Undercover @ Stanford

I want to spend this fall exclusively on learning strong foundations and exploring things that give me energy and joy. Doing ML research at Stanford while auditing classes seemed perfect for this, so that's exactly what I'm doing. The goal is to simultaneously: get much better at ML, audit classes that interest me, make lasting friendships (maybe meet a special someone!), get as much of the authentic campus experience as possible, and make some real progress in building conviction for the things that I care about.

There isn't much of a plan other than to fly down to Stanford and figure things out. This is a pretty crazy idea and seems kinda daunting, so I'll be journaling my time here as a way to reflect and organize.

Update: I had to leave a lot earlier than anticipated, but this journaling process has definitely helped me make the most of it while I was there. This was fun, to more adventures in the future!

  • 10/19/2022

    • Stayed up till 3:30am to catch my morning flight to Toronto. I guess this is it.
    • I can't say that I'm not bummed that things didn't work out as planned: I took a month setting up and settling down, anticipating an awesome 4 months of learning at Stanford, making deep friendships, and getting a lot done in my research project. As always, life throws an unexpected hurdle at me and I had to fly out immediately to avoid visa issues.
    • One silver lining is that I have no regrets with how I spent the past month. I got so much done and broadened my perspectives a lot, mainly because I cherished each day here as if it could have been my last. Lots of inspiring experiences that expanded my understanding of the elements that constitute good teaching, community, and research.
    • Actually there are two silver linings - I'll now be able to share some precious quality time with my family, and get a lot more work done now that there aren't any in-person distractions in the way. Oh well, it's been fun!
  • 10/18/2022

    • Today was a very intentional day. It might be my last day in Stanford for the next while. I've decided to fly out of the country to avoid any visa issues, and it hurts to leave just as things are coming together.
    • Had a call with our project coordinator to figure out next steps by our presentation on Friday
    • Peer counseling skills: This week's class was pretty uneventful, mostly slides about problem solving while doing peer counseling.
    • Packing for my flight tomorrow. Last minute angst with deciding to leave the US, and a lot of self-doubt, sadness, confusion.
  • 10/17/2022

    • How to look at art: Themes of melancholy in mundanity and the role of feminine figures over time. I liked New York Movie by Edward Hopper
    • Lunch with a new friend who is interested in XR
    • Poetry and poetics: Learning about sonnet form: Italian, English, Spenserian sonnets
    • Writing some scripts to split our labelled dataset of 1024x1024 images into tiles of size 32, 64, and 244
  • 10/16/2022

    • Had a coffee with Jacklyn. Feels great to meet another friend from back home. Chatted about our personal journeys and the age old question of whether to drop out or not.
    • Joined Yuehan for lunch and a co-work session. Finally met Sam, the sleep man.
    • Learning about SVDs and low rank matrix approximations.
    • Celebrated Vlad's birthday at Solaris. Said my goodbyes to some friends that I might not see in a while.
  • 10/15/2022

    • Discovered X House when I attended their ball pit christening. If you're ever there, make sure to check out their altar to tech billionaires upstairs. There's a lot of cool folk in South Bay - good to keep in mind if I want to come here for deep work.
    • Did some coursera lessons on recurrent neural networks.
    • Travelled to SF to visit some old friends.
  • 10/14/2022

    • Attended The Dualist: Read philosophy paper Mental Ballistics or the Involuntariness of Spontaneity. Essentially says that we have autonomy in deciding when we make space for thought, the actual contents of what we think are out of our control.
    • Lab meeting #2: Syncing up to hear about the progress of other teams working on BMI analysis, brick furnace detection.
    • Talking with lab supervisor about my harvest piles project: we realize that our satellite imagery resolution is too low to have enough training data.
    • Joined a student-run class: Intro to AI alignment. A very key topic in a field I'm learning more about - excited to learn about my true unknowns!
    • Had an Incepto house dinner. Really warm family vibes - I wish to recreate this in communities I join.
  • 10/13/2022

    • Lots of errands related to flights, visas, etc
    • Week 1 of recurrent neural network Coursera course
    • Went to a dinner with a bunch of Nvidia engineers in Menlo Park. Almost all of them were from Waterloo - we're everywhere!
    • Deep conversations with Incepto housemates about the goals one should persue in life, and the balance between flow and intentionality
  • 10/12/2022

    • How to look at art: Feminine figures, melancholy and melodramatic aspects of mundanity
    • Lunch with Cole, a friend we met at XR club
    • Poetry and poetics: Deeper dive into sonic relations: rhyme, stanzas and structure. Beauty in constraints. Read Upon His Departure Hence by Robert Herrick, This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin, Supernatural Love by Gertrud Schnackenburg, Mushmouf's Maybe-Crown by Phillip B. Williams
    • Joined the Stanford Existential Risks Initiative dinner. A group of ~10 people eating together talking about AI safety and the process of convincing top researchers in the field to think about it
    • Checked out the Taiwanese Student Society kickoff. A sizeable group of ~30 kind folk, doing a lot more thoughtful stuff than CSA at Waterloo lol
  • 10/11/2022

    • Intermediate computer graphics: Collision detection methods, bounding volumes, testing bounding volumes, broad phase culling
    • Chatted with president of Stanford EA. An interesting group of folk that seems to spark controversy in their methodology of deciding what is the best allocation of resources/time, but definitely seems well intentioned
  • 10/10/2022

    • How to look at art: Exploring the theme of stars in artwork. Our relationship to the cosomos, theology and life and the symbolism of the tiny white speck
    • Chatted with Gabe, who runs Stanford AI Alignment. Am excited to see if we can get some resources to start some similar initiative @ Waterloo
    • Poetry and poetics: Metres and rhythm in poetry. Read To a Poor Old Woman by William Carlos Williams
    • Sat in a politics class to discover that Hillary Clinton was doing an interview on Zoom
    • Finished up the CNN Coursera course
  • 10/9/2022

    • Went on a lovely group trip to Lake Tahoe with my good friends at Solaris. Did lots of hiking and chatting. There was a no phone policy so it was a very mindful and unproductive weekend.
  • 10/7/2022

    • The Dualist: Exploring the difference between the general skeptic vs the climate change skeptic
    • Presented our project at the weekly Sustain Lab meeting. Was kinda nerve-wracking since I still don't have access to the cluster, and we only got access to some training data the day before
  • 10/6/2022

    • My good friend Daekun landed yesterday! We're now exploring campus and auditing courses together, excited!
    • Graphics and Simulation class: resolving particle collisions using various contact models and proximity queries using SDFs
    • Met 1-on-1 with my lab partner Amna. We're gonna be taking lead on the project to map farmland by detecting harvest piles in sat imagery
    • Went to the fall term club fair - super impressed by the diversity and engagement of the student body here (feels like 3x larger than Waterloo club fair). Got two free books (The Alignment Problem, The Precipice) and some funny Rebpulican stickers
  • 10/5/2022

    • Audited ARTHIST 1B: How to Look at Art and Why. Prof. Nemerov is one of those teachers that show you new ways of looking at aesthetics and the world at large. We looked at art on the theme of The Calling.
    • Audited ENGL 190: Poetry and Poetics. One of my favorite classes of all time. Dr. Hofmann taught showed us some poems that are beautiful examples of imagery.
    • Meeting my lab team and setting things up so I can start working
  • 10/4/2022

    • Graphics class: First introduction to topics in ordinary differential equations
    • Started auditing a highly recommended course: EDUC 193A. It seems quite promising - lots of thoughtful ideas on how to be empathetic and helpful.
    • Met Luke Ren - super cool guy persuing double masters while raising his series A. Kinda blown away by the amount of cool people I randomly bump into here.
  • 10/3/2022

    • Holy jeez time flies - the past 5 days have been a flurry of crazy busyness. Finally had a day of ~relative calm
    • Spent a chunk of the day upgrading Incepto's bike collection: bought a new bike, unlocked an e-scooter, and set up the house's Notion
    • Mostly errands - editing my POV videos, taxes, moving rooms
  • 10/2/2022

    • Holy jeez time flies - the past 5 days have been a flurry of crazy busyness. Finally had a day of ~relative calm
    • Spent a chunk of the day upgrading Incepto's bike collection: bought a new bike, unlocked an e-scooter, and set up the house's Notion
    • Mostly errands - editing my POV videos, taxes, moving rooms
  • 10/1/2022

    • Tuned in to the Neo demo day - lots of cool companies, mostly in fintech and b2b saas though. This year they made the event a lot more exclusive so I wasn't able to attend in person
    • Met David Anyaeche by Brian's recommendation. I'm surprised by the level of parallelism in our personal pathways and thought process! Lovely person, would love to hang out more
    • Crashed Stanford's Farm day and friends with a few transfer students who also live in Kimball
    • Played an absolute banger game of poker with some new Stanford friends in Burbank
  • 9/30/2022

    • My scariest class auditing experience by far: sat in The Dualist - a discussion group of 8 people moderated by 3 masters students. Really thought-provoking discussions on ethics/meta-ethics, philosophy of law, American identity, set theory
    • Joined my first lab meeting! We're gonna be working on projects relating to child and maternal health, efficient building/car counts, compression, mapping population trends, and cropland identification
    • Met up with Jacob, Francisco, and then Pheobe for dinner
    • The first campus party would be happening tonight - joined in for the 'nomad' theme of partying at multiple houses/greens. Kinda blown away the social life of the campus vs Waterloo. Also made a friends with a group of frosh!
  • 9/29/2022

    • Audited Classics 40: The History of Ancient Greek Philosophy, and CS248B: Animation and Simulation in Comptuer Graphics
    • Said hi to Sigil and visited Neo Genesis for the first time - this mansion is literally 10x bigger and fancier than any group house I've been in
  • 9/28/2022

    • Audited Humcore 112: Great books, big ideas in Greek Philosophy. I might actually stick with this one - I love the approach to analyze history from the lens of a storyteller
    • Audited STATS 214: ML Theory. Proofs and maths beyond my scope of understanding. This is good motivation for me to dive deeper on the maths behind ML.
    • Met with my lab supervisor for the first time. Excited to start working at Sustain lab soon!
    • Caught up with Stephanie, my old friend from HF0 Taiwan! Funny to see how transformative the experience was for us in hindsight.
  • 9/27/2022

    • Audited CS 148: Intro to Computer graphics. Fun prof and interesting introduction to rendering.
    • Audited CS 248B: Graphics and simulation. Much more interesting stuff here, covering spline transforms, fluid/cloth/smoke simulation, modeling humans, deep learning, reinforcement learning, 2d and 3d rigid and soft bodies. Will be covering new research papers too.
      • The breadth and depth of the courses here astound me. There's like 5x the variety of classes here compared to Waterloo, some teaching content not even covered by Waterloo's graduate level courses.
    • Audited in PHIL 80: Mind, matter, meaning. Exciting tagline but doesn't seem to be quite deep/novel topics in epistomology, metaphics, ethics.
    • Logistics to meet with my supervisor Chenlin and lab director Stefano.
    • Met an old friend Raymond
  • 9/26/2022

    • It took me 40 minutes to walk to campus. I'll need to get a bike somehow.
    • Sat in PSYCH 1: introduction to psychology. It blew me away - the quality of the lecture was off the charts. Jamil Zaki is a super engaging speaker and I could tell that a lot of thought and effort was put into the course content.
      • The class was highly attentive as well - there were some really thoughtful questions being asked. Coming from Waterloo, this was shocking to see - I was used to bland profs reading straight from bullet point powerpoints to a silent and moody audience.
      • If you plan on auditing a course this is a must see!
    • Went to Wilbur to grab lunch.
      • Lined up twice to have an excuse to talk to people. It worked - got a guy's social and am going to their poker game on Friday!
    • Sat in CS 220: machine Learning lecture, where I saw the legendary daddy Andrew Ng in person.
      • Ng is currently working on supervised learning for aerial imaging, medical images, and machine wear detection, and unsupervised learning for market segmentation and NLP.
    • Sat in AA131: spacecraft and sustainability. Fundamental formulas and common orbital paths for Earth-based satellites.
    • Checked out a Jazz sesh at COHO. There's actually some professional-grade talent there!
    • Turns out Pheobe and Jennifer are here too! Set up a group chat for undercover auditers @ Stanford
  • 9/25/2022

    • Woke up early today to hike Angel Island, which was actually a lot steeper and taller than I imagined
    • Rushed back to jam on some music with a new friend, then ran to get tacos at The Commons. It was bittersweet as I said goodbye to some old friends before I headed to Stanford.
    • Took the late Caltrain to Menlo Park and moved in to Incepto. I'm truly exhausted, but excited for first day of classes tomorrow.