Wednesday, May 31, 2006

An Animated Crayon

Imagine a crayon. We all know what it is. Available in a variety of colours, it can be used to write and draw. Children can use it safely, because it has no sharp points. We seem to have a clear idea of what a crayon is.

Now, suppose that the crayon has, through some unknown process, been granted life. It is now animated, capable of movement. Strangely, it is now alive.

The animated crayon walks along a sheet of paper. With each step it makes, the crayon diminishes in size. At the same time, colourful markings appear on the paper. The crayon does not notice the markings, and moves wildly on the paper. Quickly, the crayon is used up and disappears. We observe that it can no longer move. Perhaps it has died.

Maybe it was foolish for the crayon to move so quickly. Would it have been wiser for it to plod along slowly, hence lengthening its own existence? If so, wouldn't it be wiser still for it to be motionless, hence enjoying a potentially infinite lifespan?

It appears that I have a box of highly intelligent animated crayons in my drawer.

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Monday, May 29, 2006

The moral ambiguity of X-men 3

My experience of X-Men: The Last Stand was pretty much marred by my prior knowledge of the Marvel universe. Many characters were somewhat out of character, especially Magneto. I doubt he would sacrifice many mutants as cannon fodder (unless it is Ultimate Magneto). Other problems, like Jean Grey's power and Juggernaught being nerfed, are also distracting.

In anycase, what really interested me was the moral ambiguity of many important characters in the film. The X-men, while supposedly the good guys, are actually highly inconsistent in their morality. Even Professor X, ever the pacifist, reveals himself to be a flawed man.

While he advocates the responsible use of mutant powers, I doubt the morality of manipulating Jean Grey's mind (and actually, Wolverine's). Of course, he justifies his actions by refering to the "possible consequences" which could cause great harm. Is this reasonable or even consistent ? If he could make this one concession, then it would not be a far leap to consider mind-wiping dangerous villains like Magneto in order to block or limit their powers. The slippery slope could go even deeper, as he could be compelled to "persuade" anyone to his "righteous cause".

The X-men defeated Magneto using the mutant antigen to remove his powers. In doing so, they have abetted its use as a weapon against mutants. What utter folly, as they should have stopped him using their considerable powers. Now, they have absolutely no ground to stand on if others used the antigen on them.

Finally, I am deeply suspicious of the US government portrayed in the film. They seem to be too well prepared for the mutant insurgency, being armed with what are clearly anti-mutant (or anti-magneto) weapons. Futhermore, they were already shown to have used the antigen as a anti-mutant weapon in the prison convoy. In light of this, Magneto's military response may be perfectly justified, as the goverment clearly had some intent of using the cure against them. Fear ultimately breeds fear, and the difference may merely be who lays the first strike. In this case, it was Magneto, but the alternative may well be a Sentinel attack on the mutants in the future.

These moral ambiguities make the film much more realistic, as the original X-men comic, set in the racially-charged background of their time, was. Nothing is really as clear cut as it seems.

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Sunday, May 28, 2006

The inane nature of dreams

Once, I had many dreams. Some dreams, such as protecting the weak/saving the world/ruling the world can easily be attributed to the influence of TV. Other dreams grew out of an increased sense of self, each corresponding to some portrait of an idealised self. As I aged the sheer audaciousness of these early dreams became increasingly evident, and many aspirations were toned down to more reasonable scales. World domination became continental rule, to national primership, and finally to ministerial aspirations. Grimly, eventually I might be content with the utter dominion over the office cubicle.

Everyone has their own dreams, but I believe that most will fall short of that vaunted castle in the sky. Dreams, by definition, are fantasies, delusions even. The phrase "pipe dream" originated from the hallucinations induced by the opium pipe. If so, then perhaps dreams are only pieces of romantic nonsense of no real value.

Luring us to foolish and impossible errands, dreams might even be evil. All dreams, regardless of scale or scope, are founded upon the idea that we are incomplete, flawed in some way unless we can attain that dream and thus affirm our innate worth. All dreams consist of that desire of perfection, of worth. But in dreaming, we have rejected ourselves, and fallen into the trap of changing something which is not flawed in the first place.

A perfect and complete being would have no dreams, because he is everything. There is no artifical need to prove himself, to improve himself, because he is. Thus dreams are only for flawed simulacra, incomplete forms of that perfect being.

Why not be true to yourself? Only when we see past the transient and deceptive nature of dreams can we affirm our status as complete and perfect beings.

**This post may be continued later, as I have some ideas which can be further developed.**

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

The implications of the maiden move

My CAP was slightly better than predicted, but it matters little, as I am quite firmly entrenched within my current honours band, with little hope of rising or dropping a band. I must admit, though, that I feel some regret - if my CAP was just a tad higher, I might be encouraged to go for gold. But as things are now, I'll just cruise my way to a stil good silver rather than crippling myself for gaudy gold.

In essense, it all boils down to the very first semester. There are too many IFs to say anything much, but in hindsight things would be very different if the CAP then was any higher. I might have been more motivated to try for the still reasonable first class. Oh well, that's the past, so brooding does nothing. In anycase slacking is extremely good, considering its a 2nd upper even with slacking.

The implications of the previous paragraph are many. Simply put, some things are heavily influenced by the very first move, that innocuous maiden step taken in ignorance. The sad thing is that when we realise the folly of that opening, it is often too late to do anything else but to continue walking forward.

The boy who enters EM3 due to playing games on the eve of that exam might well be doomed to mediocrity because of that one moment of folly. Success is possible, but as time passes the odds are increasing stacked against him.

What if our present circumstances are due to the initial prudence or weakness of our forefathers ? Is this really that inconcievable ? Admittedly, there is some degree of social mobility within our society, but I would wager that the son of a pauper would himself be a pauper. Similarly, the son of a baron would quite likely be well-off himself.

It might all boil down to that very first step. Considering this, one might do well to halt in the face of that momentous move and reconsider the alternatives. Or might that indecision prove fatal in itself ?

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Algorithm March

This video is another section from the Japanese kids show "Pythagorean Switch", which if you recall is also the programme which had the rube goldberg machines. This show tops the list for creativity, I must say.

In any case, when watching the first half of the video please ponder upon what the man is doing. You will realise in the second half of the video how brillant the Algorithm March is.

We should have more creative (inane?) shows like this in local programming. Anyway I'm testing out tagging my posts to technorati so just ignore the tags at the bottom.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Incredible Machine

I just saw this amazing video which I simply HAD to post.

The video shows many many "Incredible Machines", otherwise known as Rube Goldberg machines. I'm really impressed by the creativity of the people making these machines. Although at the same time they must have been super bored.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Recently I came across an interesting website called Worldmapper. Basically what it does is that it morphs(using some algros) the world map according to certain statistics. For example, if the statistic is population, more populated nations would be redrawn to have a larger area than less poplulated nations.

Some of the redrawn maps are rather interesting. For example, this map reflects the net imports of toys (in US$). It appears that Americans like toys. A lot. But where's Africa and Asia ??? And oh, Singapore can be found on the map.

Toy Imports

This map will certainly make some Singaporeans proud. Singapore is actually almost as large as China ! Seems like Singapore really does make quite a bit from computer exports. It is also evident that the American continents are bad places to manufacture computer parts- they barely exist on the map. Africa is missing, as usual.

Computer Exports

Everyone should pop in to take a look. Worldmapper really puts the world into perspective.

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Crossword Puzzle

Having recently acquired a taste for crosswords, I decided to try making a simple crossword myself. The result is below.

This crossword should not be of any difficulty, hence I will not post the solution. Any discussions regarding the puzzle should be posted in the comments below.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Behind the scenes : Polling Day

A few weeks ago, I did an odd job which required me to set up polling centers for the elections. Basically all I did was to follow the instructions of the polling center IC's and put up the barricades(consisting of the tape and netting barrier) around the perimeter.

After some time, it was increasingly obvious that some (many?) of the polling center IC's were either idiots or inflexible robots capable only of following instructions. They were insistent on setting up the barricades in manners which were clearly nonsensical to observers.

The tree in the picture must have been extremely important to the polling process. It was barricaded entirely such that nobody could gain access to it. Without any doubt, this was a critical installation which needed protection.

Other instances of inanity were :
i) blockading the rubbish chutes (Apparrently, the rubbish collectors don't work on polling day).
ii) blocking off some stairways (Residents have alternative ways to access their homes, such as some other obscure stairways, rappelling or voting for elevators to be built).

It worries me to think that many of the polling center people responsible for these acts were civil servants, teachers especially. Many of them were highly insistent on following the instructions for a secure polling center, while ignoring totally how this would affect the residents near the center.

Independent thought is going to the dogs.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Physicalism and some alternatives

A strange alignment of related ideas inspired me to some interesting ideas against Physicalism. Before I begin discussing these ideas, I think it is wise to briefly mention the ideas that gave rise to my thoughts, as well as some simple description of Physicalism.

The "alignment of related ideas" was Wikipedia's Featured Article of the Day, on the Philosophy of Mind , Pandemonium's new post on Free Will (as well as his older post) , and finally my own post on thinking rocks. These are all related in some way to monism and its opposite, mind-matter dualism.

With the pseudo-citations out of the way, I can begin to describe Physicalism. Physicalism is one of the many monist stands, which simply put is the position that everything is physical, and that there are no kinds of things other than physical things. Hence, Physicalism means that the mind does not exist, or more correctly, there is no independent and separable mind distinct from the body (eg, brain).

It is probably arguable that many people are Physicalists (especially, if I might add, scientists) . I consider myself a Physicalist. Yet, there exists other possibilities.

An alternative is that the body and everything physical does not exist. Instead, the only thing which exists is a disembodied mind. All things physical are merely the figments of imagination of the disembodied mind. In a sense, the disembodied mind is like a god (or THE god). The god does not exist in the universe, but rather, the universe exists in the god. I admit that this seems rather metaphysical and theoretical, but it is a distinct possibility which cannot be discounted. I imaged this concept out of my idea of thinking rocks .

Another monist possibility is that both the mind and the body do not exist (as we know it), but rather are formed from some other material. In simpler words, both matter and mind are emergent properties of some yet unknown non-thing. This idea was gleaned from the vast tomes of wikipedia.

An elaboration (one among many) of the previous theory is that both mind and matter do not exist, but are illusions. The entire universe, and time itself, does not exist as we percieve it, but is akin to a photograph or hologram. All our memories and perceptions are unreal. We are frozen but we think we are active. In fact, "we" are nonexistent.

Both theories are somewhat less substantial than Physicalism. But their strength is that they cannot be actively disproven, much like we cannot know whether we are trapped inside the matrix. Besides, they might allow the romantic possibility of the immortal human soul, which is so brutally slaughtered by the harsh and inhuman Physicalism.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

X-Men 3 Trailer

Just watched a 7-minute preview of X-Men 3. The link is here for those who haven't watched it yet. X3 appears to be quite interesting, and is one of the few movies I'm looking forward to watching this term break.

One of the most intriguing lines from the preview was spoken by Beast, "Is it cowardice to save oneself from persecution?". An extremely interesting question. In this light, it makes the film more than just a simple "Let's Fight !!! Killz !!!" type of blockbuster movie.

I've always liked movies that had some deeper layer to it, while maintaining an entertaining exterior. For example, the Matrix trilogy. We could enjoy the action scenes, while appreciating the deeper philosophies behind it after the movie. Of course, it also allows us to deny our bloodlust by saying "It's not an action movie! It's a cerebral philosophical film!".

Cerebral philosophical films disguised as action movies are definitely better than Zombie movies. I wonder what kind of twit likes Zombie films. Hmm...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

If there were duplicated WLs

I wonder what it would be like if somehow, I simultaneously duplicated 10 copies of myself in some weird experiment. Each copy would be identical in every way to the original.

What would I say ? Could I even say "Hi Wei Liangs" ? Since all the Wei Liang's are identical, won't they (we?) all behave and act in the same fashion, at the same time? The room might not hold meaningful conversation, only a simultaneous jumble of noise.

On the other hand, because each WL is identical only at point of duplication, tiny differences from that point on will cause them to act differently. Tiny differences are inevitable because all the WL's cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Hence they cannot experience the same experiences, and will therefore diverge in their behaviour. For example, WL1 may say "Hi WLs" after a minute because he(I?) was distracted by the window he was standing beside, while WL2 may say "Ouch!" because he stepped on a nail.

The greatest problem caused by the duplication is that every WL would think that he was the original copy (which actually is an oxymoron). Each would have the memory of pressing the "DUPLICATE ME" button. Since each WL is identical, there would be no way of determining the original unless there was some prior evidence (like the CCTV. Which is another issue altogether) .

But what if all the prior evidence was destroyed ! Oh no !

Everyone should take this to be a serious warning to not produce a self-duplicating device !

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

If we were thinking rocks

What would it be like to be a thinking rock ? A thinking rock is simply a rock endowed with one special ability, that to think. Otherwise it is similar to a normal, non-thinking rock.

Being a thinking rock may be excruciatingly boring. A thinking rock has no senses, and no ability to move or even act. In a sense, being a thinking rock is akin to trapping a mind inside a special prison, a small dark cell where one has neither freedom nor knowledge of the outside world. It is a depressing situation. Two possible real-life analogues of being a thinking rock are i) being in a coma and ii) being trapped in a sensory-deprivation tank.

If we had the prior experience of sensing and acting, being a thinking rock would be a deadening hell. But what if we had no such prior experience ? What if we were born as thinking rocks ? Would our experience of being a thinking rock change ?

The question is beyond my ability to answer. But I believe that the mind of a thinking rock would be significantly different, if not downright alien, to our human conception. For one, a thinking rock may not even have a sense of self. Without senses to percieve others, there is no distinct self. In fact, the mind of a thinking rock is essentially a universe comprising of nothing but itself. To a thinking rock, nothing exists but itself.

Actually, a thinking rock is really nothing more than an analogy for an absolutely abstracted mind, free of any associations with the 'real world'. It cannot sense nor interact with the 'real world'. This absolutely abstracted mind is a distinct possibility if mind-matter duality exists.
But that is another discussion for another day.

Til then, just convince yourself that thinking rocks do not exist.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Gomez : Criminal Intimidation

I really don't wish to continue discussing politics so often, but I'm not feeling particularly creative recently, hence I'm blogging about this instead of other less-serious stuff.

I'm pretty sure everyone knows about the latest twist in the "Gomez Saga". Basically the police are investigating Gomez for "criminal intimidation". As I wrote in Pandemonium's blog, this response is somewhat expected. After all the fuss they made over the issue, it would be near impossible for them to back down suddenly.

If they backed down, it would mean that the issue wasn't that important after all, which would be like declaring "This issue is crap to distract you ". This is a lousy way to conclude the saga.

On the other hand, they could continue to pursue the issue. This would be consistent with their persistence that the issue was important. Although distasteful, this is probably the only acceptable path to take.

This lousy solution is the result of a poor gambit employed by the ruling party. Of course, when I say gambit, I don't mean that the issue is crap and isn't valid. It may well be true that Gomez planned all of it, but even so, the PAP could have reacted in other, milder ways. It was their specific choice to come down fast and hard rather than mild but firm. Their choice, so they have to follow through all the way.

In hindsight, I seriously think the PAP needs some power marketing. Perhaps they need some PR experts , say from the USA. If they could get Bush elected, I don't see why they can't improve the PAP's image.

As for the SDP, I think they're better of hiring lawyers than PR experts. :)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Elections, Not Singapore Idol

The election results have just been fully released. There was really nothing surprising about the results [ such as the SDP winning a GRC or the PAP losing Ang Mo Kio :) ] . Hence my reactions to the results were rather subdued. What did interest me, though, was the after-election celebrations.

The celebrations had, perhaps by definition, an atmosphere of great joy and exuberance. To me, however, it appeared that the grounds were peopled by rabid and near fanatical supporters. The only way the scenes differed from the finale of Singapore Idol was the fact that everyone was clothed in the same colours.

If the party I voted won, I would not be overwhelmed by sudden joy. If the party lost, I would not be overcome by sorrow or anger. Politics, as the PAP likes to say, is serious business. It is also one which should be run purely by cold rationality. There should be no room for confusing and inaccurate emotions to distract us.

The emotion in these celebrations seems to suggest that many voters are relying on visceral factors than on celebral factors. This cannot be a good sign.

If politics were to follow the way I imagine it, it would admittedly be rather restrained, boring even. But I would rather it be that way than for it to degenerate into a scene reminiscent of popular entertainment.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Counting to Ten

The following is a short rhyme written according to the rules of nanofiction. For the unaquainted, nanofiction is an interesting format of creative writing where you are constrained to exactly (no more or less) 55 words. You may refer to this post for an earlier example of nanofiction.

Counting to Ten

Zeno was a funny man
He tried to count to ten.

To mortal men a simple feat
Just use toes on feet!

Alarms ringed in Zeno's head
Achilles lost to a turtle's lead!

Counting to ten cannot be done
Not even to number one!

Finally Zeno decided to cheat
By taking numbers to be discrete!

I shall admit that I am no poet. Quite sadly my knowledge of poetry, apart from knowledge of the technical devices, is essentially zero. Please forgive me if some of your brain cells have exploded or otherwise gone AWOL after reading my rhyme.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Something Good about the SDP

Just in case you're wondering, I am not really a supporter of the SDP. However, for opposite week, I will take on the role of the Devil's Advocate to highlight some bright spots about the SDP. Basically, rather than looking at the individual candidates, I will focus on some of the policies suggested by the SDP in their Manifesto. This is because I wish to focus exclusively on the strongest points of the SDP (admittedly, their candidates are not their strongest point).

Yawning Bread wrote that the SDP mainfesto 'is strongest in its section "Establishing a free and democratic political system"'. I will have to agree. Some of the policies recommended by the SDP are :

Establish an independent election commission
Introduce the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Respect freedom of speech, assembly and association

These three points I would gladly support. In fact, I believe that these three policies are strong enough on merit that they can, and should, be implemented immediately. Also, it is unlikely that there will be any major negative repercussions (such as social instabilty) in implementing them.

The SDP also had some other noteworthy ideas, such as :

Abolishing the GRC system
Ending the Nominated MP system
Abolish the Internal Security Act

Now, this batch of ideas are noteworthy not because they should be immediately implemented, but because they suggest changes to the present system which is flawed in some ways. For example, abolishing the GRC system right now would be foolish. However, I think that it would be a good goal to attain in, say 20 years. On the way, we will come up with ways to change the people's mindset such that the reasons for GRCs will no longer exist ( such as when people will no longer consider race as a criterion during elections). The GRCs will stay for now, but it must go when it is no longer needed.

Meanwhile, I do not agree with the ideas to end the NMP system or to abolish the ISA. However, I think the SDP should be given partial credit in saying that these should not remain as they are now. A right step would be to have greater transparency in both the NMP system and the ISA, and to tighten the controls on both systems such that they cannot be abused by the Government ( I'm not saying it is being abused, though) for their own purposes.

That basically ends my post on the SDP's ideas. In summary, I think that the SDP has identified some problem areas with today's system, but their plans to plug these problems tend to be extreme. They should realise that politics is often about compromise and is more of slow, evolutionary improvements rather than explosive and revolutionary change. That said, the rest of their ideas are, in my opinion, rather unsound. But I cannot be the sole judge on this. I would recommend everyone to visit their website to judge for themselves.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Cheaters in NUS

Perhaps its a bit too late to comment on this, since my exams were over for quite a while. But I think I have to raise this issue, that of cheaters in NUS.

I remember being quite angry upon seeing cheaters in the exam hall last week. These cheaters were blatantly looking and flipping through the question booklets before the exam begun. Some even had to audacity to continue reading through the question booklets after they were warned to stop . This has got to stop.

I would admit that exams are very important. I can empathise with the pressure to perform in exams. But these are not sufficent grounds to cheat. In fact, these reasons only strengthen the grounds against cheating. It is precisely because exams are important that cheating cannot be condoned.

Exams seek to examine the candidate in their competency. Although I admit that often what is examined is the ability to score in exams, we must all agree that in no circumstances is the ability to cheat being tested. The tests are not a good measure of our abilty, but this does not justify cheating.

Without a doubt, cheating is wrong, but what appalls me more is the indifferent attitude some have towards others cheating. Comments like "That's life" or "What can we do. Live with it" only make me more mad. Resignation will definitely not make the problem go away. If anything, this indifferent attitude only encourages cheaters to continue with their ways, and is akin to abeting the crime. Perhaps these apathetic students are fine with losing marks to cheaters. But these marks are not theirs solely to lose, because their indifference cost all honest people marks.

What I would recommend students to do during exams is to keep a sharp lookout for dishonest people. If you see someone cheating, immediately inform an invigilator. If cheaters can be selfish enough to ignore the interests of others, I can see no reason to be concerned with the future of the cheater.

Also, I hope that invigilators will be more vigilant and more willing to confront cheaters. Of course, in many cases there's also the burden of proof. If I were an invigilator I would carry a video camera. With hard evidence there's nowhere to hide.

Cheaters beware.