Confessions of a researchaholic

May 22, 2013

Autonomy

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:51 am
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I bumped into this interesting and concise article a few days ago. I encourage you to read it in whole and watch the embedded video.

Basically, it echoes my personal experiences quite well, across product groups, industry labs, and academia. For jobs that require any dose of innovation, the success predominantly depends on individual creativity, perseverance, and autonomy, rather than knowledge, smartness, or even intelligence.

I have a very simple rule of thumb to know, at an early stage, whether a student is suitable for research, or any form of innovative work. It is a bit like push and pull. If I push you a bit (e.g. suggesting you to try an experiment) and you can react back with at least something I did not know a priori (e.g. a surprising result or a better way to do that experiment), you are probably good. Otherwise, you are just a robot that needs to be told exactly what to do. It is a bit better, but not fundamentally different from, say, strawberry pickers or assembly line workers.

Autonomy is the main distinction between jobs in the past 2 millenniums (e.g. agriculture, manufacturing) and this new millennium (the so called knowledge economy). It is also the main reason behind the bifurcation of economic power, social class, and a lot of other things.

On a related note, a recent story deeply touched my heart. A previous unknown, 50+ years old mathematician, with stints in fast food restaurants, recently proved an elusive property of prime numbers that has been one of the longest standing math challenges.
I did not know this guy, but I bet he must have a tremendous amount of passion and perseverance to spend all the time and efforts to pull this off.

May 21, 2013

Lvdi Wang visiting HK

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:41 pm
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[People usually send out email announcements for visitors. But I find it very boring. So I am going to take a different approach that is more interesting and fits my style better.]

Lvdi Wang, a MSR Asia researcher in computer graphics, is visiting Hong Kong from June 8 to June 12, 2013. If you are a faculty or student who would like to meet with him, let me know.

Here are some reasons why it is to your benefit to meet him, especially if you are a student, and more so if you are a student working with me now.

Lvdi is a very smart guy. In fact, he is one of the smartest students I have ever worked with. You can benefit a lot from discussing with him about your research.

He is also a very nice guy, nicer than the usual kind of smart guys who could make you a bit uncomfortable.

[Look at his publications and photos under his website for the two points above.]

He is not my longest collaborator, but likely knows my style well enough to give some *happiness* guide, especially to my internal students. (I am not saying anyone should have any grievance given my liberal style; how many professors out there allow their students to work anytime anywhere? But just in case.)

You might want to ask him about “nothing is impossible”. I am going to quote from his case if you ever tell me “it is not possible to accomplish that”.
ūüėÄ

May 3, 2013

CSIS3330

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:00 am
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Dear student:

I am totally cool with skipping all the classes as this is also what I did in school. But at least I never walk up to a professor in the final session and ask: “are you the TA of this class?”

(True event occurred in my mobile computing class today. All students have to show up for their final project demos.)

February 12, 2013

Anger

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:12 am
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A few evenings ago while tunneling through one of the numerous secret passageways of Hogwarts I overheard a heated argument between a pair of young student couples.

They clearly thought it was a sufficiently secluded place for letting go all of their inner emotions.

It was quite enjoyable to feel so much energy in the kind of anger signature of young couples. After they are older, they will cool off, and silently resent and despise each other.

February 11, 2013

Disappointment

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:13 pm
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I avoid airline check-in counters because it is a huge waste of time and I seldom bother with luggage anyway, but a few flights ago I had to do it due to malfunctioning self-check-in kiosks. While laboring with an agent, I overheard the conversation in an adjacent counter.
I did not watch the customer because my visual cortex was occupied with mental seat-map upload, but from his voice and intonation I pictured a high level corporate manager in his 50s with bristle white hair in a business suit.

The guy was hissing out sentences like “this is totally unacceptable; I am a XXXX elite status member”, in a tone of shock, indignation, and disappointment.

Gosh. If I had known the company he worked for I would have shorted it.

Self-note: dealing with check-in counters might not be such a bad thing because it provides opportunities for observing humanity under emotional stress.

January 26, 2013

Why my site is not worth hacking

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:49 pm
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A friend of mine, who is currently a grad student in a prestigious CS department, told me that his PhD adviser is pretty keen on the cyber security thing. Like, he will fuss about unencrypted project servers.

I do not encrypt my server. It is not nearly as popular a target as my friend’s department, and I simply do not think it is worth hacking. Allow me to do a quick breakdown of the content of my site:

90% are project ideas killed by myself.

9% are not killed, but papers rejected by reviewers.

1% are neither killed nor rejected, but so poorly written that reviewers, who are experts in my field, asked for 3 revisions to be able to understand.

I hope I have saved your time. Have a good day.

October 17, 2012

Party like a panda

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:21 am
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(Realization after a lunch part today at the University Lodge, aka the president’s office)

I am one who attends parties like a panda: eats (all the good food while available), shoots (some really bad and cold jokes), and leaves (before people realize I am a jerk).

March 3, 2012

Reading week

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:09 pm
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So the university has this *reading week* in the middle of the semester that has all classes suspended. The official documentation says this is for students to catch up on their course readings.

I was wondering why the students need an entire frigging week for this; aren’t they supposed to be doing the reading and course works all the time?

Eventually, a senior professor told me, in a whispering tone: “the reading week is just an excuse for professors to take a spring break”.

Hush, hush
ūüėÄ

February 1, 2012

Shampoo

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:59 pm
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A few days ago I ran out of shampoo. So I went to a nearby convenience store and bought a bottle. When I came home later that day, I found out that what I bought is hair conditioner instead.

So yesterday, I went to the same store again, determined to buy the right stuff this time. I did not recall exactly what happened, but this morning when I tried to wash my hair, I discovered that I have two bottles of conditioners, and still no shampoo.

I tried to recall what happened, and realized that I have been occupied by a bug and on some kind of auto-pilot the whole time last night.

I am going to give it a third try tonight. I fixed the bug earlier today, so hopefully I can finally get enough focus to buy shampoo.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out what to do with all these conditioners. My hairs grow so fast that I have to cut them like every 3 weeks, so I seriously doubt if they will last long enough to benefit from any conditioners. Nevertheless, I am going to give them a try, and see if they will get shiny.

December 30, 2011

James Landay on “China Will Overtake the US in Computing‚ĶMaybe, Someday‚Ķ”

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.)

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