Audrey C. ’24 – MIT Admissions At MIT Admissions, we recruit and enroll a talented and diverse class of undergraduates who will learn to use science, technology, and other areas of scholarship to serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. Sun, 03 Sep 2023 21:56:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 four ways to unstrip a screw Sun, 03 Sep 2023 21:41:09 +0000 It’s work week at tΞp!01 pronounced 'Xi' like the Greek letter, tΞp is the co-ed fraternity formerly known as tEp.

While work week in Greek life systems outside the MIT bubble might refer to something else,02 what sounds like an incredibly draining week of 'working' on a manicured persona (i.e. learn sorority chants/dances, gossip and slander your peers) in hopes of securing a bid (an invitation to join a sorority/fraternity) work week at tΞp is what it sounds like: a week dedicated to working on the house.  tΞp resides in a beautiful hundred year old brownstone that overlooks the Charles River on the north and the glittery high rises of Back Bay Boston on the south. We have an industrial kitchen with the most powerful burners I’ve used in my life (finally something hot enough for proper wok cooking), five flights of spiraling staircases adorned with intricately carved wooden railings, eclectic murals and sculptures in every nook and cranny, and of course, friendship and love and community.


The beautiful hundred year old brownstone needs to be maintained! The industrial burners need to be degunked! Nooks and crannies accumulate dust and dead bugs and who knows what brown mystery substances! Friendship and love and community thrive more in spaces that aren’t active heath hazards!03 as a former resident of Tetazoo, where dirt and grime were constant companions, I would like to propose a distinction between wholesome grungy communal living and active health hazards On-campus dorms may have facilities workers to tidy up after filthy undergrads, but at FSILGs04 fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups , that job falls solely on residents. While there is great value in giving twenty-something-year-olds the right to self governance and full ownership over their living space, it’s no surprise that frats have a bad rep for being gross.

That’s where tΞp work week (and also weekly house chores throughout the school year) comes in! Each resident takes on various housekeeping tasks that range from deep cleaning communal spaces to home repairs to purging ancient but useless relics lying around the house. Anything to keep the beautiful hundred year old brownstone beautiful for another century! Or at least for the next year.

I think a mouse died in my walls the other week. Another resident spotted a mouse scurrying across the kitchen. Our hole-y basement is probably the reason why tΞp has been looking real nice for mice lately, so one of my work week tasks has been to patch up holes in the basement. Armed with DIY youtube, spackling, mesh, and three different kinds of caulk, I fill in a couple of suspiciously mouse sized holes with the same finesse as Tiktok landlords.

“Looking for holes has made me notice, well, that it’s kind of a wonder that this house is still upright.”

“That’s what happens when you get crusty engineering students MacGyvering home repairs for over fifty years!”

“I guess if it works, it works. Though they probably said ‘if it works, it works’ every year for the past fifty years and that’s why we’re stuck with the house in this state.”

One prominent hole that can’t be covered with a pile of spackling is the hole between the bottom of the basement door and the ground. There used to be an intact door sweep covering that hole, but the door sweep rubber has since degraded and the not-so-intact sweep needs to be replaced. This is done by taking out the screws holding the sweep to the door:

door with a broken door sweep. the four vixible screws holding the door sweep panel are circled in red

screws circled in red

This could’ve been a quick fix especially with one of tΞp’s power drills, but alas! Screws sometimes do an annoying thing called stripping, which is when the screw head gets so worn down that you can’t remove it using a screwdriver anymore. This occurs when the tip of a screwdriver slips on the screw head instead of actually rotating the screw. Sometimes you’re not using the right kind of screwdriver. I think in my case, the screws are so rusted into the door that the force it takes to break the rust binding exceeds the force a screwdriver bit can apply to the screwdriver head before slipping.

You can see below that if you strip a Phillips head screw (the ones with cross shaped slots) enough, the cross shaped slot becomes a circle. Phillips heads screws are especially notorious for stripping because the cross shape creates multiple separate points of contact, all of which must be interfaced upon snugly to prevent stripping. It’s also much easier to strip a screw with a power drill than a manual screwdriver, since power drills rotate quickly and strip the screw before you notice that happening.

a picture comparing a normal phillips screw with a stripped screw (the screw slot has been worn down, making it difficult to remove)left: lightly stripped screw. right: badly stripped screw. photo courtesy of Toolever

Of course the five screws on the sweep have to be old rusty Phillips head screws. Two hours later, I end up using four different methods and all sorts of tools to extract the five screws.

a photo of screw extracter bits, safety glasses, dremel, drill, flathead bit, phillips head bit, hammer, screwdrivers, pliers

mildly aesthetic spread on the tΞp work bench

Method 1: Be lucky

Time taken: 10 seconds

Power drills usually have multiple speed/torque settings, where speed and torque are inversely proportional to each other because that’s how motors work! I fiddle around with the settings until I find one that successfully extracts screw #1.

Method 2: Dremel a flathead slot

Time taken: 40 minutes with a phone break

me wearing safety glasses and ear plugs and dremeling into the screw. orange sparks are flying out.

can’t forget the PPE (personal protective equipment)!!

Unfortunately screw #2 (and all the ones that come after it) is a lot more rusted than screw #1. I badly strip screw #2 as I try to extract it with the power drill. Apparently one way to get out a stripped screw is to dremel a deeper slot (essentially a flathead slot) across the screwhead, and then use a flathead screwdriver to get the screw out. The rationale is that flathead screws strip less easily than Phillips head screws.

different kinds of screwheads: flat, square, phillips, security, torx

My DIY flathead screw gives just enough leverage to dislodge it from the door. This method isn’t foolproof though. The dremel blade cuts a V-shaped slot into the screw head, which doesn’t interface with a flathead screwdriver as nicely as a U-shaped slot would, which makes the DIY flathead screw prone to stripping.

diagram showing that dremels make v shaped cuts which still strips the screw, compared to a u shape that a flathead normally has

So I just dremel an even deeper slot, unscrew the screw a bit more until it strips, and repeat. Once I can’t get the slot any deeper, I dremel a flathead slot in along the other axis of the  cross created by the Phillips head. And once I’ve worn down the second slot as well, the screw has been extracted enough such that I can use a pair of pliers to get it out all the way.

chewed up screw

the aftermath. nail polish is illusionist from mooncat

Method 3: Hammer a flathead slot

Time taken: 15 minutes

The dremel is quite loud (hence the ear protection), prompting a fellow tΞp to lean out of the second story window to see what’s going on. Apparently she was tasked with replacing the weatherstripping on the sides of the same door during last year’s work week, which also involved extracting a ton of rusted Phillip head screws. She recommends hammering a manual flathead screwdriver into the screw to increase contact between the screwdriver and screw. Then use the power of your bulging arm muscles to unscrew the screw.

hammering a screwdriver into a screw

It actually works!

Method 4: Use a screw extractor bit

Time taken (excluding trying methods 3 and 2 beforehand): 5 minutes

Time taken including: 1 hour

Screw #4 is a real doozy. It’s as if the rust gods blessed screw #4 with ALL THE RUST. My bulging arm muscles are too tired and not bulging enough for method 3 to work, and method 2 is a flop as well. I’m back at the tΞp work bench looking for a bigger flathead screwdriver when I notice a rather inconspicuous black plastic container in a corner.

Apparently we’ve had screw extractor bits specifically for extracting stripped screws this WHOLE TIME?!

They’re quite easy to use: You first insert the screw extractor bit into a power drill with the pointy end sticking out to gouge a large hole into the screw head. Then flip the screw extractor bit to use the ridged cone shaped end (pictured below) to “catch” onto the screw head.

screw extractor bit dug into a stripped screw

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I also remove screw #5 using this handy dandy bit that I wish I knew existed two hours ago.

Here ya go! Four different ways to remove a stripped screw.

And here’s to a year of living in a beautiful hundred year old brownstone house that also happens to be functional and clean!


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flowers of fire and light Thu, 17 Aug 2023 00:19:27 +0000 My favorite poi spinning pattern is the four-petaled antispin flower. If you do it neatly, it traces out the path parameterized by these equations:

x = cos(t) + 3/4 cos(-3t)

y = sin(t) + 3/4 sin(-3t)

figure showing antispin flowers graphed on the cartesian plane

From “Parametric Equations at the Circus: Trochoids and Poi Flowers” by Eleanor Farrington

The oblong “petals” are created by spinning the poi head in the opposite direction to that of the circle traced out by your arm, hence the term “antispin.” In other words, if your arm is moving clockwise, your wrist would be rotating counterclockwise. By modifying the number of petals, direction, timing, plane of movement, geometry, and other parameters, variations on the basic flower pattern encompasses a whole family of poi tricks. It’s fun to nerd out about the mathematical intricacies of poi spinning, but that’s a whole another topic that deserves its own blog.

I love the way the flower imagery bridges rigid geometry with the living and organic, inspiring me to recreate this pattern as LEDs on a printed circuit board (PCB). This would be a relatively straightforward project that would allow me to make all the mistakes that a beginner PCB designer would and to learn how to fix them.

Laying out the PCB

Having learned how to use Kicad from 2.67905 Electronics for Mechanical Systems II last semester, I use it here to design the PCB. The first step is to lay out all of the components in a schematic. My main components include a USB-C port to supply power, an ATtiny microcontroller to control the LEDs, and of course a bunch of LEDs. For this project, Kicad’s built in library already included all of the symbols for the components that I’m using.

Here we also specify how each component is connected to each other. Pins labeled with the same name indicate that they will be connected by a trace (copper wiring) later on.

printed circuit board schematic that shows what is connected to what

The symbols on the schematic can represent a family of similar components, but how these components attach to the board can vary across manufacturers and variations of the same part. For example, through hole resistors and surface mount resistors can have the same resistance and therefore serve the same purpose. The former would require two holes, whereas the latter would require two solid copper pads.

The exact pattern of the exposed copper on the board is called a footprint, which needs to be specified for each component. I’m hoping that Kicad would already have all the footprints for the components that I was planning to use, but alas no. I can’t find a suitable footprint for my USB-C port anywhere on the Internet, so I figure out how to make my own by referencing the part’s datasheet:

Once the footprints are specified, Kicad can “translate” the schematic into a board layout. The actual shape of the board, the location of the components, and how the traces are routed remain an exercise to the reader (or in this case, the maker?). Properly labeled schematics mean that at this step, Kicad only lets you connect two pins with a trace if you’re supposed to.

kicad board layout withe the traces and stuff laid out

the board is supposed to resemble the diamond mode flower, but here it resembles the box mode flower because rotating the board actually makes it cheaper to fabricate

Ideally, your traces should be routed “correctly” at this point of the process, BEFORE you send it to the PCB manufacturer. Double check that everything is connected to what it’s supposed to. Triple check it.

Or not, and suffer later. :’)

Rerouting traces on the physical board

Three weeks after I place my PCB order, I finally receive it in the mail! Because I want to get these boards completed as quickly as possible to give them out as gifts, I’ve opted for the manufacturer to solder many of the components for me. Five copies of my board, getting some of the components soldered, and shipping total to about $40.

The joy of finally holding my physical boards turn into horror when I realize that I connected the LEDs to the RESET pin of the microcontroller. I could have chosen literally any other pin (except for ground and power, which are more obvious to avoid), and it wouldn’t have been a problem.

i connected D25, which is the label for the first LED to the reset pin in the kicad schematic

noooooo (D25 is the label that corresponds to the input of the first LED)

Luckily, Winnie, the amazing LA06 lab assistant who reviewed everyone’s PCBs in 2.679, reassures me that it won’t be necessary to pay another $40 and wait three weeks for revised boards. She shows that by severing the misrouted trace with an Xacto knife and soldering a thin magnet wire from LED end of exposed trace to the correct microcontroller pin, you can reroute the board by hand.

Rerouting traces in software

When I turn on the board for the first time, I realize I messed up the LED routing too. Five LEDs are placed out of order, which would disrupt the flow of the flower pattern. My first instinct is to dig up and rewire two traces per misplaced LED, for a total of 50 traces across all of the boards, but there’s a much faster solution here.

Unlike the microcontroller pin mishap, this one can be fixed with code! The ATtiny microcontroller is basically a more lightweight Arduino and can be programmed in a very similar way.

This array tells us the order that each LED is “actually” supposed to be in. Basically, what the microcontroller sees as LED #26 should actually be the 21st to light up.

line of code that allowed me to fix the misrouted leds

based on my limited knowledge of electrical engineering, it’s kind of a joke to “fix [hardware problems] in software” because it’s often a bandaid solution to a bigger problem.

As I’m coding the light pattern, I realize that it would be cool to select from multiple patterns. It’s more trouble than it’s worth to retroactively add a button or a switch to the board, which would be the ideal solution. But adding a piece of code to switch between two preprogrammed patterns every time the user plugs in the board isn’t so bad:

mode =; if (mode != 0 && mode != 1) mode = 0; EEPROM.write(0, !mode);

once again fixing things in software!

The ATtiny is able to store 512 bytes of EEPROM, which is memory that doesn’t get erased when it’s turned off. Here, the first byte of EEPROM stores the last pattern that was displayed. When the board is turned on again, it simply displays the other pattern.

Sometimes it’s not your fault, but you gotta fix it anyways

The lights flash in the right order. The flower flows. I’m done!

…until I notice that some of the LEDs are acting kind of weird. At least one or two LEDs from each of the five boards aren’t displaying the right color. Poking around with an oscilloscope confirms that my microcontroller is sending the right signals. I dealt with the signal timings for this kind of LED extensively for my 6.115 final project, so I’m pretty confident that I’m not the one at fault here.

one led is broken

it’s kind of hard to tell here because the camera’s frame rate isn’t lined up with the LED update rate, but the circled LED’s red component is broken :(

The PCB manufacturer must have given me faulty LEDs. Aaaaaaaaaa

Winnie shows me two ways to replace the faulty LEDs. One way is to use a hot plate and melt the solder joint holding the LED to the board into a puddle of quicksilver. Using tweezers, replace the faulty LED with a new one. Then add a drop of flux to facilitate the new electrical connection and watch the feathery wisps of flux smoke dissipate into the air like ghostly birds.

The other way involves taking a soldering iron and literally melting off the LED. The more burnt plastic particles you release into the atmosphere, the better.07 /s It’s quick and literally dirty.

Because I’m not a big fan of inhaling carcinogens, I eventually get the hot plate method to work even for the inconveniently located LEDs. If I place the board on the hot plate for long enough, the heat eventually reaches said inconvenient location to release the faulty LED. I just have to be careful to not accidentally knock off the nearby non-faulty components. The hot plate doesn’t discriminate: it melts all of the solder joints in its vicinity whether or not you want it to.

removing the broken led using a hot plate

If I don’t heat up the solder joints long enough before trying to tweeze out the faulty LEDs, I delaminate the trace. Fortunately, a bit of tape and more caution with resoldering the replacement LED goes a long way.

delaminated trace


Finishing touches

Diffusing the light with a lasercut piece of acrylic scatters and softens the LEDs:

A flower that lights up is cool, but a flower that lights up and stands on its own is even cooler. I lasercut another piece of acrylic to make a screw on stand.


flower pattern in fire mode (lights shift from bright yellow to dim red, similar to fire)

fire mode!!

rainbow mode: lights flash from blue to purple

part of rainbow mode! unfortunately including the full rainbow cycle would make the gif too large to upload here

There’s something meditatively calming to watching the lights cycle through the petals, around and around and around. It reminds me of the horror manga Uzumaki by Junji Ito, where a cursed town becomes increasingly obsessed with spirals,08 think eddies in a river, the cochlea (spiral shaped part of the inner ear), a mosquito's proboscis, etc until the townspeople and soon the physical town itself literally become one with the spiral. I don’t blame them; spirally patterns really are mesmerizing.

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Happier Than Ever Thu, 10 Aug 2023 13:12:19 +0000 A few months ago, May. 

When I’m away from you, I’m happier than ever
Wish I could explain it better

Happier than Ever by Billie Eilish

It’s final projects hell month, my stack of moving boxes are begging me to fill them, I am running on the delightful concoction of sleeplessness, instant coffee, and anxiety. Suddenly, the faint siren song of summer beckons me over and tells me that I need my own bike.09 Boston also has the Bluebikes bikeshare program, which MIT affiliates can get a discounted yearlong membership for $45! it's pretty worth it if you don't have your own bike, but it's annoying when all of the nearby stations are empty/full when you need to borrow/return a bike respectively. MIT also has an annual bike auction where you can get decent bikes for prices comparable or better than that of Craiglist, but I was impatient. I drop everything and open up Craigslist. 

My dad got our family cat off of Craigslist over ten years ago, and the interface hasn’t changed much since. I don’t know much about bikes, so I judge each listing purely by vibes. I avoid listings IN ALL CAPS because they seem sketchy.10 beware that some bikes being sold on craigslist are stolen! you can check by searching up the bike's serial number on it's a glaring red flag if the serial number has been scratched off Eventually I message someone selling an old hybrid bike, a 1995 Gary Fisher, and we meet up at the Somerville Star Market parking lot. He suggests that I ride around for a bit before paying for it. A bike thief trying to get rid of a stolen bike wouldn’t encourage someone to take their time, right? The rusty bolts tell me that the bike must’ve lived several lifetimes, but a few laps around the parking lot tell me that this bad boi is the one


Do you read my interviews?
Or do you skip my avenue?

I ride my bike for nearly an hour every day to speed up the part of my commute between the commuter rail station and my summer internship office. It’s nice that the commuter rail exists for getting to suburbs outside of Boston, but it sucks that stations rarely have public transportation that reach the rest of town. 

I don’t know if I’m just tired from a laundry list of things going on in my life that can possibly make me tired, or my job truly sucks, but being tired certainly makes small-ish grievances unbearable.

I hate the way that the commuter rail elevator smells like warm, fermented piss. My bike is too heavy to carry up three flights of stairs, but I can’t hold my breath for the entire time it takes for the elevator to crawl between the platform and the station. I consider the stairs every time. But I still end up taking the pissy elevator because I’m tired

I hate the way that I’m not charismatic enough to convince management that I do know what I’m doing, that I don’t need my project to be whisked away by a full timer the moment I get stuck, that I, not the engineers downstairs, made this component. 

I hate it when I just barely miss the commuter rail on my way home, adding another hour to my 7am-7pm11 i'm actually at work from 9-5, but if it's not clear enough my commute sucks ass and eats up so much of my day workday. 

The thought of quitting first crosses my mind when I’m loitering on a gravel footpath between the station and my office. I have to get off of my bike for this part, so it’s easy to just not get back on. 

a telephone wire cuts across the sky in the background, foreground includes a bunch of yellow green shrubs and forest green trees

It’s a nice view. Concrete strip malls and multilane highways in the Boston suburbs aren’t very different from the ones next to my childhood home thousands of miles away — architects and city planners characterize the sameness of car-centric suburbs as “lacking a sense of place.” But this is the one section of my commute that has a strong sense of place, at least in my mind. Telephone wires that divvy up the sky, trees and shrubs made robust shades of green by adequate rainfall. You don’t get that in California. I should talk to my manager about the things that bother me. 

Rain from yesterday’s storm still lingers in the dampness of the air and my shoes. It’s rained nearly every day in the past few weeks, and of course the angriest clouds always coincide whenever I’m out biking to or from work. I can’t frame the way I’ve been treated as misogyny, because I myself can’t say for sure that that’s behind each incident individually. I know for a fact that the sum of my experiences can’t have been a fluke, but it’s never the jumbled up, eraser crumb putty ball of experiences that they’re going to dissect.

No matter how carefully I tiptoe through the minefield of corporate rules and language, it’s bound to detonate on me. 

I’d rather just avoid it altogether. I search up how long it would take to bike the 20 miles home. 2 hours. That’s not much longer than waiting for and taking the train back. 

Don’t say it isn’t fair
You clearly weren’t aware that you made me miserable

Instead I drag myself to the office an hour late and mumble an excuse about my bike breaking down. 

“Aw that sucks. I can fix your bike for you though! You know, I’m a robotics engineer. And you study, what? Anyways you’re not a robotics engineer.” 

With encouragement from the various support systems12 there were a few factors that said support helped me consider, but it basically boiled down to the fact that i was tired and miserable and had decent savings (ironically from not quitting my internship last summer that i also did not enjoy). it's a privilege to be able to walk away from a job that's not working out, which it really shouldn't be but says a lot about the systems that bind us to soulsucking 9-5s :p in my life, I tell HR the next day that “unfortunately various things in my personal life are demanding my attention” and hand over my office keys. I bike down the narrow shoulder of multilane suburban roads with the wind in my hair and a grin plastered across my face. 


‘Cause I’d never treat me this shitty
You made me hate this city

The road is actually a nice place to be when it’s no longer just the path that leads from home to work. I can see why some people like being out on the road, whether on a bike or car: it’s the independence, the freedom to visit faraway places, the comfortable solitude if you’re alone, or the good company if you so choose to bring someone along. I think the comfortable solitude of biking is my favorite part. I can get lost in my thoughts, and my mind generally produces the good kind of thoughts when I’m biking. No one gives a shit about how charismatic you are when all you have to do is pedal. 

Now that I’m Funemployed, I get to do all the things I haven’t had time for during the school year. I’m making art again for fun. I fiddle with electronics and make bad welds, but they’re slowly getting better. I resolve my silly OX. I spew my garbage on the blogs to feel slightly less unemployed.13 i love being paid to overshare on the internet I volunteer for the Women’s Technology Program14 a free, four week summer program at MIT for rising high school seniors and wish that all workplace environments could be as supportive as the one I’ve witnessed at WTP.  And when all I feel like doing is rotting in my bed and scrolling through social media, sometimes I let myself do that, but other times I drag myself on my bike. Because all I have to do is to pedal. 

I like Boston a lot because it’s not as concrete jungle-ly as NYC. There are actually quite a few nearby spots for touching grass, reachable by the T or the commuter rail, or by bike if you have the time like I do: 

Arnold Arboretum (about 5 miles from MIT, at the end of the orange line T)

picture of the end of the sw corridor

not quite the arboretum, but it’s right next to the end of the southwest corridor bike trail!

Middlesex Fells (about 8 miles from MIT, along the Haverhill commuter line)

Walden Pond (about 20 miles from MIT, along the Fitchburg commuter line)


I remember my friend Isabella biking across state lines to Providence last year, so I’m inspired to do the same. I stuff my bike lock, five granola bars, a tube of sunscreen, my water bottle and a light jacket into my backpack and start biking south. 

I take the Southwest Corridor bike path through and out of South Boston, admiring the gorgeous public playgrounds and community spaces that the city has constructed along this bike trail. I stop at a strip mall Starbucks in Canton, the first suburb outside of Boston city limits for some caffeine. As I reapply sunscreen, Barbenheimer spoilers enter my left ear and complaints about someone’s children enter my right.

Sounds like Max may be your favorite child, but Sam deserves to be loved by his mother too. 

I make my way through the suburbs of Easton, Norton, and Attleboro, through picturesque woodlands that I’ve come to associate with New England suburbia. The further I bike, the houses I see feature an increasing number of American flags. It’s as if each suburb is trying to one up the one before it. I pass by large houses with sprawling yards and private playgrounds. Most of them are quiet, but here and there is a family dog frolicking with the two and a half family children. 

I reach Providence after about six hours of biking. Google maps told me that it would take five, but I’m not sure if they factor in fatigue and biking on a heavy commuter bike. I inhale a tub of precut watermelon from a Trader Joes before hopping on the commuter line back on Boston, sore but happy.  

Four days later, my friend Calton invites me on a bike trip along with one of his colleagues. We take the commuter rail to Newburyport, MA, bike through the coastline of New Hampshire, stop at a lobster roll place in Kittery, ME, and bike all the way back to Newburyport. 

The majority of the route hugs the seaside. U.S Highway 1 reminds me a lot of California Route 1, in a good way, without any of the insipid sameness that permeates strip malls. The elevation hardly changes here and the air is less salty, but I love the ocean no matter which side of the road it’s on. 

It’s a lot harder to keep up with people fitter than me riding on lighter bikes, but I somehow manage. This time, I’m quite a bit faster15 well only on the way there; my legs gave out in the last ten miles on the way back than Google Map’s time estimates. 

I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in since running cross country in high school. That’s a whole nother story, but I’ll just say that I still have recurring dreams from it and they’re never good. If there’s anything I took from that experience, it’s how to keep pushing up hills. Lately I’ve been singing a lot of Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” in my head to keep the cadence. I shift my gears, grit my teeth, and push down hard on the pedals with every beat of Billie’s cathartic vocals: 

And I don’t talk shit about you on the internet16 well isn't that ironic
Never told anyone anything bad

My understanding is that it’s better for your posture if you keep your head up, eyes focused towards the top of the hill. But if the hill is particularly bad and it doesn’t seem like I’m getting anywhere closer to the top, I glance down. The blur of the ground I’m leaving behind tells me that no matter how slow I’m pedaling, I’m certainly moving forward. 

So don’t waste the time I don’t have
And don’t try to make me feel bad

And if I’m hardly moving even on the lowest gear, I get off and walk my bike over the hill. It’s fine if I slow down and take my time because time is the one thing I have right now. I’ll bike over the whole thing next time. I have my whole life for that, for learning how to navigate difficult workplace situations, for figuring out happiness inside a corporate setting.

For now, I’m happier than ever outside. 


classes are hard but i’m sure you knew that already Sat, 29 Jul 2023 22:51:35 +0000 Sometimes you put a lot of effort into something and the external validation you get in return feels good and satisfying and right. Sometimes, it’s like trying to pop a pimple, where you’d poke and prod at the pimple for what feels like eternity without actually getting all of the pus out, so your stomach clenches tighter and tighter, and you just want to scream. All you’re left with is an angry red welt. Even though you know that continuing to bother that welt would increase your chances of infection, you keep poking at it anyways…

I took a robotics class last semester that felt like trying to pop a stubborn, unpoppable pimple. Before anything else, I want to make it clear that in my opinion, the class itself was a really good class. We learned how to model nonlinear, high dimensional systems, which describes most robots that walk, fly, do backflips and other complex tasks, but applies to nonrobotic systems as well. The course staff was incredibly knowledgeable, approachable, and kind. When I asked for help, I received it.

I wasn’t prepared for the level of rigor that this class demanded, so I had my butt handed to me again and again. I guess the point of this blog is to say that:

  • robotics is really really hard lol (at least for me)
  • OX’ing a class at the end of a semester exists as a non-stigmatized safety net for when things goes to shit
  • I think I’m getting better at handling feelings around failure, and that in itself makes getting through this class worth it

me on my college application: "I want to be academically challenged." me after being academically challenged: surprised pikachu faceThe saga began when I added this class two and a half weeks after the semester had started. I felt the need to “replace” a different class that I had dropped, and this class just seemed so so cool. I sat in a lecture and it was!

But dude. You can just drop a class. I would, in a heartbeat, tell any underclassmen friendo that you can just drop a class without “replacing” it. But who listens to their own advice hehehe

I stayed up all night to catch up on a problem set that was due before I had joined the class. I was unfamiliar with the notation, how physical systems abstracted into equations and math, and every single problem made me contemplate dropping that class. That should’ve been a sign. But 7am rolled around and I eventually turned something in. I got around a 60%, which stung, but whatever. A bad pset grade here and there won’t penetrate the wall I’ve gradually built around my ego over these few years.

I did start doing better on the problem sets, especially once I started working on it with other people and attending office hours where many students had the same questions as I. But the lectures conflicted with a different attendance mandatory class, so I slowly but surely fell behind on lectures….

Again dude. You literally know that attempting to take a class asynchronously is a recipe for disaster. Every single time I’ve attempted to take two classes whose lecture times conflict, one of them always gives.

The midterm rolled around. It was on the Tuesday right after spring break. I wanted to claim the eighth amendment17 <b>Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted</b>. (usually summarized as no cruel or unusual punishments) for this horrible timing. But I allocated time during spring break to catching up on lectures, looked over mistakes from my past psets, did the practice exam, and crammed as much text as I could onto two sides of an 8.5”x11”.

I got a 32%. Clearly other people didn’t find this midterm as hard as I did, as I scored over two standard deviations below average.

That’s okay, I tried my hardest, grades don’t define me, it was a bad day and all the cool things I’m learning matter most—

My midterm grade meant that mathematically, I was no longer able to get above a C in this class. Normally I’d just tell myself that C’s get degrees and move on. However, I was planning to use this class to fulfill a requirement for my MEng18 course 6 has a nifty Masters of Engineering program that lets you pursue your MEng concurrently with your undergraduate degree, usually during the last year. later, so things got a bit trickier there. Unfortunately, you have to get an A or B in a grad level class for it to count towards an MEng degree. So essentially I flunked this class already and I didn’t even get to do the final project yet.

I know I could’ve benefited from building a stronger math background prior to taking this class. I know I could’ve watched the lectures more carefully, rewinding the tricky parts until I actually understood them. I know, I know, I know… But I didn’t feel like I deserved to fail: it hurt so much to know that in terms of what will show up in my transcript, all the work I’ve put into this class has been undone by one exam.

The walls surrounding my ego crumbled. I was once again vulnerable to the anguish of failing a test, like I was back in freshman year. I remember confiding in my UROP mentor, who graciously also acted as a pillar of moral support back then, that I failed my 18.0619 linear algebra midterm. Of course, that could only mean that I was doomed to fail the entire class and then fail at life. He took my melodrama well, eventually talking me out of my anxiety.

But I’m a junior.20 well at that time i was, and i dont want to think about the fact that i'm now a senior and getting oldddd I hate how things that bothered me back then still bother me now. Almost as if to “prove” to myself that my ego can withstand more hits, I walked into office hours on drop date.21 last day possible to drop the class without penalty I asked the TA if he’d recommend dropping the class, fully expecting what he would say. He explained in the gentlest way possible that I should consider retaking this class next spring, which again is exactly what any sane TA would’ve said, what I probably would’ve said if I were in his position. I quickly thanked him and made a beeline for my room and cried.

But a good captain always sinks with their ship, right? I opened the drop form, but I so desperately wanted to prove to myself through the final project. I deleted the drop form.

My ship must’ve been named “The Sunk Cost.”

My 6.115 project, which I worked on concurrently with this class’s final project, went surprisingly smoothly. I hit milestone after milestone, every component clicking together with the ease that my robotics final project completely lacked. I spammed the Piazza question board, went to nearly every office hours session, and wished again and again that I had submitted that drop form.

With the power of caffeine and a willingness to suffer, I managed to turn in half of my final project deliverable on time, but shit happens and I just couldn’t finish it. Instead of begging for a late drop, I begged for an extension.

More accurately, I begged for an OX. An OX is essentially an incomplete grade, granted by both the professor and an S^322 Student Support Services dean in the cases where extenuating circumstances prevent a student from finishing a class. For example, if you get sick during finals week, you don’t have to drag your snot to the exam room and manipulate equations with sleepytime flu medicine messing with your brain. Instead, an OX lets you recover and take the final, or in my case finish my final project, once the storm has passed.

Bloggers before me have talked extensively about their experiences with an OX. I just want to reiterate here that this option exists as a way to make life’s challenges a bit more manageable, should they occur around finals week.

As much as I was thankful for my temporary reprieve, it meant that this saga dragged on. When things finally simmered down near the end of June, I had a foreboding set of unfinished experiments and a full length research paper sitting between me and the end of the tunnel.

label that reads "you can do it. resolve your OX"

guilt tripping myself every time i’d open my laptop

Forcing myself to work on resolving my OX meant that I first had to confront my feelings surrounding this project. Obviously, it’s not motivating to view this as a project for a class that I was doomed to fail. Luckily, I was able to petition for this class to fulfill an requirement for my undergraduate degree instead, where a C would count. I also deployed every trick I knew for facilitating better executive function. But I think what really helped was knowing that I had been in a similar situation last summer, and I can do it again.

I had written about a UROP project that I had given my all in attempt to get it published, but I burnt out before I could make that happen. My mentors gave me the time and space I needed away from the project to put myself back together. I so desperately wanted closure, but revisiting the project also meant revisiting the baggage of shame and disappointment attached to it. Six months later, I finally cleaned up the code base and threw my paper up on arxiv.23 arxiv is an online archive of scientific papers that does not involve peer review. At that point, it became less about making meaningful contributions to the scientific community, and more about just finding closure. Closure is all I wanted, for my UROP project and this class project alike, to transform feelings of failure into acceptance. Maybe even pride.

It’s easy to lament making the same mistakes that I thought I had already learned from. I wished that I was better at validating myself; otherwise I wouldn’t have needed to prove my capabilities to myself or anyone else by going through that whole saga. Sometimes dropping the damn class is the best thing you can do for yourself.

But I can see the ways I’ve grown through how I’ve dealt with the series of setbacks throughout this class. I addressed my feelings instead of dismissing them. I’ve remained relatively calm throughout the decisions that I did make. I used to hold bitterness towards the classes themselves if I struggled in them (cough 18.06), but I hold none of that towards this class. If someone asked me how I thought of this class, I’d only have good things to say. Besides, I did learn quite a bit about robotics, nonlinear systems, and controller optimization,  and made a ballistic squirrel do a backflip for my final project:

squirrel model doing a backflip

i attempted to model Mark Rober’s squirrel launching platform for my final project., showing how the inertial effects of the limbs and tail contribute to squirrel’s righting reflex.

I’m currently in grades purgatory, still waiting for the final verdict as to whether or not I got my C. I’m optimistic though. According to the official guidelines for an OX,

The OX grade is appropriate for students who […] have been progressing satisfactorily in the class.

My professor must have some faith that I’ve been “progressing satisfactorily” right?? But regardless of the decision, I’m done with everything within my control. I’ve gotten my closure, I’ve satisfyingly popped this pimple.



edit 9/3/2023: I PASSED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


things that are golden, part 2 Thu, 20 Jul 2023 12:53:46 +0000 things that are golden, part 0 (pen and highlighter markers, 2020)

things that are golden, part 1 (digital, 2021)

things that are golden, part 2 (blockprinted ink, 2023):

yellow aspen leaves

specifically from the tree in front of Walker Memorial

the liminality of public transportation

the commuter rail has caused me so much anguish this summer, but i’ll defend her until my last breath

tomatoes ripening on the vine

hot poi summer: picture of a poi prop on fire

telephone wires fracturing a setting sky

imagery borrowed from Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

so much for stardust - two people reaching for a star

the new-ish Fall Out Boy album. tbh I feel so-so about the album as a whole, but I do like the eponymous song, So Much (for) Stardust

warm street lamps

long bike rides

this summer i’ve been biking to some naturey places in the area, like Middlesex Fells and Walden Pond!

text for accessibility:

yellow aspen leaves

the liminality of public transportation

tomatoes ripening on the vine

hot poi summer

telephone wires fracturing a setting sky

so much for stardust

warm street lamps

long bike rides

This iteration of “things that are golden” was inspired by @cactuscloudart‘s pink eraser carvings! I already had printmaking tools from a virtual printmaking session I ran (with the support of the Council for the Arts at MIT) in Fall 2020, but I didn’t have any more blocks to carve. Linoleum blocks, which are typically used for printmaking, can get pricey and would make me feel bad if I messed up. At my level of block cutting experience, messing up is pretty much guaranteed. On the other hand, a 24-pack of pink erasers lets me carve without fear. It’s really therapeutic, the feeling of the blade slicing through soft rubber. Slicing through soft flesh is less fun though, so always carve away from yourself!

photo of carved erasers and eraser scraps

BLÅHAJ: the Internet meme, the trans icon, the world’s favorite plush Wed, 19 Jul 2023 04:16:39 +0000 *puts on CMS hat* I LOVE watching media analysis video essays. Whenever I finish a relatively mainstream series (ex. The Owl House, The Hunger Games, Avatar the Last Airbender), I spend hours watching nearly every video essay that exists on Youtube, dissecting the underlying commentary, allegories, plot devices, etc. I emerge with a deeper understanding of the content and a deeper appreciation for the creators. But even if the discussion is on media that I don’t personally consume (ex. family vloggers, the Kardashians, Mr. Beast), I find the social, cultural, political, and economic forces that enabled these influencers’ rise to prominence to be SO interesting. Perhaps one day I’ll join the ranks of video essayists, as I believe video essays to be the most digestible and accessible form of media studies content. Unfortunately I hate video editing, so for now enjoy this Blahaj blog :). 

Blahaj, Swedish for “blue shark,” is the cuddly plush that many of us know and love. Blahaj’s wide pink smile is lined with white triangles of felt teeth. Blahaj’s brown eyes are embroidered on, as Blahaj’s retailer Ikea noticed that beaded eyes pose a choking hazard to young children. Blahaj is a meter long, nearly body pillow sized. When you hold Blahaj, Blahaj doesn’t judge, Blahaj simply understands

a blue and white shark plush

While the adoration of Blahaj is a worldwide phenomenon, the impact of Blahaj on people and communities can be seen and felt right at home. Indeed, Blahaj has recently inserted themselves into many facets of MIT student culture. Blahaj has become a spinning prop for Jonathan ‘25 to perform what’s called a holy trinity, a move usually done with a staff: 

jonathan spinning blahaj around his shoulders

this is so impressive holy moly (video courtesy of Jonathan ’25)

Blahaj had their own Friday Afternoon Club (FAC) at East Campus last November, where an assortment of shark related snacks were passed out. 

Are you a Blahaj enjoyer? Do you have a baby who wants to meet new shork friends? Maybe you just want to see some sharks and eat shark food (shark shaped or for sharks??? )? Come to Blahaj FAC tomorrow at 5 pm in Talbot!

Rory ‘24 runs a recurring event called Sharkcuterie at Random Hall that brings Randomites and their Blahajs together to feast on cheese, crackers, and fancy drinks. 

blahajs sitting around tables full of cheese

blahaj and friends! (photo courtesy of Rory ’24)

Blahaj is the unofficially official mascot of MIT Sport Taekwondo. But while Blahaj has achieved local celebrity status by posing in every other East Coast Taekwondo Collegiate League teams’ photos, Blahaj isn’t only there to look pretty. Under the care of club officer Tiffany ’24, Blahaj trains regularly with the team and has become an accomplished martial artist in their own right.

blahaj wearing full sparring gear

Blahaj in sparring gear! photo courtesy of Tiffany ’24

But how did this shark plush get so popular? Blahaj’s rise to Internet and cultural stardom did not happen overnight. Instead, Blahaj has maintained a steady Internet prominence since its release in 2014. While there is always an element of chance to what does and does not go viral, I argue in this blog that Blahaj’s popularity can be contextualized within multiple broader forces of the past decade, such as Internet meme culture, the pandemic, and the protection and dismantling of LGBTQ+ rights. As an unsuspecting symbol of quiet resilience, Blahaj has emerged as the constant source of comfort that the world can hold onto during this period of instability.

Early Evolutionary History

Reddit users traced the first ever shark introduced by Ikea, the Korall Fisk, to a picture taken in 2006. Then in 2008, Ikea released the Grossby, a gray shark that looks similar to Blahaj but has a different plush fur texture. The Grossby evolved into the Klapper Haj circa 2010, who is nearly identical with Blahaj except for the color.

Finally, Ikea introduced the Blahaj that we know today in early 2014. Between now and then, Blahaj has only gone through minor revisions like reducing the number of gills from 6 to 5. The blue shark quickly became a staple of the Ikea plush oeuvre, catapulting into Internet memedom and into our hearts. 

The Internet Meme 

According to Know Your Meme, the first widely circulated picture of Blahaj surfaced on Tumblr in 2014: 

six blahaj plushes sitting around a table

Since then, many more photos of Blahaj being placed in human-like situations circulated on the Internet. Rory and Tiffany’s Blahaj photos follow this meme format. In 2018, similar Blahaj memes exploded in Russia, whose Ikea locations reported running out of Blahaj’s one hour after restock.

five men holding blahaj's down an escalator

this viral photo was taken at a Moscow location in 2018

Blahaj isn’t the first shark in the meme culture canon, but instead continues a legacy established by Left Shark and Baby Shark. One of Katy Perry’s backup dancers during her 2015 Superbowl halftime show performance, colloquially known as Left Shark, went viral for forgetting the choreography. Aside from messing up on national TV, the laughable awkwardness of the situation is magnified by the dazed expression on the shark onesie and the overall silliness of Katy Perry’s beach themed stage set. Then in 2016, the South Korean company Pinkfong released the Baby Shark nursery song. As the Baby Shark challenge went viral first in Indonesia and later other parts of the world, the Baby Shark song skyrocketed in streams to the point where it reached #32 on the Billboard 100. 

What Left Shark, Baby Shark, and Blahaj have in common is that they all disrupt the norm of how sharks are portrayed in the media. Sharks have a reputation of being vicious killer beasts, thanks to sensationalized reports of shark attacks and the Jaws franchise, a series of films focused on sharks eating innocent beachgoers. However, our three meme sharks are anything but threatening. Left Shark is awkward and silly. Baby Shark is cute and promotes intergenerational family relationships. Blahaj’s listing on Ikea claims that they are “Big and safe to have by your side if you want to discover the world below the surface of the ocean.”

The virality of cute shark imagery isn’t surprising when considered in the broader context of memes. We share things that make us feel good, make us laugh, and especially in the case of our three meme sharks, subvert our expectations. But perhaps most important to how and why memes propagate like wildfire, memes foster participatory cultures where basically anyone with Internet access can contribute their own version of a meme. By encouraging people to create and share Blahaj photoshoots, Blahaj’s Internet debut does exactly just that. 

Comfort during the Pandemic

Google search trends reveal an uptick in searches for Blahaj starting from early 2020, which coincides with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

googel search trend that shows steady increase after 2020

Especially during early stages of the pandemic when social distancing regulations and quarantines were enforced, many people experienced increased feelings of isolation and despair. People were touch starved.  

If hugging another living thing isn’t possible, the next best thing is hugging a stuffed animal. Blahaj emerged as a popular emotional support plush for its relative accessibility. Blahaj is affordable compared to other plushies of a similar size and is sold by a big box retailer with multiple locations across the US and the world. These two attributes also apply to the Costco Bear, which was popular at a similar magnitude during the pandemic. 

Blahaj and the Costco Bear’s pandemic popularity may also be explained by the lipstick effect. This theory states that smaller, less expensive novelty goods (like lipstick) remain popular during economic recessions. While something like a luxury bag might be out of the budget, many consumers can afford lipstick as an indulgent “treat” as a temporary escape from their worries. In other words, “everything’s going to shit, but at least I look hot.” Blahaj plays a similar role where “at least I look hot” becomes “at least I can get a hug from a silly shark.” 

While everyone can use Blahaj’s cuddles during these trying times, Blahaj holds special significance for a particular community to the point where Blahaj is without a doubt, an icon

The Trans Icon

The first picture of Blahaj with a trans flag background surfaced on Reddit in 2020. 

trans blahaj

In the past decade, Tumblr and to some extent, Reddit have provided safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people to explore their identities, especially for those living in homes or communities where being out may not be safe. These Internet spaces also serve as hubs of information, empowering people with the language to express their sense of self and with knowledge for what transitioning may look like. Naturally, many inside jokes (like the stereotype that lesbians wear carabiners on their belt loops) emerged in these communities. Such inside jokes contribute to the broader culture, as being a part of the inside joke (like choosing to wear a carabiner to subtly signal being fruity) fosters camaraderie. In a world that villainizes LGBTQ+ people through rhetoric, legislation, and violence, building up these strong Internet communities with their own culture and jokes aligns with the idea of “joy as resistance,” a phrase coined by Black feminist Toi Derricotte. 

When Blahaj broke into the Tumblr/Reddit scene, trans communities on those platforms quickly latched onto Blahaj. Writer Meghan Cherry24 highly recommend reading this for a more personal perspective on the importance of blahaj to the transfeminine community, and for more context on how transfeminine internet communities has shaped meme culture as a whole! contrasts Blahaj’s association with the trans community against how middle aged, white women first found Minions to be funny and therefore forged the link between Minion memes and wine moms and conspiracy theories: “Early adoption of a meme incites ownership. Like it or not, the internet’s attention span is a game of first come, first serve. Trans women simply got to BLÅHAJ first.” Having a Blahaj became a stereotype, an inside joke. As a result, more trans people get Blahajs to feel that connection with their community, creating a self reinforcing cycle that propels Blahaj to icon status. 

parenting hack: when punishing your kids, dont take away their electronics. just take their charger and watch the fear in their eyes as they use it less and les s while the battery dies

It helps that Ikea has a long history of supporting LGBTQ+ rights in its advertising. People prefer to buy from companies that align with their values, or in this case, support their basic rights. In 1994, Ikea released the first mainstream commercial featuring a gay couple. In 2021, Ikea featured Blahaj and Snuttig the polar bear cuddling together in support of a Swiss referendum on same-sex marriage and adoption rights. 

While Blahaj already kind of shares a color palette with the trans flag with its blue body, pink mouth, and white belly, Ikea Canada donated specially designed Beyou Blahaj plushies to the Halifax Sexual Health Center in 2022. 

a shark plush with blue pink and white stripes

Blahaj’s wide appeal both within and beyond the trans community may also come from the fact that it’s not marketed towards a specific gender, like many clothing or toys featuring sharks are. Going back to the archetype of the killer shark, sharks are often associated with violent masculinity. As a cute plush, Blahaj defies gender norms and thereby allows many trans people to experience and express gender on their own terms. 

A Reddit user explains that plushies, Blahaj included, are popular with transfeminine people as a lowkey expression of femininity. A transmasculine reddit user says that they love sharks and other things that 8 year old boys would like. Cherry writes that the trans experience often includes “spen[ding] one’s formative years having the incorrect childhood experiences.” And while Blahaj can’t undo that, Blahaj helps heal the inner child for many trans adults. Unfortunately being a trans child today remains a difficult experience, with the recent onslaught of bills targeting gender affirming care, gender expression at school, and sports participation for trans youth. And while Blahaj won’t singlehandedly bring change, having a Blahaj provides comfort for trans kids while giving them connection to a community that does embrace them for who they are. 

Blahaj Loves All

blahaj eye

no thoughts head empty (photo courtesy of Tiffany ’24)

Blahaj may appear to possess not a single thought behind those embroidered eyes. But when we consider just how impactful Blahaj has been on all sorts of communities, Blahaj most certainly contains multitudes. As a catalyst for participatory meme culture, antidote to touch-starvedness, advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, symbol of the Internet trans community, and tireless member of the MIT community, Blahaj is loved by all.

And of course, Blahaj loves all.



in remembrance of my sticker collections Wed, 05 Jul 2023 12:26:33 +0000 Many months ago, I broke my water bottle cap. I tried to find a replacement cap or even a replacement bottle of the exact model so that I could harvest the cap. But alas it was simply not attainable for reasons detailed in this dormspam I sent out of desperation:

I will pay $15 for an H2GO 20.9oz asi51197. If you attended the Green Hills Software x WiEECS tech talk in September of last year, you might’ve gotten this exact water bottle.

Story behind this is that I dropped my H2GO 20.9oz asi51197 from a great height of three feet and the lid broke. I could just use one of my countless other swag water bottles, but I’ve accumulated a year’s worth of stickers on this one that I refuse to throw out. Apparently H2GO is a brand that exclusively does corporate swag, so if I wanted to buy one, I’d have to buy 500. I’ve also asked several hallmates to let me see if their hydroflask/other branded lids work on mine. Unfortunately they did not, so i am resorting to dormspam.


bcc’d to dorms
green hills software green for bc-talk

Someone actually responded! We met up at Maseeh and exchanged $15 for a water bottle that the other party probably got for free. But a second chance at life for my dear water bottle, one covered in stickers bearing grand stories and cherished memories, was priceless.

I broke my water bottle cap AGAIN in the exact same place last week. It was on the ledge of my lofted bed. I must’ve kicked it off in my sleep. Not only did the thin plastic shatter, so did my heart. For I knew that to be the end of my water bottle.

Luck had it that my laptop screen recently started flickering, to the point where looking at it instantly made my head hurt. My laptop also had barely one working usb port left and a broken internal mic, so it was also time for my laptop and her beloved case to go.

picture of my laptop filled with stickers

my dearest laptop case

But my water bottle and laptop case’s legacy will live on through this blog. I admit that I wrote this blog for selfish reasons; like yes I want to share what each sticker means to me but I really just want to immortalize them somewhere on the Internet. Material possessions may come and go, but digital footprints are forever.

A. Stickers that I designed

MIT Spinning Arts

fire phoenix sticker

sorry it’s partially cut off

I wasn’t born a firebender, so I settled for joining Spinning Arts. While waving around fire is certainly fun, it’s the spinning community that I love and care about more than anything. It’s one of the few performing arts clubs with basically no barrier to entry: beginners are given the same opportunity to perform as people who’ve been spinning for years, because of just how empowering it is to dance with fire in front of a supportive crowd.

I love making these opportunities happen and watching individuals grow over time as both performance artists and leaders responsible for keeping the club safe. As a result, I’m serving on the exec team for my third year now (I’m president this year)! I designed this sticker for the club two years ago, heavily inspired by the phoenix imagery from  the old (aka pre-pandemic) club branding. The phoenix imagery is quite fitting for our club at this point of time. The pandemic gouged huge gaps in club knowledge that we’re still rebuilding to this day, but each cycle of new members and emerging leaders makes our community that much stronger, more vibrant, and alive.

All this time, I thought firebending was destruction. But now I know what it really is. It’s energy and life.

~ Aang in Avatar the Last Airbender

East Campus REX 2022

sword that says "the weak shall be eaten"

Every REX, bushy tailed prefrosh run around campus to find their home on campus, and East Campus goes all out in hopes of luring prefrosh into its asbestos filled, fire code violating corridors. Last year East Campus built a roller coaster and a pirate themed fort. To go with the pirate theme, I designed this sticker with the (mostly tongue in cheek) phrase that’s featured on many EC REX shirts in years past.

EC is undergoing renovations for the next two years to address the asbestos and fire code violations, but still has huge plans for this upcoming REX to lure prefrosh who may be interested in living there in 2025 and beyond!


stickperson on fire

Stickman was my first home at MIT. Stickman is symbolized by a *gasp* stickman and an octagon, because there’s a giant cement octagon that other halls hatch elaborate plans to steal. I lived there during my freshman spring, along with most of my podmates.25 during this covid semester, you got up to five other people who you could interact with normally. you had to remain socially distanced from everyone else While the pandemic took away so much from my freshman year, I have so many fond memories from living on Stickman and wrecking havoc having fun with my podmates.

Class of 2024 sticker (freshman year)

Fun fact: this sticker design has already seen the light of the blogs, in this is fine by Gosha. I drew this sticker for a sticker pack, which the 2024 Class Council later distributed to the entire class.

If the Stickman sticker was a positive representation of my freshman spring, this one is its negative corollary. Our class lost so much to the pandemic: we did our first semester completely virtually, and we were allowed on campus for our second semester, but with heavy restrictions and still mostly virtual classes. The world was metaphorically on fire (and literally if you were in California at that time), yet somehow we were expected to do our classes, figure out how to MIT, and otherwise proceed as if everything was fine. I think the idea behind my sticker resonated with many of my classmates, as I’ve seen it on so many laptops across campus.

Apparently it also made its way into a Caltech discord server:

person a: i stole this from the '25 server but can we pls make this an emoji? (insert picture of this is fine beaver). person b: i am down but also that is absolutely mit related it has ihtfp written on it. so either someone's a cross admit or they prob found it? xD. person a: perfect we can use it simultaneously express our state of mind and insult mit, what could be better? I don’t get how it’s an insult?? Y’all are the clowns for having to plagiarize use another school’s graphics but I digress.

Class of 2024 sticker (junior year)

Sad cat was distributed to our class by the 2024 Class Council last year. IHTFP!

Refraction meme cat

Refraction cat wasn’t intended to be a sticker, but Winnie was testing out the sticker printer at the IDC and refraction cat got to hitchhike on her print job.

Big Dijkstra Energy

big dijkstra energy sticker

let me find the shortest path to your heart ;)

Gloria ’22, Margaret ’23, Penny ’24 and I run an instagram account of wonderfully awful math/CS pickup lines, @big_dijkstra_energy! We started this account during the pandemic as a way to cope with the …pandemic. Here’s what I wrote about Big Dijkstra Energy in my blogger app (which is now open), trying to convince the Blogger Overlords that meme content creation would translate into blogging skillz:

BDE began as a way to continue my longtime hobby of drawing and to become closer with friends I met virtually. 

I think BDE has since blossomed into an online community, one that’s brought people together during quarantine and hopefully will continue to post-covid. Our followers have told us that they love sharing and enjoying our comics with their fellow nerd friends/family/partners. And Instagram insights corroborate with the fact that our comics are being shared. Sometimes people tag their friends in the comment section too. It’s so heartwarming to hear that we add a bit of laughter to people’s days. 

We also think about how we can build community beyond just drawing comics. That has led to two successful Nerdy Pickup Line Tournaments, distributing physical Valentine’s Day cards to all students living on campus last spring, and emailing a couple hundred virtual cards as well.

We’ve slowed down our posting, but bad puns are still going up once in a while!

Taking advantage of Stickermule’s 10 for $1 sale

black cat sticker, zuko sticker, cat mermaid, sunflower cat

Stickermule runs a 10 stickers for $1 (with free shipping) promotion for new customers. Naturally I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to stickerify some of my art.

Unfortunately, Stickermule must’ve caught on that people were creating new accounts for the sake of getting this deal. At some point, they started requiring a unique phone number for  creating a new account. I’ve long exhausted26 and all the fake phone numbers on Google have already been used by people with the same idea as me my list of friends who are willing to let me use their number and didn’t want to use this deal themselves. But I also learned that Stickermule’s owners monetarily support causes that I don’t agree with, so I haven’t used Stickermule since anyways. If you’re looking for a high quality sticker supplier, Vinyldisorder runs sick deals every two months or so.

B. Stickers that Margaret ’23 designed

Wide Tim

wide tim sticker

IG: @wide_tim, Redbubble: @Marge-Z-Art

Wide Tim is not just a perpetually happy go lucky, wide eyed, wide smiling beaver. Wide Tim is an icon of our time. Wide Tim is a movement. Wide Tim is everything.

For real though, Margaret’s brain child Wide Tim has most definitely cemented his spot in the MIT zeitgeist. Thanks to Margaret, Wide Tim has an entire line of merch ranging from T-shirts to keychains to physical stickers to a WeChat sticker pack, participated in nearly every club on campus (all documented on his Instagram page), and welcomed prefrosh with wide arms during CPW.

It is without a doubt that Wide Tim’s popularity has surpassed that of the official Tim mascot. Now all we need is a Wide Tim fursuit.

Glow in the dark Widened Timothy

wide tim the beaver

He glows green in the night. His unblinking eyes watch me sleep.

Big Dijkstra Energy pickup line tournament winner

just the two of us is less than three

During IAP 2021, CPW 2021 & 2022, the BDE crew organized Nerdy Pickup Line Tournaments, where participants submitted lines and viewers voted on them. “Just the 2 of us is <3 [less than three],” which was actually submitted by Andi ’25 when he was but a wee prefrosh, won second place during the CPW 2021 tournament! Margaret drew out his submission into the cute imagery above, which she then printed as stickers.

C. Stickers with other MIT origins

Tetazoo Squanch

tetazoo industries clothes hanger holding up sign that reads hackito ergo su m

I’ve lived on Tetazoo during my sophomore and junior years. It’s a hall with a long vivid history, so as SwagComm (committee that handles swag), Rihn ’23 and I ordered a ton of merch with designs that go way back. This particular holographic sticker features the squanch, Tetazoo’s coat hanger boi mascot. Apparently the squanch has its own Urban Dictionary entry that provides a bit more detail on its origin, but I’ll leave that for you to google.

update: tetazoo glounge

update tetazoo glounge written in rainbow font

CJ’s blog on mailing list culture thoroughly explains the history behind the infamous “update: tetazoo glounge.” The tl;dr is that Tetazoo loved and continues to love starting flame wars on dormspam, a group of mailing lists that reach nearly every undergraduate. Perhaps the most infamous dormspam thread was one where someone would respond with “update: tetazoo glounge” (and consequently push that thread to the top of the entire undergraduate population’s inboxes) each day for many many years.

Resistor color codes

I got this resistor color code sticker from Steve Banzaert, who teaches 2.678 Electronics for Mechanical Systems. Apparently, you can read the resistance of a resistor by looking at the four colored bands. Each band corresponds to a number determined by the color code, and the resistance can be calculated as ([first band]*10 + [second band]) * 10^[third band]. The fourth band is the resistance tolerance, which tells you how precise the actual resistance is in comparison to the labeled resistance.

CPW Beaver stickers designed by Maxwell ’24

IG: @happy_meex

Maxwell made the cutest series of beaver bois doing busy beaver things for CPW 2022! They’re some of my favorite stickers ever.

Spicy sticker from Bianca ’24

orange spicy sticker



Clubs that I’m sort of or not in (but their stickers are cool!)

BORDERLINE sticker, mit chinese students association sticker parodying panda express, asian american initiative sticker

The Borderline manages the 200 ft long augmented reality mural tunnel under Building 66, as well as a few other augmented reality installations on campus. Learning that there are art communities like Borderline at MIT was huge for my prefrosh self. Since then, I’ve animated a few augmented reality overlays for murals painted by other artists!

I’ve long admired the Asian American Initiative’s work in advocacy and engagement surrounding Asian American issues. Their annual zines are always gorgeous and hit deep in my soul. Every semester I tell myself that this is the semester I’ll get involved, but alas time is scarce. Maybe next semester.

I’ve also never really interacted with the Chinese Student Association, but their Panda Express sticker was cute and therefore ended up on my laptop case.


innovations headquarters sticker

The Innovation Headquarters is housed in the same building as the Admissions office and supports many entrepreneurship and venture programs. I’m not very familiar with the entrepreneurship scene at MIT, but it seems like if you have an idea, it’s not hard to get money for it.


warning area in front of electrical panel must be kept clear ...

It simply appeared on my water bottle one day. No idea how.

D. Stickers from small businesses/organizations

Cat stickers by Radhia Rahman

eggplant cat, orange cat, and bat cat

IG: @knives_meow, YT: Radhia Rahman, website/shop

I’ve been watching Radhia’s Youtube vlogs of being a freelance artist since basically when she first started posting. Radhia prides herself in being a queer Bengali American from New York City, so people who share any of those identities might especially enjoy her art and content. Either way, Radhia’s vlogs are so well edited and relaxing to play in the background. Behinds the stickers on my laptop, I’ve also bought some of her risograph prints that currently adorn my walls!

Another cat sticker by Yat Cat Print Co.

lineart cat

IG: @yatcatnola, website/shop

I bought two mystery screenprinted shirts from Yat Cat Print Co. and they also came with this sticker! (One of the shirts ended up having the same lineart cat and the other had mushrooms. I was very happy with the mystery pack).

Yet another cat sticker by an artist who I don’t remember :(

bombastic side eye cat

bombastic side eye

I picked up this audacious boi from an art market in Manhattan Seaport. Unfortunately I didn’t take note of the artist I bought audacious boi from :(

Smol birb

small bird sticker

IG: @therevolutionarymushroom, website/shop

I got this smol birb from Revolutionary Mushroom at the same art market!

Even more “cat” stickers

stickers read "indoor cat" and "cold blooded", which features a snake adorned by flowers

I got these stickers sometime during high school at a boutique somewhere in California. In other words, it’s been too long for me to remember how these came to be.

Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE)

small mouse reading a book

Last October, I went to MICE and marveled at the rows and rows of independent comic artists, from published graphic novelists to printer paper zinemakers. Unfortunately I had to leave shortly after I got there, but I’m looking forward to the next time MICE rolls around.

Boston Dyke March

two possums in the trans and rainbow flag colors

Winnie got me these adorable possums from the Boston Dyke March last year.

Dark Monk

black and white sticker that says dark monk with black fire behind it

Dark Monk, based in Salem MA, is where MIT Spinning Arts gets all of our fire prop making supplies and premade props. Last year I ordered some kevlar wicking and assorted hardware to mess around with, and my order came with this sticker.


sparkly green blue gradient pod poi

Flowtoys is to LED spinning props like Dark Monk is to fire spinning props. While we usually emphasize the fire aspect of Spinning Arts because fire is hot and sexy, spinning LED props is a discipline of its own right. LED props allow for theatrics that fire wouldn’t allow, like wearing a costume that isn’t firesafe (pretty much anything that’s not 100% cotton or denim), coordinating LED patterns to the performance, and touching the lit up part of the prop.

I bought a pair of Podpoi from Flowtoys last year to explore these artistic possibilities. They were quite the investment, but they’ve been so worth it. Podpoi in particular have a lifetime warranty, can be programmed and synced up with other pairs of Podpoi too.

My new water bottle and laptop are currently devoid of stickers. While Victorian era widows were expected to mourn for two years, I’m sure my old water bottle and laptop case would want us to move on, to live life to fullest. I see many more stickers in my future, but I’ll never forget the ones that came before us.

Drawing from Life Thu, 29 Jun 2023 00:39:19 +0000 I found one of my old sketchbooks the other day. I’m ashamed that this “old” sketchbook, which I had started in 2019 (that’s four years ago!!), is also my most recent sketchbook because I’ve hardly drawn for myself since starting college. I’ve made a ton of art for my clubs at MIT and for Admissions, but when was the last time I sat down and let myself draw or paint without expectations?

My high school friend Deelia is an art and human factors27 my understanding is that this program covers user centric design from both artistic and engineering lenses major at Tufts and invites me to a life drawing session the other day in a Cambridge based studio called Gallery 263. I’ve been to one structured life drawing session before,28 if you don't count creepily drawing classmates during boring high school classes or strangers at a cafe a year ago in NYC at an “underground” cafe, which was sadly the last time I’ve drawn in this sketchbook. During life drawing sessions, a (usually) nude model poses in the middle of a room in a series of timed poses for a circle of artists to sketch. Life drawing is essential to a traditional art education, for many good reasons that I’ve come to realize during the session. I often think about what my life would be like if I went to an art college. She’d probably be just as tired and her posture just as bad. But attending this life drawing session with Deelia feels like momentarily crossing paths with this parallel universe self, one who dirties herself with charcoal dust instead of machine grease.

1 minute poses

my sketches of a model in various poses

The session hits the ground running with 1 minute poses. Every mark I leave on the paper, I make with intention because I only have time for so many. Humans are a living, breathing sack of flesh with so many different planes and contours. It’s fun to choose which ones to emphasize with such a limited set of lines.

Learning how to distill the complicated human form into marks on a paper is why most models are nude and why these sessions are done live! Drawing from a photographic reference removes the process of translating a 3D form into 2D, while live drawing makes you do just that. Of course, I’m acutely aware that model is real person whose body is being scrutinized from every angle, and I try my best to approach the session with respect and sensitivity.

As the poses fly by, my markmaking feels increasingly fluid — “looseness” is the dynamic, expressive quality that many strive for in their sketches. My high school art teacher’s biggest piece of feedback for me was to loosen up, and I’ve never quite understand what that means until recently. Upon peeking at other artists’ sketches, the ones that stand out to me don’t necessarily copy the model’s exact form, but rather take artistic liberty to exaggerate certain contours. By protruding an arm or pushing out a hip, they create fluid motion in an otherwise static drawing.

2 minute poses

poses of a model in my sketchbook

The two minute poses feel similar to the one minute poses, except now I have a bit of extra time to add just a smudge of shading. It’s feeling looser, but it’s not exactly where I want it to be. I peek at Deelia’s sketchbook and notice how much depth and motion she’s able to get in such little time with charcoal.

5 minute poses

So for the 5 minute poses, I try charcoal for the first time. Deelia explains to me that using charcoal is one of the first things they teach you to use at a college art program. Because charcoal is a blunt stick, as opposed to a pencil sharpened to a fine point, it’s difficult to control. And when something is hard to control, you simply don’t. Instead of trying to capture outlines and details, you use charcoal to capture the broad shapes of light and shadow.

I find a process that seems to work for me: first I rub charcoal in a vaguely human shaped blob and smudge it out with my finger. With a kneaded eraser, I remove patches of charcoal to carve out areas of highlight. Then I go back in with the charcoal to deepen shadows, rub away highlights with the eraser, and repeat this process of give and take until the five minutes are up.

I’m really proud of the sketch of the model’s back! I did my first strict pullup last year and shaping the subtle contours of the model’s back reminds me of all the exercises I did to build up my upper back strength.

10 minute poses

gouache poses of a model in my sketchbook

For the the 10 minute poses, I switch to a gouache palette that I brought with me. It’s such a shame that I’ve hardly touched it since high school, but gouache is my absolute favorite medium. Gouache is commonly described as, if acrylic and watercolor had a finicky child. It’s opaque like acrylic, but water soluble like watercolor so you can reactivate dried layers of paint. As a result you can sort of layer gouache, but light colors tend to dry darker and dark colors tend to dry lighter. You can see this effect on the grayish patch on the model’s shoulder on the left. I add light blue, almost white paint to that section in attempt to capture a highlight, but it mixes with the existing brown underlayer to create that unsavory gray.

But I love gouache with all my heart for it’s ability make bold strokes. In the movie The Half of It29 literally my favorite movie , painting a bold stroke is a metaphor for living life and loving boldly:

“I had a painting teacher once tell me that the difference between a good painting and a great painting is typically five strokes.  And they’re usually the five boldest strokes in the painting.  The question, of course, is which five strokes?”

~ Aster to Ellie

I’m not necessarily striving for a “great” painting here. I just want to have fun with art again. But it’s a good reminder to paint fearlessly. Even if humans aren’t exactly purple, purple is great for creating bold shadows in human skin. I apply cool purples liberally to create contrast against the warm yellows, reds, and browns that color living flesh.

20 minute pose

gouache poses of a model in my sketchbook

The 20 minute pose feels like eternity. I take my sweet time to carefully build up layers of color. I avoid muddying up the areas where the studio lights directly hit the model, like the face and left shoulder. But I notice that the muddied area in my 10 minute painting would look great in areas softly illuminated by reflected backlighting. So I add the blue-white paint to the model’s back and right shoulder to represent that softer backlighting. I’m happy with that choice!

“Love is being willing to ruin your good painting for the chance at a great one.”

~ Ellie to Aster

Even if a bold stroke doesn’t work out in one painting, it can still work in another.

I’ve been drawing for most of my life. I have the privilege of having taken studio art classes in elementary and middle school, which have been instrumental in teaching me the foundations of observation, sketching, and color. In high school, I had the opportunity to give back and teach younger kids at the same art studio, which has given me a lot of time to think about explaining something as subjective as art in definite terms. Even though I’ve been art-ing for a while, art is a lifelong learning process. I’ve learned so much in the two hour long life drawing session just by carefully observing both the model and sketches from the people around me. That’s another benefit of life drawing sessions: getting to observe and be inspired by other people’s processes.

Art brings back the joy that I’ve sometimes lost sight of when work piles up and I get hosed. I know how to make bold strokes; I just need to pick up my sketchbook more.

6.115 Microcomputer Lab! Fri, 16 Jun 2023 04:14:40 +0000 6.115 isn't just a hobby, it's a lifestyle

I can’t wait to write one of those class tier list blogs before I graduate, and I know for sure that 6.11530 or 6.2060 according to the new numbering system, which does not deserve rights Microcomputer Lab, taught by Prof. Steve Leeb, will sit high and mighty in the S-tier. Sometimes classes at MIT feel difficult for the sake of being difficult, but 6.115 hit the rare sweet spot of being laborious and difficult yet so so worth it.

I signed up for 6.115 because I needed a lab class to fulfill a course 6-9 requirement. 6.115 is known as the hardware appreciation class, and having little prior experience with this kind of stuff, I wanted to appreciate hardware. It helped that a handful of my friends felt like signing up for hell31 more on this later ;-; too — to quote Bianca ’24, “why is everyone and their mom taking 6.115 this semester??”

I walked into the first lecture wondering, what even is a microcontroller (or microcomputer)? When Steve asked the class that question, people responded with answers along the lines of “a small computer” or “a single chip designed to do things” or “[insert hardware jargon that I don’t remember because I had no idea what they meant at that time].” Steve immediately rattled off counterexamples for every single definition. Apparently there’s no specific feature that makes a processor a microcontroller, versus just a CPU, as microcontrollers are so vaguely defined. (Thank you Callie for reminding me exactly what Steve said here; her ability to retain content from lecture was unmatched).

I still don’t know what a microcontroller is, but no one really does either.

Steve had a very distinctive style of lecturing that I can only describe as an ~experience~. His incredibly animated personality and propensity to call electronic components “dude” made me want to absorb everything he was saying. But he went fast. I looked down for five seconds to jot down some notes. I looked up and he was talking about an entirely new topic. I was feeling unsure of myself after having understood approximately 1.28% of what was said in lecture, but it was reassuring to know that some of my friends were in the same boat.

Lab was a whole ‘nother experience. I easily put 20 hours/week into 6.115 labs, structuring my eating schedule, sleeping schedule, my life around the lab hours. Basically whenever I wasn’t at another class or at a Spinning Arts related thing or sleeping,32 I once fell sleep on the narrow, hard, not-ergonomically-suited=for-sleeping bench outside of the 6.115 lab and another time napped on a couch inside the nearby bathroom... I do not miss those days I was on the 6th floor of Building 38 wrestling with this black suitcase that seriously looks like a bomb:

6.115 lab kit that looks like a bomb

don’t bring this to the airport

I often joked that 6.115 in a nutshell was, “how do you make something that takes 10 minutes on an Arduino take 10 hours on an 8051 microcontroller instead?” The point was to strip things we often take for granted, like how Arduinos can read analog values, down to the bare bones of creating pulses of electricity for the right amount of time at the right place. And through that we truly understand what’s going on under the hood in a microcontroller.

lab station with power supply, oscilloscope, lab kit, and many many wires

the very climatic result of 20 hours of work: turning on a fluorescent lamp

My friend Shruti, who took the class a year ago, told a career fair recruiter about programming in 8051 assembly in 6.115. To which the recruiter responded, “Are you sure you worked with 8051s? …because those are really old.” After roasting the recruiter and the general tendency for men to question whether feminine presenting people actually know what they’re working on, we laughed about Steve’s philosophy of rejecting modernity.

The 8051 microcontroller family was invented in 1980, not long before Steve started his undergrad at MIT in 1983. As a result, 6.115 hasn’t changed much since Steve first started teaching it. This was confirmed by a conversation with someone who took 6.115 over ten years ago. What sounded like the biggest difference between then and now was that they had to lug around a lab kit stored in a wooden box about waist height, while we got the luxury of suspicious looking suitcases.

The class website explains the rationale behind Steve philosophy best:33 well yea duh, because it's in his own words

This class is not particularly about learning how a specific microcontroller is programmed, or about designing circuits, or about wiring chips together. We do a little of all of these things, but our real goal is to introduce you to a palette of tools and techniques that let you build what you can imagine. These techniques are much more general than the details of a single processor or programming language. Chips come and go, but successful approaches for engineering design have a life that spans many iterations of a particular technology.

When he says “palette of tools and techniques,” I think a lot of it is learning how to learn.

At one point a TA asked me, “Have you used a multimeter before or are you more of a 6-3?” Ah yes, the two genders. The class was pretty split between seasoned hardware enthusiasts and 6-3 software bros34 used in a gender neutral way here wanting to broaden their horizons. While I’ve used a multimeter before in another intro electronics class, I’ve never had to design and debug circuits/hardware systems in the way this class just expected you to.

The labs taught you how to… by just making you do it. My friend Alicia asked a TA if there was supposed to be a schematic attached to the lab handout, to which the TA responded, “oh you’re supposed to draw one yourself.” We learned that microcontrollers and other electronic components all came with datasheets, which held answers to how to wire and use them.

Figuring out the circuits was one thing, but making them work was another. I’ve always thought of hardware debugging to be some sort of black magic— how do you figure out which one of your countless components is borked? I couldn’t just throw print statements everywhere in the same way that I would with a software program. It turned out that the hardware equivalent of print statements was using an oscilloscope, a device that plots the voltage of an electrical signal over time. I learned how to predict what the shape of the electrical signal should look like through reading datasheets and intuition built over time. If there were discrepancies between my expectations and the oscilloscope reading, then I’ve (probably) found the bug, whether that be incorrect wirings or a blown out chip. As I did this more and more, the scattered pieces of what I managed to gather from lectures started to come together.

Everything about the labs fostered collaboration. The office hours were severely understaffed35 shoutout to the TA/LAs who overstayed shifts by over 3 hours ;-; (unfortunately this is common issue across EECS classes often beyond the control of the course staff), so it was simply faster to get help from a classmate. There was an unspoken understanding that I would gladly help you with a section that you’re struggling on not only because chances were that you would be able to help me with a different section, but also because this class was just so darn difficult. Giving and receiving help felt like a mutual acknowledgement between you and I that we were in this together.

an lcd screen displaying 6.115 rules

don’t ask how much time and how many people i had to ask for help to get this stupid LCD screen to work

The last three weeks of the semester were dedicated to the ✨final project✨, where we could make anything that integrated hardware and software systems and used a Cypress PSoC development board. I decided to make a mechanical DoodleJump out of addressable LEDs (the same RGB strip lights that you might put up in your room) because I wanted an excuse to play DoodleJump for “research purposes.”

The PSoC (pronounced “pee sock”) is the most poorly documented development board known to mankind, which we had the sheer luck of using because Cypress funded a significant portion of 6.115. Maybe that was the point though. Because the PSoC had very few prewritten libraries, we had the immense honor and privilege36 /s of writing our own from scratch.

It turns out that like many electronic systems, RGB strip lights are controlled by a series of square waves. A square wave of a certain timing is interpreted as a 0 bit, and a square wave of another timing is interpreted as a 1 bit.

square waves

see how keeping the signal at high for a tiny bit shorter gives you a 0 and a tiny bit longer gives you a 1?

A sequence of 24 bits determines the color of a single LED — the first 8 determine the red value, the second 8 determine the green value, and third 8 determine the blue value. To control multiple LEDs in a strip, you would just send a second set of 24 bits to control the second LED, and so on and so forth.

After five hours of staring at square pulses lasting fractions of a microsecond on an oscilloscope, I …*drumroll*… turned on an LED! I only have Cypress to thank for this riveting learning opportunity.

Here’s the rest of my project! If you haven’t played the mobile game DoodleJump before, you tilt your phone to get the little jumper dude to jump on platforms of increasing heights. In my mechanical version, the player instead uses clicky pen controllers retrofit with parts I machined on a lathe to control a jumping red dot. If the player dot jumps to another side of the LED cube, a motor spins 90 degrees such that the player dot is always on the side facing you. I had handwritten a beautiful seven page report documenting the process in my lab notebook, but I forgot to take pictures before turning it in.

The following picture carousel includes the hardware schematic, software flowchart, and mechanical CAD drawing for you nerds who care:

Here’s a video of my jumpy boi in action:

In my first draft of this blog, I wrote something along the lines of “6.115 taught me how to persevere through things that are hard.” But I already knew how to persevere. I’ve already made it through countless classes whose problems set my brain cells on fire prior to taking 6.115. I can confidently say that everyone here is good at persevering, by the nature of how academically and emotionally demanding MIT is.

Instead, I’ll say that 6.115 reaffirmed my ability to persevere, except this time I knew not to beat myself up in the process. While I couldn’t resist mentioning in every other paragraph just how many hours I spent on certain parts of this class, sometimes those hours led to nowhere. Sometimes my system wouldn’t work no matter how much I probed and poked at it. Of course, it was disappointing to admit to the lab grader that your system didn’t work, but so what? I know that given enough time, I am capable of solving the problems that I wasn’t able to this time around because I have collected a spectacular palette of tools and techniques over the last semester.

And if I encountered a similar system or problem in a research or workplace or other Real Adult setting, I’d know exactly where to start.


i don’t want to say goodbye Wed, 24 May 2023 09:44:10 +0000 cw: death (after the horizontal line)

I remember the moment that the East Campus renovation announcement email hit our inboxes. I was a freshman. Covid pods37 you got up to five other people who you could interact with normally; you had to remain socially distanced from everyone else were a thing. My podmates and I cried in each others’ arms, screamed profanities in the courtyard, maxed out the volume of the angstiest metal we could find, heartbroken at the thought of losing the very community we had just found.

Renovations actually got pushed back a year, letting me enjoy two and a half years at East Campus. Never before have I experienced such intense feelings of belonging and joy, tidbits of which I’ve documented on the blogs. Living at East Campus has taught me how to stand up for myself, hold others accountable, and take responsibility when I mess up. I’ve found a community to lean on for support and made my shoulder available for others to cry on. My friends have pulled me into adventures that would make for great stories in front of a fireplace fifty years down the line. As have many, I’ve adopted the mantra of “I’ll just make [insert yet another jank DIY thing] myself” when said thing does not currently exist in my possession.

Two Fridays ago, I threw most of my belongings in too many cardboard boxes. The dust on my walls and shelves traced out the silhouettes of what used to live on them, like ghosts. The circular base of a cat butt figurine. Rectangles of pictures from freshman year. I hate packing. It’s so physically tiring, but I also hate the way it shoves into my face, “you’ll never live here again.”

I anti-hazed38 tEp is a co-ed fraternity that is very against hazing new <del>pledges</del> peldges (aka new members), so much so that peldges are entitled to politely anti-haze current members into doing tasks of their wishing. also i guess i'm a frat boi now :O Isabella ’24 into helping me carrying my boxes down two flights of stairs from Tetazoo and up five flights of stairs at tEp, where I’ll be living this summer and next year. I’m grateful that tEp, another tightknit and creative community, decided to take me in. I’m excited for what’s in store for me there. But I don’t want to say goodbye to East Campus.

I bumped into some of my graduating friends as I ran around campus taking care of moving out related errands. I wish I could sit down and have a real conversation, but a badly lit selfie and a quick hug would have to do. One day we’ll meet up again in whichever city we happen to be in at the same time and complain about shitty coworkers or the economy or whatever. But it stings not knowing when “one day” will be. I don’t want to say goodbye, unwilling to let go of the certainty that comes with “today.”

I spent all of Monday night finishing up two final projects. Notifications from both classes’ group chats went off the entire night, a periodic reminder that my time at East Campus was ticking to an end, that I’m stuck in my room shorting microcontrollers instead of late night baking in the chaotic Tetazoo kitchen for the last time.

I was dreading Tuesday night, where I’d have to fall asleep to an empty room with bare walls. So I didn’t, instead stumbling around hall in a sleepless stupor. At 6am Wednesday morning, I took one last glance at the East Campus that I knew and loved and left for the airport.

Four flights and three layovers later, I arrived in China. This trip was a “now or never” deal: my parents had wanted to make this trip after my high school graduation to visit extended family, but pandemic restrictions made getting a visa impossible until now. With rising political tensions between China and the US and Taiwan, who knows for how long borders will remain open. This was reason I left MIT so early, before I could properly say goodbye to the people and places I cared about.

This trip has been full of hellos. I’ve met so many first/second/third cousins and great aunts and uncles for the first time in recallable memory. It’s an unfamiliar but exhilarating feeling, experiencing what like it’s like to have a large extended family in the same area. Squeezing twenty people around the same table in a restaurant. Listening to relatives drunkenly recall stories from childhood. Walking two blocks to one relative’s place, and another two blocks to a different relative’s place.

But I keep thinking about this trip as one for saying goodbye. The last time I visited China prior to this time was ten years ago, with one of my most vivid memories being my maternal great grandparents waving goodbye from their apartment’s window. I remember thinking that this can’t be our last goodbye, but in a few days we’ll be setting up their shared gravestone. A lot has happened during the pandemic and me going off to college that my parents has shielded from me: I didn’t know that my maternal great grandma had passed until I asked my mom how she was doing multiple months later. I didn’t know until now that my paternal grandma’s health has declined so much from when I’ve last seen her.

“Talk to your grandma as much as you can while you’re here, okay?” I can read between lines to understand what my mom is actually trying to tell me.

A wave of guilt washed over me for having complained earlier about missing end of the year celebratory events, forgoing a Spinning Arts retreat, and OX’ing a class to go to China. I know that I can be upset about multiple sucky things at once, even if they are of different magnitudes of sucky, but guilt colors a lot of my relationship with my grandparents.

My paternal grandparents lived with my parents and me in the US until my sophomore year of high school. I could go on and on about how they did so much for me growing up. But frankly I was an awful, unappreciative granddaughter, and there’s so much I have to say about this that will stay in my private notes.

These past few days, I’ve been trying to talk my grandparents about anything, holding onto the time I have left with them like water in my hands. I’ve babbled about Spinning Arts, a tailless cat I met in Wales, how I injection molded the 2.00839 Design & Manufacturing II yo-yos that I had brought over. Even though my explanation of injection molding was littered with a lot of “um I don’t know how to say this in Chinese,” somehow it was easier to say than “wo ai ni” — “I love you.” Chinese families seldomly say “wo ai ni” out of the Confucian belief that actions speak louder than words, and the few times I’ve been told “wo ai ni” growing up felt like flimsy ribbons dressing up awkward apologies.

But I’d much rather say “wo ai ni” a hundred times over than my last “zai jian” — “goodbye.” Zai jian translates directly to “see you again,” which feels cruel to say if I can’t guarantee for it to be true.