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MIT student blogger Yan Z. '12

Springtime by Yan Z. '12

I actually had no time to write this entry, which is why I cannot explain its existence.

The mildest note of warmness singing through the bipolar whimsy of Boston weather reminds me that springtime is about to melt over this hemisphere like a pool of microwaved butter. Spring, wrapped in connotations of sunshine and picnics and flowers and laundry detergent commercials (you know the ones), intimidates the part of my brain that has suffered through literature classes and insists that spring is a time for regeneration and renewal and other synonyms for “change” that I don’t have time to look up in a thesaurus. Anyway, the same part of my brain happens to be writing this blog entry, so here’s a not-so-subtle hint of the life-changing life changes that have changed my life recently:

1.I declared a major in Physics.

2.It was discovered by the author of the previous sentence that few members of the MIT staff are adequately trained to handle declarations of majors in Physics. Mere hours after my advisor received the “Put-a-check-next-to-what-you-plan-to-do-with-your-life” forms, I went to her office and duly put a check next to the “Theorize-about-things-that-aren’t-useful” box. She approved my decision, signed off, and sent me to the student services office with the white and yellow copies of the form. The student services office sent me to the Physics department headquarters. The Physics headquarters sent me to the registrar’s office. The registrar’s office told me to go back to the student services office. “But then I would get stuck in an endless recursive loop,” I protested. The guy in the registrar’s office gave up and took my forms anyway.

3.I’ve started taking notes in pen and doing my problem sets on blank paper from MIT’s computer labs. Overall resemblance of my notes/problem sets to ransom notes from psychotic serial killers has decreased by about 60% since implementation of this initiative. I highly suggest the pen + computer lab paper (even better than college-ruled!) method for anyone else who suffers from Handwriting Deficit Disorder. On the down side, I have just taken one step closer to becoming the type of person who wears pocket protectors and color-codes their emails.

4.pika happened (lowercase intentional).

By which I do not mean this:

pika is an independent, cooperative living group at MIT headquartered in a big blue house in residential Cambridge that fell straight out of a Calvin and Hobbes paradise. In short, it’s a near-perfect embodiment of everything that your parents wouldn’t let you do in the house when you were a kid (including but not limited to: haphazard kitchen experiments, treehouse-building, making soap that looks like gnomes, knocking down and moving around walls, using a deconstructed vending machine as a room door, building MIT’s first sort-of-but-not-really cold fusion reactor, employing a gigantic tesla coil to set stuffed animals on fire, and inviting your neighbors over for dinner.)

No surprise that I’ve decided to room at pika over the summer.

There’s something inherently attractive about cooperative living outside of the relatively boxed-in college dorm environment, of learning how to cook and work and clean and enjoy your life in a setting completely liberated from the structures imposed by an institution (even one as understanding as MIT). My inner character-builder believes that living in a dorm where cafeterias cook your food, janitors clean your living spaces, and various committees decide upon regulations is about as satisfying as riding a tricycle. Granted, Random Hall is absolutely phenomenal in terms of the freedoms allotted to residents and has thereby turned me into a much more competent person in terms of cooking regularly and surviving non-violently with others (people, that is. Just to be clear.). At this point, however, I think I need to learn how to live with another dimension of freedom. Also, having a treehouse and fun company and gnome soap isn’t too bad either.

Did I mention that I joined the pika meal plan? (Free for your first quarter! Unbelievably, impossibly cheap even if you do have to pay for it. I think it averages to about 2 dollars per meal, plus a cooking or cleaning duty every other week.) Maita and Jared made incredible mashed potatoes, gravy, tempeh, and string beans a few nights ago. Maita also bakes the greatest bread known to all of civilization, if by “civilization” you mean “12 or so people at pika”.

5.I had an extra hour after class reserved for high-quality procrastination. For some reason, the piano practice rooms on the 2nd floor of building 4 were irresistible at 5 pm in the afternoon, though I’ve never been a piano enthusiast beyond what’s been required for my composition projects. I stepped inside and gingerly tiptoed through a Mozart excerpt in a music theory textbook, tripping across thick clusters of hesitancy splattered across an angst-ridden soundscape. Nonetheless, the pure radiancy of a single unexpected non-chord tone glistening through a hazy mist of minor harmonies, juiced with rapture, felt incredibly indulgent and existence-affirming. I should do this more often.

6.A few weeks ago, Professor Gilbert Strang made a cameo appearance in my 18.06 lecture and, with the charming irreverence characteristic of professors with tenure, cooly declared to the entire lecture hall that calculus was overrated. Strang is somewhat of an academic celebrity: his linear algebra textbook, creatively titled Linear Algebra, is a critically acclaimed, bestselling landmark in the literary genre of linear algebra textbooks. Professor Strang’s previous lectures are also a must-see hit on Youtube, thanks to MIT Open Courseware. On the list of people who have earned the right to diss calculus, Professor Strang would probably be right under the Taylor series guy, who I guess is named Taylor*.

*Out of statistical curiosity, is there anyone reading this who knows Taylor’s first name without checking it on Wikipedia?

Anyway, I’ve always been a big fan of calculus, just as much as any of the other 20,170 people who claim to be a fan of calculus on Facebook. (That’s right, calculus has a fan page, just like Miley Cyrus, whom I’m sure you’ve all added by now). Strang’s disdain for the overstuffing of calculus into college curricula, however, has started to resonate with me. This semester, I’m taking Linear Algebra (18.06) and Differential Equations (18.03) concurrently, the downside of which is that 18.06 makes 18.03 look like the grocery bagger at the supermarket checkout who deliberately grouped your groceries in the most incomprehensible way imaginable so that it would take you at least 5 extra minutes to sort through your purchases once you got home. What I mean is that Linear Algebra is a clean, friendly course that nudges you to think about math in a new way, whereas Diff. Eq. is annoyingly mired in details and is reluctant to show you the big picture until after you’ve solved the same problem 7 times. Both are massively useful subjects, but I’ve started to consciously enjoy 18.06 problem sets and readings much more than 18.03.

On a cheerier note, CPW is coming up! Here, in chronological order, is my 100% non-partisan list of events that I wouldn’t miss unless I had accidentally broken several limbs immediately beforehand:

Make your own truffles (Random Hall)
East Campus Dorm Tours (East Campus)
LN2 Ice Cream (Random Hall)
AWESOME dinner at pika! (pika)
Muffinocalypse (Random Hall)
Midnight Ultimate Frisbee (Briggs Field)
Midnight Capture the Flag
Sleepers Anonymous (Random Hall)
Minihunt (Random Hall)
Meet the Bloggers (because I’ve always wanted to meet myself)
BEEF (Random Hall)
O SIPB inode and fsck block party (Student Information Processing Board)
Juggling in closed spaces (Random Hall)
RHOP (Random Hall)
Boffing on the roofdeck (Random Hall)
BOBAfest (Association of Taiwanese Students)
Sushi Boat Dinner (Pika)
Trip to JP Licks on Newbury St.
Dumpling Eating Contest (Chinese Students’ Club)
Xifan Sunday (Association of Taiwanese Students)

Classes to sit in on:
8.022, definitely (Friday morning at 10 AM- ask your host about it). If you’re lucky, Professor McGreevy will stand in a Faraday cage while a disembodied hand discharges a gigantic Van der Graff generator in his immediate vicinity. It’s quality entertainment.

Questions about CPW? Now’s the time to ask.

50 responses to “Springtime”

  1. Yan says:

    @ Jimmy:

    See my previous mega-bandwidth blog post. (Hint: NYC!).

    @ Kristina:

    I agree with Paul.

    @ Emilio:

    Jess and Keri (the bloggers) are both Course 9. 9.00 is probably a good bet. I’ll have to look around for 10B’ers.

  2. Photon says:

    Woo hoo ILGs! pika’s also having capture-the-flag on Friday night after dinner (7:15 pm). Bring your parents over; we’ll give them tea and biscuits while you chase one another through the nearby park.

  3. Justin '13 says:

    First? Hopefully smile
    And I have a quick question. When do we get paired with our hosts?

  4. Yan says:

    @ Justin:

    Rumor has it that your host will contact you sometime around the night of the 12th (Sunday). Anyway, it should be soon.

  5. ismith says:

    pika loves the admissions bloggers!

  6. Tommy '13 says:

    Entertaining and informative post as always, Yan. Looking forward to meeting you and the other bloggers at CPW! 9 more days tomorrow smile

  7. You ROCK, Yan! :D
    Thanks for the admissions endorsement, we’re all super happy you’ll be here this summer!

  8. Aguirre '13 says:

    When and how will I be assigned a host?
    will i be able to get in contact with him before cpw?

  9. '13 says:

    So what do you think of the Linear Algebra text? Any recommendations on linalg texts in general?

  10. Yan says:

    @ Aguirre: See response to first comment.

    @ ’13: Strang’s textbook is awesome. Really concise and conversational. It’s probably the clearest, neatest math textbook I’ve ever had for any class.

  11. Anonymous says:

    thats one shameless plug too many Yan, but I’d go to Random just for the ice cream smile

  12. Reena says:

    Heh, you listed a couple of the events I’m definitely planning on attending :D

    Also, I think Taylor’s first name is Brook (sp?). Admittedly I had to think about that for quite awhile before remembering, but at least no Wikipedia.
    Come to think of it, I’m also inclined to say Leibniz’s first name was Gottfried, but not enough to bet anything on it.
    (Taylor just reminded me of Leibniz, because, well, alternating series.)

  13. Reena says:

    Hahahaha, and just as that got me thinking about mathematicians and their first names, I wondered what McLaurin’s first name is, and felt inclined to guess Ralph. Oh dear, this is when you know it’s getting late.

  14. Oasis ´11 says:

    Aww, the pikachu is so cuteee! Aww, the pikachu is so cuteee! <3

  15. Claire '13 says:

    I’ll definitely see you at 8.022!

    I’m also super glad that 10.10 fits into my schedule. CPW is going to be like a 3 day nerd party.

  16. jimmy says:

    what did you do on spring break?

  17. Kristina '13 says:

    How much sleep does one need at CPW?

  18. Emilio '13 says:

    Any Brain and Cognitive Sciences or Chemical Engineering (specifically Chemical-Biological Engineering [10B]) classes you recommend I sit in on, Yan? I know you’re a Physics major, but I’m just wondering. If you don’t know, could you direct me to someone who does/might? smile

    PS: 8.022 looks AMAZINGLY GREAT. :D

  19. Paul says:

    @Kristina: As little as you can get away with. smile

  20. JRC says:

    @ Emilio ’13

    I’m not sure when it is, but several of my friends, who are NOT majoring in Course 9 (BCS), recommend taking 9.00. So maybe you should sit in it.

  21. Narce says:

    Woah, weird O.o I didn’t look at this blog last night, but today I drew Pikachu in school in that EXACTLY SAME POSE but mirrored… and obviously much smaller.

  22. maita says:

    hey yan, you totally made me feel famous by posting an artsy photo of my dinner! hey yan, you totally made me feel famous by posting an artsy photo of my dinner! <3 the laptop messily sitting in front of pikachu is also mine.

    all you other people, absolutely come by pika during cpw, i cook on fridays smile

  23. Yan says:

    Hey Maita, I definitely just saw you about 10 minutes ago outside 6-120!


  24. comboy says:

    what is your CATchphrase Yan Z

  25. '13 says:

    oh, it’s intro to linear algebra. I don’t know if I’ll be able to find that one. =/

  26. '13 says:

    Out of curiousity, when prefrosh arrive on campus, are there ways to get free MIT shirts or does the COOP offer a discount during CPW? Wanna show some MIT pride smile

  27. Yan says:

    @ ’13:

    Yep, Intro to Linear Alg. A new edition just came out. Should be pretty easy to get a copy.

    The Coop probably has some sort of discount going on, but I bet you can get a free shirt sometime over CPW if you go to the right events. My friend got an MIT midnight capture-the-flag shirt last year. If not, you can have one of the 203202 shirts that I picked up during orientation.

  28. Anonymous says:

    @ ’13
    Didn’t you get a 10% off (or something like that) COOP-on in your acceptance package?
    (Or do they only give those to EA’s?)

  29. Anon says:

    @ whoever asked:

    9.00 is a pretty cool class to sit in on; we basically just talk about interesting psych experiments and stuff. Lecture is from 2 – 3:30 on Thursday in 54-100.

  30. '13 says:


    I got one of those but isn’t that only for online orders? Perhaps I didn’t look at it right…plus it’s somewhere in my house, I just don’t know where raspberry

  31. Anonymous says:

    General Maxwell Taylor?

  32. Sheila '13 says:

    Hey Yan, Do you recommend any class to sit in besides 8.022 during CPW? I have the list of schedule of all classes on thursday and friday.

  33. Yay for Physics!!! Hopefully you can help me with all the Physics questions I’ll ever have! Okay, so perhaps only a few, but now at least I know I’m not the only person who everyone thinks is insane for going into Physics.

  34. Anonymous says:

    “I declared a major in Physics”

    Yeah!! That’s an awesome subject to study… kudos to you.

  35. Ruth '13 says:

    Is pika the only co-op style housing on campus?

  36. Javal says:

    Woo hoo on the physics major!!

    Also I instantly went and became a fan of calculus after reading this entry, there are now 20,412 fans now. Maybe it was your post that prompted the surge of 242 declarations of fandom. You have influence on the masses!!

  37. I hope someday I will be able to go to CPW. grin
    What other sorts of food do people cook at pika? I would be afraid to have a cooking duty and end up making some sort of inferior, unedible dish.

  38. Fuck yes to using computer paper and pen ( i use fine point Sharpie). My work may have a few errors but at least I can pride myself in having the aesthetic equivalence of a beautiful Impressionist painting.

  39. His name is John Taylor.

  40. Sondy says:

    @Hope to be ’14:
    At pika, we have a “big” cook who plans the meal, goes shopping, etc., and a “little” cook who helps the big cook by chopping vegetables, washing dishes, stirring the pots, and all that. It’s a great way to learn how to prepare huge meals! Plenty of people make strange dishes that aren’t quite edible, but the house is forgiving and people enjoy learning from their culinary mistakes. If you don’t want to cook, you can also help by cleaning the kitchen after dinner for a kitchen duty.

    We have a lot of vegetables, stir-frys, breads, potatoes, fruit, rice, quinoa, millet, gluten-free treats, vegan desserts, falafel, hummus, pasta, Indian food, Ethiopian food, Chinese food, Thai food, Mexican food, cakes, pies, cookies, pizza, … you name it and we can make it!

    @ Ruth ’13:
    There are five other independent living groups at MIT: Fenway House, Student House, Epsilon Theta, WILG, and No. 6 (Delta Psi). There’s a very long post about ILGs <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>here. Some of them have similar cooperative meal plans to pika. Check us all out over CPW!</a>

  41. Yan says:

    Sorry for my slowness in responding, guys. I haven’t been getting the “NEW COMMENT POSTED TO YOUR BLOG!!” emails for some reason.

    @ Sheila:

    Personally, I would just spend the time playing frisbee or participating in eating contests or throwing water balloons at people or whatever else sounds like a good idea. Then again, my perspective is skewed by the number of hours per week that I spend in class. Any particular ones you’re interested in? I can’t think of any to recommend right now off the top of my head.

    @ Person after Sheila:

    Literally, anything goes when it comes to pika cooking. In the past two weeks, we’ve had vegan black bean pizza, falafel, quinoa salad, gluten free coconut-avocado-mango pie, mushroom and leek tarts, winter soup, thai coconut chicken, etc. etc. You can pick to be a Little Cook like me, which means that the Big Cook makes most of the decisions and runs the cooking operation (you cook in 2-person teams). It usually turns out delicious and remarkably creative regardless.

    I’d say pika is one of the best opportunities at MIT to hone your cooking skills and test out culinary experiments.

    @ Ruth:

    Nope, there’s also WILG (women only) and a few others.

  42. Michelle says:

    If, say, I wanted to amass as many free T-shirts during CPW as possible where would I go?

  43. Tarun says:

    Welcome to pi/2 rotated infinity!

  44. Yan says:

    @ Narce:

    Yep, the back of my head makes a stunning cameo at 3:14. I think I’m also in another scene for about five nanoseconds. I guess I was never around for most of the i3 filming (although I filmed pretty much all the footage that didn’t make it into the final video this year).

  45. Narce says:

    Yan, is that you jumping in front of the camera swinging your, err, sword at around 3:14? XD

    Because if you’re in there at all, you’re really good at not getting your face easily seen O.o

  46. Narce says:

    ^.^” Then I’m sorry your footage didn’t make it into the vid!

    Hahahah, I don’t think I could possibly pick out a 5 nanosecond cameo from a youtube video…. It’d be too blurry XD Glad I found ya at all, though. And yay, I got a person from Random as a CPW host XP

  47. Yan says:

    @ Narce:

    Congrats on Random!!! Who’s your host?