The Literal Olin Story

tl;dr: Help write a multi-auto-biography memoir of life as an Olin student

When I was at the Boston Book fair (which you should all go to next year), I was talking with an author about Olin and she suggested I do what most writers suggest people do: write about it. But with all the current discussion of diversity, “what is the typical Oliner,” and my poor memory in general, I thought – why should it just be my point of view? A lot of things at Olin are made by students for students, collaboration which has led to things like the renovation of the library, Build Day, Frankly Speaking, the Foundry, REVO, etc. Why not an “auto-biography” of a “typical” Oliner?
How I am currently imaging the book plays out is something like the movie “Life in a Day.” If you have not seen this movie, we will never be friends. The book though will be a mix of different types of writings in a diary/scrapbook feel over the course of a year. They could be straight up “what I did today” journal entries. They could be rants and thoughts about important issues to you. They could be to-do lists, facebook posts, reflections you submitted to OIE, Frankly Speaking articles, etc. They can be almost anything.
Right now I am mostly looking for a gauge of interest. Would you be interested in writing? Do you have submission ideas? Would you be willing to help put this book together? If you are at all interested in being part of this (historical) project, have question or concerns, etc. contact me via email (, my alumni email (, facebook, or slack (@kai).

Rules, FAQ, and other random thoughts as to the structure of the book are listed here:

Nothing in Particular

Here it is. My last article for Frankly Speaking as a student of Olin College of Engineering. What shall I talk about this time?

Maybe I can talk about who I was before Olin, why I came here, and how I changed and developed as a person. That is a very senior thing to do, right? Well, it is not exactly a spectacular story. Those of you who know me have heard some mashed up version of it. Seizures , social isolation, family bullying, imaginary friend, demons , aliens, robots, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde – pick your plot and point of view. Why I came to Olin has very little to do with any of that. I decided to become an engineer because I was building a card tower on an Alaskan cruise and someone said I should be an engineer – whatever that was supposed to be. I decided I wanted to go to a “student made” college because I saw the trailer for the movie Accepted. And since Olin’s college colors were blue and silver, and nicely intersected my previous two decisions, it seemed like a good fit. After I got rejected, I applied again a year later because I simply decided that I would come here.

So that is it. I came to Olin because I am a shallow, impulsive, stubborn, bored idiot…who thought I could figure out how to be a person. In all my time here, I can tell you that has not changed one bit. I wanted to know what it was like to sit with a friend at lunch. I wanted to know what it was like to have a go-to reputation. I wanted to start a company. I wanted to know what it was like to be invited to go somewhere. It all happened (at Olin and at another college) and I am still a shallow, impulsive, stubborn, bored idiot who has no idea how to be a person. I only know how to be me.
Maybe I could give senior advice. Grains of knowledge I’ve acquired through the years—which you will likely disagree with. Like how rice cripies are a valid substitute for rice. How you should go for a walk at night and look up at the stars. If you want to understand what love is, talk to a wall. Don’t assume someone is arrogant just because they don’t tolerate your BS. If you don’t like who you are, then become someone you do. Don’t believe anyone who tells you something is bad without telling you what is good, and don’t believe anyone who tells you something is good without telling you what can be better. Only talk to people who listen. Never apologize for your silence or your opinions, only your mistakes – and always admit when you are wrong. Writing a book is easy; publishing a book takes as much effort and perhaps more time than launching a startup.

Maybe I can talk about things some Oliners say which baffles me. Like how “everyone at Olin is the same.” People tend to associate with people like themselves, who share their values, their views, their interests. So how many Oliners have you taken time to know? No one at Olin is the same—I can guarantee it purely on the fact that people argue and clubs have skimpy attendance. Nothing is more indicative of diversity than people who do not agree with you. Than people who do not prioritize the same stuff you do. Than people whose values are different than yours. And they have every right to be that way as much as you have every right to be who you are.

Maybe I can talk about food privilage and how I think both meat eaters and vegans are…no, I should avoid that. As someone who is allergic to everything but rice, eggs, fish, and a select few vegetables – I will revel in my own privilege of being able to say sushi is the only thing I can really eat at restaurants and not having the burden of other options.

Maybe I could give my shpeel on my problem with the word “feminism.” How using a gendered word to call for the end of gendered words and language is hypocritical. How anti-patriarchism makes a lot more sense. How it is the linguistic equivalent of saying you are an Islamist because you believe in religious equality, but Muslims are an oppressed not-actually-a minority—not because you are actually practicing being feminine or a Muslim. How all these reasons are probably why people keep misunderstanding the feminist message—because it is a constructed word intended to mean something people naturally understand to mean something else. Not because of our perceptions of gender, but because of basic brain pattern matching.

Maybe I can talk about my job choice. How I turned down the first job offer I got with Scholastic and how easy it would have been to take it. But I turned it down because I did not want to be stuck with a job I could have done 4 years ago and thus would have devalued everything I have been working toward. How I ended up with another job offer after 2 months of searching which matched everything I did. How important it is to not take something that is easy and safe, while dismissing your capabilities, just because you don’t have any other options yet.

Maybe I can talk about Frankly Speaking. How all my offbeat, extremely long, very self-centric and controversial articles were an attempt to inspire people to write and incite discussion. To let people know that it is okay to write about anything. That it is okay to be you and have opinions, no matter how weird or controversial you think they are.

A lot of maybes here. A lot of things to think about. A lot of things to say. And I still have no idea what would make a good “last article.” While I am quite obsessed with death in the majority of my writings, endings have never really been my thing.

So What Are You Watching?

The film industry is based on a formula that “works.” Namely, a formula that makes money and a formula that is safe–and if you think about how much time, how many people, how much money, and how much love and care and effort that goes into making a film–it makes sense.

I was once told by a screenwriter, no one ever sets out to make a bad movie. But, like most businesses, they will not make anything unless profit is guaranteed – which is why you get sequels dragged into the ground and continual reboots are so prevalent despite the cry for originality. It does not matter how much people rant and rave about how great a film is, the box office speaks the loudest. If a film flies, expect sequels. If it flops, say goodbye. Dreamworks, for example, had an entire series planned for The Road to El Dorado, which was canceled because it was a box office flop and historically their worst financial film of all time at a total loss of $45 million [1].

That said, my point is that Hollywood is saturated with movies of white male protagonists and supporting females, because it is a formula that sadly sells. Strong female leads unfortunately do not – part because most films that pass the Bechdel test flop (this is false, but it’s Hollywood’s biggest argument [2]) – part because even if female moviegoers buy tickets, they don’t buy merchandise of male-targeted movies (strong females or not) [3] – part because even if over half the movie goers are female, they are watching male lead movies so why should anything change [4]? Also, don’t forget that the “rest of the world” is considered a market. Not just the US.

Well, I’m going to tell you a secret – there are a LOT of movies out there with female leads who are pretty awesome. It may not be the majority of films, but they very much exist.

They just get snuffed out by marketing. And memory. People dismiss their actions. And then the whole movie itself is mocked and torn to pieces when they don’t get it right, making the standards too high and the “risk” of making a movie with a female lead more daunting.

Let’s pick on Disney – and the phenomenon that acclaimed Frozen as being a revolutionary feminist film.

Remember Pocahontas? The Native American princess that threw her head on John Smith’s own as her father was about to beat his brains out and trigger a war that would have ultimately ended in genocide, and who eventually dumped John Smith for someone else because he was a jerk. It is not uncommon to exclude her from the Disney princess line up – along with Tiana, Mulan, and yes – sometimes Jasmine.

How about Melody from the Little Mermaid 2 – that mother, daughter story where the mother is not abusive and there are no men involved beyond a random crush stereotypical of budding puberty? Ariel’s daughter has never been included in the Disney princess line up because Ariel having a daughter probably ruins the fact that Ariel is marketed as a 16 year old (and with Melody, she is in her 30’s).

And for those of you wondering why Kida is not a Disney princess, it was because Atlantis was a box office meh. Just like Road to El Dorado, it had planned spin-offs focusing on its other characters that was quietly dropped. The Submarine voyage in Disneyland was originally intended to be Atlantis theme, and was changed into Finding Nemo for similar reasons [5].

Disney has a stream of female-lead movies, because “The Princess Franchise” is primarily what it is – a franchise. In fact, it is the #1 franchise in the world (Star Wars is #2) which is why they can experiment in the “dangerous waters” of female leads [6] due to the discovery that girls and women buy feminism [7]. The chiming word this time: merchandising – the other major lever on a film’s success outside of the box office.

Merchandising is why Pixar made a sequel for Cars (made $10 billion in 5 years on merchandising alone [8]). It’s why Young Justice, a wonderful show with a 50-50 male-female show of DC sidekicks, got canceled – because females were half the watchers and they “don’t buy boy’s toys” [9]. With the Disney franchise, toys go with the movies, showers of pretty dolls and dresses little girls are expected to beg their parents to buy. Throw in a minor side-kick character plushie like Flounder or Olaf for the boys. (As a side note, Disney does not include Princess Leila in their Star Wars merchandising, and Gamora for the Guardians of the Galaxy because Star Wars and Marvel are “for boys” [10].)

But moving away from Disney and animation. What about other movies with female leads? Why aren’t they all over our Facebook and tumblr feeds? Is it because movies actually lack a strong female characters, that the writing is bad so they are flat and boring, that the actress herself did poorly so it is not a performance worth acknowledging, or that we get so wrapped up with the men, we stop noticing the women?

Do we ever talk about the lead from Silence of the Lambs? Ignoring the fact that Hannibal was a supporting character popular enough for his own spin off franchise, of course. Do we ever talk about Alice in Wonderland? Because you’d think with every remake they do someone will acknowledge Alice as an iconic character like the Mad Hatter and Cheshire cat (kudos to the Queen of Hearts for escaping). How about the Wizard of Oz? How about Annie? Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Alien? Kill Bill? Precious? Million Dollar Baby? Easy A? Juno? The Help? Epic? Amelie? Iron Jawed Angels? Doubt? Coraline? Pan’s Labyrinth? Mary Poppins? One Night with the King? Prayers for Bobby? Legally Blond? Anything with Angelina Jolie? Every single horror movie not written by Stephen King ever? Gothika actually takes a spin on that and makes the female lead a black woman!

Or maybe, moving back to animation – here’s an even harder question – do you watch the Barbie franchise? Their most recent film was where Barbie got kissed by a chemically altered bug and gained flight, super strength, and the ability to shoot energy balls (also includes female twin engineers and questionable physics related to lava). Or how about the Tinker Bell franchise? It explores the back story of Tinker Bell, an overly curious tinker fairy and Tesla of the fairy world. Pirates and more questionable physics included.

If you don’t watch these, then why not? Because you never heard of them? Because they are for kids? Because you don’t think they are good? Or because they are “too girly”? Yeah – Barbie is all about her signature color of pink and “buy my dolls!” merchandising, despite the fact that she breaks more stereotypes than Disney films and can easily pass as a feminist heart throb. If you get past what she looks like, you discover she is also smart and a bit quirky. Tinker Bell is too.

However, a funny observation I’ve had is that movies targeted at girls are often considered inferior to those targeted at boys. After all, the cry for an original female superhero is loud. But why would boys be interested in magical sparkle transformations as they discover they are actually the long lost merman prince of Oceana with pearl power and a faithful pet fish? As a side question, does anyone else use “chick flick” as a derogatory term?

That said, I am not here to convince you to watch movies normally targeted at “little girls.” I am here to encourage you, if you want more of a certain type of movie, support it in every way you can, especially if you are not the target audience.

It is not getting better just because Hunger Games and Maleficent exist; it has actually gotten worse. In 2014, there were fewer movies with female leads than there were back in 2002 [11]. And at $90 million, 50 Shades of Grey is the highest gross film of all time with a female lead, a female director, and a 70% female audience on opening weekend (Frozen was $67 million) [12].

So stop harping on Disney Princesses to lead the way – they have been for years and people who are supposed to make animated films of pretty animated girls in dresses (or teenagers if you will) are not the ones to do it. Remind all of Hollywood you want epic female characters leading the way and nothing else will do. That you would pay to see female-lead movies more than any other film. That gender marketing is absurd. That live actresses are as well beloved and capable as animated ones. That female supporting characters are epic and deserve spin off series just as much as Despicable Me’s minions, Hannibal, and Wolverine. Drive the demand out hard – especially if you are a guy. With the deepest respect, if a heavily female audience goes to watch a movie targeted at a female audience, big whoop – that was supposed to happen. That is how gender marketing works.

So put a kink in that formula of expectations. Make that “risky” market look juicy so Hollywood has no choice but to step out of their comfort zone – and that if they flop, it’s a stepping stone – not an “I told you so” dead end. Give them confidence that the years of time, script writing, finding actors, introducing revolutionary animation/graphics, reputation investment, production costs, advertising, actually shooting the movie and so much, much more – is worth that “risk.”


Qualifiers and Tentative Speech

Kind of, sort of, maybe, might, usually, probably, somewhat, very – the list goes on.

What do all these words have in common? They are all qualifiers – extra grammar words that pop up in sentences to alter the sentence’s meaning, by either enhancing or limiting it. For example: This megabot might work.

Qualifiers have their place in this world. Lazy writers use them as short cuts when they cannot figure out a better way of writing (eg. “kind of cold” vs. “cool breeze from the north”, “a lot of puppies” vs. “a hoard of stubby tails”). But in reality, qualifiers serve one purpose: to establish uncertainty. Outside of that, they are grammatically useless.

This is part of a speaking style known as tentative speech, qualifiers that make statements become questions. Like qualifiers, tentative speech has its own place in the world – sometimes there is uncertainty, right? (You see what I did there.) After all, you do not really know if your megabot works, but it might, so you put a small ounce of yourself into the belief that your hopes and dreams will become a reality as soon as you flip the power.

Tentative speech also serves to open up conversation, give people a chance to express their opinions, and a means of inclusion. But tentative speech doubles as the shy, intra-personal alternative to assertion. Tentative speech is a defensive (or sensitive) way of speaking. It is a means of playing nice and getting along with others, because things might work out how you want, and if they do not, you already knew that might happen, right? You cannot argue with that logic. And while nice people are awesome, tentative speech is a characteristic of people who lack confidence in themselves.

Studies have also dubbed tentative speech as stereotypical of “women’s speech.”[1] However, in a broader sense, it is characteristic of those who subconsciously feel they “lack power” or are of “lower status”[1]. Gender does not matter.
Want to know a sure-fire way to sound confident? Simple. Drop the qualifiers. Drop them from your speech. Drop them from your writing. Drop them from your presentations. Drop them from your life. I do not expect you to throw out tentative speech completely (distinct from just qualifiers here) because that still has its place in the world. And besides, your brain might explode because overthrowing a speaking style is harder than removing one or two unnecessary words [2]. Plus, chucking out tentative speech completely means you will turn yourself into an arrogant jerk. Qualifiers on the other hand, well, I will let you decide. Which sounds better? [3]

A: The megabot might work, but the thrusters are kind of off so it can be a little wonky at times.

B: The megabot will work. My primary concern is that the thrusters are sporadic, and will misfire if given uneven amounts of power. I am working to fix this.


[1] Before you start chucking tomatoes, tentative speech is examined in gender studies. Some studies support it, largely in the realm of “women being more socially sensitive” rather than lacking confidence:,;
Others do not:

[2] Tentative speech is also incredibly persuasive (so if you are into law or psychological manipulation, go for it) and can make people agree with you (provided they are not frustrated with indecisiveness).

[3] Disclaimer: I know nothing of megabots. I just write sci-fi and watch anime and use big words for the context of this article….