Sunday, October 21, 2007

Oak Park Seemingly Incurs the Wrath of a Higher Power

Strong winds knocked out our DSL last night; I'm typing this through great struggle on a dial-up connection. And I was planning on typing a long post today, about the past month. Seriously! I was! Well, it'll have to wait for another day ...

Oh, and Oak Park is flanked by several fires. Crossing my fingers that school will be cancelled tomorrow ... ;)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dinosaur Pilot Album Finished!

This week has been quite busy, as Dinosaur Pilot, my friend AP's band, was finishing recording their first album, entitled Pants on Fire. Being a thoroughly kind-hearted individual, I volunteered to design their album cover, which I've been working on intermittently this past month or so. However, the recording was completed a couple weeks ahead of schedule, and I had to rush to finish the cover by the time mixing was completed. Nevertheless, I think the result is pre-tty good (credit for the crazy lettering work goes to Mike, the drummer):

Oh, and the equally amazing back cover:

Well, enough about my amazing graphic design work, you say. How is the band itself? Well, listen for yourself. I don't expect the album to top the Alternative charts, but they're not half bad. I'm not a fan of the genre, and I still like the majority of their songs.

Bear in mind though that some of their best songs aren't available for listening - you'll have to buy the CD. The discs are still being packaged and the price isn't set yet, but if you want to purchase, just shoot an email to Adam Paul (adamxpaul [at] and say that Alex referred you. You'll get your copy autographed for free and hopefully I'll make a phat commission.

There's no preposition I'd end a sentence with. :P

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school, and summer has officially ended. First impressions of my classes:

Per. 1 AP Chemistry

We were all very surprised to hear Mr. N's description of the class today. I knew that it wouldn't be as hard as Biology was last year, in part because it doesn't rely on memorization, but it turns out to be even easier than I thought it would be, definitely one of the easiest APs in the school. The only drawback is that, while almost everyone gets an A in the class, the AP test pass rate isn't the highest - I suppose I'll have to do some independent studying before the AP exam. Well at any rate, the class should be pretty fun and Mr. N seems to be a good teacher, so I'm happy with AP Chem.

Per. 2 Guitar

I still can't believe I get to take Guitar as a class!! :D Mr. O is a big fan of Joe Satriani and classic rock, so this should be quite fun. Hopefully my guitar playing will be a bit less sloppy by the end of the year. :P

Per. 3 Spanish III

Can't give any impressions at the moment, as Mrs. F wasn't here today. At any rate, there is no way that I would ever enjoy a Spanish class (still wishing I could take Esperanto instead :P), and Mrs. F seems to have a bad reputation. Pity.

Per. 4 AP English III (Language/Composition)

English was never a particularly strong subject for me, but hopefully I'll survive this class. Mrs. S is a little bit scary: we must use a specific pen in her classroom (Pilot P-700 to be precise), and we have a whole list of things that we aren't allowed to do because they distract her (including getting up to get a tissue and using a holepunch).

Per. 5 Computer Animation

Like Guitar, Computer Animation should be a pretty fun elective. Past students say that it's a piece of cake, and most of the time is spent playing games. And I'm earning VPA credit for this, hurray!

Per. 6 AP U.S. History

After taking AP Euro last year, U.S. History shouldn't be too difficult, and Mr. J seems to be a good teacher. The workload is quite high, but not particularly challenging.

All in all, my APs aren't as hard as last year's, and after two years of not taking any electives, I'm finally taking a couple. I think it's going to be a fun year. :)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Summer is Ending :(

High school registration yesterday. As though I needed any reminding that summer is about to end. :(

On the other hand, this school year promises to be fun. My schedule:

1. Chemistry AP
2. Guitar
3. Spanish III
4. AP English III (Language/Composition)
5. Computer Animation
6. AP US History

Fairly easy AP classes, and two electives. Not bad.

I actually signed up for seven classes, not six (wanted to take Computer Graphics too) but I didn't like the idea of going to school at 7:30 from the start, and didn't complain when for some reason or other I didn't get the class. :P

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sweden, Photos!

I promised photos, and here they are! 423 of 'em, no less.

They're not sorted by day, but knowing that 8/4/07 was Day 1 and allowing a few hours for time zone differences, one should be able to match up photos with blog entries using the date and time conveniently posted in red letters at the bottom of each photo.

Sweden, Days 9-10

Day 9
Had a bit of a scare this morning when my camera, with all our photographs from days 5-8, would neither charge nor turn on. Fortunately this problem was fixed by removing the rechargeable battery and putting it back in.

I played a game of chess with Ivan. Surprisingly, it remained tied up until the late-midgame, when I accidentaly lost a rook. Ivan remains undefeated, after previous games with my dad and my aunt's uncle (see for an analysis of the end-game position of one of these games).

Had another picnic this evening, this time with 28 people in total, of whom all but one were my relatives.

Day 10

We all woke up at 5:00 in the morning and at 6:00 were on our way to Arlanda Airport in a taxi. After two flights and several humorous incidents with airport security (involving, among other things, yogurt and automatically hibernating laptops) we were back in Oak Park. I miss Sweden.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sweden, Days 7-8

Day 7

We spent just about the whole day on a luxury ship going to and from the autonomous Finnish archipelago of Åland, making Finland the fifth European country I've been to (after Belarus, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Sweden). It's a pity that we couldn't stay in Åland longer though - as soon as we reached the main island, Fasta Åland, we were pushed into the ship that took usd back, making the whole journey a little bit pointless in my opinion. Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience, because it was my first time traveling in such a big ship (twelve stories!!)

Day 8

Sadly, we are going home in two days, and while Regina and I want to switch places, it wouldn't work because passports are verified against the seating order in planes (why? why??)

Today we hiked through a real Swedish forests. Very green, both the vegetation and the water. This evening we had a family reunion picnic, which was nice, although there was very little to do.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sweden, Days 5-6

Day 5

We went to Skansen today, the happiest place on earth! Or it may have been, if a rather heavy rain hadn't interrupted our stay there. Nevertheless, we saw most of the sites of the outdoor museum. Very interesting place indeed.

After we got back from Skansen, we took a walk down Queen Street. We got to see the infamous harmonica hobo of Stockholm. I took a video and am editing it for Youtube as we speak.

Sweden gets more and more ununsual every day. The tap water here is clean enough to drink, and in fact everyone does. There's so few cars that pedestrians never pay attention to the lights. Clerks at grocery stores do not bag your purchases; you even have to buy the bag yourself!

Day 6

We went to the Swedish Royal Palace today, although it certainly seemed more like a museum than a palace. Most of the palace was accessible to the public and some rooms even had museum-like display cases. Nevertheless, it was an interesting trip, even if it didn't seem like anyone would live or work there. Immediately after leaving the palace, we got to see the changing of the guard, for the second time now. This time we saw the whole ceremony, which was quite long and interesting to watch.

For most of the rest of the day, I had a walking tour of the "real" Stockholm, complete with stores, cafes, and libraries, with Regina and her friend Elizabeth.

I am quite used now to people staring at me when I say that I'd rather stay in Sweden than go back to California.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sweden, Days 3-4

Day 3

Today we hiked to Kaknästornet, from which we could see most of the city. Stockholm is really one of the most interesting places I've ever been to, because the city is situated on 14 islands, and different districts are very much different.

It was very hot today, as it was yesterday and the day before ... We're experiencing very strange weather here in Sweden, the one week a year when the heat actually matches that of California, the very heat that we tried to escape by going to Sweden. The locals seem to like this change from the usual.

In the news: a suicide bomber was caught by police only four metro stations from where we live (it's a unit of measurement :P). Also, a murder took place in the small town where my cousin's friend was chillin'. Violent crime is relatively rare rare, but because of Sweden's small population, when it does happen it feels very close.

Most television programs here are in English, with Swedish subtitles, as opposed to most other European countries, where programs have dubbed sound.

Public restrooms cost 5 kronen (about $.80) to use, sometimes even for customers in restaurants and cafes. Socialism!

Day 4

We went to the Stockholm City Hall today (very interesting place, photos on the way!). We wanted to see this guy, but we couldn't find him anywhere. We'll have to look again tomorrow. We did find the Little Dancer though.

We didn't have much to do today, I met some of my cousin Regina's friends ... over MSN. Seem like nice people, most of them, others are just weird. The people in Sweden aren't so different from the U.S. of A.

Everyone in Sweden seems to be able to speak English, but everyone also has a British accent, due to the education that they receive. It's terrible, it really is. I'm trying to teach my cousins some real English ("yo wazzup home dawg" and so on and so forth) ...

Everyone here also seems to be a soccer player, and a very good one too. My brother and cousins never have to look far for a game.

My brother is an aspiring songwriter, and I decided to look for a guitar to put his gibberish to music. We managed to find an old acoustic that belonged to my second-aunt's husband, Ivan. The fifth string was snapped, but we managed to patch it together in a primitive knot; it works fine but occasionally gives problems when we attempt to tune it.

Well, that's it for now!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sweden, Days 1-2 (Two for the price of one! :P)

Day 1

Flew in to Stockholm this morning, after 36 hours (!!) in transit (had to stay in Newark for ten hours, and time zone difference accounts for the rest). My parents rented a hotel room, but there's not enough room for all of us, so I'm sleeping over at my cousins'. Speaking of which, I just met about a dozen of my aunts, uncles, and cousins for the first time - fun fun fun!

First impressions of Stockholm:

  • Very clean place, at least those areas that I saw. People seem friendly.

  • It's clean for the most part. The amount of graffiti in this place is unbelievable, even to one who's been to LA and Detroit. Apparently, the government sends people to clean the place up regularly, but the grafitti just comes back again - a lot of money down the drain for the government.

  • Car theft also seems to be a serious problem. My relatives have lost count of the attempted thefts of their car.

  • Speaking of cars, I've never seen so many small cars in one place! Everything in Sweden seems to be small, from cars to ketchup bottles.

  • Public transportation system is amazing. Bus lines, train lines, and metro lines (color coded for your convenience!) are all interconnected. Buy one ticket, and you can use any public transport service you want for a week. Sweet.

  • There's a curious mix of old and new technology. Escalators are faster, automatic doors are more sensitive, toilets are more powerful. And yet, my parents' hotel room key is just a punch card. Most elevators I've seen don't have automatic doors, and something that I've never seen in the States.

Day 2

Went on a long tour of Stockholm today. A picture is worth a thousand words, and I have a ton of pictures to post, not today though.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

To Sweden!

In just a few minutes, I will be heading to the airport and flying to Sweden, where I'll be vacationing with my family for ten days. I'll make sure to blog about what I see! =)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

TI-89 Long Division Program

Today I had to find the first 50 digits of 1/95. With all our modern technology, it should be easy to find, right? Unfortunately, the Windows calculator cuts off at 36 digits, and my sophisticated TI-89 cuts off all operations after a measly 16 digits.

The solution? I wrote me own long division program:

While t>d
if s=0 and x>n then

This program accepts three parameters: n, x, and t. It divides n by x and outputs the first t digits into the variable res (for result :P).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Why I Don't Use MySpace

This link is for a certain friend of mine, who I hope is reading this:

The End of MySpace

I would have written a mini-essay myself, but fortunately I found this one, which covers the same points that I would have used in an anti-MySpace debate.

Woo! I can drive!

Well ... sort of. I just got a drivers' permit, which, while not yet a license, is still a remarkable accomplishment given my laziness (it took me nearly half a year to finally complete my mandatory 50 hours of driving education).

In other news, AP results are in, and I got all 5s (on Euro, Bio, Stats)! =) And I thought I'd get a 4 on Bio for sure...

Sunday, July 08, 2007


It's funny, I thought that I'd post here a lot more come summer, but in reality there's not much to write about. I'm actually glad that I'm volunteering at the library, because at least it gives me something to do, even if I'm playing more than I'm working there, heh.

There's a lot less summer work this year than last year, but I've still barely started. Out of six US History chapters and two English books, I've read ... one History chapter. I'd better pick up the pace, or I'll get stuck with a ridiculous workload in the last week of summer, just like last year ... ahh the memories ...

I just saw The Phantom Riders live, a great instrumental band. If you live in Southern California, you should check 'em out - they play in Hollywood often.

I haven't done much of my own stuff so far this summer, but I'll post if I make anything new. A new version of Little Fighter 2.5 is certainly possible, as is *but don't take my word for it* an online version of European Chess (once I figure out why Flash keeps crashing on my computer >.<).

Finally, some cool links for those of you with some free time:
*LibraryThing - Can't believe I haven't heard of this site earlier. Now I no longer have to wonder about what to read next. Kudos to AP for telling me about this one!
*BattleMaster - Best online game ever, period. Or not quite an online game? Frankly, I don't know what it can be classified under, but it's amazing. Just try it and you'll see why.
*Tactics Arena Online and SlimeAthlete - Where we library volunteers go to pass the time in between Axis and Allies games.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Personal Website Online!

After six months of work, I have finally completed my new personal site.

- Fairly comprehensive About Me and My Interests sections.
- A much expanded, much improved My Creations section (compared to my old personal site).
- A fairly active forum.
- Even a blog! Heh.

Enjoy! =)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

European Chess Update

[From the Forums]

Summer has begun, so let me briefly summarize the facts about the European Chess project:

- A patent could cost upward of $10,000, although this cost may be reduced if Fienberg's uncle helps us. We still don't know about the necessity of a patent.
- We have until February 2008 to file a provisional patent (about $300 I believe), which would extend the patenting deadline by a year, giving us until February 2009 to file a full patent.
- We still don't know if a Euro Chess patent would be approved or not, due to its similarity to Chaturanji, which admittedly is a public-domain game.
- Peter Olotka, designer of Cosmic Encounter (off of which Euro Chess is partly based), could offer some help, so I'm trying to get in touch with him.
- I know nothing about what the commercial possibilities of Euro Chess. Would it sell? I have no idea.
- We still have not come up with a good name - I don't like Euro Chess much. A name design competition is a possibility.
- I am not sure about the possible legal issues that could arise from the Design Competition.
- An online game is a possibility. Do not ask me about it - if I do decide to make one it will be a surprise, but I guarantee nothing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

It's summer!

At long last, school is out. I spent the last month struggling to complete various projects (for the most part, the notorious 18-minute long Historical Figure multimedia presentation project that is often cited to scare incoming sophomores), but since this Friday, I've been free ... for the most part ...

Summer has been fairly uneventful so far, but I did sign up for volunteer work at my local library (upwards of 80 hours for doing absolutely nothing [literally nothing - some friends are even considering bringing an Axis & Allies board over to the library to pass the time]!! How could I have not thought about this before!?!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Roger Waters! [A Concert Review]

I went to a Roger Waters concert at the Hollywood Bowl yesterday night, with my dad, my brother, and some family friends. To sum it up in a word: amazing.

We didn't eat dinner before we arrived at Hollywood at 6 (concert started at 7:30), and believe it or not, we had to wander the streets for half an hour before we could find a decent place to eat (so much upscale dining in Hollywood, so little fast food), namely a Subway.

We got to the Hollywood Bowl fifteen minutes before the show was scheduled to start, but had to wait for some friends, and finally pushed toward the stadium at around 7:30. The crowd was huge, the biggest I'd ever seen in my life, but my friends estimated it to be between 10,000 and 15,000 people. Anyway, the Bowl was sold out (there were a bunch of people who went all the way to the Bowl without tickets, holding up signs like "Please give me a ticket. I am a fan, not a scalper." And plenty of scalpers too. Not to mention all of the "musicians" and T-shirt sellers standing outside the Bowl. There are a lot of business opportunities available there I suppose ...)

We reached the stands at about 8:00, after much pushing and shoving and security (in my backpack I had two identical opaque bottles, one with water, one with iced tea. A guard picked one at random and asked, "What's in it?" "Water?" I guessed. The guard sniffed it: "That's not water..." and looked at me suspiciously. On the other hand, my friends ran past security, and managed to smuggle in, among other things, a camcorder and a digital voice recorder.) At the back of the stage was a large display showing an antique radio that played oldies, while a hand occassionally reached in to change the channel or pour some wine. Roger Waters entered the stage at around 8:15.

The first setlist was pretty good, with both its high and its low points. The audience was so excited by In The Flesh that I was a little worried that they might take the song seriously. Mother featured a nice acoustic performance by Roger Waters but I never did like the song that much. I was surprised by the inclusion of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, a very old song, but it was played well and the inclusion of a slideshow old photographs in the back was in my opinion a nice touch. Shine On You Crazy Diamond was played well, and the visual transition (climbing out of the heart of the sun of the previous song, with various distorted images of Syd shown) was nice, but in my opinion David Gilmour's group played it better at the Pulse tour - one of the things I noticed about this concert was that Roger tended to keep the experimentation down to a minimum, playing exactly like the album version, while David's Pink Floyd played most songs a little differently, in some cases even better than the album version. Have a Cigar was an amazing song even in the studio, but played live it sounded even better - I was surprised by guitarist Snowy White's capability of playing exactly as David Gilmour had done in the studio, while still adding his own touch. Wish You Were Here had equally good guitar, but in my opinion it was Roger who was the weakest link here, as his vocals for this song seemed subpar, and he was speaking more than singing.

It was at this point that the songs began to go downhill. The next two songs were Southampton Dock and The Fletcher Memorial Home, neither of which I ever liked particularly. Perfect Sense was one of Roger's better solo songs, and I liked its inclusion, but I felt that Leaving Beirut was overly segmented, with a very predictable spoken verse - guitar - spoken verse - guitar pattern. Roger finally closed the first half with Sheep, which was a nice touch, as it is one of Pink Floyd's loudest songs, in other words, perfect for closing a concert. And of course, everyone cheered and began taking cell phone photos as the pig flew above the stands (although my Republican friends cringed at the "liberal propaganda") - it's too bad that we forgot to bring a camera, but binoculars did help.

Intermission lasted about fifteen minutes, during which a small dot on the back screen slowly grew into a moon, a nice visual touch.

I didn't enjoy the second set as much as the first set, for the most part because at this point the smokers seemed to lose interest in the music, something that was only helped by the two repetitive instrumental passages, On the Run and Any Colour You Like. There was a guy right in front of us who was definitely an addict - he couldn't go for more than a minute without putting that thing in his mouth. Still, we weren't the worst off - in the section where some of my friends were sitting, they were literally the only people there who didn't smoke - my friend's brother actually passed out from the fumes. Other than that, though, the Dark Side of the Moon was played admirably well (I won't go into song-by-song analysis because it was played exactly like the album). There were some amazing special effects in the end, with the giant prism and the lasers. Good times.

After Roger Waters congratulated us for being a great audience, blah blah blah, the band finally closed with five songs from the Wall. As The Happiest Days of Our Lives came to a close, the whole audience stood up for Another Brick in the Wall, singing along with Roger Waters. Similarly, after Vera, another short passage, the audience chanted Bring the Boys Back Home. personally, I only liked the last encore: Comfortably Numb, which was played very well, particularly the two guitar solos. Snowy White once again showed his talent in emulating David Gilmour!

After another twenty minutes of pushing through a crowd, we walked thirty minutes to our parking space through Hollywood at midnight (admittedly not the safest way to travel), and drove home. The End.

Correction: Dave Kilminster, not Snowy White, played lead guitar. To be fair, Snowy White played well too!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Saturday, May 19, 2007

APs are over!

No more AP tests! I'm free!! Well ... sorta ...

Last week, right after the AP Bio test, I had to work all week on a reflective essay. Next week, I'm going to have to present a group Stats project that we hardly started. And two weeks after that is the Hi-Fi presentation, widely believed to be the most difficult project our high school has to offer: a 15-18 minute multimedia presentation on a historical figure. Emphasis on the 15-18 minutes. So in essence, my whole life now is just moving from one project to another.

Well, at any rate it's still an improvement?

How did the AP tests go? They were OK. Better wait for the grade sheet before I jump to conclusions about how well I did.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Whew - this week has been crazy. And I think we all know why ... it's USAMO time! Or was ...

Fortunately, I was able to talk to Messrs Block and Micek, and negotiated my ability to take the USAMO, but at great cost. The first day I had to take the USAMO in Micek's classroom ... while freshmen were taking the STAR testing. They were loud, to say the least, and I could focus only with great difficulty, at least until 12:20 (3:20 ET - that is, 1:40 before time was up) when the freshies left. (But don't worry, I didn't break any rules - I was proctored and I didn't chat.) This may explain my relatively poor performance on Day One.

The second day was easier, as I was able to negotiate taking the test in the library (don't worry, oh eagerly pissed-off USAMO graders, I was indeed proctored), and I performed much better. Big surprise.

I was quite out of shape mathematically. I had only started practicing seriously for the USAMO about a month before, and I couldn't seriously hope to do very well with so little practice. Of course, taking old tests is a little pointless if you can't solve a single problem... ;) In this regard, I think I did much better than I expected - in the immortal words of Ubemaya, "my goal is a non-negative score, although I'd be happy to get a negative score also."

My equipment wasn't the best either. The first day I took my dad's expensive Byelorussian sketching kit, but unfortunately the compasses there were rather dull, as they had not been used for quite awhile. Keeping this in mind, I took my own, much smaller compass set the next day, only to understand why I hadn't taken it the first day - the quality was so bad that I could hardly use them, and the set did not include a protractor, just when I needed one (for problem six, I finally had to resort to constructing right triangles on graph paper and then tracing 60 degree angles to draw a neat equilateral triangle). Once again Staedler's quality shows me why those guys should just stick to making erasers ...

But enough about working conditions. Time to talk about the problems!

As I mentioned earlier, I didn't do too well on the first day, partly because of the friggin freshmen, and partly because of my own stupidity of course. I immediately jumped ahead and solved the second problem, taking something like two hours to write up an incredibly neat, incredibly detailed solution - only to realize after faxing the solutions that I was supposed to find a circle with radius sqrt(2)/2, not a square with side length 1! Well, I hope I'll get two or three points, because other than this my solution is a pretty good one. Next, I attacked problem one, finding out some facts and then hitting a brick wall - I submitted some hastily done formulae in hope of maybe one point. And problem three - that I could hardly understand, let alone find a way to solve. Total for Day One: 3-4 points of a possible 21.

The second day I performed much better. I solved Problem Four satisfactorily, for six, maybe even seven points. The great thing about Problem Four was that it asks for an answer - 8025 - so I KNOW I got the problem right! =) And I proved the equilateral equality for #6, though I did not make any headway into proving the general inequality: I'm hoping for one or two points for the equality. Problem Five I stared at and stared at, but couldn't solve, as, I imagine after seeing the solution, neither could 99% of test takers. Total for Day Two: 7-9 points of a possible 21.

So, in total I got 10-13 points, which isn't bad at all for someone who expected to get zero (see my previous post for details about all that). After a little practice, and hopefully without interference from pesky freshmen, I may even qualify for MOP next year! (18-20 points needed to qualify for sophomores and juniors)

Sunday, April 22, 2007


By an unfortunate coincidence, the two 4.5-hour days of the USAMO fall right in the middle of standardized testing week. To add to the problem, Mr. Micek won't be able to proctor me this time, and I'll need web access to download the problems. And suspiciously, the vice principal, Mr. Block, always seems to be in a meeting when I come by the office, and doesn't respond to my emails either. Well, tomorrow's the day before the first day of the USAMO, so I'll have to get some answers from him, even if I have to camp out outside the office.

Of course, my practice test scores are rather depressing. By a very lenient scoring system, I give myself:

6 (must've been an easy year ;) )

Keep in mind that I'm practicing off old tests (4.5 hours / 5 problems), as opposed to new ones (9 hours / 6 problems). And I should remind my readers that the olympiad starts the day after tomorrow. Hopefully that gives an indication of how screwed I am >.<

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Spring Break!

Yes, Spring Break is here. But it won't be all parties for me, thanks to, you guessed it, Euro AP! As I mentioned in my previous entry, we are picking up the pace in Euro, but I never expected it to reach this level: over Spring Break we have to (1) write a 20-30 page report on the Cold War, (2) read "All Quiet on the Western Front" and write a 5 page review, and (3) reread 700 pages of our Euro textbook. All in one week! Ugh.

As if that weren't enough, it turns out that I qualified for the USAMO, something I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it's quite an accomplishment to make it there, but on the other hand, now I have to start practicing, so that I won't embarrass myself with a zero (which seems to be the median score on the USAMO >.<). So that's something like 5 hours Euro, 1 hour math already partitioned out each day. I'm losing almost half of my waking, non-eating hours!

The good news is that I still have half of spring break to call my own. ^_^ Some stuff that I'm working on:

- My site. I'm hoping to finish my new website by the end of Spring Break. I'm almost done already, so it shouldn't be too tough.

- European Chess. Ah, there's a lot of stuff going on here. First, Round 2 of the Design Competition just ended, so I have to add 3 countries, and edit a few more (people started complaining about Iraq and Mafia being too strong, and Prussia and Gaul too weak, so I'll have to balance them). Also, John wants to start a European Chess tournament next week, and although he promised to organize it himself, it'll still be a lot of work to keep up-to-date results on the website (a job that, of course, falls to me).

Now that European Chess is out and about on the Internet (a forum spam campaign on my part did a fairly good job of spreading the word), our biggest concern now is obtaining a patent. Apparently, we have less than a year to apply for a patent, or else European Chess falls into the public domain. Unfortunately, patent costs are monstrous (literally in the 5-digits), and being high school students we have nowhere near that kind of money. Our best bet is to somehow get Fienberg's uncle to provide us legal aid for free and then apply for a provisional patent, using our extra year to obtain the ~$3,000 we'll need outside of legal fees. Either that or give up, which I admit is an appealing option.

- One last item of the day: During Spring Break, and pretty much until mid-May, I have very little free time, so naturally I don't really have time to play most games, but there is one online game that takes very little time (~10 min. a day) and is incredibly addictive. I'm talking, of course, of Diplomacy, the board-game sensation that, thanks to, is now invading the Internet. After playing a game online with a few of my friends, I took the next step and formed what may be the first online Diplomacy league: "Donkeys United". Blatant ad: Have you got what it takes to join? Make an account on my forum and PM me for an invitation! Heh, just had to put that in.

Well, that concludes my first (and perhaps last) post during Spring Break. Ciao!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

School is pain. AP exams = very yes.

The title says it all.

Euro is going nuts, with some 2 hours of mandatory studying every night now, in addition to many lunch periods and 7th periods sacrificed for "optional" videos and DBQ practice. To be fair, it is partly my fault - in February, at the start of second semeste, Mr. K asked if there was anything we would like to change in the class. Seizing the opportunity, I proclaimed that there shalt be no mandatory outlines, and it was so. Somebody else - whose name shall not be uttered - did cry out against the projects, saying "it shalt be not so," and it was declared that there shall be no mandatory outlines or projects. And then it all collapsed. We became lazy, we failed our quizzes and tests even more than what's regular for Euro (although oddly enough, I didn't change, but that's just me), and with the AP coming up, we were grossly underprepared. Finally, Mr. K made us an ultimatum last week: if we wanted to pass the AP exam, we must play by his rules, which meant even longer hours than first semester, and a return of the dreaded projects. Furtunately, I was able to set up a forum for our Euro class on Mr. K's behalf, which proved to be a good idea, as we are now able to coordinate our study and work together on class projects. Nevertheless, Euro is really becoming painful now.

But speaking of painful in the literal sense, while studying for the AP Bio test (ridiculous really, the chapters were longer than ever, and we needed to memorize the functions of 30 different hormones), I stayed up so late that when I woke up my leg was sprained so much I had to spend the morning of the test practicing walking again. (I don't know how staying up late has a connection to leg pain, but my parents assure me that it does.) It was getting better, but then we had to run two miles in the rain, a run that in retrospect I should probably have just asked to make up. My leg did not like that run at all.

Even Statistics, the easiest AP in the school, is picking up the pace now. For the first time, I actually have to work hard on the homework, and the tests are becoming challenging as we are getting ready to "battle the APE".

And to add to all that, the USAMO math olympiad is coming up in late April, and I have no idea how to study for it, or indeed, if I even qualified (though I'm fairly sure I did). The unanimous advice on how to prepare is practice, practice, practice, but there's really nothing like the sensation of sitting down, reading a test, working on it, and eventually coming to the conclusion that you can't solve a single problem. >.<

There's plenty of other topics I wanted to write about, but I really want me leg to get better, so perhaps I should stop while it's still 10:28 (by some miracle, there was little homework today; it's the first time in a week that I'm going to bed before 11 o'clock).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Took the AIME today. It was harder than I anticipated, but I still managed to answer 7 problems correctly (6-7 will probably by the cutoff, so I probably qualified for the USAMO ^_^).

I'm not allowed to discuss problems yet, so that'll have to wait for a later post.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Some Weight Off My Back (Literally and Figuratively)

Today was a pretty good day, because I finally took my CM piano playing test today (I passed with honors! Yay!), which I've been stressing out about for about a week. After the AIME math exam that I take this Tuesday, I will be free of all worries other than schoolwork ... until late April/early May, when I will suddenly be attacked by the ferocious onslaught of 3 APs, an SAT and maybe an SAT II, and the USAMO (if I pass the AIME). Ouch.

After the piano test, I helped some family friends move. Moving is hard work. Especially on a day as hot as today. Ouch.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

European Chess : European Chess

As you may know, I am vice president of my school's Chess Club. And one of my duties as VP is researching new chess variants (ok, maybe it isn't my duty, but I do it anyway). This is the story of how I (not quite singlehandedly) designed a chess variant so popular that nobody in our Chess Club plays regular chess anymore.


I was researching four-player chess games, because I felt that our club needed a multiplayer game. Bughouse isn't bad, but the players are rather detached, because you can only play one opponent at a time. I immediately dismissed all of the variants that required a special board; all we have in our club are the standard 8x8 boards. Bastardo looked interesting, but I felt that it started out too cluttered, with not enough wiggle room for your pieces. Finally, I noticed Chaturanga for four, and immediately was captivated by its elegance and fun. However, some of the rules were ancient, and in need of revision; I took a Chaturanga modification - ZM Machiavellian Chess - and played around with it a bit, and created ... Chatanooga.

Ok, maybe it wasn't as heroic as that. The real story was something along the lines of: I read about both Chaturanga and ZM Machiavellian Chess, but by the next day it was all mixed up in my head. The game I showed to the club that day was an odd mixture of both games, with a name as mixed up (unintentionally of course, you can see how mixed up my brain was, for me to mistake Chaturanga for Chatanooga. But I have a REALLY bad memory >.<). The club loved it. Well, the four people that played it loved it, the rest was too busy playing standard chess.

What exactly are the rules of "Chatanooga"? It's a sort of a mix of Chaturanga and ZM, closer to ZM, but with some differences: Play always goes clockwise with no exceptions (this occasionally enables players to prevent another player's checkmate), there is no king promotion, castling, or en passant, and captured armies are merged into one.

But Chatanooga is unimportant at this point, merely a stepping stone to much more exciting game that was to come ... European Chess.

The First Design Sessions

After a week or two of Chatanooga, we were getting a bit bored: because you only have 8 pieces, you eventually get tired of having the same arrangement: King, Rook, Bishop, Knight. One day, my friend John and I were experimenting with different rearrangements of the starting position. We finally agreed that the current one was the strongest.

But then I had an idea: "What if there were several different arrangements and you could pick yours? And because some are stronger than others, why don't we give special powers to the weaker ones to make it fair?" The first army I made was, I believe, an early form of Russia, with a queen, but pawns that can run away from you given the chance. John made up Austria, with three knights that automatically destroy any piece they flank. Early forms of Britain, France, the Holy Roman Empire, and Prussia also made their appearance at that first design session: those, I believe, were our first six, and all underwent significant changes, except for Austria, which has stayed the same for the history of the game.

That evening, I thought long and hard, and finally typed up the original 13 armies: Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Netherlands, Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, Russia, and the Ottomans. These, with the addition of Poland, which was to come later, constituted our first "block": 18th century Europe. At the next chess club meeting, these powers were a hit, with different players developing strategies for different powers (my favorite among these were Switzerland and the Netherlands). It should be noted that some of these powers were very different from their modern incarnations, particularly France and Spain, who had very wimpy powers at that point (they revolved around protecting the king).

European Chess Expands

About a week later, John single-handedly created 12 new armies and created a second "block": "Classical Chess". And a few days after that, I created our third and last block, "Modern Chess". At this point, we had 36 armies, 12 in each block. We later added three new ones - Poland to European Chess, and Canada and Law Enforcement Agents to Modern Chess - to obtain the 39 we have today.

However, we ran into a problem: the powers in Modern Chess, such as Iraq, North Korea, and Terrorists, seemed much too powerful compared to those in European Chess and especially Classical Chess. Rather than weaken the Modern powers, we decided to make the game slightly crazier by instead strengthening the others, and so came the period of "The Great Tweaking" - over the next month, we went and attempted to balance the game out more, completely changing several powers in the process.

This post-tweaking set proved incredibly popular in our chess club, more so than any other set, and so this is the version of European Chess we play today. It is also the version that we submitted to

Where Are We Headed?

What's next on our agenda? Quite a few things, actually.

We're thinking about publishing European Chess, although we haven't quite decided on the specifics (our best plan would probably be to publish online, as this gives us the most control over the process). Fortunately, Michael's uncle is a patent lawyer, so I hope we won't have any legal difficulties in the future.

Also, we've got to work on changing the name: the game is not very European anymore, with the addition of the Classical and Modern blocks. However, the best we've been able to come up with is "Global War Chess" - we have to work a little harder on this.

Meanwhile, we've decided to have a little fun by starting a design competition for creating new European Chess armies. The submissions need not be historically accurate, and I'm very happy with the 16 very creative armies that we've received so far. The competition is open to anyone, so feel free to participate!

After the design competition, we plan to have two separate groups of armies: core and expansion. The core armies are the base 39, the first three blocks. The expansion armies are the design competition winners, and guess where they can be used - in expansions! ^_^

How can you help? Show European Chess to all your friends and family! :P

Links and Goodies

Man, that was a long post, and those who trudged through it should be rewarded. Here are some never-before-seen early European Chess designs that I just found after two hours of searching through three computers. Prior to this day, they have only been seen by a few chess club members; this is the first time that I'm posting them online.

  • - 11/28/06: The very first draft, only 11 armies. Note that the early Spain concept would later be recycled into Terrorists.
  • - 11/29/06: The second draft, after one day of playtesting. 13 armies (added Portugal and Sweden), and changed a few others. Also added a rather unwieldy two pages summarizing the rules of Chaturanga.
  • - 12/1/06: The first draft after John gave me Classical Chess. 25 armies. Note that the Classical armies are very unbalanced at this point - some are very strong, others are very weak.
  • - 12/5/06: The first draft after I added Modern Chess. 37 armies (added Poland and 11 modern). The Modern armies are quite unbalanced at this point - they are much stronger than the European and Classical armies.
  • - 12/6/06 and 12/8/06: Same as the previous one, but with some tweaking.
  • - 01/21/07: The first version that I submitted to The armies are almost at their present state. 38 armies (added Law Enforcement Agents; Canada was to come later).

The very latest rules can be found here. Also, be sure to check out our design competition!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

AMC - the longer post

Yesterday, I came to the AMC12 very prepared indeed: I forgot to bring a calculator (had to use a friend's, which kinda screwed me up), a ruler (the only one Mr. M had was 4 feet long), a compass and protracter, and graph paper (got lucky - found a sheet of graph paper in Mr. M's scratch paper pile, proclaimed, "I hit the jackpot!").

When I came to the testing room (Mr. M's room - he also happens to be my Stats teacher) after school, I expected three, maybe four people other than myself there. To my surprise, there were a total of six AMC10 takers and four AMC12 takers (including myself), some of whom I didn't even know. These numbers are about the same as last year, but this year we had the disadvantage of only having one test day (we have only the geniuses behind the High School Exit Exam to thank for taking away the AMC A). Yesterday also happened to be a practice day for the tennis team; we lost about five kids due to that.

It is interesting to note that other than myself, every single test taker paid that very day (we - well, not me of course - had about two week's notice of the AMC). Several paid right before taking the AMC, and Mr. M even let two take the AMC12 without paying (they promised to pay the next day, but I have doubts about that).

Anyways, my lack of proper tools did hurt me, but not as bad as I originally thought. I won't discuss individual problems yet - not sure if I'm allowed to - but this year's test was different from last year's. Call me crazy, but I think that the easy problems were easier, and the harder problems were harder this year, which of course is not a good sign.

I solved 18 problems - not very good - but, after comparing answers with Bob, to my surprise I found that I solved all 18 right, giving me a solid 118.5 score, more than enough to make it to the AIME.

I'm going to be busier than ever now. The AIME is coming up, and after that I have about a month break before the APs. And maybe an SAT or two. Yup, my free time is gonna be severely limited...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Took the AMC12 today. Can't write anything more right now, partly because I'm not supposed to discuss details the day of the test, partly because I have to write an Euro essay about a video that I didn't see due to the AMC... >.<

Sunday, February 04, 2007

End of Semester One

Semester One report cards have been sent, and Semester Two has formally begun. Some reflections (compare to my first quarter reflections):

AP Statistics - B. I started the year horribly, because I missed quite a few big homework assignments, but I managed to bring it up to a B thanks to high test scores.

AP European History - A-. Miraculously, I have kept my A in what is considered to be the hardest class in our school.

Spanish II - A-. 200 extra credit points helped me out a lot in this class.

AP Biology - B. I had an borderline A first quarter, but then I did poorly on some tests, and had an 86% near the end of the semester. By some calculations, I needed exactly 100% (200/200 points) on the final to get an A in the class. We took the essay final a week before the multiple choice final, and I did not get 100% on it. Knowing that your grade will be the same no matter what you do is a great feeling though, a feeling that I had for all of about three days... ^_^

Honors English II - B+. I kept track of my grades all semester, and by all accounts I should have an A. But I don't.

PE II - B. Eh. P.E.

Now that finals are over, I do have more free time, but unfortunately, the AMC is coming up (we're only having one this year ... @#$%^@#$% High School Exit Exam interfered with the AMC A), so I gotz ta study for that. I did start work on me new site, but again, AMC means I don't have a timetable for its completion.

Friday, January 26, 2007


The reason that I haven't been posting much for ... I dunno, last three weeks or so ... is that I had to study my tuchus off for them midterm exams. Now that this week is finally over, and I have a three day weekend with (virtually) no homework, I feel relieved, to say the least. Now I finally have the energy to devote to other things, which I may describe in later posts. Meanwhile, I gotta go enjoy my freedom while I still can.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


[00:24] Alex: don't tell me you're up at this hour?
[00:24] Bob: go to sleep

Well, my parents are at a wedding (my second cousin, who, for some reason, forgot to invite me), and I assume that it's common courtesy to stay up until they get back (am I right? :P). So, seeing how it's the new year, let me take this time to reflect on the year 2006.

Uh-oh. I just realized I can't remember back that far. Curse my complete lack of any long-term memory!

Well, let me try something a bit easier: can I look back on winter break? After all, school starts again this Monday.

Let's see, this winter break I managed to:

Well, that's about it, the long and short of it. Worth using up most of my winter break on the above items? Dunno.