Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

IN  WHICH Ross Rheingans-Yoo—a sometime economist, trader, artist, expat, poet, EA, and programmer—writes on things of int­erest.

A Day's Worth


"Make someone's day better!"

...was my parting words to a friend today, as she left for her afternoon shift at the Science Center IT help desk. I meant them sarcastically. Everyone knows that IT help is useless, and that the people who go to the help desk with problems will never find help in this world or the next. (I may or may not still be being sarcastic, and should probably mention it before aforementioned friend murders me in my sleep...)


But it got me thinking. What am I doing with my days to make (other) people's days better? What is the marginal happiness that results from an hour of my time spent working on heterogeneous-source, free-text medical data mining? (For those of you who don't know, MDM was my summer research, and it's stuck around as a part-time thing I do sometimes during term-time.) What's the absolute utility of one hour spent ballroom dancing? Teaching at OGPS? Giving private tours of Harvard? Blogging? How about


Eating (Food)

Earlier today, I realized that I was confused about something. (And then mentally told myself: "I realize that I am confused.", so I didn't immediately forget about it, and focus on something unimportant, like the uncountability of the Cantor Set.) My train of thought went something like:

Man, I can't wait to get lunch.

It's a shame that I can't just eat at Annenberg [freshman dining hall]. But at least the food is better in Eliot [my upperclassman house].

Actually, when I get home, what if I just take a nap instead? I'm not exceptionally hungry, and dining hall food is only mediocre at best.

But food is important! More important to you than any other hedonic pleasure, if your blog posts are to be believed...

So why don't you buy better food?

I realize that I am confused.

A fuller explanation requires a little background. I spent a significant amount of time this summer exploring ways to make my life more efficient. Polyphasic sleep was one of


[Meta] Inferential Distances

The rambling, introspective, and at times (I felt) dramatic nature of my most recent post has brought something back to the forefront of my mind. While writing for such a disparate audience: family, friends-from-home, friends-from-school, students-from-HSYLC, future-people-I-haven't-met-yet, etc., I want to be aware of the inferential distances I'm asking my readers to jump across.

That is to say, there are mental shortcuts (e.g. "reference class" or "model (of an actor)") and cached thoughts (e.g. "humans are bad at multiplying" or "I should love 7*10^9 people an unimaginable amount more than 1") that seem obvious to me but may not be so accessible nor apparent to my readers. To be completely honest, I suspect that, for most people, "Looking Backwards", "Errata, Food, Reductionism", and "Greetings, Polyphasic Sleep, and Chives" had large sections which were more-or-less opaque with jargon or (seemingly) blind assertions.

But most of what I write seems rather intuitive to me


[China] Looking Backwards

Challenges in writing about events from the perspective of afterward: Getting things down while they're still fresh in the mind. And so, I figure I'll start with that which is most fresh: returning home.

On the morning of the 23rd, I woke up early enough to see my friends off on their trip to see the Great Wall. I never did get to see it, or the Forbidden City, or the Summer Palace, or the 798 District, or anything else of real cultural interest in Beijing. But that's probably alright; I'll be in China again in the not-so-distant future. It's not like I'm going to see (most of) any of these kids any other time in my life. And so I don't feel so bad about missing a few sightseeing opportunities if it means I got to spend more time with a crop of truly fantastic students.

People ask me "How was China?" or "What did you see?", and my answer to either is "I


Bad Advice, Quantum Mechanics, Normalcy

(The title of this blog post brought to you by "potential romantic comedy plots in five words or less")


A few months ago, Harvard's George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Mathematics recommended a movie to his freshman Real Analysis class -- on some tangent in class, he noted that "it's a fantastic movie; you should all watch it."

The movie was Spring Breakers. So, the other day, a few friends and I borrowed the Jefferson 250 lecture hall (where we had once-upon-a-time taken RA with GVL Prof. Gross) and threw the movie up on the giant projector screen.

We turned it off after thirty minutes of nauseating dialogue, uncomfortable soft-core pornography, and implausible montages of "college kids" drinking "beer". It was bad. Really bad. I'm really not sure how Prof. Gross managed to sit through the movie himself.

But really, the problem here is that I still don't know why we were told to watch this vapid, gratuitous, teen-star nonsense. What I've


[Polyphasic Sleep] Errata, Food, Reductionism


It's become apparent to me in the past few days that, when I wrote last week's post on the theory of sleep, I didn't know what I was talking about. Or rather, I had an incomplete picture of the subject at hand, and oversimplified a system that was more complicated than I was giving it credit for.

A little more digging has revealed that there is, in fact, evidence that SWS may be important for consolidating declarative memory, which breaks down into episodic memory (events) and semantic memory (facts). By contrast, REM consolidates procedural memory and spatial memory (both of which are more or less exactly what they sound like). Previously, I had dismissed it as "useless". Oops.

Of course, that's not the whole story, either: non-REM sleep is split into periods of "light sleep" and periods of SWS. Altogether, an 8-hour monophasic sleep cycle includes something like 1-2 hours of REM, 1-2 hours of SWS, and 4-5 hours of NREM2 light-sleep. The goal of

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