Confessions of a researchaholic

February 9, 2013

Wedding photo of my grandparents

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:25 pm
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My father dug out this old photo of my (paternal) grandparents’ wedding, which took place near the end of WW2 in Jiangxi province, China.

I am not sure why, but such old photos tend convey a unique sense of beauty.

This particular one also carries some historical background.
My grandfather was a KMT air force officer, *lucky* enough to have spent the best part of his life in the most *interesting* segment of the Chinese history.
He has fought the warlords and the Asian theatre of WW2, which was almost done during his wedding. He probably thought the peace was finally coming without realizing that the commies were around the corner and a full scale civil war would break out just a year later. (As a further twist, Jiangxi province, where he stationed and married, was the origin of Chinese commies.)

It is just so romantic to get married in the middle of all these shit-storms. I can imagine the photo declaring to the whole world that “we know there is a lot of crap going on right now. But screw you all. We are getting married today. This is our world and nothing is going to stop us”.

Date: April 4, 1945
Place: Jiangxi Province, (likely) Jiujiang City (九江), China

March 23, 2012

Smoke

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 7:03 pm
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Dear Chinese government:

According to the following statistics, 50% of Chinese men smoke, consuming one-third of the world’s cigarettes.

As you can imagine, this is a significant drag-down of the Chinese national power, given the well known facts about health hazards caused by smoking.

Please put your authoritarian power in good use and ban smoking outright. No, not just in public places, but illegalize cigarettes all together.
Unlike the dysfunctional democracies like America who have to listen to tobacco lobbyists, you have no such baggage. And I am pretty sure no Chinese tobacco kingpin is more powerful than Bo Xilai, whom you sacked with such ease and grace just last week.

You can easily bankrupt the world’s tobacco industry by eliminating one-third of their revenues. This will go down as one of the major achievements in human history.

The last dynasty, Qing, in a much weaker state, had the gut to ban opium. I am pretty sure China is strong enough now to win a second opium war even if some foreign imperial power is stupid enough to start one.

Sincerely yours.

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.)

September 11, 2011

A year of no significance

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 6:13 pm
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1587, a Year of No Significance (Chinese: 萬曆十五年) is a book by historian Ray Huang (Chinese: 黃仁宇) which described how a sequence of seemingly insignificant events precipitated the eventual downfall of the Ming dynasty, as well as China itself. I remember getting totally fascinated by this book as a high school kid. The book is not flawless, but it is fascinating in highlighting how significant long term trends, which usually happen slowly, are often preceded by very small signs.

It is like the famous Chinese proverb, 一葉知秋: from a falling tree leaf one can know that the autumn is coming.

If future historians are going to write a similar book about the eventual downfall of the America (dynasty) as well as the entire West, the analogous year will be 2001, or probably even a specific day, September 11. Contrast to 1587, this is a year of *major* significance. But THE event is no less precipitating than those in 1587.

I am looking forward to read this book, and I hope it will be as enthralling as the one by Ray Huang.

August 25, 2010

The man who loved China

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:13 pm
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I am not interested in biography, but I approached this book due to the Needham question: why China was taken over by the west in science and technology around 1500 AD after the amazing advances in earlier times? I was hoping that this book will provide answers, even though I never realistically expected that since this is a question about history, and thus can never be verified scientifically.

Well, I was right about that, as obviously nobody has ever managed to answer the Needham question. But that does not really bother me for several reasons.

First, I, like many others who have been through both Chinese and American style educations, know the main reasons more or less, even though none of us can rigorously prove anything. But answering a historical question is not really the point. The point is to find remedies and solutions. That, fortunately, I, just like many others, already know how to do practically, as evident from our achievements in modern scientific and technological activities.

Second, as pointed out in the book, the Needham question might be moot anyway, as China seems to have regained its rigor and creativity. But I cannot fully agree with this point; I agree that China has been improving, but it still has work to do to catch up with the American level creativity. Even from the young Chinese students I am collaborating today I can still see a lot of old problems that probably have been accumulated through hundreds if not thousands years of bad cultural impacts. But this is obviously fixable at least in an individual level; the million dollar question is whether it is also possible in a large national or even ethnic wise scale.

The funny thing is that the Needham question was not formally addressed until at the epilogue of the book. So the book is really testing my patience. Fortunately, the main part of the book, essentially the biography of Joseph Needham, turns out to be a fascinating read.

I recommend this book to anyone, especially (ethnic) Chinese working in the field of science and technology.

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