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NullVoid » 2008 » March NullVoid » 2008 » March

Archive for March, 2008

Recent Photos

Thursday, March 27th, 2008 -- By ET








Slanderous and Highly Offensive

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008 -- By ET

We were planning for a trip to Xinjiang in the summer, then we learned about the riot. Terrorists in Xinjiang and Tibet set fire in the streets and killed innocent people.

These are some photos on CNN, taken by “The Economist” reporter James Miles.




I’m very upset to read about these. I still remember what it was like when a riot happened in Beijing in 1989. Nobody really benefited from the riot, except a few parties: the western media, and those so-called student leaders.

Dalai Lama was said to be behind these riots, and he seems to be involved when he “said that there should be an investigation into whether cultural genocide, intentionally or not, was taking place in Tibet”. I certainly hope he is not behind all these. I’d despise him if he exploited the sufferings of the Tibetan people to buy support from naive people in the western world. Why could not he learn from Ghandi, or Jesus if he is indeed the “living god”?

While it is understandable that the political figures may choose whatever means to fight for their political interests, I seriously got disappointed by some western media reporters who deliberately tried to bias the truth. What they have done are truly slanderous and highly offensive. Watch the following video and be amazed by how they deliberately distort what had happened:


One more comment on Tibet. Many westerners do not know what happened when Tibet was under control by the rich monks and the “living gods” before the PLA set the slaves free. Many Americans feel very proud that they won the war against slavery and highly regard Lincoln’s role in history, what had happened in Tibet is something similar. The PLA freed the slaves and did whatever can be done to help build the economy while reserving the culture. Is everyone in Tibet happy? Of course not, neither are the people who owned uncle Tom. There is just no Pareto solution for issues like these.

Below is an interview of Prof. Michael Parenti (PhD from Yale), a famous political scientist, who gives some background on the past of Tibet and what it was like when it was under slavery.


I found another piece of video broadcast at a Hong Kong TV station.  It contains uncut scenes of the riot.  The picture says for itself, no government would tolerate those people who started looting and setting fire on cars.  There were pictures of the PLA, they were deployed to protect the banks, public utilities, etc.


HKUST Library at night

Thursday, March 20th, 2008 -- By ET

Our library is a very beautiful building. Here is a picture I took yesterday.

Click on the image to get a bigger version.


Root Canal Procedure

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008 -- By ET


I went through a root canal procedure this morning.   The idea is to knock open the teeth, clean up the inside and fill in something to prevent infection.  I had to do it because for the past year, I have been suffering from tooth-pains whenever eating something.  It started when I tried to fix a cavity on another tooth at the dental clinic.  The doctor suggested to do something with this particular tooth, and the pain came with it.

I searched for information about the procedure.  It supposedly help to prevent further issues of toothache.  The downside is that the tooth will never be like before.  It will be weaker and filled with artificial stuffs.

Before the procedure, the doctor asked me to sign a consent form, which is common  whenever you go to an operation.  But  I then remembered how the pain started in the first place.  It was the same doctor who suggested a year ago to treat this particular tooth.  This situation is so vividly similar to the situation when I sent my car to the mechanic to change oil, and he suggested me to do a more expensive tune-up.  After the tune-up, my car started to give me issues here and there.  I remember I had to visit the mechanic at least once per month in Boston.

Although I have no evidence that the doctor or the mechanic did anything wrong to induce my suffering (in terms of money and in terms of physical pains), I do realize the issue of moral hazard.  In economics, moral hazard refers to a potentially unethical/illegal action that is unobservable.  As long as the action leads to favorable conditions for the  person who takes the action, we can not rule out the private incentive to take the action even if it is not to the benefit of the one who bears the cost.

In the future, is there a way to avoid a similar situation?  I don’t think so.  This morning, I did not  dare to mention that the doctor suggested to fix this previously fine tooth.  If I did, how can I prevent her from pulling out a healthy tooth of mine in the next visit?

Worst Captcha

Monday, March 17th, 2008 -- By ET

Captcha has been around for a while.


It is used to make sure that the reader is indeed a human. Although there are some algorithms to crack captcha, none of them is working well.


Here are some examples:




The worst one I saw (or should I say the “best one”?) is the following:




If you can get it right, you are not only human, but also a rare human. :-)

MIT To Be Tuition-Free for 30% Students

Saturday, March 8th, 2008 -- By ET

Just received an email from MIT alumni office.  MIT will be tuition-free for nearly 30% students.

From the email:

MIT has long been a proponent of need-blind admissions and need-based
aid and this additional investment in our brilliant student body continues
to award aid based solely on need.

I’m very proud with this move.  I somehow have the impression that schools like Yale and Harvard are for rich kids. As a consequence, it means that some brilliant students can not go to those places due to financial constraints.  This artificial financial divide creates a feedback loop to discriminate kids from poorer families.  The free-tuition move at MIT will definitely help those smart and poor kids to fulfill their dreams, and more importantly help the society to benefit from better matching good education with smart kids.

I’m grateful to MIT for the support during my PhD study.   In addition to tuition waiver, I also got stipend to pay my rents, etc.  In return, I don’t know how to pay back this generosity.  Should I send my daughter to MIT in the future?  One thing for sure, her dad is richer than her dad’s dad.  If she needs to pay some tuition, I’d be happy to contribute.  The question is “Is MIT a good place for her?”

Back in Boston, we had some guests visiting,  one of them (G) asked Alantha (A),

G: Hey, Alantha, do you want to go to MIT or Harvard?
A: Hmm, I don’t want to go to either.
G: Oh, so where do you want to go?
A: Disneyland… (a sheepish smile)
Everyone else: (speechless)

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

Friday, March 7th, 2008 -- By ET

I can categorize people I know into 4 groups. Well, at least theoretically, because I can’t really find an example in the (stupid,mean) domain.


Richard Feynman, among many other people who I respect belongs to the first quadrant of (smart,nice). A good example of (smart,mean) is probably Lu Xun or an assistant professor I met at Wharton (he subsequently left Wharton and went to Europe). I’ve been listening to two of his audiobooks “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman”, and “What Do You Care What Other People Think”, and I feel very intellectually stimulated by his view of the world.

On my ipod, I have all sorts of audiobooks from Kung Fu novels by Jin Yong to bestsellers like “The World is Flat”, “The Devil Wears Prada” to non-fictions like one explaining E=MC^2, and a few of Stephen Hawking’s books on the universe. None of the these books can keep me awake at night. When I listen to Feynman’s audiobook, sometimes I get too excited to fall in sleep. For example, he described how he studied the process of people falling into sleep and how to examine the dreams. When I was young, I did almost exactly the same thing, and had some interesting findings such as “I can see color in dreams”, “I can control my motion consciously in my dreams”, and “I can create the situation in dream to explain the external sound I hear while I’m sleeping”.

The curiosity of finding how things work can be immensely rewarding. In the following video, Feynman explains how he appreciates the beauty of a flower. It’s amazing.


Newton Virus on a Mac

Thursday, March 6th, 2008 -- By ET


Piano Diary (5) Comptine D’un Autre Eté

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008 -- By ET


I started to play the above piano piece. It is called “Comptine d’un autre été L’après midi” by Yann Tiersen.

Basically, my biggest problem is that I don’t have time to practice. So I took a lot of short cuts. For example, for this piece, it does not require a lot of changes on the left hand. I only have from 10 to 30 minutes each day to play with the piano. Usually at noon time when I go back from work. I’d play for a while before lunch. After lunch, Ashley would be sleeping. In the afternoon, maybe I can get less than 10 minutes to play before dinner. Then it will be Alantha’s turn to play.

Note I used “play with piano” to describe my role. I just can not call this “practicing”. As soon as I can play with both hands, I started to try some difficult pieces, this turbe boosted my progress. It would take months of hard practicing if not years for others to even dare to try pieces like this. But since I do not want to be a piano master, I just want to have some fun. This approach works perfectly.

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