On Calculus

Teaching calculus to high school seniors and college freshman is cruel like explaining how a tumor metastasizes to a terminal cancer patient—educational, but unhelpful. All you learn is how screwed you are.

The first major takeaway from calculus is that infinity is not a constant. Infinity is not “the biggest number”, and one infinity can be greater than another. Let us say you have two function: f(x) = 2x and g(x) = x2. The limit as x approaches infinity for both f and g is infinity. However, it is clear graphically and algebraically that g > f for all x > 2. One infinity can outweigh another, and that is a lesson that kids learn just a little too late. Continue reading On Calculus

American Metal Chapter 1

American Metal is a mech-themed, science fiction novel I have been working on. Here is a rough draft of the first chapter.

“How many Chinese did I kill last night? One hundred? Two hundred?” Samuel Parker, an overweight twenty-two-year-old, smirked as he recalled the rush from pulling off a clean kill: A precise but powerful shot would blow the head away. The body would collapse under its own weight. If lucky, you would hear your opponent’s screams over the headset.

Nothing was better than playing Mech Wars because nothing was cooler than giant robots fighting each other. Sam could still remember the first time he played the game over a decade ago on Christmas morning. The present lay underneath the tree and was wrapped tightly in green paper. He already knew what was inside, but his fingers still trembled with excitement as they tore into the package. Christmas dinner was quickly devoured, so Sam could get his hands on the controller again. Since then, every new installment in the series had to be bought on day one, but the biggest upgrade came when Sam had saved enough allowance money to buy a full battlestation control panel. Using the yard-long, two-joystick, hundred-button setup was like piloting an actual mech.

Thirteen years since his first time, Sam was still thinking about Mech Wars with every spare moment, “Everyone on the Chinese servers is using the N37 machine gun, but its magazine capacity is too low for the damage rate. The MR44 is better for pros like myself.” Continue reading American Metal Chapter 1

Your Work Is Trash. You Are Trash.

While everyone else seems to be “Netflix and chilling”, I have just been watching Netflix recently. And somewhere between binge watching Master of None and Chef’s Table I had a yearning to make pasta for the first time.

The recipes all looked so easy. Put flour, salt, olive oil, and egg yolks into a bowl. Mix and knead into a dough. Flatten, fold, and slice the dough into ribbons. Throw the pasta into salted, boiling water for two minutes. Serve with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese grated on top.

Each step in the process looked and felt beautiful. The egg whites separated smoothly from the yolks like a precious stone being cleaned of mud. The dough was almost golden in color. The rolled sheets were so thin I could see my fingers through them. The marinara sauce was a vibrant red with a faint aroma of garlic.

And then I tasted the dish.

The pasta was good.

Only good, not great. I thought it would be so much more. And then the existentialism set in. Nobody’s favorite meal is mediocre pasta. Nobody promotes mediocre pasta. Nobody starts a lifelong relationship with mediocre pasta! I am drowning in a sea of weak marinara sauce and even weaker metaphors.

Fortunately, the words of Ira Glass helped stop the self-doubt:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Even if the difference is only marginal, my second plate of pasta is going to be better than my first. I just have to keep working to improve.

And then I remembered I have not updated my blog in months.

Batman: More than a Man?

Spoilers for The Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan and The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller follow.

I am bad at my job which is sad because I work in the low-stakes business of bagging groceries. Any time I receive a phone call asking for the store’s address, I give the caller the wrong location, so one less customer comes to the store. I bag grapes with raw chicken. Despite having worked at the same store for 8 years, I still have not learned what aisle pasta or toilet paper is down. And never ask me to check in the back.

Yet I am still better at my job than the voters for the Academy Awards. Ostensibly, the Oscar members work in the film industry, but they seem to have no understanding of filmmaking. Their greatest travesty was the 2009 award for best makeup which was won by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a film that primarily relies on CGI, while Hellboy II lost despite primarily using makeup to create its magnificent monsters.

The Academy has no idea what it is doing, so we shouldn’t care that Christian Bale never received an Oscar nomination for his work on The Dark Knight trilogy. Instead, let us culturally accept that his performance as Bruce Wayne might be the best work of his accomplished career. Continue reading Batman: More than a Man?

Dodgeball

A dodgeball-themed, fighting game, made with LibGDX. Dodge red balls. Pick up gray ones. Last man standing wins.

Desktop Controls

  • Move: AWSD or arrow keys
  • Attack: Left-click mouse
  • Pause: ESC

Mobile Controls

  • Move: Touch left side of screen
  • Attack: Touch right side of screen
  • Pause: Touch MENU

Versions

Climbing Towards the Summit

Some kids are afraid of the dark. Some are frightened by the monsters beneath their beds. Throughout elementary and middle school, I was afraid of B’s. If I got less than a 90 on a school assignment, I would get in trouble. C’s and D’s were unthinkable results that would have brought my parents’ full rage down upon me. And so I studied, not to learn, but for a high number on a piece of paper. While I succeeded in school according to traditional metrics, I never discovered a passion for any subject at an early age. Continue reading Climbing Towards the Summit

Challenge Thyself

My summer writing class was a joke.I was excited to have a professor and peers critique my essays. but all I heard was, “Excellent work!” And my success was not because I am the greatest writer of all time. My Thai classmate’s inability to speak English did not seem to impact her grades. She “earned” a 98 on her first essay despite asking, “Do we need to use paragraphs?”. And while my grade was two points better, I felt like an adult dunking on the kids’ hoop.

Low standards are a waste of time. Back in high school, I would have loved an easy A, but now I would rather grow by struggling to achieve a C. The least attractive quality a girl can have is being into me; I prefer the chase. Even during my free time, I like to be challenged. Continue reading Challenge Thyself

Crawling Through a River of Shit

The pre-cal textbook says, “The remainder of the proof is trivial and left as an exercise to the reader.” For once, this is not an over-exaggeration, at least for me. As someone who has taken differential equations and linear algebra, all the content in this course is trivial.

Midway through the professor’s explanation of the arcsine function, I want to slam my head against the table. In the words of Dante from Clerks, “I’m not even supposed to be here today.” Low-level math classes are my punishment for failing out of college. Continue reading Crawling Through a River of Shit

A Band from Nevada

Houston is a boring, sprawling suburbia where the heat’s oppression is matched only by the humidity. Throughout high school, I wanted to get far away, hopefully to a college on the coasts.

Yet over time, my disdain for Houston has transformed into love. Even though I only lived in England when I was in diapers, I still tell people I am English but only to seem mysteriously European in order to impress chicks. The truth is I was raised in and love Space City.

Everyone has an attraction to the place they are from, so numerous bands are heavily tied to their city of origin—the Beatles and Liverpool, Nirvana and Seattle, the Clash and London. However, no band’s artistic output is as closely linked to their hometown as the Killers. Their entire discography is about living in the shadow of Las Vegas. Continue reading A Band from Nevada

James Harden Is Second-Rate

There is always a better option than me. The job I wanted went to someone more qualified. Instead of dating me, she picked the better-looking, more-successful guy. My cat ran away, probably to an owner that pets her more.1)Or she got hit by a car.

But you don’t always have to be the best to win. LeBron James has been the best player in the NBA for the last 7 years. He doesn’t have 7 titles. Like the narrator in that Versus commercial said, life, “isn’t a math test. This is a completely different kind of test. One where passion has a funny way of trumping logic.” Anything could happen. Continue reading James Harden Is Second-Rate

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Or she got hit by a car.