A Season with LearnedLeague

I recently finished playing in my first (and probably only, the reason for which I’ll explain shortly later) season of LearnedLeague, an online trivia league. I’d say it was a fun experience, and that the ideas behind how competition in LearnedLeague works are generally good ideas.

Each round (of which there are 25 in a season, at least in the one I participated in) consists of a head-to-head match between two league players, that involves answering trivia questions (called “offense”), and assigning numbers of points each question is worth for your opponent (called “defense”), for which one is allowed to consult their history to know what one’s opponent tends to be good at.

And this gets to why I don’t think I’ll be back for another season. LearnedLeague has failed to deviate from a problem I find in most trivia competitions: an excessive favoring of generalists. Frankly, there are four categories of LearnedLeague trivia (Film, Lifestyle, Pop Music, and Television) than not only am I terrible at but also I honestly have less than zero interest in getting better at (really, four and half, given the Games/Sport category; it’s a really easy exercise for the reader to figure out which half of that I don’t care about). But there are categories of trivia I am definitely extremely interested in. Overall, my trivia knowledge is terribly category-polar, and this makes me ridiculously easy to defend against. As much as I like the assigning-points-for-opponent mechanic, the resulting effects of the such for highly non-generalist people like me make it something I’m not willing to give money for. A second factor lies in excessive references to alcoholic drinks, which many may know I find elevated discomfort in. There’s quite a few questions for which it looks like the writer specifically wanted to force an association with alcohol. Yes, it turns out unfortunately trivia is often associated with bars. *Sigh*.

Anyway, my category stats:


Below I’ll make some notes on specific items in some categories.

Some of these questions have images that are part of the item when you click ‘Click here’. I’m too lazy to copy those over, so I’ll leave it to your imagination what those items were.



MD15Q3 was the least-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with only 5% answering correctly.

MD06Q2 was a guess. They all looked like portraits. Might as well guess that they were of the self variety.



I only got MD13Q1 because of knowing where Qaanaaq is and knowing there’s a military base named Thule nearby, and thus just guessing “Thule” off of only this information, possibly the most distant answer derivation I’ve underwent this entire season. Does this count as love towards Sweden via proxy?

I entered “Hand of God” instead of “Invisible Hand” for MH08Q5. Oops.

Current Events


I’m fairly ashamed of having not been able to name the new UN Secretary-General. Apparently, neither could most of LearnedLeague, so shame on everyone else too.



MD12Q5: Booo Othello. I can’t believe the world accepted the game of Reversi getting a second name.

What is sportsball.



Apparently the most frequently incorrectly guessed answer to MD20Q2 was “Washington”. I guess that’s what “Bellevue” tipped people off to?

I was not actually sure of the answer to MD12Q6; I based my guess off of understanding the Central American isthmus as gradually less inhabitable as one moves south and east.

American History


I don’t really have many comments to make here.

World History


I really should’ve gotten MD24Q5, but didn’t answer “Peloponnesian League” because of the inclusion of Corinth, which I recalled as not-all-that-Peloponnesian, although maybe I should’ve still considered the isthmus Pelopennesian. I guessed “Dorian League”.

For MD15Q4, I knew where relatively chronologically the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was; I just couldn’t exactly remember where it was delimited and wasn’t exactly sure which monarchs came between Victoria and Edward $LARGE_NUM. I ended up deciding I had the best chances with guessing Victoria, which it turns out was too early.

For MD12Q3, I made the rather hilarious-in-retrospect mistake of calling the Ostrogoths the “Orthogoths”. Herpity derp.

MD07Q5 was the most-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with 88% answering correctly. Fortunately, I was in the 88% for this case.

I was wondering whether MD01Q2 wanted the real (legal) name of Kim Il-Sung, since that is not it, but ended up deciding they probably just want “Kim Il-Sung” for the purposes of the question. It turns out that was a good assumption.



I consider the FANBOYS question a bad question.

MD02Q4 was an item I really should’ve gotten, but I mind-blanked a bit much and put “al-“.



Maybe if I thought a little harder on MD18Q4 I would’ve gotten it.




MD08Q1 was the second-most-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with 87% answering correctly.

Classical Music


MD19Q4 was the second-least-correctly-answered item in the entire season, with only 14% answering correctly.

The Classical Music section consists of an excess of…I guess I’ll call it “applied” music and way not enough “pure” music, grump, grump. I’m saying “applied”, I guess because terms like “incidental” and “operatic” don’t actually capture the set I’m trying to describe.



I was actually quite surprised with how long it took me to recall what Newton’s Second Law was. It turned out my physical knowledge had progressed to a state where I only know if I’m supposed to know things. Fortunately, I did eventually remember the Law. I wonder if I would’ve forgotten it if I hadn’t taken an olympiad qualification test whose name is the equation of the Law.

Anyway, that’s all; ’twas a fun season. I’m going to stay around for some MiniLeagues, but then vanish from LearnedLeague. I did refer a friend to LearnedLeague, though, so maybe he will stay.

The Phrase “Crimes Against Humanity” has the Vibe of the Term “Un-American”

This was originally going to be a post arguing that people who legislate climate change denial are committing crimes against humanity. While purposeful ignorance of the effects of climate change is rather genocidal to island nations, and I do think this is itself worthy of a post, I’m now instead discussing the term “crime against humanity” itself, as a consequence of flushing out thoughts on what I’d write in this blog post while in the shower.

The term “crime against humanity” is intended to label an act, typically a war crime, or systematic murder and ethnic cleansing, as atrocious and far beyond the reaches of what can be considered humane. Crimes against humanity are so appallingly disgusting that it they are a disrespect and disgrace to all of humanity for being able to happen.

But the term “crime against humanity” sounds an awful lot like the word “un-American” in notion. That is, it labels an act as centrally against what makes us us, for some level of “us”. The accusation against an alleged un-American act is that the act fails to meet the standards of American morality and values, and the threat conveyed to the accused is that they will land themselves outside the circle of identity of most of the community.

So how high is the bar of American values, this esteemed highland of morality? At that of a country that has…systematically persecuted and killed the native population of the land, relentlessly oscillated among ethnicities of immigrants to vilify, funded genocidal regimes in foreign countries in the name of anti-communism, exhibited a level of gun violence unimaginable in many other developed countries, and ironically tarnished its foundation of liberty by outlawing slavery later than nearly all other developed countries. This is the proud country whose moral standards the accused have failed to meet. It turns out not only is the label “un-American” a bringer of artificial enmity, it also is vividly hypocritical.

And on this note, I’d like to ask: where is the moral bar for the human species? The human is distinguished by actually having concepts of murder and war: a thirst for blood beyond that which just seeks nutrition. The human is a species that kills 10 million times as many sharks as are killed by them, yet consistently produces media claiming the sharks are the monsters. No species has demonstrated as blazing a contempt for nature as has the human. What is the “humanity” that “crimes against humanity” have failed to respect? What is humane, what moral quality is it the human supposedly naturally exhibits, if the history of the human is that of a species that could not wait to exhibit inhumanity again?

There is no humanity crimes against humanity are against. Crimes against humanity are really crimes of humanity, a systemic plague within the human species, a species too weak to avoid casting off each instance of inhumanity as not its problem, unable to accept its record far too tainted for “humane” to be a properly reflecting word.

Why These Seven Countries

Very soon after inauguration, Donald Trump signed an executive order blocking people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entry to the US. Why exactly these countries? The reasons often provided and often alleged for this selection tend to match up rather badly with facts about these countries, and are dotted with holes in reasoning. Making a possibly unjustified assumption that some sort of thinking went into figuring out exactly which countries were included in the ban, let’s investigate some theories and see what comes closest.

Theory 1: Keeping out Terrorists

The administration’s officially provided reason for the ban is incredibly blatantly false. Zero of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists hailed from any of the seven countries covered by the ban (so Trump would’ve likely been closer to blocking these by randomly choosing seven countries), nor did the San Bernardino shooter who pledged alliance with the IS. Saudi Arabia, a long-recognized breeding ground for radicalization and the production of terrorists, is not blocked by the ban.

Theory 2: Keeping out Muslims

This very common accusation among liberals for the motivation behind Trump’s ban still matches up with specifics very poorly. The ban neither blocks several countries with the greatest percentage of Muslims in the population (like Morocco) nor the countries that politically exhibit the most fundamentalist implementations of Islam (like Saudi Arabia and Qatar). In fact, many of these countries are countries with relatively larger diversity among those in the Muslim world, both in terms of non-Muslim sects and different sects of Islam itself (which unfortunately contributed to the elevated magnitude of sectarian clashing in several of these countries).

Theory 3: Blocking Countries the Islamic State is in

This is quite inconsistent with the countries selected as well. The IS has failed to have significant headway in Iran (which, in fact, has been one of the most crucial players in the fight against the IS), one of the countries included, but controls a macroscopic amount of land in Lebanon, not one of the countries included in the ban. With errors in both directions, this is by quite a stretch not what these seven countries have  in common, but is still much closer than the above two approximations.

The ban does not respond to support for the IS, either: Qatar is the country against which the most substantive claims of secret funding of the IS has been made, and is not on the ban list. Most of these countries the IS has managed to control parts of have governments that have repeatedly denounced the IS. At least the ones on this list for which it’s clear what the government of the country is, which brings us to…

Theory 4: Blocking Countries with Political Instability or Refugees

Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo produce lots of refugees, but they aren’t included in the ban. Maybe Trump is only blocking Muslim refugees? This isn’t the case either: Afghanistan has a gigantic outflux of Muslim refugees, but Afghanistan didn’t make the block list.

Nevertheless, there is one striking trait that many countries on Trump’s list posses: countries in political strife. Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia are all countries with several major threats to the current de jure government, the last three to an extent that it is hard to say exactly what the government of the country even is, especially if one puts a requirement of minimum effectiveness in their definition of a government.

But what about Iran? Iran is doing substantially solidly as a country, particularly in its region. Yes, they may have had a Twitter revolt and other clashes, but these have amounted to nowhere near what nearby countries have seen.

Regardless, it seems that this theory would be the closest to the reasoning behind the selection of countries: blocking politically unstable countries, but tacking on a slice of hating on Iran while at it. With Iran taken out, the political situation is the stark connecting link among Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. Now if only this made sense as a justification for the ban.

For the Force of Fascination, the News Fails at Science

There are now several news articles going around generally spouting “Zealandia? Eighth continent! Betcha didn’t know!”.

Most of these articles bother to go into what a geologic definition of a continent looks like, and shows that Zealandia would be categorized as such, but two of the ones linked above never manage to take a step back and realize that it’s completely preposterous for Europe and Asia to be considered geologically the same continent, despite many of them actually including a map that says ‘Eurasia’ (and the others mostly mention this as just a convention, and not something that is as geologically decidable as the topic they are bringing forward).

(I’m particularly saddened that my favorite bastion of journalism, The Guardian, one of very few media sources I actually respect, joined in on this train. At least it mentioned Eurasia.)

If they actually bothered to consider Eurasia beyond mention, they would realize that Zealandia really wouldn’t be the 8th continent, but the 7th. (Rather ironically, the first article is the only one that manages to get to this, despite being written in the most flippant tone.)

But beyond this, not a single one of these articles managed to point out that Zealandia is not the first proposed submerged continent. I’ve ran Ctrl+F through all of them for Kerguela. None of the articles return finds. Some of the maps on the articles point out Kerguela, but evidently none of the authors of these articles decided that was something they might want to take note on when they chose to include that map. This news, that Zealandia is a new continent, really isn’t that earth-shattering when one considers that this idea isn’t new. And since among these articles the demotion of Pluto has been mentioned, this is like how Pluto’s demotion from planetary status isn’t really that unprecedented given this happened to (to give one example) Ceres prior.

And really, this is what most news on science is like. Much of it just exists to catch people’s attention at the cost of any semblance of scientific legitimacy. It turns out most the public is too ignorant on science to realize lacks of background that really change what articles on science are putting forward. This is why ‘Science’ is usually one of my least favorite categories of news.

One Institutional Memory Ago

At MIT, we often talk about the institutional memory: the fact that, for instance, undergraduate students are only here for about four years means that many things are quickly forgotten. Just to jog the forgotten past a bit, here’s a list of things at MIT that I can remember to have changed while I was here. If you came to MIT later than I did, you might learn about some things that you may have thought have always been that are actually really new. (And I guess, on the other token, if you left MIT a short number of years ago, here’s what no longer is.)

7.015 and 7.016 didn’t exist.
18.03 taught Laplace Transforms.
No class numbers had ten-thousandth places. 6.0001 and 6.0002 were the first ones. Soon after, Course 18 and then Course 15 joined the party.
Course 1 had only three degree path options: 1-C, 1-E, and 1-A.
Course 14 had only one degree path option.
Course 15 had only one degree path option.
18.100 had three versions: A, B, and C.
Course 21G was called 21F.

The EECS undergraduate lounge was 38-201.

Building 12 existed.
Building E33 existed.
Building E34 existed.
Building NW62 existed.
Building W13 existed.
Building W64 didn’t exist.

MIT didn’t have buildings in the EE sector.
MIT didn’t have Building E94.
MIT didn’t have Building N50.
MIT didn’t have Building NW32.
MIT didn’t have Building NW98.
MIT didn’t have Building W97.

Building 2 underwent a renovation. (As did all of its classrooms.)
Building 9 underwent a renovation.
Building 35 underwent a renovation.
Building 66 underwent a renovation.
Building E52 underwent a renovation.
Buildings E17 and E18 underwent two renovations.

4-270 underwent a renovation.
4-370 underwent a renovation.
6-120 underwent a renovation.
24-1’s classrooms underwent renovations.
26-100 underwent a renovation.

Building 2 didn’t have a name.
Building 9 didn’t have a name.
Building E52 was called Sloan. (Often referred to as ‘Old Sloan’, in comparison to E62.)

The lobby of Building 32 wasn’t named the Charles Vest Student Street. (And Charles Vest was still alive.)

All of Random Hall’s bathrooms had two toilets.

Students of dorms worked their front desks during the day, exclusively. (Allied Barton workers weren’t there yet.)
In all dorms but Random Hall, all you needed to say in order to be allowed inside a dorm was that you’re visiting someone.

2-032 was an Athena cluster.
2-225 was an Athena cluster.
12-182 was an Athena cluster.
37-312 was an Athena cluster.
38-370 was an Athena cluster.
56-129 was an Athena cluster.
The W20-575 Athena cluster was larger.

LSC’s main office was W20-469.
LSC ran films during the summer.

Both ESP’s main office and its secondary office were accessed by numerical code rather than card reader.
ESP’s secondary office was in Building 50. That meant that if one was doing things there in the summer one was doing so in searing heat.
All of ESP’s Splark Teacher Appreciation Dinners were at Royal East.
The members of ESP endlessly squabbled over which juice was better rather than what the name of the printer was (and that printer wasn’t there yet (or the other printer)).

The card reader in front of SIPB’s office wasn’t there (not that it does anything these days).

The Tech published twice every seven days.

Saté was called momogoose, and vegetarian entrees were $4.
There was Sepal, which was replaced by Sonoma Greens, which was soon after replaced with Shawarma Shack.

Centrifugues didn’t exist yet.

MIT Gangnam Style happened.

Sean Collier was shot and killed, and a memorial was built for him near where he was shot, between Buildings 32 and 76.


If you have enough context, you can deduce the questions.

  1. black
  2. raven
  3. Hangul
  4. Python
  5. 21G.611
  6. Building 6C
  7. “Jabberwocky”
  8. Edgar Allan Poe
  9. Henry David Thoreau
  10. Voltaire
  11. Richard Stallman
  12. George Washington
  13. Sweden
  14. New Hampshire
  15. CGP Grey
  16. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
  17. Romanticism
  18. V
  19. Soren
  20. The Martian
  21. “Forbidden Friendship”
  22. Nightwish
  23. Under the Grey Banner
  24. “Sacrament of Wilderness”

People Who Have Gotten Fewer Presidential Electoral Votes than Faith Spotted Eagle: a Selection

The 58th presidential election of the United States of America saw the most spectacular electoral college map in 144 years (and that time, it was because one of the candidates died). After an entire century of no more than one faithless elector per election, this election saw 7 faithless votes make it through (and even more attempted). One of these votes, from Washington, was for Faith Spotted Eagle, someone whose Wikipedia article, at least at the writing of this blog post, is still a stub.

But now, the Electoral College has demonstrated that prior obscurity will not prevent you from getting more electoral votes ever in the history of US presidential elections than the following people, each only having gotten zero electoral votes so far.

Ross Perot

Winning over 27 million popular votes over 2 elections could not help Ross Perot in ever receiving a single electoral vote.

Ralph Nader

Whether or not he was a significant reason George W. Bush won an election questionable in many ways against Al Gore, Ralph Nader’s 2 million popular votes did not bear any fruit in electoral votes for him.

Three former presidents:
John Tyler
Andrew Johnson
Chester Arthur

These three presidents all became president due to being vice president when a president died. None of the three ever won a single electoral vote in a US presidential election. Most scholars agree that none of these three were anywhere near good presidents, so might as well.

Third-party candidates for the 58th election for president:
Gary Johnson
Jill Stein

They didn’t get any electoral votes this turn around. Or before.

Ted Cruz

And he had to face undertaking the hazingly embarassing act of calling people to encourage them to vote for someone who accused his father of conspiring to assassinate JFK. Well, he’s still relatively young, and has plenty of time with which to help ruin America and to try to beat Faith Spotted Eagle in electoral votes.

Vladimir Putin

Whatever his role in this past US presidential election was, he couldn’t mess with it enough to land him an electoral vote.

John Edwards, spelled correctly

John Edwards did win one electoral vote, but it was from a faithless elector in Minnesota who literally cast a ballot for “John Ewards” [sic], rather than John Kerry. The vote was interpreted as being for John Edwards for president.

All in all, well done, Faith Spotted Eagle. You have, at least for now, bested all of these big names in managing to get a vote from the Electoral College.

And to the faithless elector who voted for Faith Spotted Eagle: I’m not sure if you have had a point of highlighting the ludicrousness of the Electoral College, but either way, you are a hero of freedom and a hero of the American soul.