Confessions of a researchaholic

December 30, 2011

James Landay on “China Will Overtake the US in Computing…Maybe, Someday…”

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:47 pm
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This is a mandatory reading for all my (current and future) students with an initial Asian training:

James Landay on China Will Overtake the US in Computing…Maybe, Someday…

First of all, let me share one of the biggest secrets of China (and to some degree other Asian countries like Japan and Korea as well as ethnic Chinese states like Taiwan and Singapore). Do you ever wonder why China developed this authoritarian culture in the first place? It is very simple: a conforming population is much easier to rule than one that can think freely. The Chinese emperors were very calculating on this; they did not even allow alternative sources of authorities to challenge them (like the bishops who can thorn up to European emperors’ arses). On the other hand, they also want the population to be reasonably fluent so that the country can be productive. Thus the duality of the Chinese/Asian education system: on one hand it enforces conformity, and on the other encourages intellect and hard working.
Unfortunately, even though this system worked for the past agriculture and manufacture dominant economic systems, a knowledge-based economy will require citizens who can think. So China will have to change its culture and education systems, or face competitive disadvantages.

Part of the fun for my past MSR and current HKU posts is being close enough to help while far enough to not get dragged down into the sinkhole. I am curious how much I can do as an individual, or there is really some grander scale environmental stuff that I simply cannot reproduce. Results so far are very encouraging; Asian students who worked with me for sufficiently long periods of time (at least one SIGGRAPH cycle) have shown significant progress of thinking skills and at least one of them managed to create SIGGRAPH ideas.

For the sake of more fun, I now extend my grand challenge to MSR Asia to all my (past, current, and future) students: the first one to publish a single-authored SIGGRAPH paper will receive my full financial support, out of my own pocket instead of any grant, to make the trip. (Really, it is not that hard; I am not very smart, and I did that twice already. I make this challenge because only with a single-authored SIGGRAPH paper can you prove your full independence, including creativity.)

December 28, 2011

Writing a previous work section

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:23 am
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Every research paper has to cite and describe relevant previous works, often in a dedicated previous work section, or sometimes as part of the introduction.
Trying to write a previous work section can be an excellent mirror exercise for reading papers. The quality of the former can be a good indication of how much you really understand from the latter.

First of all, spend enough time reading how other people write previous work sections. Pay particular attention to those you find educational, from which you can actually learn something, as well as those you find unhelpful, from which you feel only confusion and frustration.

A good previous work section contains multiple layers of information with different resolutions of details.

  • At the bottom level (highest resolution), you describe in one or a few sentences about the gist and merits of each paper.

  • At the middle level (medium resolution), you organize related papers into paragraphs, each contains information about the gist and merits of the group.

  • At the top level (lowest resolution), you relate every citation with your paper, in particular, how yours stands on the shoulders of previous giants: commonalities, inheritances, and mostly importantly, innovations.

After you have a draft, show it to your adviser or other experienced researchers, ask for advice, and iteratively improve it. It will be an excellent exercise for both reading and writing papers.

December 27, 2011

Heritage

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:50 pm
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Yesterday, my family donated to National Central Library of Taiwan the majority of the manuscripts of my late grandfather, a prominent scholar and writer in Chinese literature.

As far as I know, we did not have a chance to talk to my grandfather about how to handle his manuscripts during his life time.
To avoid the same mistake, I plan to discuss with my father, an artist with volumes of work in oil painting, water-coloring, and ceramics, about how to deal with his stuff when the day comes.

Fortunately, such worries stop at my generation, because all my works are digital and thus can be easily accessed and archived. (Though my PhD adviser once wondered whether his digital models of Michelangelo’s sculptures will actually last longer than the physical objects themselves.)

December 2, 2011

Quote of the day

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:13 am

When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.
– Jonathan Swift

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