The Humble Field Metalist (2019 Book #4)

I finished reading this book in Korean, which translates to Joy of Learning. The book was originally in Japanese. It’s about mathematician Heisuke Hironaka who made a significant contributions in algebraic geometry. He received a Fields metal for his work.

This book was significantly difficult for me to read. First, I hard time with the language - my Korean vocabulary isn’t strong. I had to do a LOT of lookup: My pages looked like this:

Secondly, the book is a translation from Japanese to Korean so I think there’s still meaning lost in translation.

This is probably my favorite book that I’ve read this year. It was one of my dad’s favorite books too and I can see why. What made it so special was that it deeply thought about the meaning of life, and just the sense of warmth and wisdom you feel from Professor Hironaka makes you feel fuzzy.

During my time reading, I’ve reflected a lot about what my purpose in life.

I’ve also thought about death - perhaps I have only 60 years left in me at most under certain assumptions.

This is what I came up with while reading.

First, a big proportion of what makes up death that it is a state of no change. If we expand on this, then a life of routine, zero growth and learning - how is it any different from being dead?

It makes sense. Studies have proven that when you travel, or experience new things, your perception of time is a lot longer. So one can live a 1000 years but have marginal growth. His perception of time will be skewed to be very short compared to someone who lived 20 years and spent time, learning, experiencing life to the fullest.

If I have to summarize the book into one sentence, it’s this: Life is a quest to obtain wisdom and create things.

This book is a strong recommend from me. I hope that one day he can translate it into English. I wrote him an email that I’d do it from Korean to English. Haven’t heard from him yet. 0.0.

Notes and Commentary

  • Having a dream that makes your heart beat by just thinking about it.
  • In order to create you have to learn.
  • Life for deeper understanding of yourself and self-discovery.
  • Despite winning the field metal, this guy is really humble. Says that he’s seen people so smart that he’s question why God was so unfair. He said he had chills when he met geniuses so smart. I agree. I’ve met my fair share of smart people, and I’ve felt that way about some of them.
  • Benjamin Spock - Children need to have an advocate on their side.
  • If people cannot forget, then if some catastrophe falls on them, then they will be destroyed. That’s why forgetting is important. By forgetting, you can “reset” your brain.
  • It’s not that we forget because the content we’ve learned disappeared - we tend to maximize input absorption but brains are terribly bad at recalling anything. It’s interesting - many of our computers are like this. You shove all the data you can, and later on you retrieve. Google is also built on this philosophy as well - it’s not collecting that’s the problem. It’s retrieval.
  • Wisdom has depth, breath, and strength. The ability to think widely, think in one subject deeply, and the strength and conviction to make a wise decision. Learn to grow in wisdom.
  • Lev Pantryagin - Topological groups.
  • During his Ph.D days, he spent a lot of time with two other grad students. He said that when people ask him if he was jealous of their talents, he says that it’s not the case. Rather, he feels that he felt blessed to have learned beside them.
  • He spent two years on a problem until some youngster in Germany solved it before him. He was devastated, and he said he tunnel visioned on an approach due to a complement of his work at a conference. Looking back, he said that it’s wise to have a simple mind.
  • ***** Say a guy loves a girl ****. First, he hopes that the girl likes him back. Then, the hope turns into a delusion that the other girl might like him. Small delusions can turn into reality, and that’s a consequence of human tolerance/cultivation/imagination. In some sense, it’s ironic that the creativeness of the human mind is also its greatest weakness. It’s hard to accept the truth as what it is. And facts as simply what they are. The line between observation and speculation is very thin - and to know the difference accurately is super important.
  • There’s no need to compare yourself to others. You need to have your own, personal goal. I’ve struggled a lot with this personally, and as I’ve grown I usually don’t compare myself to others. They will never be me, and I will never be them. To each his own.
  • Difference between Japanese and American students.

    Prof: What are you researching?

    Japanese student: I’m researching algebraic topology.

    American student: I’m looking into X. My hypothesis is X.

    This requires courage. Be fearless and bold.

  • Component analysis - the reason why the West has been successful in technological innovation and scientific research is the rigorous breaking down of the problem into components, and examine them one by one in microscopic detail.
  • He gave a lecture, and a famous professor said that, “This is too abstract. You need to add conditions and solve a more defined problem.”

    He was dismayed because he thought the professor meant that the problem was too ambitious for him, and he needed to tone down the scale of the problem.

    The professor then said that, “Only when you put constraints, and iterate, you’ll come up the right approach to solve a more generalized version of the problem. The abstraction will come naturally.”

    ** So he went back to the States and worked on the problem. When he put constraints on it, the problem became more murky to understand and read. But when he removed the constraints, the essence of the problem became much more clearer to see. **

  • Thus, he says that to build something like a good company, you need to not optimize for local optimums, because it will hide you from focusing on the essence of the business.
  • This principle applies to so many areas that it requires deeper thought. For example, one of the ways Haruki Murakami’s writing is very different from other Japanese writers is that he drafts it in English and converts it to Japanese. This kind of constraint actually forces creativity.

    Or let’s say that you can only use 10 minutes to explain a hard concept in a video. You would cut and purify your reasoning to the essence. Usually shorter videos, shorter code, shorter things are more beautiful and crisp than longer things.

  • In research and in life, his attitude is:
    1. Take reality as it is.
    2. Develop a hypothesis
    3. Conduct component analysis on objects
    4. See the big picture when stuck
  • ** People always think from their point of view. If a mother says, “I’m saying this for your own good.” -> that’s actually not true - she’s probably thinking from her own point of view and her loss i.e. reputation.
  • Suppose you are solving a problem. He states that you need to flip it around and become the problem 0.0. He quotes a famous mathematician saying, “ Genius is something who can’t differentiate between himself and the problem.”
  • You have to be integrated with your goal and dream. If that doesn’t happen, then you can’t move forward.
  • “To live is to learn - there is joy in learning. Living is also creating something, and there is a certain joy that you can’t feel from learning when you are creating.”
  • Reading gives you the opportunity to think. Books are thinking devices.
  • Studying is not something that’s really difficult to do - anyone who loves to think can do it, and feel happiness from doing it.
  • Henri Poincare said something like, “Creating is like mushrooms.” First, you have to sow the roots - become grounded. But then need a catalyst/distractor, whether that be a change in weather or a foreign chemical to create spores.
  • Ninomiya kinjiro- to be looked up later.
  • To be an artist you have to be hungry. It’s the same for creators - they are always hungry.
  • Even if you think you’ve solved it, you have to check every minute detail.
  • Lessons of Creativity:
    • Flexible with solving problems.
    • The passion to create must come from within yourself. I feel that this is really hard to do. No one just randomly implants some passion on you. It has to come from within, but how does this process even happen??
    • Applications of what you create usually come after the creation.
  • Admits that he’s not a smart person, but a persistent person. That he will go to the ends of the earth to get something done.
  • Wait patiently, and when an opportunity comes grab it. Everything is persistence.
  • Life without challenges will not result in great amazement or happiness. Life is about self-discovery.
  • Recalls this one student of his at Columbia University that kept asking questions. He would call professors late into the night asking questions for an hour. He says that when this student was admitted, his skills were subpar. But after a year, he started asking really good questions, and by his fourth year in college he had an amazing thesis. Went onto become a professor at Stanford.
  • He mentions that what he liked about Americans is that they learn through asking questions, and don’t use questions as ego boosters. They also don’t differentiate between good and bad questions.This attitude of learning by asking all the questions you can possibly have.
  • What’s fascinating is that the American education optimizes for individuality and accelerating people who are ridiculously talented. I hear about how on average the American education lags behind, but this is a tradeoff. It is fascinating. I’m willing to bet that the average performance of all students in the U.S. is low, but the standard deviation between skills is so high we have a wider range of talents.As a consequence there are a lot more experts. It would be interesting to see some research on this.

ZeroPhone Adventures Round One

The story so far

During my time at the Recurse Center, some people from the previous batch were working on this cool project called the ZeroPhone) The idea is really neat - you build an open source phone for $50! How cool is that?!

The folks were well on their way - they got the PCBs and components. They even got this Reflow Oven

It was interesting. I didn’t know that we could use an open for soldering. I have an electrical engineering degree, and never was I told of the existence of this fabled oven. For whatever reason, we soldered all our chips by hand in our engineering classes like plebeians. And we’re not talking about big chips here - super tiny radio frequency chips the size of 10 grains of sand. All done by hand. The amount of frustration I felt back then in my last semester of that class over 9000.

Then, the batch at the Recurse Center working on it ended, and one of my friends who was working on the project left for Europe. I asked him if I can take his parts and take over for him. He gave me his blessing, and I started working on it.

Here is where the story takes a dark turn. In the beginning there were around 7 people. After the Recurse batch was over, I asked the folks if they wanted to continue working on the phone after the batch. But the majority of the people had moved on with their lives and abandoned this quest. The people remaining were me and one other friend. Fine. It’s a two player co-op. But she was busy, I was distracted, and the commitment to the work was weak.

We had two working sessions total. One we made the fatal error of putting too much solder paste on the surface mounts and shorted the contacts for the buttons. Subsequently, the second session was undoing the negative work.

Anyhow, my comrade then ALSO LEFT FOR EUROPE! Hmm. Why do all the cool people leave for Europe?!

I tried to get the ZeroPhone ring reader back on board and also tried to do some recruiting. But no bites.

Now this has become a solo adventure, and I’m hoping that I can blog on my progress!

What I did for the last two weeks

Here is the crux of the problem: there are a lot of small chips to solder onto the board. One way is to use a reflow oven. Put some solder paste on the board, put the chips on, then put it in the oven. The oven will heat the solder paste to a high temperate and the solder paste will melt paste the melting point X, and then it will harden with the chip component.

Now the problem is placing the right amount of paste on so that there are no shorts. To do this, you either get a really small syringe and place it all manually.

The other approach is to make what’s call a stencil. The premise is that you place a thin film with holes where the solder should go on top over the PCB, then apply solder paste on top of the stencil. Because the stencil has holes, the solder paste will cover the points where chips need contact with the PCB. Pictures are worth a thousand words - I’ll probably put a cool picture here later on to illustrate this in the future.

It seems like a no-brainer to use the stencil and oven approach! Not so fast.

One of the Recursers named Ben said he used a laser cutter and some special material to make this stencil. The class to learn how to use a laser cutter in a hacker space costs $75 dollars. It also costs around $2/minute for laser cutter usage. So it doesn’t make sense from an economic standpoint to go learn this stuff for a $50 dollar phone!

The other option is to solder all the parts manually. I thought about it, and decided that I was going to solder all the chips. I did it before - it shouldn’t be too hard right?

I proceed to take this path. I had a pretty strong start. I had a chip that now looked like this:

I was making good progress, until I got to a really small chip last Saturday. Ultimately, I ended up shorting that one. I tried removing it, but the solder tip was too dull. The usual technique of wicking all the solder was not working at all.

I tried to take the chip off, but struggled to do it I’m certain that the chip that I soldered is non-functional.

This led me to conclude that I need a stencil after-all..

The following Tuesday, I went to a Hacker space called Fat Cat Fab Lab to check out their laser cutter. Out of all the hackerspaces I’ve checked out in NYC, this one is actually my favorite.

I met this guy named David - a product engineer who seemed to have a decent amount of soldering experience. I told him about my ZeroPhone issues. He got curious, and looked up the PCBs online.

Then he looked at me and laughed.

“Dude, it’s like 4 chips! You can totally do this without a reflow oven. Why do you need a reflow oven for this?! Do it yourself. Just make sure you don’t get a shitty tip. THE SOLDERING TIP IS VERY IMPORTANT. I got a $300 dollar soldering station. The best choice ever! Those $30 solder stations? Not worth - they end up trashed in 3 months.”

He proceeded to take me to a soldering station.

“You see this?! This is NOT a good tip. Terrible. Also make sure you get lead solder and make sure it has a flux core. Your life is easier that way.”

He also said if I really want to opt for a stencil, I should order it online. Laser cutter maybe overpriced and overkill.

He’s right. There’s this website where you can order the stencil manually.

But maybe learning how to use the laser cutter is worth it if I’m lasering in the future.

At this point, I have to decide to solder, stencil, or laser. The laser cutter would be worth if I know for sure that I would need to use it in the future. One thing that concerns me is that I screw up the stencil by ordering it online, the project will be delayed significantly. I anticipate the turn around time to get the stencil may be long.

Long story short - I have a decision to make on how I approach this.

Now, for some rants =D.

Rant #0: The previous fellas decided it was a good idea to separate all the chip components by individuals. Mr. Panda would have one bag for all his phone components, Ms. Giraffe would have all her components in one bag, and Dr. Zebra one bag for all his components. This is interesting. During my time in school we never organized this way - we only took the chips from their bags when we were putting them on our PCBs. Why this is a problem? Because it’s really hard to find my components - I’d rather have things organized by component than scouring through my baggy and emptying out every time I’m working. Also, I failed miserably trying to solder that one difficult chip. Pretty sure it’s fried.

Surprise! There’s no more extra chips of that type! Yeah. Life lesson: Always have backups, and multiple chips when you’re doing electrical stuff. You will screw up. Oh I’m sure.

Rant #1: There has to be a better way to do this for all hobby electronics makers. It’s bullshit that 50% of the time is spent not on designing chips but part sourcing and soldering fine chips that bring you closer to blindness. We need a pcpartspicker but for electronics. We need to be able to put an order, and not also wait two weeks to get a PCB to our doorsteps. We need to not spend half our lives putting chips with a stupid iron pen and fill our lungs with cancerous smoke. Someone out there reading this - please build this. Or let me know if you want to team up and try it.

Perhaps we just have to wait for robots. A robot to do all this stupid soldering would be sick. I hope I’m alive to see this - what a joy it would be.

Rant #2: All the tutorial videos on Youtube are excessively long. I swear, if they can cut it to half the length and show all the important points that would be great.

Rearchitecting Game of Thrones from the Finale

I watched the Game of Thrones finale, and I was very happy. That this season is finally over. I can move on by doing better things with the extra hour that I now have on Sundays. Honestly, the only scene that is worthwhile in the entire hour long episode was when I got to see Ghost again. Awww. It would be so nice to pet his fur…

What are the writer’s thinking? Do they even have a basic sense of what makes people tick? The best part of Game of Thrones for me was that the character motivations seem so real, or human. That was missing this season.

One of my friends said we need a Game of Thrones: Brotherhood. I agree. We need to start from season 7 and rebuild.

I hope that one day, we will have amazing AI systems and movie making tools. With pure software, maybe we can replicate all the actors and scenes to give Game of Thrones a proper ending.

I’m an idealist. My favorite movies are movies that teach us a lesson about humanity, or give us some message to chew on. Earnest Hemingway said something in the lines of, “To start any good writing, you simply need to start one with true sentence.” What can we say about the ending of Game of Thrones? What is a good true sentence for the series? Expect the unexpected? People are corrupt? Sacrifices must be made for the common good? They are weak contenders.

If I was the writer of the show, I would restart from Season 7. But with the results we have now maybe things can be tweaked with what we have now.

What if we can make a secret season 8 episode 7?

Here is how I would roll it out.

Note that I’m just a disappointed soul - this is one way I am coping. I am also fully aware that my alternate reality below is filled with inconsistencies and breaks many Game of Thrones consistencies. I’m mending a pot that’s already broken.

Obligatory spoiler warning

It’s a story about Dany and Jon, and they both got screwed. Everyone else did all right.

Sansa? Got her kingdom by screwing over Jon.

Bran? King.

Grey Worm? It’s sad that his lady friend died, but he gets to be a full-time traveler!

We should stat with Hemingway’s one true message/sentence. The true sentence should be, “Love matters more than anything.” or “Love demands great sacrifices. And it’s worth it.”In the end, life’s all over love right? Love yourself and your fellow human beings.

If we can get Dany and Jon a proper ending, I would be able to sleep at night properly. After all, it’s a series of Song of Ice and Fire.

So the REAL ending with an extra episode would go like this.

Jon kills Dany in the heart, just like how he got stabbed in the heart. Drogon still melts the throne. Drogon flies off with Dany’s body.

To a secret location. (This is the hardest part. I don’t know how to engineer it so it makes sense. But like all things in life, I’m sure we can figure out how Jon can get Drogon to this.)

Melisandre wasn’t actually dead. She faints for a bit after the battle between the humans and whitewalkers. She is actually alive. Sir Davos assumes that she’s dead after that scene, but Jon puts a necklace back on her. Reasoning: She’s Jon’s savior! Why would you let someone who brought you back to life die like this? I think it’s in Jon’s core that he looks out for everyone at the cost of reason. If this doesn’t make sense, then perhaps we can weave in Melisandre’s secret disciple.

Drogon flies North with Dany’s body. Dany is revived by a Red Lady, with the exact same processes that brought Jon back. Dany finally understands what Jon has been through. I knowledge the flimsy logic in this. Red Lady leaves a letter to Dany from Jon. It reads something like,

“To Dany,

When I saw you on the leet dragon burning people alive, I knew I couldn’t let you take that route. I love you too much to let this happen. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I am no different. And so are you. What will become of us? I used to have a lover once, but she died by my hands because of all the fighting, fighting, and more fighting. I am sick of it. I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t want to fight anymore. I want to be with you, just like we discussed that one day when you taught me how to ride a dragon. Except there’s only one now, so we have to share. But isn’t that what life is about?”… and so on. Details don’t matter.

Jon says that he will come for her when everything has settled, and asks that she wait for her. He knows that he’s too important to kill. Jon gives Dany a choice. She can either go back to rule the Seven Kingdoms and choose to restart her conquest. Or wait for him. Dany does some soul searching, and we can weave in some flashbacks.

Same series of things happen. Jon becomes exiled to Castle Black.

But after that, Jon goes on a scavenger hunt with Ghost and stages his exit. The official story is that the scavenger hunt goes wrong, just like how it went wrong with Robert Baratheon. Jon goes MIA, and Ghost comes back to Castle Black with some blood and Longclaw, symbolizing that he is no longer fighting. He is presumed dead. The Night’s Watch release Ghost so that he can forge his own path in the wild.

Jon comes back to the location that we saw earlier in the season when he went on a dragon ride with Dany. He sees Dany there. Jon walks up to her, gently touches the spot that he stabbed her through the heart. He places a dagger that he used to stab Dany in Dany’s hands.

Dany takes the dagger, gently runs the tip of the dagger through Jon’s heart and ultimately throws it to the ground. Dany gives him a hug and a passionate kiss.

They’re in a cave facing the outdoors and there’s a waterfall beneath them. It’s the North, so let’s say that there’s some light snow falling to the ground. In the cave facing outdoor. There’s a single fire behind them in the cave. As the fire cackles and burns, there’s an icicle that is hanging on the ceiling, and it falls into the fire. This symbolizes Jon “falling” for Dany… haha…

Dany and Jon both look at the beautiful mountain view in the North with waterfalls and stuff holding hands.

Ghost and Drogon in the background where Drogon is chasing Ghost. Or Ghost is on top of Drogon’s head XD.


P.S. After writing this, I’ve realized that I’m just a sucker for twists ¯\(ツ/¯_

Book Tips

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. One of my goals earlier in the year was to double the amount of books I read per year. Which adds up to around 26(?). I’m hopelessly behind. Here are my current notes on my reading process.

  • Read multiple books at once. In general, we tend to get bored with studying one subject, so for me, it helps to read multiple books at once so I can hop on over to another book. Books also have difficulty levels. Some books, like an algorithms book or a signals and system book take a long time to grasp. You may go at 5 pages per hour if the material is super-abstract, or things just keep breaking your model of the world and you can’t stop thinking about it. Adjust accordingly depending on time of day, and freshness of your brain.
  • I tend to have the attitude of extracting key points and information from a given book that is most relevant to me. I tend to write notes, or highlight important bits(if it’s my book -.-). The objective is to make whatever you’re reading yours. Countless studies have shown that recalling helps you remember better. Rephrasing things in your own words and summarizing is one form of recall.
  • Everything is connected. If you’re reading a math book, you may find things that are relevant in an area that is completely irrelevant. It’s a ton of fun to try to connect it to other topics!
  • Don’t focus too much on the page count, or the speed(which may be contradictory to the earlier statement of book count).The mathematician Heisuke Hironaka says that a book is a triggering device to make you think. It may be good to focus on the process. When I was teenager, there was this huge bragging contest about how fast people can read books. It’s stupid. Sure, you can speed-read, but you sacrifice depth and time to ponder on ideas, contemplate their pros and cons, or even form your own counter-arguments.
  • Sign and date on the back of your book after you’re done. My dad does this, and it’s amazing. I try to take it one step further and put one sentence on how I felt about it. I wish we had a culture of doing this in our libraries! Wouldn’t it be awesome to find out who read the exact same book, and track em down, and talk to them via email? Hopefully they’re not dead though.

Why so Serious?

I was on the New York City subway, and I was sitting as usual.

Then these kids came in. They were super happy! They started climbing on the poles, poking and chasing each other, and laughing. Smiles did not disappear from their faces. There really wasn’t that much to smile about! After all, all they had was a pole and they were in the New York City Subway…

Across them, there were 3 adults with this blank, tired, expressionless faces. The contrast was so stark that it left an impression on me.

Kids have this playfulness, energy, and they laugh easily. Most adults are not like that. But I’m sure we used to be. What happened to us?! Can we get back to that sense of playfulness, and smile by default attitude?

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