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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

8 Hypotheses by Yan Z. '12

Like Schubert, I never finished the Eighth.

8 Hypotheses, Mostly Non-Testable:

1. Today I accidentally punched a friend in the head while gesticulating the angle between a wall clock and the horizontal. In an effort to convince Matt McGann that I am an entirely trustworthy employee as long as you don’t ask me for the time in a panicked tone, I’m willing to bet that most socially-competent people punch someone every month or so. Statistically, if you have 500 friends, and .5% of your friends are within 2 feet of you at any time while you’re awake, and the average human arm length is around 2.1 feet, and you point at something every 4 minutes or so, and . . . well, you should probably just try to have less friends. (Especially if your friends come in multiples of 2.5.)

2. It is possible to succeed in life even despite enormous obstacles like having 16396 unread emails in one’s inbox.

3. A mental exercise: Next time you walk into a bathroom, spontaneously promise yourself that you will not leave until either:

A. You finally understand a concept that you’ve struggled with for a long time.
B. You remember the capital of whichever Dakota or Carolina you find to be more mneumonically elusive. (South for me in both cases.)
C. A friend/family member threatens to inflict serious Hitchhock-esque damage to your person if you don’t get out of the bathroom within the next five seconds.

Through regular practice, you will expand your self-directed learning capacity while fostering a strong awareness of diverse cultures. And by diverse I mean both North and South Dakota.

4. One can broadly describe an academic field by its use of the word “subtle.” Consider the following:

Ethnomusicology major: Bartok’s mingling of quasi-folk microtonal melodies with radio broadcasts from WWII airstrikes creates an aurally subtle yet contextually ponderous effect of reminding the listener that (s)he will eventually die. [“Subtle” = “non-observable.”]

Math major: This problem is subtle. [“Subtle” = “non-solvable.”]

Psychology major: The desire for social belonging is a subtle consequence of human nature. [“Subtle” = “obvious.”]

5. Over IAP, MIT’s computer science department offers an enticing-and-possibly-poisonous candy shop of miniature programming classes. For instance:

[Conversation transcript follows]
Me: I think I’m taking intro class on programming in C.
Linda: I took it last year. The problem sets are hard.
Me: Really? It can’t be that bad –
Linda: One kid stepped on his laptop so he wouldn’t have to turn his in.
Me: . . . That’s subtle.

The author hypothesizes that MIT Medical and IS&T should jointly investigate the frequency of laptop suicides over IAP in order to prevent the horrifying and tragic results of undiagnosed disorders in poorly-written code.

6. The older I get, the more crammingly I have to swallow the urge to begin every blog entry with trite, brittly cynical three-word sentences. “I’m getting old” creeps into my typing fingers like an arthritis, and every push of the delete bar afterwards nursingly massages out an infectious cramp. Lulu, with the battered wisdom of a senior year Physics major who speaks of skipping town on frigid New England winters and frigid academics while I’m listlessly thinking to ask her about the force on a dipole due to the gradient of the B-field, probably warned me about the onslaught of premature aging a long time ago, but I don’t remember what she said because my memory drifted in an elsewhere of superconducting rings floating dreamily along curling field lines. Perhaps my geriatric expressiveness is a just a flavor of Seasonal Anxiety Disorder: the dry snap of dessicated branches, catapulting ice onto unprotected pedestrian heads, is pretty scary now that I think about it.

At the same time, I’ve become increasingly fond of telling friends and strangers alike that John A. Wheeler (Feynman’s mentor and the co-author of the best textbook on General Relativity ever written for preschoolers) once believed that all electrons had the same observed mass and charge because (wait for the punchline) they were all the same electron. This is perhaps my favorite fact ever. It’s thought-provoking, it’s a hit at parties, and it’s snappy like a dry tree branch laden with snow. (In which snow is a metaphor for hilariousness. I bet you Robert Frost never thought of that one.) On the other hand, I’m slightly worried because the uncontrollable sharing of one’s Favorite Fact Ever with people who don’t care is a well-documented characteristic of old people.

Hypothesis: The older I get, the closer I come to rivaling Professor Sadoway for the title of Person Most Likely to Try to Entertain You by Talking about Electrons.

Side note: What’s your Favorite Fact Ever?

7. In astrophysics, the no-hair theorem postulates that black hole solutions to the General Relativistic equations of gravitation and electromagnetism can be characterized by only mass, charge, and angular momentum. At MIT, the no-time-for-hair theorem postulates that solutions to the general problem of simultaneously having hair and having too much work to do can be characterized by variants of the same three parameters: massive hair, electrically-charged hair, and angularly momentous hair. I was a brilliant example of non-quantum entanglement last week:

8. Spending Thanksgiving away from family is a delectable excuse to go geocaching with a low-precision car GPS that will ensure complete failure to find any geocaches. I tested this theory last weekend at pika, after waking up on Thanksgiving day to a house full of British accents, coupon-bloated newspapers, grey November sun dapples, dying flowers, and leftover chai tea and cookies on the dining room table. Holidays are like American dollars in Europe during a recession; they’re better spent in pursuit of reckless adventures than anything else.

Ruth ’13, as per family tradition, spent the morning biking through the city with her sister.
(I’m rather fond of how “pika” got truncated to “oika” in this photo, mostly because I imagine an Ancient Grecian doppelganger of Pikachu squealing, “Oika!” as it battles some sort of Charizard-esque creature from Hades.)

Emily ’10, as per family tradition, baked several pies and drove to New Hampshire to celebrate pie with her relatives.

Desi (pika’s cat-in-residence), as per family tradition, climbed onto my Star Wars Original Trilogy bedsheets* and pounced at Darth Vader.

*Mom wouldn’t let me bring my LEGO Death Star II replica to college though, probably because she didn’t want me to have too wild of a social life.

And then Desi found out that Darth Vader was her father.

Eventually, I stopped photographing the cat and kneaded some leftover potato coconut soup into a wheat flour batter, which briskly crisped into a skillet of coconut curry flatbread. Although in retrospect, I think it would have tasted just as good without the cat.

[The next morning, I released the sequel: Rosemary Onion Mushroom Olive Focaccia (or Faux-caccia, to be puntastically faithful to my non-traditional improvisations), frankensteined together from Scott ’13’s leftover vegetable collection. It was decidedly and fragrantly okay, but probably should have been flatter and/or breadier. Although it was easily fixed with a dollop of catsup, if you know what I mean.]

Scott made waffles.

Post-breakfast, I grabbed my GPS and embarked on a journey into the desolate zombiefied streets of Boston, whose denizens were presumably occupied by traditional Thanksgiving activities like Guitar Hero and Turkey-Consumption Hero. O’er hill and dale I traipsed, GPS dutifully bleeping the (approximate) coordinates of unseen treasures as I and my entourage peered into skeletal tree trunks, sunk our eyes deep into overgrown grass, overturned mud-entrenched rocks, and generally acted like characters from Redwall in search of a plot device.

Short story short, I decided to call it a day when the robotically-sonorous female voice on my GPS intoned, “Jump off bridge; swim fifty feet downstream and turn left. Arrive at destination.” I was like, “Girl, please. Heck no I ain’t retrieving this geocache.”

So I walked home and took pictures of the cat leftovers.

49 responses to “8 Hypotheses”

  1. Yan says:

    @ Karen:

    Thank you for changing my life. I guess technically most fruit grows out of the ground, but now I realize that I’d imagined pineapples as growing on coconut trees.

    @ Lex:

    I saw you outside Pour House last night (I think)! Yeah, they should call it Idahorrible.

  2. Yan says:

    How dearly I missed the mindless cries of “First!” during my 2.5-week sabbatical from the blogosphere. Homepage sweet homepage.

  3. Photon says:

    Yan, you remain awesome as usual. The flatbread looks amazing. Desi is much more photogenic than Lilah.

  4. Yan says:

    @ Anonymous 2:

    It’s unclear whether you can’t count or I don’t count as a person.

  5. coconut curry bread! although it doesn’t look too crispy. but again everything is never as it seems…

    I like your metaphor smile

  6. Looks tasty.

    In the absence of anything intelligent to say:

    Twentieth!! (+/- 1)

  7. I’m debating whether you would be worth more as a photographer or a chef. I bet you make bad food look good, trickster… though, I still want to eat it :D

  8. D says:

    Nice hair!

    Totally unrelated:If any number divided by itself gives 1, zero divided by any number gives zero, and any number divided by zero is undefined, then what is 0/0?
    (Someone asked me this question and I’m curious what you guys think.)

  9. Whee says:

    D’awwww, what an adorable kitty.

  10. Josh says:

    I must see said Death Star! :O

    I don’t want to sell me to sell you death sticks. I want to go home and rethink my life.

  11. Josh says:

    As well as my grammar.

  12. up down spin says:

    Could someone please explain the joy of partaking in geocaching? To me it sounds like the plot of LOTR. Talk about walking to friends, walk, take a slight detour, walk, stop and drop off object. Roll captions.

  13. Lex says:

    !!!YAN. I could hug you and your punny word coining. I’m adding that to my vocabulary right next to lexcellent. You also totally should called out to me and I woulda come and talked to you.

    About 0/0 -> gonna go with undefined on this one, if only because logically extracting 0 things from a set of any size can happen an infinite number of times. Or, in other words, you can take an infinite number of 0-length steps away from origin. But you can also take an infinite number of -0-length steps. So… yeah. Let me go off in a corner and pretend I made sense.

  14. Roxana says:

    M.I.T. is the best for the brightest!!!
    And Quantum-mechanics rules. Since, Physics is the most accurate science out there. Indeed, Mathematics as well.

  15. karen says:

    favorite fact: pineapples grow out of the ground.

    this still never fails to amaze me.

  16. Reena says:

    Hi entropy supervisor!

  17. Piper '12 says:

    I wouldn’t call this my favorite fact, but I would like for it to be known that the opposite of a mule (jackass x mare) is a hinny (stallion x jenny).

  18. Yan says:

    @ D:

    I think the answer to 0/0 is subtle: it depends on your major. For instance, if you’re Course 15 (Business and Management) and trying to divide 0 by 0, it means that the success of your company is headed toward negative infinity because you have no profit and no investors.

  19. Lex says:

    This just reminds me that I need more Yan and pika in my life. The “extra information” I provided the housing office to be passed on to rooming chairs way back when involved how Idaho was responsible for the obesity epidemic by generating both the television and flash freezing. Therefore, reality tv, fast food, and obesity are all Idaho’s fault.

  20. Anonymous says:


    We can define 0/0 = some variable, eg. 0/0 = a
    Extrapolating this, we can define 0/0 as the result of some combination of variables:
    0/0 = y/x
    0*y = 0*x
    Differentiating gives
    0*dy = 0*dx
    0/0 = dy/dx
    Therefore we can define 0/0 to be an infinitesimally small quantity – in other words, 0/0 = 0 for all practical* purposes.

    *”Practical” here having the meaning of “non-mathematical,” which admittedly defeats the purpose*

  21. zohair says:

    just fantastic ………

  22. Josh says:

    …there are so many problems with what you just posted Anonymous :/

    “0/0 = 0 for all practical* purposes.”

  23. Rutu '12 says:

    Wheeler fact = definitely awesomest fact ^__^. Did you get that from Adrian’s recitation last year, or somewhere else?

  24. bnisson says:

    Your “oika” story was quite interesting… i think your next blog should be a very detailed composition of “the adventures of pika and oika: a love/hate story”

    k? :D

  25. karen says:

    I KNOW! I thought the same thing! I’m still amazed whenever I think about it.

  26. Valerie says:

    Yan, you write wonderfully. If you ever decide to write a book, let me know.

  27. Niki says:

    Tangentially* related: there’s a dorm here called Oikos (the nominative to your almost-vocative — the Greeks evidently didn’t see fit to provide me with a declension that would make a better comparison).

    Upon first discovering that pineapple grew in the ground, I was somehow under the impression that if I cut off the stem and set it in the dirt, a new pineapple would grow underneath it.
    When experimentation failed to result in the hoped-for exponential growth of pineapple in my kitchen, I blamed Minnesota weather rather than ceding victory to the core tenets of biology, and continued to stubbornly harbor secret dreams of a Charlie’s chocolate factory of tropical fruits, complete with peelable coconuts and seedless mangoes.

  28. D says:

    Thanks guys. I think all your responses make sense, including yours Lex.

    @Yan: Forgot to mention that I think you took interesting photos.

  29. mathmathmath says:

    0/0 can be anything you want. Sin(x)/x at x=0 anyone?

    (Hint, L’hopital’s rule)

    (Hint to hint, it’s 1)

  30. Val'14? says:

    You are simply brilliant. =)
    I think I should be less taken-aback by the fact that you are a great writer who majored in PHYSICS. Bottom line this is MIT, and things are just “subtle” here.(Oh, add that to one of my favorite facts=D)

  31. Val'14? says:

    o/o can be Ultraman in text.

  32. Yan says:

    @ Niki:

    Do mangoes have seeds? I’ve always categorized them as a core fruit.

    By the way, here’s a shot at a hierarchy of fruit-related inconveniences (from most to least annoying):

    skins/shells that require power tools > skins that require knives > small inedible seeds > large inedible seeds > citrus peels > large edible seeds > pits > cores > rinds > banana peels > small edible seeds > fuzzy edible peels > smooth edible peels > pulp.

    *large edible seeds = pomegranate seeds, small edible seeds = fig seeds, strawberry seeds. Although I’m not sure whether to count pomegranate seeds as a hassle at all- they’re the only commonly-eaten part of the entire fruit, after all. Maybe it’s the rind part that deserves the blame.

    Any corrections?

  33. Yan says:

    Forgot to mention: Trivially bothersome fruit foliage should be somewhere on the list, approx. between rinds and banana peels. Ex: those ornamentally useful strawberries leaves near the stem of the berry.

  34. hopeful '14 says:

    that was some hair.

    and i love the subtle way you put your words together. =]

    missed reading your blog!

  35. This has subtle punchline. Poor Schubert.

    The Boston Symphony was performing Beethoven’s Ninth. In the piece, there’s a long passage about 20 minutes during which the bass violinists have nothing to do. Rather than sit around the whole time looking stupid, some bassists decided to sneak offstage and go to the tavern next door for a quick one.

    After slamming several beers in quick succession, one of them looked at his watch. “Hey! We need to get back!”

    “No need to panic,” said a fellow bassist, “I thought we might need some extra time, so I tied the last few pages of the conductor’s score together with string. It’ll take him a few minutes to get it untangled.”

    A few moments later they staggered back to the concert hall and took their places in the orchestra. About this time, a member of the audience noticed the conductor seemed a bit edgy and said as much to her companion.

    “Well, of course,” said her companion, “Don’t you see? It’s the bottom of the Ninth, the score is tied, and the bassists are loaded.”

  36. Val'14? says:

    Oops…turns out your not.
    Where did I get the impression that you major in physics??
    Anyways, my compliment for your writing still stands. =)

  37. Anne says:

    Thanks for mentioning the Course VI “candy dish” of IAP classes and activities. I think of it more as a whole candy store! I’ve been working on setting them up since September, and this week I’ve got over FIFTY! Yesterday I posted “Intro to the New Gnome Desktop”! There are bunches of competitions like MasLab, 6.270, and Battlecode (with $40K of prizes!). My favorite is the new practical statistics class I’ve wanted to have for years, along with my very own Tai Chi/Qi K’ung/Kung Fu Class. Please go to to see the activities, and to revel in all of these IAP events!

    The Course VI IAP Sucker

  38. Anonymous says:

    Baaaad puns. I like it. I make bad puns all the time! I like to be very punny.

    Of course, the fact that that joke basically exploits American idiomatic expressions for all they’re worth is funny in itself.


  39. Yan says:

    @ Val:

    As far as I can tell, I’m majoring in Physics . . .

  40. Caio '14? says:

    Food, food, food, food, food, food, food, foooooood *-*

  41. Linus says:

    0/0 is actually quite easy: anything times 0 = 0; ergo, 0/0 can be anything (as mathmathmath said). Such is the reasoning.

  42. Linus says:

    Whoops, I forgot about this qualification: 0/0 does not equal +infinity or -infinity — at least, that is the way it seems to me.

  43. Yan says:

    @ Ruth:

    Is there something I should know about pika rush?

  44. Val'14? says:

    Thought I read that somewhere…
    thanks for clearing it up.=)