Confessions of a researchaholic

July 19, 2014

Revelation for this day

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“A man is measured by the size of things that anger him.” – Geof Greenleaf


Thank you!

June 23, 2012

Alan Turing centennial

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:11 am
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He would be glad to know that his intellectual offsprings have become so powerful that a smart brain operating from a single room can have the potential to conquer the entire world.

July 20, 2011


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:56 am
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“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – William Shakespeare

But this is true only if the name is not already loaded with other meanings and the name cannot reflexively influence the entity being named. For the name “rose”, it does not carry any meaning other than a specific breed of flowers that smell sweet. For the entity “rose”, it still smells sweet even if it is named otherwise (such as “dung”).

When it comes to naming, people would be an exact opposite case to roses. People’s names are usually already overloaded with meanings, and names can reflexively influence people’s behaviors and self perceptions. I have an uncle whose first name was “至愚” which roughly translates to *extremely stupid*, and my grandparents told me that it became an excuse (in a funny and joking way though) for my uncle to not perform well in school as a child. (He later changed his name to something better.)

In case you wonder, it is not uncommon for Chinese parents to name their heirs negatively, as the tradition believes that doing so can help avoid devil’s attention. But whatever discretion my grandfather has for that uncle disappeared when he named me “立一”, which roughly translates to *number one*, *the first*, or *the best*. Not a typical name in a culture that observes humility and conformity (and devil’s attention). Probably because of the name or probably because of the expectations, I have been trying to live up to my name since childhood, although unfortunately more on the non-humble/non-conforming side rather than on the being number-one side. And probably because of the devil’s attention, I always have difficulty accomplishing anything other than the best, even if I tried.

Every year during my birthday, I tried to find someone or something to be thankful. In the last few years I thanked my mom for the pain she has to endure to bear and raise me. But this year, I would like to thank the name that was given to me, and the family elders who came up with it. It has guided me well throughout my entire life. Every time I have doubts about myself or need to make hard decisions, my name already reminds me who I am and what I am supposed to do.

July 20, 2009


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:00 am
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Instead of throwing parties and receiving gifts, I believe it is more logical to celebrate birthday by expressing gratefulness to those who have helped my state of existence.

However, this deems too board a target and I will end up thanking almost everyone and everything, starting from the universe all the way to the individual molecules of my body.
To make things feasible, let me narrow down the range by picking a quality about myself that I consider to be both important and unique.

I have to begin with my parents. I owe them both my nature and nurture, and for both they gave me the very best.

My grandfather, also my first teacher, provided the pivotal role of molding my innate interest in pursue of intellectual activities at a very early age. (I could still recite some of the Chinese classics he taught me while in kindergarten.) Through him I found that studying is one of the most wonderful experiences in the world. With a good book in hand or a good topic to research, I could feel the most supreme serenity in the most chaotic corner of the world.

Thanks to all the bully kids in my neighborhood and school who ever beat me up. They made me realize, in a very early age, that best way to survive and revenge is to out-smart instead of out-muscle them.

For unknown reasons, I have great difficulty following classroom lectures. I realized this at around age 12, and was lucky enough to have high school teachers who let me learn things myself without classroom participation. I was even granted the privilege to study alone in the school library located inside the girls building. This is a lot of trust, considering the conservative nature of the high school which segregated boys and girls. (Imagine the response from my classmates.)

And thanks to my college professors who allowed me to continue skip classes. They are all excellent teachers, but I continue to have problem attending lectures. Luckily, all these years of self study in high school and college provided important foundation for my ability in independent research.

I would like to thank my Ph.D. adviser in Stanford, who not only gave me the freedom to pursue subjects but also showed me the fundamentals in conducting research. One of the most important lessons I learned from him is that research is an iterative process. Thus, instead of shooting for perfection in the first try, just go ahead and do it. Since that I have always started writing papers from day 1 when I have the rough idea, and keep updating the paper along with my progress. I have found this the best way to manage a project, and to keep my sanity when multi-tasking with several papers and collaborators.

I feel extremely lucky to marry a girl who could let me do my things without much disturbance.

Upon my graduation I joined a company that needed me to follow orders. It did not take long to realize that I might not be the best fit for that if I could not even follow school lectures. Thanks to the patience and understanding of my former colleagues, I learned the importance lesson of never trying to be someone that I am not.

I would like to thank the managers of my current company for giving me the freedom to conduct research, and the students I have collaborated with, who helped me broaden my subject scope and improve my skills for teaching and advising.

Thanks to all these people, I have the privilege to be a (de facto) sovereign researcher with the confidence and ability to pursue answers for any questions that pop up in my mind. There is nothing better for me in the world.

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