Movies of 2009, Cont’d

This post is an addendum to my earlier Movies of 2009, which reviews 13 movies. This list is again in chronological order by release date. (The reason these are not in the earlier list is because I watched all the following yesterday.)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (June 2009)

Rating: 4/10

This movie was definitely not for me. The plot seems highly superficial, and the transforming scenes, while made to appear epic, take too long and are boring. The main battle scene drags out too much, and at times defies basic common sense.

Pandorum (September 2009)

Rating: 5/10

A fairly good sci-fi horror movie. However, it gives too much of the feel of Alien, and in trying to develop the characters, is too repetitive. It has both science and fiction, but does not seem to fit well into the realm of science fiction. The plot, however, is excellent and the horror suspense is present.

Zombieland (October 2009)

Rating: 8/10

Outstanding for a horror-comedy, but it could perhaps use more comedic gimmicks; it feels too much like your standard zombie movie.

Perfect Rigor

Masha Gessen’s Perfect Rigor: A Genius and the Mathematical Breakthrough of the Century (2009) is the story of Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman and his quest to solve the Poincaré Conjecture, a problem that eluded the most brilliant minds in the field for nearly a century. She describes his rise to mathematical brilliance, his genius, his perfection, his habits, his idiosyncrasies, and most bizarrely, his self-induced seclusion from the world after solving the Poincaré.

Perfect Rigor

Very carefully, Gessen notes that the book is not a biography “in the usual sense,” for she did not―and could not―interview Perelman. His isolation prevented such a meeting from happening. Instead, the book uses the testimonies of Perelman’s few friends and associates.

A highly insightful and lively written account, Perfect Rigor the investigation of a man who chooses to avoid public exposure at all costs. He declined two very prestigious prizes: the Fields Medal, which is considered the equivalent of a Nobel in mathematics (there is no Nobel prize in mathematics); and the Millennium Prize, an even greater disctinction, which offers one million dollars for the first rigorous solution to any of seven Millennium Problems, one of them being the Poincaré―Perelman was well aware of, but deliberately failed to meet, the eligibility requirements for this prize.

Gessen prefaces with an introduction to the Millennium Prize, and then begins with mathematical and Soviet history. No advanced knowledge of mathematics is required to read this book, but a bit of familiarity with topology can certainly enhance the read. In fact, the opening chapters are of more use to a historian than to a mathematician; a brilliant account of the specific social and political conditions that led to Perelman’s rise (and later seclusion) is given.

The book then picks up on Perelman, his mother, and his math coaches and teachers. As a child, Perelman excelled at math, and was always ahead of his classmates. In 1982 he won the gold medal at the International Mathematics Olympiad, an international math competition for high school students, by earning a perfect score.

Perelman was no ordinary mathematician―he was a genius. There was no math problem that he could not solve. But he had (and has) a very peculiar and rigorous value system. What is right to him is obviously right to him, yet no one else seems to understand what he considers right. When he published the solution to the Poincaré in 2002, he did not do so in a refereed math journal; in fact, he posted his solution on the Internet and available to the public. Because of this, he was ineligible, and intentionally so, for the million-dollar Millennium Prize.

He dedicated literally his entire life to mathematics, and spent almost a decade working on the problem. His contribution back to mathematics community was solving a problem that no one else could solve. In his Olympiad days, he would solve a problem, submit it, and have his answer acknowledged as correct. But now, the one community he trusted―the mathematics community, for he mostly avoided talking to anyone else―was telling him that his solution was ineligible for recognition. The mathematicians who did support him verified the solution, but still, no Millennium Prize was announced. He did not care about the money; rather, he was shocked that the people whom he trusted most were now refusing to acknowledge him in the greatest mathematical achievement of the century.

In 2006 the mathematics community tried to make up for this by awarding Perelman the Fields Medal. To any other mathematician, it would have been the greatest achievement, but to Perelman, it was almost an insult―the reason for his award was carefully worded as to avoid the statement that Perelman had solved the Poincaré; he was merely congratulated “for his contributions to geometry and his revolutionary insights into the analytical and geometric structure of the Ricci flow.” In his mind, and the minds of most mathematicians, he solved the Poincaré Conjecture. He declined the Fields Medal.

In all, Perelman’s story is a complex one, filled with brilliance, genius, luck, tension. Gessen’s account portrays clearly the life of a man totally estranged from the world, and at this point, even from the mathematics community. It delves into the historical elements that affected Perelman and the ways people seldomly interacted with him, but more importantly, it explores how his environment shaped his mind, and how he used it―how he solved problems perfectly―and how he formed a rigorous idea of correctness in his mind, a set of rules that only he could understand. Perfect Rigor is a perfect read.

College Interviews Part 2

College Interviews Part 1 contained interviews with MIT, University of Chicago, Yale, and Harvard. They are described with much more detail than the ones in this post.

This post contains interviews with Carnegie Mellon, University of Texas at Austin (twice, for Dean’s Scholars scholarship interviews), and Princeton.

Carnegie Mellon

Interviewer: Eric Stuckey
Setting: Saturday, 1/16/10, 1 pm – 2:15 pm, Genuine Joe’s (West Anderson Lane)

The interview can be summarized in two words: Computer science.

As of my writing this, a week has passed since this interview. I actually cannot remember some of the specific questions that he asked me; perhaps this is because it was for the most part a fascinating conversation. I got to the coffeehouse about 10 minutes early and bought two coffees; he arrived about 5 minutes late, and declined the coffee because it contained caffeine, and went for hot chocolate instead. So, I had two cups of coffee for myself.

He first asked me why I was interested in CMU. I mentioned how I knew a few Westwood students who went there, and how its high rankings in the computer science departments caught my eye. It seemed like an interview for only five or so minutes. The remaining hour and some was just a nice and mostly intellectual discusison.

We talked a lot about computer science, and CMU’s involvement in it. One point of discussion was the self-driving car, or rather, CMU’s pioneering of it. In the mid-1990s CMU designed, built, and tested such a thing. That’s right, in the 1990s! I guess I didn’t do my research; I thought engineers were just starting to work on that.

In 2005-6, there were two competitions for a self-driving car. CMU won the first, and placed second the next year. However, the first-place team, Stanford, included someone who had just been on the CMU team the year before. In other words, CMU is a leader in the advancement of computer technology.

We went on to other topics in computer science, and he really emphasized CMU’s strengths in the field. I asked about the rankings in particular—why is CMU ranked so high in computer science, i.e. what exactly does it have? The answer was simply two things: good students and good faculty.

For a while we discussed the intellectual realm in general. Computer science itself, even though a relatively new field, has expanded considerably and is now a fairly broad field.


These two are scholarship interviews, not admissions interviews. They are both pretty short, so I will not elaborate further.

Interviewer: Alan Cline
Setting: Friday, 1/22/10, 2 pm – 2:15 pm, On campus

He first mentioned that my school, Westwood HS, had more students in Dean’s Scholars than any other school. We discussed my IB Extended Essay on a modification of the Riemann zeta function.

Interviewer: Jim Vick
Setting: Friday, 1/22/10, 2:15 pm – 2:30 pm, On campus

Similar to the previous one. The main point of discussion was the Riemann zeta function.


Interviewer: Amy Mitchell (’77)
Setting: Saturday, 1/23/10, 3 pm – 4:15 pm, Starbucks (Research and Anderson Mill)

This was a pretty amazing interview. We covered an extensive range of topics with a lot of depth. It was very conversation-like. It felt similar to the Yale interview.

On the Number of Magnitudes Less than a Given Prime

This post is mainly a test of LaTeX, a math typesetting language, and its built-in functionality in WordPress. As a bonus, there is actually a paper entitled “On the Number of Primes Less than a Given Magnitude” (Riemann, 1859 [pdf]), which, unsurprisingly, is much more difficult than this.

Let p be a prime number. Then n, the number of magnitudes {x} less than or equal to a given prime, is equal to

n = \displaystyle\sum_{x \leq p} 1 = \infty

because there are infinitely many real numbers less than or equal to any prime.

WarCraft III Map Making

As you may or may not know, I am a freelance map maker on WarCraft III, a game by Blizzard Entertainment, and not to be confused with World of WarCraft, another Blizzard game which, despite the similarities in name and story, are quite separate from each other in terms of gameplay and customization. WarCraft III (WC3)’s map editor is one of the most powerful of any video game, even though the game is eight years old. It pretty much allows an author to code anything (and StarCraft II’s editor is supposed to be much better still). Well, I suppose I’m not a freelance editor anymore—for the most part, I work collaboratively on a map called BattleShips Pro (currently v1.199).

The video above is of a special mode called Capfest. Basically, you may only use the Crusader (a type of ship) and may only win by capsizing, or “capping,” your opponent a number of times without being capped back. The next video is of a more standard game, with a variety of ships and weapons being used.

WarCraft III map making is no different from normal software development. A developer has to add content according to the needs of clients, fix bugs, preferably before clients find out about them as well as on demand, and of course, change content that needs to be changed. The last factor is especially important in a video game. Because of the way our brains work, and how many gamers are generally arrogant, players who lose a game will blame not themselves, but something about the game, especially if they know that whoever made the game is listening. That way, the player is still a better player; it’s just that the game was imbalanced, and he was put at an unfair disadvantage. Etc.

This is extremely annoying sometimes. In fact, very often. It didn’t happen so much with BattleShips, as there is relatively not as much content to balance. However, it did happen for Smota, a map that has tons and tons of content, and also a map where the skill difference between a new and veteran player is extreme. For this reason, a new player who chooses say hero A will fight a veteran with hero B, and lose horribly. He will think, “Oh my gosh, A sucks! B is so imbalanced.” The next game, the new player will choose B, but lose to a more experienced player controlling C. The next game he plays C, but loses to D, or even worse, to A or B. Frustrated, he randomly tries Q, but loses to Z. By the end, the player will be convinced that Smota is just a terribly imbalanced game. (The following video of Smota was not made by me.)

I don’t really know why I posted this; I guess this blog was just missing a critical element of what I do.

Blah Blah

Why do people say things just for the sake of saying things, even though no one else in the world is going to care?

(Including this message.)

Also, I failed to update the webcomic yesterday; I guess I lost my energy on it. It lasted approximately a month and a half. I might add stuff occasionally.