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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

I had a terrible week by Yan Z. '12

Also, I think that making puns about the President is Obaminable.

Bluntly put, this was the worst week of my life.

Geez! you say. That’s a harsh claim. Perhaps you might soften it down until it’s fluffy like a throw pillow*.

Alright: Let’s just say that the week of October 19th left much to be desired. I will elaborate on the details of “much” once I finish therapy.

*Recently, someone I was talking to managed to gently massage this phrase (“fluffy like a throw pillow”) into a conversation of otherwise forgettable nature, by which I mean that I completely forgot the rest of it ten minutes later. I was completely hooked on the colloquial fruitiness of the phrase as soon as it reached my ears, resplendent in its evocations of tacky yet luxurious department-store sofas. Of course, you can barely tell how wonderful of an idiom it makes just from reading my comparatively-dry prose: imagine someone saying it with a gangsta inflection, perhaps in a context that makes absolutely no sense. Like: “Yo, it’s raining so hard, my shoes are fluffy like a throw pillow.” See? Pure, vernacular magic. Anyway, back to how much my week sucked.

Three weeks, 13 Nobel Prizes, my friend’s semi-spontaneous wedding (featuring a hat parade, an Ethiopian feast, vegan carrot cake, and the coolest farm-owning Canadian grandma I’ve ever met on this side of the Mississippi), a trip to NYC, three midterms, two papers, Windows 7, three nights of cooking dinner for 30, 105 miles of running, and a lot of Barack Obama have happened since the last time I blogged. The same amount of time has passed since the last night when I slept more than 6.5 hours. Now that I think about it, I don’t even sleep while I blog, usually.

Fantastic thing about MIT, #261: Sure, you’re miserable on weeks like, say-for-instance-hypothetically-speaking-of-course, October 19-23. On the bright side, it’s the best miserable experience ever. If MIT is the Disneyworld of misery, then I rode all the rides this week and didn’t even have to wait in line. If you asked me about how I felt last week on a scale of 1-10, I would have said negative 15 +/-2. On the other hand, if you’d asked me how I felt about feeling like negative 15 +/-2, I would have given you a solid 9.5 and then offered to adjust my answers if you paid me 20 bucks for taking your survey*.

*Fantastic thing about MIT, #262, is that you quickly learn to not take surveys unless there’s a predicted payoff of at least $10, with exceptions for course evaluation surveys that give you free excuses to complain about your life. If I’m not mistaken, there was a 3.091 class survey last year that automatically deposited $15 into the TechCash account of every student that participated (and there’s 500-600 people enrolled in 3.091). 15 bucks! I could have bought 1/15th of the class textbook with that fortune!

Anyway, back to my misery. It was rhythmic. I woke up every morning at 7 am dressed in a fresh layer of panic, bolted outside in 40-degree wind chill, ran several miles, made breakfast and French-pressed coffee, went to school, did work, went home, did work, went to my Black Studies class and talked about the Black Panthers, did work, went to 8.07, worked on 8.07 in the basement of the library, went home, roasted chickpeas and cauliflower, did work, socialized, went to bed, repeat five times and jump to coda.

Over the torturous course of the Week from Heck (am I allowed to say this on the blogs, Matt?), I sludged through oodles of problems. Problems involving relativistic point charges, floating blocks oscillating underneath a dripping faucet, magnetic dipole radiation, proper time in an accelerating reference frame, the Maxwell Stress Tensor (stress makes me tense too! I need to stop making this pun until I pass 8.07), and electron/positron pair formation. But never did I satisfactorily solve the deeper problem of why I cared. Perhaps I never will, but let me tell you what I’ve figured out so far:

Insight is indistinguishable from imagination. Like all alliterative statements, this is probably profound. Take the example of a mass on a (massless, frictionless) spring. You compress it. In Soviet Russia, spring compresses you! By which I mean that it oscillates. A hummingbird of energy hovers in the liminal space between opposing forces, lingering persistently.

(Can you spot the bad pun? Hint: Sho!)

You imagine a metaphor for your spring. It’s a metaphor that looks like this:

You imagine an infinite number of masses, connected by an infinite number of springs. It looks like this:

(If you’ve ever tried untangling one of these, you know what I mean by infinite.)

Like all reasonable things, your string of infinite springs despise second derivatives. Gently you pluck a second derivative into its limber form, and it responds with a violent, burning hatred for you and all your posterity. In Soviet Russia, string second-derivates you! By which I mean that it snaps back with a second derivative in time. You pull out your pencil and scratch out a new metaphor:

After twisting your imagination up a ladder of metaphors, the waves rippling along the string become rays of light propagating through space at 3*10^8 m/s.

Somehow, in the grind of a pencil on paper, you’ve crystallized the subtleties of energy.

In truth, the process of squeezing a physics problem through layers of abstraction is a frolic in playgrounds of tedium. Which is why I had a great week, even though it was terrible.

On a happier note, did I mention that I went to New York City for an all-expenses-paid 23-hour field trip with my Black Studies class? Legitimately speaking, my homework was walking around Harlem, eating soul food, appreciating Black Panther art, visiting the African Burial Grounds, downing a plate of conch at a Haitian diner, and sitting through a production of Hair. Fantastic. It was a journey of self-discovery in the sense that I uncovered a secret fondness for plantains.

I attempted to become a critically-acclaimed street photographer in the meantime. The first step to a Pulitzer is to set your camera to greyscale.

(At the African Burial Grounds, where a student pays respect to the history of African Americans in New York by, um, looking up. I guess.)

The ironic part is that I tried to make this entry sound angsty, but it ended up being fluffy like a throw pillow.

39 responses to “I had a terrible week”

  1. C2 says:

    Ok, thanks Yan… btw, it is C with a 2, as in number… xD

    VERIFICATION: estates Piniolla

  2. another 12 says:

    The photos show your true week value=awesome

  3. oasis '11 says:

    A little bit of myself died with the SHO pun.

    I think you should go back to being tensor.

  4. Muffin boy says:

    How do you make that blue and black and white effect..??
    Oh and::: third!!!

  5. Steph says:

    Wonderful pictures, Yan. I really like the blue touch.

  6. QP says:

    haha fluffy like a throw pillow

    my english teacher brought that up several weeks back and i am still trying to work it into an essay somewhere to crack him up

  7. Piper '12 says:

    Looks like everyone’s hitting the mid-term rut. I’m hoping to not fail the everything due to lack of motivation O.O

  8. “In Soviet Russia, string second-derivates you!” : []
    That seems nerve-racking,
    I won’t be able to sleep tonight.

  9. bek says:

    I love your blog posts, no joke. Fantastic.

  10. huangyao says:

    would you please tell me where can I find the list of the professors in the school’s web site? thank you very much.Oh,my msn is [email protected]. thank you. I can not find it.This is very important for me.thank you.

  11. Yan says:

    I just found out that I passed my 8.07 midterm. Yay! Back to making fun of the stress tensor.

    @ Piper:

    Good luck! I’m out of the rut. The rut is a terrible place to be. Stay out of the rut. And the pits.

    @ Bek:

    Thanks! No joke.

  12. Anonymous says:

    lol that kid had blue underwear

  13. Anonymous says:

    Huangyao, no problem. The lists of professors are arranged by departments. No problem at all. Oh, you appear to misunderstand how public forums work. You’re welcome. I don’t think you’ve even bothered to search. This is very easy to find. You’re welcome.

  14. C2 says:

    O_O after looking at those doodles… I have one answer: what? – confuse and lost … Maybe I am not good spotting metaphors…

  15. sepideh says:

    those pics are aweseome, fluffy like a throw pillow…I’ll never ever forget this phrase!

  16. Yan says:

    @ Muffin:

    My camera does color accent.

    @ Steph:


    @ QP:

    Darn, I thought it was an original phrase. Oh well. I’m making it a personal goal to get it into the standard lexicon.

    @ huangyao:

    @ Cz:

    Don’t worry about it. I have bad handwriting and a weird definition of metaphor.

  17. Yan says:

    @ Anna:

    To be honest, I’m completely bewildered by your comment. First off, apologies if anything I wrote could be construed as racially insensitive, but I’m not exactly sure whether I could have been any more neutral. The facts are: I took Black Studies this term. The class included a free trip to New York. I went to New York. I went to the African Burial Grounds. I enjoyed the trip.

    Above all, let me sincerely assure you that I did not mention any of this with a conscious attempt to convince minorities to apply to MIT.

    I understand the difficulty of separating the writer’s intentions from the reader’s interpretations, but I hope I’ve cleared up any confusion about my discussion of Black Studies. I request that you email me privately if you have any more concerns.

  18. Yan says:

    @ Nobody in particular:

    It’s also worth noting that this is the first time I’ve specifically made reference to the culture of any race other than my own. Observe that nobody has ever construed my discussion of Dim Sum or Chinese New Year or the Autumn Moon Festival (all three of which were basically just pictures of food with one or two jokes about Chinatown) as dismissive or inappropriate.

    I’m confused by humans.

  19. Will D says:

    So, I haven’t looked at your blog in oh say six point two million years, but decided to look at it on a whim. Anyway, you’re a really good writer. You should take a creative writing class with me next semester!

  20. Another great post Yan!

  21. NathanArce says:

    Ah. Uhm….

    I can imagine you enjoying conch, but I can’t imagine you “downing a plate” of anything raspberry

    Anyway, I hope your weeks get better TT_TT

  22. QJS says:

    Those pictures are stunning, particularly the blue construction poles and the person looking up. Absolutely majestic.

    Disney World of misery? Perhaps rodent mascots are tell-tale signs of evil wink

    Hope your future weeks are “fluffy like a throw pillow”.

  23. Anna says:

    I feel like you were dismissive and inappropriate in your discussion of the “Black History” (or whatever is was) class. It definitely seemed like you were transparently name dropping to get diversity points, so you kinda came across sounding like a prick…especially with the Burial Grounds thing. Hopefully I’m the only one that noticed.

    I duno, your blog is cool and all I guess, but sometimes you very obviously try too hard, and it sucks when it’s at the expense of a minority group.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I am black and I don’t feel like it was inappropriate at all. Take it easy bro.

  25. Z says:

    I feel like you were dismissive and inappropriate in your discussion of the “Physics” (or whatever is was) class. It definitely seemed like you were transparently name dropping to get nerd points, so you kinda came across sounding like a prick…especially with the second derivatives thing. Hopefully I’m the only one that noticed.

    I duno, your blog is cool and all I guess, but sometimes you very obviously try too hard, and it sucks when it’s at the expense of a scientific field.

  26. sepideh says:

    wow I can see how people can be tremendously sensitive! however I did’nt sense anything dismissive and inappropriate…truthfully I don’t understand what the problem is of “name dropping to get diversity points”? EVEN if this would be the case there is still nothing inappropriate about it. I see this whole admission blog as a commercial tool in the first place, it really atracts students so what is the problem if it would try to hit to minorities?
    btw: I don’t think MIT has any need to do this, everyone is already dying to get in there!

  27. FuLanKe says:

    Is there anyone else who’s had a terrible week?
    Cuz I just lost my watch which was given to me as a birthday present from my MOM!

  28. Anonymous says:

    …really? dismissive and inappropriate? she was talking about a real class she’s taking, which actually did include a free trip to NY for a day… that discussion had nothing to do with trying to get minorities to come to MIT or anything like that.

  29. Anonymous says:

    thanks for including my phrase Yan (I know it took me forever to check your blog), as a sign of gratititude, I will now owe you one cupcake.

  30. Yan says:


    Can I have some bread instead of the cupcake? Specifically, I’d like the bread to be fluffy like a throw pillow. Kthnx.

  31. NathanArce says:

    Bahahah, somehow, it feels like you should be charging her royalties for it, instead.

  32. soyoung says:

    hi, this doesn’t exactly fit your blog entry but since it looks like you’re there to help clueless students like me, can you please ask someone in the architecture department if they look at portfolios when admitting freshmen? this is really important because i’ve sent an email to the admissions officer and the answer was “please read our admissions guideline”, which i read, and was more confused because it made no mention of portfolios but then i know someone who sent the portfolio and got in for school of architecture at MIT. could you do this for me and send me back an email? it would be a great help.

  33. You’re right, it’s really difficult to deal with some situations but it’s important to stay focused on what you do as while a goal is in sight, there’s nothing really difficult. I also found refuge in dealing with panic attacks with with this helpful site

  34. Yan says:

    @ soyoung:

    @ photon:

    Thanks, pseudomom. Can I crash at your place?

    (Also, I pledged tonight at tEpikazoo)

  35. Ohh yeahh the noir + look.

    Sometimes I find my attempts to alter fate end up being Bragg reflected right back. Totally, internally… so I would take an X-ray and blast the hell away.

    Okay, enough physics references for a non-physics major. By induction from some previous comments on this entry, I sound like a prick too. The joy.

  36. photon says:

    Yan, you’re awesome. Come visit CA. That is all.

  37. Dre' says:

    You are a verbose, frustrated, bombastic, undefined kid! Drop out NOW and enroll in you local Community College while you are still able say and understand discombobulate. I thought that MIT’s English Department was better than your display of rambunctiously inscribed behavior. Remember pi are (square) not round! New Orleans has some great schools DEAR!

  38. Artemis says:

    I think that the bit about the second derivative of Santa is hilarious.