Confessions of a researchaholic

September 28, 2013

The Klingons

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 6:47 pm
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Imagine you are a Klingon warship commander. After going through some hyper-warp to arrive at an alternative space time, you find that all Klingons are in gentle servitude to humans.

This is what I felt about the HK technology industry as a SF bay area computer scientist.

If you are a Klingon in that alternative space time, work with that commander so that you will not turn into a pussy.

September 25, 2013

How to deal with flight delays when you are already onboard

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:55 pm
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Flight delays suck. But what sucks the most is when you are already on board, so that you are trapped on that narrow seat and you cannot even walk around in a terminal.

If you are on a plane with in-flight entertainment system (stay away from those airlines/airplanes that do not even offer this basic service to all cabins) and the captain is smart enough to turn it on, start watching your favorite movies. This directly converts painful delays into extra entertainment time. At least it beats sitting there whining and worrying.

I realized this while getting delayed on board by a super typhoon a few days ago. It was a short haul flight, so the normal fly time is not even enough for an average movie. But it turns out to be enough after adding the delay. I got to watch a movie not available on Netflix.

Job season

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:38 pm
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I am in a constant process of helping students and postdocs landing jobs.

One thing I find very common and extremely interesting is the discrepancy between self-perception and reality. That is, candidates tend to have a higher estimation about their own qualifications (and thus higher expectation about the job offers they will get) than what reality would warrant.

This is just human nature. There is very little I can do; few took my advice, and many learned the hard way. But I guess this is how life works.

Humility is a virtue that we all learn eventually, one way or another.

Bureaucratic engineering

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:12 pm
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Doug Burger, my last MSR manager and a former UT professor, shared with me some very valuable personal experiences when I was heading the opposite way.

One of these, as quoted from him, is: there are pockets of inefficiencies in a school that are rarely seen in a company.

After witnessing some of such pockets myself (you are absolutely right, Doug), I realized that the right approach, as any good engineer would do, is to accommodate these inefficiencies into the design of my products and processes, so that I would not be negatively impacted under any circumstances. It is basically the same as, say, designing hardware processors which can tolerate a range of temperatures, and software interfaces which can deal with different user inputs.

Self: Good engineers never assume optimal conditions. Rather, they build things that can function under a wide range of possible scenarios.

I guess this could be a fundamentally different mentality from people with pure academic background.

September 23, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:33 pm
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I agree that there is enough inefficiency in the world that can allow really smart people to make a lot of money while having a lot of fun by moving things around.

But we all know the field is already quite crowded. Why do you want to just move things if you can create things? There is only a finite amount/variety of things to move, but infinite amount/variety to create.

To me, creating things is just more fun, even without the money factor. And you can make even more money if you can create the right things.

[Background: Most of the headhunter inquiries I have received since 2001 are about moving things instead of creating things, even though I have been spending my entire career in the latter. They said “my profile might fit”, but I never see why.]

September 22, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:47 pm
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It is actually very easy to maintain a good work-life balance: just have stable cycles, working steadily and consistently every day.

It always puzzles me why some people cannot heed to this very simple strategy. They slack off while away from the deadlines and work inhumane hours near the crunch time. And they get burned out, causing the next round of slack off. And the unstable cycle continues.

I work almost exactly the same amount of hours every day, except during travels (when I work a bit less) and bailing out my collaborators who lack enough discipline (when I work a bit more).

September 10, 2013

False presumptions

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:14 pm

A few recent events reminded me of the danger of false presumptions.


I received an egregious water bill due to leakage of my house. I tried to isolate the leak by shutting off all sources (e.g. faucets, toilets, sprinklers) one by one, but the meter kept on running.

I thought it must be due to some leaking pipe hidden somewhere in the house. And likely some obscure location; I have put my ears against the walls and could not detect any dripping sounds.

The first group of plumbers came, and could not find anything as well.

The second group of plumbers came, and immediately figured out the sources. Yes, that is the problem: there are multiple concurrent sources of leak instead of just one. That is why I (and the first group of plumbers) could not identify the issue, because we all assumed there is only one source.


A friend visited me a few days ago. During the dinner, he said he wanted to share a gossip with me. He got married. I said congratulations. Then he said he married a guy not a gal. I said congratulations again. But I also admitted that I was absolutely surprised because for all these years I thought he is a straight guy and I could not detect a single trace of homosexuality in him. (I thought I would know, given that I have been living in the SF Bay Area for like 15 years.)

So, given my interest in studying humans, the rest of the dinner naturally turns into detailed QA about psychological and physiological characteristics of gays. I have a lot of false presumptions corrected on spot.


I tried to find some gossip about me in return to my friend above, but I could not find any, except for the (already public domain) fact that I am within the paternal line of Genghis Khan. My friend’s immediate reaction was: you do not look like a Mongol at all because your physical size is too small.

I guess I am made at least 90 percent of Han Chinese (only the Y-chromosome is passed unchanged from my paternal side of ancestors), so this is no surprise.
But upon further thinking, it is not clear to me why the Mongols, at least my ancestors around the time of the massive expansion, necessarily have large physical sizes. It is probably a false presumption caused by their reputation and images of Mongol wrestlers.
I am not a historian or anthropologist, but the Mongols main military strength lies in the cavalry, not infantry (which mainly consisted of captured slaves anyway). So, it makes more sense to have a small rather than large body build for a jockey who needs to ride from Manchuria all the way to Europe plus round trip, right?


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:31 pm

Dear students:

Since we are not in the kindergarten anymore, I do NOT meet with your parents.

Your study is between you and me, and your future depends on your performance. I only look at that, nothing more, nothing less.

Under special situations in which your parents are in the kind of power or position to help you, they can deal directly with your future schools and employers. There is no need to involve me anyway.

Protected: DRPC E 2013

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:08 pm

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