Friday, October 31, 2008

Interesting final position of a recent chess game

The following is the final position of a recent chess game I played:

Image from Facebook

My queen and two bishops were all in front of my opponent's pawns and he couldn't capture any of them. A nice finish :P

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Animator vs. Animation 2

This is a cool video my coworker sent me :) The first one is here, not as good but pretty fun too!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Okay I was wrong....

After seeing Tina Fey's hilarious imitation of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric (the real one is here),

I admitted that it is, after all, not that difficult to choose the right president (as opposed in my previous post). Well, given a "not so smart" candidate and a regular candidate, who will you choose? Perhaps Palin's greatest contribution in this presidential election is to make it super easy for the US people to make an obvious choice :P

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Some thoughts on Democracy: Ethicality vs Effectiveness

Western cultures love democracy. You can tell that by the sheer number of US TV shows that involve voting:
  • American Idol? Let's vote!
  • American's Got Talent? Let's vote!
  • American Inventor? Let's vote!
  • Last Comic Standing? Let's vote!
And of course, we got to vote to decide who's going to be our president.

Why do we like democracy? One big reason is that it's fair. Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence. So, isn't it perfectly ethical that everyone should have his/her voice heard when it comes to deciding who's going to lead the country?

Yes, it's ethical, it's fair, it's politically very correct.

The sad thing is, ethicality doesn't necessarily lead to effectiveness.

"No, let me give you one counter example that fairness leads to effectiveness. The woman who won the Last Comic Standing was actually the funniest among all the other comics and she won because she got the most votes from the audience!"

Well, let me tell you: the reason we arrived at a good decision of the Last Comic Standing show was that people in general have the ability to decide, duh, who makes them laugh. It has nothing to do with whether the system is fair or not.

Now let me ask you

"The policies that Obama/McCain propose, do you think that they will be effective? If you do, why?"

I remember seeing a presidential debate between Obama and Clinton. The moderator asked Obama why he wanted to raise capital gain tax because, historically, raising tax rate doesn't necessarily increase tax income for the government. I forgot how Obama responded exactly but he implied that it is the right thing to do. Or, ethical, fair, politically correct, choose one you like.

In Freakonomics, Levitt claimed that the sudden crime rate drop in the US during the 90's was due to the legalization of abortion in the 70's. I know there's a good deal of people who don't agree with his theory and I don't have time to read about all the technical details of their analysis. However, one thing I'm pretty sure is that Levitt's theory cannot be completely wrong.

If it's not completely wrong, we've just witnessed a case in which ethnically questionable behavior (abortion) can lead to good outcome for society (crime rate drop).

The more I read about economics, the more I believe that it's very difficult to decide whether a government policy is actually beneficial to the country. A policy that sounds so good to you may well be a disaster to the economy as a whole in the long run.

Realizing it actually irritates me when the presidential candidates say something like

"We'll make health care accessible to the poor."

"We believe that everyone should get a job that pays living wage."

"We'll be energy independent."

How can you make huge promises like these? How do you know that the polices you're proposing will actually work and not harm other parts of the economy at the same time? Do you know that we don't have infinite resources to make everything wonderful?

Maybe, maybe a citizen can decide whether your polices are good if s/he
  • has a deep understanding of various economics theories
  • has good mathematical and analytic skills
  • will actually read through all the words in your policies and understand them
Do you think an average citizen has/will do the above? Tell you what, I really like reading but I still feel tired if I need to read through a long article like this one to understand the cons of the abortion-drops-crime-rate theory. Mind you, it's just one theory/policy on one potential cause. A candidate proposes many policies that affect numerous aspects of the country. No exaggerating, one probably needs to read thousands of pages just to have a grasp of what really is going on.

No, an average citizen won't/doesn't have the ability to do that. Because of this, I don't think an average citizen would make a good decision on choosing the right candidate. And, a lot of average citizens making decisions with no rational ground will just result in one final average, or, bad, decision.

That's why I think that, as good as democracy sounds, it is seriously handicapped in leading to effective decisions on complex issues such as, yup, choosing the right person as the president of a country.

If highly educated citizens in a developed country like the US may not make good decisions on choosing a good leader, how hot an idea can it be for a developing country like China with many illiterate citizens to practice democracy? I really, really doubt it.

What do I want to say in this post?
  • Be a critical thinker; ideas that sound that they work doesn't mean that they'll actually work
  • Be non-religious when situation warrants it; actions that are ethical doesn't mean that they'll lead to good outcomes
Thanks for reading :)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

原來只要共你活一天 (Just living with you for one day) - Jacky Cheung

原 來 只 要 共 你 活 一 天   凡 塵 裡 一 切 可 以 別 掛 念  
原 來 海 角 天 際 亦 會 變   原 來 生 過 死 過 深 愛 亦 無 變
原 來 只 要 共 你 活 一 天   完 全 去 把 你 所 有 都 發 現
原 來 只 要 相 信 便 看 見   原 來 給 你 真 愛 的 我 是 無 悔  
是 每 一 天

Beautiful lyrics :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bad decisons aren't that bad after all

Some days ago I shared Seth's post "The plight (and the pox) of the undecided". Now that I read about it again, I realize that there was a third reason in addition to laziness and keeping choices open for why people don't like planning:

They are just afraid of taking responsibility to make decisions.

Why are people afraid of making decisions? Obviously, they're afraid of making a bad decision, which in turn results in undesirable outcomes.

Actually, it's not that difficult to sympathize with that fear in certain culture. In a regular Chinese elementary school, students are very much encouraged to follow orders. The teachers don't want the students to make decisions because they may very well be bad ones. Because of this, they'd rather make you follow orders, even though they're boring and can only lead to mediocre and expected behavior.

As scary as it may sound, bad decisions are often better than indecision/following order. Unless a bad decision is so bad that it leads to permanent damage (such as killing yourself or cutting off your legs), it usually is beneficial because it makes you learn something.

I think you didn't forget about Nietzsche's "That which does not kill us makes us stronger", did you?

What's so much a big deal of making a bad decision? Google screwed up the Google Chrome's privacy policy by including the wrong words in the terms of service and they quickly admitted the mistake and corrected it.

It puzzles me so much that when some company makes a big deal of it when its employees make bad decisions. In such a hostile environment, no one will take any chance and, consequently, no one will do an outstanding job either. Worse still, the employees will constantly need to be babysat by their managers and if the managers are out sick then everything comes to a halt since no one can/dare make a decision.

That reminds me of another quote:

"I have never made any mistake but I've also never accomplished anything."

How sad is that??

It's okay to make bad decisions, as long as you
  • frankly admit that you screw up
  • take the effort to avoid making the same bad decision again.
So, be confident in making a decision next time (especially, yup, if you're a guy).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Smooth Criminal - Michael Jackson

This is the best MTV of Michael Jackson to my mind. I especially like the portion from 5:27 to 7:35; it feels so postmodernistic although the MTV was made in the 80's :)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Free ice cream at Cold Stone on your birthday

Not sure if you guys know about this already but you can get a free ice cream at Cold Stone on your birthday:
Image from Cold Stone Creamery

You can sign up here. I got mine this year and it was pretty good. Love their cheesecake flavor :)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The necessity of punishment

After the milk scandal in China, I guess almost none of you dare buy any dairy product from China right?

No, not only dairy product, it should be any food product from China.

No no no, it should be any product from China.

How sad is that?

I just can't estimate how much economic losses are resulted from this scandal. I'm not only talking about China; the countries that used to enjoy the cheap products from China have to buy expensive goods from some other trusted source now because they completely lost all the confidence in Chinese-made products.

Are all Chinese businesses evil? Definitely not. In this milk scandal, I believe that most of the dairy farmers are honest people. The unfair truth is that if only 30% of the farmers are malicious, it's enough to destroy the whole dairy industry. What can the remaining 70% dairy farmers do? Trying to claim that their milk is melamine-free? Will you trust any of them? If you're talking about the health of your kids, you just won't take any chance.

Is this tragedy a result of human greed? I don't think so. On the contrary, capitalism works because human beings are, in general, greedy. When many businesses try to maximize their profits by bringing gasoline to areas that are short of gas, not only will it drive the local prices down but it'll also bring more gas supplies to the residents there so that they don't have to wait at the gas station all day long. In other words, in a capitalist country, the process of maximizing one's benefits also maximizes the benefits of other people, so greed is a good thing.

Come to think about it, the malicious dairy farmers should know that adding melamine to the milk will eventually drive them out of business and got them busted. So, it's bad to them in the long run. However, if by doing so they can
  • Make a huge sum of money in the short run
  • Manage to get away from any legal responsibility
Then, there will be enough incentives to commit such a hateful crime.

Doesn't that sound familiar to us in the U.S.? Yes, it's just like the mortgage bankers who caused this detrimental financial crisis that shakes the world's economy by making loans that have no hope to be repaid just for the sake of those fat commissions/bonuses. One difference between the dairy farmers and the mortgage bankers is that most of the bad dairy farmers will probably be put in jail for many years while the mortgage bankers are enjoying the 700 billion bailout resulted from their absurd lending practices.

I'm not an economist, so there's no way I can predict whether this 700 billion bailout actually benefits the U.S. people from the standpoint of the economy as a whole looking forward. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't. However, if the wrongdoers who caused this humongous financial crisis in the first place were not punished, I guarantee that the history will repeat again:

If you can be a CEO of a public company who is guaranteed a multi-million severance package even if you drive the business to bankruptcy, will you be one?

"That's too good ridiculous to be true!"

Yes it is, but it's true. Welcome to the business world of the U.S.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bionic Burger

Just saw this post on Eileen's blog and found this video on YouTube:

It was hard to believe at first but then I believe it's true. I probably will buy a hamburger from McDonald's to try the experiment myself..

Related links: