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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

work expands by CJ Q. '23

to fill the space available

parkinson’s law asserts that work expands to fill the time allotted to it, like a gas does. so i’m telling myself that i need to get this post up by tonight, and though i just started writing this post i’m confident that it’ll work.

i’m only taking three classes this semester. three! that’s the least number of classes i’ve ever taken in mit, and the least number of classes i can take while maintaining full-time status, which is a requirement of being on an f1 visa. in theory, i should have less work to do this semester, but in practice, it doesn’t feel like it?

i’m taking 6.5060 [6.827] algorithm engineering. it’s interesting material, reminding me of my days as a competitive programmer, when the time complexity of an algorithm mattered as much as its constant factors. unlike the other algorithm classes i’ve taken, there’s a focus on implementations, and algorithms that work well in practice, using things like cache locality or parallel computing. it’s an interesting mix of class activities too, having exactly one pset in the first third of the semester, one paper presentation, a big research project, and paper reviews before every class. it’s strange and it throws off my todo list.

i’m also taking 6.S050 programming language design. this is one of those classes i’m taking for the fun of being with other friends in the class, my top advice for picking classes. i love how we get to critically examine programming languages from a design perspective. the other pl classes i’ve taken are either theoretical (like 6.5120 [6.822] formal reasoning about programs) or implementation-focused (like 6.1120 [6.818] dynamic computer language engineering). those are cool too, but i’ve always been a design person: see my fonts post or my webdev post or my mit graphic identity post.

the last class i’m taking is 18.218 topics in combinatorics. i took this class my freshman spring as well, and wrote a post about it, but because it’s a topic class, the material changes every time it’s offered and i can retake it for credit. this year it’s about ramsey theory, which is kinda like the study of “how big should something be before it’s guaranteed that some part of it has this special property?” as a simple example, suppose every pair of people were either acquaintances or strangers. how many people do we need in a room before we’re guaranteed to have four people, all of whom are acquaintances, or all of whom are strangers? the answer is 18; see ramsey’s theorem.

this semester, i’m seeing some of my student group efforts come to fruition. a few months ago i was being sad about how i stopped caring about these things, but i kept doing them anyway. and it’s nice that i can see some of it working. sipb, our volunteer student computing group, has around ten new student members. all the emails and hackathons and messaging people to show up to things and trying to get people to take responsibility, it was all worth it. the assassin’s guild ran its first ten-day game in years, and dozens of new players showed up. and all the effort of scheduling meetings and finding classrooms and letting people into the office and running games, it’s all worth it.

i’m looking forward to going to east hill farm dance weekend, which starts this friday. lots of my friends in tech squares are going to be there! and i’m hoping to use it as motivation to start working on that square dancing blog post i keep promising i’ll write, oops.

i’m also looking forward to running my first guild game! it’s happening the weekend after the next one, it’s called an aquarium auction, and it’s kinda like james bond in the scp universe. i’ve spent the last few weeks writing it on-and-off. while it’s only around 10k words, it’s a lot of editing and rewriting, because i have no idea what i’m doing, but it’s fun.

and i could be doing more things, you know. i could always be doing more things. but the thing about non-class work, and projects and such, it’s that they can take as much attention as you can give. i’m sure i can take on another project or two. but, do i want to, when i’m having fun sinking time on my existing projects?

and the thing about me is that i use my work as a coping mechanism. and my psychiatrist talks about how having too little work to do is actually bad for my mental health, and i dunno, i mean, that might be true, i’m empirically feeling worse lately, but maybe all i have to do is inflate more of my work