February 2016 Summary

Posted on March 1, 2016

Last updated on March 6, 2016

Following previous month’s summary and resolution, here is the February update.

First, a picture from a trip to a 2-star restaurant, Momofuku Ko.

Delicious bread from Momofuku Ko

Delicious bread from Momofuku Ko

If you had a cursory look at this website beforehand you’ll know I’m very much into food. I’ve started reading Modernist Cuisine this month and will give you a quote from the author Nathan Myrvold from the foreword to the book. On one hand it is motivating, but on the other hand you’ll be sure to question your skills and whether whatever you are doing has any value compared to people such as Nathan.

My interest in cooking was so strong that I might have become a chef, had my interest in other things-particularly math and science-not intervened. I was very good at school and often skipped grades, to the point that I started college at 14. Every topic related to math and science fascinated me, so by the time I was finished with school, I had a quite a collection of degrees: a Ph.D. in mathematical physics, a master’s degree in economics, another master’s degree in geophysics and space physics, and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. By that point I was 23 years old. My next step was to become a postdoctoral fellow at Cambridge University, where I worked with Dr. Stephen Hawking on the quantum theory of gravitation. My career in science was off to a roaring start.

Starting university at 14, a whole array of degrees complete with a PhD by 23, research work with Stephen Hawking, CTO of Microsoft, now a food researcher, and I’m sure a multitude of achievements in between. Let that sink in.

Now for the updates.

New Content


I moved from Div2 (the noob/beginner division) to Div1 (advanced) in Topcoder (1182 -> 1257 from last SRM competition). I wasn’t sure whether to include this here as Blue (1200-1499 points) is still a low score for someone who writes code (and hence problem solves) professionally. For those that are not familiar with it, Topcoder is an online coding competition. You get three problems of increasing difficulty and 75 minutes to solve them. You have to solve them exactly right or you get no credit and drop in ranking. There are two divisions as explained above, Div2 and Div1.

It is really discouraging many times to read the Div2 Hard problem description, scratch your head for thirty minutes, come up with nothing that would reasonably pass all the tests, or nothing that you can reasonably implement 100% correctly in the remaining time, and then question your abilities. The reason why it took me so long (more than twenty rated competitions) is in hindsight obvious. I never did any practice outside of the 75 minute competitions, so obviously every single round went the same: solve the first two problems, fail on the third. Upon seeing a problem I couldn’t solve within around 30 minutes, I would give up, and go to something easier, whereas all anecdotal evidence I’ve heard says to stick for hours to one problem if you can’t solve it, and try to solve problems above your current skill level to grow.

A great way to never improve is to just do the same thing over and over, which is exactly what I was doing, and a trap I still fall for very often. If there is one thing I could have changed with my time at university, it would be to compete and properly train in competitive programming, ideally in a dedicated class and/or a team where I feel progress and motivation would be optimized for. I’ve seen it first hand how being good at this pretty much guarantees you will pass any software engineering interview, making it one less thing to worry about.

Some have asked me why I do these competitions and exercises. A couple of reasons. One, it’s not that I even want to get much better at problem solving (I do), but I don’t want to atrophy. It’s really a terrible feeling seeing a problem that you know you could solved when you were much younger, but your skills have atrophied. Two, I feel I suffer from Impostor syndrome and quantifying my problem solving ability with a rank number gives me some empirical evidence to suggest I’m not a impostor. Three, it’s a fantastic feeling solving a problem correctly that you struggled with a lot. If you do weightlifting, it’s like hitting a new PR for your squat.

During the rest of this year, I will set my goal to reach Yellow (1500-2199) in TC via dedicated training. If you have tips for me, want to share your experiences, or even train together, let me know. Some pitfalls I’m foreseeing that might prevent me from reaching said goal, in order of probability:


Total: 5

2016 total: 15 (goal 52)

Technical Papers Read

Interesting articles read and notable links

Movies watched



+3 Michelin Star count (total 52)


It was a slower month. I don’t really have an excuse except laziness. I’m currently on a cutting phase. A dietary restriction of 500 calories (down to 1800 from 2300 per day) together with a most uninteresting set of things to eat (poached chicken, rice, vegetables, some cheat meals from time to time) has some noticeable negative impact on my mental capacity. I’m still trying to figure out what’s the cost-benefit of weight training taking into account it’s a very demanding activity if you want some results rather than just maintain your current physique.

I have some more thoughts to add on weight training and in general about exercise. My claim is that, if someone cares about weight lifting, or running or swimming or whatever form of exercise, their performance there will be positively correlated with their performance in other parts of life such as professional and personal successes. Any form of consistent exercise is demanding in terms of motivation, dedication (it takes a long time to achieve anything), time management, goal setting, planning, goal tracking, and importantly, correct execution. All these traits are applicable and reusable in other contexts. You will find examples of highly successful people that care about some form of exercise and also are succesful there. What I claimed above also implies the following: If you do decide to care about exercise and don’t see marked progress over time, it’s likely whatever is causing it (be it laziness, lack of commitment, inability to set goals) will transfer to all other areas of life until you consciously decide to fix it. Feel free to express your opinion on this in the comments.

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