Friday, July 31, 2009

Free Speech

What is free speech? I suppose some would think that free speech is the right to freely voice our thoughts, to speak our twopence. However, that is not all. We often neglect the second, and more important element, which is the reciprocal duty to have others, even those who hold opinions most contrary and repulsive to that of our own, voice their own views. That is free speech, for there is no right that does not come with a reciprocal duty.

If it were an ideal world, free speech would allow a dialogue between conflicting views, where listeners and debaters alike would calmly and amicably hear the arguments, and by the process of reason, arrive at their conclusions. But it is not an ideal world; it is a world where we often suppress the views of others.

There are occasions where a party seems to hold views so obviously abhorrent and grievously wrong, and yet vehemently continues to air these poisoned views to the public. And sometimes, we rise up and forcefully quieten these parties. Is this right, I would ask. Perhaps we have given in to fear, a fear that the naive or easily impassioned would fall for these venomous words.

If it were a perfect world, our forceful silencing would be immoral and wrong, for we have made meaningful dialogue impossible, hence doing disservice to our own beliefs and views, for those that believe themselves to be in the right ought to have no fear of having their views tested. But it is not a perfect world, nor are we by any means perfect. We are too foolish, and too easily impassioned. Perhaps only by preventing the extreme voice can we maintain our fragile peace. It is a difficult calculation nonetheless.

It is my hope that in the near future, humans might not be as easily deceived, or as easily moved to arms, as we are now. Perhaps then can we all enjoy the rights of free speech without destroying our peace.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Goodworks Organ Bank

Enter Samuel, a patient dying from kidney disease. Long organ transplant queues and incompatible organ matches have left him in desperate need of an organ transplant, regardless of the means. But he will soon learn that some means are not worth the costs...

A man storms out from a hospital. This is Samuel, who has just been informed that the organ transplant queue has shortened - he now has to wait for only about 2 years. But his doctor also tells him that he has about 3 months to live. Tough luck, the doctor says, but still he has a chance of making it that far, though it is an infinitesimal chance at best.

As Samuel makes his way to his car, a well dressed man approaches him. The man introduces himself as an agent of the Goodworks Organ Bank, a medical organization specially dealing with organ transplants. The agent describes the vast repository of organs the Bank has in its vaults, and claims to have a kidney match for Samuel, and at good rates too. Samuel is doubtful, but the agent reassures Samuel that all the organs are legal and there is documentation to prove their origin and quality.

Samuel, having no alternative, decides to take up the offer. At the Goodworks Organ Bank, a bank officer is sent to deal with Samuel. The officer explains the prevailing interest rates for the kidney. Samuel notes the low cost of the kidney, and signs the contract. But he neglects to examine the contract...

The transplantation operation proceeds successfully. A few months later, Samuel recieves a letter from the Goodworks Organ Bank, requesting payment. Samuel is stymied- he thinks he has fully paid for all the expenses of the operation. Thinking that it is an error on the Bank's part, he ignores the letter.

A few more months pass. Each month, Samuel has been recieving letters from the Goodworks Organ Bank, requesting payment. One day, feeling that something is very wrong, Samuel calls up the Organ Bank regarding the matter. He argues that he has fully paid for all expenses, and that he has the neccessary transactional documents to prove it. The bank officer only agrees cryptically that he is right, that the cash expenses have been paid...

More months pass. One day, when Samuel is leaving for work, a van painted with "Goodworks Debt Recollection Services" on its side pulls up on the driveway. A few men then proceed to knock Samuel out and drag him into the van. When he awakes, Samuel finds himself strapped to an operating table. Samuel recognizes the doctor as a member of the Goodworks Organ Bank, and screams for an explanation. The doctor replies that Samuel has borrowed an organ from the Bank, and has yet to service that debt. Hence, the Bank is forcefully recollecting that initial loan, plus interest...

Singapore Addresses Format

I was always confounded by the format of Singapore addresses. For the uninitiated, the format is as such:
Block Number Road Name
Apartment Number
Postal Code
What I don't get is how it is ordered, i.e., the endian-ness. If I had a say I would have ordered it with the major address elements first, like the road name, followed by the block number then the apartment number. It only makes sense; it mimics how humans find their way around. One doesn't try to find the apartment block without knowing which bloody road it is located!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Heaven and Hell

If one must either go to heaven or hell upon dying, and if heaven and hell are infinitely good and bad, then some conclusions are inevitable.

Firstly, if one is absolutely sure that one would go to heaven, for instance being guaranteed entry by merely worshiping a particular deity or denomination, then the conclusion is that one should die now. Being on earth is clearly worse than being in heaven.

Secondly, a person intent on doing good would go around slaughtering people. The rationale is that everything will be sorted out by divine entities; the good would gain earlier entry into heaven, while the evil would be banished earlier to hell. Either case, good is done. A valid argument.

Beware of people who ask, "Do you believe that heaven is infinitely good, and hell infinitely bad?"

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Two Noses

One day I woke up with two noses. It was very queer, for I distinctly recalled going to bed with only one nose the previous night.

I studied myself in the mirror. My two noses were positioned on both cheeks of my face, symmetric. It then struck me- which was the new nose, and which was the original? Or, for that matter, was it possible that neither was the original, both having spawned during the night, with my first nose being whisked away to somewhere. I was unable to decide on which was the truth, since I did not recall any peculiarities about my first nose. Perhaps all noses were swapped and replaced in the night, and we were all unaware of this because we did not study our noses with enough intensity.

It was with some reluctance that I decided to venture outside with my strange affliction. And indeed, my noses brought me much anguish and embarrassment. If only I could describe in entirety the variety of dirty looks that I received! And sometimes the cruelest of jokes were brought to bear- "My friend has two noses. How does he smell? Bad!"

Gradually, though, I got used to having two noses, and I suppose the novelty of the sight wore off. I eventually came to realize that having two noses did come with some benefits otherwise denied to ordinary people. Some people believe that having twice the number of noses merely increases your olfactory senses; a matter of degree. They could not be further from the truth. Rather than just having an enhanced sense of smell, my olfactory abilities were of a superior nature and capability. Just as having a pair of ears grants binaural hearing, having a pair of noses enabled me to accurately locate the direction and distance of a smell. It was an interesting ability to employ, though not always of extreme practical use.

Socially, I did have to make some adjustments. It is always awkward to know who farted in the lift, or of the true source of pungent odors. However, once people became aware of my olfactorial-location abilities, personal hygiene seemed to increase. Not a bad outcome for the strange event of having two noses, if I might add.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Factors for Success

I've often thought about what personal factors contribute to success. To clarify, I'm not talking about the big SUCCESS, but a smaller success at any tasks that one may face. After a long period of consideration, I arrived at a set of three factors which I hold to be quite important to attaining any type of success.

The first factor is perhaps the most obvious, talent. This needs little explanation; there are always those who are born more athletic, or intelligent, or just so particularly well suited to some peculiar task. Talent offers greatest advantages, but it is the greatest tragedy that talent cannot be acquired.

For the rest of us, we most often rely on the next factor for success- effort and hard work. For almost every task, continual effort put in towards improving one's ability would eventually yield some success. True, it may require vastly more time and energy than one born with some talent, but success attained in this fashion will be more respected and admired.

Everyone knows about talent and effort; it is indeed true that they are very important. However, much fewer know about the last factor for success- method. What is method, one might ask. Method is the most efficient and most tailored way of performing a task. Method makes the difficult task easier; it uses your strengths and avoids your weaknesses. Some use their wits to derive method; others just chance upon it. But method is important, nonetheless. We often see people putting in hard work almost fruitlessly, because they have chosen an incorrect place or way to apply effort. Conversely, we sometimes see the obviously talented being defeated by the ordinary man who adopts some queer approach the same problem. Method is about taking the smartest shortcuts to success.

Now, I present these three factors in an illustration, in the form of a triangle.
A Superb Illustration !Now, having just one of these factors is often enough to guarantee some measure of success; it is enough to deny that one is an absolute wastrel or imbecile. Having two is possibly enough to attain distinction; but still, without talent, one will always lack the spark to attain true greatness; without effort, one will not be held with true admiration as someone doing full justice to his abilities; without method, one will always be frustrated with the lack of greater achievements despite having both talent and putting in great effort.

To attain the pinnacle of success requires all three. Talent is the spark, the initial anointment to the path towards the final goal. Effort is the driver, the force that makes progress on the road to success. Lastly, method is the skilled navigator that selects the paved road, the fastest route, such that the greatest and farthest distance can be traveled. Only with all three can the greatest that man can achieve be revealed.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Estimating NUS EE Statistics II

Since my last post I did a more accurate count on the actual numbers, and the result is sufficiently different for me to revise my previous statistics.

The actual data is:
12.7% - First
28.9% - Second Upper
28.6% - Second Lower
10.7% - Third
19.1% - Pass

Using this new data and the previously described method, the new statistics are:
µ = 3.812
σ = 0.611

This puts me at about the 80th percentile of EE graduates in this cohort. The new data also portrays the Second Lower degree a lot better than previously suggested, though it still means that a person with a Second Lower is likelier to be below average than above average.

Note that however the normal distribution is less good fit with this new data. A better statistical fit may need to be found.

Estimating NUS EE Statistics

The NUS commencement booklet has much data, including the names and honors classification of each graduate in the cohort. Privacy issues aside, this vast amount of data can be put to some use.

Doing a very rough count of the number of graduating EE students in each honors class, I found the following numbers: 15% First, 30% Second Upper, 30% Second Lower, 10% Third, 15% Pass. Coupled with the additional knowledge of the CAP requirement to obtain these honors classifications, I was able to obtain an estimate of the statistics of the NUS EE cohort.

First, I assumed a normal fit for the CAP distribution. Combining this with the known honors distribution, I was able to obtain a series of equations, like 0.15 = P(X > 4.5) , which represents the First Class degrees. These equations are made normal by assuming two parameters, µ and σ.

Of course, the linear system yields no solution. Hence, it is necessary to find the best fit for the linear system, such as via linear least squares. I used an applet for this task, arriving at the values of µ=3.884 and σ=0.626. In other words, the mean CAP for an ECE graduate is 3.884 while the std. dev is 0.626.

Now, all this seems pretty useless, with one exception. Using the normal statistics, I was able to compute the percentile that I was at, given the knowledge of my CAP at graduation. This should be a computation that anyone with a basic knowledge of statistics can perform.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Google OS ?

Google is developing a new OS for netbooks. The OS seems to be an extension of Google's Chrome browser. Being an owner of a netbook myself, I think that this idea is pretty great.

When I use my netbook, the primary function is to surf the net. Now, nothing major is lost if the core functionality of the OS is centered mainly on the browser. On the contrary, if one trims the superfluous elements of an OS , one might be better off; faster boot times (an instant-on, if possible), better battery life, a more net-centric user experience. It's a great idea.

Truth to be told, the browser, coupled with the power of the internet, can be said to duplicate many of the most-used functions of a netbook. Music? Just upload your entire song library online and stream. Games? Flash-based games come to mind. Internet messenging? Web-based interfaces exist; it is not difficult to integrate this function into the browser too.

One major omission is noted; that of productivity software, though it may turn out to be a moot point. Word processing is a function that is most essential, but it also the easiest to duplicate on a browser; even as I type this post on Blogger, I can't help but note that the Blogger interface allows for a good number of features found on word processors. Presentation software may be a bigger hurdle to overcome.

Of course, one can't realistically imagine the new Google OS to be entirely internet based. However, I can imagine various add-ons, downloadable from the internet, to fill in the gap. One of the greatest boons of Firefox is the ability to add almost any functionality via add-ons; we can only imagine the same with any future Google OS.

Monday, July 06, 2009

A Universe in a Grain of Sand

I am extremely fond of the first few lines of William Blake's poem "Auguries of Innocence". It goes like this:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
I find it extremely descriptive of my personal philosophy.

There are multitudes of people who wish to explore new places, to acquire new experiences, and to taste new adventures. In that mad pursuit of adventure, they go farther and further, ever more reckless and bold. And yet, I find that that approach is ultimately hollow and devoid of meaning. They may seek, but they will not find, for they will never stop to see the world in a grain of sand.

It may be true that they have experienced more, but the use of the exterior function is useless and irrelevant. Many things have access to the exterior function, to experience. A dog sticking its head out of a car window, tongue waggling, can be said to be indulging in a degree of experiences far more detailed than that of a human. I contend that it is pointless, for it is only the interior function, that of thought, that is important.

One does not need to journey to distant places, to tour unfamiliar worlds, to taste the novel game, to claim to have a broadened mind. A cripple, even if confined to within the recesses of a prison cell, is by far superior if he has subscribed to a regiment of introspective reflection.