Monday, July 30, 2007

All the small things

Just about a year ago, I visited MIT for the first time ever.

But for some reason it feels much longer than that.

Why? Senior year seemed to go by so fast. By that logic, I should remember visiting MIT like it were yesterday. And yet for some reason I can remember that visit only in vague snatches, a handful of disjointed scenes and conversations that have very little do with one another.

The only answer I can come up with is that so much has happened between that visit and today, from last sumer to this summer.

And even though I sense this entry is rapidly heading off in a direction I didn't at all mean for it to go, I'm going to see if I can actually figure out all that happened in the past year or so.

First semester: I went to summer tennis practice for the last time ever. I started TADA. I wrote and read a prayer for the 9/11 victims. I tutored, I did my homework, I stayed involved in my various clubs and activities. I did a bit of research and a lot of paper-writing. I entered Siemens at almost the last-possible minute - and, to my ongoing amazement, won. And, oh yeah, somewhere in there I tried to apply to college. Thanks for not killing me, Mom.

Second semester: I was through with college apps, thank God, but for some reason none of us could shut up about college itself. I visited California and came back only because I had to. Initially seeded fifth in a field of ten, we upset everybody and won the city Quiz Bowl tournament for the first time in school history. Then we swept the top five spots at the Regional Science Fair, for the first time in fair history. I got into MIT. I visited MIT. I matriculated to MIT. I went to ISEF. I got my summer job. I did my APs. I graduated.

That's...a lot. I know it is, and I treasure every success I achieved - none of which, when I think about it, I accomplished solely on my own. I always had someone else backing me up - my teammates, my research mentor, my teachers, my principal. My parents. I think...I think it's important to acknowledge that.

But that's not really all that happened last year. There's more, much more, to my life than that list up there would tell you. So many things in my life - in any life - are simply too large, too inexpressibly important, to fit into a laundry list of accomplishments. I cannot contain in words how my physics teacher ignited my passion for a subject I had never seriously thought about before. I cannot boil down to a single sentence the many great people I feel privileged to call my friends - nor can I accurately describe all the late-night study sessions, the euchre games, the concerts, the movies, the epic Halo battles, the Colts-Bears Super Bowl rivalry that seemed so important at the time.

Originally, this entry was supposed to be about college applications. Obviously I got a little sidetracked - sorry! But think there's an important point here that actually does have something to do with apps. College applications, simply by the way they're structured, make it very easy to get caught up in yourself - in your own accomplishments, your own ambitions. That also makes it very easy to lose your friends. And while I'm not about to endorse some sappy blanket sentiment like friends are the most important thing in the world, nothing more to be said, end of story - I will say it's hard to be alone.

I got lucky last year. I was able to hang on to my friends in spite of everything else going on in my life. If anything, I think my friendships have grown stronger in these past twelve months. Like a sword that's been tested in a flame, perhaps.

The moral of the story is that, in your life, you will do many things that will never show up on a college application. But that doesn't mean those moments are any less important or valuable than those that do appear on your final app.

In the end, sometimes it's the small things that matter most.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Back when I was your age...

As I was doing a little late-night stalking - er, I mean, browsing - of the MIT blogs/admissions site, I happened to notice this interesting little blurb, hiding coyly on the side of the screen:

Online Application • The freshman online application for entry in Fall 2008 is now live!

Most interesting. I wonder if any of the prospectives have noticed? Ah, it reminds me of when I was filling out my own application...feels like a lifetime ago! And there wasn't any of this MyMIT "online" stuff back when I was your age, you know...I had to fill the whole thing out in pen, with no correcting fluid, twice!

That's a total fabrication, by the way. And not a very good one either, but it's 1 o'clock in the morning, so just cut me some slack, okay?

Anyhow, as it turns out, the 2008 application is actually the same as last year's - which sort of surprised me, but then again the app was pretty good to begin with, and it's not really like an engineer to meddle with something that works. Anyway, I'll be updating this post later on with some thoughts, recollections, and musings about the college admissions process in general, and the MIT application in particular.

And by later on, I mean when (ii) it's not so late, (c) I've gotten some well-deserved sleep, and (1) I'm a little more lucid.

...Right. Yeah, I'm going to go to bed now...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Simmons, here I come!

Aaaaand the housing website and MIT facebook group GO CRAZY as everyone starts checking and posting their dorm lottery results.

As for me, I got in Simmons! My smile is a little large to confine to an electronic medium, but I think saying "woot woot!" comes close to describing my present state of mind. :)

I'm not going to publish my room number (because there could be crazy-stalker-types reading this blog, right?), but I will say I'm on the sixth floor.

Thank God there's an elevator.

*insert clever title here*

A collection of the innermost thoughts of Yours Truly - some serious, some funny, some utterly random.

- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was amazing. If for some crazy reason you haven't read it yet, I won't spoil any of it here, but there were some great plot twists. And quite a few of my predictions turned out to be right, which I really liked. The only sad part is that it's finally over.

- Whoever ordered all those powered gloves for my lab deserves to be shot. I hate powdered gloves.

- Maybe I'm on a sci-fi jag or something, but Tabula Rasa and Mass Effect both look very appealing to me right now. Only problem - apart from finding time to actually play them - is that Mass Effect's for Xbox 360, which I don't have and am unlikely to get anytime soon...but I'm sure there'll be someone at MIT who has one. *grin*

- Speaking of MIT - dorm assignments come out today! Just three hours to go now....I'm really hoping for Baker, my first choice, but I'll be pretty happy with Simmons or Burton-Conner as well.

- One of the subtle perks of going to MIT is that your relatives and friends will buy you books simply because they were written by MIT faculty. My aunt, for example, gave me John Maeda's Laws of Simplicity as part of my graduation present. It's a very good little book, and it's rather inspired me to look more deeply into the Media Lab over the next few years. I would really encourage you to buy it, or at least browse one of Maeda's two "simplicity" blogs.

- On a side note - my aunt also gave me a 120 GB external hard drive and some nice cold cash. She knows me so well. :)

- I've just started listening to Pandora Radio, and it is amazing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My Everest

A while ago, someone made a comment that I've been meaning to reply to for some time now. For that matter, there's actually quite a few things I've been meaning to write about - such as my graduation party (great fun and great gifts), the new Harry Potter movie (wicked), HASS-D's (so hard to choose!), and the next installment of my Top Ten list (hint: it's about IAP)...

Clearly, a blogger's work is never done.

As I was saying, though, some time ago a reader named Star made this comment: "Oh, and I bet I know your real reason for starting this blog, you applying for MIT blogger, right? If so, I wish you luck."

Well, Star, sorry for taking so long to reply, but your comment rather took me aback. Because you are right, to a degree - I am indeed applying to be a blogger. I doubt anyone who frequents the MIT Admissions site will be terribly surprised to hear that - and yet at the same time it's still very hard for me to actually admit to you all that I'm going to give it a shot.

At my high school, there was this kid I tutored, two years younger than me, and his second-greatest ambition in life is to get into Notre Dame. And I told him several times, "Ryan, be careful who you trust with your dreams." I don't think he understood what I meant - I doubt I would have understood two years ago - but I've noticed something this past year. Basically, I've realized that there are some people who will remember you more for your failures, for the things you tried to achieve but for some reason were unable to grasp, than for your actual accomplishments. It's stupid and it's petty, but it still happens - hell, I do it too sometimes, I'd be lying if I said I didn't.

And that's why I'm not going to tell you what Ryan's greatest ambition is, even though you have no idea who he is - and I hope he doesn't tell anyone else either. I am grateful he trusted me with it, and I dearly hope he makes it come true. But sharing a dream is like saying "I love you" - it's a sign of trust, and yet there are people who will abuse that trust if given the opportunity. And that's why it's sometimes better to stay silent, to lock your dreams within the deepest, most private parts of your heart, utterly inviolable, until the day you finally make them real.

And yet - and yet, having said all that, I am going to forgo my own advice and confess: yes, I want to be an MIT blogger. So thank you for your wishes, Star - I feel I'm going to need them. To be honest, I have dreamed of being an admissions blogger for a very long time - before I even got into MIT, actually. A secret burning desire, if you wanted to get poetic about it. The first person I told was my dad, as we were driving to the airport after CPW. I haven't told a single soul since - until now.

Why now? Well, for one thing - as I mentioned before, I think it's pretty obvious, so I might as well face up to it. And even more importantly than that...I almost think I've been hindering myself - and my blogging - by not mentioning it. Never before have I linked to the MIT blogs, even though I visit them almost every day, and that's frankly not honest at all.

And there's one other reason I'm glad to be confessing this: I can now come out and tell you all, straight-up, even though I do want to be an MIT blogger - even though keeping this blog is a necessary step on the road to making that dream real - I am blogging for no other reason than because I want to. Do you remember what George Mallory said, when a reporter asked him why he wanted to climb Mount Everest? He said, "Because it's there."

This blog is my Everest.

As the title of the blog hints, in many ways I feel that I am only just now really entering the world. I am a work in progress - and MIT is going to shape me in so many ways over the next four years. I created this blog so that you could join me on that adventure - if you want to. They say MIT is not for the weak of heart. I'm beginning to think they're right, and that makes me happy beyond all words.

It's going to be one hell of a ride.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Sitting waiting blogging

Right now I'm in my lab at work, waiting for glue to dry.


As I've mentioned briefly before, this summer I'm doing orthopedics research at Notre Dame - an interesting intersection of mechanical, materials, and biological engineering. (Which are, incidentally, the three fields I am most interested in studying.) When people ask me what I do, my favorite response is, “Oh, I play with cow bones.”

That’s using the term “play” rather liberally, of course. So when I say “I play with cow bones,” what I really mean is that I cut bovine cortical shafts into little uniform pieces, glue them onto slides, drill precise 3-mm holes in them, polish them ‘til they shine, add fluorescent dye to them, bathe them with UV light, and take pictures of them via digital microscope. Eventually I’ll figure out the diffusion coefficient of the particular dye I’m using, but I don’t have enough samples yet to get a good result, and the anisotropic nature of bone mucks everything up anyway.

I’ve also learned that phosphoric acid, lactic acid, and calcium hydroxide can be combined to synthesize artificial hydroxyapatite whiskers, a close approximation of the carbonated apatite comprising the mineral phase of bone, but only when mixed together in the right stoichiometric quantities under sufficiently high temperature and pressure.

Who knew?

Certainly not me, or at least not until a few weeks ago, when for some reason one of the grad students here decided that I, despite being the youngest person in the lab by about three years, was capable enough to start the synthesis reaction myself. That was a risky idea, let me tell you. Fortunately no limbs, eyeballs, or beavers were harmed in the whisker-making process.

And yet, in spite of all the advanced bioengineering research going on here – research that I am actually a (relatively) useful part of! – right now I am still waiting for the glue on my new slides to dry.

So what are you all doing this summer?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Fun with phobias

Today is Friday the 13th. Duhn duhn duhn dunh!

Then again, considering that the world did not end on June 6, 2006 - nor on July 7, 2007 - I don't think any of us really should be worrying about a measly little superstition like Friday the 13th.

However, this provides a great opportunity to highlight what is, in my humble opinion, one of the funniest and most ridiculous words in the English language. That word is, of course, p
araskavedekatriaphobia - an irrational and morbid fear of Friday the 13th. Incidentally, paraskavedekatriaphobia is actually a specialized form of triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13 in general.

Don't you feel educated?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I'm Not Sleeping (Yet)

Harry was amazing.


I would say more, but it's freaking three o'clock in the morning and I need some sleep before 7:45 rolls around. Yes, it's a tough life I live, but someone's gotta do it.

I see her on the TV, I see her in the movies
I see her in these animals that dance beside my bed

(Whoever knows who wrote the song I'm quoting gets a cookie.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


So, in case you've been living under a rock for the past six months and haven't heard, tonight is the U.S. premier of the fifth Harry Potter movie.

And my friends and I - after camping outside the movie theater for weeks on end, fighting off hordes of crazed fans, and shelling out considerable cold cash - have tickets for the midnight showing.

In case it wasn't obvious, by the way, that's a blatantly fictitious story - except, sadly, for the part about the money. But it sounds much more exciting my way.

Anyway, to get to the point of this entry, the only minor drawback to this amazing opportunity is that - oh, right - I still have work tomorrow because someone decided to premiere this movie in the middle of the week.

Incidentally, I'm at work right now. But one of the great advantages of academia in general, and research specifically, is the tremendous amount of downtime. Which I am now putting to good use. I get another blog entry under my belt, you hopefully get some laughs or at least a smile - everybody's happy! Except maybe my professor, but fortunately he doesn't read this anyway.

But as I was saying, because I have work tomorrow, I have to be somewhat conscious about 7:30 in the morning. And since I know that coffee, Mountain Drew, and Red Bull are not, contrary to popular opinion, healthy alternatives to sleep, my schedule for the rest of the day looks something like this:

3:45 - stop slacking off and get back to work
5:00 - leave work
5:15 - get home
5:16 - fall asleep
10:30 - get up, get dressed, get out of the house, get in line
11:15 - theater starts seating
2:45ish - movie finishes, I drive home
3:00 - crash in my bed
7:30 - wake up and begin the day

Needless to say, I have both high hopes and high expectations for this movie. Here's wishing Order of the Phoenix will be worth sacrificing some sleep.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Top Ten Reasons I Love MIT #10

The Assassins' Guild

"You see a flock of 20 screaming chickens. Roleplay accordingly."

In high school, I was involved in a lot of extracurriculars. Community service, political clubs, Quiz Bowl, Science Olympiad...I could list all of them, but since this (fortunately) isn't a college application, I'll spare you. Suffice it to say I was a very busy beaver in high school. And I've always figured that's not likely to change when I head off to college.

After all, colleges have lots of extracurriculars too. Nothing strange about that, right?


At least when it comes to MIT.

As most of you probably know, MIT is not a normal school. Now you could be nihilistic about it and argue that there really is no such thing as "normality" anyway, but I think MIT would serve as a superb counter-example to that hypothesis. Just being on campus is enough for almost anyone to realize that MIT - from the architecture to the classes, from the teachers to the students - is like no place you've ever been before. Whatever your expectations about college, MIT and its students will defy them in the most extravagant way possible.

That is, in a nutshell, the reason I fell in love with MIT in the first place, because real life is not predictable. Real life does not conform to your expectations. Real life is wild, crazy, inexplicable. Real life is not a straight line from here to there, from birth to death - it is a twisting path, riddled with sudden turns and departures, the different trails combining and separating only to merge again, a beautiful pattern that only really makes sense many years down the road.

MIT is real. Sometimes the lows are lower, but only because the highs are higher. And even if everyone embraces the same traditions, there are still hundreds, even thousands, of variations on those cherished themes.

Other schools have traditions, sure. Other schools have strange campuses or funny quirks. And maybe I'm biased because I'm actually going to MIT, as opposed to one of those "other" schools. But just the same, no college I've ever visited has felt as real, as unpredictable, as wondrously strange as MIT.

There are a lot of examples of how MIT is different. As I go through this little Top Ten list of mine, I'll probably mention most of them, or the most common ones anyway. For me, though, one of the most concrete examples of what makes MIT different is embodied in one of the clubs on campus.

That club is the Assasssins' Guild.

First things first, that is indubitably the most badass name for a club ever.

More importantly - and to be perfectly honest I only realized this now, literally as I'm writing this entry - the basic concept of the Guild almost perfectly mirrors MIT's actual mission. Just like MIT itself is dedicated to finding new solutions to big problems, the Assassins' Guild is all about having fun in completely new and unexpected ways. Which basically means conducting outrageous LARPs - live-action roleplaying games, kind of like a novel or a play, except that you're writing the script, along with a couple dozen other fellow Assassins, who have their own ideas about how the story should end.

Then there's Patrol - the staple of the Guild, which is run (played) every Saturday night. Think paintball, except with dart guns. But that description doesn't even come close to capturing the sheer chaotic enjoyment of the game. Ah, there's nothing really like adrenaline, is there? I ended up playing Patrol during CPW*, and let me just say I am looking forward to next time.

I could probably say more, but this entry is long enough already. There's only one thing I really want to say, though, which I probably haven't been too clear about. The point of this entry isn't really that the Assassins' Guild, itself, is the #10 reason I love MIT - rather, the extracurriculars in general are the #10 reason. After all, all of MIT's extracurriculars are fantastic and I could easily write an entry about any of them.

It's just that the Assassins' Guild was one of the first clubs I discovered, even before I got in to MIT, thanks to a cleverly-placed flyer I found in the Infinite last summer. Even more importantly, though I have always believed that the Guild is truly representative of what makes MIT so different from any other school - and that is the primary reason I felt it was only fair to honor the Guild with its own entry.

And, as I said, I love the name.

*MIT-speak for Campus Preview Weekend, when hordes of pre-frosh descend on MIT to partake in a veritable orgy of crazy activities, numerous visits to classes and dorms, random visits to random parts of campus, liquid nitrogen ice cream, and lots of free food. Because no college activity is complete without free food.

And because the corollary to that theorem is that no blog entry is complete without links, here's the Assassins' own homepage. And while I'm on the topic of extracurriculars, I'm also rather fond of - among others - OrigaMIT, the Debate Team, and Rune.

Am I shamelessly plugging for these clubs? Maybe.

Is that because I'm excited to join them? Hell yes!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Glimpses of what's to come

Random piece of news: today I signed up for the Reuse and Assassins' Guild mailing lists. I feel more and more like a real MIT student.

Also, while I was walking to lunch the other day, I came up with the most awesome idea for an entry. Or, rather, a series of entries.

First installment should be coming up soon. A tantalizing teaser: it deals with the Assassins' Guild.

In other news, if you'll permit me to brag a little, I called for my AP scores a few days ago. To quote something I posted to the MIT Facebook group:

AP practice materials: $20
AP test charge: $83
Getting your scores by phone: $8
Passing out of 18.01: priceless

Translation: I pulled out a 5 on BC Calc, which I am so happy about you cannot believe. I had always been very confident about how well I did on multiple-choice questions, so I guess that helped me. The free response questions, on the other hand? Not so confident. One of the questions, for example, featured what basically amounted to the Polar Equations From Hell. And since I had self-taught myself everything I knew about polars in the first place, I bombed that question in spectacular fashion. Thank God for generous curves. (That was not supposed to be innuendo. But I'm too lazy to change it, and anyway it kind of makes me laugh.)

I also got a 5 on English Literature. Which really makes me laugh, because it means all the time I spent on the FEE is now completely redundant. (I won't say it was wasted, exactly. Just redundant.) But I knew that when I took the FEE anyway.

Also, I think I've come up with a new name for the blog, which will be revealed shortly. I'm probably making it sound more dramatic than it really is, but whatever. For some reason the idea of a new name makes me very excited. Change can be good, I guess.

Meanwhile, I know there's a lot of bad stuff in the world that's probably more worthy of your and my attention, but this just strikes me as very sad.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Leaving South Bend, never easy

As I write this, one of my best friends is on a plane, heading to West Point for basic training.

It is, I know, something he has always wanted.

But that doesn't make it any easier for me, for his friends, for his family - for all of us he's leaving behind. It reminds me a little of that line in "Leaving New York," It's easier to leave than to be left behind.

That song's always had a lot of meaning for me, and I'm not even from New York. Now, though, it really hits home.

John is one of those guys who's everybody's friend. Smart, funny, good-looking, kind of happy-go-lucky, football player, honors student...just an all-around great guy. Yes, he had girl problems like all of us; yes, he could be insensitive; yes, sometimes he cut corners or he slacked off. He wasn't perfect, but he was...he was John.

And now he's just a new cadet. He gave us his address, so we can send letters to him while he's at Basic, and we can't even put his first name on them. They're taking his name, and I don't know what else, and I'm scared that the John I see in a few months, if I even do get to see him that soon, isn't going to be the John I knew.

I think we all feel this way, all of my friends. It's becoming increasingly clear that we only have precious little time left together. A few months ago, college was just a letter in the mail, a dream that we desperately wanted to come true. Now it's real, and we realize that the dream is bittersweet.

John's been a great friend to me these past few years, and I'd miss him terribly even if he weren't leaving so soon, even if he weren't going to West Point. But at the same time, John and his departure are also just one example of what we're all going to be going through very soon, as we get ready to leave South Bend for the new school and new city we've chosen for ourselves.

I'm excited, naturally. I know I made the right choice, I know that MIT is the right school for me. The academics and the facilities are everything I've ever dreamed of, the students and the faculty fit my own personality without me having to conform to their standards - and I am going to love living in Boston.

But in a way my excitement is also just a facade covering up all the fear and anxiety I have about actually leaving home, actually drinking from the firehose that is MIT. I joke about being buried by p-sets, but what if I really can't handle all the work? My parents keep telling me not to do too much and spread myself too thin (and I, in return, keep insisting that I know how to manage my time), but what if I really do end up taking on more than I can handle?

And I am afraid, just a little bit, of my fellow classmates - which is kind of ironic, because everybody I've met, at CPW or on Facebook or elsewhere, has been completely friendly and I'm really looking forward to meeting all of them in August. But they've all done such amazing things and all seem to know exactly what they'll be doing at MIT, and sometimes I feel very small compared to them. I worry about fitting in, about not being overlooked socially or academically, about whether or not my roommate will get along, about succeeding in my classes, about extra-curriculars, about getting a UROP. I even worry about whether or not I'll actually have enough time to watch the Notre Dame games every Saturday, like I've been planning to. spite of all that...I'm doing just fine. I've made my choice, and even if I am scared I'm not going to let that stop me from having the time of my life. It's going to be hard, but it's supposed to be. And that's the way I like it.

My future's mercurial, the past...I'm not going to forget it. But I won't let it hold me back.

So maybe I've made you smile, maybe I made you frown. But I'm not changing my mind, and I'm not turning around.

I'm going to MIT.

This one's for you, John.