ASC log 6/26/12: The First Day

Gas station in Nevada. This picture does not do justice to the sheer barrenness of the state.


We woke up bright and early and headed out to the RFS (the Richmond Field Station, where we do most of our work). After fumbling around a bit, we left almost an hour late. A reasonable time for our team. We headed out on I-80, the road with which we were to become intimately familiar throughout our journey, since it is going to take us most of the way to New York. Today we were scheduled to drive 9 hours, about 550 miles, ending up in Wells, Nevada. We went from Richmond, to Sac town, over the Sierra Nevadas (I just now realized that the Sierra Nevadas share their name with Nevada), and across the majority of Nevada itself.


For this post, it behooves me to explain the manner in which our team travels. We travel in a caravan, both to keep the team together and to mimic conditions in the American Solar Challenge itself, in which we maintain a caravan in order to optimally take care of our valuable solar car, Impulse. The caravan breakdown is as follows: Trailer -> Chase -> Impulse -> Lead -> Scout. Trailer is in the back, consisting of a truck pulling a large trailer, which houses Impulse (as well as misc. other equipment) when we are not driving it. Chase is in front of trailer, and it keeps close track of Impulse during the race by following behind it and by communicating with Impulse’s system wirelessly to analyze data from the car in real time. Impulse is the car itself, which is absent from the caravan during our road trip since it is stored in the trailer, but would usually be in the middle during any actual race or test drive. Lead is in front of impulse, protecting its front end and determining the route – our Impulse driver follows lead directly. Scout goes ahead, looking for potential dangers on the road, picking up food for the rest of the caravan, and acquiring lodging / setting up camp as needed.


For the race itself, myself and 2 others will be switching off driving Impulse, and in my downtime I will either be in the chase or lead vehicles. However, for the road trip to NY, I’m in scout, because it is my family’s car that we are using for the scout car. Scout is the funnest car because you can go far ahead and not give a fuck about staying in formation with the rest of the caravan for most of the time.


So, back to my story – going over the Sierra Nevadas today, we had some trouble with the trailer, since trailers tend to have trouble getting over mountains. Compounded with the fact that scout doesn’t have to stop for gas as often and can go 90 mph on Nevada freeways, we got a couple hours ahead of the rest of the caravan by the end of the day. This gave us time to buy some much-needed supplies, charge electronics (our inverter broke on the way) and scope out a potential campground, which we ended up using.


Before this trip, there was a stereotype that I knew about Nevada, which is that it is a giant desert with not much in it besides Reno and Las Vegas. This stereotype is absolutely true. There are no fucking buildings in Nevada. We passed through 80% of it today and there were only like 2 cities, and they were pretty small. Reno was by far the largest amount of civilization we saw for 6 hours, and it was 10 buildings. Everything else was just a random smattering of shacks / trailers, and thousands and thousands of trucks. The landscape was barren and red, and in some cases spotted with dry brush. It was a very interesting landscape and I’m glad to have experienced it, because it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before. However I’m not sure I would fancy to come back. It was very bleak and depressing. I should also note that I only ever actually saw houses twice in the entire drive. I have no idea where the fuck people live in Nevada.


We started setting up camp around 10:00PM, because Berkeley engineers are really smart and capable people who know how to plan ahead. Eventually we hacked the tent together, and all 7 of us fit in it nicely. I should go to bed now, since everyone else is waiting for me. Goodnight.


The Friendzone.

The Friendzone in action.


Ah, the Friendzone. This is a topic that I’ve changed my opinions on many times in the past. I would not be surprised if I changed my opinion on it in the future. This is all the more reason to discuss it here, as I don’t see it as a simple topic.

There are a few questions which I will attempt to answer here:

  • What is the Friendzone?
  • Does it really exist?
  • Is it good or bad?
  • Should we care about it?
I apologize in advance to the mathematicians out there for my sacrifice of rigor in favor of readability. I also apologize to those who don’t understand my mathy language for my sacrifice of readability in favor of rigor. Why am I doing this again?


What is the Friendzone?

It behooves us to define the Friendzone if we want to discuss it, so that it is clear what exactly we are discussing in the first place. I’m going to start my definition in the best way possible: using math. Below I’ve outlined a mathematical definition of the Friendzone, with the convention that boys tend to be friendzoned by girls. My definition could also work for girls being friendzoned by boys; likewise it could work for gay or bi scenarios, but generalizing it further would take too long and I don’t care enough. So here is my definition for the friendzone in the context of girls friendzoning boys:

∀(gi ∈ G): (Bi = {b ∈ H| g considers b boyfriend material }) ∧ (Fi = {f ∈ H| g considers f her friend })

Where G is the set of all girls, H is the set of all humans, and G is in H.

FZi = Fi ∩ ¬Bi

Where FZi is the Friendzone of girl gi.

One can say that gi friendzones x iff x ∈ FZi and x is attracted to gi.

Translation into actual words: Every girl has some sort of method, either consciously or subconsciously, of organizing people she knows into categories or sets. There is the set of people who she considers to be boyfriend material, IE, given the opportunity she would date them. Then there is the set of people who she considers her friends, IE, she enjoys spending time with them or talking to them etc. Let’s say there is some boy who likes her, but he is within her set of friends and not her set of boyfriend material. You could say that the boy has been “friendzoned”; that is to say, he likes the girl and is her friend, but he is not boyfriend material to her so she won’t date him.


Does it really exist?

I’m answering this question because some people debate whether or not the Friendzone is a real phenomenon or if it just imagined. What defines what is “real” in this case? Isn’t the fact that some people think it exists enough to make it exist? The Friendzone does not and cannot physically manifest itself, it is only an idea. So I would argue that it definitely exists. To argue that it doesn’t is to argue that ideas do not exist, and that’s a bit too metaphysical for my discussion here.


Is it good or bad?

Generally speaking, when the concept of the Friendzone is invoked, it is used in a negative manner. It is used to describe a situation where person X likes person Y but is unable to obtain them. The fact that X and Y are friends makes this different from some other scenario where they are strangers, because X feels that the fact that he/she is friends with Y means that he/she has many qualities that Y might be looking for in a significant other. It also means that X liking Y could strain the friendship if there’s no reciprocation.

Let’s think about this. In order to eliminate the Friendzone ( for FZi to be empty for all i ), one of the following must be true:

  • F is always empty (no girls have friends)
  • B is always empty (no girls have anyone they consider to be boyfriend material)
  • F ∈ B, that is to say, for any girl, she considers all of her friends boyfriend material

This, like my definition above, could be generalized for any sexual orientation.

Clearly we do not want B to be empty, because the problem we are trying to solve is rejection. X is rejected by Y and this makes X sad. if B is empty, then all X are always rejected by all Y. Sad.

We don’t want F to be empty, because then nobody has any friends. Also sad.

But what about if F ∈ B? If all of a girl’s friends are automatically boyfriend material? Well this is awkward because she can only choose one of them anyways (I’m assuming monogamy here) so this leaves any other friends not chosen rejected and sad as well, which is only slightly better than the original scenario. This also means that person X who was originally vying for Y’s affection now finds himself competing with a larger group than before, since the set B now includes all of Y’s friends, and the competition is a bit more random because Y can no longer separate people to groups based on date-ability.

I could go into this with more detail, but my point here is that eliminating the Friendzone is not the solution to this “problem”. In fact I’m not sure that it is a problem at all, rather that it is just a natural consequence of the coexistence of boyfriends and platonic friends. I think if the Friendzone didn’t exist, then human relationships as we know them would be entirely different, and right now I’m OK with the way it is going. The “solution” to the Friendzone “problem,” I submit, is not general, but rather case-by-case; if X is interested in Y, X should not rely upon Y changing her standards for how she evaluates people; especially since these standards may be subconscious or involuntary. X’s only options are to change himself to be boyfriend material for Y, or find another girl he is interested in who considers him boyfriend material already. It is possible that Y might change her boyfriend criteria, but X has no control over this, only over himself.


Should we care about it?

I think we should care about it for the same reason we should care about any other problem – it causes human suffering. Situations involving the Friendzone can ruin friendships and cause a combination of anxiety and depression for either party involved. It can also result in a lot of complaining, and annoying reddit posts. Throw in some guilt, shame, and sexism to the equation and you have a recipe for unhappiness. Understanding what the Friendzone is, why it should exist, and what one can do about it is essential for many people to mature and find happiness.

I have had a lot of personal experience with the Friendzone; I have been on both sides of it a few times. I meant to offer my own advice on how to deal with it, but I realized after typing a bit that it would not be useful. I think most of time time, you have to deal with it yourself. The only advice I will offer is this: friendship is a valuable commodity. Never sacrifice a good friendship if you can avoid it, whether you are the friendzoner or the friendzonee. My friends that I’ve friendzoned and those that have friendzoned me are some of my closest and best friends today; and the few whose friendship I lost because of it, I regret deeply. If you love someone, either as a friend or something more, don’t give them up because of something petty like the Friendzone. You can get over it, they can get over it, and if you try hard enough you can both end up as happy people.

If there’s anything you want to say about the Friendzone, talk to me about it. I’d be glad to discuss.


Here’s one of my favorite songs.

Spring 2012 in review.

Graduate reception prep on memorial glade.

A college semester is an interesting period. It sort of defines the experience of time for most college students. What classes are you taking this semester? What classes are you taking next semester? How has your semester been? I’m so glad this semester is over! Next semester is going to be awesome. And so on and so forth. I suppose for some they would be quarters instead of semesters, but similar logic applies.

I think that I will write a review of each semester. A semester is a good chunk of time to review, not only because I can look at the classes I’ve taken, but also because it’s just a very nice time scale for personal analysis and critique. Too short of a time scale and there is not much to look at. Too long of a scale and you forget a lot of things by the end of it. So I think I will keep up a tradition of writing one of these at the close of each semester. I only have a couple left, anyways!

This semester was a great one for me in many ways. I’ve also failed in a lot of ways, and hopefully I can look back and learn from it. All the better if I can document my failure here! I won’t bore you with the details of my failure, but I will tell you the things I learned.


1) Do not rely on people who are unreliable. This one seems obvious, but it’s a hard one for me to accept. I like to believe that people can change easily, that if I observe someone failing, the next time they might not. However I realize that people do not change so easily. There were multiple times this past semester that I relied upon someone, that I linked my success to their ability to stick to a plan, and in the end I fail because of it. I need to learn to take matters into my own hands when necessary, or to find new people to work with when necessary. I don’t blame those that I’ve worked with, I blame myself for not learning quickly enough. I can’t get mad at others for not changing if I don’t myself.

2) Do not turn assignments in late. Again this seems like a no-brainer, but this keeps biting me in the ass. I don’t have a powerful sense of urgency when working on assignments. Somehow I need to fix this.

3) Commitment often has more advantages and fewer disadvantages than it might seem. I often fear commitment, not just in relationships, but in all my decisions. I don’t like the idea of being “tied down”, the idea that in the future, I won’t have as many possible choices that I do now. This is partially an illusion. I waste so much time thinking about what I might do, or waiting to make a decision or commitment, that I end up squandering so many resources that it would have been more efficient to make a poor decision right away, suffer the consequences, and learn from it. A friend gave me this advice: “fail early, fail often”. Making a bad decision quickly is often better than taking a long time to make a good decision. Sometimes it is worth it to think long and hard about something, but often it is actually not. Indecision can be a silent killer.

4) Fear idleness more than busyness. I don’t mind being busy all of the time. I mind being idle. Being idle means I will be even more busy in the future, but with a smaller output than if I was just busy the entire time. I need to not be afraid of putting responsibility on myself; of eliminating idleness.

5) Exercise is not a waste of time. I can’t overstate this. It’s easy to say things like “but I have homework due tomorrow” or “I need to study” or “I want to hang out with my friends” as excuses to not exercise. None of them are valid. There is always an hour or two each day to exercise, and I never use it. Somehow I need to get myself to do this. It is not a waste of time.

Apart from the things I sucked at and need to learn from, a lot of very good things happened this semester. I got better grades than I was expecting. I made a lot of new and wonderful friends. I completed my Dominion set. I worked through some personal emotional issues. I have a more clearly defined goal for self-improvement than I’ve ever had before. Right now my work is cut out for me. I know what I need to do to get good grades and to make the most out of my classes. I know what I need to do and what to eat in order to stay healthy. I know how to make friends and keep them. I know how to love someone as a friend and as a girlfriend, and how to tell the difference between the two.

I’m still working on learning not to be an asshole.

On a side note, I’ve recently become obsessed with a certain show…

Conservation theory.


The idea that I’m putting forth today represents the crux of my perception and philosophy over the past year or so. Everything I think about is driven in some way by the following idea. I think it’s time I get it down in writing so that I can develop it and make the idea more robust and comprehensive.


As an engineering student, I am deeply familiar with the laws of conservation. If you have taken any sort of science class, or just happen to be a well-reasoned individual, you are probably familiar with this concept as well. The concept is that energy and matter cannot come from nowhere – every scenario has to have an input and an output, a cause and effect. Flow of matter must obey conservation of mass, heat transfer must obey conservation of energy, movement must obey conservation of momentum. We as a species don’t quite know how the Universe began, but we DO know that ever since it began, it has obeyed these laws, and we observe them to hold true throughout everything we do.


Here is a very concrete example of conservation of mass (bear with me, please): Water is flowing through a pipe at 10 liters / second. The pipe has cross-sectional area A. Now let’s say this pipe branches off into 10 equally sized pipes, each of cross-sectional area 0.1A. Now each of these pipes will have water flowing through them at 1 liter/second. This way, mass is conserved, because the total amount of water going into the system (10 liters/second) is exactly balanced out by the amount of water going out (1 liter/second * 10 tubes = 10 liters/second), even though the streams of water take different paths. This is pretty obvious and intuitive to us.


Now, I’m going to preface this next point by saying that I am not an expert in neuroscience. Everything I’m about to say is based on my own empirical observations, and not on scientific research. I’m far too lazy to do that when I can just sit around and reason about things.


I like to call my idea the Law of Conservation of Thought. It’s very simple in principle. There are only so many things that anyone can think about at any given time. I believe that each person has some capacity to think, some amount of brain power that they can devote to any task, sort of like a computer has processing power. In fact, the processor analogy is a rather good one, although possibly lost on those who are not familiar with computer architecture. Anyways, this is my main unifying idea, that thought is conserved – just as the water is conserved as it flows through the pipe, so is thought conserved as our minds process it. We cannot think beyond what our minds allow us to, there is only so much thought that can be used at any given time. Like the physical conservation laws, it is a simple concept but the implications are wide-ranging.


This idea makes sense on the surface – there is some limit to the amount we can think about, which is why we cannot simultaneously do all of our different homework problems in our head, or read a book while carrying on a conversation with someone, and so on. The exception to this is that sometimes, if we get good enough at something, we can learn to multitask – this is mostly true with activities that are partially mental and partially physical, such as sports, music, and art. In these cases it is possible to perform complex mental computations in parallel by using other parts of the brain than those that deal with higher-level thinking, for instance by transforming forced motion into muscle-memory. In this way, you can do something complicated like playing a piano piece while also solving a math problem. However, at levels of thinking which are more abstract, it is a lot harder to multitask in this way. For these types of thought, you cannot think in parallel, because you only have one part of your brain working on the problem. Which is, again, why normal people can’t solve a math problem while also reading a book (this idea does NOT take into account people with exceptional mental capabilities, rainman-style).


That all sounds very nice, but what does that mean for us in the real world? The reason I was thinking about it is because, being at Berkeley (well, being in a competitive intellectual environment in general), I start to question my own mental capacity. Observing the intellectual successes and failures of others and of myself, it behooves me to think about how my brain thinks and how others think. Through this I hope to figure out what thought organization schemes lead to the most success. The most important thing I have learned is that nobody is god – no matter how smart someone is, their accomplishments can be explained by a combination of preparation, dedication, and some latent intelligence. In other words, optimization of thought. As I said above, I think everyone has some certain thought capacity – maybe it can increase or decrease based on body health, sleep schedule, emotional state, general well-being etc, but on average it is relatively constant for individuals. However, it is very unlikely for any person to be using their thought capacity optimally; thoughts can be scattered, unfocused, or focused on things that are not useful. The smartest people are able to take full advantage of their thought capacity, so that all of their thought is used towards some constructive goal. This is very different from having the highest capacity. I used to think that having the highest capacity was important. I thought that having a high intellectual potential was what defined “smartness.” However, I no longer believe that. There are many people who take full advantage of their intellectual capacity even if it is not exceptionally high, and those are the people who become truly successful. They do this through having a very strong ability to focus.


This concept of focus is very important, and is what brings this whole idea together for me. Focus is a measure of how much of your thought capacity you can devote to a particular problem or task. Pure focus means directing all of your available thought to one thing; anything less means that your attention is divided, or else that some thought is completely going to waste, ie “leaking”, by thinking about something trivial. I’ve simplified this model of thought conservation such that all thought exists on a spectrum, with focus on one end and perspective on the other. What this means is that you can either devote all of your thought capacity to just one subject (thus achieving focus), or else devote a small amount of your thought capacity to a variety of different subjects (thus achieving perspective). In other words, this is a way of defining of depth vs breadth of thought. You can either think about one subject very deeply, or many subjects shallowly, or anywhere in between. This ties into my water tube analogy from above – if you want to divide the water so that it flows in different directions, then each tube is going to have a weaker flow. Likewise, if you want to think about different things, then your capacity to think about each of them individually will be severely weakened.


I don’t want to say here that focus is necessarily better than perspective, just that they are on opposite ends of a spectrum. You cannot be very focused while also having a wide perspective – if you achieve this, it simply means that you have a very high thought capacity such that if you otherwise narrowed your perspective, you could focus even more powerfully on one thing. It is often good to be focused – switching between different thoughts is inefficient and causes a lot of “leakage” where you waste time thinking about unimportant things. So, when you are doing homework, it is generally beneficial to be focused on that homework rather than thinking about other things on and off. However, sometimes it is bad to be too focused. This can happen if you get wrapped up in a task without thinking about the context of what you are doing. For instance, you might work very hard on a project, only to realize afterwards that the goal of the project was not very good and that it would have been better to devote your time working on something else. Generally, perspective is useful for making choices of what you want to do, because it gives you a diversity of choice – focus is useful because it allows you to stick to a decision and excel at a task. The way to optimize thought, then, is to be able to readily switch between having focus and having perspective, so that when you need to be creative you can think about a lot of different things, but when you need to get something done quickly and efficiently you have the power to sit down and do it.


Once I started thinking about this idea, I couldn’t stop. I started thinking about everyone’s behavior in terms of this model. Does this person have better focus or better perspective? Is this person optimizing his/her thought capacity? Do the people who I admire succeed because they have better focus, or better perspective, or both?


As many of you know, I have a problem with focus. It is difficult for me to choose one thing to do and stick to it, and devote a significant amount of my thought to it for an extended period of time. However, it is relatively easy for me to consider a wide range of possibilities, including ones that other people might not think of. I need to become better at balancing these things such that I can make myself be focused when I need it, but still be open minded enough to know when I need to pursue another course of action.


That’s all for today. Please leave criticisms in the comments, as I’m sure there are plenty of holes in my analysis.


Here’s some inspirational music, blast from the past. Been thinking about Disney a lot lately…


It’s that time of year again. School is over in a matter of weeks, and I’m fairly screwed in most of my classes.

A typical pattern, to be sure, although unfortunately this semester has been harsher on me than past ones. My performance is going down, while averages are going up. I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s not good. At the end of this semester I’ll need to take some time to think about the decisions I’ve made and where I might have done better. This is all academically speaking, of course – my friends here at Berkeley continue to be awesome and I’m so grateful that I have them.

It is true crunch time now. Extreme catch up work is necessary if I’d like to escape my classes with halfway decent grades. This has the potential to be my worst semester at Cal – hopefully I can keep my head above the water.

On a lighter note, here’s my new favorite song. What can I say. It’s just so damn catchy.

Humanities vs STEM

Is this a confused science student, or a humanities student trying to do science? Or is it a dog?


First and foremost I’d like to say that I’m posting this on Monday night on purpose. I’ve decided to post every Monday night instead of Sunday. This works a lot better with my schedule.


If you have been to college (or perhaps even if you just know people who go to college), you probably have a sense that there is some sort of divide between those who study fields in the humanities and those who study STEM fields. “Humanities” encompasses fields such as classics, history, art, literature, languages, philosophy, etc. On the other hand, STEM fields (Science Technology Engineering Math) include things like…. science, engineering, and math. Surprise. There are some other fields which sort of skirt the boundary, such as economics and psychology (known as “soft sciences”), but we’ll just ignore them here. Who are we kidding – I’m an engineer! Throw them in with humanities too!


Within these two general groups of humanities and STEM fields, there of course exist truckloads of diversity. So, this begs the question – why would we even care about the differences between them if they are already diverse themselves? Why don’t we care about the differences between science and math, for instance? Or between history and art? Well, perhaps I do care about those, but it makes sense that I would care most about the differences which are most significant and most generalized, because getting more specific would mean putting in more time and effort into the analysis. So we’ll stick to the big sweeping generalizations here, and just look at the two biggest groups, humanities and STEM.


Before I add my own opinion, I’m going to talk about what I have observed and experienced at UC Berkeley / also through my friends who attend other universities. These are the big stereotypes:

– Humanities majors are stupider than STEM majors

– Humanities majors have less work to do, and therefore have more time to “party”

– STEM majors are nerds and are antisocial

– STEM majors are elitists and look down on humanities majors

– Humanities majors are more attractive than STEM majors

– Everyone except for engineers (which comprise a good deal of STEM demographics) will have a hard time getting a job and making money

There are of course others, but this list will do for now. I think everyone who has gone to college  is pretty familiar with this general concept.


Are these stereotypes wrong? Are they right? Why should we care about them?


It is hard to say what is really right and wrong. There are some who would denounce stereotypes – we were often taught in school or by parents that stereotypes are wrong, and that you shouldn’t judge people based on them. For the most part I agree with this, in the sense that I recognize that generalizations should not be applied to individuals if you want any shot of evaluating those individuals accurately. However, people who oppose generalizations in this way miss the point of them entirely. They are to be used when more specific information is either unavailable or difficult to obtain, and when the decision made about the individual is not particularly important. If you are hiring someone for a job, dismissing them based on a stereotype is probably a bad idea. If you are looking around a classroom wondering who will get the highest grade in the class, then stereotype the fuck out of them for all I care, because your judgement will make no difference to their success.


Personally, I love to judge people. I love to take incomplete information and form conclusions from it. Isn’t that what we do all of the time, anyways? When do we ever have complete information? At some point, you have to start making assumptions. Plus, judging people can be very fun and lead to great jokes and conversations.


With that, I return to my point. Stereotypes can never really be “right”, by definition, because they are meant to be wrong some of the time. If they were not wrong sometimes they would not be stereotypes, they would be facts. It is not a fact that asians get better grades than white people, it is a stereotype. This is because there exist some white people who get better grades than some asian people. However, if you could show that on average asians get better grades than white people, the stereotype is confirmed. In this way, stereotypes have the potential to be useful. 90% of the time, if I have a friend who is an engineer and a friend who studies psychology, I can tell you that the engineer has to work harder for his grade than the psychologist does for hers (see what I did there? Stereotypes are great). I can also tell you with confidence that the engineer will make more money in the future. Will this always be true? No. Does my judgement make any real difference? No.


The bottom line for me is not about how hard students have to work for their grade or how much money they make after college anyways. So what if engineers study more and make more money on average? Since none of these stereotypes are true in absolutes, they can always be broken one way or another. Let me be very deliberate about what this means because I think it’s important. For every characteristic, there is a general sense of whether it is a bad or good characteristic to have. I think we can safely say that being smart, hard working, sociable, attractive, successful, fun, kind, etc. are all positive characteristics. These things can be associated with stereotypes – you can say that STEM majors are smarter and harder working, and that humanities majors are more sociable, attractive, and kind. But, even if these stereotypes were true, even if on average you could predict what someone was like by sorting their field of study into one of two buckets, how useful is that to you, really? The fact that exceptions to the stereotype exist mean that you can have a friend who is extremely hot and successful who studies math, or a linguistics major roommate who is smarter than your engineer friends. A philosophy major might end up being a millionaire. Ok just kidding about that last one.


My point is that individuals are not so easily generalized as populations, and evaluations of individuals are probably going to be the most important to you. Generalizations and stereotypes ARE useful for some things, so as long as you understand when it makes sense to generalize and when it makes sense to evaluate based on other information, then you should be fine. Saying that stereotypes are wrong and should never be used is equally as close-minded as claiming that they are always correct.


I can say from personal experience at Berkeley that stereotypes are actually useful. They are real and can tell you a lot about a student body as a whole. No one will doubt you if you say that there are not many attractive female computer science students, because it’s true. Do they exist? Of course they do. Here’s my take on all of it: no matter what you study or what you choose to do with your life, you can earn my respect. I respect all of my friends for a lot of different reasons. I respect my engineer friends and my philosopher friends. My mathmetician friends and my businessmen friends. My biologist friends and my art historian friends. This is because they have distinguishing characteristics and admirable qualities that transcend (or even complement) their fields of study. And there’s nothing wrong with that – in fact I think it’s beautiful. Don’t ever decide that you don’t respect someone because of one aspect of them. People are not one dimensional.


This post was partially inspired by one Andrew Kooker, a student government candidate at UC Berkeley who made the fairly stupid decision to trash talk about his constituency in some poorly written facebook posts. I can’t say myself that I totally disagree with him – I agree, for instance, with his point that you should not complain about having an indeterminate financial future if you chose a field of study which is known to have few employment opportunities and low average starting salary. I’ve known people to do this and frankly I find their sense of entitlement annoying. However, there are many aspects of his posts that I disagree with (there were several others which appeared to lack coherence entirely), so many in fact that I’d rather not elaborate, and it is clear that this person has a very linear style of thinking and that he does not consider other perspectives. Whether or not you choose to use stereotypes is one thing – being close minded is another entirely. Be always open minded, always questioning. Never deal in absolutes. (see what I did there?)


Disclaimer: None of this means that I won’t make fun of you for being an ethnic studies major, regardless of how cool of a person you are. I reserve the right to make fun of you for anything I deem appropriate.

An Education.


Today I’m going to talk about public education. I’ve been thinking about writing about this for a long time. I guess that’s true for a lot of my topics. It’s a bit long today, so I apologize in advance. That’s what he said.


I often think about problems with the world and how they might be solved. Because of my obsession with optimization / perfection, I would like to not devote my time to solving anything except for the problem which will have the maximum desired effect in proportion to the amount of work put in. If I spend my time working on a problem that is not optimal in this way, then I feel as though I’ve wasted time. Of course, I can never hope to fully optimize anything like this, but I would at least like to have a worthy goal to strive towards rather than devoting a lot of time and resources to solving a problem that is not important or that would have a very localized effect. Since the world is big and I don’t know much about problems overseas, my more realistic thoughts tend to be related to problems in America. Ironically, the fact that America is so prosperous means that problems solved here will have a more drastic effect than elsewhere, as “problems” as I define them will often refer to poor allocation of resources. Also, the high degree of individual opportunity here makes it more likely that my thoughts and actions might actually affect some sort of change.


When I try to think of solutions to problems, they almost always lead back to public education. If only the average man were more intelligent, more knowledgeable, more prepared, more organized, more well-equipped with critical thinking and problem solving skills, more frugal, the list goes on and on, many problems could be solved. This is because information is the most powerful human resource in the world (besides energy…). Information allows humans to better understand the way the world works, and the ability to gather and efficiently dispense and store information is responsible for any and all of mankind’s most impressive achievements, technologically or otherwise. Considering that natural resources are hardly a limiting factor for America, the logical extension is that we should be focusing our energy on gathering and sharing information. Unfortunately, our public education system lags far behind that of many other countries, and it’s reasonable to assume that the education systems of other countries are not optimized either.


I could elaborate on the reasons behind why I believe this all day, but here is the bottom line for me. I believe that better public education will:

– drastically reduce energy consumption

– improve overall human health and extend human life

– result in faster and better technological and scientific advancements

– reduce violence and crime

– reduce political and corporate corruption

– mitigate exponential population growth issues

– encourage environmentally sustainable practices

– improve average human happiness and well being

– result in more efficient utilization of time, energy, and resources


I believe all of this will come about through nothing other than children learning things that we already know to be true about the world. The best way to educate a lot of people this way is through public education. Taking these things as a premise, what can we do to improve our public education system?


First, it is necessary to define what makes public education “good” in order to know how to make it “better.” This is of course entirely subjective and based only upon my intuition and reasoning. I find that there are only three major requirements of a good public education system:

– teach kids how to learn (how to read /write, how to listen effectively, and how to use computers)

– teach kids how to think critically and solve problems

– have consistent standards for what qualifies as fact

There are a lot of other factors that will come into play, and of course even what I’ve said so far is a gross oversimplification of what would actually have to happen, but I think these at least are the absolute basics. They key point that I want to get across here is that teaching facts should not be a particular priority – as long as you have the ability to learn, the ability to think critically, and a source of reliable information, you can find any facts you need by yourself. The only facts that should be taught are those that are so relevant that everyone should know them, and my opinion is that most facts that are taught in public schools today are not of this nature.


Those things are what I would want in the ideal scenario – how our public education system is currently set up is not always like this. Here are my main criticisms of public education in America as it currently exists:

– Strong emphasis on facts instead of skills

– Little promotion of creativity or flexibility in coursework

– Uninteractive learning environments that focus on regurgitation of information

– Lack of quality teachers

– Strong bias towards American History

– Lack of focus on STEM subjects, little to no focus on the environment and sustainability, little to no focus on economics and statistics

– Low standards / focus on teaching towards the lowest denominator of students


Large systems are hard to change or control. It would be difficult to implement changes to our public education system – it would involve the devotion of a lot of time and resources. However, it is not a task so difficult that we can’t do it. In fact, we already devote more resources to our education system per student than many other countries – these resources are simply not intelligently allocated. Of course, we would have to devote yet more resources in order to optimize this allocation. That being said, I believe that improving public education in the ways outlined above should be America’s #1 priority. This is because it is an investment for the future – spending money on things we want in the now will just make us even more screwed later on when we realize our kids are uneducated and unskilled.


Brain dump on ways to improve public education:
– start when kids are very young, this is when they are the best learners

– do not underestimate kids; they will do well if you set high expectations

– improve incentives for teachers

– determine optimal teaching methods for every subject – this can probably be done empirically

– make learning fun and interactive

– make language, music, and art required subjects

– begin teaching math and science young – in fact teach everything as young as possible. The earlier kids start learning, the better.

– encourage free thinking, creativity, and collaboration with peers

– Most ideas from the Khan Academy are good – lessons should be learned outside of class, while work completed in-class

(definitely watch the Khan Academy link, it’s very cool)


Obviously this subject is huge, and difficult to talk about in a medium like this. I haven’t said even close to everything that I have to say on this subject, and honestly what I do have to say is not nearly as thought out as I’d like it to be. I will probably be developing these ideas more in the future, because I find them important. So important that I’m entertaining the idea of getting involved in public education reform in my future.


Oh, I had one last idea that I’d like to end on. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about Google, and how they seem to be taking over the internet. Although many might complain that they are gaining too much power, I, for one, welcome our new Google overlords. I would like nothing better than for the world to be taken over by engineers who are interested in the spread of knowledge. Google makes it possible for the average person to quickly and easily find almost any information that one would want to find about the world. The way that it is heading, it will also serve as a hub for information sharing and collaboration, through Gmail, Google Docs, Google+, YouTube, and numerous other resources as well. The main idea I had here was that YouTube, or some sort of extension or modification of it, could potentially either join forces with Khan Academy or compete with it. An infrastructure similar to YouTube’s would be very useful for educational purposes, as various lectures and tutorials could be standardized in terms of consistency, correctness, and teaching methodology, organized in a hierarchical structure, and shared freely with anyone who wanted to learn or any teachers who wanted to use it.


Think of this hypothetical model of teaching / learning. Students would be told to go home and read a chapter from a textbook and watch a corresponding video about the subject. This would engage them passively and intellectually through the reading, and audio-visually through the video. Then, they would come into class the next day, receive a brief review of the subject, and then spend the class period working on problems and answering questions in groups, with the teacher mainly acting as moderator and proctor. They could learn in a fully interactive and collaborative environment, where the faster students could help the slower students to learn the concepts. Focus would be taken away from memorization, homework grades, and busy work – the kids would come into class primed and ready to learn, and would want to work together. There is social incentive to learn and improve, which I think is very important, and studying is easy because you don’t have to go home and do homework, you just have to watch a video and read a bit. I think this model could be streamlined and become very effective. It would be less stressful for both the students and the teacher, relatively inexpensive once implemented, and could increase knowledge retention as well as overall enjoyment of the learning process by students. It is my sincere hope that a model such as this is adopted in the not-too-distant future, and if possible I would like to play a part in making that happen.


I’ve said enough about this for today. Hopefully you had the patience to read through it all. Here’s a completely unrelated song.


Daylight savings time.

Blue = uses DST, Orange = formerly used DST, Red = never used DST. The more you know.


I can’t believe I didn’t think to write about this yesterday. For those who weren’t paying attention at all and/or are reading this in the future and/or live in a different country, yesterday was the day that the clock sprang forward for daylight savings time. That is to say, that we lost one hour. Sad panda.


The criticisms of daylight savings time are numerous. Why bother with it? It’s an arbitrary change in the way we measure time – the shift literally doesn’t change anything physically, but we have to change our time keeping infrastructure to account for it. Many countries don’t deal with it at all because of this. For them the benefit of DST, which is that you get more sun after work during late spring/summer, is minimal in comparison to the cost of maintaining it every year. It also results in some annoying conversion issues when you leave the country, whether it be to a different time zone or to the same time zone (going directly south or north) to a country where DST is not observed. Others even argue that we should instead shift all clocks forward and keep them there, because many people are waking up later and staying up later, and those people want more sun-time all year round. This opinion is a bit more popular in college and probably less popular where people actually have to wake up early…


Despite my love for efficiency and consistency, I actually like daylight savings time. If I somehow had the power to choose, I would probably choose to get rid of it because it makes too much sense not too, but I honestly do it enjoy it. For me, the selling point is that it adds a new, interesting element to life. Kind of like adding an extra holiday. Having DST generates another two days out of the year that are remarkable for some reason. Even though jumping ahead an hour kind of sucks, it does mean that the world around you seems to change – suddenly you can watch sunset while eating dinner, for instance. And when you go back an hour, it’s like a magical extra hour gets added to your day and you can stay up late with friends waiting for it instead of sleeping or studying or doing anything else constructive with the time. It keeps you on your toes ever so slightly more than if we didn’t have it at all, and results in a more dynamic world.


Change can be scary. Sometimes I don’t like change. But fear brought on by the prospect of change is a subset of fear of the unknown – if something stays the same, you’re familiar with it, but if something new happens, how knows if it is going to be bad or good? By comparison, daylight savings time is like a “free” change; it is a change that adds diversity to life without having unknown and possibly disastrous consequences. I try and maximize this type of free change in my life whenever possible, and DST is just another tiny way of making it happen.  I recommend the same – it can be useful to get into a habit, but breaking habits every now and then to shake things up can make life a lot more interesting.


By the way, does anyone actually listen to all of the songs I post? I only post songs that I like, so naturally I would recommend them to anyone who hadn’t heard them and is looking for new music. A change in music is yet another way to make life more interesting.


I’ve been listening to this song a lot lately, and it has the word change in it so I figured it was appropriate enough here.


Medicine, military, and thermodynamics.



Today’s thought process is brought to you by a history class I took last semester, entitled ‘History 138: History of Science in the U.S.’ We talked about how science has developed throughout American history, and how that has shaped our society / economy / culture etc.  As we covered the 20th century (which incidentally was an awesome century for science all around), we learned about how different large-scale systems grew and developed, using the military-industrial complex as a prime example. Near the end of the class, we specifically emphasized the Manhattan Project and the Human Genome Project.


This is what got me thinking. We have some sort of intuition about military science, about how it is developed earlier and faster than other types of sciences, and how it is evil because corporations and government and violence and human nature etc. We don’t have that much intuition about medical science, except that doctors make a lot of money and DNA is cool, but a little research makes it obvious that medical science is slow and expensive. Well, both military and medical research are expensive, but medical research seems to be much more time consuming for less drastic results.


If you look at the Manhattan Project, it’s pretty phenomenal what happens. I’m not going to go into detail, but the gist is that they had a goal to make a bomb and did it in under5 years. They got government approval, recruited scientists, built facilities, got industry support, established the theory behind the bomb, designed it, acquired necessary materials (Uranium or Plutonium, extremely difficult to acquire in sufficient quantities – this took up the majority of the work), implemented it, tested it, and deployed it in about 4 years, the entire time remaining covert. That’s fucking impressive no matter how you cut it.


By comparison, medical technology evolves fairly slowly. Just getting the patent for recombinant DNA technology took almost twice as long as the entire Manhattan Project. Medical technology necessarily goes through a far more bureaucratic and entrenched process than military development. The reason is obvious when you think about it. Medicine needs to be safe – it needs to be tested thoroughly to make sure that it not only is beneficial to people, but that it won’t hurt anyone, or if it will, who will it hurt and how. The effect of any medical technology needs to be precise and well controlled. Military technology is typically different – it does need to be tested, but the effectiveness is more related to destructive capability and tends to be relevant on a macroscopic rather than microscopic scale. You might imagine missiles being launched over the ocean or bullets being fired at a target, whereas on the other side you imagine a guy in a lab coat looking into a microscope and using a tiny pipette. Obviously these systems and processes are so advanced that we can’t expect to accurately simplify them in such a way, but at the very least we can assume from results that military technology is generally developed and deployed much faster by comparison.


Here are my big reasons for this:

1) Medical technology requires a high degree of safety, whereas a lot of military technology is used for destructive purposes.

2) Military research does not need to pass as many legal barriers.

3) Ethics are more intrinsic to the ability of medical technology to develop.

4) Medicine is often more science-oriented while military applications are often more engineering-oriented.


One thing is very interesting about all of these reasons, and that is that they all appear to satisfy, at least metaphorically speaking, the second law of thermodynamics. For those who are not well versed in physics, that’s the one that says entropy is a thing. It implies that disorder tends to increase over time. The canonical analogy is with a student’s bedroom – it gets messier over time, thus “increasing entropy.” Although this explanation is sort of BS because the cleanliness of a room really has nothing to do with actual entropy, the intuition of the  relationship makes sense in a lot of ways.


So, let’s apply this to my reasons laid out above. What does entropy have to do with safety? Safety, at its most base level, is a measure of human control of energy. The more control we have over energy, the safer it is. Scalpels and lasers and MRIs and shit = good for medicine, guns and bombs = good for military. Medicine is about the precise, controlled application of energy, whereas military is about the explosive release of energy. Of course, it needs to be “controlled” in the sense that it needs to be directed, but in general the destructive nature of weaponry relates to a different type of control than that which is observed in medicine. In this way, you can sort of intuit that higher degrees of safety require higher degrees of order in energy.


The level of bureaucracy that needs to be applied to medical technology is an additional layer of order that slows its progress. Military resources, on the other hand, can be allocated at high speeds and with little to no legislation required.


Ethically speaking, you would expect that which is more ethical to approach higher order. More rules, more organization, more predictability of outcomes, more stability. That which is unethical tends towards instability and disorganization. It is more important for medical advances to pass through ethical scrutiny. When considering destroying or disarming an enemy, effectiveness is a higher priority than ethicalness.


Science vs engineering – science tends towards expanding the pool of human knowledge, finding out things that we do not yet know. This requires a great deal of reorganizing of information, because we have to take information from the world and process it and record it in a meaningful way. When it comes to engineering, typically we have some amount of information that we already know and are simply finding an optimal solution to whatever problem we are considering. In general I think it’s safe to say that science results in a more powerful application of order to a disorderly system, that is to say in this case, forming useful information from the random information inherent in the universe, whereas engineering has more to do with taking given information and twisting it to be optimal for us. As medical development is often more science related and military development more engineering related, medicine again tends towards a higher state of order.


Everything I’m saying here is of course very generalized and oversimplified… a lot of science goes into military research, and all weaponry needs to be safe. However the intuitive power of these thoughts is pretty interesting to me. I enjoy thinking about how energy is harnessed and directed towards different goals and in different applications, and what this means about order. I like to approach higher degrees of order. The idea of it is enticing, and makes the thought of destruction, of increasing disorderliness, that much more unpleasant.


I think I get a strange sense of satisfaction from breaking down complicated things into their base elements and trying to figure out how it all works. I guess that’s what draws me towards engineering, and towards my objective reasoning framework. Hopefully these sort of simplifications and analogies don’t take me down a road of fallacious reasoning. In any case it’s a good mental exercise.


A great song courtesy of my dear sister. Sit down, close your eyes, and play this with some noise-cancelling headphones.



Optimization problem.

This was actually meant to be posted way back in December, but I never got around to it due to finals. I’m dredging it back up since I’m entrenched in midterm season and I don’t want to write a brand new post.


I have a problem, which is that I am absolutely terrible at optimizing my time. There are so many things that I’d like to do, but I end up doing very few of them. For everything that I might want to do, I’m constantly weighing factors like how much time they will take, how much effort I want to put into them, how much I will enjoy them at the time, what sort of long term benefit they might offer, how much they will benefit other people, and the list goes on. My main problem is focus. Or rather, lack thereof. Even if I know I want to do something, I have the motivation to do it, and I set aside time to get it done, I often can’t focus on the task and end up either taking way too long or not getting anything done at all. This is a terrible feeling and makes me very stressed, but I’m not really sure what to do about it. I’m already going through the motions, setting up schedules, check-lists, putting myself in the proper environment / mindset to do work, but in the end it’s still very difficult for me to get things done.


My general solution to this is to add a social motivation to whatever I do. That is to say, if there are other people relying on me to do something or working with me, then I am far more likely to be proactive in getting things done. I always try to do homework in groups, my recreational activities are group related (I don’t like to play games or otherwise have fun alone), I work out with other people or else play sports with them, I cook and eat with other people, I clean with other people, I plan things and make big decisions during meetings, and I make this blog public online so that I can focus well enough to post often. I think if I did not feel as though I was letting my readers down, I could not bring myself to write this post in the first place.


This requirement of a social factor makes the problem of optimization frustrating. It’s already hard enough for me to get things done when I know exactly what I want to do and how to do it, but what if there is much more uncertainty than that? What if I can’t add a social motivation to something that I want to do, or I try and it doesn’t work? How can I be sure that I will truly do what I want and get what I want out of life if I am subject to such limitations? I can barely even manage to wake up in the morning on time, so how can I expect to have a positive effect on the world? These are all questions that I’ve been struggling to answer, and hopefully this blog will help me work through these thoughts. Even just writing them out makes me feel a stronger sense of purpose, and perhaps that will make it easier to get things done. In honor of that, I’m going to list here things that I care to devote my time to. This is not so much specific tasks, but rather things that I consider meaningful in general.


Things I want to devote my time and attention to:

– Having fun (this is mostly a matter of perspective- I can have fun while doing anything, including homework)

– Working out / playing sports (ultimate, badminton, rock climbing)

– Eating well and inexpensively

– Building close bonds with my friends

– Meeting new people

– Being a good leader and worker for CalSol (solar car team that I’m part of)

– Finding a job so I can become more self-sufficient

– Learning as much as I can

– Helping people

– Defeating my adversaries

What a list! Right now the most relevant of these to my life would be the “learning shit” bit… unfortunately I do not feel as though I am learning very much in a couple of my classes. I wish I was taking better advantage of my education here. There have been a few classes that I have learned a lot from, but otherwise I feel like I learn just enough to get the general idea of the class and nothing more. I don’t even really care about the grades that much – I would like to get A’s, but my desire to learn is stronger than my desire to succeed. If I truly understand the material, then good grades should flow naturally from that… or at least that’s what I’d like to happen. My plan to get A’s this semester is endangered, but even more important than that, I’m not learning as much or as efficiently as I should. I need to be learning a lot every day.


It’s all a work in progress. I am always optimistic, even when I complain about things. I know that I have a good life now, I just want to do better. I believe I can always improve myself. Making better decisions and optimizing my life are all just a big part of that. What to do…