Confessions of a researchaholic

March 7, 2014

Double-edged sword

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 5:32 pm
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I found Bobby Fischer against the World a fascinating documentary about a particular kind of talent (chess) of a unique individual (Bobby Fischer, widely considered as the greatest chess player of all time who later self-destructed into an outcast) at a particular era (cold war, with chess being one of the competitions to showcase US/Soviet supremacy).

One interesting point pursued in the movie is about the specific type of brain that enables superior chess play may also cause certain psychological issues.
One can make a more general point in that unusual brains, as double-edged swords, can produce special talents as well as abnormal behaviors, as have been seen in geniuses across different disciplines such as musicians, artists, scientists, and mathematicians.

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

December 9, 2013

President Obama calls on every American to learn code

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:34 pm
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On one hand, like math, coding provides some fundamental training that should definitely be learned by everyone.

On the other hand, it is a design problem if everyone has to learn coding just to build or use software tools.

In the current state of computer science, it remains unclear (at least to me) which parts are fundamental materials and which parts are design artifacts. The former can be distilled into general teaching curriculum while the latter should be fixed.

Ideally, an entrepreneur with core knowledge in math and programming should be able to create his or her own applications without having to write a single line of code.
This is already happening in certain domains such as mobile app development.

October 1, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:12 pm
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are often caused by a lack of imagination

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

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.]

August 3, 2013

Doing the good thing versus doing the right thing

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:57 am
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My grandfather, during his school professor days, once spent a lot of efforts bringing up a not very talented student into success beyond anyone’s expectation. My father liked to tell this story as how much passion and skill my grandfather has in people development. I agree on that part. However, I also think my father’s argument – and my grandfather’s action – is irrational: with the same amount of time and efforts, my grandfather could have helped several more talented students succeed, who collectively would have made the world an even better place. (Read: opportunity cost.)

There is a difference between doing the good thing and doing the right thing. And there is a choice between becoming a good person or a great person.

PS: I never had a chance to settle this debate with my grandfather; I started mentoring students just around the time he passed away.

June 26, 2013

Time transfer

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:47 pm
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Summer tends to be boring and slow. I wish I could transfer June to August into the end of December. Winter is much more exciting but tends to run faster than I can catch.

If you are my collaborator and you try to take a summer break, you will regret in the winter. Just mark my word.

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