A few days ago, I saw a small number of ants wandering around my bathroom and decided to lay down some ant bait gel in my bathroom sink. Within hours, thousands of ants were swarming over the sweet, delicious embrace of death incarnate, willingly carrying the poison that would kill their hive and queen back to their hidden home. It occurred to me that I had committed genocide with the gentle push of a harmless-looking syringe.
As I washed the almost lifeless bodies down the drain, I wondered if evolution will ever give ants the ability to resist the blind temptation of sugar and become more discerning in their consumption. Were there small factions of ants who recalled, across time and space, the story of the Greeks and warned the others of the Trojan horse? Were any of them suspicious of this apparent gift from the bipedal giants?
And then I thought about the election. Unhealthy food, fossil fuels, fake news. Like the ants, we consume the obvious things with little thought for the future. Perhaps the difference is that we are self-aware and possess the potential capability of overcoming our biological programming. But let’s hope that is enough when some passing alien overlords decide to casually lay down a bit of human bait to clear out the neighborhood. After all, we have proven quite recently—enlightened as we believed ourselves to be—we are unable to resist the siren call of demagogy and communalism to the detriment of the common good.
Just some shower thoughts.
Looking at the key states that lost Clinton the election, we find traditional Democratic strongholds like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – states that no polls expected Trump to win. In one narrative, we find a white voting base that has been made viscerally aware of its decreasing majority due to demographic changes. Here, we are tempted to reach for the racial explanation: that America simply was not as progressive as we had imagined it to be. The danger of this crutch is that it trivializes much deeper problems. Even if racial bigotry were playing a crucial role here, one must then ask what is it that made these sentiments so central to this particular election when a black man won all of those states in both 2008 and 2012? I think a more satisfying explanation is needed.
The moment when you can now take an online class on building self-driving cars from a for-profit education platform is probably the moment where we have officially gone from a world where autonomous vehicles were a trope found in pop cultural futurism to one where they have become an expected soon-to-be feature of our lives. Between Google’s self-driving car project and Tesla’s Autopilot feature, we spend so much time talking about autonomous driving that it can almost seem absurd that we still have to suffer through our morning commutes in our primitive dumb cars. When the first commercial self-driving car is finally in our hands, its release will almost be no more surprising than a new iPhone. It is about time, we will all say. What took you so long?
I watched “The Butterfly Effect” with my housemates yesterday. From a conventional perspective, it was one of the most poorly written movies I’ve ever watched. For a movie that was made in 2004, the cinematography is very dated and falls squarely in the trademark campiness of the mid-90s. However, I enjoyed it much more than I imagined I would, certainly much more than I could possibly have just a few years ago.
It’s been such a long time since high school. At some point in my final year, the idea of getting into Stanford became my singular obsession. Even though I only first learned of the school a year earlier, everything I knew about it told me that it was the place where I needed to be. Having coasted my way semi-consciously through the mundane and uninspiring routines of secondary schooling back in Singapore, the idea of being part of an intellectual community had a magical allure that the romantic part of me could not resist.
Though I had no outstanding academic or athletic achievements, I had always fancied myself a bit of a writer. Thus began a month-long effort to craft the essay that could perfectly encapsulate what it meant to be me, trimmed to neatly fit within two pages. In my zealous search for purity, I sought and desired no feedback during the month I spent working on the essay. Looking back, I remain convinced that this tiny fragment of my insanity was probably what got me into Stanford.
First published in The Stanford Daily.
Startups are often thought of as a risky business. We imagine founders to be fierce visionaries who can see a better future and are willing to bet on their personal success to realize it. They tread the thin line between genius and delusion and their ventures are constantly on the verge of utter failure right up to the moment they cross an invisible threshold and achieve the fabled “hockey stick” growth — the supposed mark of a scalable technology business. Then, at long last, comes the vindication and adulation. The risky bet pays off.
When it comes to video games, there are good games and there are great games.
The good games provide entertainment. They are challenging but not unfair. They show you a hint of what is possible and then push you on to incrementally discover the joy of the player mechanics and the choreograph of simple components that give rise to complex interactions.
The great games, on the other hand, tell a story. They are the true masters of the medium. For them, gameplay is not just a fun diversion but the essence of reality presented in radically new forms. What we receive from them is not a primeval sense of achievement at having accomplished a task whose primary meaning is a function of the time we spend on it, but a different, artistic and insightful take on the deeper questions of our past, present and future.
In that, it can be said that a great game is merely literature, but literature in its broadest sense because written words alone are not how games convey their meanings. A great game, like any other work of literature, has the capacity to inspire the mind and touch the soul, but it does so in its own wondrous ways.
Without a doubt, Bioshock Infinite is widely acknowledged to be a great game. I personally would take a step further and say that it is a great work of literature–perhaps one of the greatest.
A few weeks ago, I was cruising the Reddit procrastination superhighway when I stumbled upon Legoizer, a web application to convert uploaded images to a mosaic constructed out of LEGO bricks. It’s such a simple and beautiful idea that I was surprised to find out that it took some long for someone to finally build it. After playing around with it, I decided that I really wanted to recreate the Great Wave off Kanagawa in LEGO. But before I do that, there were a few limitations of Legoizer I had to overcome.
Therefore, I set out to create my own LEGO mosaic generator with the options I need. The result, Image to Brick, can be seen at www.tobrick.com.
First published in The Stanford Daily.
Microsoft is buying a small game studio called Mojang for 2.5 billion dollars. Mojang is a small company with fewer than 50 employees, but they are the people behind the popular exploration and building game “Minecraft.” This is a good chunk of money — more than what Google paid for YouTube back in 2006, even adjusted for inflation. It is also more than a third of the price that Microsoft itself paid for Nokia’s devices business. “Minecraft” is an extremely popular and successful game, but is it worth that much?
As investors try to come to terms with the announcement, analysts are quick to point out that the game’s popularity on consoles and mobile devices will give Microsoft a useful asset for its faltering mobile strategy and its Xbox division, which began the new console generation behind its Sony rival.
Here is a subtler explanation.