Gap year guest post: Illusions and enigmas at NYU

Hello again!

My name is Matthew Beaudouin-Lafon, and if you've been following this blog you might remember me as the NYU-attending frenchman. Since my last post, a lot of interesting things happened. The most significant one I would say is that I won the dorm's talent show with a card cheating demonstration. For example, I demonstrate a technique called Bottom Dealing which, as you might have guessed, involves dealing cards from the bottom rather than the top. The beauty of my presentation, in my eyes, is that I am using the four Aces throughout the routine, but in the end, under the pretense that I am dealing them to a 'partner', I give myself a Royal Flush.


The original plan was to hook up a normal camera to the projector, but that didn't work. So we Facetimed the projector's computer. Poly is a school of problem solvers.


The prize was a trophy and $50 gift card for Amazon. Not too bad! But the really interesting part is that I will enter the NYU-wide talent show, in which the top performers of each dorm competes. The grand prize being $1000. So that's pretty attractive. Though I will be competing against students of NYU's school of performing arts, who may know a thing or two about, well, performing.


Winning came as quite a surprise!

Academically, I've also been having fun. While I had done a lot of the class' math and physics in high school, it was very refreshing to strengthen my foundations -- rumor has it engineers use integrals from time to time. I also took a course on MATLAB, a programming language originally made for matrix manipulation, which turns out to be perfect for any form of applied math. I got a bit ahead of the class and decided to program a historically accurate virtual Enigma, a World War II electromechanical encryption machine. Cryptographically, it was very interesting because it generated a new complete permutation for every letter. In practice, this means that one cannot do statistical analysis to decrypt a message. The key element is that there are three rotors inside the machine that step at every key press (like a mechanical pedometer). Mathematically, a complete permutation of the alphabet is composed because of this. In programming it, the key was that composing permutations is similar to indexing a vector. Playing with that was, besides difficult, really interesting. I'm starting to understand why some people would want to major in computer science. It was the subject of a recent movie called The Imitation Game, about how Alan Turing and a team at Bletchley Park broke the Enigma for England, but I had been interested in it long before. The Enigma code was the subject of my International Baccalaureate (IB) Math Extended Essay, which is a paper all IB students must write on virtually any topic of their choice.

Now that I am knee-deep in my gap year, I am forming a solid idea of what I want and can take from it. On the shallowest level, there's simply college credits. My efforts in math and physics will not be administratively in vain. Practically, I want to keep my work ethic, which is very important to me. I also want to form bonds with the interesting local students -- and I admit some professors who could write me a letter of recommendation. I also want to leave NYU feeling that I could not have passed my gap year the same way anywhere else. There are some classes, like the Video Foundation Studio, which I plan on sitting on as it is fairly unique to NYU (though I could not register for it). 

Since this is far from being an easy financial decision, it is necessary to guarantee I make the most of it every single day. To accomplish this, to be honest, difficult task, I challenge myself in everything I do. It'll make many aspects of my time at Olin that much more enjoyable. About six months from now, we'll see how that turned out in my final post!

Matthew Beaudouin-Lafon

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