All posts by nouyang

Pandemic Diary #55 – learning nlp, traveling (Jun 12)

I’m having such extreme cognitive dissonance between reality (most things are fine for both transmission and … uh reception?… now that we’re vaccinated) and how I feel (some weird moral grumpiness about unnecessary travel when the rest of the world is still fked up by COVID) – maybe just giving off the impression that it’s fine to party and hang out and normalizing that, when only 43% of US is fully vaxxed (less than half!) (64% of 18+). if things feel normal why vax? i’m worried about that effect.

on the other hand, i guess just as there can be exponential growth, thus bringing the exponent down could cause exponential decay. though part of it is likely also seasonal (going into warmer months now in US)

but it really is starting to feel different. i guess I have been fully vaccinated (aka 2 weeks after 2nd dose) for close to a month now. actually went and stayed at a hotel for a week with another family. for the first dayish kept my mask on indoors. then didn’t. traveled into stores (with a mask on) and came back and didn’t shower — didn’t even change clothes. less fear of getting close to people (esp. walmart had a lot of unmasked, kind of crowded situation).

was prepared and was blunt and didn’t follow photographer’s instruction to take off the mask INDOORS jesus

then when for my eye exam the doctor asked me to take off the mask (indoors) I did so without too much pushback. later i thought back and realized i was uncomfortable and thought there was zero reason to take off my mask for an eye exam, but it was someone i had seen since a kid. and being vaxxed made me resist less.

dangerous complacency. we still have 700+ deaths a day. that’s my entire high school, teachers and all, disappearing every 5 days… yet we have stores removing mask mandates

the vaxx effective against the (now called greek letters) gamma etc variants, but could def be a new variant not effective. also it’s not 100%, it’s 95%. but the idea of basically being protected against severe disease / dying. it’s weird.

i think i’ll be wearing my mask anywhere i might run into people for a while, until covid calms down

it’s hard though. someone rings the doorbell for a package signature, can’t find mask right away. hotel cleaning staff came by, couldn’t find a mask. driving and pass through a toll booth, can’t get mask on while driving, finding change.

we’re becoming way more complacent about touch transfer eg wiping down groceries (or ozone disinfecting), leaving non-perishables outside for a few days. basically don’t wait anymore. same for letters and packages, 2-3 hrs is good enough. still feel urge to wash hands after handling, which is good to keep. will help keep common colds and flu at bay.

maybe i’ll wear a mask all cold season… there are a lot of fashionable masks now. can brand my face with my identity lol, like socks but more obnoxious


I emergency learned nlp. simpletransformers. was good. got work done. need to do more. definitely relied on learning from friend! seeing her source code for word2vec doc2vec kmeans clustering umap projections, good.

the idea of engineering vs economics. trying to explore and untangle causal effects vs achieving some numerical goal. the latter i’m much more comfortable with.

methodology – scared of it. but turns out the idea is just creating a new problem (which can be inspired by either just bs-ing it, or perhaps by a new application domain), writing the new code to handle that case, and voila methodology. not sure why i’m way more attracted to this. keep having people think my paper is social sciences, no, i’ve zero qualifications in that regard !


birds left, we can use our deck again.

tomatoes are here finally, 3 months from seed in soil. apparently they may still take 20-30 days to fully ripen…


looked into traveling to china for an internship. really wanted to improve my chinese. vaxxed = ten year visa = hop on a plane right?


have to get special permission letters (company applies for PU letter) to apply for visa (still not guaranteed). it’s either 21 straight days in hotel (at your expense) or 14 days + negative tests from two separate labs + 1 day to travel + 14 days home quarantine.

domestic plane tickets are soaring in price. (hopefully temporary until supply matches demand), starting early mayish I’m guessing as people got vaxxed. apparently in the cities everything is opening again, people are having house parties.

i’m not sure how to explain. maybe i’m burnt out now, but my desire for employment is to just do my job, be cordial with my coworkers, and focus my energy elsewhere.

found not possible to submit gender neutral application from applicant side. now most places ask for your preferred pronouns. the irony to being inclusive in a way that opens up can of worms of bias…

still overall, i am looking forward to sailing. i think i feel fairly comfortable sailing now.

oh, i haven’t blogged in some time. i guess in between at some point, there was a huge swell of cases and deaths in india. just about every indian-american i knew (eg mostly relatively high status or well off families) had relatives got really sick or died. learning about tradition of funeral pyres, never knew. then israel-palestine mini-war happened, with hundreds of deaths. crazy to see. the iron dome – rockets shooting down rockets. don’t know much about conflict. felt insolvable but at some point things stopped again. then asia started having upswell in cases. the indian variant (gamma?) is so much more contagious… right now guangzhou is in lockdown. over a couple of dozen cases, many people are in total lockdown. and huge rise in vax rate in china.

meanwhile in boston that many cases is super low and causing things like pubs and such to *open* . the contrast between having to quarantine for 3 weeks to travel to china vs people traveling again (memorial day weekend, flights were at same volume as pre-pandemic) is intense.

happy to have found both summer and fall housing. should be inexpensive on both fronts, relieves a lot of pressure. had a lot of stuff fall through, but others gave chances i never expected. pretty grateful for support network.

talking to someone else who burnt their way through grad school. to be valued and appreciated. to have people say thank you for your work. these are things that don’t really happen in academia…

oh, still rooting for “for the people” voting rights reform to pass senate. was super hopeful actually. kind of shocked recently to find it under such duress. but not sure that i can do much.

oh yea duckietown goes well.
One of the challenges – don’t run over the duckies!

and peek into research.

Pandemic Diary #54 – i never thought reading chinese could be addicting (May 20)

i feel like i’ve discovered a superpower,
the shift from 1000 to 2000 characters known is huge !

or maybe just forcing myself to read more chinese regardless has greatly increased my tolerance for stumbling through stuff I can only half read

feels like a snowball where i recognize more of the characters (stopping 10x an article vs 50x an article), so it’s more pleasant to read, so i read more

yesterday i read through a bbc chinese article in full, as in i read it at the dinner table and was getting tired, scrolled down, and saw i only had one paragraph left & finished it off

usually that happens when i’m only halfway through the article and i feel overwhelmed and just quit

i spend way too much time on reddit (i hate myself so much for this) so i made an effort to find chinese reddit, after browsing a bunch of poorly formatted semi-spam filled BBS’s, it appears to be /r/China_irl

i also saw wechat has “moments” and so i apparently have contacts who post in-joke posts about boston, like the kinda silly nyc vs boston, sports teams kinda quality posts

there’s scientific american as i mentioned earlier

occasionally the local chinese newspapers have an article or two in chinese

OH the other big source is with enough digging i found webtoons (which i also spend way too much time on…) has not just traditional chinese translation (which i read about 50+ ep of how to become a dragon on… fml, thanks pleco ocr for making this possible since traditional was an uphill struggle) but also a simplified version!

this simplified version made me understand the importance of CDNs, which I guess in one case are just servers on this side of the atlantic caching content in china, because it. is. like. dialup, but worse. you can’t just put the page there and assume it’ll load the images eventually, it’ll usually time out.

i sorted it out (a post for another time — VPN + some software called hakuneko / OR data and cellphone browser, but hakuneko is more reliable) and i was literally refreshing my page every few hours waiting for an update so i could exercise my chinese reading skills on this new source

it’s fun to be able to compare the english / chinese side-by-side, learn all the onamatopoeia

anyway it feels like a superpower to be able to read blocks of text in another language haha, it’s like you have a bunch of blurred images on a page (aka text you can’t understand) and then BAM you put on glasses and everything’s clear

Pandemic Diary #53 – paper, sleep (May 19)

I just woke up from an hour long nap on the ground of my office after I locked myself out of my own bedroom (on purpose) – even though I got seven hours of sleep last night –


as a reminder to myself that I’m not just excuse-seeking, I do actually fall into above-average sleepiness category, (even with the diagnosis after a sleep study it feels hand wavy), here are recollections from my napping days

— skipping lunch and then finding a disused hallway and napping on the stored classroom furniture in high school, with the awkward stress of hoping no one walked in and found me
— getting woken up by alarmed teachers after napping on my backpack under my poofy jacket in the stairwell after school let out — in retrospect I probably looked like a homeless person
— napping curled up one of the mini-stairs alongside the sidewalk along Mass Ave and getting woken up by alarmed stranger – I learned that people think you’ve fainted if you pick places like that to nap

none of this is a serious issue unless it impacts me, so, what is the impact?

it’s not clear right now since i’ve sort of finagled my way into situations where naps during the day are pretty okay, but i remember the ~1 year I spent working in an office for reals (vs as a high school student unpaid summer intern, I think I just napped at my desk), and just staring at my screen uncomfortably at an office and scrolling just to try to stay awake after lunch. just totally not there for an hour. miserable.

worried as places exit* pandemic mode and I seek to exit academia that i’ll land myself someplace where it does matter, i need to be awake in the office 8 hours a day consistently (I think most jobs I might seek are in the office)

exit*: I say this because Harvard announced intentions to resume in-person schooling this semester, not because I have strong faith things will go back to normal in the world soon

well that’s all, just trying to go for papers right now, hence the long silence, maybe have a deadline in 10 days

Pandemic Diary #51 – five baby birds (carolina wren) (May 3)

did I mention the bird eggs all hatched 6 days ago??

they started out looking like the stuff out of nightmares. Here’s a bunch of stills from videos. (We also have the other view of the mom/dad coming in and feeding. But I chose ones here that kind of showcase the feathers coming in)

evening april 27: one bird hatched. will the rest make it??
oh. oh my. stuff of nightmares. day 1 after hatching
day 2: eww.
day 3: still nightmare fuel
day 4, the hair coming in helps a lot with the ick factor
day 5, i wonder if the feathers growing in is painful, they sure do wiggle around a lot.
day 6: looking like dinosaurs

Pandemic Diary #50 – continuous internal screaming (May 1)

i have mostly given up on internships which frees up my mind to FREAK TF OUT about turning something in for NeurIPS in May 19th.


okay so i have at least submitted 12 apps, so …

+ have started on which is fun b/c you can see other people’s answers after! also super reality check i am not as good at coding as i thought lol

the inaudible hunt I helped organize / wrote for went well, almost 50 team/people completed the hunt

I wasted the life of at least 46 people

tomatoe plants are growing bigger finally but they are also yellowing out. nitrogen deficiency, underwater, or some bacterial infestation? they’re getting chewed on but not sure by what

roses are doing ok this is fun always meant to learn more about CTF

PicoCTF: Let learning happen through exploration. The largest cybersecurity hacking contest for middle and high school students has expanded to help learners of all experience levels. (For the RSA section challenge question: is the private key 4966306280016000? for phi = (p-1)*(q-1). The solution is not given :'( )

duckietown arrived. noted that back in stock on okdo… waste of $70 T__T to get it shipped from HK. however, I could not have known. ready to livestream my experience with it. “mit grad attempts duckietown course with dad. how many ducks will they run over?”

also omg i got my 2nd moderna shot on monday, so close to fully vax yayyyyy . definitely was out of it the day after, all i wanted to do was sleep, got up for an hour and was exhausted. day after that was just a little headachy and sleepy. v-safe is a disaster, does not work on my phone inexplicably.

tried to get drs appointment now that i have health insurance (thanks obama) failed b/c all the dr’s are busy RIP. i should try again.

my rent situation for summer was under control and now it is not, person backed out on me 🙁 now contemplating, for $2500/mo i could live in penthouse? i feel like i lived that already overnighting at northeastern in the robotics 5th floor lab already lol

goals: finish book , start on basement. automatic mushroom mister.

oh we ate the mushrooms! they tasted like MUSHROOM STOCK maybe needed to boil-rinse once first. not sure a second flush will grow, looking a little moldy

so pessimistic about the future. gotta remember there will be unexpected happy points too.

what was i passionate about anyway? i kind of fell into grasping. it’s cool, but the immediate applications in helping people are a while away.

changed my desktop to chinese (in ubuntu 20.04). PDF render looks eldritch. automatic internationalization gone wrong (this happens to all PDFs in box).

looks fine under dropbox preview, or opening directly in browser. maybe i’ll report it as a bug

Pandemic Diary #49 – birbs in love, inaudible puzzle hunt (Apr 23)

that last post was way too depressing to be my most recent post, mostly because i posted a side project of mine to reddit where i use this same (old) username, so i’ll post some birds here instead

After two days of rejections, finally mama bird accepted some grubs 😀

in other bird news, there has been a sharp decline in birds at my feeders. literally went from 10-15 bird visits a day to 0-1. i used to have fill up my feeders up every two days, now it’s been 5 days and it’s still fill to the brim. i wonder if the ground warmed up and they’re all eating larvae now? they’re all sitting on eggs instead of courting? i used to have a possibly-couple pair of house wrenches literally sit on the feeder for 10-15 minutes just having a buffet o__o didn’t realize i’d miss them.

at least i still have these little baby birds to look forward to each day! although since they are there all day, i no longer have the incentive to wake up by 8am every day anymore.

also we have a mushroom kit growing with some ferocity

also have some sprouts planted, we re-filled the raised bed. 50-50 garden soil and top soil.

so i’m not sure exactly why i keep accumulating accounts and (user)name. i think part of it is some sort of FU to all the companies and industries who keep collecting data, it’s like well at the least i’ll make it so you have to employ data scientists to have to munge my accounts together lol. the other part is complicated but eh so’s the rest of life, otherwise it’d be boring right?

right? ;__;

other cool finds of the day:


oh yea the links came from this talk which was p. good too… there’s the main topic of the talk but also things I never thought about: replacing calculus with linear algebra as the intro university math class !


the cause of this “maybe i’ll clean up my blog homepage” is that i helped write a puzzlehunt which accidentally found a lot of signups (i feel bad to have dragged my fellow puzzlewriters in, but in my defense, there are zero comments on most of the posts to that subreddit, and the puzzlehunt calendar is super plain and unassuming also… I thought max ten extra signups of which 5 might show up…)

so if you’re into puzzles (which have been taking up more of my time lately than my MITERS-quality projects??? since when did this become a significant side hobby???)

Inaudible Hunt: this weekend @

Pandemic Diary #48 – maybe it’s fine to be a statistic (Apr 16)

not a gun violence statistic (there was another horrific shooting last night :'( )

but a career outcomes and pay inequality statistic

it’s making me miserable thinking about it, so maybe stop? just enjoy what i’m doing without comparing to others? it’s way more reasonable to contribute to structural fixes rather than proscribe my life choices by some arbitrary if-things-didn’t-go-wrong / how-things-could’ve-gone-better arbitrary yardstick. (grad school has been miserable)

things that are stressing me out right now:

being behind schedule for writing and submitting papers, with minimal progress toward doing so. doing minimal technical work (like even opening jupyter notebooks basically) for the last month. it’s been almost a year switching labs and I’ve gotten no real coding done >:0

being behind schedule for even my own goals – eg learning Chinese. I spend a decent amount of time but it seems hard to even stick anything now that I’m up in the 2000 range, and it’s depressing to be stuck in the 840 unknown characters since I took down the new cards/day since it was taking so much time each day. (maybe time to switch it up again? accept fewer reviews and more new cards, not efficient but more fun). i’m even starting to doubt hanzi i’ve known since a kid, like I looked at 活 once and didn’t recognize it…

my duckietown purchase (for the autonomous vehicles mooc) will arrive in a week, looking forward but also stressed about spending money on spurious things. plus it reminds me of my total failure of combining hardware with online education. (though this did take 3-4 years and multiple UROPs and institutions working on it)

Pandemic Diary #47 – birddddsss (Apr 15)

so there is a bird saga going on where

a few weeks ago I noticed this bird coming and going with leaves into a bag on our deck — like literally a random paper bag, which formerly held flower bulbs, that I fished out of where it had been stewing in warm water for a few days in a pot on the deck

turns out they nest wherever they f*k they want

okay so this is the same deck we do our laundry, let the cat out for a stroll, feed the birds from, it’s right next to our dining table and where we watch TV and feed the cat (and rosie is a talkative cat). also the bag is just out in the open, there is zero waterproofing ??

a few days in we moved the cart around to do laundry, and then my dad put in a security webcam to sit and watch the nest and accidentally let our cat out on the deck for a while and didn’t notice. so we were convinced we scared the bird away.

but they kept coming, and we were wondering.. the nest looked like it was built sideways?? wouldn’t the eggs just fall out?

then one day we noticed there were two birds coming and going! like swapping duty almost. they actually went inside the nest

then it rained and we put up an umbrella, but overall it seemed like they kinda disappeared after that

in fact my dad went out with a snake inspection cam (which i yelled at him about over) and reported that there were no birds nor eggs. so we were sure it was abandoned. the last few days we went about doing laundry etc. totally as normal

but every day once or twice a bird would come and sing loudly in font of the bag

and then once i let the cat out on the deck and boy did a bird come and scream at the top of its lungs at us

i actually was wondering if maybe like, the guy who built the nest was coming and being sad about breaking up with his gf who left because we were loud noisy humans

then yesterday… the bird came and my dad saw it sit for a long while.

this afternoon while the bird was gone i went and had a look — and there were three eggs!!



i’m not sure why but it makes me really happy

though it’s supposed to raain tomorrow… not sure if we should put up an umbrella 0:

nest cam 04-14
with my phone while the bird was gone
literally a random *paper* bag on our deck wtf carolina wren
there’s no rain protection or anything! it’s just a paper bag
we do our laundry on the deck too ?? 03-27

i definitely feel less valuable to not be “employed” right now, and not really speaking about my work (which is pretty sensitive and unrelated to the research of anyone i know). it’s a weird dichotomy since at the same time this is the most a bunch of senior-ly people at well-known places know my name.

taking part in a MIT alumni career change thing I paid cash for. i figure, invest in things that matter to me and cause me happiness/unhappiness. enjoying it so far. one of the assignments asked for feedback from friends. totally scared to read people’s thoughts about me though…

and also paid cash for a duckietown mooc, and it’s inflated over $150 since my . makes me remember our 6.01x work. porting the homework assignments. how terrible i was as an engineer then. hella expensive. but i think worthwhile for a free class. and mostly for the experience — i think it’ll be really fun to go through it with my parents ! and also stimulus check i guess?

i have started investing. these cryptocurrencies are making weird movements, maybe due to people sitting at home and stimulus checks. am i missing out on easy money? maybe.

keep feeling like i need to do cool famous projects to get hired. but wouldn’t it be nice to have a simple 9-to-5 and have time for my free-time projects? can that be found at normal big companies? (as someone said, is it possible to do the research i like without feeling obligated to work weekends?)

haven’t really done technical work in a while. miss CS. should do coding interviews. try to value my time on earth. etc

parents got 2nd shot!! mom made sure to cook lots and get extra hours in at work that evening. today was flat out with a stable 101-102F. dad started felt fine but started feeling tired toward evening. they actually got the date wrong and someone from the pharmacy called them !

wanted to adopt a 2nd black cat. i think i filled out the form wrong or was late. 3 weeks, keep getting these emails every 3 days “there’s someone in line ahead of you”. pretty sure she’s already adopted out *facepalm* (is it fine to combine clawed and declawed cats? my first adoptee came declawed)

wait the cat is back on atlanta humane… ! maybe there is still a chance. my only hesitation is she is 13 y.o. but the more i think about it… i think she may live 3 or 4 years and the medical expenses, it will be manageable i hope. i guess if she has diabetes already, i might hesitate though hmm

Pandemic Diary #46 – status / Chinese protips: magazines and BBC Chinese (Apr 3)

I’m thinking of calling it quits on the Chinese for now, forward progress is *brutal* even though each day I watch TV I catch several words I learned this week. Or decrease the goal to 2500 characters. Then my goal can just be 5 new hanzi a day… maybe review 30 to get the cards into the “mature” stage. Would feel amazing vs grinding right now.

(Mostly, I tried reading an science article recently, and was more okay than I thought with how much I could read without getting super frustrated / tired). I also realized that the 2000 chars = 98% — 98% seems high but that means for every 100 hanzi there are two hanzi I don’t know. And then a single article can be 1500 words (eg Which means while reading it I will have to totally skip over (1500 * 0.02) = 30 hanzi! And if I get to 3000 hanzi (99.7) then I will still have to skip over (1500 * 0.003) = 5 hanzi! Just reading some random newspaper article, I will not be able to finish it all without looking up hanzi in dictionary. T__T (words are a totally separate matter).

Get more research done. Here’s the status.

Other intermediate Chinese study tips.

A better interface for finding BBC Chinese articles that are not (US, China, COVID).
Search for “原文” on BBC Chinese using duckduckgo.

For some reason the articles that are translated from English (and therefore contain a link to the 原文 original (English) article) include a lot of BBC Future / climate articles. This solves the problem where I was going on BBC Chinese, but 99% of the articles are about the US, China, or COVID. And I just wanted some interesting science-y articles to take my mind off things, so scrolling through 100-150 articles was frustrating. This is a much better interface. Plus, I can also quickly skim the English article to see if it’s interesting for me to read in Chinese. HOWEVER the translation does mean there are a lot of awkward phrasing not normally used (but still understandable). Still valuable for character reading practice.

Second “breakthrough” discovery. Magazines (环球科学).

My library actually has a bunch of magazine subscriptions — then on the libbyapp — you can access them digitally, all for free (*paid for by taxes)! Most are traditional Chinese. The others are about stuff like finances. But I did find Scientific American, which is basically perfect for my interests. 环球科学。

Actually after a LOT of searching on amazon, ebay, random bookstore websites to see if there is any way to get a physical subscription, it seems like not. (I even looked up the USPS international shipping rates). Given that I have the e-subscription through my library (, I may haventhen went and found a PDF version so I can print it out. In retrospect far more environmentally friendly also. But yea, since I am so used to the ease of consumer electronics import from China, I was honestly a little surprised at the difficulty of importing reading materials.