Friday, January 27, 2012

SINISTER PHASE THREE:  Longtime ALOTT5MA fave Evan O'Dorney, the 2007 National Spelling Bee champion from the East Bay (who Shonda once called an "adorable pint-size spelling genius and I know in my heart that one day he’ll create some kind of amazing box-type object that will change the world somehow"), is now a freshman at Harvard, where The Crimson profiles him today.  Two highlights:
"He is one of the few freshmen ever to place out of Math 55the most advanced undergraduate math course offered—directly into graduate mathematics classes in his first semester."

"O’Dorney even offered to spell-check this article before it went to print."


  1. isaac_spaceman10:42 AM

    When O'Dorney won the Bee, he said in an interview that he didn't really like spelling; math really was his thing.  I sat next to a Stanford professor on a plane who was a family friend of O'Dorney's -- this was before he won the Intel Prize -- who said that O'Dorney was the real deal, a genius of the first order.  It is strange for somebody that young to be as moderately famous as he is for something other than bad singing, bad acting, or good basketball-playing, so I hope it wears well on him. 

  2. Benner10:44 AM

    Math 56 is one more advanced.  Suck it, Harvard.

  3. Shonda Rhimes11:02 AM

    See?  He IS going to invent some amazing box-type object one day!  How much do I love that a kid is being lauded for his brains instead of some sport or ridiculous reality-show behavior?  Yay Evan!

  4. "O’Dorney joined the Glee Club last semester and spends his free time composing music."  Well, now I want to go see the Harvard Glee Club.

  5. isaac_spaceman2:34 PM

    According to the local news story about O'Dorney winning the Intel prize (for you, Shonda, I used the ABC affiliate,  "Evan O'Dorney, 17, bested 40 finalists in the competition that drew 1,744 entries to win the prize for his work comparing two ways to estimate the square root of an integer, according to a statement released by the Intel Corporation. As a byproduct of his research, Evan, who apparently developed an early interest in math, solved other equations useful for encrypting data, the corporation said."

    So you may already be using a box that uses something he invented to encrypt or decrypt something, or you may also be using a box that is incapable of stealing encrypted data because of his work. 

  6. bella wilfer3:17 PM

    Am I the only one who thinks this guy sounds like a complete asshole?  Well, okay, probably more of a Zuckerbergian dude with no social skills than an active asshole, but he's clearly completely unsocialized.  It sounds like the reporter was (poorly) masking a bit of contempt for how awesome this dude thinks he is.  All those quotes about how he's not bothered by the social anxieties of other freshman?? 

  7. Genevieve3:36 PM

    To me, it sounded more like a genius who is not as gifted in social skills, but he didn't say anything that makes me think he looks down on his fellow students, just things that showed how focused he was on his interests in math and music.

  8. bella wilfer3:53 PM

    I don't know...his quotes just came off really un-selfaware socially to me, and I feel like the reporter could have put a nicer spin on it if they'd wanted to...

  9. KCosmo's neighbor4:52 PM

    It's safe to say that, besides both being human, O'Dorney and I have nothing in common. Good luck to him--the world needs smart people to balance out those of us who'd rather not bother with more than basic math operations. 

    On a somewhat related note, today my office had a big clean-up day. I work for a big college textbook publisher (yes...I know it's ironic), and as I piled up out-of-date Caculus texts (among other disciplines), I said to a coworker, "If you knew this was the book you'd need to use for a course, would you take the course?" He said "NO" before I finished the question. The book, which was published as two volumes, easily weighed about 10 lbs. I'm glad there are people in this world who want to use these textbooks because A) it pays my bills, and B) takes the pressure off of me! Man, you'd all be screwed!

  10. Genevieve6:00 PM

    I think he comes off as a grown Charles Wallace Murray.  Who, you may recall from A Wind in the Door, had trouble relating to his peers, but that certainly didn't make him a jerk.  Just someone whose interests differed absolutely from most people his age. 

  11. Genevieve6:02 PM

    Ooh, we sang with them a bunch (I was in Radcliffe Choral Society for a couple years) - would've been fun to see him in it, especially if they ever sang anything he wrote!

  12. spacewoman6:16 PM

    If I accomplish nothing else from commenting on alott5ma, I hope I can at least spread a little love and understanding for the world's math people who don't have the best social savvy.  It's a *thing*, folks, and it's not as simple as saying, "Pardon me, I don't have the best social savvy." It doesn't make the guy an asshole.

  13. spacewoman7:06 PM

    Also, I couldn't find anything in the article that made him sound like an asshole of any stripe.  Is it because he loves math and isn't that interested in things that other 18 year olds are interested in?  Does that make someone an asshole?  Do we really need our math geniuses to go to frat parties?

  14. bella wilfer7:36 PM

    It was absolutely not my intent to sound insensitive about social awkwardness/not reading social cues. I got a "I'm more awesome than the plebians who like pop music" vibe from the article (especially because the reporter - who spent time with the guy - didn't make any effort to couch his comments so they sounded less antisocial), but maybe I'm biased because I went to school with a lot of people who behaved like they were better than others because of their previous academic achievements or because they liked more mature things than frat parties and beer (as well as people who were just socially awkward, of course).  However, it's certainly not fair of me to make that judgement based on a brief article, especially about a kid who is only 18.  So - my apologies - never my desire to offend! 

  15. My thought is that O'Dorney's apparent lack of socialization may have been contributed to by the decision to home school him--I completely get the desire to homeschool an extraordinary child out of fear that they'll get lost in an ordinary school, but the socialization aspect of school is something that it's hard to understate the importance of.

  16. spacewoman11:50 PM

    I understand that, bella w, and I know you're not someone who posts offensive comments.

    But I just have to put this out there, because I feel like this sort of thing comes up a lot.  I really can't find anything in this article that suggests that spacefamily hero Evan O'Dorney thinks he's awesome because of his earlier achievements; it says that when The Crimson decided to interview HIM about those achievements, he was modest and nonchalant about them.  What's wrong with that? 

    It also says that he finds pop music dull and isn't interested in socializing.  Can you blame him?  The guy is walking around creating symphonies in his head and Good Will Hunting it all over the Harvard math department.  If your brain is wired so heavily in that one direction, it's pretty unlikely that you're also going to be interested in doing keg stands and getting together with the rest of the floor to watch Jersey Shore.  If I remember college correctly, college has plenty of those guys to go around anyway.

  17. Anonymous12:32 PM


  18. Samir Patel12:48 PM

    Mmkay, so as a homeschooler AND someone who met Evan at the NSB, I'll have to disagree here.

    First - homeschooling CAN have negative social effects, but not because of lack of socialization.  More of lack of socialization with a very specific crowd of other people who think exactly like you do, which can in some instances lead to the inability to function in the real world where people hold different and less insularized value systems.  Nonetheless, that's a topic for a separate discussion. 

    In regards to Evan, I guarantee you that his social differences are a result of who he is, not how he was raised/schooled.  In fact, I'd postulate that he might be even less "socialized" by your definition if he'd gone to a public school -- kids who weren't as smart as him would try to make fun of him, etc.  Growing up in the home, a non-threatening environment, allowed him to develop his talents without going through any of that.

    I would agree that Evan's socially "different."  I had the opportunity to spend some time with him at the 2007 NSB.  I first noticed it when he sat down next to me while I was on my laptop, playing a game that came packaged with Vista -- InkBall, I think.  Puzzle type game.  He became oddly obsessed with it.  He didn't really interact with me at all, he just kind of took my laptop and wouldn't give it back until he solved the puzzle.

    From this, we can conclude that his traits involve an astonishing ability to focus and a determination to solve puzzles large or small.  This is clearly manifesting itself with his winning the Intel competition, going to Harvard, etc.

    I would offer him my congratulations, but I'm not sure if they're even in order -- Evan truly is a genius who's just different from the rest of us, and not necessarily in a bad way.  What he may lack in interpersonal communication abilities, he far makes up for in his logical/mathematical abilities.  [Anyone seen the new Kiefer Sutherland show Touch?  Just watched it last night, and it's oddly relevant.] 

    Maybe he is a little arrogant and thinks he's "better" than the rest of us.  Maybe he isn't.  Either way, so what?  I definitely wouldn't hesitate to say that he's far smarter than me overall, though based on the article, I'm probably a better writer.  He honestly IS different from said "plebeians" and in my opinion, the world would be far better off if there were a few more people solving complex math problems instead of watching the Kardashians.

    We should respect him for his unique capabilities instead of belittling him for his social differences.  I'd expect that out of grade schoolers -- not adults.

  19. Samir Patel12:50 PM

    EDIT: My bad.  That sentence in the second paragraph was supposed to be:

    "excess of socialization with a very specific crowd..." as opposed to "lack of."

  20. Isaac_spaceman7:59 PM

    I love every word Samir said above. He said what I would have wanted to say better than I could possibly have said it myself (and it was frustrating to me that I couldn't think of a way to say what I wanted to say without sounding like I was lashing out).

  21. Shonda Rhimes11:44 AM

    Well said, Samir!

  22. J. Bowman6:43 PM

    You know, I have a theory that a major cause of low achievement in computational math courses (in particular, calculus) is that the textbooks are so damned big that the students never want to open them.