Vincent Tran

A high schooler who's aspiring to be a mathematician. I'll be documenting my journey for future ideas and reference. I'll also be blogging about my philosophy (probably predominately). #100Days Daily Streak Length: 65 Mastodon here: Image below:

A couple of ideas that didn't pan out

Title: Why "humans"
Content: I originally used quotation marks around references to mankind as a collective species in order to highlight that humanity isn't very homogeneous and that ideas of unity behind us as a species wouldn't pan out. But then I realized there is a rigorous definition of humans: taxonomy. Furthermore, the intraspecies differences wasn't being compared to another species' internal differences. Although, other species aren't unified nor really seem to have a chance at unity. I need to reevaluate this idea of pride in one's species in the context of my new philosophy. I used to firmly believe in the ability of mankind to unite as a species because of our binary free-will. The idea of egalitarianism also was an influence as in this society with "species-alism", every human would be equal. Thus I saw this as a way of coordinating mankind's abilities for collective good in a practical way: by appealing to people's need for a sense of identity with pride in humanity. I also thought this would ensure world peace, as there would be no difference fundamental enough between people to justify war. Nowadays, I'm not so sure this could work since my philosophy assumes inequality.

Title: An Issue with Language
Original Draft: All language is based on emotion. First we can note that language depends on communication to convey meaning, but one can also ask what that message means ab infinitum. Therefore not all meaning have a rational definition (as asking what it means is rational), thus we must be accepting, thoughtlessly, something as the basis of our definitions. These are either emotions or ideas generated by free-will. Clearly when we are first created as babies, we are in the physical world. Since our brain, the memory device, was just made, we have no memories. Thus the first memories (which allow meaning to be defined in) must be from the physical world, i.e. emotional, or be metaphysical, i.e. from free-will. The former possibility would imply that empathy is near impassible as the physical world differs, resulting in differing emotions upon which meaning is formed.
Content: I was thinking about the Münchhausen Trilemma [1] and how humans must obviously have picked a horn of it, and concluded that we chose the dogmatic solution. I thought that since everyone starts out with a blank slate that is only impacted by the physical world, emotions must form the basis of everything you know. Thus fully understanding someone else would also require understanding the first principles that their language was defined in, the emotions. But this is impossible because of the difference in developmental stage, timing, and impossibility of encapsulating/replicating the conditions that they formed those emotions in. I didn't expand on this because I realized that the free-will I postulate exists implies that emotions isn't necessarily the basis of our language. Instead it is possible that the free-will is giving us a TRUE principle to begin with, and since the truth is universal, everyone could start with the same definitions for language.

I did this to show that I'm not infallible in my beliefs, the benefit of blogging (I didn't realize the flaws in the beliefs above until I sat down to type about it), and help others with the beliefs above dissuade them.



Personal identity is pretty stupid. Here I will use the definition of identity as "the relation established by psychological identification" [1], where psychological identification is the "psychological orientation of the self in regard to something (such as a person or group) with a resulting feeling of close emotional association" [1]. It follows easily that identity is irrational, as it is has "close emotional association" and emotions aren't rational (emotions evolved in the physical world, free-will is the source of intelligence in my philosophical system, free-will isn't physical). Furthermore, identity stymies intellectual discourse as the psychological association of oneself with an intellectual concept makes it much harder for one to change one's mind on a topic. It is obvious that we will need to change our mind on something at some point, as we are imperfect, and the point of intellectual discourse is to challenge your beliefs by putting it in the flame of other's rationality - without your own biases and mistakes - to strengthen everyone's beliefs. This is a problem that seems to be pervasive in the modern approach to conversation, especially political ones. This is expanded upon in [2]


Update 5/22/22

As I predicted, I didn't start the posts early. Since its somewhat late, I thought I'd just post about some software I use, but I felt that it was kinda cheap as a daily post, hence this. Today was pretty productive. I woke up around 11, and worked on some math proofs for a while. Eventually I found a theorem that made the math problem I was working on very easy. I also found this interesting website: My and my sister's phones were being cumbersome to use today, so I spent some time shopping for a new one after being unable to find a fix. For some reason, my phone doesn't have the issue anymore but my sister's still does. We've had the phones for quite a while now: about 4 years. I then realized that I had to sign up for my math classes at ACC next fall, and that I'd seriously blundered by being so late to sign up. The section for diffeq turned out ok, but my calc 3 section is quite bad. The professor is not highly rated, its about 30 minutes away, and I'd have to miss flex (my school has a period in which you can go to a different teacher to do whatever) twice a week for it. The other sections are worse. I've emailed my counselor and one of the professors of a full section; hopefully there is a nice resolution. I also did some vacation planning (my family is going to NY/Boston for about a week). It wasn't super productive because I did waste some time on YouTube and going through xkcd comics, but overall it was much better than yesterday and Friday.

Some Software I use

Almost everything here is open-source. I tried to put them in top:bottom as easy:hard

Signal, - a messenger app, secure, quite feature rich

Bitwarden - a password manager, well-respected in terms of security

uBlock Origin - an adblocker, very powerful (any visual element blocker, block connections to certain sites, many filters)

CleanURLs - an extension to remove parts of urls that connect you to the normal website but with trackers

SimpleLogin - a service to manage email aliases, i.e. create custom anonymous email addresses for each service and disable/enable addresses to manage spam

DuckDuckGo - green viable Google competitor that is private, warning: NOT open-source

NextDNS - a customizable, privacy respecting DNS provider (DNS providers are needed in order for your computer to know where a website's url goes to)

cryptpad - a google alternative that respects privacy

inkscape/gimp - graphic maker/editor respectively

thunderbird - email + calendar/tasks management

fruux - calendar syncing, questionable privacy

ungoogled-chromium - google chrome without google trackers, warning: no update system
firefox - more customizable, viable-in-the-market alternative to google chrome, helps reduce Google's browser monopoly
An interesting read:

LocalCDN - an extension to help reduce tracking (warning: can break some websites)


vim - text editor, very customizable, local

probably more, I'll add as I think of them

Updates 5/21/22

I've got some ideas for philosophical posts, but they are pretty complicated and nuanced positions, and it's too late for my mind to be functioning enough to develop those ideas so I'm just gonna do an update. I plan on starting them tomorrow in the noon (although I've thought that before and failed so...). Today was very unproductive. I woke up at around 2 and then watched YouTube for about 3.5 hours. I then worked on my driver's license course for about 2 unproductive hours (as in I played some games in between and did other stuff). I did worked on looking for colleges, but then wasted some time playing Yahtzee and on Reddit. Really quite unproductive.

Update 5/20/22

Today was the last day of school for our seniors, so a lot of seniors skipped and we had the senior prank day. The prank was just trashing the school. What a crass prank. It just put a bunch of strain on the cleaning staff and not that many people even saw it in person as people came in to help clean it up at 7 (school starts at about 9 for us). Although, I heard that a TV was destroyed, which is literally just property damage. There was literally no humor to this prank. Today was also the elections for environmental club, but I didn't realize the nomination form was on Instagram as I don't use it. I really wanted to get involved too! Unfortunate. It didn't really sink in that I'm basically never going to see these people ever again until about an hour ago, although I will see them at graduation it won't even be that much intersection. Crazy. I've also been working on summer plans/goals and an application to be like a student representative to district leadership. I also began making accounts for college apps. Starting something on the college apps was on the aforementioned todo list. Yesterday we made ice cream in my physics C class. It tasted a lot like BlueBell, which I thought was surprising. The day before that, in chemistry we tie-dyed stuff. Most people did shirts, but some did bandanas and socks. I didn't connect the idea of dying the shirt by section according to the method that we folded it, so my shirt looks like a color explosion. Also, I'm still open to book recommendations [1] seeing as I will have to go to the public library. I want to read some books like the Wealth of Nations or the Communist Manifesto, but I think that it might be better to read them after learning some economic theory in Macro.


Terminology for a Female Teen

So among the sort of GPA "bourgeois" (see [1] for some of my related thoughts on this), it's come up a couple times whether "female" should be an acceptable term for a female (in the gender sense) teen. Personally, I think that "female" should become an accepted term, but I do think there is a possible middle path to resolution. Note that I use female and male in the context of gender, not sex.

The obvious point of contention is "female" just sounding wrong to say in casual conversation. It is a pretty scientific term, and can be mixed up with female in the sex sense, which isn't very inclusive. It also sounds more dehumanizing as "female" is just quite a bit in the context of animals, so there is a connotation there. To address the former, I think that change has to begin with someone, so if it sounds weird because of the way culture has deemed language connotations, it would be worth it to use it differently to fix it. For the second point, I agree. Female is a very confusing term, but I think that it is easier to differentiate by just determining the context it is in. If it is scientific or medical, it probably is sex. If it isn't, it probably is gender (unless you know you're talking to a non-ally). The last point can be addressed by the cultural connotation solution of point 1, but also suggests that humans aren't animals. Ultimately, humans are still animals, just clearly unique ones. For instance, it is very easy to motivate the existence of most people by simply pointing to the possible creative value they have. However, there is less obvious or no value in animals. Granted, they help "humanity" through ecological principles, but beyond that, there doesn't seem to be all that much. Animals are quite diverse, so it'd be impossible to create some value function that can map every animal to value. So while I don't think that humans are exactly the same as animals (as "we" have complex things like advanced technology and science), we still are animals by the principles of evolution. So I think that the dehumanizing to animals argument implies too much that we aren't animals.

There is no good term to refer to a girl teen, as "girl" sounds like a very young female while woman implies more maturity and legality. Woman is also a very general term considering its massive age range, so I don't think that adding in more, very-varying ages will help the term. In a way, this is even more extreme for "girl". If we accept the use of "girl", which is what is pretty typical, then we are grouping together female toddlers all the way up to 19 year old females. Considering the biological and cognitive changes, this is a very large group, so using "girl" to cover it is very vague. Not to mention the fact that using "girl" in an implied romantic context makes one sound like a pedophile. Consider "there were a lot of girls at the game" in the perspective of a straight male. The only reason to note the gender as a male would be to express a certain romantic aspect to the females at the game, which is reasonable as a high school game would have high school female teenagers. However, this not-explicit romantic aspect to it makes it sound like one is attracted to the girls, which could include children. Some candidates for terms include chick (which is blatantly dehumanizing and sounds quite bad), madam, miss, ladies (too formal), lass (too informal and sounds condescending [like an authority figure talking down]), etc. To be fair, one could use these terms to normalize them, but I think they already have valid use cases that would be compromised through normalization. In contrast, female as a scientific term wouldn't be invalidated just because normal people use it.

Context might provide a solution though. In the example above, the implication of romance without explicit interest in the girls made it sound pretty weird, as if one had some secret interest in children. Suppose instead one explicitly adds a romantic aspect to it. For instance, "there's a hot girl" doesn't sound predatory because "hot" explicitly implies romance, and explicitly calling a young girl "hot" would be publicly admitting to pedophilia, so we can assume that the person wouldn't be saying pedophilic statements in public. Hence we infer that it isn't pedophilia. Also, "girlfriend" obviously explicitly has romance, but it is a very normal term. Although, I quite dislike this term because it is so easy to confuse with friends who happen to be female. I still think female should be used because I dislike the idea of just accepting bad language (female's denotation is ok). Feel free to leave counter-arguments in my guestbook, I'll publish them (unless explicitly asked not to) and try to address them in edits. In the case I change my mind, I'll just add a disclaimer of my new position at the top of this post and keep the rest.


Update 5/18/22

I'm starting to run out of ideas, so I'll be making updates in the meanwhile. Last update, I forgot to mention some things. Last Friday, I volunteered at an elementary school's spring carnival, so I had a late post on that day. Also, my driver's permit came in the mail that day. I did have some potential ideas for posts: more reflections. I might do a reflection on my personal development, but I think past posts already encapsulate this pretty well. I might also do a reflection on my social life of this past year, but I know my friends read this blog so I'd feel weird analyzing my social life. I'll probably still do it; maybe some other day though. I've also got an APUSH test, the last one of the year, tomorrow. I really should get some sleep in anticipation of that. I also was planning on trying to work out some math to coordinate a tie between me and the current rank 1, but idk that math can work out so we have equal GPAs. I'm gonna see if the current rank 3 has the possibility of a tie. I'm really interested in seeing what happens with graduation (as in speeches) and the interviews (the school interviews the top 10 of each school's senior class and post on their website pictures and their responses). I think valedictorian would've been more interesting for a tie, but salutatorian would also be interesting. It'd also help everyone else as everyone except rank 1's rank will go up 1. I showed my parents the website with the top 10, and they started telling me to try and take easier classes. They seemed to care about mental health as they brought up the high rates of teenage suicide. TBH, I don't really want this out of my parents right now. My mental health is adequate, but I think I need to be doing more, and my parents telling me to relax is antithetical to this. I really think that they just can't understand that happiness isn't my goal in life, which would explain my parents' goal for me. Yesterday was the awards ceremony for UIL. It was alright - basically what I expected from an awards ceremony. The rank one of the senior class' parents were there, and I got to talk to them. Thinking about it now, the contrast between his parents and mine was emphasized by this event. When I talked to his parents, they really seemed to be invested in their son's education. They congratulated me on the UIL stuff, which implied they were familiar with how UIL works, and also was able to pretty actively talk with me about extracurricular. His dad asked me about a kinda esoteric math competition (in response to me telling him I wanted to be a math major), which is quite the stark contrast to my parents who barely even know what UIL is. My mom thought it was a class LOL. Maybe it's just because the senior rank 1 has an older sibling while I'm the oldest sibling.


Being selfless is good. As I've discussed in [1], the inevitability of death makes any selfishness worthless as all the work will be pointless after you die. However, there are some nuances to being selfless.

For one, the idea of selflessness is to act without regard for yourself. Thus one can't be selfless towards one's friends and family, as any benefit they receive benefits you. This is true as the contrapositive is that you don't receive benefits from helping family/friends, and thus your friends/family don't either, which is true since friends/family should care about you, and you not receiving anything means they don't receive the benefit of you benefiting. It is also obvious as you care about friends/family, and their gains means that you should be happy for them, a benefit for you. Furthermore, in the case of certain relations like the parent-child one, acting positively towards the child as a parent should be a given as the parent decided to have the child (in most cases). Thus caring for the child isn't selfless, it is just one accepting your responsibilities. There is also a similar situation with friendship.

For two, the perfect ideal of selflessness is impossible to really reach. Any good act you do helps ease your conscience, so you are guaranteed to benefit. So there aren't really any fully selfless people with a conscience, and thus I don't think people can really have the attribute of selflessness. Instead I think actions can be categorized as selfless or not, as if two different people perform the same action (with references appropriately changed), then the category (selfless or not) should be the same. Thus whether the person performing the deed has a conscience or not shouldn't affect the selflessness or not of the action. This contrasts with the categorizing people as selfless or not, as this depends on whether they have a conscience or not. That being said, there are some people that can be perfectly selfless: people with antisocial disorder. Since they don't have a conscience, any selfless deed they do won't benefit their conscience, hence allowing them to truly have no regard for themself. Thus people with antisocial disorder are theoretically able to be selfless people.


Misconceptions of Creativity

I think that people generally misunderstand creativity. There's the obvious forms of creativity like with art and music, but not a lot of people realize that academics¹ requires a lot of creativity as well. In academics there is a lot of need for creativity as easy/obvious stuff is generally guaranteed to be thought up of and done before. The system of academic publishing, research, education, and peer review makes fields like math and engineering able to make progress, and the long history of these fields contribute to this effect. Thus a lot of creativity is needed to see what thousands of others haven't seen before. For instance, Galois made Galois Theory and solved a 350 year old problem by approaching the problem in a completely different, general, and creative approach that formed the basis for a lot of modern algebra. Many, many mathematicians had tried to solve this problem that he solved by proving it true, but Galois proved it false instead. As a simpler example, consider the Calkin-Wilf Tree. This is a mathematical tree that contains every single positive fraction exactly once with the very simple operations of going left from a fraction p/q as p/ p+q and right as p+q /q and 1/1 as the base. This is a very different, very elegant proof that the number of fractions is equal to the number of positive integers from the pervasive diagonalisation proofs [1]. Also consider how original artistic ability shown by AI like Dall E 2 [2]. As far as I know, there is no AI that has shown a similar aptitude to solving math or science or engineering problems. This suggests that art is easier to take the creativity out of with an algorithm, especially considering that AI developers are probably more interested in problems in math and science/computer science than artistic problems. This misconception is understandable though. The stereotypical sources of creativity tend to be beautiful in a visual or musical sense, which are easy to enjoy, while the creativity of academia require a mental appreciation of the beauty. Also, the "arts" require little skill to appreciate, any typical person can see or hear the art and enjoy it. This is not the case with math or science, which require background knowledge. Unfortunate. As an aside, I really hate the misconception that math is just about computing or is just route work. IMO, math requires the most creativity of anything. Math needs a lot of abstracting ability, and the ability to think of new ways to put those ideas and concepts together (i.e. creativity) is necessary as well. I'm sure this need for creativity is there for every field at some high-level, so nowadays I try not to judge people's choice of field.

Creativity is also typically associated with child-like youth. I imagine a common experience for parents is the amazement at what "crazy" idea their child comes up with, and reminisce on the lack of that in adults. This is a common lament of the school system: that it destroys creativity. Yet this isn't really the case. For one, creativity seems to be an intrinsic attribute of people. I believe free-will is the source of our creativity, and the evolution of free-will on a spectrum implies that all of us have a genetic level of free-will, and thus creativity. Hence schools can't "destroy" creativity. Also, it is natural that as we learn more about what is and what isn't possible that ideas that seem to be creative aren't thought of. In my mind, the icon of this child-like creativity is the unicorn. But as we learn more about the world, we learn that unicorns don't exist. Thus it would be silly to be creative with a unicorn. Also, schools help us specialize by allowing us to learn more depth about certain topics, especially in university. Thus there is less ability for others not in that field to appreciate the creativity in the field, as they don't understand it. Thus the child-like creativity is less obvious because of schools, but it isn't gone. As established above, these fields need a lot of creativity, so the creativity of a child is just being transferred to something else.

¹By academics, I mean research.


Update 5/15/22

This is going to be a short post as I've been trying to fix my sleep schedule. Yesterday I went to a birthday party, and so I didn't get home until around 11 pm, hence the very late post. It didn't help that it was a long post. I also worked on adding stuff for my personal experiences/advice/resources for school, which you can see as a tab in the header. I didn't have the normal high school GPA calculator made until today, and adjusting it to have an extra semester was quite annoying. It was also annoying to have to sign into Google since I've been adjusting my computer to summer mode, which has no need for my School stuff. I also discovered that I messed up some stuff due to me making some stylistic changes, so I had to go and fix that. This weekend my dad and I cemented the plans for learning to drive. I would finish the online course and the "written" test, and in August near the beginning of the school year I would start driving physically with a driving school. My dad is very concerned about safety, so he doesn't want me to drive (even with him) unless its with the driving school.

Reflections on My Junior Year Classes Part 2

Physics C with Mr. Holland - This class is normally following a presentation and then Mr. Holland showing us some derivations of formulas. I think that Mr. Holland gives a decent amount of leeway (i.e. free blocks), especially considering the amount of content he covers. I think that a working intuitive understanding of calculus is definitely needed as the class relies on infinitesimals quite a bit. We started the beginning of the year with a calculus review, so don't worry if you forgot anything over the summer. Some lectures are pretty cool because of the experiments he shows us. Electricity and magnetism is especially cool. I think that Mr. Holland wants to teach people the heuristics to actually arrive at the problem, and people do pay attention to try and learn, but I think that Physics C is somewhat of an amalgamation of a bunch of different concepts with differing notations, which leads to problem-solving being very unintuitive. The concepts aren't just physics concepts, but they are also mathematical concepts. For instance, there are ideas from linear algebra like dot/cross products (hence the right hand rule) and ideas from multivariable calculus like Stoke's Theorem that are simply hidden behind tricks to do them. For instance, even after having learned Physics C and laws like Gauss', the Wikipedia article for them are near incomprehensible. This isn't really the case for subjects like calculus. This makes a complete conceptual understanding very difficult when the teacher is basically hiding content because it is out of the scope of the class. I would say the Collegeboard's approach to this class was to get a bunch of distinct physics concepts, mix in some math, and then make problems require problem-solving skill. Thus the questions require knowing all the content, selecting the best method/approach, and then trying to figure out how to use it. This IMO makes it the hardest AP class as we require both learning a bunch of content that is conceptually incomplete and requires problem-solving skills. Not only that, but there are some many concepts to know that identifying an approach is somewhat arduous. This would explain the shorter than BC, but longer than APUSH mcq section. In terms of grading, Mr. Holland is very, very, very generous with grading. His tests are frequently curved so that 70+ are 100s. My advice for this class is to try and self-study it by using the textbook as well. I know someone who does this, and they seem to have a pretty good conceptual understanding of it, and I've looked at some of the textbook and it seems quite comprehensive.

Psyc with Mr. Amundsen - This class was very, very chill. Almost every day was the same: take the reading quiz, get a lecture on the last reading, free time. The days that deviated from this were for assignments/tests; the assignments were to read a passage that explored more thoroughly an important psychological study than the textbook covered. Mr. A was also a very chill guy and expressed views common to a lot of the younger generation (like hating his job, wanting to relax, etc.). This is kind of surprizing considering he is near retirement. In terms of grading, the class is extremely easy to get a 100 in. The biggest grade weight in the class (although not by much) are the reading quizzes. These are pretty easy as many are straight forward from the book, all the quizzes are open-note and score up to a 120%, and there are just a lot of them. The tests are curved nicely, with around 10-15 points linear curve. He also does flashcards as a test grade that are very straightforward as vocab. In terms of CB philosophy, I think they literally just make this a vocab test. I know a lot of people say this about biology, but biology requires knowing vocab and an understanding how biologists would actually do science, which makes the frqs quite challenging. Both the frqs and mcqs for psychology are literally just asking about whether you know or not the content. Thus I believe this is one of the most meritocratic classes, albeit boring. My advice would be to just take notes and do the reading everyday. I would also have fidelity to Mr. A as he has an understanding of psychology - and thus knows how best to teach it - and has a lot experience teaching it.

Calc BC with Mrs. Lim - This class was pretty typical. We had a lot of content to cover, so everyday was basically the same with lecturing the entire period. It isn't just lecturing though, she has us do problems alongside the notes. However, since I did AB last year, most of the year was just review of AB and was just me doing homework or something else. At the beginning of the year, we consistently had homework to do as well, but this eventually just faded away. The homework was pretty easy as we have 2 attempts and it was completion anyways (although that might just be for my current year). Mrs. Lim is also a very relatable teacher: she hates her job, wants a lot of money, cynical about life, and is kinda high-energy. She also is pretty funny, although sometimes she really wants to go faster to cover content and so will roast kids that ask delaying questions. But she does try to teach people the rationale behind things, implore kids to problem-solve, and adds context to the lectures. So I'd say she's a mixed bag of a teacher. I think she could try to more ruthless in terms of speed but then kinder and more frequent in answering questions and teaching heuristics. In terms of grades, Mrs. Lim might be the most stringent of all my teachers this year. For instance, she consistently wishes for no need for a curve on tests. She also has quizzes that are only a few questions but heavily dependent on not making silly mistakes like notation. Although, she is pretty lax on others things like homework and is somewhat consistent at dropping grades. In terms of the philosophy, I think that CB really jammed a bunch of content into this class. This class is probably the most like an average math class: little problem-solving skill needed and a lot of content to cover. I think that the biggest skill needed for this class is the ability to learn quickly, so I think this is one of the more meritocratic classes. My advice would be to just put in the work, put in the hours, and learn quickly.

APUSH with Mr. Harper - This class was also pretty typical. Most of the class we had a lecture with little participation needed. I think most of the class just worked on other stuff or played games. The lectures felt pretty unconnected to everything else we did like reading quizes and the AP mcqs that were on our test. Almost every week we would have a reading quiz, and then a chapter to read for next week. The reading quizzes were mcqs or saqs. The quizzes were open-note. The mcq ones had a group aspect to it: after the quiz while he was grading we would work with our table to try and get a group consensus on the answers, and for every correct group answer we would get an extra point. So it was possible to get a 110 on quizzes. This was not the case for SAQs. I think he drops a reading quiz every marking period, which is nice. We also had study guides, which were basically some vocab and questions of the chapter. I think that Mr. Harper is a pretty empathetic teacher, but the kindness is more for individual cases than as a class. My advice for him would be to accept the job as a university professor. UT Austin has offered him a professor position a couple of times now, but he has rejected it. I don't remember why he did, but I think that lecturing indepth about a certain topic, individual attention, and expressed dislike of the regulations imposed by high school teaching would make him teaching college a better fit. In terms of grading, we have a decent leeway as he drops a reading quiz, have a free summative (the study guides), a square root curve on tests, and a curve structure that supports low scorers. In terms of CB design philosophy, I think that this class really wants to teach us historical thinking skills. The short timing on mcqs (1 minute per) suggests that they aren't trying to test our recall or problem-solving ability, rather they are testing our intuition of history. This is really emphasized with the FRQ and SAQ prompt wording (compare and contrast, causation, explain, etc.). My advice would be to practice a lot. Unfortunately, not a lot of mcq problems are released. I would also recommend Onramps (although I didn't take it due to schedule conflict). Onramps gives 2 semesters of credit and I think is easier than APUSH. Another option is to take it at ACC over the summer, or to enroll in ACC cohorts and do USH over one semester. I would recommend the former as it saves a lot of time and gives you options (cohorts locks in aspects of your schedule).

Overall, I feel like my junior year teachers were much more generous with extra credit than past year teachers, more cynical, chill, and more susceptible to mob-influence (trying to please the students). This results in a lighter atmosphere and more empathy. If you've got a question about a class, feel free to leave it in my guestbook (do note that if you do ask a question, I will probably publish it, unless you ask not to).

Reflections on My Junior Year Classes Part 1

This year, I took Computer Science III, AP Chem, AP Stats, AP Eng Lang, AP Physics C, AP Psyc, AP Calc BC, and APUSH (in period order). This is basically going to be a review of my classes and advice as I'm basically done now, so I'm just going to leak my school; I go to Cedar Ridge High School. This is going to be two parts because I didn't realize how much I had to say on my classes.

CSIII with Mr. Prado - This class was pretty chill. The projects were relatively simple and directly accessed the data structure we learned about. Since the teacher was very chill, there were a lot of people who didn't do their work. This combination lead to a lot of time for these projects, and since they weren't extremely large projects, we had a lot of free time. I also had some friends in the class. Thus I had a lot of fun in this class. I do want to note the number of the top 10 in this class; 1, 2, 5, and 10 were in my class, 3 and 9 are in the other period, and there could be more. The funny part is, only one of them wants to major in CS. So about half the top 10 are in CS, but only 1 wants to actually major in it. I don't think this review will be very helpful to any future CRHS students since Mr. Prado is going to be leaving next year. I thought he was a good teacher just in a bad context. Whenever he taught, he tried to guide people through the problem-solving process and try to explain how we got from nothing to the solution, which is clearly good. He also was very empathetic and more relatable in terms of school advice since he was relatively young. The bad context is the kids in his class. I'd say over 90% of his kids don't pay attention to his lectures. Seeing as the problem-solving process requires the learner to participate, this good quality is counteracted by this. My advice to Mr. Prado would be to try and keep stricter reins on your class: it's good to have empathy but there is a certain point in which there's just being taken advantage of.

Chemistry with Mrs. White - This class was pretty fun. However, I think that the people in my class played a big part in this. They were attentive and participated in class, yet also funny. This doesn't really seem to be the case for the other AP Chem period, so if you're a sophomore/junior looking to take AP Chem next year, try to get some friends/good people and hope to have the same period. Mrs. White is a teacher who is cognizant of her position, and so she likes to make comments in lectures that contribute to the fun atmosphere. There are a few things she is very serious about though, and test security/integrity is one of them. She also tried to teach problem-solving skills, but this focus only began in the second semester, so maybe she'll try to begin teaching the heuristics earlier in the year. She is also very understanding as she had sympathy for the decreased learning from the online year we had sophomore year for us juniors and the cut year for the seniors. Thus we went slower, which led to us being behind and having to self-study some units. I don't think this will be a problem for the future kids though. Mrs. White is also very focused on us learning the content. She is very lenient on due dates, grading of most things, and unconcerned (sometimes for the worse) about people's grades. These are very good things are the point of grades is to access learning, and thus learning should be the focus. In terms of grades, each marking period is mostly just practice worksheets as competition (dailies), lab reports and quizzes (formatives), and tests (summatives). The tests are curved based on max(sqrt(raw)*10, raw/.85). The lab reports are graded quite attentively, so make sure to review the rubric carefully. In terms of the difficulty, I think that Collegeboard's philosophy towards AP Chem is much more oriented towards problem-solving. I think that the majority of the test relies on a few overarching concepts that we have to apply very cleverly. For instance, the balanced equation's usefulness permeates almost every unit and is, to be frank, quite overpowered. Thus I think that this class is the least meritocratic. Even if you work hard and put in the hours, it is still possible that you don't figure our the problems. My advice is to grind a lot of mcq problems to try and learn heuristics.

Statistics with Mrs. Overman - This class and subject were quite different from the usual math class and just class in general. To start, this class was flipped, i.e. we watch the lecture online (given by the teacher) and then takes notes (fill in the blanks, also given). Then we answer questions online as homework. Instead of notes in class, we do an assignment. Sometimes it's an activity, other times is a practice problem over the topic. It's also quite different in how stats is very self-contained. Most other math classes, the next unit has some degree of independence of the units prior, instead there is a heavy reliance on past math classes. Instead, AP Stats had content from the beginning of the year laying the foundations for the latter year's content. For instance, understanding data types explains which test for inference to choose, probability is needed for a conceptual understanding of how we infer things, etc. There is also a massive use of context. In other math classes, context doesn't matter at all. In stats, context is basically need to get any points. Thus the applications are much more clearly shown. In terms of the teacher, I think that Mrs. Overman really tries to get people to understand why the content is the way it is. Unfortunately, this might be confusing for people who don't remember the very basics like the vocabulary she is using to justify why it is the way it is. Also, AP stats is more application oriented in the greater context of statistics, so trying to explain statistical theory is going to be hard to understand. This is more of a flaw in Collegeboard then in her teaching (or maybe it shows her inability to adapt to her kids). I don't want to comment much on her character as she really liked me, but she is fairly uncensored. Sometimes she asks us political questions (taken from a statistical viewpoint) and says some out-of-pocket stuff. It is funny though. Also, she is quite organized as she has the entire year planned out from the first day. In terms of grading, she isn't the most generous, but she gives a decent amount of extra credit/leeway. I think it is enough to allow for a few bad days, but not enough to allow no studying. She also allows a notecard to take in and use during the test, which is quite generous. She also gives reviews before tests/quizzes that are very, very, very helpful. In terms of AP questions, I think that AP stats is generally more oriented towards knowing/memorizing the content. Interpretation and procedure for analysis is especially important on the frq. There is some problem-solving ability needed for the 6th question on the frq, the investigative task. Each year Collegeboard tries to throw something approachable, yet never seen before on the AP test in. I think this is probably one of the more meritocratic classes. My advice is to make sure to really understand early year stuff.

English Lang with Shultz/Maschka - The class varied a bunch depending on teacher, so I'll comment separated by teacher.
Shultz - Mr. Shultz was a very funny, relatable, empathetic, and liberal teacher. He had a very, and I mean very, casual relationship with his students. Our class had people who would actually engage in learning, which made class just so much better and provided many hilarious moments, such as once when a kid roasted Shultz in front of a teacher evaluator. He was pretty lax on deadlines, willing to give thoughtful feedback, and understanding of people's situation. From the get-go, his humor was very appropriate for our generation. He hated on capitalism, complained about power dynamics, sought egalitarianism, etc. This also permeated when we actually had serious conversations. I do have something I didn't like about him, and that is how sometimes he just made assertions with no evidence or reasoning assuming it evident for our generation. Sometimes I disagreed with him, so I would've been curious as to what his reasoning was. I also found his motivation to teach very inspiring: he wanted to make a lasting impact on the world and improve critical thinking to reverse the degenerating situation "mankind" is in. IN terms of grading, basically everything that wasn't an essay was completion. He had the grading scale of 0-6 for essays (like the AP rubric), but he also gave n+, which is basically n.5 (i.e. 5+ = 5.5 = midway between 5 and 6 grade). The grade was 6 was 100, 5 was 90, etc.
Maschka - I think that Maschka more embodies the college professor than high school teacher. From the number of degrees she has, it really seems like she has a passion and expertise in the liberal arts/humanities. Yet she really seems to be bad at communication. Her lessons are very different from the other teachers, directions unclear, seemed to be unable to explain answers when I asked her about them, etc. Her class was very unstructured; basically every class was just her meeting with people to discuss things and us working on stuff. In terms of her grading, she was quite strict at the start. She seems to be taking more of a lax approach to grades recently, so maybe that will be the case for you future kids.
In terms of the AP test, I think that you've just got to hope for something you'll able to write about on frq. The mcq can be pretty though as well. Overall, this class is very unmeritocratic as there really is no key to doing well other than luck and skill at English, something acquired after many years of use. My advice is to just be a well-informed, educated individual.

For you Pessimists

I know that if we look at our history, our future as a "species" can seem rather bleak. However, all is not lost. Consider our origins. Life began as simple cells who's sole purpose was to accumulate resources to reproduce. Naturally, there were finite resources, leading to competition. Thus the ideas of Moloch [1] and "my" thoughts on competition [2] are in play. Yet that same chaotic, selfish, net-negative life led to creatures with societies in which ideas of a greater good (such as in ants and bees), challenges to corruption of authority (primates' social structure), etc. can exist. Even though I hate society, it has allowed for complex, unnatural coordination to occur as even though there are subjective in vs out groups, the organization of this competition at least leads to the possibility of ingroup domination and breaking of Moloch, unlike the self-destructive competition of many individuals. Thus even though "human" history seems rather bleak, in the context of the history of life its been quite the radical evolution. Us "humans" have ideas of justice, morality, ethics, philosophy, beauty, planning, rationality, free thought, etc. A few million years ago these ideas would've been nowhere to be found (on Earth at least). Consider how incredible the idea of science and education and even paying your taxes are. All of these we take for granted nowadays, yet none of these actions have an obvious benefit to the individual's reproductive success or even material comfort in one's lifetime, yet they have become quite ubiquitous with good in modern culture (although there is disagreement, no one is proposing a full return to bacteria-hood). Therefore there is hope for humanity. This is the strongest argument for free-will on a spectrum. As we use our free-will to fight complexity, we build more free-will, leading to life more able to live by ideals. Thus perhaps someday in the future we CAN have a utopia. We just aren't ready for it now.


Update 5/11/22

My last AP test was yesterday, and it feels quite strange to think that junior year is basically over for me now as I'm in 7 AP classes and my other non-AP class is already very easy. I wanna try fixing my sleep schedule though, so I'm going to make an update today. Today I didn't really do much, in school or at home as I felt pretty tired. Today I also relearned how to play Super Smash Bros. I'm not really an avid fan of it; the last time I played was like 3 years ago and it was only a couple of games. It was pretty fun, but I wish the players' characters were easier to track/find. Also, I though that calc on Monday had a pretty manageable mcq, but I definitely botched some frq parts because of a typo in my calculator. Yesterday, I had English Lang and Physics C. There were a lot of people for lang, so it took quite a while. We finished at like 12:30 when we started at 8 for a 3 hour 15 minute exam. Thus I had to really rush to get lunch before Physics C started; I know someone who just skipped lunch because they had lang and physics c too. I thought the Physics C test was easier than I expected. Maybe its just overconfidence or the Dunning Kruger effect or something. Also, for some reason I found E&M to be easier than Mechanics, which is atypical for me. In terms of testing experience, we only got a 10 minutes break in between both tests and had to stay afterschool to finish. Today, there were two fire alarms, but they were just drills. For some reason, the construction crew seems unable to communicate when they are testing the system. I really feel bad for the AP testers at that time - constantly having to get interrupted.

Digital People

In the process of applying for the Atlas Fellowship, they had us read this article [1] and provide a counterargument to the author's claim. In my response I tried to point out a mistake in their reasoning, but I've got my own thoughts about it.

The gist of the article is that the development of the "singularity", or digitizing people's minds, will revolutionize the intellectual economy, social sciences, and the ability of "mankind". Instead, I think that digital people will most revolutionize communication.

If we're able to upload our minds to computers, then what is preventing us from simply merging every mind? If our neural states are converted into digital bits, then whatever data structure they're stored as must be able to have more elements added. Thus brains should be able to merge. Thus we will be able to perform computer science data processing techniques on them. Imagine the power of machine learning with the pool as all human knowledge. The possbilities would be endless from decision making to encapsulating human nature. Just consider the incredible successes that ants have made due to their essentially pooled thinking: they've used agriculture, have societies and roles, and have an ability to self-sacrifice (suggesting some level of ethical reasoning). Furthermore, if we are able to qualitatively rank ideas/thoughts, imagine the homogeneity produced from AI realizing in full the extent of this and then having this taught to our children or simply used for our own lives (people realize the AI is right, they accept it into their lives). This could greatly cripple creativity, yet could lead to ant-like productivity out of humans. We could have world peace as everyone understands one another, we could have unity as a species, we could achieve incredible things at a scale and cooperation unheard of. This also brings into question the sense of self: if this amalgamation of brains has other brain in it, is it also us? Also consider the potential crisis if AI, in processing all our brains, finds major flaws and biases in our thinking and then relays that to us. Many, many people may then have to rethink their entire identities or be contradictory. Admittedly, this would be a good event as I value the truth, but it would cause a lot of suffering for those in the audience who value less suffering.

Furthermore the need for communication will be nonexistent as we could simply access what the other's brain is trying to communicate in this giant brain pool, or even just access their brain separately if there is sufficient open-source (although this is rather unlikely as enough open-source to do this allows individuals to make brain pools). Thus we can truly test whether Wittgenstein was right in Tractatus that all philosophical issues come from linguistic barriers. We can also test whether binary free-will really exists or not by running two uploads in the same environment and checking their development. Thus we would really be able to empirically prove philosophical statements. This would be a revolutionary change in how philosophy operates. This does present an issue though, and that is what happens when computers make errors. If the computers with digital people are running at the scales the author proposes, any level of mistake that occurs can possibly cause people to change. And if this occurs, what then? Are they are new person? It is reminiscent of the ship of Theseus in that as these mistakes occur, bits of your uploaded mind will be replaced with its opposite, slowly changing you. And these errors are inevitable too: whether it be effects from bit flips due to quantum effects or cosmic events like in Single Event Upsets [2]. These issues about the self would be brought to head, demand confrontation, and a revolution if digital people were to arise.