Sunday, December 30, 2007

Flight of the Bumblebee - Shine

Love how David silenced the crowd with this short and vivid piano piece written by Rimsky-Korsakov. It was through this movie I got to know Rachmaninov's music :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The tendency to complicate things

If you're from Hong Kong, most likely you've played some kind of "Black Magic" games before. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, let me explain a bit.

The original "Black Magic" game involves a guesser, a hinter and a group of people. In the beginning of the game, the guesser is told to leave the room so that s/he cannot see what is going to happen. Then, the hinter will ask the group of people to pick an object in the room. After an object is picked, the guesser will be asked to come back and the hinter will point to a series of objects and ask the guesser whether the objects are the one the group chose. The guesser will keep saying no until the hinter points to the object the group chose, at which time the guesser will say yes and the crowd will wonder how the guesser knows that.

There are many variants of "Black Magic" games like this one and yesterday I tried another one. Instead of picking an object in the room, the group will pick one card out of nine (any card such as poker card is fine). The nine cards are arranged in a 3 x 3 fashion so that its layout resembles a rectangle. Like the original "Black Magic" game, the hinter points at a number of cards and asks the guesser whether the one being pointed at is the one the group chose. And, of course, the guesser will say yes when the hinter points at the right one.

The key to all these "Black Magic" games is to look for that subtle yet simple hint the hinter is giving the guesser. Because I played the original "Black Magic" game before, I knew that the hint must be something very simple. Yet, I was the last one who found out what the trick was.

Man, why did I suck so much? I should have some kind of advantage as I played similar games before, right?

When I thought about that on my way home, I figured out a pretty good reason why I'm not good with this sort of games. Most of the engineers, like me, are very accustomed to abstract and complicated thinkings. Because of the nasty technical problems we have so troubleshoot everyday, we have a natural tendency to think that all problems are complicated and we've to squeeze out every bit of our smarts to find out what the solution is.

If you know that we've taken classes like Algorithms and Complexity in college, you may show more mercy on our sin to complicate things. For example, there's a simple and slow way to sort an array of integers named Bubble Sort. Even if you're not a computer science major, it's easy to understand how it works. Say you have an array like

5 1 3 4 2

The concept of Bubble Sort is just to compare each pair of integers and swap them if the one on the right is less than the one on the left. So, after comparing 5 and 1, the array becomes

1 5 3 4 2

And then we compare 5 and 3 and so on. After one round of comparisons, the array becomes

1 3 4 2 5

We will repeat the process again by comparing 1 and 3 first and keep on doing the comparisons until the array is finally in its sorted form 1 2 3 4 5.

The concept is simple right? Yeah it is, but the algorithm is inefficient; its worst case complexity is O(n2), which is pretty damn slow if you're talking about n = 1,000,000,000.

So, what did the computer scientists do to speed things up? They tried to look for patterns and invent algorithms like Merge Sort that based on paradigms such as Divide and conquer. If you take a look at the implementation of Merge Sort, you will notice that it's not as simple like Bubble Sort anymore. In spite of that, it's much faster on average.

That's one reason engineers tend to think "Hmm, the solution can't be that simple." And, yet, the solution DOES happen to be that simple sometimes.

Come on fellow engineers, if you're playing another "Black Magic" game with your friends next time, don't look for patterns anymore (Okay, I know you love patterns). The patterns are noises; look for that single hint. After all, that guy is called a hinter, not a patterner :P

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Something about the way you look tonight - Elton John

Recently dug up an Elton John's CD I bought around 10 years ago and found this song. Like it? :)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Launchy 2.0 is here

My favorite application launcher Launchy just released a new version 2.0 two days ago. Are you tired of starting applications by going to the Start menu or clicking on the desktop or Quick Launch icons? If you would like to start applications with only your keyboard, use Launchy. I wrote about it sometimes ago. It's free, fast and has an elegant interface, so try it today!

Disclaimer: This is not an ad although it sounds like one. I just think that it rocks :P

And, 2.0 supports Windows Vista, in case you have a pretty new machine :)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Care to say hi?

Have you ever met a "friend" (someone whom you talked to before) and s/he tried to avoid any eye contact with you or say hi to you? In other words, s/he treated you as if you were invisible. I have, and I find that hard to understand.

I mean, we're all adults, and even if you hate someone so much, would you still show some basic kind of politeness? Honestly, I've never hated someone so much that I don't even want to say hi to him/her.

Or am I being phony for saying hi to people whom I don't really like? Educate me if you don't agree.. (~___~ )

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

想聽 (Want to Listen) - Eason Chan

Another not-so-popular song from Eason that I like. I always think that Eason and Miriam could be a good couple since they both like to laugh. Oh well, Eason is married already :P

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

"Stealing" boyfriends/girlfriends?

This is another topic that makes me hesitate before writing about it. After all, I feel that most people (perhaps Chinese in particular?) don't agree with what I think. Despite the criticism I may receive, I still want to say something on it.

This is the statement I want to argue about: "Stealing" another person's lover (lover=boyfriend/girlfriend in the following) is a very bad act that everyone should condemn.

How can people "steal" when you don't own?

Why do people hate it? Note the use of the word "steal". Stealing, of course, is not only unethical but also illegal. That's pretty obvious. However, for something to be stolen from you, you first have to own it. So, the phrase "stealing her boyfriend" implies that she owns her boyfriend. That brings us to the question: Do we own our lovers?

Slavery is long gone and we surely cannot own a person legally nowadays. So, when people talk about "stealing lover", it's in the emotional sense. Is it really owning? Can I say I emotionally own your Lamborghini so if you drive it you're stealing it from me?

It's okay for your lover to leave you as you do that too

Now, you say

"Even we just own our lovers emotionally, you're still stealing them; stealing is stealing!"

Alright, let's look at the issue from another perspective. Now, your lover is leaving you for someone, which, effectively, is the same as someone stealing your lover. How does that sound now?

"In that case, it's my lover's fault. S/he shouldn't be leaving me for someone, that's betrayal!"

So, you're saying that once a person is in a relationship, s/he cannot not leave his/her lover?


Even s/he doesn't like you anymore and sees someone who's a better match?


Have you ever dumped anyone before?

"Ehhhh.... I didn't "dump" anyone, it was just that we found that we weren't that compatible to each other..."

So, different from what you just said, it's okay for you to leave your lover, right?

"Hmmm... Well, s/he can leave me, but not for someone else!"

I see. So, as long as your lover is leaving you for any other reason (even because you're ugly), that's a legitimate reason.

S/he is leaving for someone, physical or virtual, anyways

Think about it guys. When a person leaves his/her lover, s/he most likely is not planning to become a monk/nun. Later on s/he is going to meet someone and start a new relationship. And, assuming that we're sensible, we would anticipate a better new lover compared to the old one (looks better, smarter, more caring, more compatible with your living style, you name it, I can't define your meaning of "better"). In other words, you expect that you will become a happier person with the new lover. Whether you can find one is another question.

The point is, even though there isn't any physical "stealer" when s/he leaves you, s/he is leaving you for a virtual better lover, unless s/he plans to be alone for the rest of his/her life (if s/he really would like to be alone forever than being with you, there's something quite wrong about you :P).

If it's okay for your lover to leave you for a virtual lover, why is it not okay for him/her to leave you for a physical person? In both cases, s/he is looking for something better than you.

The vague definition of "stealing"

Also, the term "stealing" is difficult to define and people interpret it in different ways.
  • Your boyfriend leaves you and be with another girl the next day and you call it "stealing"
  • Your boyfriend leaves you and be with another girl after six months and you say "it's good for him to meet someone he likes to be with, I wish him all the best" because you have a new boyfriend anyways
The key issue isn't really about how long he waits before being with another girl. The key issue is whether you're happy about it. If your boyfriend is some kind of jerk and you think about how to get rid of him all day long and some dumb girl comes by and "steals" him, wow, you say "You guys are such a lovely couple! Wish you guys good luck!". If you really love your boyfriend and still think about him three years after you broke up with him, you'll still call it "stealing" when he sees a girl who doesn't even know you.

Notice how subjective the idea of "stealing" is? When is it really "stealing"?

Marriage comes to rescue

"If my lover may leave me someday, how am I supposed to feel secure around him/her?"

To answer that question, the keyword is marriage. Marriage certainly means different things to different people. You should have heard of some kind of marriage vows before like the following one:
I, (name) take thee, (name) to be my wedded (husband/wife), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish, 'til death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; thereto I pledge my love
All these marriage vows carry a main message:

No matter what happens, I'm not going to leave you.

The groom or bride may say the vow without paying much attention to it. Many couples divorce each other every year. People may think marriage doesn't mean much as long as they're together.

But that doesn't change the fundamental meaning of marriage.

If you pay some attention to the vow, you should notice that it is extremely heavy and can easily be the the biggest promise you will ever make in your life.

When a husband leaves his wife (or vice versa), s/he is breaking a promise that was made in the face of God. That, certainly, is unethical. But that's not the case for boyfriend/girlfriend.
If a boyfriend/girlfriend is bound to the same moral ground a husband/wife does, what does marriage mean then?

After all, it's your pride

I always think that loving someone means that you want him/her to be happy, unselfishly. If your lover meets someone whom s/he will be more happily be with, why don't you let him/her go?

If you resent your lover for leaving you, it's not because you love him/her so much, it's because you love your pride more than him/her

Let's say your son tells you that he'll be happier and have a brighter future of career if he moves to another state, will you let him go? I bet you will, since you want him to be happy. When you truly love someone, you just feel happy when s/he feels happy. It's that simple.

If you are angry, that's because you can't accept the fact that someone is "better" than you and it hurts your pride, although you know that "better" isn't really a good term to use when you talk about finding a soul mate. You just know that someone is "the one".

Last but not least...

Just another thought: maybe you should thank the person who "steals" you boyfriend/girlfriend. You certainly don't want your lover to be stolen after you marry him/her; that's call a divorce.

In a sense, the stealer gives you a chance to look for someone whom you really can share the rest of your life with, isn't it? :P