This text is adapted from a similar text I wrote for an introductory programming class for non-CS majors that I teach (along with several other instructors) at the University of Chicago.

Over the years, I’ve found that one of the things that beginner programmers struggle with the most is not necessarily the technical aspects of programming, but the manner in which one learns how to program or, more specifically, the manner in which one becomes a better programmer.

Most notably, when a student in an introductory class keeps coming up with wrong solutions, or has a hard time figuring out…

About two months ago, I received an invitation from Andrew Huff, who I know primarily through ORD Camp, to participate in something called 20x2. Andrew explained it was “a show in which 20 interesting people each answer a question in two minutes or less”; it originated in SXSW Interactive, and Andrew runs the Chicago outpost of the show, which happens twice a year.

The question is known in advance to the presenters and the audience and, this time around, it was “Where do we start?”. The premise of the event sounded really cool, and I accepted the invitation (which I…

It’s November 9th, the day after the election. Today is the day we have to get used to saying President-elect Trump and, soon enough, President Trump.

I couldn’t sleep last night. I had to take Ambien (which I only take for jetlag) to be able to fall asleep. I wake up feeling wired and stressed, but determined to make it through the day. Class at 10:30 and 11:30, office hours from 1:30 to 3:30. The show must go on, I tell myself. Maybe getting back to my routine will soothe the pain, even if only for a bit.

I get…

[Disclosure: The University of Chicago is my employer, and the views expressed here are my own, not those of my employer]

The University of Chicago recently announced a major change to its College Diploma Ceremony, where every graduating student in the College gets their diploma. Instead of holding one big ceremony on the main quad, diplomas will now be handed out in eight smaller ceremonies in the university dorms, where students will receive their diploma from the Resident Master of the dorm they were assigned to as first-year students. …

The other day, I posted the following snippet of code on Facebook and Twitter:

Image source: Original Apollo 11 guidance computer (AGC) source code (

This code is from the original Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) source code, available on as well as on an (easier to browse) GitHub repo.

I was already aware that the AGC source code was available online, but someone reminded me of it recently, and my post was mostly a “ha ha, look at this code comment” post.

However, then I became curious about what FLAGORGY actually does, which led me down the rabbit hole…

This short story was inspired by several high school students working at the University of Chicago’s Computation Institute during the summer of 2015. On their last day of work, they shared that they dreaded having to work on their college essays, particularly variations on “when/how did you become an adult?”, pointing out “how do you ask that of someone who isn’t even in college yet?”

I suggested that, if they hadn’t undergone a transformative experience into adulthood, they should just make one up. Something like the essay below.

It was a day like any other. Classes were over for the…

After getting my green card in December of 2014, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for my “A-file” or “Alien file” (basically my immigration file). I did so mostly out of curiosity, since I wanted to learn more about what happens behind the curtain of the green card process. Three months after sending the FOIA request (technically a Privacy Act request, not a FOIA one, but they tend to get lumped together) US Citizenship and Immigration Services sent me a CD with a 378-page PDF. As I read through the document, I posted a number of tweets with comments and screenshots, which can be found below.

A Collection of Fantastical Vignettes
set in the University of Chicago

Thus, a compromise was reached. To preserve the quirky culture of the university, each Convocation would now have a theme, chosen exclusively by the students. The administration could not veto it and was required to scrupulously play along with the theme. Not doing so would instantly break the covenant, and all hell would break loose again.

The President opened the envelope with the theme for the first such Convocation. He read the three words written on the piece of paper, and mouthed a silent “Fuck.”

Bastian sighed. The view…

A Collection of Fantastical Vignettes
set in the University of Chicago

“That’s impossible, the Ducks of Botany Pond haven’t meddled in our affairs since the Great Ryerson Wars of 1957.”

Andrew woke up to find himself in the bookstacks. His mind was still in a haze; all he remembered was picking up that old book. He got up, and inspected his surroundings. Something didn’t feel right. Then, he noticed a rusted bronze plaque on the wall: “C LEVEL”.

A truce between the squirrels and the humans was finally reached. An uneasy truce, but a welcome one after so much bloodshed.

A short story

Department of Genetics, Washington DC, Pan-american Federated States
Monday, April 28, 2183

“Please tell me this is a joke.”

“I take it you’ve seen my report.”

“Damn right I’ve seen your report, which I assume is just a massive prank that your office concocted to give me a heart attack. I get it, I’m a hardass, I give your entire office a hard time. Well, ha ha, you got me!”

“It’s not a joke. And no one in my office has seen this. Only me.”

“Look me in the eye, and swear this is not a joke.”

Borja Sotomayor

I am a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Chicago. I write short pieces of fiction for fun. Sometimes I write about serious things too.

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