Pandemic Diary #23, 07 Sep 2020 – Figs, Chinese IME, International relations, Arduino cat books, Coursera Russian, Research

Reading Time: 7 minutes


Okay what’s up with the rest. Went fig picking today, more fun than I imagined. One of dogs is very sick though, only two made it out with us 🙁

Social Life

Regular social schedule: Avatar (ep 17 next), puzzles with assorted people (curious cookoff — good quality, decided to chip in recommended amount). Avatar: simple stories, but the animation and sound and world-building are all great. Slowly drawing more people into puzzle hunts… hope to bring new folks to MIT Mystery Hunt. Sporadic 2redbeans, Speaky, Chinese penpals, LingQ for chinese content with subtitles and popup definitions


Coursera – has Russian course for auditing,, keybr to learn russian keyboard, 6.341 intro to prob on Edx (can never hurt to refresh on stats) (OCW, more practice). TAing CS109a for some structure – have a friend TAing so that will make things better, plus they have something like 30 TAs due to hiring undergrads so it takes some of the pressure off for timely response / TAing long office hours. Hoping to have a fun TA experience — I’ve only had stressful ones so far, due to having to TA for funding or while being on egg shells around my advisor or classes.

Treasure hunts / Moving

Cleaning! I was going to talk about what I call a “treasure hunt” — finding all sorts of stuff by cleaning out old bookshelves, keeping the good stuff (handwritten diaries etc.) and donating/throwing out the junk (outdated books, mass paperback common books that can be e-bought). Realized — Gosh, forgot the whole ordeal last weekend. Went to Boston and moved all my stuff out. By “went” I mean drove the 2000+ miles with my parents, returning with all my stuff including two bikes. Somehow survived just fine. Don’t ever want to do it again – plan to ship stuff back up / fly with it a few boxes at a time. January… I will know the next president by then!! Better hecking be Biden.
Things learned: sometimes pick intermediate cities for better traffic routing. “service areas” up north, “rest stops” down south – service areas have gas restrooms and parking lots for sleeping; rest stops just have restrooms and parking lots; be prepared to navigate after toll booths – a lot of route changes can happen just getting out

Google maps preview of the route
Starting, on the way back

Sold a bunch of furniture on Facebook Marketplace and craigslist for the first time. Surprisingly easy.

Keeping an eye out for autonomous sailboat activities still. (Finished reading most chapters of “voyaging handbook” a while ago). Dreaming still!! With dinghies it’s nice – can feel my improvement each day, and satisfies my desire for independence from others.

Chinese input, typewriters, regional dialects

Listened to radiolab episode about wubi zi Interesting points: At one point Mao had committee for getting rid of Chinese characters. The invention of wubi disbanded that – and in speed competitions wubi input often wins still. How wubi declined due to government promotion of pinyin, which apparently might be sort of a push toward more uniform pronunciation.

I can feel that effort since my parents are southern and the zi zhi ci chi distinction are less prominent, making it hard to for me to type using pinyin.

Talk by what appears to be… a nerd collecting normal typewriters sucked into a years-long rabbit hole about the history of Chinese (mechanical) typewriters involving making a museum exhibit, giving talks, running a Kickstarter, and writing two books.

Impact of predictive input (for mobile phones)

Toward the end Mullaney talks a bit about predictive input in Chinese — I realized that some of the words I try to say in Chinese I don’t know how to write, and don’t pop up on the cellphone menu — they’re actually regional sayings, making much harder to input, and how that might standardize not just pronunciation but also language/dialect. To find: go to and type in the pinyin, and the “suggested search” results will include how to “spell” the words.

This is what it looks like when the predictive input fails and you have to find the exact character you want… very annoying, usually faster to type a full two-character saying and backspace out the extra character.

Full pinyin

Apparently Vannevar Bush from MIT did work related to the Chinese input methods as well. He didn’t know there is a stroke order — I didn’t think about this, but yea, there’s a consistency so that everyone draws the character in the same order of strokes, which can be exploited for decomposing characters into orderly inputs.

I guess this must have come later, but actually in a dictionary you can look up by the radical and then the number of additional strokes. Works fairly well.

A fairly predictable outcome of having computers is the standardization of writing – “setting in stone”. For instance, we developed lowercase letters from uppercase letters over centuries of lazy writing. Hirigana in Japanese also come from Chinese characters (apparently?). So, letters stop “evolving”.

At the sentence levels, there’s studies about English in which people wrote shorter less descriptive captions of images when using autocomplete.

What I didn’t think about was – the impact of Chinese predictive input, on regional dialects, not just the pronunciation but also the sayings used! See “baidu” image earlier.

Though there is this narrative of the “Chinese government removing individuality”, fortunately in real life there is still a lot of regional pride. I found a game show on youtube testing people’s knowledge of jiang xi nan chang fang yan, which is the regional dialect my parents know (but I don’t know). 江西南昌方言。

Chinese Assistive Tech

This brings up the interesting question of how alternative input works for the disabled, in languages other than English. There’s the iconic view of Stephen Hawkings (RIP) who could only move his eyes but still interfaced well to a a voice producer using eye movements. What if you don’t speak English though? What are assistive computer interfaces like for non English typing… I did a brief google search and couldn’t find.

Feelings about the wider world

I’ve apparently totally given up on activism which I feel greatly conflicted about. We’re up to what – almost 190k deaths (188.8 thousand), 6.3 million cases, 30-40k new cases daily, just under 1000 people dying every day – and I can’t find the energy to do anything. It all just feels so, so futile. No new stimulus check of benefits for the 1/8 Americans who are hungry. A president supporting conspiracy theories and declaring things “un-American” and straight up supporting killers and conspiracy theories, surrounding himself with quackpots. Retrieved 07 Sept 2020

I know what I think should happen – put the public health epidemiologists in charge. Don’t listen to the business people. Think long term (3 months) rather than short term (2 weeks). Seriously, what the fk people. There’s regional bright spots – NYC is doing a lot better. But the country as a whole… and Trump’s (low) approval remains unchanging among his supporters. We can only hope that they’re still disincentivized from voting.

Okay, that was a long rant. But I feel like I wrote these op-eds and did this campaign and what – nothing happened. The optimism I got from when the protests turned out to be way more successful than I thought – when I though the youth of the US were united – to see the multiethnic protests, it brought such optimism. But now predictably people are forgetting and becoming less open to the protests. Pandemic activism probably in part cost me ⬜⬜⬜⬜, so I feel compelled to put it up on my resume ( But feel slimy doing so. The op-eds, petitions – by themselves they are nothing without the work to build a whole environment of activism around it, emailing legislators etc. (Another thing I was shocked by in my correspondence – that many state reps are pretty Trumpian in being okay with conspiracy theories and racism and anti-Semitism and the whole nine yards – cf radiolab “flag and the fury” that many state reps in MI still went to segrationist schools growing up).

Not sure how to volunteer on COVID or politically in a way that will help. Hoping to take a week off, two weeks before Election Day – help people get their absentee ballots in. Used a drive-by drop box for the first time this year.

Arduino and Cats

I’ve been working on writing up the Arduino tutorials we did during summer camp for a while now. Lack of focus, tried to figure out how to tie all the projects together, make it actually useful, make it different than others on the market (there’s a book “65 projects with Arduino” or something… I even learned from the sample pages about the REF for reference voltage on Arduino I’d never looked into!). Finally decided to orient around a cat / pets theme. Doesn’t seem to exist on the market, so it’ll give clear guidance around how to structure the material. Will be obligatory to make it super cute…!


We’re in stealth mode for now… Scheduling meetings with people, reading papers, getting work done.

International Relations

Getting late, I’ll just make a list for now. – covers history so not 100% US-China centric; very interesting to read comments that are very articulate and then include theories such as “chinese with their lack of individuality in society will never truly innovate” — from 2017! now in 2020 other countries are banning 5G tech from China that their own companies can’t produce for such cost. interesting to see these theories versus what actually happens. –> bought on play books to read! after guns germs and steel from the person interviewed in – was curious – doesn’t actually answer the question in the title! (how many countries has US invaded)

Nice list of documentaries from what seems to be the German equivalent of NPR

Reading from friend –

Also first time heard of Bradykinin storm – interesting to see science emerge in realtime about all the unknowns of this virus!
“According to the team’s findings, a Covid-19 infection generally begins when the virus enters the body through ACE2 receptors in the nose … a bradykinin storm — a massive, runaway buildup of bradykinin in the body …. dramatically increases vascular permeability. In short, it makes your blood vessels leaky. This aligns with recent clinical data, which increasingly views Covid-19 primarily as a vascular disease, rather than a respiratory one. But Covid-19 still has a massive effect on the lungs. As blood vessels start to leak due to a bradykinin storm, the researchers say, the lungs can fill with fluid. … it increases production of hyaluronic acid (HLA) in the lungs… When it combines with fluid leaking into the lungs, the results are disastrous: It forms a hydrogel, which can fill the lungs in some patients… “Regardless of how much oxygen you pump in, it doesn’t matter, because the alveoli in the lungs are filled with this hydrogel,” Jacobson says. “The lungs become like a water balloon.” … Patients can suffocate even while receiving full breathing support

Alright, going to end there. Parting image…

It begins

brought back my robot vacuum from boston