sort of balance in my life. The classic divide is between work and pleasure, but my situation can be summarized as work guilt. Too little, and I might never get around to doing what I need to. Too much, and I’m stuck worrying without being any more productive.

Although there are always ups and downs, I feel like I had it all this past year. I’m proud of what I accomplished, I’m so pleased with the random experiences that paved the path, and I’m grateful for the people around me who laughed when I laughed, distracted me when I was tense, and supported me when I went into the tank. Life wasn’t a year-long Hawaiian vacation, but that’s not really how you have ice cream for dinner anyways.

Sunshine

The return to campus for spring quarter also brings along great expectations of beautiful weather. As PhD Comics notes, it isn’t all radiant warmth and blooming flowers, though I can’t complain too much about the allergies. The primary culprit is the rain and chilliness, just barely enough to keep reactions tepid.

I thought about it last night, and I think we tend to overstate Stanford’s case for perfect weather. I find that I often make excuses to visitors for the weather, from the rainy season during the winter to some hot days in the summer. On the whole, the weather certainly is nice, and it beats just about everywhere else I can think of. I’m just impressed by how well we’ve managed to average weather conditions in our minds into a perfect, constant climate.

Not to say that we don’t react to the weather changes. Campus never necessarily feels down about the weather, but spirit picks up when the sun comes out after the rain. It took 2 days at the end of last quarter to trade all of their hoodies and rain boots for sundresses and denim shorts. One day, only the most die-hard graduate students would head out for soccer, yet the next, the Oval was filled with toddlers running wild, ultimate frisbee, and sunbathing.

Among my friends, the new quarter and new season has brought about sand volleyball, a triumphant statement that we’re going to take any chance to enjoy the outdoors, regardless of how wet the sand is, how windy it is, and how untalented we are. We spend just as much time retrieving the ball when it lands outside of the court, but we’re slowly improving. I’m looking forward to being able to set up a bump-set-spike.

So until problem sets give us an excuse to find other ways to procrastinate, we’ll be trying to stay active for as long as possible. By then, hopefully the beautiful Stanford weather we know will shame us into heading back outside.

Overheard at Office Hours

Some great things I heard today while at office hours. Who knew getting help on a problem set could be so much fun?

1. (This one is second-hand, about a student’s matlab code of a learning algorithm)

Student: Can I still get most of the points if I’m not getting the right results?

TA: If you don’t get the right results, you can only get up to half credit

Student: Well, my code is conceptually correct.

TA: If your code is conceptually correct, you should get the right results

2. (Project group working on their code)

Student: Why is it that nothing we were given in class works?

3. (same group)

Student: The matlab SVM code works, but ours doesn’t (repeated multiple times over the course of OH)

TA: Well, have you tried debugging your code?

4. (us trying to get help)

Student: That’s not what the TA said yesterday. (some explanation about what the other TA said)

TA: (thinks and agrees). So I haven’t actually done the derivation myself. It’s too much work (everyone laughs). I just look at the solution and agree that it’s correct

5. (still us)

Student: Is that the solution you have in your hand? (TA is holding papers) Can you just look at those to see what’s supposed to happen?

TA: Oh, these are all wrong. It’s correct until here, and the rest is crap.

(later)

TA: I think this was just a printing mistake or something.

Tuba – Take 2

After dinner last night, I grabbed my tuba and made the 10 minute walk to Dinkelspiel Auditorium (Dink) for rehearsal. I arrived a little late, but rehearsal hadn’t started yet, so I sat down next to the bass trombone and began unpacking. After chatting with Michael, the bass trombone player, and warming up some, we started to rehearse Wagner’s Overture to Tannhauser (include umlaut somewhere in there).

A few weeks ago, I emailed the summer orchestra director wondering if there was a spot I could play in. As far as he knew, their regular tuba player wasn’t going to be around, and he’d be willing to let me get a school instrument to practice before auditioning for the ensemble. This Monday, I went in for my audition with a given excerpt and 2 etudes to play. My audition was pretty bad, but also completely honest; although I think I sounded good, I also cracked a lot of notes and even missed a few fingerings. I had mostly practiced warmups and exercises to condition myself some and not focused so much on actually preparing the pieces I would need to play. It all ended up well, though, and he said he would be able to get me involved. THey hadn’t been planning on having a tuba, but sets can always be changed.

When I got my seating chart yesterday, I saw I would play on 2 of the 6 pieces; there was a brass fanfare and a Wagner, both of which were kindnesses to me. Given the relatively long set and little rehearsal time, we couldn’t spend much time on any one piece, so we skipped the fanfare until sectionals next week and rehearsed the Wagner for about 35 minutes.

It went alright. Key of E meant I missed the fingerings for about 10% of the notes, and I couldn’t find the partial on half of the rest of them. Even so, those maybe 5 minutes that I actually played were so much fun. I’m depending on having immense improvement very quickly as I remember how to tune my instrument and listen and blend into an ensemble, but even playing as I did, I had so much more fun than sitting in a practice room by myself.

I guess the last thing I have to say about it is that I’m glad that this orchestra confirms 2 of my previous beliefs:

1) The low brass section is filled with goof-offs. We talked while rehearsal (even gaining the attention of the conductor for us to quiet down). I’m not sure exactly whether the trombone attracts the silliest people or whether all that slide action makes one lose their senses after playing for too long, but I’m glad to be in good company.

2) No one actually counts. 49 measures is a long time to count, and I got pretty lost. I knew I wasn’t alone, though, when the trombones all sighed in relief after Martin stopped +/- 5 measure from our entrance. I hope that’s a minus, because maybe he stopped since we didn’t start playing?

This should be a fun summer.

That’s a Wrap!

This past Wednesday, I left my probability final with a feeling of freedom. The following day, I slept in until 11:30 and drifted around for the rest of the day, picking at various tasks in between time-wasting activities. Yesterday, the only two notable activities were talking to Evan on the phone and going to play Friday Night Magic at a shop in San Jose. And today, I’m pretty sure I’ve done nothing.

Thinking about my activities, this might not be so different than a slow weekend during the school year. Thinking about how I’ve felt, it’s been so much better because there’s no pressure to do anything. Instead of the constant need to catch up on reading or start a problem set easy, I can spend an hour or two watching a movie or playing video games and not feel like I’m sacrificing anything. That’s a sign the year is over.

I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that there’s actually structure in philosophy papers. I’ve learned enough C++ that I’m no longer bluffing when I help someone on an assignment. I’ve learned how to play racquetball. I’ve learned about the difference between bebop and cool jazz. I’ve learned that polarized sunglasses make the world look funny. I’ve learned that I don’t understand euclidean domains. I’ve learned how dorm events are run.

One of the most important things I’ve learned is what my major is actually about. When asked what symbolic systems is, I still tell people that it’s my way of doing computer science with philosophy and psychology requirements instead of engineering requirements. And in some sense, that’s still true. Over this year, though, I’ve taken 4 philosophy classes (2 logic, 2 not), a modern algebra class, and a computer science theory class. Something I’ve seen through these classes is that there are principles behind how the world works, and there are ways of understanding that, and depending on how you understand it, everything you might think you know might be a horrible lie or simplification. At the end of this quarter, my prof for “Mind, Matter, and Meaning” told us that he decided to go into math and philosophy instead of natural science because he was fascinated by how the worlds work. Knowing how the world works is cool, but in some sense, the laws of physics and biology are arbitrary. It’s fantastic that someone has the answer, but there’s no reason why the world actually works that way.

In that class, we had talked a lot about logically possible and naturally possible worlds, hoping that possibilities and necessities in those worlds would help us understand why our world works like it does. It was quite a throwback to my previous philosophy classes. In my moral philosophy class, we talked about Kant’s Formula of Universal Law, where we imagine world and attempt to come to various types of contradictions. And that could be understood within the framework of modal logic, which we talked about in my 2nd logic class. In that, we looked at the connection between worlds, where we connected truths between various worlds.

It seems that the common theme between all of this is reducing complex systems into an underlying structure that can make things easier to understand. In my first logic class, we talked about how to use propositional and first-order logic. This seemed like the end of the story until the 2nd class, where we reduced these systems to even fewer axioms and showed how the systems were built and proved why they work. Which was the same thing that we did in my CS theory class, covering finite automata and turing machines as simpler forms of what all computers are today. And was the same in that algebra class, where we learned all these wonderful properties of the integers and natural numbers that I had used so much.

So when I think back to last summer, when Kurt Godel and Alan Turing came up in all my reading, that no longer seems surprising, because that’s apparently what I’m interested in. After this quarter, I’ll have to throw in Saul Kripke as another person who’s coming up in all of my classes as being very important to developing and understanding these symbolic systems.

When I came to Stanford, I was fairly certain that I was going to major in symbolic systems, so when people asked me if I knew what I wanted to do, that was a yes. I knew that the set of classes that make up the core looked interesting. After having taken most of the core now, I’m at the point where I think I now know what my major actually is, and why I think the classes are great. That, of course, doesn’t give me any certainty on what I want to do after this, but at least I’ll know what it is that I know.

Diversions

The nature of personal writing is somewhat unfortunate. The times I have the most to write about are when I’m doing a lot, which is when I can’t muster the will to write. Right now, I’m back on break and far too relaxed to write anything serious. Instead, I’ll share some distractions that have helped out recently:

1) Wikipedia on domestic items and architecture

The spiraling effect of link-following on Wikipedia is well-documented, but an interesting clique I found was on home architecture. I think it first came up because I was trying to figure out the difference between the family room and game room, and soon learned about ranch-style house and split-level homes. I never thought about layout much, but I geuss there are classifications.

2) Sporcle

If you haven’t tried out sporcle, be prepared for one of the best trivia games I’ve found. The idea is relatively simple: given a theme, list a bunch of items. For example, can you name all 44 US presidents, or all 151 original Pokemon? For about a week, my dormmates and I stayed up late working on various quizzes. There’s something gratifying about doing well on these, but I think sporcle only works because we fail a lot. Topics range from the filmographies of various actors to conjugations for etre in French, so I think everyone has at least one for one of their passions. I myself found it tragic how well I did on Star Wars (it’s actually quite hard) and 30 Rock characters, but the more satisfying ones for me were US court cases and SI units. It’s fantastically addictive.

3) YTMND

YTMND is risky. Basically, it’s one huge inside joke about internet memes. Some of them are quite dirty, some are bizarre, some are nonsensical, some are non sequitur, but some are clever. Basically, there’s some animated gif with a sound clip. Which sounds dumb, since we have youtube and all of its brilliance of streaming video. But the best part of YTMNDs is that they require a certain level of ingenuity to come up with something interesting in 5 secods with that amount of info. I don’t think most people will find it that interesting, but we’re glad to have these as inside jokes.

4) fmylife

fmylife is bad. It’s just a bunch of stories of the form “Today, I … FML” that people post. It makes me feel a little dirty to read, but you might find it good if you’re feeling down and need ot remeber that someone else has it worse.

And that’s how the internet can ruin you. On a completely unrelated note, I’ve recently come into possession of kevinleung.com, so I might be migrating my blog to that. I’ll post again if and when that happens.

Through My Eyes

I like to post about exciting stuff. I try to post about insightful stuff. Unfortuantely, most of my life is neither, which does leave a gaping hole in my blog, since it is supposed to be about it. It’s also very hard for me to determine what happens in my life at the end of the day, so I figured I would take pictures all day and show you instead what my day is like. So, here are 60 pictures from Wed, Jan 21st. It’s actually a stellarly non-interesting day, and very not busy. Here’s what my iCal had for yesterday:

Time , Event , Location
9:00 AM – 9:50 AM , CS 106B lecture , Gates B03
10:00 AM – 10:50 AM, Phil 151 lecture , 260-113
2:15 PM – 3:05 PM , CS 103 lecture , Hewlitt 200
4:15 PM – 5:30 PM , EECS Colloquium, Gates B01
7:00 PM – 8:00 PM , How I Write , Hume
10:15 PM – 10:30 PM , Dorm Meeting ,

I definitely don’t go to everything on my iCal, but I guess I’ll let the pictures tell…


The most painful sight. I have class at 9:00 MWF and 9:30 TTh, so my alarm is set to 8:00 every morning.


To contrast, my roommate RJ doesn’t have class until the afternoon on TTh, and he only sometimes goes to 9:00 MWF. Today was not one of those days. Just a little envy.


The rest of my room. Standing from the door you see there looking in, our room is tall and narrow, and my bed is at the upper left corner. RJ’s is against the other wall to my left in the picture.


Walking down the hallway to communal bath in the morning. This picture is oddly fitting because when I wake up, my vision is blurry, and everything is far too bright. For those who’ve never had to be in a communal bath, I promise it’s not that bad. Unless someone parties too hard on Friday night, since nobody cleans all weekend.


Me in my sexy pjs with towel. This is the only picture you’ll get to consider the inside of the Lantana 3rd floor boys room.

After cleaning up a little, I go back to my dorm and turn on my computer to catch up on morning news and email. You’ll notice my super-ergonomic setup (which I’m currently enjoying. This way, I neither have to reach up with my wrists or curl over to see my screen. Thank you to the two separate parties who have so kindly bestowed me with free, unused stuff to form my keyboard/mouse setup.


I do eat breakfast, which is usually stolen from the dining hall the night before. You can see the sigg bottle my sister gifted to me, and which I use all the time. Add in an apple and pastry-ish thing with jam in it, and I’m set.


Here’s a typical look of what my screen would look like after getting to my later dailies. I’m an addictive Google Reader user (sorry Bloglines, but you didn’t work very well near the end), and I often have a magic card I’m looking up.


I take a second pass at the washroom to brush my teeth and pop in my contacts, and off to lecture. I leave about 10 mins before any class, so by 8:45, I’m prepping to go. I have this super-cool tiger-patterned bike strap so that my pants don’t get caught in my bike. I tore a nice hole in a pair of khakis before i got the strap, so I figure the dorkiness is worth the safety.


There it is. I literally won’t even go across the street without riding my bike. That’s not lazy, is it?

The hand grips wore off, and they actually got sticky after that, so I’d come away with black residue on my hands after riding. Now, I have blue tape which 1) prevents my gloves from being torn up by the stickiness and 2) makes it easier to find my bike.


I’m not exactly sure what they’re building, but on Serra, there’s been construction since the beginning of the year. They actually have a really cool mountain of dirt there.


This is CS106B, Programming Abstractions. When I said I have class at 9 MWF, I was half-lying, because this is actually the class that I’m section-leading this quarter. I come because I never actually took this course (got equivalent from AP CS AB) and because I get paid for it. I think there are something like 200 kids taking this class.


Today, my buddy is Molly, who I’m sure didn’t even know that I took this picture. I sit by other section leaders, and she, like me, greatly feared teaching this class. But we must all conquer our fears, even if our fears are just programming languages.


Jerry Cain teaches this class this quarter. He’s become infamous recently for teaching CS107, which was the first CS class I took here at Stanford. He’s an excellent, excellent lecturer, well-known for coming into lecture with just his hands in his hoodie, and teaching all of class and writing all of the code from memory. Jerry Cain didn’t learn C++. C++ is shaped around the thought patterns of Jerry Cain.


Naturally, I don’t actually pay attention to 106 lecture. Instead, I bring reading. Here’s a page out of Russell and Norvig’s famous Artificial Intelligence book, the textbook for the AI course I’m taking.


The Gates Computer Science building is just a bit away from the main quad, but this is a shot on my way to my next class. I’m on the east wall of the quad heading south, so you can see a little of it on the left hand side of the picture. Taking pictures while on a bike is dangerous; don’t try this at home, kids.


There’s the entrance to the Language Corner of the main quad, the southeast corner. Just next to it is the Intersection of Death.


And here is Phil 151, First-Order Logic, taught by Eric Pacuit (pronounced like a packet of paper). I’m kind of getting my butt kicked by this class, but it’s okay, because Eric’s a good lecturer, and I’m learning a lot. I sit in the front row, so I had to be really sneaky taking this pic.


My notes after 151. I don’t know what it means either.


This quarter, I actually have a huge gap around lunch MWF, from 11 to 2:15. It’s actually the first time ever, I think, that I haven’t had a 1:15 class. Since I had so much time, I took a trip to check my PO box. There’s a nice dedicated post office just off of White Plaza, so it’s not at all inconvenient to get to.


Everyone rides bikes, and there are definitely some people with some very bizarre bikes. This one is maybe about 25% weird. Other famous non-car vehicles include a motorized bike, a lot of parents with a tandem for their kids, one segway guy, weird twisty/gyrating skateboard things, a trumpeting unicyclist, and the jogger.


=( Apparently I wasn’t even good enough for a credit card offer this week.


This is Escondido Road on east campus. It is the home to approximately 20 dorms of approximately 100 undergrads each, so about 1/3 of undergrads live here (origin of those numbers is debatable). Lantana, my dorm, happens to be one of them. Cedro, my dorm last year, was also one of them.


I arrive back in my room right around 11, where RJ is still in pre-morning shower mode. I’m actually a little dissatisfied with these breaks because I don’t have the will to be productive during them. I actually prefer my life when all events are jammed next to each other. It’s a little precarious to make it to everything, but it does mean that I don’t waste 5-10 minutes here and there.


Across the hall are two more sophomores, Alex and Leland. You can see Leland there, being cool. I think we have a somewhat unique situation for Lantana, as both my and their rooms usually have open doors. At any time, we have a straight shot to talk, and I can appreciate Leland’s playlist.


Checking email. I usually keep my inbox pretty clean (<10 messages), and I don't use a notifier or keep my email open all of the time. I find it messes up my productivity. But yes, I have all of my mail forwarded to gmail, so that's my email client. I probably do do enough of a majority of my email from one computer to justify using Mail or Outlook, but gmail is just so slick and portable, I've never found a reason to change. Don't scrutinize the contents of my inbox too much. There might be a potential breach of privacy, so pretend you can't see details.
Here’s something I read during this break. I won’t divulge too much about it, but it’s related to something I’ve mentioned in my blog recently.


Leland come to visit. We’re constantly walking back and forth to see what the others are up to.


Lantana is shaped like a T. I’m in the upper-right hallway, on the bottom side of it. The rest of my draw group is in a triple at the very bottom of the T. It is the designated hang out room, so I spend a lot of time in there. That’s Jordan, our resident video-watcher. He’s an excellent filter for internet content, because if he recommends it, that’s a guarantee that I don’t want to see it.


Relative to the T, the triple is shaped like a L turned 90 degrees clockwise. Jordan has his corner near the door at the bottom, the elbow is where the TV and futon are, and Tom and Ben are in the right-hand part of the room.


Tom is playing Starcraft. This is actually a very new thing (new being this quarter) to have people playing Starcraft again. What is obscured largely in this picture are diet pepsi cans. I think I picked the perfect angle in which you can’t see them as they are everywhere else. No exaggeration.


And of course, we play Magic. That’s Ben, shuffling up. Most of the guys had gone to eat lunch at 11:30 when they open, but Ben was going to meet a Cedroid (dormmate from last year) for lunch at 12:15, so he and I waited. You can see the new futon on the left. Our last futon was somewhat broken. If you tried to flatten it out, it would sink in the middle. And it couldn’t even make it to sit all the way up. Now that I think about it, it was completely broken, because it failed to satisfy either of a futon’s two functions.


Us playing. We played maybe 3 games in about a half-hour, which is about normal, with a little deck-revision at the end.


This is Manzanita Dining. I’m standing just in front of the register, so except for drinks, cereal, and bread just at the edges of hte picture, that’s the size of the dining area. It’s all buffet-style, for better or worse.


Wednesday lunch is popular because it is pizza and …


falafel wrap day. Manz has it’s ups and downs, but on average, it’s quality.


That actually doesn’t look nearly as delicious as in real life. It may be slightly related to the fact that I took two bites out before I remembered to take a picture.


From the left, that’s Aaron, James, and Ben. Just out of frame is Folake, a dormmate from last year, and one of the most perpetually excited people I know. Usually, it only takes maybe a half hour to eat lunch, but we were enjoying talking so much, we were there for maybe an hour before leaving.


Here’s what my 3rd virtual desktop looks like. The thing that IM and iTunes have in common is that they’re most useful open, but not visible. I can keep firefox or whatever open in my 1st screen, and flip to this one when I need to. And yes, that is my Disney soundtrack. I promise that I’m actually 19, even if I listen to Disney, eat jello, and have juice boxes in my fridge. So there’s some more time-killing between 1:15 and 2:15. When I can’t recall what I did, it means that it was certainly unproductive.


I head back across to the Hewlitt building, close to the Gates building. There’s a pseudo intersection there, with the Hewlitt and Packard buildings on one side, and Gates and Gilbert on the other. I have no idea who Gilbert is named after.


CS103, taught in Hewlitt 200, probably the largest regular classroom and one of the highest occupancy rooms on campus. This is “Mathematical Foundations of Computing” and is currently covering logic, which I did last quarter in Phil 150. You probably don’t care about the details, but basically, the class is huge because of a huge curriculum change in the CS department just this year. It’s taught by Robert Plummer (no, not my high school drum major and Stanford grad student; another Robert Plummer), who is a good lecturer. He’s pretty old, but he still talks strongly and is pretty robust.


Went to high school with Frank, and he’s in CS103 as well. As I mentioned, the lecture is big, so this is the first time I’ve seen him this quarter.


On my right, from closest to farthest, are Lucas, RJ, and Leland. Large class = lots of company.


A different look at the size of the class. Perhaps things are better at other private universities, but I’ve noticed that class sizes at Stanford aren’t really small. There’s a lot of faculty, but I don’t think they all do a lot of teaching. Add in that quarters mean that students can take 1.5 times the number of classes as most and that many classes are only taught once a year, and class sizes aren’t <10. Tragedy, but most good interaciton with faculty is outside of the classroom anyways.
I had talked to a couple people about playing racquetball that day, and I made the mistake of scheduling them consecutively. I got ready for racquetball before 103 lecture and went straight to the courts. The courts are actually a new addition and are thus housed in basically a separate building attached to a larger gym. Only 4 courts, but as long as it doesn’t get popular, that’s not a problem. I first play with Nico and Dan starting around 3:30, and finish 2 games of cutthroat with them.


By the time Ben gets there at 4:30, I’m already really tired and ready to quit. I was having way too much fun though and kept on playing.


Ben and I both started at the beginning of last quarter, and I think we’re roughly equal in skill. That day was really unusual, though, as Ben was cold, and I was really tired. Playing those other games, though, got me exactly in the right mindset and motion to play, and my kills were low and my passing shots landed right in the corner. We played until maybe 5:15, at which point I was dead tired.


Went back to Manz dining, so there’s a shot at the salad bar. Yeah sneeze guards…


The middle station is usually stuff made right in front of you (like falafel wraps or panini), but for dinner, it was pasta. Since cooking this summer, my appreciation for pasta has decreased, and I certainly wasn’t willing to wait for it.


The round tables are somewhat less convenient than the long tables from last year. I don’t think it encourages mingling as much, and it’s awkward when the last person can’t fit in. Numbers were okay, at this point, though, so going clockwise from my left, RJ, Jordan, Dave, Kenan, James, and Leland. Mealtime conversations can be weird. The only topics I can remember coming up were MILFs and GILFs, so yes, weird.


There’s dinner. Salad, vegetable pot pie, and a chunk of chicken. The first 90% of my meals are usually a nice tasting of various parts. By the end, though, I get lazy and just mix everything together and hope that the combination is good. It all ends up in the same place, right?


After dinner, I did my reading for moral philosophy. The excerpt was two chapters on utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill, and although it was only a couple pages, it took me an hour and a half to finish. Not only was the content dense, Mill just has a weird writing style. It’s not really old English, but the sentences are really long. He tends to, at completely inappropriate moments that don’t make sense, cut up his sentences, which could easily be 2 or 3 separate thoughts, by interjecting phrases and clauses between, say, the subject and the verb, so it, although perhaps similar to how we talk, makes it really hard to follow and maintain a single line of thought.


As I was finishing my response paper around 8:30, George came by to visit. He was in our draw group, but ended up taking a year off to work instead. He’s just off campus, though, so he visits Lantana a couple times a week. We talked for another hour and a half about random things, though primarily about games and the inauguration. I recommend that if you can, you watch the Family Guy clip about “Aladdin 4: Jafar May Need Glasses.” It’s one of the most hilarious clips, I think.


As dorm president, I’m responsible for determining food for house meeting and leading house meeting. That sounds impressive and time-consuming until I also add in that 1) I actually just tell the RAs what I’m feeling that week and they drive to get the food and 2) I go to visit the RAs just before house meeting (around maybe 10:05) to ask them what I’m supposed to say. And of course, the RAs go to house meeting as well, so my position is largely worthless. But I try.


Food this week was Dominoes pizza, which was a large part in boosting attendance to perhaps a Lantana-high of almost a third of the dorm! It was gone very quickly, but I can’t think of a better use for dorm funds. Maybe we should just blow it all to go to Vegas for a weekend…


We didn’t get drinks for house meeting, but fortunately, Tom brought some Cactus Cooler back from SoCal. Excellent pop, and highly recommended if you end up in that area.


There was some unproductivity after house meeting, such as this shot of us watching videos online. I think that’s the timewaster for my generation of college students.


I finally get into bed at 12:06, which is pretty normal, I think.


I’ve been reading Robert Heinlein’s “Time Enough For Love” before sleeping, and it’s really quite good. My copy is very old, and it broke right down the middle, though I guess that means I only have to hold half a book open to read it. While I think some parts of his writing is compelling, I’ve also realized that all of his books are the same. There’s typically a pragmatic, somewhat rude, perceptive older male as the main character, and all of his books definitely have a political message in there. Starship Troopers really emphasizes his belief in a meritocracy, and all of his future societies believe in ultimate sexual freedom and a kind of no nonsense frontier style method of living.


I clearly enjoy it quite a bit anyways, though, as I read for about an hour before finally kicking it.

So this has taken me far longer to write than I thought it would (almost 2 hours?), but if nothing else, it’s been fun for me to take a step back and look at what I’m doing with my life. I don’t think I changed what I did in a day because I knew I’d be putting it all up on the internet, but I certainly don’t make any promises about my unconscious. Anyways, I hope it was interesting enough for you as well to make it all the way to the end!

Musharraf

There’s the common perception that techies are somewhat spacey, unaware of what’s actually going on in the world. When programmers spend their time building artificial creations in virtual spaces, sometimes it’s hard to find the connection to the plight of the unemployed, or international conflict.

Which might be a little true of me. My google reader is filled with techie stuff, and my desperate attempt to stay relevant includes morning news digests from MSNBC, NYT, and the Toronto Star by email, and a constant backlog of the New York Times that I end up reading at all once on the weekends. I at least pretend to be well-read by keeping a vanity stack of newspapers in my dorm room:


Regardless, when I saw that Pervez Musharraf, former President of Pakistan, would be speaking on-campus, I knew enough to know that this was a big deal. That might be just from watching CNN in China because I had nothing better to do at that time, but I think that counts.

Musharraf is a particularly interesting speaker to have because he’s not very popular with the western media or people. On-campus speakers often fit the ideal American persona, having made a significant contribution to society that everyone recognizes. On the other hand, I don’t know if I agree with everything Musharraf has done. He came to power in Pakistan under dubious circumstances and has removed political opponents from office. But I think that makes him very interesting to listen to.

A lot of others students agreed, apparently, and the line in White Plaza on the first day was definitely one of the longest I’ve seen on-campus:



Tickets to the event at Memorial Auditorium (seating 1600, according to Wikipedia) were gone before the end of the week, and on Friday afternoon, the building was definitely filled.

Musharraf started with about an hour long speech about terrorism and how to fight it. His stance on terrorism was long one of the important reasons why the American government supported him, and I certainly believe he’s earnest in his desire to end terrorism. He talked broadly about the causes of terrorism and extremism, often using Pakistan as an example. While I agreed with everything he said, I realized afterward that few wouldn’t. Talking at such a high level, he preached accepted morality and reasonable deductions on the topic. What I would have found potentially more interesting if he had talked more about what Bush would call the “tough decisions.” In the real world, everything isn’t perfect, and we have to make tradeoffs–even between natural rights and ethics–to achieve our highest goal. Musharraf has certainly appeared to give on political freedom to gain on stability, and I would have found it much more compelling (though only potentially convincing) had he spoken about that.

Following the speech was a 45-minute Q&A session moderated by a Stanford professor, which was much more interesting. There were generally 3 categories of questions:
1) Obscure. As I mentioned, I’m not really hot on the whole current events thing. Thus, when someone asks about the house arrest of some scientist selling nuclear designs or signing a document in 2007, I don’t actually know enough to understand the importance of his response. Regardless, I was certainly glad that there were a couple of these. When I saw Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking, I was disappointed because I don’t think anything they said was directed towards a knowledgable crowd. Maybe it means nothing to me, but I’m sure that there are IR and Poli Sci majors who were waiting for it.

2) Angry. Musharraf is controversial. Stanford students are pretty political. Thus, there are people who are very, very angry at him for things he’s done. While I can understand the ire of those asking accusational questions, I find the act somewhat self-serving. Maybe those individuals will feel better to yell at Musharraf to his face, but their emotions basically allow Musharraf to bat the question away as meaningless. While it’s cool that he’s here, we’re not the UN, and he’s under no obligation to answer these questions.

For example, one student asked him (paraphrased), “What percent of the Pakistani government and agencies, including military and intelligence, does the government actually have control over? And don’t say all of it, because that would undermine everything you’ve said today.” And an awesome answer. Musharraf: “Where are you from?” “India.” “I knew that.” After the laughter died down, Musharraf instead gave a short speech on how India and Pakistan need to stop hating and accept that the only way to move forward is for everyone to come together. Brilliantly political response, I thought.

3) Cheeseball. There were a couple cheeseball questions which Musharraf responded with some more generally good statements. Not interesting.

In the end, I don’t think I got anything from the appearance that I couldn’t have gotten from reading or watching press releases. Perhaps the real benefit for me was to have almost 2 hours to just think about what he was saying and do the good thing of paying attention to events, for once. Musharraf apparently is THE big speaker of the year for the series, but I hope we’ll have just as interesting people to make even spacey students like me think on something new for a little.

Clapping for Class

Well, the end of the quarter has come, and almost all classes ended earlier today. The end of things can be bittersweet, but here, the emotion is mostly relief. With 10 week quarters, midterms begin as early as week 3 and last through week 10, meaning that most classes are more sprinting than marathoning.

But although many students never ever want to go back to a class, that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the class or the prof. I would say that most lecturers are well-liked by their students. It seems, however, that gift-giving doesn’t happen the same way as it does in grade school, though. A large portion of that is probably that parents don’t vicariously give gifts at this age anymore. So maybe lecturers get thank you notes and emails nowadays. That I’m not really sure about.

What I do know about is students clapping for the lecturer and course after the last class session. The first class I saw it in was CS107 last fall, taught by the amazing Jerry Cain, when Jerry closed the class without too much ceremony. The students seemed to know what to do, though, because everyone started clapping anyways. And it may seem like a token gesture, but even clapping can be pretty nice.

Which makes me wonder what conditions under which it happens. Let’s go over my schedule this year, how they went, and some of what I believe are relevant circumstances:

Phil 150 (logic) – half-clapping? Our main lecturer, Dave, finished his part last week, and it’s been a guest lecturer for the past 4 sessions. We clapped at the end of the course this morning, though I don’t know if got his fair share. It’s a decent-sized lecture class, though being a 9:00, people don’t show up. We kind of got a closing statement and wish for best luck from our lecturer.

Math 120 (modern algebra) – clapped. Class of maybe 20-ish kids, and our lecturer, Ravi, was pretty awesome. One person definitely started it, but I think there were also others who would’ve started it, as people picked up almost instantly.

PWR 2 (writing) – small seminar-style class with 15 students. We’ve really gotten to know each other really well, and Jonathan, who taught the class, also endeared himself to us. We had a big clapping session when we finished our final reflections and just celebrated the end of the class.

CS 147 (HCI) – huge class, 150, of almost all upperclassmen taught by Scott, who is amazingly cool and actually got discussion going on during lecture (which I’ve never seen). I think everyone really enjoyed the class. But no one clapped. He also had a guest lecturer for the final session, but that wasn’t a surprise, so the class knew his last class would’ve been Tuesday. I got out one clap before I realized no one was going for it, and I saw one other guy who tried too, which makes me think there were a couple. For the most part, though, everyone was rushing out of the class when it was over, as usual.

So CS147 has really thrown me off as I thought that class would’ve been a certain clapping situation. I’ve certainly been in classes with boringish material that cost the clap, but some certainly deserve it.

There is the difference between the seminar clap and the lecture clap, though. The first is a more congratulatory clap, I think, because most seminars end up building some good relationships, and it really is a bunch of friends having pulled through by the end, and great appreciation for the mentor that carried us along. The lecture clap is more appreciation, though, as it’s really about what the lecturer has managed to teach us.

In either case, though, I think it’s usually deserved. Even if a class isn’t amazing, I haven’t taken a class where that was because the lecturer didn’t care or wasn’t trying. It’d be naive to say that all classes and teaching methods are equal. But appreciation isn’t just appreciating quality; it’s appreciating investment.