100 things I’m grateful for

November 2013
  1. For my mom, who taught me to love words.
  2. For my dad, who taught me to love math.
  3. For grandma Jan, who always makes sure I’m having fun.
  4. For grandma Kay, who has great stories.
  5. For grandpa Ken, who gives the best gifts;
  6. including my electric keyboard, which has saved my sanity several times over.
  7. For grandpa Tom, who I never really got to know, but he wrote awesome books.
  8. For the ridiculously privileged circumstances I was born in–both in wealth, health, education, and social status.
  9. For getting to go to Commonwealth School, where I learned how to do real work–academic, social, and physical–and for all the awesome teachers there:
  10. like Barbara Grant, my advisor of four years, who always looked out for me;
  11. Catherine Brewster, who taught me how to write;
  12. Melissa Haber, a thoughtful historian and warm friend;
  13. Mara Dale, who first got me to enjoy English;
  14. Brent Whelan, who taught the best books and poems I’ve read;
  15. Jean Segaloff, whose ceramics class provided a much-needed break from overthinking during college season;
  16. David Hodgkins, who taught me how to sing;
  17. Darryl Hollister, with whom I played the Liebeslieder Waltzes with our choir, undoubtedly the strictest and most rewarding musical experience I’ve had;
  18. Don Conolly, who was so awesome that it rubbed off on all of us;
  19. and Farhad Riahi, unquestionably the most gentlemanly, witty, and well-read hexalingual university Vice-Chancellor ever to be exiled after a regime change and start teaching high school physics.
  20. For the Commonwealth Latin students’ trip to Greece, where I learned how to be social in a way that actually worked for me, and re-integrated into my grade after some social isolation.
  21. For winning the crap-shoot that is admission to Harvard, and the exciting classes and teachers I’ve had there:
  22. classes like Physics 16 and Math 55, which introduced me not only to challenging math problems but also to my future foommates;
  23. and teachers like David Benjamin, whose masterful physics sections and excellent throat singing captivated us all,
  24. and Margo Seltzer, who actually cares enough about her students to teach as teaching was meant to be done, in a flipped classroom.
  25. For the awesome classmates and friends that I’ve been lucky enough to spend almost all of the last seven years with:
  26. like Ethan, who practically taught me philosophy by osmosis;
  27. Emma, who inspired me with her intelligence and grit;
  28. Gautam, my favorite buddy for adventures, both virtual and real;
  29. Michael, who was more of a role model for me than he probably realized;
  30. Billy, for doing harebrained projects with me;
  31. Rahul, who always keeps me honest;
  32. Melanie, who’s put up with my antics with smiles and warmth since we met two years ago;
  33. John, whose initiative and excitement probably saved effective altruism at Harvard;
  34. Aaron, the best rationality buddy;
  35. Ruthie, who’s all-around amazing;
  36. and for everyone else I’ve talked to, commiserated with, learned from, churned out p-sets with, and generally hung out with over the past two years.
  37. For having lived in a co-op growing up, where instead of having brothers and sisters, I had a succession of cool older siblings who were too old to fight with, but not too old to teach me stuff.
  38. For my housemate: Chen-I, who reminded me that piano music is awesome;
  39. and Arun, who lent me my first Dungeons and Dragons books, setting me on my path to uber-nerd-dom;
  40. Max, who taught me how to waltz with bears and inspired my instinct for wordplay;
  41. and of course Bree, who taught me how to contra dance, thus changing my life radically in a many awesome ways.
  42. For Donna Gross Javel, my piano teacher, who knew exactly when to push me and when to let me goof off.
  43. For Bob Kaplan, who taught extracurricular math, and drew forth the most complex and insightful proofs from eighth graders without ever seeming to lecture anything.
  44. For Jeanne Wall, my third-grade teacher, who somehow managed to socialize eight-year-old me, and also got me to befriend my arch-nemesis.
  45. For Peter Singer, without whom I’d never have gotten interested in effective altruism;
  46. and for Julia Wise and Jeff Kaufman, without whom I’d never have gotten more involved.
  47. For math, whose unreasonable effectiveness continues to delight me.
  48. For computer science, whose unreasonable usefulness continues to make the world better.
  49. For poetry, which I have no idea how anyone came up with, but which is awesome anyway.
  50. For piano, my favorite way to decompress.
  51. For singing, and the wonderful group art it creates.
  52. Especially for rounds, the easiest such art to make.
  53. And for Christmas carols, which are pretty much a giant nostalgia button for me.
  54. And for folk music–hundreds of years of memetic selection is a force to be reckoned with.
  55. (For selection processes in general, which produce pretty nifty stuff, even if they’re blind idiots about it.)
  56. And for my music books, the Portland Collections and the Waltz Books.
  57. For contra dancing, the most fun you can have with your clothes on, and the best way for an awkward middle schooler to get confident, build coordination, and make friends.
  58. For folk festivals, the ideal break from a breakneck semester.
  59. And their inevitable companion, with similar stress-relief properties, the giant cuddle pile.
  60. For mountains, and the glorious views from the top.
  61. For trees–in any season–that make any landscape more welcoming.
  62. For fencing, from which I learned how be good at something, and then how to be good gracefully.
  63. For my coaches, Elif and Jason, who could make a good fencer even out of a klutzy, over-competitive, under-responsible schmuck like me.
  64. For the Internet, without which you wouldn’t be reading this. And for its creations, including:
  65. Wikipedia, which needs no epithet.
  66. Library Genesis, on whose nonfiction I frequently gorge.
  67. Amazon, which has saved me many a long trip.
  68. Facebook, which despite its annoyances does some pretty cool stuff, and which probably referred you here.
  69. Google, which is so well integrated into my extended brain that I forget how hobbled I am without it.
  70. All the various forms of video chat, which (despite none working very well) keep me close to all my friends from afar.
  71. Slate Star Codex, from which I once read two novels’ worth in a day without realizing it.
  72. Ribbonfarm, the best source of pure freebased insight porn.
  73. Ian’s Shoelace Site, which has saved me literally minutes with its advanced shoelace techniques.
  74. And of course Less Wrong, probably the thing which has made me the most smarter.
  75. And CFAR, the most reliable fountain of awesome that I know of.
  76. Also for the Cambridge Less Wrong meetup, which is full of cool people and fun times.
  77. For Godel, Escher, Bach, which I was probably too young to really grok, but which led me down a path of good things anyway.
  78. For The Elegance of the Hedgehog, for whose sake I walked into many telephone poles because I couldn’t put it down.
  79. For Dubliners, which I’m convinced made me a better person, though I can’t quite articulate how.
  80. For everything I’ve read by Tolstoy, which varies in awesomeness from “evokes so much happiness I’m bouncing in my seat” to “points out fundamental insights about the nature of humanity.”
  81. For Braid, which is just as much of a work of art, despite being a video game.
  82. For Crocker’s Rules, which (maybe surprisingly) got me lots of awesome feedback.
  83. For public transit, which we all love to complain about, but honestly, it’s pretty darn cool.
  84. And for airplanes, which still every so often give me those “how on earth does this stuff work” and “what the hell, humans” moments.
  85. And even more for the stuff that isn’t as obvious–for all the ridculous behind-the-scenes stuff that engineers slaved over that we never even know exists, because it’s doing its job so well.
  86. For the demographic transition, which is why I’m not dead.
  87. And similarly, for all the incredibly awful diseases I don’t have.
  88. For modern pedagogy, which we love to complain about, but seriously, fifty years ago people were learning calculus in their second or third year of college and now we’re teaching it to high school juniors.
  89. For cities, which made pretty much everything on this list possible.
  90. For blogs and how radically they improved discourse on everything interesting.
  91. For open source software, on which this post was written and served, from the OS kernel on up.
  92. For board games, through which even I can host “parties.”
  93. For the cats that keep sitting on me as I write this.
  94. And the dog that’s snoring a few feet away.
  95. For the fact that gratitude lists apparently make you happier.
  96. And for all the other awesome and surprisingly replicable psychology research.
  97. For the fact that there’s barely two weeks left in the semester.
  98. And for all the cool math I’ll get to learn before they’re over.
  99. For the delicious meals I’m going to eat tomorrow.
  100. And for the fact that I could write another 99 of these lists without running out.

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Anonymous

You had an arch-nemesis? Do tell.

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Ben

Only in the boring third-grade sense, unfortunately.

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Keller Scholl

You also went to math circle. Yay graduates of the Kaplan school of doing crazily advanced stuff and having fun with it!

You continue to make me more and more interesting in Contra.

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