Wednesday, August 31, 2005

All About Competition

We all hate competition - especially those in which if we won, we don't get a prize. We hate it if younger (or older) siblings compete with us in everything. We hate it when parents make it seem like we have to compete with cousins (or their friends' children) academically or in other stuff. Why is it so? I've never truly given it a serious thought. Then again, at a glance, it could have everything to do with the fact that a person under constant competition with others could be under constant pressure to not be in the losing end.

One night, I was in a particular mood for Scrabble (ok, we don't have an actual set of Scrabble, rather, the cheaper brand of the game, called Vocable), but my husband wouldn't play with me because he had some unfinished work. And so, well, I played with myself. Yup, I did. I named myself leeyl1 and leeyl2 and proceeded until the board was full and only 5 letter tiles were left. And what I can say from the game of me against myself - it was totally enjoyable! First of all, since I know the tiles of both my 'personalities', I sort of complemented myself. 'leeyl1' didn't occupy a position which 'leeyl2' would want in her next turn, and vice-versa. One 'personality' would create a word-making opportunity for the other one whenever possible. Cool. So, the conclusion is, both leeyl1 and leeyl2 were able to place tiles and make words very smoothly, seldom taking more than 1 or 2 minutes' thinking. However, taking a closer look at the scores, I realised how poorly leeyl1 and leeyl2 did, compared to the usual leeyl playing against her husband!

Playing against myself, not wanting either part of me to lose to the other part of me, the whole game was compromised by the two sides not seriously competing with each other, even complementing each other at times. But when I play with my husband, all I have in mind is to BEAT him! I want to make longer words, better words, score higher points! And I do. In other words, I guess a little competition is a good motivation for all of us - it is simply up to us to take it from a positive point of view :)

Qualitative Research question for the day: How can a person be tuned to accept competition and benefit from its motivating powers?

Monday, August 29, 2005

A Reason for Joy

Just one of life's little pleasant things: Xiang xiang had left our fine institution for the more reputable MMU (though why MMU would want someone like her beats me totally) - and along with her, her extremely insufferable stench. So... yippeee! And to the unfortunate staff and students of MMU - believe me, I know how you feel being around her. I truly do!


The world we live in is full of them! Full of unspeakable, ruthless people who do atrocious things. The greatest of these - war, terrorist attacks and killings, murders - I must say I am very, very fortunate to have not witnessed live. But the lesser ones...

I went for an early lunch ('brunch' - the usual word) at McDonald's (trying to make full use of the discount coupons that will expire on August 31) with 4 of my colleagues today. Some of them went to buy food, while I waited at our table with some of the other food already bought. I was almost entering a pleasant daydream in that quiet and serene ambience when suddenly, there was a loud, piercing scream. I turned and saw a young Indian lady rushing out of the glass door, chasing a man. Out of curiousity, I hurried nearer, only to hear that the young lady's wallet was snatched by the man who ran away. One of McD's staff immediately ran after the thief. Two of my male colleagues, tall men with long legs, also ran after them. Sadly, all came back empty-handed and disappointed. The snatch-thief had a bike waiting for him, and the men couldn't know which direction he went. That was just too bad, and there was nothing anyone could do.

We then sat down to our meal, and talked about the incident. Stories spilled out - one of my colleagues had been a victim to a snatch thief, her mother was robbed of a necklace, another colleague's brother was robbed, her house once broken into, my room-mate had her handbag snatched from her once, and my own grandma was once robbed of her gold necklace. My colleague read about a man who owned a high-tech luxurious car, which could only be unlocked / started by his thumbprint verification, and the greed-filled villains actually cut his thumb off to get his car. Too much, too much! Do people no longer believe in hell, or reincarnation, or whatever religion taught, to instill the fact that 'what comes around, goes around'?

As if not enough, we have loads and loads of inconsiderate and irresponsible drivers creating little atrocities by the milisecond! The worst I have experienced so far - last week, I drove into a Petronas station for fuel, and by sheer lack of luck, there were many customers at the time, so I had to queue. I headed towards a pump with a motorcycle at it (since bikes use much less fuel, I reckoned I needn't wait too long for that guy to finish refueling). Then, a green car came up behind mine. The pump directly in front of the one I was waiting at had a bike at it too, so by the standard queuing theory with the standard FIFO queue, the green car should get to use the pump in front of mine, once that biker finished as well. So there we were, waiting patiently in the queue. The biker ahead of me completed refueling and moved on. I drove in place, got ready to buy petrol, and guess what - a car zoomed past mine, to the pump in front of mine where the other biker was finishing off. And well, it's not the green car that was waiting in line with me just two minutes ago! The poor green car was still waiting there, behind me. I could hardly believe my eyes - I have seen people cut queues during traffic jams, at the highway exit toll booths - but never, I repeat, NEVER at petrol kiosks! I, even as a bystander in that incident, was cursing that #$*%$&@ driver like mad. I can't imagine how I'd feel if I were the wronged driver of the green car. Too much, too much!

Qualitative Research question for the day: How can we rid our society of such despicable acts?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The How To

Everything is a study these days. People study on how to eat, how to sleep, how to talk, how to teach, how to do practically everything we do. Just last week, I attended a 2-day training on how to conduct research, qualitatively. It's amazing that there are people who research on the to best way to research! :D

So this man, the professor who conducted the training, was an old man with white beard and large glasses. He spoke averagely fluent English, but with a very heavy Malay accent. He was very good with the audience, though - he could remember names very well, and treated everyone with great respect. Whenever anyone asked a questions, it was a good question by him. Even the most stupid and silly things raised were given fair response. On the first day, the training went quite well. On the second day, however, the old man (I suppose) got quite full of himself, and sort of lost track. He discussed each point he was presenting in such great detail, with so many background stories, and theories and examples, that most of the people listening to him were bored. Master Sen (who sat next to me) was already fighting off sleep. But well, on the overall, I do think I might just benefit from the knowledge I'd gain. Afterall, the old man is indeed very knowledgeable - imagine someone who got his PhD several years before I was even born!

And now, for some research questions: Why do we constantly have unbalanced distribution of workload in this institution? Why are lady bosses so difficult to work for? Why are people who can't teach programming, or anything slightly more technical, still hired? (so many!) and yes... Why does Lao Yu like to 'suan' Ms B. so much???

Life is just full of questions. :P

Monday, August 22, 2005

My New Baby

My lion-head rabbit, Ada, gave birth to a (yes, just ONE) tiny baby last Saturday morning. It was very exciting for me because although I've seen many baby rodents (my hamsters used to multiply like mad... sometimes up to 6 babies at one go), it was my first time seeing a baby rabbit. As usual, it was pink, naked and had its eyes still closed.

Ada giving birth to a baby came as a shock to all of us in the family - she'd been separated from Java (my male rabbit) for at least a month already. On top of that, when I got the rabbits, the breeder personally told me that they don't breed easily like the local common breed (or else, she, as a breeder, will get rich very easily - those were her very words). So, when it happened (the birth, I mean), Ada was in her usual cage with Java. Now, the cage has a wired base and the poor baby, being so small, slipped through between the wiring and was trapped with its head on top, the rest of its body below. By the time my mother discovered it in the morning, it was cold as a dead fish, struggling and crying out. We had to use a pair of pliers to pry open the two bars of wire between which the little one was trapped and lifted it out. We placed the newborn in a separate carrier with Ada, but she was oblivious to it, ignoring the poor baby, and even stepping over it. I made a frantic phone call to the breeder (7.30am in the morning!) and she advised me to keep the baby warm (the poor thing being cold as a dead fish is a BAD sign!). So I restrained poor, agitated Ada, put the baby wrapped layers of tissue paper next to her, and waited for the baby to get warm. Thank goodness it worked.

Ada, being a first-time mother, is not the slightest interested in nursing the baby, so we had to hold her on her back and put the baby on her belly each time it was to nurse. Two days later, the baby had grown some very fine, downy fur on its body, and some very very fine whiskers. It is indeed a heart-warming sight. What is less heart-warming, however, is an injury on the baby's left hind-leg. It'd turned an ugly shade of brownish-black and horribly swollen. I suspected a fracture and yesterday, I took the little fella to the vet. The vet, a rather handsome-looking man, took a look at the baby and confirmed that its leg is broken. There was nothing much he could do though, considering the two-day-old being so very small. He then gave me lots of tips and pointers on taking care of the baby, including applying warm compression on the injured leg - but didn't charge me anything, since "he didn't do anything". What a kind gentleman. He also reassured me that the baby rabbit is very active and healthy. A good sign.

I had been thinking of a name for the baby for some time: Ada + Java = Ava? Eva? Too difficult to differentiate between Ada and Eva, my mother said. Before I thought further, though, my hubby had decided - we shall call it Bitbit. What a cacat name, but it sounds rather nice to the ears. :)

Bitbit it shall be, then!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Believe It

The failure rate for my one of my classes was a record high - a staggering 78.5%. Well, no big deal - the same batch of garbage managed a >80% failure rate for another subject.
Why? First of all, none of them were seriously interested in the subject (OK, this is forgivable, considering it's a subject about Intel microprocessors) - even the more hardworking ones were hardly interested. For every class (I mean, every single lecture), these people would be very nicely strolling into class twenty minutes late, as if without a care in the world. No amount of reprimand could change their ways.

One or two were really hardworking. There was this girl who was so hardworking that I am often impressed by the amount of effort she showed in the subject. However, she was hopelessly weak in academics. Then there were the 3 boys who loved nothing more than talking amongst themselves while I delivered the most technical lessons. And there were the trees and flower-pots who would stare at me expressionless all throughout. The remaining ones fall into peaceful slumber. Even those international students, whose parents must've paid a lot to have them here, didn't bother themselves with anything academic. Most of the time, I feel the the only one working real hard during a lecture is myself.

Well, it's over - for now at least. I'll think about seeing those failures again next year when they repeat the course.

Saturday, August 6, 2005

The Viva Voce

The viva voce, or the viva - a spoken examination for the project that spans 2 academic semesters, will determine if a student gets an honours degree or not. A student will be evaluated by 3 examiners - the "first", a high-and-mighty, "highly-qualified" someone who oversaw a class of 40-60 students for the entire span of their projects; the "second", a commoner lecturer who supervised and guided the student for the second of the two semesters for the project; and the "third", an independent academic who'd (hopefully) be free of any partiality or otherwise for the student. Each of us commoner lecturers (as mentioned earlier), will be assigned several of these students for supervision each semester, and at the end, there will be a chain of these vivas for us.

This semester, I had 6 students to supervise, and at the end, had 6 more to be the "third" examiner for. 12 vivas all in all - not as bad as those who had 15, but quite enough, as some others have only 5 or 8. Anyway, here's just a highlight of what happened (the tip of the iceberg!)

One of my students, a girl, never came to me for any advice or guidance throughout the semester, and met me only at the end to show me her end product. She'd came up with a system which combined the public key cryptography with hashing for secure file transfer. And it does just that (nothing else - no additional functions!) The system interface consists of a small dialog box (and that's all) and the cryptography works only for text files. And, ya - her hashing function does not work properly. When she showed me, it was just a week from her viva, so there wasn't much I could do for her, even though I knew there is no hope for such a product. I asked her if her "first" saw her system throughout its developement, and she said yes. So I asked what his comments were - and to my surprise, she said that he (shall we call him Mr A?) did not comment anything. Well then. On the day of her viva, this poor girl came to me early in the morning, and told me that her "first" told her that hers would be a borderline pass project, but only if she can fix her hashing function. But she couldn't. One can only wonder why Mr A didn't tell her earlier - if he intended to tell her at all. Of course, there was also no excuse for the girl's not bothering to consult with me, even though she had the entire semester to do so. Sad case.

Another student who worked on cryptography method was the most incredible Tai Chi Master I've ever seen. Tai Chi GrandMaster in fact. When questioned, he was extremely good at evading the main points questioned, twisting the words, giving excuses - anything, but provising straight, honest answers for the questions asked. Let me just quote a simple example - in his project documentation, there was a "preliminary studies" chapter in which he wrote in details about the characteristics and encoding and decoding steps of several encryption methods, which are not those which he implemented in his system. It was like telling someone all the goodness there are in apple juice, then serving him orange juice. It was totally out of place. When I pointed it out to the student, he gave me a long story on how he initially wanted to use the methods he studied on and wrote about, and then realised they were too simple for the project, so he decided to implement other methods instead (for the note - he wrote on 5 or 6 algorithms in his documentation, but implemented 5 other totally different ones). I said, in that case, he should've changed the content of that chapter in his documentation. And he gave me another long story on how the content were already written as phase reports, and there were no time for changes, and bla, and bla bla and more. Excuses, excuses!

The best one's gotta be the viva of this girl (who, although was not drop-dead gorgeous, was considered not-bad-looking lar) who came up with a system that can be run on a palmtop computer, and communicate with a mobile phone through Bluetooth, and receive and reply SMS. The system is supposed to be very useful for people who are in meetings, and could not SMS with their phones without appearing rude or anything (errr... ok, I'll accept that). The work was quite impressive and the little lady actually proved that she did most of the programming for the system. However, I was not convinced that the whole thing was a good, practical idea. For one thing, the communication between the palm (an HP Pocket PC) and the phone can be initiated by the palm only, which means it send a "query" signal to the mobile at fixed intervals to see if any SMS came in. And the time interval fixed was 50 seconds. This means that the poor handheld device is actually firing out a signal very much more often than there would be SMS coming in. Like, if within a half-hour time frame, 5 SMS is received, the palm would've queried 36 times for incoming SMS, with 5 affirmative and 31 negative responses. That's what I call seriously low efficiency. The student herself agreed to this point, and confirmed that a fully-charged palmtop battery would probably last about two hours only, running the system. She admitted she couldn't find a way to get around it (and to tell the truth, I had no problems accepting that from her, because at least she was honest about it). During the grade discussion, however, the student's "second" (let's call this one Mr B) tried a bit too hard in defending her. Coming from a man who is somewhat infamous for being very partial to members of the fairer sex, I probably shouldn't had been surprised. First he said that the palmtop has to initiate communication because it has greater processing power and can perform a lot more of complex tasks that a mobile phone can't, so it is logical that it sends the first command to the phone. I told him that to initiate a communication, the mobile phone does not need a complex command - just a simple signal, something of the nature of an interrupt will do. Then, what the palmtop needs to be doing, is to listen for this signal from the phone, which the phone will transmit only when an SMS is received - at least the palmtop battery wouldn't drain so quickly. But, Mr B said, the palmtop's battery will drain anyhow, if it is switched on all the time (which it must, for the system to run), whether or not it sends a signal every 50 seconds. (Is he stupid or what???) I told him, it makes a BIG difference (I widened my eyes at this part of the speech to provide extra emphasis :P ). Have you ever noticed that your mobile phone battery drains extra quickly when the service provider's signal is weak? Did you know why? I then told him why. He was quite for a moment, then said that what I had suggested (that the mobile phone initiates communication with the palmtop) could be impossible because not all phones would be equipped with the capability to do so, and probably only some very sophisticated phones could. (This man is confirmed to be stupid, or blinded by sheer lust for the girl) I told him, that is beside the point (I almost screamed it out) - the system is defined with a set of prescribed equipment with specified minimum features (like they MUST support a Bluetooth channel), so you can't say that a solution is not feasibly simply because you use a phone that can't make it work! I mean, if you want to argue in that direction, then I can say that since I am using a Nokia 3330 which does not even have Bluetooth embedded in it, the system is TOTALLY USELESS because it won't work for me! Then, Mr B insisted that my suggestion would not work, because the technology for it does not exist. At this point, I decided not to waste my time talking to a total moron who think with his balls instead of his brains. When the "first" (who, amazingly just kept quiet while Mr B and I debated - mostly because he's so empty in the skull that he has not the slightest idea what we were saying) asked about the grade that should be awarded, I simply said - WHATEVER. Yeah, I can't believe I said that. Whatever - whatever you guys wanna give, I'll just follow. Man, I was so pissed off. Nothing pisses me off like a stupid person who thinks he is so smart that he can't wait to show off just how stupid he really is.

I am really glad it's over - for this semester anyway.