Friday, November 25, 2022

Hoefler Text


The worst thing about Microsoft Word is the sheer number of fonts available to the writer. I spend hours procrastinating on them. In fact, for this insipid blog post, I have already spent nearly two hours figuring out which font to use. Once, I accidentally turned on Word’s excruciating dots and paragraph feature, which puts blue dots before the start and end of each word. I had no idea how to turn it off, and it was driving me insane. True, I could have simply closed my document and opened another one, but it was the principle of the thing that made me persist in my search. 

Once I did turn it off, I began feeling nostalgic for the dots and then spent the next several minutes trying to retrieve them. I used to love Hoefler Text on the Mac. However, I disliked that the font was not available on PCs, making me wonder if a PC user was seeing the same text in the format I intended. This forced me to convert my text into a PDF file, one of the most thoughtless things a person can do. But I did it anyway. I have always loved Hoefler Text’s classically uneven numbers and the fact that the number one looks like the letter I. Still, that makes Hoefler a pain for programmers, but I love that about Hoefler. It’s a purely literary font.

I recently discovered the font Sagona Book. In many ways, it’s not really an academic-looking font. There’s something a bit too exaggerated about the serifs, but I love how none of the capitalized letters scoop too low. For example, the capital letter J in Hoefler looks almost like a fishhook. I used to love that about Hoefler, but now I am not so sure. I feel like all the capital letters should more or less occupy the same area. 

Monday, November 14, 2022


A friend of mine recently told me that he was planning to study UX in college. “What on earth is UX?” I said, thinking he was making it up. 

“UX,” he repeated solemnly. “User Experience. I want to make apps with the best UX ever. I mean, Apple’s UX is the best. But I want to make something better than Apple. I want to be the next Apple.” 

I was stunned. I felt quite old. I was simply going to study biology in college. I had no idea that all these new branches of the study had suddenly opened up. As I listened to him go on about all of the innovations of UX and Human-Computer Interface Design and Informatics and Bioinformatics, I couldn’t but wonder if I had missed a revolution that had been happening for the past decade. 

But now, with Facebook making a huge bet on the Metaverse and other companies like Apple and Microsoft also positioning themselves in this sphere, I began to wonder if the traditional, analog majors like Biology or English were going to survive. People no longer seem as invested quite as invested in these areas of study because they tend to focus on the past more than the present. 

In contrast, because UX and other exotic majors are so relatively new, they have no real history that you have become acquainted with. Indeed, their allure comes from the fact that you yourself have the chance to make a pioneering contribution to a new field of human inquiry. Who wouldn’t want to be on the ground floor of discovery?   

Thursday, November 3, 2022

On Itaewon

I was planning to go. I had just submitted my earlies on the Common App and the weekend was mercifully arriving. Why not go, and let off some steam? But I didn’t have a costume (“maybe just wear your fencing gear,” a frenemy suggested) and then there was that: an AP Physics exam the following Monday. In the group chat, I reminded everyone: “AP Physics. Monday. 70% of our semester grade.”

Screams. Swearing. Topped off by my own catchphrase: “It never ends.” 

And so, we decided not to go to Itaewon that Saturday night to celebrate Halloween. Instead, we met up at a cat cafe in Gangnam to commiserate with the cats. We sadly and dutifully uploaded our fun time there on our Instagram. 

The following morning, the horror of Itaewon dawned on all of us. 50 dead. No, make that 60, 80, 100. The rise may not have been exponential but our sadness was. Each milestone hit our hearts with a heaviness and a thud. We said a prayer for the dead—the unknown dead—and then we gave a word of selfish thanks to our AP Physics teacher. His stupid exam saved us and plucked us out of a potential disaster in which one of us—perhaps all of us—might have gotten hurt or killed. We would have definitely gone into that alleyway, to get lost in the sea of humanity and to scream away our angst. Lemmings with one way in and no way out. 

I read that the creator of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane, was slated to be on American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston on September 11, 2001. But he had partied too much the previous night and had a hangover that prevented him from making it out of bed. Flight 11 would crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York: the first plane. 

I read disasters come in threes. The worst disaster I remember from my childhood was the sinking of the Sewol ferry back in 2014. Itaewon is the second disaster that had an effect on me. I wonder what the third will be. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

My Tutee and Writing

Recently, I was helping someone write his English paper. Although I was smiling outwardly and trying to be as encouraging as possible, I was silently wondering how someone could be a senior and yet be so clueless about writing a basic sentence. It was like seeing a baby deer or lamb trying to walk after it was just born: spindly-legged and uncertain, my tutee could not seem to understand a single word I was telling him. “I don’t know how to start,” he told me despairingly. 

I said, “Luckily, your rubric essentially gives you the first sentence. It sounds like your

teacher wants you to mention the author, the title, and the genre in the introductory sentence. How would you go about this? So, we’d say something like ‘In Jane Austen’s …’”

He thought for a moment, and then tapped out the following on his shared Google doc: “Women in England in the 19th Century were …” He then looked at me and asked, “What is a fancy word for ‘not free?’” 

“Hmm, good attempt, but let’s go back to the rubric. Your teacher explicitly asked you to name the writer, the title and the genre of the work. I would recommend something like In Jane Austen’s classic Regency novel Sense and Sensibility, …”

“Yeah, the teacher is weird. She keeps saying to mention the writer and the book. But everyone knows what book we’re reading. She’s just being anal.”

Ignoring me (and the teacher), he continued to type out an entire paragraph without mentioning Jane Austen or the book that he was analyzing. This clueless obstinacy amazed me. No matter how many times I mentioned that we should fulfill the first requirement of the rubric, the student simply went off on all these tangents. When he finally did mention the novel’s two main characters—sisters Elinore and Marianne Dashwood—there was little context or explanation. When I asked him why he didn’t supply either, he said, “Well, the teacher knows the book already.” 

Ultimately, I wound up almost writing the introduction for him out of frustration. I felt quite 

bad for the teacher that even the most explicit instruction gets ignored. How is this possible? How can we read words without comprehending their meaning? And how is that we act as if we understand what we have just read? Clearly, some of us do. But some don’t, even if it’s stated in the first line of a rubric and you lose five points for not following it.   

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Thoughts on Fencing

I always feel a bit bad when people ask me what it is I think about as I’m fencing. The unremarkable truth of the matter is that I’m not thinking about anything at all. It’s best to avoid thinking because any hesitation (no matter how fleeting) is the exact interlude that my opponent has been praying for.


I blame comic books and anime for perpetuating the trope that actions are necessarily concurrent with thoughts. After all, when we’re watching The Avengers or reading Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures, it just doesn’t feel right without any battle banter or at least a few heroic thought bubbles filling us in: “Must … time this… perfectly. Otherwi—yeargh!!!”    

Given how much I think outside of fencing, I think not thinking is actually a good thing for me. It’s a way for other parts of my being to take over and to give my mind a much-needed rest. I remember reading once about a philosopher’s claim that being inanimate has certain advantages. Otherwise, why would inanimacy exist in the first place? Everything would be conscious, would be aware of its existence. Something like that would be akin to torture for certain inanimate objects, I would imagine. Take for example being a rock or a black hole. Imagine the interminable amount of time that passes being so inert and so unchanging. Imagine being aware of every second and every century that passes. I suppose it’s a mercy for these natural processes never to be aware of how prolonged and repetitive they are. 

The problem with being human is that you are always aware of time: how fast it moves, or how slowly, depending on what you are doing. If you have ten questions left on the SATs and there is five minutes to go, then you’re aware of how little time five minutes really represent. However, if you’re giving an MUN speech to all of the international high schools in Korea, those five minutes feel like five centuries, and each second in which you pause to deliberate feels like pure torture. 

I suppose that’s why in fencing time feels like time felt by a rock or by the sun. You have no time to think about time. You have no time to think and that’s time neither dilates or elongates: you simply act or react. You win or you lose. When the match is over, that precious moment of zen belligerence is gone, and your senses gradually return: you taste the beautiful after taking off your cramped helmet, you see your elated coach and your deflated opponent, and then you hear your own scream and the thoughts that follow.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

En Garde, Prez, Allez!

En Garde, Prez, Allez!

As soon as the referee signals the start of the last point that will determine the winner of the bout, my opponent and I lunge toward each other in a furious ballet of footsteps and bickering blades, and sudden shouts. With every breath I take I can feel the bony pincers of my mask digging into the back of my head and the sides of my face. I try to blink out the stinging sweat from my eyes and ignore the blister on my left ankle rubbing across the heel of my shoe like an insistent child. Blindly yet instinctively, our warring antennae flick at each other before some hidden advantage forces the other to retreat frantically along the strip. Once I have pushed her all the way back, I surprise her by charging toward her torso before angling my blade down towards her unsuspecting foot. 


The next thing I see is a flashing light on my side of the scoreboard. Screaming with joy, I throw my fencing mask across the strip and run towards my coach to hug him. We jump up and down together in awkward unison, which jumbles up the emotions inside of me: euphoria, exhilaration, zeal, and fire. Moments later though, beaming down from the podium with the gold medal around my neck, I feel an inexplicable emptiness inside. My mind flashes back to the countless drops of tears I shed inside my mask as I trained endlessly for this one moment, and I ask myself: was it worth it?

Moments like these have made me question what it is that defines my character. Was it those endless hours of tear-soaked training? Or was it the five minutes of glory on the podium? Or perhaps the sympathy and camaraderie I feel towards my opponents once the battle is over? What about my passion for science - should I be defined by the unadulterated excitement I experienced when I first entered the laboratory many years ago? Or by my fiery determination to beat my peers in science competitions? 

Over the years, I have come to appreciate that I am more than the gold medals, the awards, and the presentations that I have earned for my efforts. After all, those moments of glory are transitory and go on to become inert lines in my CV. What lives on inside of me, however, are the time and energy I spent to achieve my goals. And I want to cherish both the good and the bad. Losing a fencing match or ruining an experiment due to a contaminated E. coli culture are not failures if they ultimately help you to grow and improve. I never want to lose the passion to forge on ahead, building myself to reach out for the next summit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Garcia Summer Program

Attending a hypercompetitive school like SIS tends to normalize the abnormal. SIS students embrace the stress of standardized tests and the pressure to fill their days with school and extracurriculars and after-school school, chanting “it is what it is” like the stoics of Ancient Rome. And yet, after returning from the Garcia Summer Scholars Program in New York a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of something that I had long since forgotten about the purpose of education. Namely, that education shouldn’t be some Darwinian competition in which your peers were your enemies. Though I was honored to be accepted into something so prestigious as Garcia, I was also full of trepidation. To be honest, I felt like a mid-level mutant in the X-Men, with powers that were perhaps too niche to be completely at home among the alpha Wolverines and Jean Greys that Garcia would surely boast. So as much as my ego and self-esteem shot through the roof when I received the acceptance letter in the middle of my AP Chem class, I was also worried about crashing into solid earth once I got to New York and encountered all of my fellow wunderkinds. 

And I wasn’t completely wrong, at least in the part that there were crazy-intelligent kids at Garcia. From my friend who had published a research paper as the lead author in Nature at the age of fourteen to the countless Olympiad awardees, the camp was full of more than just ‘smart’ kids from all across Asia, Europe and the Americas. But one thing that was glaringly different from SIS, however, was that the people at Garcia were so open and chill: no one seemed sus or Machiavellian in their outlook, and they all seemed genuinely passionate about the reason they were there. I loved listening to their stories, and I loved their camaraderie: they were willing to learn from and help one other in this small and temporary community. In fact, lectures would be extended by nearly 30 minutes to even an hour due to the plethora of questions they would ask the professors regarding their projects. There was always a sense of constant excitement in the air about new approaches to science. As we spent hours dwelling in the sweltering heat in the lab with heavy PPE, counting cells, and conducting endless tissue cultures, we also shared our own hopes and dreams about where we would be over the next few years. For the first time, I felt privileged to know that my love for the study of tick diseases and microbiology was being treated seriously. 

From 3 AM bike rides, fishing, and singing karaoke (my specialty was “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber), the majority of my time in Garcia was spent being surrounded by different people, and progressively, I came to learn more about their cultures and their individual outlooks: from different rules that applied to the Jewish community (observing the Sabbath and keeping kosher, for example) to people’s experience with theft in New York state to the hand gestures that were strictly forbidden in Italy--I was acquiring and processing unexpected data that expanded my appreciation of the world. 

Returning back to Korea, people at SIS have constantly told me that I seem changed after Garcia; although I do not clearly grasp what this ‘change’ strictly refers to, I embrace and welcome the influence that this program has had on my persona. Many may say that validation is fake, but at times, surrounding yourself with people who can provide you with the chance to be confident yet humble is rare and invaluable. I hope that there will be something new that I can discover at SIS with my newfound character. 

Hoefler Text

(from The worst thing about Microsoft Word is the sheer number of fonts available to the writer. I spend hours procrastinati...