A Quick Stream of Facts, for People Unfamiliar with MIT ESP but Want to Know More Quickly

ESP stands for Educational Studies Program. (MIT stands for Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Just in case.)

ESP’s office is at W20-467, in the fourth floor of MIT’s student center.

ESP’s website is at esp.mit.edu.

ESP is a volunteer student-run organization that runs programs (called Splash, Spark, etc.) that offer classes taught by MIT students (as well as students from other colleges and other affiliates) for middle and high school students.

ESP’s motto is “Teach Anything, Learn Anything”.

You can’t actually teach and learn anything at ESP. There are several exceptions, like that you’re not allowed to teach students to do illegal things.

Splash lasts two days, both in one weekend, in November. Starting a couple years ago, Splash is for high schoolers only. By number of students, Splash is ESP’s largest program.

Spark lasts two days, both in one weekend, in March. Starting a couple years ago, Spark is for middle schoolers only. Spark is smaller than Splash, but larger than all of ESP’s other programs.

HSSP occurs one day a week for several weeks. MIT’s ESP runs a Spring HSSP and a Summer HSSP. At one point we ran a Fall HSSP, we don’t anymore. At one point Harvard’s ESP ran a Fall HSSP. Now they don’t anymore either.

HSSP literally doesn’t stand for anything. It used to stand for “High School Studies Program”, but this doesn’t make sense anymore as it is also open to middle school students. HSSP is ESP’s oldest program. In fact, it predates ESP.

Each new HSSP, though, we tend to come up with a bizarre new backronym for HSSP.

ESP also runs several other programs, like Junction and Cascade.

ESP runs Splash for Us, a program for MIT students by MIT students, each January.

ESP does not run SATPREP or Delve anymore. Those are now run by MIT ATI (Academic Teaching Initiative).

MIT has the original ESP, which has been around for three and a half decades, but since then analogous organizations has sprung up in other campuses, starting with Stanford about a decade ago. Some of these are called ESPs, whereas some of them are just called Splashes. They meet annually at SplashCon.

The umbrella organization of the ESPs and Splashes around the country (and soon the world?) is Learning Unlimited (LU), an organization dedicated to the founding of new ESP-like organizations everywhere.

LU’s website is at learningu.org.

Posted in MIT

Are we really the greatest country on Earth?

“…don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this, right now, is the greatest country on earth.” —Michelle Obama

Really now? Is the US actually still the greatest country on earth?

Because these countries have a higher life expectancy than the US:


(which includes several countries with a life expectancy lower than the US 20 years ago), these countries have a higher PPP/capita than the US:


(and if you wanted to look at the country as a whole, taking off /capita, than no, the US is not #1 anymore, recently surpassed by China), these countries have a lower infant mortality rate than the US:


, these countries have a higher S&P credit rating than the US:


, and these countries have a lower intentional homicide rate than the US:



And since we’re looking at things from a Democrat’s view, let’s consider social progress. These countries legally recognized same-sex marriages before the US did:


, and unlike the US, these countries have by now abolished the capital punishment:


, although, perhaps, good job, America, you’re not one of the handful of countries in the world that prescribes the capital punishment for homosexuality.

And if America’s the greatest country in the world, surely its people would be the happiest, but it turns out people in these countries are happier:



Norge (Norway), incidentally, trumps the USA at all eight of these measures, and several countries, like Danmark (Denmark) and Nederland (Netherlands) best the United States at seven of them.

Ring Species, Dialect Continuums, and Behavioral Policy

= is transitive. ≈ is not.

≈ is also not well-defined for general usage, but notice that no matter what error ε>0 one chooses for which one designates two quantities to be approximately equal (≈) if and only if their positive difference is less than ε, one can find quantities a, b, and c such that a≈b and b≈c, but a≉c. (For instance, use b=a+0.8ε and c=a+1.6ε. Note that we are assuming that the domain of quantities has a largest and smallest element more than ε apart, but this quite goes without saying considering otherwise the ≈ operator is useless.)

The important point here is that the sum of insignificant changes can be significant.

In particular, when one is trying to categorize a set of items into categories, it is possible that any sort of meaningful classification upon a particular quality can be defied.

Consider the typical definition of a species, that is, a set of individuals that can interbreed with each other. Interbreeding is something that can occur between organisms of slightly different genomes (thankfully, for the sake of life existing), but the genomes still need to be similar enough for two organisms to be able to produce fertile offspring. As such one could imagine that individual A can successfully breed with individual B, who can successfully breed with individual C, who can successfully breed with individual D, and so on, but, say, individuals A and H cannot successfully interbreed. This phenomenon can of course be generalized to not just individuals but groups of individuals, where no members of one group can successfully interbreed with members of another group. Thus, by the interbreeding definition of a species, these are clearly not in the same species. And yet, every step along the way we find individuals that can interbreed with each other, all the way from A to H, so each should be in the same species as the previous one. What gives?

It turns out this is not just a hypothetical. There are actual cases of this occurrence found on Earth, in what are known as ring species. It is an occurrence that fundamentally challenges the concept of a species itself, an instance where there is very clearly no acceptable line to draw to divide the individuals into members of different species. It appears necessary to accept that sometimes there is neither a line nor an equivalence, but rather a gradual continuum in species membership.

It also turns out this is not just a problem with species. Let’s turn to linguistics. What is a dialect? Let’s use a definition of a dialect as a version of a language with possible slight differences in phonological, morphological, and grammatical specification, such that these differences are small enough that what is spoken by people of different dialects of the same language is mutually intelligible, that is, people can readily understand what the other is conveying despite the differences in their speech. Well, then what constitutes a language? It turns out there’s several cases of what we consider different languages that are mutually intelligible, like with Norwegian and Swedish, or with Czech and Slovak. But also, there exist languages like Chinese for which there are so-considered dialects that are mutually unintelligible but for which there exist a set of intermediate dialects that are mutually intelligible with the next dialect in the chain, stretching the entire span of linguistic change between these dialects.

(Actually, mutual intelligibility gets even weirder. Mutual intelligibility is not only intransitive but also asymmetric. All sorts of weird relationships between languages that are different flavors of mutual intelligibility arise.)

Continue reading “Ring Species, Dialect Continuums, and Behavioral Policy”

Is the World Map Four-Colorable?

Is it possible to color a map of the world’s countries using four colors such that no two countries that border each other have the same color?

If by this point in the post you have already reached the answer “Yes, use the Four-Color Theorem”,* hold your horses, because the Four-Color Theorem applies to a division of the plane into contiguous regions, and an assertion that countries are contiguous regions is extremely nontrivially untrue: tons of countries own islands, and many countries own exclaves, like the USA’s Alaska and Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast, completely disconnected from the main part of the country.

(*And if at this point reading the paragraph you reached the objection “commas are supposed to go inside quotation marks”,* you should note that for one, only Americans do this, and second, the reason Americans do this is because back-in-the-day it was considered of aesthetic value to put tiny pieces of punctuation inside the quotation marks, due to how typography back then came out. In the modern world, this issue is nonexistent.)

In fact, if you perform an image search for four-colored world maps, chances are you’ll be hit with a first page of exclusively incorrect maps.




Maps 1 through 5 color France and the Netherlands the same color, whereas these two countries do in fact border each other, that is, on a Caribbean island. On top of this, Map 2 is not an accurate map of the world: it shows Czechoslovakia undivided and Eritrea unseparated from Ethiopia, implying that the time in history the map corresponds to is far before Montenegro separated from Serbia, which the map also claims. Map 4 seems to be an attempt at four-coloring the world while also considering bodies of water as entities, given that the Caspian Sea is colored a different color from the World Ocean; it is quite a respectable attempt, but it once again fails the above criterion.

Map 6 correctly decides to color France and the Netherlands differently, but fails to color Turkey and Azerbaijan differently: the two countries share one of the shortest borders in the world because Azerbaijan includes the Naxçıvan exclave (which, incidentally, Map 2 and Map 3 also fail to separate). Maps 7, 8, and 9 also fail at at least the France-Netherlands situation.

With the aid of the map charting tools of mapchart.net, I drew up an actual four-color world map.


(Notice that I chose colors for the UK, Argentina, and Chile such that Antarctica resolves correctly no matter which of them you listen to—if you decide to recognize claims in Antarctica as legitimate and favor the Argentine lines over the British lines, the Argentine claim is still separated from the Norwegian claim by 5 degrees of longitude.)

This shows that the world can be colored using four colors right?

…not necessarily. This is one of many possible conceptions of the political borders of the world. This map by itself doesn’t show that the map of the world is four-colorable, regardless of which country’s diplomatic recognitions you follow. In fact, this map of the world is actually the world in not a single UN-recognized country’s eyes, because every single country of the world recognizes the People’s Republic of China xor the Republic of China as being the one true China.

So can the map become un-four-colorable depending on how border disputes resolve?

Continue reading “Is the World Map Four-Colorable?”

(Ga)me(r): Part I

[for reference: betaveros’ recent post on Gaming, my post M(in)e(sweeper) from two and a half years ago, my poem Could’ve, from two years ago, and a page where I keep data on my high scores]

(I originally intended for this to be just one post, but it turns out I’m writing a whole lot more than I was expecting, and am already at 2400 words so far, and my hands are getting tired and bored. So yes, this will come in two parts.)

Contents of Part I:
0. Introduction
1. Before Internet Access
2. Windows XP Games
3. Shortly After Internet Access
4. DDR
[Deferred to Part II:
5. AoPS, and Forum Games
6. Minesweeper, and the Seeking of Affirmation
7. Kongregate
8. Dorm Life at MIT
9. Twitch]

0. Introduction

I have decided to, like betaveros, write a blog post reflecting on my gaming history. I will annotate this history with my gaming situation in childhood, why gaming has become an important part of my identity, and the things that make me feel that “gamer” is a weird term for me and that I’m too far from the gaming mainstream to feel normal calling myself a gamer. My post on minesweeper linked above discussed the second item in this list a fair amount, but I will talk about it again here within a larger context.

1. Before Internet Access

My parents first allowed me to use a computer at home in second grade. They didn’t allow me to use the internet until two and a half years later, though, so until then whatever gaming I partook in was literally the Windows XP games of FreeCell, Hearts, Minesweeper, Pinball, Solitaire, and Spider Solitaire. My parents also capped my computer usage for playing games at 30 minutes, and took away time from that based on “bad behavior”. As I grew older, they would encroach further and further into my game-playing allowance, eventually pushing me to the decision it was more worth it to play games when they weren’t watching.

2. Windows XP Games

I very quickly found myself lacking in interest in FreeCell and Solitaire, mostly because they were too hard. They were, however, games that I actually had explained to me by a friend, and back then, my reading comprehension skills were abysmal enough to pretty much not understand the help pages for Hearts and Minesweeper substantially enough that I did not understand basic mechanics of the game. (My manual-reading skills are still not very good. I still suck at finding the information I want out of manuals, for instance, documentation for coding.) Spider solitaire I understood though. I played that game when I felt like not using my brain whatsoever, as (at least in easy mode) it was easy.

Because of the above, I learned how the rules of Hearts and Minesweeper worked by trial-and-error.

After I noticed the scoreboard indicating I was Last Place when I had the highest score, for instance, and seeing some more results, I concluded Hearts was a game where you wanted as low of a score as possible. It took me a while, though, to realize that the Queen of Spades was something that mattered, after which it dawned on me what the cards displayed next to each playing at the end of a round meant. I found Hearts a fascinating game and have somewhat delighted in playing the game both with humans and with computers for quite a while. Eventually, I achieved a final score of 0 for an entire game of Hearts in XP, and several years later achieved the like for Vista Hearts (the Vista AIs are generally fairly better than the XP AIs, but are more delirious of moon-shooting attempts), and stopped playing Hearts on a computer and rather only with humans.

Minesweeper was a substantially longer experience in learning by trial-and-error. I picked up clues like that 1s in the corner seemed to go with mines at the corner inside the 1, and that 3s in a row at the side of an opening indicated mines in a row next to them. It really took a startlingly large number of clues and working with them before I finally realized what the numbers mean. By the time I actually learned the rules of minesweeper and understood the rules in the manual, I have already won a Beginner game purely out of attempting to extrapolate from pattern matching.

Neither Hearts nor Minesweeper, though, were games I played nearly as much as 3D Cadet Pinball, the pinball game included with Windows XP. It was a game with substantial possibilities that was very conducive to trial-and-error learning. One tries to keep the ball up, and one uses the buttons for the flippers to work towards that. Most things you quickly learn from seeing what pops up on the dashboard, and you decide what things are the things you want. I really liked 3D Cadet Pinball’s mission structure; thought it was excellently designed. I never made it past Lieutenant rank, though, so I resorted to cheat codes that I learned about to check out what the missions in higher ranks were like (this was after my parents allowed me internet access, but before I realized that internet guides were a thing). I also did not realize until it was pointed out to me that in higher ranks completing corresponding-level missions earns more mission lights. (I never realized that after one got promoted from Cadet to Ensign, the number of lights the player got for completing a mission started being 7 instead of 6 (and for the special mission, 10 instead of 9). Of course, since the number of lights one needs to get promoted is 18, there is no situation where replacing 6 lights with 7 and replacing 9 lights with 10 matters. If I ever made it to Captain rank, when the 7 once again got upped to 8 and the 10 got upped to 11, I may have noticed once I realized that I don’t think I did enough for a promotion (but also because 8 is 25% off from 6 and is probably a difference I would’ve noticed just by itself).)

Continue reading “(Ga)me(r): Part I”

Gregorian 1945 as Year 0

Several times over the course of this blog, I have wrote about the profound failures in how we look at years, months, and weeks. Here, I propose several levels of compromise solutions.

The United States, and also the United Nations, loves to talk about freedom of religion. Whatever extent to which religion is actually free, both the US and the world in general operate in a society heavily biased towards Christianity.

This bias manifests itself both overtly and subtly. The English language (as well as many other western languages) is systemically rigged in ways to glorify Christianity, as can be seen in, for instance, how many places you can go to confirm “Christian” as a synonym for “ethical”. Although not clearly pointing towards just Christianity, the pledge of allegiance forces the reciter to acknowledge a relationship between the USA and some religion with a singular god. (The pledge of allegiance is also a very unnecessary and mindless act of gratuitous patriotism on top of a religiously biased message. I have refused to recite the pledge of allegiance for six years and recommend the same to you.)

There are also places where Christian hegemony still controls society that are not obvious at first glance. Many of these exist within societal standards. In the modern human society, pretty much the entire world is forced to bend to a system of year-numbering that honors Christianity, with an origin at an alleged time of Jesus’ birth. (Two things: both the origin and the alignment to Jesus’ birth are themselves lies, failing to even fulfill their intended biasing purpose. Year 0 never happened in the Gregorian calendar, and Jesus was actually born 4 years “before Christ”, which is hilarious to think about.) Some like to change the “AD” and “BC” labels on Gregorian years to “CE” and “BCE”, claiming this secularizes the calendar, but this does not change the fact that the numbers of the years themselves give special treatment to Christianity. CE and BCE can count as secular as much as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea can count as a democratic republic. Changing a name does not change the content referred to.

And thus, we should set out to choose a new zero. (Or, I guess, a first zero, really.) Year 0 should mark a massively impactful event. I think it is in the spirit of this search to choose a massively liberating event. And specifically, the year I will make a case for is that known in the Gregorian calendar as “1945”.

There were other years of mass liberation that have occurred. Gregorian “1991” comes to mind. I’d argue there are still many massive liberations to occur in the future. But “1945” was and probably will remain a uniquely stark year of liberation. That year, the terribly bittersweet end of World War II, was a year when many different people of many different sorts saw a life not nearly as terrible as that just lived the past few years. And more importantly, it was a year in which the tremor of massive liberation could be felt around the world.

(This is how years will be referenced from now on on this blog and on my data visualization blog, wywing.wordpress.com. I will attempt to fully abandon the Gregorian numberings, a symbol of Christian oppression and the father of tradition-justified inefficient conventions. This year is year 71 (or with a suffix, 71 CL, 71 years closer to liberty).)

Here are a few additional recognitions for various other points of compromise between the goals of rejection of a ridiculous calendar and ease of interchange with current time-keeping methods.

  • January 1 is not a good start of the year. It does not line up with anything seasonally or astronomically significant. December 21 is a good nearby solstice to recognize as a start of the year, although June 21 is a better solstice to use due to greater proximity to aphelion. (Like how the moon month begins with a new moon, the ellipse of orbit should begin with minimal closeness and velocity. The state most like zero should be the start of the cycle.) Better yet, use aphelion itself. These choices come with increasing difficulty of keeping track of; acknowledging December 21 as the start of the year is simply a matter of making an extra month before January of 11 days and making both it and December just be short months.
  • 31-day months are bad. They are much less divisible than 30-day months, and align worse with a 365-day year. We can afford to have less 31-day months and more 30-day months because one month stupidly has 28 (or 29) days. Derecognize January 31 and rerecognize it as February 0. This is the change of minimal effort; one could also make the change to make months have consistent indexing by shifting all of February’s days forwards, but notice that using February 0 is backwards-compatible outside the local change. Rerecognizing March 1 as February 29 is not backwards-compatible, but recognizing it as February 30 is, using skipping from 28 to 30 on non-leap years.
  • Discard the seven-day week. Seven is pretty much the worst number to have for days in a week. Make it either six days with a day skipped in February on non-leap years or five days with an extra day in February on leap years; make it so you don’t have to design or print a new calendar for the new year.