Some Homecoming

I got home from Toronto just two days ago (Monday). For only two weeks with my life carried on a hard disk with me, it seems like an awful lot has changed.

An annoying, but not critical, change has been the lack of my mac. All you mac haters, rejoice: there was one flaw in my computer. You can look at the only pictures in my flickr of the problem. There’s a (currently) cosmetic flaw with it, as part of the case is coming apart, so I brought it to the local Apple Store to get repaired.

Instead of using that, I’m now back on my old, trusty Dell, sitting in the game room. It’s not unfamiliar to me, but I’d rather have my mac. A couple good things have come of it. I got around to finishing NOLF2, which was worth having finished years ago. My work hasn’t been slowed down, thanks to my external, and I’ve rediscovered Microsoft Office. NeoOffice, the mac os port of OpenOffice, doesn’t quite do it for me.

Past my computer woes, everyone’s gone. Thanks to trimesters, I’m sitting around at home while my classmates are off at college.

Definitely the weirdest part is knowing that ten minutes away, from 730 to 335, kids are doing the same thing I did for the past 4 years. I’ve been going to the JET band hall to practice tuba, and they’re having rehearsal as usual.

For the longest time, it didn’t really feel like I had graduated. I could’ve gone back to Taylor for another year, those classrooms and characteristics were so familiar. I’ve finally moved on, accepted that high school is at its bus stop, and college is about to put its fare in. With me, I carry the world I’ve known. It strikes me as so odd that, well, high school still exists.

How I Beat High School

I like to think I “beat” high school. I can look back on those four years and feel proud of what I accomplished, and I’m going to the college I want to go to, the one I thought was too good for me.
Based on that, here’s what I think I did to be successful, however late that lesson came. I hope someone can benefit from what I’ve figured out.

1) I didn’t let opportunities get past me.
Somewhat a lie. This was a lesson in progress. If there was something I wanted to do, I took a shot at it. For example, I had held out for two years against the UIL calculator team. I thought it was pointless and a waste of time. By the time senior year came, I was in Scott’s room when she offered to have me try out for it. For 15 minutes, I can afford to take the chance that it might be cool, and we ended up 2nd at region, 7th in the state. True, you might only go into something with a half-hearted effort, but it might pay off. Just like so many other things in life, the worst thing that could happen is that they say “no”.

2) I Slept.
For the first two years of high school, if I didn’t have a specific activity to keep me up, I went to sleep before 9:30. After that, it started to slide, but I held myself to a midnight bedtime. The one time I stayed up to finish an assignment ended up totally not being worth it, since it was taken for essentially a completion grade.
I remember a then senior mentioning to me during my sophomore year how he would stay up until 2 in the morning doing nothing. While that doesn’t sound too unusual to me now, I was quite surprised. Since then, I’ve had my late nights, though I kept those few.
Sleep doesn’t sound the most exciting; I wish I needed an hour or two less every night. That’d mean another hour or two of work or fun. But I do. And when I didn’t, I paid for it.
The thing I know for sure about it though is that it isn’t worth it staying up to do school work. It really isn’t that important. Homework can either be forgone or mashed into classes. Studying can be mashed into classes. Even if it was important, staying up doesn’t work out. If I were to stay up for another hour, I would maybe get about half-an-hour’s worth of work done, and have to make up an hour of sleep, usually during class. Makes more sense to me to do that work in class. And that’s easier to hide than sleeping. Though I’ve seen some awesome sleeping tactics…

3) I got ahead.
Thank my dad for this one. The best thing to make school easy and free time to do other stuff is to get exposure beforehand. I didn’t even get a lot of the stuff he taught me the first time, but when it came up again, it was a breeze.
This one also kind of ties into #1 (take opportunities). So many extra-curriculars are designed to test students at a higher level than they’re at. In striving for those, I made life easier later. After-school Computer Science practice freshmen year turned CS2 sophomore into a breeze, and when my dad’s help in math ran dry junior and senior year, it was okay. I had touched on the concepts in math contests.

4) I got busy.
I’m sticking to the belief that the best work I ever did was when I was the most busy. Any band kid can tell you that marching season is incredibly intense, and band students don’t have nearly as much time as they’d like. That forced me to manage my time the best I could and do as much as I could. Procrastination just wasn’t an option. If I had free time, I would probably put it off again and again, with the distinct likelihood of never doing it. When I was busy, I didn’t have the chance to put stuff off. I knew I would never have other time, so I did it.
I also found that booking things back to back, or with an overlap, helps too. If I have 15 minutes before two different activities, it’s unlikely that I’d use that time wisely. I’d probably just blow it, since there wouldn’t be enough time to get serious on anything. By booking things tight during this past marching season, I felt like I was getting a lot done and not wasting time.
The flip-side of that is being over-booked, and not having time enough for everything. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me. Maybe I don’t work hard enough, but it always seemed like there was more fluff in my life that I didn’t have to do that I could cut.

5) I tried to prove myself.
I met lots of extremely talented students during high school. Talking with them between classes or whatever, I knew they “had it”. Unfortunately, it’s disappointing that many of them never took the time to shine.
Anytime I learned anything, I took the opportunity to prove it. Pre-AP classes may be Pre-AP, but they’re better named SAT2s, because that’s the level I needed to take those tests(I wish I had taken the french one now). I knew I could make region band, so I didn’t let laziness keep me from practicing to do that. It never seemed like a bad idea to let a test or contest quantify what I had done.

Missing Canada

Without an NHL team in town and little natural climatic inclination towards it, hockey rarely comes on TV around here. So when I arrived home to see my sister watching the Stanley Cup finals between the Ducks and Senators, I tuned in.
Honestly, hockey never overtook baseball as my favorite sport. In the 9 years I lived in Canada, I never once attended a live hockey game, and I probably watched fewer games on TV than the number of times I’ve been thankful for having Holycross as a teacher. Even so, the sport has grown on me. Maybe the sport truly is in my blood. Or maybe some part of me is trying too hard to be more Canadian than I am.
For the game itself, the skill of the players shocked me. I had never realized the players’ skating ability, or the dexterity and game sense to work their sticks.
But that wasn’t the cool part about watching the game. Set at Scotiabank Place (wiki-assist), the boards were filled with advertisements for Canadian companies, which my sister and I nostalgically pointed out during the game.
In many ways, Canada isn’t so different from the US. Most of western culture can be considered one, except for low-quality Canadian TV. And for all of the claimed differences, it’s not major shock to move between the two countries.
Regardless, I felt comforted looking at the Canadian ads and thinking about all that. It feels like home. When it comes to home, the details matter. Safeway or Loblaws? Krispy Kreme or Tim Hortons? Zellers or Target? Home isn’t where the heart is; home is where the past is.

Yes, This letter is for you.

To whom it may concern (which is almost certainly you if you’re reading this, and many, many more),

It’s awfully hard to reflect on 12 years of education and 17 years of life when that’s all that I know, yet doing just that seems important at a time like this.
And I only get one shot at this. What comes from the heart only needs speak once, because after that, words are much too processed in the mind.
I’ve thought about life as it’s happened so far, and where I am now, and there’s nothing that I would change about my life now. I’m going to college in the fall at the place I crossed off my list for being too outrageous, I’m living most comfortably with no distinct problems, I’m healthy, and no tragedy has recently come to me.
Given that, there’s therefore absolutely nothing in my life I would change, nothing I regret. My current self manifests out of everything I’ve been, done, experienced, and to have ‘ne of that gone differently might alter my current state.
Of course, this is a letter to you, and you’re probably wondering what this has to do with you. Almost everything.
Everything I’ve done can be associated to someone else. Some of it is direct, like the wonderful teachers who have taught me and inspired me to learn. Some of it comes of support, like my parents and family who I know will always be there for me to depend on, whether for that extra encouragement, or the slap in the face when I often need of. Some of it you’re likely unaware of, when I watch other ppl (in a totally non-stalkerish way) and see their progress, and how I might emulate that for myself, or completely avoid such foolishness. Not to say I saw you when you picked your nose or scratched your butt in English class when I looked in your direction (10 to 1 says that someone just freaked out), but I’ve reflected so much on events in the world around me, that I’m certain that more you’ve done has factored into my life than you think.
And I’m constantly amazed at the ppl I have gotten to work with. So often, ppl speak of how our society is going down the john, how my generation, with its video games, IM, and angry music will be the destruction of the world, but there’s no way. I’ve seen and heard of the many foolish things my classmates (and me as well) have attempted, but I also ‘member the English discussions where amazing insight has been explained. I know about the passion that drives so many of my peers, and how well our parents and teachers have focused us and prepared us to become something amazing from it.
So my life is really the story of everyone else, and what I have seen of that. I think of my high school resume, yet behind each bullet lies a full anecdote on its own. I may have learned much of programming on the way to awards, but, as cliche as it sounds, I’ve learned more from the ppl surrounding it. When I talked to you about the apple pie while practicing drill, or when we played Dark Forces instead of working in Challenge, I had one more opportunity to see a little more about you, about someone.
From all of that, I now carry the memories and lessons that will guide me for the rest of my life. Thank you so much to all of you, because in at least one person’s life, you’ve made a difference. You have become a part of my life, and to define who I am, what I’ve become, without naming all of you would be an inaccurate representation of who I am. Truth, some of you have had a larger impact than others, but everything matters. In a frictionless environment, even a marble can knock a watermelon far off-course.

Kevin Leung

Why do I have to show up for 3 more days?

Well, my last assignment was turned in today, so this year is pretty much over.

From finally winning a regional CS contest, to actually getting rain at a football game, to the most awesome tetris-piece-shaped stats seating arrangement 2nd semester, to getting my drivers license, to actually being able to lord over all of the underclassmen, to being part of the best UIL Academics team in the state, to having become a pen connaisseur, to spending way too much time on Facebook, to truly break my gaming habits, to getting something higher than a 6+ on an AP English paper, to getting the AP/GT English 4 award (?), to hearing Mrs. Marvin tell us the beanbag story in person, to actually feeling like I made some music, to having dedicated a good portion of my life to AD, to never having eaten lunch in the Cafeteria, to recycling with the Dereks Tuesday afternoon, to skipping out on pretty much every band event at the end of this year (with good excuse!), to having pwned Frank several times, to filling out way too many scholarship applications, to continuing to meet new, amazing friends, to having spent way too much time with a certain group of 9 students, to finding out that Mrs. Scott once owned a movie theater, to managing to go to all 3 dances on the year (with 3 wonderful ppl), to having literally only watched one movie in theaters all year, to actually being given the choice to attend the most awesome university ever, to finally understanding the full circle of high school, to blogging this same passage 3 years running, to keeping up blogging on a regular basis for all this time, to getting to know the most amazing person in the world so much better, to playing Ultimate on Fridays, to getting around to not completely sucking at it, and to having a daily journal to contain everything that I’ve missed, it’s been quite a year.

This is one of those times when it’s hard to know what to feel. Well, obviously, I’m excited about college and sad about not being able to see these friends on a daily basis ever again. Transitions are a time to look both ahead and behind, which I highly advise you do.
Never change lanes without checking both your rear view mirror and watching out the windshield.

The sappy entry will come later when school’s all over, Wednesday-ish.

Not Everyone can be a winner… but Taylor is!

Spent Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning up at Austin, doing the UIL thing. Congratulate everyone who went, because Taylor appears to have won sweepstakes for the State UIL Academics contest!
Computer Science was pretty much a hit for us. Frank, David, and I managed to go 1, 2, 3 on the written test, and got the most programs in our division (though we performed less than optimally on that) for quite a sizable win.
Looking at that trip, that was easily one of the best competitions I’ve ever went to. It was a vacation, except better. Compare:

– you pay to go on a vacation
– to cut expenses, you usually pick lower quality accommodations (at least, that’s how it’s done in my family)
– you have fun
– depending on the trip, you either end up with your family, or your friends
– you chillax getting away from normal life
– the school covered all expenses for the trip, including food
– we stayed at the amazing Embassy Suites
– I went with several of my friends
– we got to take along computers and a router, having a LAN party in the room
– several excursions brought us incredible glory at a state level
– the frisbee came with us
– completely forgot about AP tests and how nasty they’re going to be

Overall, I truly enjoyed that trip. While activities tended to minimize time dedicated to sleep, I now feel entirely ready to jump into AP tests and power out to the end of the year.

That contest also represents the end of my competitive high school career. Almost four years ago, I excitedly jumped at the array of competitions that existed, and it’s been a fulfilling experience. Thanks in large part to having amazing classmates, Taylor has had amazing success at a variety of academic competitions, and I’m awfully proud to have been a part of that. While I would’ve hoped to be where I am now, and done what I have, I don’t think I quite knew what being on this side would feel like. No regrets.

After talking to my uncle (who happens to read this blog; hi Uncle David!), I’m beginning to realize how many different paths I have now. Just as a finish picking colleges, now I have to pick what I want to do.
Before, Symbolic Systems seemed a perfect match for my interests and capabilities, but looking at the other programs at Stanford, I’m not so sure ‘nemore. Heck, I don’t fully know what I want to do with my life. So perhaps you know me better than I know me: what do you see me doing? What have you seen me do that I enjoy, and what do you think my strengths are?

Elevator 32

I’ve probably given this little rant quite a few times, but for completeness, here it comes again.
So I asked Fairley how Prom was last year. Disregarding how creepy this is, here’s how it went:
(17:34:26) me: how was prom
(17:34:35) Michael Fairley: fun
(17:34:52) me: thanks for probably the greatest explanation in the history of mankind
Coincidentally, that’s about the most I can say of my Prom. It was fun.
Without getting into painful details that make for a poor narrative, most of it was quite typical, for a dance, that is. Which isn’t necessarily bad; they’re quite fun. Unfortunately, people seemed to insinuate that Prom would be significantly different from ‘ne other dance, being the ultimate, ultimate dance that concludes Senior year in one big bash.
Looking over this, what I’ve written so far seems overly negative. Not at all. It’s just that what other would consider the downer of Prom ended up being the most memorable part of it.
Coming back down in the elevator, the elevator kind of failed us. All 14 of us. Who had just finished dancing. For 2 hours.
It was hot and cramped, but truly an experience. When everything is what you think, what you know, what you expect, sometimes you need something to shake you up. I don’t think ‘ne of us had a bad time in that elevator. We sang songs, talked to Gerry, and, well, bonded.
I wouldn’t want it to happen again, of course. Rarely do we want things to go wrong, but it’s those situations that make us think, make us grow. We weren’t ever in ‘ne danger, of course, and it’s not like I’m a changed man for it, but it taught me how to appreciate the best of a situation.
Kenny’s speech last year talked about how we should always look on the bright side: if you had, say, lost a leg, play basketball. If you lose, then you have your excuse; if you win, then you can laugh at someone who just lost to someone with one leg. Or so Kenny thought.

Thoughts from Admit Weekend

If this seems disorganized, I just listed a couple things to talk about, and expanded them independently.

If you didn’t know, I left Wednesday afternoon for a jaunt out to Stanford for Admit Weekend, a reception for all the admitted students to get a feel for the campus and such. After spending two days there, I came back on the midnight flight last night and now have tons of stories, most of which I won’t bother relating here.

First, huge thanks to Kira for guiding me around campus! She definitely earns about 40 cool points for helping me out.

And that shout-out perfectly needs into the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band (LSJUMB) , an understandably infamous organization. First, the name is totally misleading. “Marching” usually implies that they will, uh, march. They don’t. And “Band” usually implies that they will make music. I heard them make something, but it definitely wasn’t music. At least, not in ‘ne sense I would agree with. Regardless, I must say, I was quite entertained. Decked out in rally, they played in front of MemAud as we left a university talk from Bravman, and definitely seemed to embrace the crazier side of students. Kira enthusiastically supported the organization and has reminded me to keep an open-mind with respect to. I think that’s about all I can say about them right now.

I knew college was better, but I would’ve never imagined that the classes would be that much better. Apparently, they are.
I sat in on an econ class called “Imperfect Competition” the first morning there, and that pretty much set me up for realizing how great class can be. It was actually very intimidating, because I was constantly in a state of disequilibrium in that class, which was in no way helped that I had no idea what upper-case pi (at least, I think that’s what that symbol was) and lower-case lambda mean in economics until he re-iterated that significantly later in the discussion. I’m sitting here with the 2 pages of notes that I took (furiously) in that class, and can just barely understand them. It was still fun, though.
And an Introduction to Humanities section. Led by some PhD student (I think), there were ~15-20 kids sitting around, facing each other, talking over parts of Boccaccio’s Decameron and some of Moliere’s work of Don Juan. Very similar to a good Shellum discussion, which makes literature quite interesting.
And two CS classes. One dealt with some parts of set theory and the other with heaps (in reference to memory allocation). What I’ve learned is that I absolutely love CS, but totally couldn’t do serious software theory for the rest of my life. Otherwise, I enjoyed the classes immensely.

One of the events planned was a lecture that we could sit in on, specifically put on for us, from one of 20-ish, I think. When my original choice got cancelled, I rushed over to one given by Dr. William Dement on sleep. After listening to it, both my mom and I agreed that it was probably a boon that the other one got canceled.
The lecture hall was packed. Students and parents were sitting on the floor just in front of him, and I think they actually had to turn away ppl who were standing outside the door.
It was easily one of the best lectures I’ve ever gotten in my life. Dement is quite an entertaining person, and had lots of jokes and such planned through his lecture, including the “Music of the Night” (a look inside the throat of ppl snoring, with the full soundtrack) and videos of narcoleptic dogs (it seems so cruel, but it was absolutely hilarious watching them run a couple meters, fall down, wake up, run a couple meters…). Much of it was quite relevant, however, as he discussed sleep debt (the accumulated loss of sleep that we have to pay back) and drowsiness (is RED ALERT).
Oh yeah, and this guy discovered REM sleep. I highly recommend that you try to get your hands on a copy of one of his books, as if they’re even half as good as him in real life, it’ll be well worth it.

So I’ve managed to stay completely college-neutral with respect to clothing over the past couple years. It seemed kind of silly to me to get gear, and end up supporting some school that I would end up having no intention of attending, or even liking. Now that things are falling in place, however, I am now decked, with both a Stanford shirt and hoodie.
And a UT hoodie. I figured it was the right thing to do. Besides, if I end up at Stanford, it’d be significantly more difficult to lose that as opposed to a Stanford one that just about everyone has.

It’s amazing how far away life can seem on trips like this. By Thursday morning checking in, my high school life and everything seemed a lifetime away. Yes, it was 4 hrs by plane away, but even so, it struck me as unusual how distant that life seemed. Government packet? AP tests? Pssh. None of that is really happening. But now, back to life.

So Admit Weekend has solidified my decision. Stanford is pretty much what it seems to be: a beautiful campus with an amazing amount of intellectual energy, yet very relaxed and fun. One kid called it the “happiest place on Earth”. If it wasn’t for Disney World, I’d agree.
I’m sure most of you don’t really care about how I arrived at this point (and I don’t really feel like re-iterating it after having written about it endlessly in my journal and Admit Weekend journal), but I am now sure, and will be sending off my enrollment stuff today.
I think I’ll like the next 4 years of my life.

The Origin of the Universe… was apparently really simple

Stephen Hawking gave a lecture yesterday at Texas A&M about the origin of the universe. Admittedly, it was very cool seeing him. That’s probably why I went, actually. Taylor sent a contigent of kids to go on a school bus, and we had quite an outing. Unfortunately, it sucked.
Of course, it’s nothing on him. He’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. The talk, however, was probably a waste of both my, and his, time. He did talk about the origin of the universe, but in extremely simplistic terms. As I’ve said to just about everyone, what he said is probably as much as a college freshmen physics student could explain in about five minutes.
The part that hurts is that to much of the audience, that’s probably what they needed. Just like me, they probably went to “see Stephen Hawking”. I, cynically, however think that most probably didn’t know what he was talking about, and thought it was amazing. I don’t claim to have an amazing knowledge of physics; far from, actually. Not a big fan of the subject. What’s important is how elementary what he talked about seemed to me.
Not everyone needs to know about cosmology, but for him to appeal to that audience is more of a publicity stunt than actual effective work in academia. I’m sure there were physics students in there dying to hear about some of his more recent work, and the more brilliant stuff he’s done. And I’d like to think that even though it’d all be over my head, I’d be more satisfied with that presentation than what I got.
Oh well. At least I got to see him.
And get one really good laugh at a crack he made at the Catholic church.
And a free frisbee.
And eat at Freebird’s. It was good, but not amazing. Comparable to Chipotle, definitely, but not really superior in ‘ne way. Those who think one way or the other are victims of branding, in my opinion.

UIL Region was this weekend, and after getting pwned last year, we managed to save face. The Social Science, Science, Math, and Computer Science team all managed to qualify for state, with the middle two scraping by on wild-card. If you see either Frank or David, congratulate them for pwning up this year and carrying (as a duo) 3 teams to state. Absolutely amazing work those boys do.