Thursday, August 30, 2007

Top Ten Reasons I Love MIT #7

"Signed, Rebel Scum"

IHTFP - Interesting Hacks to Fascinate People
(one definition among many)

Before I begin, you should know that I feel sort of overwhelmed simply by trying to write this entry. Hacking is a long and storied tradition at MIT, and yet I'm only a freshman - who am I to write about this sort of thing?

And the reality is, I really can't. Yes, I've been to some interesting places around campus; yes, I've started to meet people who can legitimately be called hackers. But I, myself, am not a hacker by any means. Not yet, anyway.

Funny story: I first ran across the word hacker when I was about six, and I had no idea what the word actually meant, so I did what any good six-year-old would do and asked my mom about it. She replied, understandably hesitantly, "Why do you want to know, Paul?" To which I said, "Because I think I want to be one."

Ah, the innocence of youth.

But back to business. What I want to talk about right now, you see, is not the great hacks that have been pulled in the good old days of hardcore yore - because although I've heard of them, and read books about them, I don't really know about them.

What I do know, what I feel qualified enough to talk about, is the hackers themselves.

No names will be named.

The first thing you need to realize is that hackers break stereotypes. Like MIT students in general, they have traits in common, but they aren't clones. Some are social and some are shy, some are serious and some are hilarious. Some have green or purple or rainbow hair, some have brown or black or blonde or red hair. Some wear riot gear, some wear trenchcoats, some just wear dark T-shirts. Some tell stories, some make their own stories. Some are in the UA, some are bloggers, some do UROP or IM sports or hundreds of other activities. Some are from the East, some are from the West, some are in fraternities and sororities and independent living groups.

I'll say that again, because it's important - hackers are from the East, and the West, and the FSILGs. Don't forget that.

But hackers do share many things in common. Creativity, innovation, unconventional attitudes, a unique sense of humor, a code of ethics, a love of rooftops and tunnels and enclosed spaces, a certain disregard for the rules...just to name a few.

They are, in short, a great group. I'm still so incredibly grateful for all the experiences I've had with them. After all, it's not every club that trusts freshmen (and even some pre-frosh), yet the hackers do. They're just cool like that, and I hope to get the chance to do the same, a year or two down the road.

I said before that being at MIT feels like coming home.

Going hacking feels like coming into an inheritance.

Some informative links: IHTFP Gallery, MIT Admissions, Wikipedia, The Jargon File, Where the Sun Shines, There Hack They

Monday, August 27, 2007

Every day's a new day

Orientation. REX. Dorm Rush.

Whatever you want to call it, it rocks hard.

Seriously, I cannot even begin to contain how awesome today has been. I've met up with so many amazing people, students and faculty, friends new and old. I've talked to President Susan Hockfield twice (!), and I also introduced myself to Daniel Hastings - the Dean of Undergraduate Education and, incidentally, my advisor for this semester. I've met more frosh than I can count, and I finally found Shawn and Melissa! They're both awesome people and really fun to be around. Although really, guys - I told you that going into Bexley was a bad idea, and I was right, wasn't I?

Anyway, I've been going to most of the events with a combination of Simmons residents and friends I made during CPW, and I feel like I'm really settling into a social group that works for me. I'm sure things are going to change as we go along, but for now, I'm perfectly content.

Also, all the upperclassmen are still in the phase where they're all "oh look, frosh! Here, have some free food! Any questions on dorms/classes/fraternities/whatever? No? Okay, well, call us if anything comes up!" So basically, right now the upperclassmen rock. Hopefully they'll still rock in a few weeks, after Orientation and Rush have ended; and hopefully I will look less like a frosh and more like an actual student.

...I can dream, can't I?

Now that DME is over (we got third place! More on that later though) I finally have time to actually do my own thing, and that is amazing indeed. Also, I have more pictures than I have time to post now, but they'll show up soon. Probably.

Anyway, fun official REX events that I went to today - Mass at Kresge, Orientation Leader Meetings, Convocation, Simmons Brunch, Simmons Dinner, Kresge Kickoff, East Campus's "Body Electric" Party. Other fun things that I did, in roughly chronological order, because bullet points are freaking awesome:
  • hanging out with Sam, Jordan, Allen, Tim, Michael, Rachel, and countless others
  • meeting Shawn and Melissa
  • seeing random DME'ers everywhere I went
  • running into Facebook friends and CPW friends ("Sorry, are we Facebook friends?")
  • talking to Susan Hockfield simply because she decided to come to Simmons (I am still shocked that she actually visits the dorms, but at the same time I think it's amazing)
  • completing my tour of all the dorms by visiting Bexley and MacGregor
  • being mesmerized by Suggy's magic tricks before Kickoff
  • wandering with friends through Conner 2, guided by super-cool O-Leader and former C2 resident Jeremy
  • playing with my East Campus lighter
  • talking to and meeting the IFC president (Danny), UA president (Marty), an Orientation Coordinator (Eddie), a fraternity president, and a Cambridge exchange student at the same time simply because they were all hanging out on the Student Center steps when I was walking back to Simmons (obligatory *boggle*)
And as cool as all that stuff is, let's not forget the most important thing:
  • feeling home at MIT

Friday, August 24, 2007

Shear Madness and People in Trees

Awesome DME day today. I'm one of the slower more careful people in DME, but even I am nearly finished by now. I even got this really awesome picture of me studiously at work, except when I say really awesome I mean totally staged.

Also, my team has been dubbed the Fantastic Four. There's four of us, we're team number was destined to happen. We're even the right genders too, three guys and one girl. In retrospect, Teenage Mutant Ninja Engineers would have been a great name too, but I guess you can't have everything.

Anyway, in addition to our usual time in the lab, today we also explored some of the actual research laboratories here at MIT! We ended up going to three different labs - the Sloan Automotive Lab, the BioInstrumentation Lab, and the famous Media Lab! They were all amazing, but especially the BioI Lab and the Media Lab. I can't really pick between the two of them, because they are simply so different...anything and everything can happen in the Media Lab though. It's sort of like MIT's playground, and that's why I love it.

For tonight's entertainment, we ventured into Boston's Theater District to see Shear Madness, which is half-comedy, half-mystery, half-improv. (Yes, I know that makes three halves; no, I don't care.) Regardless of what genre you put it in, the show is simply hilarious - mostly through innuendo and double entendre, though they also made plenty of jokes about Boston, Britney Spears, and even MIT! At a specific point in the play the audience gets to interact with the actors, and Snively actually ended up getting into an argument with one of the characters. Needless to say, the other guy had no chance at all.

The great thing about Shear Madness is that the script changes frequently, and because it's part-improv it's never quite the same twice. I won't give away the ending, but the audience really does control some of the action, which is truly enjoyable. I saw the play once before when I was in Washington, D.C., and in my humble opinion Boston's version was much better. :)

After the show we all got some amazing ice cream from J.P. Licks, conveniently located right by the Hynes T station. I got a cone of Oreo, and it was hands-down one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Back on campus, I first ended up hanging out with some DME kids in their Baker quad. Then a couple other DME'ers wanted to see Simmons, so I took them up to my room and we ended up talking for over an hour.

Oh yeah, before I forget, remember that I mentioned people in trees? Basically, there was this amazing tree in the courtyard on Georges Island that four different people spontaneously decided to climb. And it wasn't an easy tree to get into, either. Although I would have loved to join my friends in celebrating our simian ancestry, I decided my interests would be best put to use if I stayed safe on the ground took some pictures.

Here's Jake, one of the most skilled tree-climbers in this part of Boston:

Diandra '11 smiles for the camera:

Counselor Dan '09 jumps up onto a low-lying limb:

There's been so much crazy stuff going these past few days, I can't believe tomorrow is actually Friday!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Welcome to MIT

It is currently just past two in the morning, and I could not be happier.

In the past twenty-four hours alone, I have soldered a robot's motors, visited Georges Island, played Ultimate and wiffleball, wandered through the Prudential Center Mall, eaten at the Cheesecake Factory, walked along the Charles, roamed through Boston Commons, and taken the T twice. I've also slept a little.

Typical life at MIT? Not sure yet, but so far it feels amazing.

I have plenty more to say, but being in DME is practically a full-time occupation, so it may be another day or two before you see me. However, be on the lookout for pictures of robots, Simmons, and people in trees. Yes, I really said people in trees. It'll make sense later, I promise.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

OMG BOSTON! First post!!1!1!

Hey again all, wanted to let you know I'm safe and sound Boston. I'm sure you were all very worried my plane was going to crash and burn, but fortunately that did not happen and I'm just fine. :D

On a more serious note, right now I'm in my hotel and the view simply is amazing. I can see the Great Dome, the Green Building, the Stata Center, the Charles, and (of course) the infamous Citgo sign. Not to mention quite a bit of, you know, the actual city of Boston. :)

I didn't get much accomplished today because I got in so late, but my dad and I still did quite a bit of walking around campus. Not only did we have dinner in the Student Center (mm, Anna's burritos...they remind me of CPW), we also went over to Simmons where I got my room key! I am that much closer to being an actual MIT student! Also, for the record, my room is gigantic, or at least it feels that way, which is definitely a plus. :)

More fun posts to come soon!

He said, I think I’ll go to Boston...

Hey guys, just a quick blog to say I am officially on my way to Boston.

It’s both amazingly crazy and wickedly exciting at the same time, but it’s the excitement I’d like to focus on for the time being. No more ridiculously emotional/melodramatic posts like last night’s breakdown, I promise. :)

For the record, though, I did indeed cry a little saying goodbye to my mom and my sisters earlier this afternoon. It was bound to happen.

Random interjection: sticklers for Augustana will notice that I'm misquoting their song slightly, because technically the lyrics go she said and not he said...but cut me some slack, okay? ;)

Back to the point, I’m currently at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, and my dad and I should be boarding in half an hour or so. My dad’s kind of confused that I’m blogging this, but he says hi anyway. Sadly, the weather is terrible - torrential downpour, basically - so our flight’s been delayed. Hopefully the airline gods will smile on us and we’ll get in at a relatively decent hour. Either way, looks like moving-in is probably going to have to wait until tomorrow. Another day, another adventure, right?

To all my fellow ‘11s, see you soon in Boston and MIT!

Closing Time

Remember how I said saying goodbye to friends really sucks? Saying goodbye to family is much, much worse. Lots of tears in my house today. And I haven't even left yet.

This is probably my last entry from South Bend, by the way. Tomorrow, I get on a plane to Boston, and...and that's it.

This is the moment, then. Tomorrow - things are going to change, and keep on changing. And I'll change with them. For the better, I hope.

Tomorrow. Once, I thought it couldn't come fast enough. Now I'm afraid it's coming too soon. And the only thing I can do is meet it head-on, and maybe try to crack a smile through the tears. Yes, I said tears. I wish I could say I'm not going to cry tomorrow. But I know I will. Angst-ridden as that may sound.

I thought I would have more to say. But somehow, I think I've already said everything that really matters.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rankings, matches, and what really matters

US News & World Report - America's Best Colleges 2008

Hey guys, looks like I made the wrong choice with MIT. Guess I should have gone to Stanford instead. Is it too late for me to switch?


No offense to any of my Stanford friends or Stanford hopefuls, by the way - I still love that school, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been offered admission there. But when it comes to colleges, I firmly believe that rankings like these really can't tell the whole picture. Sure, the rankings are fairly accurate, and they're a good tool for figuring out where to apply. But what matters in the end is how the school fits you - and for me, I simply knew that I fit more at MIT than Stanford. Other people may be the opposite, and that's perfectly fine by me.

What it boils down to is this: If you're lucky enough to get into several great schools, pick the school that matches you, not what some magazine says is "better." For all you guys who still haven't figured out where you want to go, especially the '12s, trust me on this one: when you've found your match, you'll know.

That said, I am mildly annoyed that MIT somehow dropped from tied for 4th to 7th - call it beaver pride, I guess. But I doubt it'll seriously affect the number of applicants for next year, especially because everyone knows MIT is awesome, regardless of what US News says. ;)

You say you want a revolution

Thanks to the unexpected addition of the HASS-D lottery results to my Freshman Advising Folder, I'm taking yet another break from my regularly scheduled packing to talk about my planned schedule for my fall semester. Which, incidentally, begins in less than two weeks. *boggle*

Disclaimer: Lots of numbers up ahead, which will probably make very little sense to you if you're not an MIT student. Also, I haven't really picked my classes yet, so nothing is set in stone - except for the last two courses because I've already lotteried into them.

Anyway, with no further ado, here's my projected schedule - with bullet points! Because I'm cool like that, yo.
  • 18.02 - Calc II (Multi-variable)
    • AP credit for the win. I doubt I'll take 18.022, especially if I take 8.012, but that's still a possibility. I ever so briefly considered doing 18.01A/18.02A to get Mattuck, but that's sort of a lousy reason to take a less-advanced class and I'm anxious for something new.
  • 8.01(2) - Physics I
    • I really want to take 8.012, not 8.01, because I've had a pretty solid background in physics from high school and I think I'd be able to handle a more advanced course. I'm not so sure about the whole "TEAL" thing 8.01 features, but hey, it could be fun.
  • 3.091/5.111/5.112 - Something Chem-y
    • Really, no clue what I'll be taking here. I'm drawn to 3.091 because I've been wanting to explore Course 3 anyway...but Chemistry was the first class I truly loved in high school, so I think 5.111/5.112 might be a better match for me in that regard.
  • 21H.001 - How to Stage a Revolution
    • Super excited about this course! This is my HASS-D/CI-H for the first semester, and I am stoked. Really, the course's name says it all - and what a fantastic name it is. I've always enjoyed history, but I'm more the kind of person who enjoys figuring out the "stories" or themes that tie different periods together (as opposed to blindly memorizing facts and dates), so I think this course is going to be right up my alley.
  • 16.A47 - The Engineer of 2020
    • My advising seminar, which I just learned I got into last Friday. I am pumped that I got this class. I could probably keep gushing, but this post is already obnoxiously long, so if you're interested you can just go here.
And all that adds up to 54 credits of Pass/No Record goodness.

Now, back to packing. Whee...

Mostly pointless

So for some reason Firefox is having a mental breakdown, and completely refuses to run Facebook properly. How could you do this to me, Firefox? Haven't I always been there for you? Wasn't installing you practically the first thing I did on my new computer? Wasn't it? WASN'T IT?

Meanwhile, in a spectacular piece of irony, IE7 displays Facebook perfectly.

Occasionally I hate my life. Or my computer. Or Firefox. Or all three.

Because the theme of this entry is pointless comments, here's a total OMG moment: High School Musical 2 premieres tonight! Will YOU be watching?

In other news, I've been saying goodbye to old friends and I won't even try to talk about that. Some can't really talk about, not honestly anyway; not on this sort of blog. So instead you just laugh at them, or bury them in a private part of your mind, but they're still there. And it's going to take time for me to move on. But I realized last night that saying goodbye isn't the end.

It's really just another beginning.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Letting Go

Four days.

Four days left in South Bend. Four days before I head out to Boston.

For days before I leave everything behind and start it all over.

I've been waiting for this for so long, but it's always been one degree removed, a far-away dream of a distant world. It was always just "next year" to me - that was how my friends and I talked about it, what my relatives and my parents' friends said when they wished me luck. But suddenly "next year" has become "next week," and it still doesn't seem real to me. But the suitcases on my floor are proof.

I'm leaving.

Really, finally leaving.

It's not that I don't want to. It's just that I didn't realize until today how much I love South Bend. For the past eighteen years, I've always treated the city with a kind of casual disregard, an arrogant flippancy. Yes, it's small; yes, maybe we're kind of in the middle of nowhere out here. But it's still my city. The places I've claimed as my own, the memories I've made with my friends - the concerts at the Morris, Thursdays at BW3's. The Barnes and Noble on Grape I have always loved. The volleyball courts at Notre Dame. That one building Alan showed me downtown. The motorcycle shop on Lincoln Way. My friends' houses.

It's hard to let all that go.

There'll be other stores in Boston and Cambridge, I know. Other places to find, to claim, just like all the others have before me. Other friends - many, many friends. And I'm pretty sure that it won't be long before I stop really missing South Bend.

But I'll still remember. I'll never forget where I came from - and it's good to know that it'll always be here. Things are going to change. It wouldn't be right if they didn't. But I know that, no matter what happens here, whether I come back for a year or just a few days, South Bend will always be my home.

A lot can happen in four days.

I'm going to make the best of them.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Austin and Boston and MIT, oh my!

So something funny happened today - not a ha-ha funny, more of a "that's interesting" funny. I won't get into the details, but basically, a few hours ago I found out that I won this writing contest, a contest I had no idea I could possibly win. Obviously, I'm thrilled.

Well, sort of.

The reason I'm not completely thrilled is that the grand prize includes a trip to Austin, Texas, for a celebration party.

Normally, this would not be an issue. Except the party is being thrown on Wednesday, September 5 - the first day of classes at MIT. A day I would never miss.

So I did what any good MIT engineer-in-training would do, and I turned the trip down. I understand they'll give it to the second place winner instead, who hopefully will be able to appreciate it more than I can. I'm not that upset, I guess. I mean, I still won, which feels fantastic, even if I won't get the prize and no one besides my family will know. And giving up the trip doesn't seem like such a sacrifice either, because how can you sacrifice something you never really had to begin with? I'm not sure if that makes sense, but hopefully you know what I mean.

All the same, it is a little depressing. Emotion defies logic, sometimes. That's sort of the definition of emotion, isn't it? a few days I don't think I'm really going to care about that trip to Austin anyway. The reason I know this is that in precisely six days I'm going to be at MIT...and hopefully I won't want to leave anyway.

Assuming I survive, that is. :)

Friday, August 10, 2007

All at Once

Precisely 15 minutes ago, I finished my last day of research at Notre Dame.

Ten weeks. Every Monday through Friday, nine to five. Four hundred hours.

It's been...amazing, really. I had no idea what to expect going into this thing, but all the same I ended up completely blown away. For better or for worse, I was taught the basics of what I needed to do - and then I was let loose. From playing with bone to actually getting down and dirty with the data, I...I think I surprised myself, really, with what I've done.

Everything's going so fast, now. I only have a little more than a week left in South Bend - just 9 days left with my family, my friends, with everything and everyone I've grown up with. Even walking around Notre Dame today was hard, because I knew today was the last day, and I don't know when I'll be back.

Deep down, I know that I'm doing the right thing by leaving. Getting out of my comfort zone, going somewhere I can make a new start for myself. A place I can just be myself, surrounded by people who are simultaneously like me and wonderfully different. But it's hard to remember that, sometimes, because everything seems like it's happening all at once, and there's no time to slow down, no time to really say goodbye to the people who matter, to all the friends you'll miss.

It's like I'm caught between two worlds right now, stuck somewhere between South Bend and Boston, Notre Dame and MIT, pre-frosh and froshling. It's not easy, and it keeps on changing. But I was listening to The Fray today, and even though I wasn't really paying attention, one line still caught in my mind. "Sometimes, the hardest thing and the right thing are the same." And that's true. This is what I want to be doing, what I've dreamed of for months. And, it's nearly time to finally make that dream real.

One way or another, I'll make it through.

We all will.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Top Ten Reasons I Love MIT #8

Mens et Manus

I have never met a Latin motto I didn't like - and, since I took Latin for over six years, I've met quite a few of them. Up until recently, my favorite was probably a quote from Virgil: Audentes fortuna iuvat - Fortune favors the bold. Appropriate enough for me, since I enjoy trying new things and getting involved in as much as I can...even if that does mean ending up with a little too much on my plate sometimes.

Actually, for the longest time I was a very shy kid, socially-speaking anyway - Young Paul would probably be shocked to hear what I've been up to these past few years. In grade school, I always had a very tight group of friends, but we ended up all going to different high schools - which meant I basically had to start everything over again as a freshman. My solution? I joined the tennis team.

I know that doesn't sound particularly risky, but for me it was. Not only did I know no one else on the team - the primary reason I joined was to meet people - I was a true beginner when it came to playing tennis competitively. And, as anyone could tell you, I'm not exactly a natural athlete. Still, I stuck with it - and my reward was that I ended up meeting three guys who are now among my very best friends.

Looking back over the past four years, in each year I can easily identify one pivotal event, one risk I took, one choice I made, that utterly changed where I was going with my life. As a sophomore, I volunteered to coordinate a service project and ended up learning what leadership really means. Junior year, I started doing biomedical research and ended up discovering a new passion for science. And my final, senior year, I convinced my principal to let me found a new club dedicated to investigating and debating global issues. All of those look totally unrelated, I know. But, at the same time, each one of them is an equally part of who I am.

The funny thing is that, as I made these choices, I never realized just how significant they would become to me. To put it another way - I never woke up and decided, I'm definitely going to take a huge risk before noon! or went to bed thinking, Wow, I did something really bold today. Everything I did, I did because that was what I wanted to do, because that was what I loved.

It's the same way with MIT. The students there don't do the amazing things they do simply to pad their resumes or to feel important. The research, the clubs, the academics, the crazy little things like Mystery Hunt - those things happen because the students want them to happen and then make them happen. In that sense, it's not just the faculty who have built up MIT's reputation for excellence, but also the students themselves.

I think, for a lot of people, a motto is just that, a motto: a funny little foreign-sounding phrase, appropriate for invocation at formal occasions, but on the whole fairly meaningless. That's not the way I think of it, and I'm confident in saying that most people at MIT are the same way. Even from the little I've glimpsed of MIT, I know that the ideal of Mens et Manus - the vision of theoretical knowledge and practical arts working together side-by-side to create a better world - is very much alive and kicking on campus. I've seen it in the labs, in the classrooms, in the dorms...even, on occasion, in the eyes of the students themselves.

And you thought your Facebook addiction was bad...

I know most of you already read xkcd religiously anyway, so posting this here is probably completely and utterly redundant, but I couldn't resist.

And this is considered only mildly sleazy?

Sadly enough, I can actually see this sort of scenario occurring in real life. Welcome to Web 2.0, right?

In other news, Fick's Second Law still hates me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Top Ten Reasons I Love MIT #9

Mystery Hunt

"Please do not endanger the life of the duck at any time."

Every January, MIT holds a special four-week term called Independent Activities Period - IAP, for short. IAP, in my humble opinion, is one of those crazy things that really epitomizes the unique way MIT looks at education, entertainment, and life in general. Basically, it's MIT's idea of a breather between the fall and spring terms, where "breather" means anything from doing research to taking accelerated classes to playing with boffer swords to going to Charm School. ("All of the above" is also an option.)

Really, I'm serious.

Although I have yet to experience firsthand the beautiful craziness that is IAP, I'm eagerly anticipating that glorious day. And my excitement is primarily due to what what might be the most famous IAP event of all...

The Mystery Hunt.

On the surface, it's a seemingly simple proposition: solve a series of puzzles and riddles to find a "coin" hidden somewhere on campus. Yet the Mystery Hunt itself is actually anything but simple. There's well over 40 or 50 puzzles to solve, some of which require some truly arcane knowledge and/or some really inventive guesswork. Many of the puzzles are somehow related to MIT's campus or culture, and there's almost always a puzzle or two that involves running around various buildings searching for the next clue. One popular type of riddle, called the Duck Konundrum, involves using a "live duck" to help you follow a ridiculously detailed set of instructions to produce the correct answer. (The quote at the top of the entry was from the 2000 version of the Duck Konundrum.)

One of the most interesting things about the Mystery Hunt is the prize - which is nothing more nor less than the honor of writing the next Mystery Hunt. It's totally intangible and, from a pragmatic standpoint, utterly worthless - yet for anyone deeply devoted to the Hunt, it's the greatest prize possible.

But I think the real reward of the Hunt goes even deeper than that. The Mystery Hunt is as much fun to play as it is to win. The ridiculously mind-boggling nature of the puzzles, the sense of competition with the other teams, the inside jokes your team inevitably will create, the buzz of stretching your sleep-deprived body and mind as far as they can go without breaking, the thrill of testing your wits and your knowledge against a nearly insurmountable challenge. That's the reward.

I know it sounds crazy.

I love it anyway.

Blogger's note: For more information on the Mystery Hunt, the interested reader may enjoy perusing the official Hunt site, the MIT blogs, and this excellent article in Discover Magazine.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Beautiful day

What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don't have you don't need it now, don't need it now

Today truly was a beautiful day. I got some overdue work out of the way, I read practically everything there is to know about the next WoW expansion, I saw one of my all-time favorite teachers get married, I had the most fun I have ever had in a swimming pool, and I finally learned how to play mahjong.

Those things would be enough to make a great day. But in addition to all that, Ben just proved once again that he is a complete badass. He's the kind of person who can utterly shut someone down and smile at them at the same time, and for some reason that makes me ridiculously happy.

This entry probably doesn't make sense to most of you. Sorry for that, but I think there are some experiences which are so perfect in and of themselves, that trying to explain them actually robs them of their perfection. And so I'm just going to let this entry be.

Let me just say that I'm going to bed with a huge smile on my face.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Facebook is the new crack

Due to a combination of factors, which can basically be summarized as actually having a life outside of the Internet, I haven't been on Facebook for over 48 hours.

I must correct this fault immediately.

Even if it is one o'clock in the morning. It'll be good practice for next year.

In other news, Pandora just served up a really good song by a band called Anberlin, which I had never heard of happens with most bands I find through Pandora. The song's called "A Day Late" and is rather quite good...the only tiny, tiny problem is that I thought the lead singer was a girl at first. Am I dumb, or is this an understandable mistake? Frankly I think the lyrics make more sense from a girl's point-of-view anyway, since in my experience guys tend to be more likely to want to resurrect an old relationship than girls. Meh.

If you're intrigued, you can watch the music video on YouTube. The video itself is really nothing special, except that I absolutely love the idea of a room covered in Post-it notes. The possibilities for next year are endless...except that it'd probably be pretty hard to do in a curved room. And my roommate may not like it either. :D

Thursday, August 2, 2007


As inspired by this post.

When I got to MIT for CPW, one of the first things my dad and I did was visit the Coop - MIT's official apparel store and bookstore, basically. For the record, Coop is pronounced just like the bird's nest - one syllable, not two. Anyway, the Coop is an amazing store - almost as good as Notre Dame's Bookstore, which is saying something in my book. :) As I recall, there's two locations on campus - one in the Student Center and one near Kendall Square.

But I'm dumping too much information on you. Point is, my Dad and I bought quite a few shirts and other souvenirs for myself and my family. However, what I really wanted was either one of two books on the MIT Blackjack Team - unfortunately, I found neither. I did, however, see Nightwork.

Stupidly, I didn't decide I wanted it until a few days later - after the Tangerine Tour, I believe. And, naturally, fate being what it is, when I got to the Student Center again, the Coop was closed.

Ergo, no Nightwork for me. At least not for three more weeks, when I'm finally at MIT again building a robot! (It's a good thing I'm so excited, because otherwise I'd be scared out of my mind. Multi-variable calculus is going to own me.)

Anyway, getting to the point of the article - Nightwork is supposedly written by Institute Historian T. F. Peterson. Institute has the finest professors, after all.

There's only one problem.

There is no Institute Historian at MIT.

Or is there? This is something I kind of picked up from the Jacks at CPW, but I think part of the message of Nightwork - of the entire hacking tradition, really - is that all students are Institute Historians, in a way. Part of the thrill of going to MIT is the stories you make doing it. I've already heard some crazy, wonderful stories - and I'm looking forward to creating a few of my own.

...And with that said, I have to get back to work. Fick's Second Law of Diffusion beckons.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Did someone call for Letterman?

Some point back in April, after all the college decisions had come in, my mom suggested that my twin sister and I should write a book on college applications. Although I'm pretty sure she was joking, for some reason the idea stuck with me. Hence, I am proud to present my very first post of utterly unsolicited college advice!

I truly believe that college admissions should be as uncomplicated, honest, and open as possible. That's why I tend to believe that most of the so-called "secrets" behind a good application are simply common sense. But I've also found that having a source of advice really can help you get a new perspective on things. So I'm hoping that my own experiences applying to college will enable you to do just that. But do keep in mind that you are not me, nor should you be! Always follow your own advice first and foremost - it'll work out better in the long run.

On a more personal note, throughout the admissions process last year, I was lucky enough to always have my own personal fountain of amazing advice and assistance: my mom. She's the one who proofread my essays, reminded me to meet my deadlines, boosted my spirits and my confidence when I felt overwhelmed. She knew my writing style, she knew my passions - she knew me, basically. I didn't always make it easy for her, but I'm so grateful she never gave up on me.

And with no further ado, here are Paul's Top Ten Common-Sense College Application Tips.

Use at your own risk. Your mileage may vary. Copyright protection pending.

  1. Always be honest. This one's first for a reason. Simply put, be yourself...not who you think some admissions committee wants you to be. Admittedly, students at MIT share a lot of common traits - but if you're at all drawn to MIT, odds are you probably already have a bunch of them already. Write about the things in your life that are cool and unique. And remember, cloning is still only for sheep, not humans - don't be afraid to be different! All the cool kids are doing it. ;)

  2. Show a little passion. I'm always hesitant about using the word passion, simply because it comes up so often when talking about college apps. These days, it seems like every potential applicant has some sort of "passion," which usually really means "hook." Just the same, having passion for something - excitement, fervor, a fire in the belly, whatever you want to call it - is still really important. Personally, I was fortunate enough to do two years of research in high school, and I loved it. I loved it so much that I wrote about it at length for every single college application I submitted. Yes, every single one. (I know I'm a nerd, okay? You don't have to rub it in.) The bottom line is, don't be afraid to reveal what truly gets you excited.

  3. Keep it consistent. Think of your application as a fine meal, or a particularly sexy outfit. I know that's a strange comparison, but play along with me here. In a great meal, all the courses are different, but they still go with one another. The different dishes complement and reinforce one another to create a truly extravagant banquet. In the same way, each part of your application - essays, short answers, extracurriculars, grades, scores, recommendations, etc. - should work and flow together to create one coherent image of you. Consistency isn't so much repeating yourself as setting up tiny little "echoes" within your application. For example, your dedication to your schoolwork is revealed primarily through your grades, but it'll also be echoed by your teachers in the way they write their recommendations.

  4. Embrace your mistakes. I can't be very specific about this, simply because every applicant is different, but the general message is this: you really don't have to be valedictorian, have a perfect GPA with all-honors courses, and have done a gazillion APs to get into MIT. Most people who apply to schools like MIT have taken very demanding classes, and it's okay to struggle. Sometimes, simply refusing to give up can mean an awful lot.

  5. Be confident, not arrogant. A college application is an invitation for you to highlight your accomplishments without being haughty about them. Walking the line between self-confidence and arrogance is hard - the way I see it, you 're pretty much supposed to be bragging about yourself without it sounding too much like bragging. If you're truly worried that you come across as arrogant, just run your application by a parent or a guidance counselor and see what they think. One last note: no matter how good you feel about your high school career, don't rest on your laurels! Colleges are looking for students who are excited about the opportunities ahead of them.

  6. Buy some white-out. Trust me, you will make mistakes. Thanks to computers, it's not so hard to correct things these days - but don't be afraid to scrap a draft (or even a complete essay!) and start over if it's just not working for you. Although I'd recommend saving the original draft just in case. :) Also, as my Calc teacher last year told me, the first application you write will probably be your worst - so filling out a state school's application early on can be good practice.

  7. Leave it short and sweet. Remember, no matter how awesome you are, you're just one application among many. Short answers are meant to be short, and there's a good reason MIT's application only has space for five extra-curriculars. Strong language is key here - powerful verbs, that perfect adjective, maybe a profound metaphor. You want to give someone who reads your application a good, solid impression of the real you without any extraneous material. If you're bad at knowing when to stop talking, like I am, your parents or teachers can probably help you figure out what's truly important and what's just verbal baggage. However, don't get me wrong - you should by all means fill out every question you feel like, including the optional ones if you can give a strong response to them.

  8. Immerse yourself. Every school has its own culture - its own particular feel and outlook - and MIT is no different. Although you don't have to know the whole history of each school you apply to, I think it helps to at least know a little about the institutions you're applying to besides their name and reputation. Interestingly, as the world gets more digital, so does the process of immersion. MIT in particular has done a very good job of using the Web to introduce prospective students to its culture and mission - I'm thinking about the blogs here, naturally. However, I am still 100% in favor of the traditional information-session/campus-tour combination...especially because my own first visit to MIT was the final, crucial factor that caused me to fall shamelessly in love with the 'Tute. Take it from me: for any school, simply being on campus is a great way to figure out whether or not you might want to spend the next four years of your life there.

  9. Double-check everything. There are plenty of horror stories about guidance departments/teachers/students accidentally messing up an application and not realizing it until it was too late. Don't let it happen to you! Although you don't have to everything by yourself, don't put all the burden on others - you have responsibilities as an applicant, as well. Chief among these is making sure that each little piece of your application gets to the right school, particularly your recommendations. Fortunately, this is much easier now that many schools offer online tracking of your application. And most admissions offices are really quite friendly if you call them about a missing piece of your application. (I had to call MIT about a late SAT score report that apparently got delayed by the College Board, and they were super-helpful and didn't make me feel like an idiot.)

  10. Beat the deadlines. This is a toughie, and I know I wouldn't have wanted to hear it when I was applying - that's why I saved it for last. Fact is, most applications aren't due until December 31, and I know exactly how tempting it is to put things off...but look at this way: do you really want to still be working on applications after Christmas? Deadlines are especially important for your teacher and guidance counselor recommendations, since you basically have no control over when they'll be completed. I'd suggest talking to your teachers about recommendations as soon as you've finalized your list of schools - the earlier the better.

...In retrospect, ten pieces of advice may have been a little too ambitious. Now this post is so long that no one's even going to bother reading it all the way through.