Monday, January 05, 2009


Happy New Year 2009

Unbelievable but true, 2008 has come and gone and a new year 2009 is here. 2009 promises to to be an exiting year, here are the main facts about 2009 you have to know now:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


The publication game

When you are in academia, most of your time is devoted to publishing. The working cycle can roughly be characterized like this:

1. Do some research
2. Write a paper about it
3. Give a talk
4. Go back to 1.

Publications are seen as a sort of currency in the academic world, only that they are not really exchangeable for any goods or services. Still, everybody needs publications: students need to have a minimum number of published papers before they can graduate, professors also need a good publications track to attract more research funding and push ahead in their career and finally the department and the university also need publications to do well in the next ranking.
A downside of the enormous pressure to publish is that there are actually a lot of poor quality papers out there (another reasons for the poor quality of a paper in computer science is that computer scientists are not always the most skilled writers, but that is another issue).

There are a number of places where you can publish your results, but the most important ones are certainly peer-reviewed conferences and journals. Not that all conference or journal would be the same, of course there are also different levels of prestige and every field will have its own top-ranked journals and conferences (yes, these things also have rankings). But even if the paper is published in a good conference or journal does not always guaranty that the stuff is qctually good. Just recently, I read a paper from a top ranked journal in Bioinformatics and was quite shocked to see a lot of flaws in their system. Although none of them was threatening the final conclusion of the paper, it at best shows that the authors were not experts in machine learning algorithms. Still this paper got published. On the other hand, I sometimes feel a bit happy inside when I see a poor paper, because that means we can go and build a better system than theirs! So maybe poor papers eventually have a purpose in this world, too.



That's a cool convocation speech

One of these things that people send each other by email, but this one is really good. I haven't had my convocation speech yet, and unless somebody wants to sponsor me a short holiday in Germany next summer, I might never have one. But if I had a convocation, I wish the speaker would give a fresh and humorous speech like this one.


Address at NTU Convocation 2008 by Adrian Tan (author of Teenage Textbook)

Life and How to Survive It

I must say thank you to the faculty and staff of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information for inviting me to give your convocation address. It’s a wonderful honour and a privilege for me to speak here for ten minutes without fear of contradiction, defamation or retaliation. I say this as a Singaporean and more so as a husband.

My wife is a wonderful person and perfect in every way except one. She is the editor of a magazine. She corrects people for a living. She has honed her expert skills over a quarter of a century, mostly by practising at home during conversations between her and me.

On the other hand, I am a litigator. Essentially, I spend my day telling people how wrong they are. I make my living being disagreeable.

Nevertheless, there is perfect harmony in our matrimonial home. That is because when an editor and a litigator have an argument, the one who triumphs is always the wife.

And so I want to start by giving one piece of advice to the men: when you’ve already won her heart, you don’t need to win every argument.

Marriage is considered one milestone of life. Some of you may already be married. Some of you may never be married. Some of you will be married. Some of you will enjoy the experience so much, you will be married many, many times. Good for you.

The next big milestone in your life is today: your graduation. The end of education. You’re done learning.

You’ve probably been told the big lie that “Learning is a lifelong process” and that therefore you will continue studying and taking masters’ degrees and doctorates and professorships and so on. You know the sort of people who tell you that? Teachers. Don’t you think there is some measure of conflict of interest? They are in the business of learning, after all. Where would they be without you? They need you to be repeat customers.

The good news is that they’re wrong.

The bad news is that you don’t need further education because your entire life is over. It is gone. That may come as a shock to some of you. You’re in your teens or early twenties. People may tell you that you will live to be 70, 80, 90 years old. That is your life expectancy.

I love that term: life expectancy. We all understand the term to mean the average life span of a group of people. But I’m here to talk about a bigger idea, which is what you expect from your life.

You may be very happy to know that Singapore is currently ranked as the country with the third highest life expectancy. We are behind Andorra and Japan, and tied with San Marino. It seems quite clear why people in those countries, and ours, live so long. We share one thing in common: our football teams are all hopeless. There’s very little danger of any of our citizens having their pulses raised by watching us play in the World Cup. Spectators are more likely to be lulled into a gentle and restful nap.

Singaporeans have a life expectancy of 81.8 years. Singapore men live to an average of 79.21 years, while Singapore women live more than five years longer, probably to take into account the additional time they need to spend in the bathroom.

So here you are, in your twenties, thinking that you’ll have another 40 years to go. Four decades in which to live long and prosper.

Bad news. Read the papers. There are people dropping dead when they’re 50, 40, 30 years old. Or quite possibly just after finishing their convocation. They would be very disappointed that they didn’t meet their life expectancy.

I’m here to tell you this. Forget about your life expectancy.

After all, it’s calculated based on an average. And you never, ever want to expect being average.

Revisit those expectations. You might be looking forward to working, falling in love, marrying, raising a family. You are told that, as graduates, you should expect to find a job paying so much, where your hours are so much, where your responsibilities are so much.

That is what is expected of you. And if you live up to it, it will be an awful waste.

If you expect that, you will be limiting yourself. You will be living your life according to boundaries set by average people. I have nothing against average people. But no one should aspire to be them. And you don’t need years of education by the best minds in Singapore to prepare you to be average.

What you should prepare for is mess. Life’s a mess. You are not entitled to expect anything from it. Life is not fair. Everything does not balance out in the end. Life happens, and you have no control over it. Good and bad things happen to you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Your degree is a poor armour against fate.

Don’t expect anything. Erase all life expectancies. Just live. Your life is over as of today. At this point in time, you have grown as tall as you will ever be, you are physically the fittest you will ever be in your entire life and you are probably looking the best that you will ever look. This is as good as it gets. It is all downhill from here. Or up. No one knows.

What does this mean for you? It is good that your life is over.

Since your life is over, you are free. Let me tell you the many wonderful things that you can do when you are free.

The most important is this: do not work.

Work is anything that you are compelled to do. By its very nature, it is undesirable.

Work kills. The Japanese have a term “Karoshi”, which means death from overwork. That’s the most dramatic form of how work can kill. But it can also kill you in more subtle ways. If you work, then day by day, bit by bit, your soul is chipped away, disintegrating until there’s nothing left. A rock has been ground into sand and dust.

There’s a common misconception that work is necessary. You will meet people working at miserable jobs. They tell you they are “making a living”. No, they’re not. They’re dying, frittering away their fast-extinguishing lives doing things which are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, harmful.

People will tell you that work ennobles you, that work lends you a certain dignity. Work makes you free. The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. Utter nonsense.

Do not waste the vast majority of your life doing something you hate so that you can spend the small remainder sliver of your life in modest comfort. You may never reach that end anyway.

Resist the temptation to get a job. Instead, play. Find something you enjoy doing. Do it. Over and over again. You will become good at it for two reasons: you like it, and you do it often. Soon, that will have value in itself.

I like arguing, and I love language. So, I became a litigator. I enjoy it and I would do it for free. If I didn’t do that, I would’ve been in some other type of work that still involved writing fiction - probably a sports journalist.

So what should you do? You will find your own niche. I don’t imagine you will need to look very hard. By this time in your life, you will have a very good idea of what you will want to do. In fact, I’ll go further and say the ideal situation would be that you will not be able to stop yourself pursuing your passions. By this time you should know what your obsessions are. If you enjoy showing off your knowledge and feeling superior, you might become a teacher.

Find that pursuit that will energise you, consume you, become an obsession. Each day, you must rise with a restless enthusiasm. If you don’t, you are working.

Most of you will end up in activities which involve communication. To those of you I have a second message: be wary of the truth. I’m not asking you to speak it, or write it, for there are times when it is dangerous or impossible to do those things. The truth has a great capacity to offend and injure, and you will find that the closer you are to someone, the more care you must take to disguise or even conceal the truth. Often, there is great virtue in being evasive, or equivocating. There is also great skill. Any child can blurt out the truth, without thought to the consequences. It takes great maturity to appreciate the value of silence.

In order to be wary of the truth, you must first know it. That requires great frankness to yourself. Never fool the person in the mirror.

I have told you that your life is over, that you should not work, and that you should avoid telling the truth. I now say this to you: be hated.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you know anyone who hates you? Yet every great figure who has contributed to the human race has been hated, not just by one person, but often by a great many. That hatred is so strong it has caused those great figures to be shunned, abused, murdered and in one famous instance, nailed to a cross.

One does not have to be evil to be hated. In fact, it’s often the case that one is hated precisely because one is trying to do right by one’s own convictions. It is far too easy to be liked, one merely has to be accommodating and hold no strong convictions. Then one will gravitate towards the centre and settle into the average. That cannot be your role. There are a great many bad people in the world, and if you are not offending them, you must be bad yourself. Popularity is a sure sign that you are doing something wrong.

The other side of the coin is this: fall in love.

I didn’t say “be loved”. That requires too much compromise. If one changes one’s looks, personality and values, one can be loved by anyone.

Rather, I exhort you to love another human being. It may seem odd for me to tell you this. You may expect it to happen naturally, without deliberation. That is false. Modern society is anti-love. We’ve taken a microscope to everyone to bring out their flaws and shortcomings. It far easier to find a reason not to love someone, than otherwise. Rejection requires only one reason. Love requires complete acceptance. It is hard work - the only kind of work that I find palatable.

Loving someone has great benefits. There is admiration, learning, attraction and something which, for the want of a better word, we call happiness. In loving someone, we become inspired to better ourselves in every way. We learn the truth worthlessness of material things. We celebrate being human. Loving is good for the soul.

Loving someone is therefore very important, and it is also important to choose the right person. Despite popular culture, love doesn’t happen by chance, at first sight, across a crowded dance floor. It grows slowly, sinking roots first before branching and blossoming. It is not a silly weed, but a mighty tree that weathers every storm.

You will find, that when you have someone to love, that the face is less important than the brain, and the body is less important than the heart.

You will also find that it is no great tragedy if your love is not reciprocated. You are not doing it to be loved back. Its value is to inspire you.

Finally, you will find that there is no half-measure when it comes to loving someone. You either don’t, or you do with every cell in your body, completely and utterly, without reservation or apology. It consumes you, and you are reborn, all the better for it.

Don’t work. Avoid telling the truth. Be hated. Love someone.

You’re going to have a busy life. Thank goodness there’s no life expectancy


Monday, November 24, 2008



The semester is over (so FAST!!) and now the exams are here. Not that I had that many exams, merely two finals in this week and that is it already. Today was the first and it was quite sh*** already. I am not sure whether it was really so difficult, but it didn't go all to smooth.

Which brought me back to think what would be my current CAP if the exam does not turn out to be an A. For those who don't know what CAP is, it is basically a weighted average score of a student's grades. And because our graduate school expects its scholars to top of the crop, we must maintain a CAP of at least 3.8 which is about B+ and above. For that reason, one might be tempted to sign up for a few easy modules (anything in management will do, I guess) to increase the CAP score. And in fact, students sometimes take up modules that are supposed to be easy to increase their scores. Only what happens if a lot of people decide to make the same move and end up int he same class? As the scores are moderated, the standard of the class should automatically rise and it should get harder to score A.

But now is not enough time to make a detailed study in student's behavior, the next exam is on Wednesday. Hopefully that one will be more successful and I can increase my CAP to > 3.8 again ;)


Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Can my computer pass my exams?

I am taking a Chinese module this semester and after a long while actively continue my long struggle to master this amazingly beautiful and also amazingly difficult language. My last post that was in Chinese was a homework for that course.

So today there was the final exam for this semester. The exam consisted of the following parts that each contributed 20% of the total score:

1. Make sentences: given a Chinese word make a sentence with this word
2. Reading comprehension: read a short story and answer the questions
3. Spot the error: find the error in a sentence and correct it
4. Word jumble: re-arrange the words to form a correct sentence
5. Fill the blanks: Complete a sentence fragment using a given word

After finishing the exam, I started wondering, if I could actually build a computer program to solve the exam that I had just completed. And actually, I believe that most of the questions should be relatively easy to solve for a computer.

1. For making sentences, you could simply go and use a concordancer to collect a list of sentences that use the given word from a corpus or from the web. This seems a bit like cheating, as it does not involve any 'creative' aspect nor does it require a deeper semantic understanding of the word that is asked for. On the other hand, it seems to be okay for a student to memorize example sentences that he read before the test and put them in whenever it seems appropriate for him/her.

2. Reading comprehension is the the task that is probably the most difficult so far, because it requires two extremely difficult NLP tasks: natural language understanding and generation.
There is a whole bunch of work on these tasks, but the task is definitely hard. I really wonder if any NLP langauge understanding system could have done a job on the paper today.

3. Spot the error is a task that is already implemented in some commercial applications like Microsoft Word. So far most systems can only recognize a limited number of errors, for example determinor choice, but they can probably get 50%-60% of the questions in the exam correct.

4. To find the correct order of words is well-studied problem in machine translation (MT). Most MT systems translate the words and then try to solve the word re-arrangement problem in a consecutive step. One important model for this step is a n-gram language model, which basically computes the probability of a sentence by decomposing it into smaller sequences of length n where n is typically 2 or 3. I believe that a simple 3-gram model trained on a large enough Chinese corpus could have done a pretty good job on my exam today.

5. This step is somewhere between the first two tasks. Not sure, how well this works, but with enogh data it should probably be possible to solve this step by using a concordancer and a langauge model as well. Maybe it won't give the most meaningful sentences but probably good enough to come up with a well formed sentence.

This all, seems to be more a toy application, but it is an accepted standard to test the language competence of primary school students and second language learners by test questions like the above. If a computer could solve them just as well, it would show a certain langauge competence of the machine.


Saturday, September 20, 2008


LAC2201 - 我的家人


我妈妈爸爸住在Paderborn。Paderborn是一个小城市, 在德国西部。妈妈当电脑教师,爸爸已经退休了。他们喜欢旅行。如果他们有时间他们常常到外国去旅行。


未婚妻 wei4 hun1 qi1 fiancee
医科学生 yi1 ke1 xue2 sheng1 medical student
工程学 gong1 cheng2 xue2 engineering
退休 tui4 xiu1 retirement, retire
计算机科学 ji1suan4ji1ke1xue2 computer science
壁球 bi4qiu2 squash
印尼yin4 ni2 Indonesia


Tuesday, September 16, 2008




下个星期天是中秋接。 中秋节是中国的很有有名的节日。中秋节是 八十五号。
家里的人一起看月,开花灯,吃月饼 和听李白的诗。

在新加坡中秋节也叫“月饼节”。月饼节以前大家都去买月饼。我也去买了。我跟我订婚人和我弟弟一起去。新加坡的莱佛士坊可以买很都种月饼。但是月饼真不太便宜。一个饼十多块。我门买十七个饼。有的饼给我们的朋友,有的给我父母, 有的我们自己吃。 但是月饼很有糖一定不要吃太多。



Monday, September 08, 2008


中秋节 -Mid-Autumn festival

It is the time of the mid-autumn festival, or also called the mooncake festival in Singapore. At this time of the year, the moon is especially round and beautiful, so people gather together, light lanterns, eat mooncake and enjoy the beauty of the moon.

Today we bought our supply of mooncakes. The traditional cakes are filled with a paste made from lotus or red bean, but these days you can also buy more exotic version that taste like, green tea, black sesame, or even durian :)
The cakes are not cheap though, one cake costs about S$10-S$13 (the small cakes are slightly cheaper).

According to a popular folk story, the mooncake festival plays a role in the rebellion of the Chinese against the Mongolian rulers during the Yun dynasty. The Chinese passed little messages when to start the uprising inside the mooncake, because the Mongolians would not eat it (and therefore would not suspect anything). Today, some mooncakes have a egg yolk inside that represents the message.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?