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NullVoid » Teaching NullVoid » Teaching


Blast from Past: ExtractBib.pl

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 -- By ET

A number of years ago, I wrote a program to extract the right subset of bib entries for a tex file from a huge bibtex file.

Today I received the following email from Dr. Florian Kluge of Universität Augsburg, Institut für Informatik:

Dear Professor Zhang,

Some years ago I found your extractbib.pl script – it was a great alleviation
for me. Thank you for the gread work!
In the meantime, my requirements changed a bit, and thus I extended the script
to able to handle multiple .tex and .bib file.
I attached the extended version to this mail, please use/distribute it if you

Best regards,
Florian Kluge

This is a delightful surprise. I’m very happy that my work could be reused.

I attached Dr. Kluge’s new script here, hopefully it will benefit more people.

Updated Script


A Message from a Student

Monday, May 21st, 2012 -- By ET

Dear Prof. Zhang,

I thoroughly enjoyed your isom 2010 course this semester! I have been so inspired by you and this course has made me more of a proactive and outside the box thinker! I had joined the uni with the ambition of hopefully becoming an entrepreneur pursuing econ and finance as a major but now face a dilemma because this course has sparked my interest in Information systems due to not only the knowledge learned but also the skills gained! Thank you so much!

My Social Graph on Facebook

Sunday, February 13th, 2011 -- By ET

Some Interesting Trends

Saturday, May 31st, 2008 -- By ET

Which segment are you in?

Looks like we should go to the creative class that represent less than 1/3 work force, but gets 1/2 the total money.


Disengaged Students

Friday, May 23rd, 2008 -- By ET

Quote from the “Organization and Markets” blog by a group of professors:

| Peter Klein |

To my colleagues who teach: how do you handle disengaged students? Paul Trout describes them thusly:

They do not read the assigned books, they avoid participating in class discussions, they expect high grades for mediocre work, they ask for fewer assignments, they resent attendance requirements, they complain about course workloads, they do not like “tough” or demanding professors, they do not adequately prepare for class and tests, they are impatient with deliberative analysis, they regard intellectual pursuits as boring, they resent the intrusion of course requirements on their time, they are apathetic or defeatist in the face of challenge, and they are largely indifferent to anything resembling an intellectual life.

I have known a few in my time. The pointer is from George Leef, who also provides this excerpt from Generation X Goes to College:

[B]y and large, students view themselves primarily as consumers who intend to study just a handful of hours a week for all their classes, and who expect, at a minimum, solid Bs for their efforts. . . . In short, they view themselves as consumers who pay their teachers to provide “knowledge,” regardless of how superficial that knowledge might be. After all, how hard should a consumer have to work to buy something?

I have to say there are students like these in my class. I would call myself a fully engaged professor: I spend huge amount of time preparing for each class and use every bit of my effort to deliver what I believe to be important to the students. There are still students who skip the classes (some even for the whole semester), and some would complain about any change I bring into the class.

Here is one example: In one class for group presentation, a student came to me and told me he had not seen any of his team members throughout the semester and he had to work on the project on his own. They did not answer his emails and did not even tell him if they would come to the presentation.  While he was presenting, the missing team members came one by one during the class. They did contribute in applauding.

Another example: One day, it was time for group presentation. There were 5 groups in that session. After the first presentation, I learned that there would be a fire-drill in about an hour.  At least one group will be affected by the fire drill.  To avoid the negative impact on the last team, I decided to hold an auction among the 4 remaining teams.  The plan was that I start from awarding 1 extra grade point and seek any group who would take the offer and move to the next week’s session.  If there was no one to take the offer, I’ll raise the offer to 2, then 3,… points, until one group takes the offer. The plan immediately got objected by the first team who just finished presenting. “It’s so unfair!” as they say.  They did not consider how unfair it was for the last team who would have to take the extra effort to prepare again.

Some professors actually make the situation worse by baby-sitting the students.  For example, I know professors who hire professional TAs to “page down” his slides in class. The TA is quite busy in doing things like playing the videos, dimming the lights, etc.  The professor would be busy creating flash cards with cartoon stamps on them to award the students who answer the questions.  To avoid cheating, they also sign each card when they hand out the cards. When a student skip the class, they would ask the TAs to teach the students in special sessions, and when the students skip the exams, they would allow a make-up exam for them.  When the students miss the make-up exam, I know someone who asked TAs to offered make-up make-up exams. Part of the reason is that TAs here are like public goods (air, water), so they tend to overuse them. In return, the students believe they are consumers and instead of learning knowledge, they are enjoying the service provided by the university.
There are of course very engaged students. Some students really deliver excellent presentations and are amazingly thoughtful in answering my questions in classes.  They are the reasons for me to do my best in teaching.  Fortunately, there are many of them.

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.


I Hear, I See, I Do

Saturday, December 15th, 2007 -- By ET

I hear, and I forget;

I see, and I remember;

I do, and I understand.

– Asian Proverb

Missuse of Statistics

Monday, November 12th, 2007 -- By ET


In Discovery Travel channel, there is a program called “Miami Ink”, it tells many stories about people getting tattoos.    Despite the way they tried to make it sound like fun and cool, I still don’t see any meaning of getting a tattoo.  I don’t think anyone I know has a tattoo, too.


The figure above is an ad for body piercing.  It shows that the risk of body piercing is very very low, compared to many other risks we face everyday.   That small number really is insignificant.  However, there is a fatal logical flaw in it. If you put the death as a result of body piercing on top of the human population as the denominator, you get such results.


A Super-Quick Proxy on Mac

Thursday, October 25th, 2007 -- By ET

I sometimes use MIT’s VPN to download obscure papers from the MIT library. To do it, you have to have an MIT IP address. The MIT VPN software allows me to obtain one.

I sometimes also download files through BitTorrent (for legitimate files of course), and HKUST blocks this kind of traffic. So the VPN proved also useful.

This trick can be used in mainland China, too. Last time when I visited Shanghai, I tried to access a Wikipedia article (in fact, I was writing a wikipedia paper, and needed to check the page). Due to the block in China, I could not access Wikipedia directly, so the MIT VPN was used again. Alternatively, I can set up a quick proxy connection in my Mac. Here is how:

open Terminal, and type:

ssh -ND 9999 zxq@mikezhang.com

where “ssh” is the command to connect to the server “mikezhang.com”, which is hosted in California. “zxq” is my login name on that server. The “-ND 9999″ part tells the machine to keep the connection and use it as a proxy server.

That’s all, then I just need to go to Firefox to set up the proxy. Below is how, just choose “Manual” and change the port for “SOCKS Host” to 9999.


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