Confessions of a researchaholic

February 28, 2013

Van Cliburn, Cold War Musical Envoy, Dies at 78

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:24 pm

From Donald Mitchell:

“Fifty-five years ago, one of the first Americans to go to Russia in decades showed up to play one of the most notoriously difficult piano pieces ever composed, at the first Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. The competition had been created to show Soviet cultural superiority. The 6’4” handsome & humble Texan nailed Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Even judges stood during the 8-minute standing ovation following the (and there were other competitors to follow). Cliburn went on to win the competition.”

Van Cliburn died yesterday. Here is the full video of the 1958 concert.

Also see this this nytimes piece.

February 27, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:55 pm
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There were certainly many people get involved in the creation of iPad, but Steve Jobs is the only one who got credit for it.
(Replace iPad + Steve Jobs with whatever product + creator pair you like, and you get what I mean.)

So, you either be one who can get credit for something (entrepreneur/inventor could be a good start if you have the brain and gut for it), or work for those who can get credits (if you prefer a more stable and secure life).
This is a tradeoff. But in either case, do not whine.

February 26, 2013

What most schools don’t teach

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:16 pm

I saw this interesting video that went viral today.

I think the key point is about active versus passive abilities. The traditional school system put too much emphasis on passive stuff (e.g. passing exams), which is becoming less and less relevant in today’s job market.
(See related articles by Salman Khan and Mark Cuban.)
Active abilities are about solving problems and building things.
Programming is one of the most affordable and efficient ways to learn such active skills.

If you can only learn two things in the world, choose math and coding.

I picked up programming (in elementary school) not only because it is fun but also it looks like the most likely way for an individual to conquer the world. My instinct was right.

And it is not even hard. C++ is much easier to learn than English (not to mention Chinese), and I feel more comfortable coding than speaking.

February 14, 2013

Liberal art

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 6:40 pm

This is a random collection of thoughts after watching this movie, liberal arts, on a recent flight.

I like the movie; it is funny, informational, and the characters are cute (especially the one played by Elizabeth Olsen).

I finally got what it meant by liberal art college: basically, the kind of schools that trains one to be a generalist rather than for a specific profession. Quote from the movie: “I majored in English and minored in history just to make sure I am fully unemployable”.

I think computer science is some kind of liberal art: writing good codes is a lot like writing good proses, designing good algorithms is a lot like designing good plots, and making good UIs is a lot like making good plays!

From now on I am going to proclaim I do liberal art, in a more employable fashion.

Open mentoring

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:23 pm
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If you want to strengthen your credentials for school/job applications while having fun learning about computer science research without any additional costs or hassles, I can help you.

See below (and my advising style) for details, and let me know if you have questions or comments.
Please also help spread the news; we are making this world a better place.


It is becoming more and more competitive to get to a good job or school. You need a glistering resume. And passive measures like grades, ranks, and standard test scores are no longer sufficient because they do not reflect the active skills which are crucial for today’s highly dynamic and creative job functions.

School application example: 20 years ago if you are a top 5 percent student from a number 1 department/school in your specific country/region with good GRE/TOEFL scores (all passive measures), you can probably get into MIT/Berkeley/Stanford PhD program without much problem.
Today, you will likely not make the cut without impressive active measures such as publications and recommendations from top people in your field.

Job application example: 20 years ago a Stanford PhD without any publication can probably beat a Tsinghua PhD with strong publications in getting a high tech job in the US. Today will be the exact opposite.

In a nutshell, active measures are gaining importance over passive measures. But they are also harder to come by entirely on your own.
This is why people are doing all these internships and school projects. The question is: how good are your internship/project mentors, and how much credibility their recommendations carry? If you plan to spend time on these, better pick a good mentor.


I have been mentoring and collaborating with many students and junior researchers for a while. I have this unique asynchronous style that is not only very effective (judging by the publication records and responses from my collaborators) but also very scalable (absolutely no resource constraint except our passion and commitment).

If you do well, you will get strong publications and strong letters of recommendation from me. I am well connected to top schools, companies, and recruiters. You will also have a lot of fun with your projects.
If you do not do well, you have nothing to lose, as long as you do not list me as a reference.


I work with you asynchronously through svn paper drafts and Google sites. It is up to you to decide when and where you work. The amount of time I spend on you is entirely proportional to your productivity. I seem to have this uncanny ability to remotely read human minds (and sense human emotions) more effectively than ordinary people can face-to-face (the origin of my “Jedi” nickname).

You start by telling me what interests you, and I brainstorm with you to find a good project direction.

I then pick a warm-up project, usually reproducing a known piece of work in your field of interest, such as writing a ray tracer (my favorite pet project for rendering) or implementing your favorite conference/journal paper.

Not everyone will survive this warm-up stage. But if you do, we move on to a creative project, aimed for a real conference or journal publication. You will have a chance to learn everything that ever needs to be learned about doing research and publishing a paper. I can claim this because I have several single-authored papers to prove the completeness of my skill-set. I also have papers with different numbers of authors to prove my collaboration and advising skills.


I am most experienced with senior-undergrad + graduate students as well as junior lab researchers, but I do not have any hard constraints. It really depends on how we feel about each other.

I particularly like to help those who lack proper guidance; there appears to be many irresponsible/incompetent mentors out there, so I consider myself doing a useful social service.

If you want to become my internal student, you will need to go through this process anyway.


As indicated above, we can start anytime you like.

However, you might want to time your school/job applications. For example, it is not sensible to start working with me a month before your school/job application deadline, because I will have little to say about you. A good rule of thumb is to contact me at least a year ahead.


As indicated above, you can work anywhere you like.
I have a shared online work-space for you to meet others, as well as channels for individual discussions.

I might be able to arrange a few internship quotas, but those are already very competitive, and frankly they make little (if any) difference for my mentoring style.

February 12, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:12 am
Tags: , ,

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


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:13 pm
Tags: , ,

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.

February 9, 2013

Wedding photo of my grandparents

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:25 pm
Tags: ,

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

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