Confessions of a researchaholic

April 25, 2020

Virtual meetings

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:38 am
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I usually share my screen instead of my face during virtual meetings.
I believe people mostly care about my content than what I look like.


The reason Zoom calls drain your energy

April 21, 2020

Mimetic desire

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:21 am
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It takes intelligent and independent minds to desire what are really wanted.

March 30, 2020

The influence we have

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:37 am
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Both this NPR hidden brain podcast on the influence you have and this book on confessions of a sociopath point to the interesting aspects on how we know (and don’t know) about the psychological influences we can have on other people.

December 20, 2018

Time perception

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:59 pm
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I found drawing to be an excellent in-flight entertainment, especially long-haul flights that provide ample time. Aside from occasional turbulence that can shake my strokes (especially on glass tablet surfaces), drawing is pretty much immune to other distractions like engine noises and passenger commotions.
I had so much fun and focus that the plane landed before I realized.

These two drawings are from the same photo which I like a lot.

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A smiling face is a beautiful face

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Grimace

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June 9, 2018

Suicide

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:34 am
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Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade;
Someone with my genetics and psychology will probably never understand;
I will just Kublai everything and anything that stands in my way.

May 19, 2018

Antisocial irrationality

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:18 pm
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In a recent party I attended I did not socialize as much as I should. I was either too arrogant to think talking to people is not worth the time compared to just idly walking around, or too lazy to chat which is not difficult for me at all.

If I am in a social gathering, I should talk to people; otherwise I should just go somewhere else to do something useful.

In a future party, if you find me antisocial (not abnormal, which is normal for me), please remind me that I am behaving irrationally.

March 18, 2018

Productivity, rest, and distraction

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:56 pm
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Recently, I read several good articles from World Economic Forum about
distraction, nap, and productivity.

Distraction

Sometimes when I needed a break, I went to Slack, email, or social networks, only to find out that I was simply context switching to another task: more work, less focus, no relax.
So now I forced myself to simply take a walk, look out the window, or causal chat with people; anything that will NOT fork another work thread.

Napping

I took naps all the time, and I plan to keep on doing it.

Productivity

Planning is important, but sometimes I found it much simpler to just pick something and do it to avoid over-thinking.
When I feel over-whelmed or hard to decide, it is usually a sign that all the tasks at hand are similarly important.

March 5, 2017

Psychometrics

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:18 pm
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I instinctively ignored this upon first sighting a few days ago, but it popped up again on my social feed. I read it, and found the report fascinating.

There are two links under that article providing 2 ways for the said personality test: one via FB likes, another via questionnaire. Out of curiosity, I tried both, as a test of consistency. The results differ quite a lot. I guess this is because I use Facebook as a friendlier version of LinkedIn (I didn’t realize this until my wife told me so a few days ago), so it probably doesn’t reflect my personality well.

This is just a sample size of one, but I suspect how many people truly reveal themselves on social networks, and this can influence the accuracy of such data analysis algorithms.

May 9, 2016

Recursive interviews

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:20 pm
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When you were interviewing the candidates I was also interviewing you.

You opened yourself like a book.
πŸ™‚

February 10, 2016

It might not be good to be a good student

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:12 pm
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It is usually not too hard for smart kids to perform well in schools; just excel in what you are told to do, such as taking courses.

This is a deterministic process with well-defined goals and tasks that reward smartness and hard working.

However, real world is chaotic and ambiguous. You have to figure out what to do, with shifting targets and ever-changing environments.

This is why school performance does not directly translate to real-life performance: the required mentality and skills are not the same.

This is also why being a good student might not be a good thing for you. You are so used to this deterministic input-output process that you might be very frustrated by the non-deterministic nature of the real world, when starting your first job or research project.

In contrast, not-so good students might adapt better to the real world, because they already have enough failure experiences and are not yet cast into conformity.

PS
I was lucky to be a student who was considered good in performance and bad in behavior.
πŸ™‚

December 31, 2014

Frame of motivation

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:55 pm
Tags: ,

As a game of self-motivation, I used to frame and hang rejection letters on the wall and remove them only after getting even.

Today while cleaning my office I found the very last one sitting in a corner. Looking at it feels like a guy bumping into his high school crush who rejected him years ago but now appears totally fat and ugly.

With amused satisfaction, I threw the letter away but kept the frame. Time to fill it with another motivation.

Frame of rejection

A photo posted by Li-Yi Wei (@liyiwei) on

February 22, 2014

Be different

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:37 am
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This is likely a unique local phenomenon, but I often see these student representatives wearing suits and sitting in meetings for various organizations.

It is extremely difficult for me to understand why anyone wants to do this. Young people should dream of being different instead of rushing into conformity.

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

– Steve Jobs

October 14, 2013

Brainstorming

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:48 pm
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I stumbled upon this article about group brainstorming today.

It echoed well with my own personal experiences and my general take that meetings are almost always completely useless for research/creative works.
I do meetings only when absolutely necessary, such as resolving major confusions or conflicts among multiple team members, evaluating live demonstrations of a UI design, and interviewing (i.e. reading) people.

Some managers and administrators like meetings. Fight them with all your power. Do not let less intelligent people waste your time or reduce your effectiveness.

September 22, 2013

Cycles

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).

July 10, 2013

Scam

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:58 am
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This morning I got a phone message from an alleged debt collector. It smelled full of scam so I looked up online and confirmed my suspicion.

Basically, what seems to be happening is that if you call them, they will ask you for your personal information. In other words, it is identity theft taking advantage of human weakness. Many people, upon hearing that they owe debt, would feel guilty. Thus, they are more likely to put their guard down and divulge their personal information.

But this is probably less effective for people with different kinds or degrees of conscience.
πŸ™‚

I wonder why debtors should fear creditors. Do you think you are more afraid of your bank (where you deposit/lend your money) or the other way around?

June 16, 2013

Sociability

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:54 am
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Public speaking is the number one fear reported by people in the US.
Many people, at least in the US, like to go to parties.

For me, it is the exact opposite.
The bigger the audience, the easier I feel.
Giving a large conference talk is the most comfortable; I totally control the script and there are so many people that they become anonymous, blank, and non-human.
Teaching a class is slightly trickier; I am still in control but have to interact with students sometimes, potentially disrupting the flow and raising my awareness of their human presence.
Small talking in a social gathering is the most energy consuming; it is entirely ad hoc and I have to read people and react in real-time.

Is this extrovert or introvert? I guess it is something orthogonal. Maybe it is “sociability” before I can find a better term.

Around 38:00 mark on Hannibal season 1 Aperitif (at the end of Will Graham’s class on criminal psychology):

Jack Crawford: I also understand it is difficult for you to be social.

Will Graham: I am just talking. I am not listening to them. It is not social.

June 14, 2013

Aromatic association of cities I have lived in more than 1 year

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 8:01 am
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They say olfactory memory is the most visceral as it is within our primitive brains.

Taipei: soil within sidewalk pavement cracks

Kaohsiung: (strong) industrial waste water

Stanford: dry grass

Palo Alto: coffee

Mountain View: swimming pool chlorine

Emerald Hills: trees

Beijing: gun powder (sulfur)

Seattle: sea-weed/salt

Hong Kong: (humid) bean curd

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 25, 2013

Teaching

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:23 pm
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My attitude towards teaching could be reflected by how I would really like to write my teaching statement (for faculty job applications).
There will be only one sentence: “smart enough students can pick up everything themselves”.
(Note1: I know this is entirely doable because I pulled this off since I was 10 years old, and I did not consider myself to be very smart.)
(Note2: Of course this is not how I really wrote my teaching statement.)

With this backdrop, it should not be a surprise that I have never blogged a single entry about teaching, at least not mine. I do not even have teaching as a tag word.

I have considered teaching as a chore rather than enjoyment (unlike research), and my basic stance has not changed too much. (One main reason why I think it is better to start a research career as an industry lab scientist rather than a university professor.) But not until I really taught full-semester classes, especially large ones, did I start to appreciate teaching can be a fun thing to do, for two main reasons.

First, it can actually inspire my research ideas.

Second, and probably more important, teaching provides a great chance for massive mind reading and human studying, with moral justification for effective teaching. It is even more fun and challenging than reading individuals, one of my most favorite pastimes.

More posts to follow.

August 15, 2012

How to be more creative

Filed under: Imaginary,Real — liyiwei @ 4:55 pm
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[Work in progress; this is a darn hard one to write, but I finally decided to start as triggered by a conversation with my MSR colleagues last dinner.]

This is the holy grail among all questions related to research, or any other intellectual pursuits. I used to (and still) think creativity is more of an innate talent and personality trait than something that can be taught. But I have finally gathered some anecdote to start something concrete. Some of these came from my own experiences and some from people I know. So it is a very personal perspective, and I cannot guarantee anything.

I summarize these into two main aspects, divergence and convergence. The goal is to have both in a right balance. My take is that either is hard, and the right combination is even harder.

Divergence

Many good ideas were generated by exposure to diversity, such as learning from different fields, interacting different people, and experiencing different cultures.
Examples:
(1) computer graphics is known to borrow ideas from other fields, such as physics, art, psychology, perception, architecture, interaction, etc.,
(2) a disproportional number of project ideas in Microsoft Research came from smart people talking to each other; I have heard plenty interesting stories on how an idea originated and transformed, often through multiple years and multiple folks, into a final project idea (that often bears little resemblance to the original idea, such as my SIGGRAPH 2011 paper on “non-linear revision control for images” which originated from “deformable BTF texture synthesis”),
(3) people who are multilingual and/or have been living in different countries/cultures tend to be more successful [dig out that economist(?) article].

Try to be playful and willing to take risks. Happier people tend to be more creative [dig out the source]. Those not willing to take risks usually end up with ordinary performance; this is evident in not only entrepreneurship but more mundane stuff like paper submissions: aiming for a more prestigious venue often encourages (or forces) people to be bolder.

Convergence

God/devil is in the details. Many good ideas came by carefully studying a subject. My SIGGRAPH 2011 paper on “differential domain analysis” was originated from the trigonometric transform equation which I discovered by trying to solve a puzzle of my previous SIGGRAPH 2010 paper on “multi-class blue noise sampling” (the equation first appeared on the technical report published the previous year in 2009).

Sometimes one has to be a perfectionist, pushing things beyond the very top level, to discover the golden nugget of ideas. This was the case for my SIGGRAPH 2011 paper on “discrete element textures “, which went through multiple submissions to the point that the authors started to feel desperate and only be saved by the discovery of a very important key idea (sample based representation that requires only positional but not rotational information).

March 24, 2012

Fooled by randomness

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:41 pm
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Feeling down from some recent rejections? I hope this post will make you more positive. The gist: never, ever, quit.

Assume you are throwing N loaded dices, each with a probability p for coming up head.

Now, if p is greater than 0 and smaller than 1, there is always a chance that the N dices will come up with all heads or all tails. And the smaller the N value, the more likely for such extreme cases to happen.

This is all pure chance. But unfortunately, human brains have difficulty accepting randomness, and always want to impose determinism, e.g. patterns or rules or causalities.
For example, if you are a scholar submitting N papers to a conference, you will likely consider yourself to be very good/bad (or the paper committee has treated you very well/badly) if all N submissions are accepted/rejected.

This human fallacy is brilliantly illustrated by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book “Fooled by Randomness”.

However, even without reading that book, I can recommend a very simple remedy: law of large numbers. This is a well-known mathematical theorem, which says that the expected value of a random variable can be more accurately predicted by averaging a larger number of samples.

So, for example, to measure your intrinsic paper acceptance rate towards a specific conference, you can take the total number of acceptances divided by the total number of submissions. This will be a much more meaningful measure than your acceptance rate for a single year, especially if you have a sufficient number of submissions across multiple years.

For example, the plot below shows my cumulative acceptance rate for SIGGRAPH, the top venue for computer graphics and interactive techniques. As you can see, the rate seems to be gradually converging to a certain value, around 0.34. This is much more stable measure than my yearly rate, which can be anywhere between 0 and 1.

Now, if you are new to a field, your rate will have a higher variance, just like the initial portions of mine. I was lucky that I had a good start which boosted my confidence. (Initial condition is actually very important and has been found to greatly influence the performance of many careers, e.g. hockey players. Note to myself: dig out that book/article. I guess it should be Geoff Colvin’s “Talent is Overrated” or Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”.) However, if you happen have an unlucky start, do not give up too early; hang on for a while, so that you can have a chance to see your *intrinsic performance*.
As you can see, my intrinsic performance did not really show up until about a decade doing SIGGRAPH.

(With all these rational arguments, I have to confess that it still hurts to get rejected!)

Some notes about the graph: (1) I plot SIGGRAPH at integer years and SIGGRAPH Asia at integer + 0.5 years, (2) missing data points are for years which I did not submit anything (2004 and 2005 while in NVIDIA and 2011.5 when I have nothing to submit for SIGGRAPH Asia 2011), (3) a more accurate measure would be “moving average” (with exponential decay of past values) but I probably need another 10 years to warrant this, (4) I really want to improve my intrinsic rate to at least 50 percent!, (5) I guess the ultimate test is to have multiple disjoint committees + reviewers, all with similar qualities, to evaluate the same batch of submissions, and see if they will accept similar sets of papers.

February 13, 2012

Jeremy Lin

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:33 am
Tags: ,

I am not trying to jump into the bandwagon, but there appears to be a civil-right scale movement happening in the Asian-American community now.

I found a few articles worth reading:

A forbes article about lessons learned from Jeremy Lin.

What I see in Jeremy Lin, an article I found through ESPN. And another good one by J.A. Adande, one of my most favorite ESPN writers. (Yes, you can actually learn something in a sports page.)

Paper tigers, a provocative article about Asian-Americans. I agreed with some of the points, disagreed with others, but found most of them very interesting.

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.

November 26, 2011

Emotion

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 2:23 pm
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It is pointless to rationalize with people who are trapped in emotions, which, unfortunately, happen all too frequently. Emotion is an evolutionary artifact that would take long for (natural) evolution to fix. Meanwhile, we can only hope for better self-control.

September 23, 2011

Scarcity

Filed under: Imaginary — liyiwei @ 10:27 am
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Imagine a world where all resources are unlimited. Everything has infinite supplies and free to access like air. Everyone can live forever without aging, disease, injuries, fears, or any forms of constraints.

What would it be like? Do you think it is heaven, or hell?

Life is worth living precisely because it is finite and every resource is limited.

July 20, 2011

Name

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 “θ‡³ζ„š” 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 “η«‹δΈ€”, 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.

November 23, 2010

Unpretentiousness

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:27 pm
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A few nights ago I went to a local Polish restaurant for dinner.

I booked it online only half an hour before the reservation time. (It was a cold raining night and I was looking for something warm and potentially exotic, and it is not uncommon for me to make snap decisions.) Upon arrival, the hostess, after flipping through a stack of fax papers, told me that she could not find my reservation. So they sit me in the high stool bar area. Obviously it is a newly opened restaurant; they do not have a computer reservation system (and thus receiving online bookings through a fax machine which obviously can drop your reservations especially those made on short notice) or even a cash register (they used pocket calculators and locked their cash in a small iron treasure box). They are obviously under-staffed; the host and hostess are the only people serving tables, and they are so obviously overwhelmed that I can see the later’s frustration through the white eyes she gave to the former. And not surprisingly, it took about eons to get my orders taken.

And yet this turned out to be my best dining experience in recent memory. Their kitchen did not seem to be understaffed as they churned out food pretty efficiently. Nor are they under-skilled; in fact, the dishes are very delicious, and surprisingly similar to the Taiwanese food in a good way. But the best part is the overall ambiance. Many of the guests are Polish (or at least Eastern European); this is not only a testament to the authenticity of the food but also gives the restaurant a local cozy family style warm and yet a bit foreign and exotic feeling. Furthermore, since I sit in the bar area, I can clearly see the inner workings of the hosts: how they cut the bread, calculate bills (using pocket calculators), pack to-go boxes, unlock/lock their treasure chest, pour wines, and show exasperations.

I did not fully realize why I like that Polish restaurant so much until another dining experience in a French restaurant. It is also a good restaurant with excellent ambiance and Ok food, but somehow the staff, by speaking in fake French accent, turned me off. After some analysis, I realized the key reason is pretentiousness. I am not sure if it is just me, but there is something genuinely charming about seeing people behave in their simple, direct, and natural manners. If a restaurant is understaffed, I would love to see them overwhelmed and exchange white eyes. And if you are obviously not French, I would find it very unnatural to hear a fake French accent.

Upon further analysis, it dawned on me that it also has a lot to do with the fact that I like to read people. I have a pretty good intuition on what people are thinking and feeling, and what kinds of personalities they have. And years of experience taught me that how trust-worthy people are and how well I can get along with them is positively correlated to how well I can read them. In particular, if someone tries to resist my reading, it is usually a sign that he or she is trying to hide something. And that is usually not a good sign according to my empirical evidence.

P.S. Here is the info for that Polish restaurant. If you are around the Bay Area, I highly recommend giving it a try. Just do not make reservation on a short notice unless you happen to also like sitting in the high stool bar area.


Bona Polish Restaurant
651-H Maloney Street, Menlo Park, CA 94025

September 13, 2010

Talent is overrated

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

by Geoff Colvin

This book is really about “practice is underrated”, but I guess the editors need a more catching title for sales. The main point of the book is that effective practice is more important than other factors including specialty talent and general intelligence, and can overcome obstacles such as aging. The book even argues that creativity, commonly considered as a serendipitous process, is actually the result of significantly cumulative knowledge.

And it is not just about any practice, and aimless hard-working and experience will not help. Effective practice must be deliberate and satisfies the following properties: (1) it must be designed to improve specific performance, (2) it must be highly repeatable, (3) there should be continuous feedback, (4) it must be mentally demanding, and (5) it is usually not fun. I actually disagree with the last one, and fortunately the book also pointed out for certain high achievers, practice can be fun. So the last part of the book is about the most important question: why some people are motivated to go through all these hard practice to achieve excellence while others cannot. The most convincing explanation is that some initial small differences get amplified through a positive feedback look of practice and performance: when a kid, who gains a little bit edge on certain activity (either due to innate advantage or benign environment), can be motivated to practice a little bit harder and longer, which translates to even better performance, which motivates more practice, and the loop goes on.

I like this book as it fits my personal experience well. It has long puzzled me why some people have this innate drive to strive for the best while others do not, and this can happen among people with very similar genes and environments (e.g. siblings in the same family). The book also carries a positive message: anyone can achieve excellence if they are willing to go through the right kind of practice.

June 10, 2010

About work and motivation

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:55 pm
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Axiom: I only work for myself.

Theorem 1: If I ever want to work for a company, I try to find one that happens to want me to do what I want to work for myself. Thus, I get paid for working for myself, and no manager ever needs to bother to monitor or push me. Everybody is happy.

Theorem 2: I only collaborate with people who want to work on things that I want to work on. Thus, I never have to push or monitor them. A good example is a bunch of students who also want to do SIGGRAPH and who would work with me for free and who also would work their ass off (to the point that I have to mandate a curfew that everybody go home and sleep no later than 2 AM everyday).

Theorem 3: If an unfortunate temporary situation arises that the company wants me to work on something that I am not interested in, then I try to package my stuff so that I can continue to work on what I want but also make it appear to be something the company wants. However if the situation persists, go to Theorem 1.

June 6, 2010

Take your time

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:20 pm
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When I was younger I always thought if I am smart enough I ought to be able to learn everything faster than normal (e.g. trying to pick up calculus at fifth grade but did not succeed until ninth). But as I grew older I gradually discovered that there are things that simply cannot and should not be accelerated. The universe moves at its own grace, and sometimes it is best to decipher its mystery simply by playing along.

Smart people can go faster, but intelligent people know when to take their time.

June 4, 2010

Being myself

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:57 am
Tags: ,

If you were an unusual and eccentric kid growing up in a culture that encourages harmony and conformity, you might have been taught, either implicitly or explicitly through the family and school education, that you should hide your peculiarities and try to appear as a normal person.

Please do not heed such advices. Always try to be yourself as much as possible, up to your personal threshold of withstanding societal pressures that try to “hammer down every nail that sticks up” (a Japanese proverb).

In retrospect, this is a major source of unhappiness in my early life. And I did not fully realize it until very recently. I guess one has to grow to be extremely confident to be able to identify this issue and choose to disobey such social norms. (It also helps that I have been living under a more individualist culture later on.) Without being fully myself, I simply cannot wield my full power. I remember I did not get the job for one of the first interviews upon graduation. I was trying very hard to behave like a normal job candidate. Later on, that very same hiring manager saw a more true-to-myself performance in a conference, and told me that he would have hired me if I had performed that way.

So from now on I will be true to myself and do what I am destined to do. Get in my way at your own peril. Life is too short otherwise.

February 21, 2010

Systemizing (SQ) and Empathizing (EQ) Quotient Test

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:55 pm
Tags: ,

While reading this paper in CHI 2009, I noticed the following interesting paragraph:

“In the EMB (Extreme Male Brain) model, highly gifted scientists and engineers with AS are found to have strong systemizing behavior but at considerable expense to empathizing. They are recognized as having abnormal social and communicative development as well as a very narrow set of interests, among other traits.”

This got me interested because the “symptoms” kinda fit me, but on the other hand I know I am pretty good at reading people (i.e. knowing on an intuitive/subconscious level on what people are really thinking or feeling) even though I seldom feel compassionate about them.

To figure out what’s really about, I tried the following test:


Your Systemizing (SQ) and Empathizing (EQ) Quotient Test Results

February 21, 2010

Click here to share your EQ SQ scores on your blog.

Respondent Average EQ Average SQ Brain Type
Males 39.0 61.2 Systemizing
Females 48.0 51.7 Empathizing
Your Score 40 79 Extreme Systemizing

What does your score mean?

Generally, the higher the score the greater your natural ability for that trait. However, the EQ test has 40 questions compared to 75 in the SQ test. As a result, although the unprocessed quotients may be used for comparing each trait ability between individuals, the absolute scores do not tell an individual if he or she has a greater tendency to empathize or systemize. A calculation taking into account the quantity of questions in each test is used to determine a person’s brain type along the following continuum:

  • Extreme Empathizing (Extreme E)
  • Empathizing (E)
  • Balanced (B)
  • Systemizing (S)
  • Extreme Systemizing (Extreme S)
Brain Types of Experimental Control Groups
Respondent Extreme E E Balanced S Extreme S
Males 0% 17% 31% 46% 6%
Females 7% 47% 32% 14% 0%

The important factor to consider is not your absolute score, but the difference between the two. This indicates whether you have more natural ability as an Empathizer or a Systemizer. If your scores are about the same for your EQ and SQ, then you have well balanced empathizing-systemizing capabilities.

September 29, 2009

Inspirational day

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:51 pm
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Not sure if it is the ideas that are good or it is just the cocoa I drank.

September 21, 2009

Little spinning top

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:13 pm
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I start to feel that Big Head is like a little spinning top in action when she becomes angry. Strangely, when that happens, I become amused rather than affected, much like a father playing with his daughter.

July 22, 2009

The randomness in life

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:43 am
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The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
by Leonard Mlodinow


Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Thanks to the advances of probability theory and quantum physics, most people today would have no problem accepting the fact that the physical world we inhabit is subject to randomness and the future cannot be predicted deterministically. However, we tend to associate this randomness with the microscopic atomic world and under-estimate the role randomness plays in our macroscopic daily lives. In a nutshell, due to evolutionary reasons, human minds tend to rationalize events that are random, often trying to find patterns, rules, or causalities that really do not exist.

Two books render this point excellently; one by Taleb that I read a while ago, and another by Mlodinow that I just finished yesterday.

Mlodinow is a scientist turned writer, and thus his book is written in a popular science fashion, with plain English descriptions (no single equation is shown in the book) of the basic probability and statistical theories, their historical progressions, and anecdotes of peoples involved in their discoveries. Based on these scientific expositions, Mlodinow ventured into a few more philosophical suggestions, such as that life is more random than we intuit and thus we should not interpret too much rules or causalities, as well as the suggestion that the best strategy to overcome this randomness is the law of large numbers, i.e. keep trying and never give up easily.

Overall, this is a highly entertaining book, and I particularly enjoy the anecdotes of these scientists and mathematicians involved in the evolution of the probability and statistical theories. (It appears that their lives and discoveries are also subject to randomness.) I also concur with the moral lessons that Mlodinow suggested (anyone with enough experience in scientific publications, or more precisely, rejections, ought to be able to appreciate the meaning of the law of large numbers).

Taleb, on the other hand, is a philosopher turned trader (or the other way around; I cannot really tell). Thus, even though sharing a similar central theme with the book by Mlodinow, the one by Taleb is filled with stories and observations he made from his trading desk (or pit) interspersed with either philosophical statements or scientific statements made by a philosopher. The book is also highly entertaining but in a way different from Mlodinow’s; it is more sarcastic (in a good way) and the anecdotes are about the financial rather than the scientific world.

I highly recommend both books, and suggest reading them in succession for extra fun. (I read Taleb’s book so long ago that my memory for it already fades when writing this article.)

July 10, 2009

Dream tapping

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:31 am
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Waking up early in the wee hours is usually not a good thing, as it could cause fatigue and all other problems.

However, one good side effect for waking up early in that it allows us to tap into our dreams. It is known that brains do not stop activities during our sleeps, but we usually do not remember what have happened.

I have found that sleep interruptions, especially these happen in the early mornings, help me recall my dreams. I do not know about other people, but my brain tends to produce a lot of strange and interesting stuff (e.g. color movies) during my sleep. And judging by the frequency I came up with ideas after waking up, I know in addition to playing weird my brain also did some serious work.

The most interesting thing I have observed is that most my dream thoughts are less rational than my day thoughts, and many ideas that appear to be plausible during my dreams become apparently ridiculous after I wake up. But sometimes I got really useful ideas. For example, some of my SIGGRAPH paper ideas, as well as the previous two posts (I woke up at 3 am this morning), are produced during my sleep.

Maybe I should intentionally disrupt my sleep when I am short on research ideas.

The free price for search

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 10:29 am
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Many people, including myself, observe that Bing produces better search results than Google. But this does not mean that people will switch. Techcrunch has a recent article on this subject. There are various potential reasons behind this unwillingness to switch, such as brand loyalty or the improvement of Bing over Google is not enough.

I wonder if the fact that search is free also plays a role here. In his book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely has shown that giving something for free could distort peoples incentives and judgments, making them abandon their usual (more rational) thinking for non-free products. So under the hypothetical situation that people will have to pay to use search engines (either a flat rate or a usage charge or a combination), will this make them more likely to switch to a better product?

Of course, as long as Google stay pat and not charging for the use of its search engine, this may never be an issue. But we never know; Google already started to charge for some of its previously free products.

May 14, 2009

Creating versus Spotting

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:21 pm
Tags: , , ,

Out of pure coincidence, I read two different articles at roughly the same time yesterday, both related to the issue of creating versus spotting (or discovering):

In Mark Cuban’s blog entry on Success & Motivation, he said the key to recognizing a profitable business opportunity is knowing the industry. Everyone has ideas, but the hard part is doing homework knowing which idea would work in a business (or risk getting your butt kicked).

In the book Made to Stick by the Heath brothers, they argued that creativity is not necessary for sticky ideas. There are always more ideas out there than that can be created by the most creative single individual, and the hard part is about spotting the right ones.

So essentially what they are all saying is that creativity is either less important than most people think, or downright unnecessary. The positive interpretation of this point is that since spotting is about effort, whereas creating is about serendipity or some innate ability, hard working would pay off for not only everything else but also for finding good ideas. The negative interpretation, though, is that creativity might be an illusion, and human brains are just machines that could discover ideas and connecting dots.

This also reminds me of a related point that I read about a long time ago (I have forgotten the source) arguing that there is really no such thing as creativity in the human intelligence, as what we think as creations are essentially discoveries. This applies to science, art, religion, and everything else. So quantum physics, relativity, cubism, capitalism, and credit default swaps are all discovered rather than created.

Is there any single idea that can be formally proven to be a real creation rather than a mere discovery?

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