Harvard girl

My QQ Browser home page content recommendation engine gave me some news about this “Harvard girl,” who created some sensation around 1999 in China for her admission to Harvard. Her mom ended up writing and publishing some book on that that sold well.

That news article mentioned that that girl, despite her saying that she would return to 报效祖国 (contribute to the mother country), she ended staying in America and getting US citizenship. Maybe perhaps likely she also married a white guy. There was a photo of her with a white guy in it.

As for the comments, there were maybe over a thousand. The ones with the most upvotes were mostly negative from what I remember. Of course, it’s statistically speaking quite hard for Chinese to immigrate to America. For most Chinese, it’s basically a dream. I was very fortunate in that my family actually got the green card relatively quickly and smoothly, without engaging in anything that could be truly regarded as the spineless behavior that you see in many Chinese in America, though of course, in that regard, you can always do better, but that of course, depends much on your ability. Basically, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to stay and if you aren’t and have to return to China, you will feel like a failure, and likely your prospects back in China won’t be all that great either. To the majority of native Chinese, the attitude towards the emigrants and the emigrants-in-trial (those without the green card) is one of a combination of envy and contempt, or actually, maybe more like apathy since those people are so far removed from the majority of the Chinese population. Some native Chinese guy when I mentioned the term “banana-man” was even like, “what is that?” I guess back in the late 90s, it was much more of envy, but now it’s much more of contempt. To be fair, my attitude towards those smart but not that smart Chinese-American kids who are foreign to the Chinese language and culture is mostly one of contempt. I don’t really care much about alienating them because they don’t have any power and pretty much never will. If they really were actually really genuinely smart, they wouldn’t be that way. Even if that person has elite academic credentials, that person’s IQ can still be somewhat questioned, or more so, that person’s (and parents’) taste and judgment.

I asked this mother under age 40 in China if she knew of that Harvard girl, and she said yes. She mostly thought that that girl wasn’t terribly exceptional in talent or ability, and that at the time, information on how to get into Harvard in China was very limited, and rumor has it that some recommendation letter from this American helped. She was certainly quite lucky, but at the same time, her level of career success in America, so it seems, pretty much matches her talents. There was not all that much she could bring to China anyway.

In contrast, that mother mentioned this girl from a small place who really was exceptional at English, winning first place again and again in some competition in English public speaking in Britain. She got into Fudan with gaokao waived but because she didn’t like the major she got into that much, she entered the English department at Nanjing University. Now she’s 40 and a prominent TV news anchor in English. I asked her to send me a video and indeed her English really was exceptional. (Mine is too, but that’s another matter, and I also grew up in America so it’s not a fair comparison. It’s also not fair to compare my Chinese to those who grew up in China.) In contrast, that social climbing slut Zhang Zetian who married JD’s founder/CEO Richard Liu, her English was really meh, despite there being “Zhang Zetian English” as a search recommendation on Baidu. I believe her father who was quite rich (not ridiculously so though) had people manufacturing her image behind the scenes. I was told that her father wanted her to marry a “third generation red,” the ones who are the true elite in China as opposed to billionaires from the grassroots like Richard Liu. Rumor has it that she dated one and got dumped.

What that mother told me that really cracked me up was

当年铺天盖地都是她的新闻,她妈妈很极端的,书里写,为了训练意志力让她手握冰块,结果好多脑残家长跟着学

Translated to English, it is

During that time, there was news of her everywhere. Her mother was really extreme. In her book, she wrote that to train her persistence, she had her grab ice blocks with her bare hands, and as a result, many braindead parents followed suit.

Like this is just absolutely fucking ridiculous. No more comment.

By the way, I also back in 2015-6 helped this Harvard girl (ethnic Chinese but not culturally Chinese at all) who won science prizes in high school prepare for coding/algorithm interviews. (I didn’t do it for free earned a little side money from that as well. I was mostly interested in meeting her at that time.) I was surprised at the gross inconsistency between her high school achievements and how little she knew about computer science as well as how slow she was to learn. Like, she kept on asking me what the difference was between a linked list and a cache. There is this interview question of simulating an LRU cache in software. I had told her that there are hardware caches as well with orders of magnitude lower latency than reading than from memory, and that really, disk -> memory -> L2 cache -> L1 cache -> register is basically a cache hierarchy. Really, caching is quite intuitively obvious. It’s like how in the home you have a small bucket for trash that you only empty to the bigger one outside when it gets full. She also couldn’t understand why quick-select was average case O(n) and worst case O(n^2). I explained to her that pivot operation (in quick-sort it’s the same) but she just couldn’t get it. I then told her that nobody in the fucking software or machine learning world would give a fuck about quick-select, but her reaction was one of

NOOOOOOO!!!!!! QUICKSELECT!!!!!!

What really brought me into disbelief was when she asked me for some homework problem how to compute \int_0^{2\pi} \cos^2 x dx and I was like “you must be trolling.” The method I instantly thought of was using the nothing esoteric trig identity 2\cos^2 x - 1 = \cos (2x). It’s an obvious 1/2 \cdot 2\pi since the \cos (2x) component is vanished by the integral by symmetry.

There is of course also noticing that by symmetry \int_0^{2\pi} \cos^2 x dx = \int_0^{2\pi} \sin^2 x dx. Sum the two to get 2\pi \cdot 1 and divide by two.

I think I also told her that one can substitute \cos x with \frac{e^{ix}+e^{-ix}}{2}, square that and integrate. Anyone who’s studied Fourier series should instantly tell that we only care about the constant coefficient, which is an obvious 2 \cdot \frac{1}{4}.

I spoke of this case to a former Harvard PhD student from China and he was like,

Maybe she’ll eventually become director of research at Google. And write a book like Lean In.

Only then, did I learn that Lean In was some book written by Jewish Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg who also went to Harvard. Her husband was also an exec, and my reaction to that case was basically one of

How the fuck do you die running on a treadmill. That guy must have been unusually clumsy or had some serious health problems to begin with.

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Setup github.io page with Jekyll

Now that I am blogging about programming, I’ve figured that I should start a separate blog just for that, which I can showcase to others without the risk of political incorrectness (which of course requires I keep it strictly technical). I had thought of blogspot, but the pros use github.io. So I naturally looked into that. And I’ve decided that I’m going to document the process as I go.

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Bubble sort using IORef

I started learning Haskell around summer of 2015, and to be honest, I found it very difficult. It, as a representative of functional programming, requires a very different mode of reasoning, one that I had not really exposed myself to before. I used very light features of Haskell at a real job for testing purposes. With “very light,” IORef is obviously disqualified. I haven’t touched it for over a year, and I am quite rusty on it. Though I expect, since I had diligently worked through example code of various Haskell constructs and patterns, to the point where I could follow what was going on without much difficulty, I can retrain up to the level I had previously been at without too much difficulty.

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Tech industry, an interview question, and tail recursion

I have written on here before that I sort of disliked the tech industry. Why? Because I felt many of the people there are kind of boring and not that smart, and much of the work is quite mundane, though of course there are some extremely good ones who do the bulk of the technical heavy lifting (I’m not, though maybe I could become one), who are grossly under compensated relative to their actual contribution. Of course, my standards must be way too high, or I must be way too weird or non-conformist, or too spoiled. At the very least, the tech industry pays quite well, especially the big companies which offer bonus and equity. Of course, plenty of 150+ IQ people will go into grad school in math or physics or computer science, doing some much more academically involved work, often with contempt for the intellectual lightweights in the tech industry. I plead guilty to having had that sort of attitude as well, and maybe I still do. Related to that is how I found the whole artificial marketing and inflation of achievement in tech kind of disingenuous. However, I’ve figured out by now that one only has much to lose from not playing along in that game. I’ve been paying more attention to LinkedIn recently. It’s literally a credentialist cesspool of professional posturing, full of mediocrities who put on there literally every detail of their professional and extracurricular life. My having become more accepting of that indicates somewhat that I’ve improved attitude-wise. I feel like I talk to some non-techs too now, in a normal way, without expressing any sign of contempt, because what’s the point? My next step would probably be to shut down this socially unacceptably nerdy and elitist and non-PC blog, but unfortunately, I don’t feel comfortable dulling myself out like that. Of course, it might just be that the whole career game more or less compels me to do so sooner or later. When I say this, I have in mind the following from Michael O Church’s essay Does Genius Exist:

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Math vs engineering

I am currently a full time software engineer. I don’t really like the work and I mostly find it draining though I guess I’m not bad at it, though I’m definitely not great. Much of it is process and understanding of requirements and the specific codebase (that includes the tools it uses), which is more often than not not fun at all though I find it more tolerable now. It pays well but is low status, as Michael O Church loves to say. The work is rather lowbrow by STEM standards. I was thinking that it loads not very highly on g (at least line of business engineering) but rather highly on conscientiousness and ability to grind. The people who excel are at it are those who can do that type of work for long hours and not feel tired, and often ones who have the genes to sleep 5 hours a day and still be fine. It’s not a very attractive or sexy ability, but it is a very useful and respectable one. One of my colleagues spent 4 years working on FPGAs just to design one chip and he said after that experience, he’s not gonna do anything related to chip design again. I know that chip design is much more technically involved, much higher barrier to entry, and is actually the hardest to replicate part of computing. Anybody can build a website but only a few places have the expertise and infrastructure to make a good CPU. The latter requires a sophisticated industrial process, the fabrication part, which involves much advanced applied physics, none of which I know. I’ve heard that because fabs are a physical constraint which run in cycle, it is imperative to meet deadlines, which means you need the types who can pull all-nighters, who can toil day in day out in the lab on very detail oriented work (that’s often grindy, not artsy or beautiful like math is) with little room for error. It also pays less than software engineering, for obvious economic reasons. On this note, I recall adults knowledgeable were telling me not to major in EE because there are few jobs in it now. Electronics is design once mass produce. So many of them have been outsourced.

Engineering is hard hard work. Not intellectually hard (though there is that aspect of it too in some of it), but grindily hard. Plumbing is inevitable, and you have to deal with some dirty complexity. You need a very high level of stamina and of some form of pain tolerance that I don’t regard myself as very high in, though I’ve improved substantially. It’s not a coincidence that engineering is what makes the big bucks, for individuals (somewhat) and for economies (or execs in them). Rich countries are the ones who can sell high end engineering products like cars and CPUs.

Mathematics, theoretical science, on the other hand, is much more about abstraction of the form that requires a higher level of consciousness. Math and theoretical physics are far more g-loaded than engineering is and attracts smarter people, a different breed of personality, those with a more intellectual upper class vibe that I see largely absent in software engineering. These are used in engineering, but in it, they are merely tools with the focus being on design and on practical application, with cost as a major consideration. It is like how in physics, there is much mathematics used, but because math is just a tool for it, physicists can be sloppy with their math. Pure theoretical science is much more deep and far less collective and organizationally complex, with a pronounced culture of reverence for individual genius and brilliance. There is also an emphasis on beauty and on some pure elevation of the human spirit in this type of pure thought.

I myself am by nature much more in the theoretical category though I am for now in the practical one, pressured into it by economic circumstances, which I am looking to leave. I will say though that I have derived some satisfaction and confidence from having some practical skills and from having done some things which others find directly useful, as well as having endured some pain so I know what that feels like. In the unlikely case that I actually make it as a mathematician, I can say that unlike most of my colleagues I didn’t spend my entire life in the ivory tower and actually suffered a bit in the real world. I can thereby be more down-to-earth, as opposed to the intellectual snob that I am. I will say though that I do genuinely respect those who are stimulated by engineering enough to do it 24-7 even in their spare time. I don’t think I will ever be able to experience that by my very makeup. However, I do at least suspect that I am capable of experiencing to some extent a higher world that most of those guys fail to, which should bring me some consolation.

Programming types

Programming, the intense hacker side of it, attracts a certain breed of person. In short, I would put it as that it attracts those who are higher in autism than in g, though of course one needs to be reasonably high in both, especially the verbal side of g, as its activity is largely one of reading (of logs and documentation) and writing (of code (and its supporting documentation), the quality of which has good variable names as a major component). I do feel at times that programmers, even elite ones, are lacking in scientific taste. Many of them are mathematically null. They thrive on and even love the detailed minutiae involved in the work, such as encodings (like UTF, ASCII, that type of thing), the ins and outs of Unix, and arcane facts of various languages. I had to encounter in my work today parsing of CSV files, and it turned out that the CSV reader was not reading under the correct encoding. I ended up diffing my output with the output generated via a means more or less guaranteed to work to aid such’s diagnosis. I’m not bad at this type of thing any longer, having trained myself or more like grown to be able to patiently resolve such problems in a systematic, foolproof fashion.

Does that mean I enjoy this type of thing? No, not at all, though I find it tolerable, more or less. Too autistic for me. It does not have the depth that mathematics has. It has not the beauty of poetry or of music. It has not the wittiness of words or the expressiveness of (human) language. Nor does it have the significance on the world that politics has. There are more meaningful to be doing than programming, though needless to say there is much demand for it as the world now runs on computer programs, which are written mostly by politically incompetent and often socially awkward who answer to morons with MBAs.

I’ve come to notice that programmers tend to be very narrow. They only know programming. There are of course exceptions. Mathematicians and to a greater extent physicists are more broad, and more deep. It makes them very boring to talk with. The people who are more well rounded who are in programming are often, from my observation, in it for the easy money, which is of course paltry relative to what the parasites of our society suck in, but nonetheless a very good sum by the standards of ordinary folk.

There is of course another world of programming, that of the incompetents, who often know only Java and barely know any computer science even. They’re far from the functional programmers who I work with. This industry is so in need of grunt labor that those people manage to find their way into six figure salaries. Yes, this includes places like Google and Facebook. There are Google engineers who don’t know what the difference between stack memory and heap memory is and who think C++ pointers are scary, who make 200k a year or almost. I won’t talk more about them. Waste of breath.