Monday, June 27, 2005

More on Waiting

This morning at 8 o'clock, I was there in my classroom, feeling really chilly and of course - lonely. The chairs, tables, locked-up computer, ceiling-mounted projector, whiteboards, pull-down screen, walls, doors etc. were great company, but not the main reason I went to class. So I sat down to wait, and it wasn't before 20 minutes' waiting, that the first guy walked (I could very well use the verb "strolled") in. And there goes 20 minutes of my life spent in idleness.

And I wonder, as I have wondered many years ago, when I was not quite a teen, that accumulated, how much of our lives we actually spend in idle waiting? The time we spent waiting to be picked up, for example, from school by a parent, or the school bus. I know I spent a lot of time waiting when I was in primary school, because I was fetched to and back from school by someone who at the same time ferried a few other children. So there I would be, waiting every morning and afternoon for the car to arrive. For most of my secondary years I had my own mode of transportation - my bicycle - but I still spent a substantial amount of time waiting every morning - for the friends with whom I cycled to school everyday. Oh, but I didn't need to wait for them going home in the afternoon, because no one would waste time dilly-dallying once the school's-over bell rings.

And I still spend lots of time in waiting, for various reasons, these days. For one, waiting for students, like I did this morning, is a norm. The bus and train by which I go home, require daily waiting. On top of that, we also wait for high-and-mighty employees with a "position" (the big shots ler) who looooove being late for meetings.

Well, there might be hundreds more reasons to wait, so I won't even start to attempt to list them all out. One day, perhaps, when I am really old, and can't afford to do anything else, I will attempt to compute the estimate of the total amount of time I spent in this lifetime, in waiting!

For the record, I am right now waiting for my kaki's to go breakfast (or, looking at the time now, I'd rather say "brunch") with. But I won't say I have waited in all idleness, because I had written a post, at least, although this couldn't be considered productive, from my employer's point of view. Right then, time to check my emails - hey, they could be work-related, for all you know! ;)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Attack of the Negative Aroma!

When I say the negative aroma, I mean the most truly, absolutely, extremely sickening, nauseating and revolting of smells ever experienced by my poor nose. And where does the negative aroma originate? Why, people, of course! I am talking about the worst of the worst of body odours. Imagine piling up the clothes that a sweat-a-lot man wore to a 3-hour gym session on a bed, covering the pile with a thick quilt, leaving it there, and then smelling the pile 3 weeks later. OK? The smell I mean to depict, is easily 10 times worse.

There are, in fact, several people around the faculty who generate this kind of atrocious aroma. The grand-master of bad smell (code-named: xiang-xiang gong zhu; abbreviated:xiang-xiang), however, sits rather near to where I sit, which is most unfortunate (for me!). These awful aromatic attacks that I am going to describe, come usually from her (yes, it's a LADY!).

If I am at my work desk and she comes back from lunch, I'll know it immediately because within milliseconds, the first of the foul, bacteria-laden molecules(ugh!!!) would waft over. Within seconds, I would be totally enshrouded by the disgusting smell. My stomach would start to turn and churn, and yesterday's dinner would be ready for regurgitation. Within minutes, if no action was taken to counter the attack, I would be oxygen-deprived, because my nose would have forbidden my diaphragm to expand for air intake.

To counter? I would either place my aromatherapy gel (scent of lavender, for stress-relieve) directly under my nose, or splash myself all over with mentholated medicated oil. Whenever I walk past xiang-xiang (which, unfortunately, we inevitably have to, sometimes) I automatically hold my breath. Automatically here, means, I actually do so subconsciously. A few others have also gotten themselves these aroma gels, for what I guess, pretty much the same reason for which I got mine. Those who didn't use aroma gels (or pot-pourris, or air-fresheners), and didn't complain about bad smells, were simply just too polite. I admire them. I have to admit I had even been tempted to present her a gift of soap, shampoo and deodorant!

Sometimes, when I think of it, I cannot understand how our very "tolerant" customers could withstand being in a closed room (with poor air circulation) with her! Probably all their olfactory cells were damaged during the first class itself! I mean, a skunk would hang its head in shame, if its infamous smell was compared with xiang-xiang's!


Since the last post, I have made some modification to the algorithm for simulating the performance of the LDPC codes. For one thing, instead of fixing the number of blocks of message to encode, transmit and decode per simulation, I have fixed the total amount of message bits instead (to 100,000 bits), and the number of blocks would vary with the code length (block size).

The first resulting curve, for n=10, was beautiful! Marvellous! I thought I should be on the right track now, finally! And then, I generated the curves for n=50 and n=100, and guess what - they showed higher BER compared to the n=10 curve. Now that's baffling! Larger block sizes should give better performance! What is wrong now?

And another baffling thing - since the total amount of message bits processed is fixed for all block sizes, the simulation time should not be increasing with increasing block size. But no, it does! For n=500, it didn't complete in 1.5 - 2hrs as did the simulation for n=10, n=50 and n=100. Yesterday, it went on for 8 hrs without getting even close to completion. I see no logic behind these weird occurrences!

I am, in every way, MYSTIFIED!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Over Half a Day

Yes... the simulation ran on for over half a day! It took a staggering 14 hours to complete. I went to bed at midnight - it was still running. I woke up at 3am to check on it - it was still running. I woke up again to check at 5 am - and thank Matlab it was done! I managed to save all data and the figure in all my grogginess and then went back to sleep, and then woke again at 6am for work! It was like having to take care of a little baby (waking up several times through the night for milk!) And voici - my graph:

Do you like it? I sure hope my supervisor does! :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Wait States

I am doing a channel coding simulation and ... an n=50-block size code using 100-interation decoding takes about twenty minutes to complete (on my AMD 2.8GHz with 512MB RAM PC). An n=500-block size code using 100-iteration decoding took 1 and a half hours. An n=500-block size code using 200-iteration decoding took 3 hours plus. Now, my n=1000-block size code using 200-iteration decoding is in its 8th hour of execution... and still going on. Gosh... how long do I have to wait? This had better give me a damn good BER vs Eb/N0 graph!

I hope my supervisor sees this post. OK - no, I'd rather not. :D

Sunday, June 12, 2005

On a POSITIVE note...

I just happened to think of a few good things about my line of work. Probably a poor attempt at self-consolation, but anyhow - here they are:

1. Dress & Decorum
We see customers (a.k.a. students) on a daily basis, but we don't need to wear 3-piece suits or cover ourselves in inch-thick make-up. Politeness and mutual-respect is standard procedure, but hell, if a customer screams at you, you shout right back.

2. Customer Demands
For the academician, the struggle to meet these demands almost does not exist. If the customers demand for more knowledge, more knowledge-based challenges, and lots of extra guidance and tutorials, we might have to work much harder to fulfill them, on top of our regular duties. However, our customers' demands are 99.9% of the time limited to early dismissal of class, extension of assignment deadlines, awarding of 'pity-marks' for tests etc., all of which we can flatly refuse.

3. Bad-behaving customers
This is the best part. We don't have to put up with fussy, bad-tempered and fickle-minded customers. If we didn't like what the customer is doing in class, we can scold him. Now, how many other jobs allow the service provider to actually reprimand the customer?

4. Your boss knows much much less than you do
Hey, if you're a subject expert in one field and your boss is a subject expert in another field (or, in no particular field :Þ) ... what else needs to be said?

5. Deadlines
Our deadlines (trust me, we have lots of them) always come with an unspoken tolerance of plus/minus few days. ;)

And lastly the campus char siew fan is quite delicious, really!

Thursday, June 9, 2005

The Wonder of Make Up

Yes - make up. Cosmetics. These little wonders can work miracles, and when I use the word 'miracles', I really mean miracles. I am sure any seasoned internet users would have come across pictures such as the below: (it's no wonder some women would not be caught dead not wearing any make up!)

Well, nothing short of fantastic huh? Impressed, aren't you? I wonder how a make over session like that can do for me. I can hardly imagine. Well, don't need to. My bestfriend and I went for a make over session some time ago, and we too, got some before and after photos. You can really see a difference here:

Whoa! OK - bad idea. :D

Monday, June 6, 2005

MeeMee, My Roomie

This is my beautiful former roomie, MeeMee. We've stayed together (although not always in the same room) for about 3 years, and in that time, I am impressed by her culinary skills. Her specialty is noodles. The first time she cooked for me, I remember vividly, it was noodles cooked in low-pressure boiling water, then drained and tossed in a sauce made from a mix of several kinds of spices. The noodles were tender and the sauce extremely fragrant and delicious. Since then, I have also acquired some skills (though not nearly close to the extent of MeeMee's) in noodles-cooking. MeeMee and I would always cook and eat our noodles together. While I always stuck to the normal vegetarian, or fried-onion variants, MeeMee was far more adventurous. She cooked her noodles with all kinds of ingredients she could get her hands on. And to keep a formal record of her noodles-cooking experiences, she kept a small noodle muzium, where she proudly displayed all the varieties of noodles that she has cooked.

Her best, and non-arguably most delicious feat, however, has got to be the noodles cooked in spicy duck soup. First, the noodles are pre-fried to a crispy texture. Next, the spicy duck soup is prepared (I can't really disclose the secret ingredients of the soup) by the low-pressure boiling water technique (all MeeMee's noodles are prepared using this technique). Then, the crispy noodles are added to the low-pressure boiled soup, and the low-pressure near-boiling point cooking commences for several minutes. During the few minutes' wait for the noodles to cook, MeeMee would usually make herself a steaming mug of nutritious cocoa drink, to go with the noodles, as a complete, wholesome meal. Those were the seriously good old days.

Unemployment Issue

This is right now under hot discussion by institutes of (not necessarily higher) learnings all around Malaysia. Some of the suggestions for resolving the problem include providing improved syllabi, more practical and hands-on training, sending the undergrads out for industrial internship (where they'll be asked to do data entry) etc., etc. The government is even running a program where unemployed graduates are given monthly allowances to take professional certification courses and exams (for FREE). A former student of mine, who are in one of these programs, estimates that the government spends about RM18k per graduate, per program. (So far, I have not seen a report on how many of these got themselves work after completing the program) I don't even want to start computing the total amount of tax-payer's sweat-and-blood money spent on these lazy, unemployed freaks.

Just end of last week, someone from the group of counsellors in the institute where I teach sent an email to everyone, announcing an upcoming event, and also giving the TOP 5 REASONS why employers are not hiring fresh graduates. (The sender claims that the data is according to a survey of 4000 HR managers and directors). Here they are :

1. Poor command of the English language (55.8%)
- Well, of course... these days, SPM leavers can end up taking beginner's class in English, together with international students from China who never had the chance to learn proper English in their home country

2. Poor character, attitude and personality (37.4%)
- From the kind of respect we teachers get from the students, we in this line understand this point more than anyone else. Spoilt brats, all of them. None else needs to be said.

3. Unrealistic expectation of salary (33%)
- They think: I am a GRADUATE ok? That's damn hella GREAT! What, you expect me to work for you for RM2k per month? Oh, please. I am a degree holder! (yeah, so is your brother, your brother's gf, your brother's gf's sister, your brother's gf's sister's cousin, your brother's gf's sister's cousin's neighbour etc., etc.)

4. Mismatch of skills learnt and job description (30.2%)
- They are IT grads and they think they can handle an engineer's responsibilities. Cool, aren't they?

5. Choosy in the type of jobs (27.7%)
- This is an add on to choosiness in type of clothes, food, shampoo, soap, cars, rooms... you name it.

So, the solution? Allow all teachers (from kindergarten to university) to carry rotans, and legalise whipping to shape the student's attitude and characters from young; teach them humility and lots of respect for other people; teach them to keep their feet down to earth; and lastly - instead of spending so much on giving them extra training, impose a fine on those who hold a degree, and yet, remain jobless within a year of graduation. Fine them on a monthly or quarterly basis, and keep it on until they get themselves a job. Then, they will strive to put effort, to make miracles and to find a way out. Problem solved!

AH~ it is no wonder I will never make it into politics. *In deep thought*

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Accidental Eavesdropping

I teach using presentation slides projected onto a big screen at the front of the class from a projector (usually) mounted on the ceiling. The projector gets its signals from a CPU that is locked in a solid, heavy metal case in a corner of the classrooms. In order to use the computer and projector then, I would have to go to the department that takes care of all the computers, computer-related equipment and computer-related matters. That includes the networking and network-related issues.

So there I was, one day, last week, at the department, returning a key to a CPU metal cabinet in my classroom, after the class finished. And two men were sitting beside the front counter, discussing what was obviously some tricky issues with problematic network connections. I returned the key, signed the log book, and was walking out when I heard one of the men (obviously the one with the network problem, seeking help from the department personnel) say "You know, at the bottom right of the screen, the picture of the two TVs..."

It took me a few seconds, and lots of visualising, to actually fathom what he was describing. Cool really - two TVs. :P

Friday, June 3, 2005

The HANTU Strikes Again!

Last week today, I had one of the grandest experience in my life so far, with student impertinence. It was the same class as described in my earlier post. I was thinking, things were progressing much more smoothly this time compared to the previous week. I thought too soon. It started with the trouble-making group, led by the head troublemaker (code-named: hantu panjang; abbreviated: hp/hantu) asking to copy the examples I was giving the class to do from my diskette. Now, this request is not something new to me, lots of others have asked too. So I told them "No", and patiently explained that if they were to try out the examples projected on the screen (as they should for a practical lab class!) then they would learn! Mindless, non-thinking copying process will not help them become smarter. Fine - they kept quiet. I thought that's it. End of the issue.

Ten minutes later - someone from the hantu's group asked if they could copy my files into their thumb drives. OK, it's not the drive issue, it's the teaching methodology issue. I had to explain again to them, why getting the complete softcopy of my examples is not in the best interest of their learning. They were giving me rubbish such as they couldn't understand my teaching in class, so they want the examples to take home and study ( helloooo... if you can't understand the examples while I'm explaning them in class, how could you understand anything just by looking at it by yourselves, using the limited thinking abilities you have, at home?) And furthermore, I elaborated, if you tried the examples I gave when I asked you to, you'd have a copy there right in the computer you're using. Just save that, and you'd have your own copy. The detailed concepts and also other examples are there in the lecture notes (which, by the way, they have complete copies of - and usually nobody takes down additional notes during lecture). And ... (while I was still elaborating, they lost interest in me, and were already discussing other matters amongst themselves). Fine. I continued with my teaching.

Another five minutes passed. It was nearing the end of the class time. The grand master of the art of troublemaking, the hantu, stood up at the back of the class (I was in front) and spoke in a loud and menacing voice "Just let us copy into our thumb drive!" (Ahem, bad grammar is rampant amongst students here). My blood was boiling, gurgling, by now. I decided I will not take anymore nonsense from a piece of waste matter. I said quietly, "For the last time, NO. If you think that I am being unreasonable, please look for your HOP" (Note: HOP==the small boss above me, but below the big boss) And then, comes the impertinence of the millenium (reader, are you ready?). Hantu said in a voice that suggests intimidation and threat, "YOU REALLY WANT THAT?" I told him, "Go ahead"

And went he did! A stupid move really. He talked with the HOP for a while, and probably to make his case appear stronger, he called 2 more friends to join him. But when the guys came, they said that he was harsh and impulsive towards the lecturer instead. Cool. When I had a private talk with the HOP later on, I spilled the beans on his attitude, behaviour and bad manners. Put him in the worst light there possibly is. If he doesn't make it for this paper, no one will question me.

One would think that after the awful string of events that Friday, the hantu would put a check on himself and the kind of words that came out of his unfiltered mouth. Oh, but no. And today, during the same practical lab class, the question came out again. "Can copy using my thumb drive?" The Hantu strikes again! Of course my answer was no. And thank goodness he had brains enough to decide not to pursue the matter!

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Good One!

A professor from America came for a two-week visit and gave a short talk on Artificial Intelligence (AI) today. After that 1 hour listening to him, I finally realised why most students doing twinning programs that perform below average here, could do much better once they transferred to American universities. If the professor's one-hour presentation is anything like his lectures, I am truly impressed.

First of all, he put himself at the same level as his audiences. No introducing himself as "professor" or used the title "Dr". No putting up the airs of the high-and-mighty. This kind of humility in the highly educated is actually not apparent in those who got their PhDs locally. When he spoke, he manner was casual, friendly and extremely informal. He addressed his audiences as if they were his peers. His voice was clear and animated. No mumbling, slurring, no accents that are impossible to place. He included humor in forms of short, subtle jokes, well-blended into the topic - no stopping the content flow just to tell a complete, independent joke; no laughing out loud at his own jokes - some self-proclaimed "jokers" do, and that's not funny at all.

The little bit of AI concepts that he presented was presented in a simple manner, explained using practical analogy. And he openly admitted the things that he was an expert in, and the things that he didn't know. You don't get that very often with the I-know-it-all locals.

I once had an American lecturer for an English course and frankly, sitting two hours in his class didn't feel like lecture. I enjoyed myself, had lots of fun and didn't feel like I was learning, but when I left the class, I knew more than before I went in.

When I first took up this teaching job, I had really wanted to be a lecturer that as a student, I had enjoyed learning from. And I did try very hard. Probably I had failed badly. But then again, are the students here as deserving as I was as a student? (Ahem!)