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Saturday, Aug 15, 2009 - 19:21 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

- -
Grad Week One

(Editor's note: Mr. Ham was supposed to submit a post, but has requested for an extension. His bonus has, of course, been withheld.)

1949年只有社会主义才能救中国;
1979年只有资本主义才能救中国;
1989年只有中国才能救社会主义;
2009年只有中国才能救资本主义。

- China, socialism and capitalism (source) (translation)


Before Grad Week One (before 9th Aug)

More DotA and gaming, of the sort that leads one to feel that one has accomplished something, when one has in fact accomplished nothing. Tsk tsk. Wins became harder to come by, with many defeats snatched from the jaws of victory, in the immortal words of yiren.


Sunday, National Day

Seen one, seen them all, or at least that was my attitude towards the NDP. Soldiers marching with clockwork precision, parachute jumps, the giant flag helicopter flyby, choreographed mass displays... it never deviates much. So I didn't know what possessed me to sit through maybe a third of the parade this year. What's that... pole dancing?! Well, now!


Monday, National Day Holiday

Watched Up at Cathay (non-3D version voted for) with the usual gang. As forewarned, the first 20 minutes were a real tearjerker, and that's not even including the animated short before that, Partly Cloudy.

(Spoiler warning)

The last bit of the movie was a big bust-up between an old explorer (the protagonist's hero in his childhood) and the protagonist. The old explorer had settled in a hidden corner of South America for ages, trying to find a live specimen of a giant bird to rebuild his reputation, after scientists had denounced a skeleton he brought back as fake.

To me, it was more than a little strange that the protagonist didn't simply give up the giant bird, which he didn't even like, and before the explorer implied that he had killed perceived rivals in his search. Grab Mrs. Bird and her chicks, hightail it back to civilization, and everybody's happy, no? Given the difficulty of locating even a single specimen, the giant birds were likely functionally extinct anyhow.

Notable pop culture references: the snipe hunt, and also dogs playing poker.


Tuesday, Grad Career Day One

Back to being a student again. Got on the same SBS bus to NUS, the same shuttle bus to COM1, and the same lecture room where the Game Development module was held last year. The course this time was Foundations of Algorithms, with the professor helming it supposedly once in charge of Informatics Olympiad training. I will however reserve comment on the lecture content until I get the homework done.


Wednesday

"An unconfirmed report on an Internet website
said that DNA samples taken from the man killed
in a raid last weekend do not match those of
terror leader Noordin Top's children."


- Front page of the Straits Times, Aug 12, verbatim
(why doesn't the ST publish something from this blog then?)


Busier day than most. Buffet lunch at 12:30 p.m. with the CVWO people (the prof kindly gave a treat) at The Ridge cafe, NUS Guild House. This took a couple of hours, and led into a meeting with another prof, who actually took the time to email those who had indicated interest in his research area - quite touching.

Well, I had suspected that there weren't too many locals taking up a Ph.D. in CS, but the prof confirmed it with his remark to the other two students in attendance, whom were both from China. A couple of faux pas-es followed, as I couldn't recall whether he was one of the two profs who had taken me for the Computer Graphics module, which to be fair was years ago (he didn't), despite him saying that I looked familiar. It turned out that he was one of my FYP examiners (oops).

His projects were fairly interesting, but since they're not publicly announced, I shouldn't say much about them. Next order of business after the hour-long session ended somewhat after four was a swim at the SRC pool with al-who-shalt-not-be-named-vinny, who had discovered that our AlumNUS cards were good for free lockers and hot showers. I don't think too many people know about this perk.

Dinner next, and a tour of the Adaptive Research lab by psw (nice carpeting), and then the Foundation on Database Systems lecture, which again had like fifty students. It was about what I expected, thus I put in my module selections once I reached home; hopefully I'll be able to get my top choices.


Thursday

Inadvertently arrowed triceo to organize the Mind Cafe outing (thanks) for the jobless 4O kias. Went to the Princep Street one, located in a shophouse very close by the SMU city campus, and a short walk from Buona Vista MRT.

We got the $5-for-four-hours-from-two-to-six package, inclusive of four free drinks each, which would have accounted for the five bucks alone. The cafe owners had good reason to put out this offer though, as the place was mostly empty being a weekday. Nobody wanted to play Munchkin this time round, so we got a recommendation, and were given Pictureka!

Pictureka! is a kid's game that consists of nine boards filled with drawings that may be placed together in any orientation and combination to form a large composite board, and a stack of cards. The game then consists of flipping over one card at a time and trying to find the objects specified on the card (e.g. "five cows", "ten sharp things" or "twenty things that can be found in the toilet"), or bidding to find the most of some group of objects, which quickly got ridiculous when it emerged that there was no penalty for failure (thus "I bid 100000 spiders!")

Needless to say, it didn't last long, and we went on to Citadels, which the Europe grad trip people had played several times at least. kkok won it, as well as the Dirty Minds game. Dirty Minds is a game where players take turns to read out a three-liner riddle. Any player who manages to guess the answer after hearing just the first line draws three cards, or two after the second line, and a single card if all the lines are required. First to complete the word D-I-R-T-Y with his cards, wins. Note that this is one of those games which eventually becomes unplayable, once players memorize the answers.

Example riddle (taken from the website):

I'm a four letter word.
I'm a name for a woman.
I end in u-n-t.
What am I?

Law's recommendation was Imaginiff, where "each round, one of the players is chosen as the 'subject' of a question. The question has six multiple choice answers. The question is read aloud and players vote on the answer they think is correct. Points are awarded to the players that chose the most popular answer." (Note that the subject's own choice isn't given any special weight).

This is in fact sort of a Keynesian beauty contest, where the players' actual thoughts aren't as important as what they think the other players think. Indeed, where a clear correlation cannot be found, players might do well to just pick any choice that stands out, i.e. an abnormally short, long or outrageous choice.

Finally, we split up to widen our options (not that many games support more than six players well), and my group tried Container. The preceding wikipedia link describes the game in more detail that I can justify copying and pasting here, so I will assume the reader has perused that before proceeding to the following analysis.

Simply put, Container is a game of economic decisions - how many factories and warehouses do I build, and which goods do I buy and at what price? Quick recap: Players may build factories to produce containers, which can then be bought by some other player to stock their warehouses. Some other player (not the owner of the warehouses) may then steer his ship into the warehouser's port, and transport those goods to the island, where all other players may bid for the entire shipment.

Finally, the shipper either accepts the highest bid and draws an equal amount from the bank as a government subsidy, or matches the highest bid to claim the shipment for himself. At the end of the game, each container owned by a player is then allocated a predetermined amount of Victory Points depending on colour, the distribution being private information known only to the player himself.

There are a few basic strategy considerations to be kept in mind (the BoardGameGeek forums helps here). Firstly, funds are hard to come by early on, as each player begins with only $20, some may well invest in more factories/warehouses, and no new funds enter the game until somebody ships out to the island and accepts a bid. This is an important point, since building factories to produce containers to sell for a few bucks each (remember, each dollar is one Victory Point in the final reckoning) doesn't look too smart when the shipper earns double any bid and the final owner might well make up to 10 Victory Points per container of the right colour.

A second observation is on the final auction at the island - containers are worth a maximum of 10 Victory Points, often quite a bit less, and remember the rule that the container colour that a player has the most of will have to be discarded at the end of the game. Thus, it appears to make little sense to offer more than $10 per container, except in the most contrived of situations (e.g. the game is ending and a player has 15 of his most valuable container and 11 of his least valuable ones - in this case a shipment of five of the least valuable containers would be worth 15 * $10 - 11 * $2 = $128, or over $25 per container!).

Also, when bidding, players seem to often neglect the dollar-for-dollar government subsidy granted to the shipper. Let us say that a player bids $40 for a shipment of five of his most valuable container, a good deal since they will each be worth 10 Victory Points at the end, right? (we assume that he has a good stockpile of lesser containers to discard, which would have cost something too) Well, the $40 would have been 40 Victory Points by themselves, so by winning the bid, the player has made a net gain of just 10 Victory Points.

Moreover, consider the shipper, who gets his $40, as well as $40 from the government subsidy (bank) for a total of $80, or 80 Victory Points! Granted, the containers had to be bought from someone else in the first place, but common warehouse prices are $3 or $4 per unit. Assuming the higher figure, that's an outlay of $20 for the five containers, and a net gain of 60 Victory Points from the auction, though it has to be said that the process of shipping consumes a few actions. Although this is partly intuitive, the scale of the difference may not be immediately apparent to newer players.

The other guys played some salad card game (could neither recall nor find the name), where the objective was to get rid of all the cards in one's pile. The rules are simple - you have to call out the name of the ingredient on your top card (one of cauliflower, lettuce, yellow pepper and tomato) as you add it to the central pile, but not if it happens to be the same as the previous card, in which case you have to call some other ingredient. There are also special ban cards, which disallow one ingredient from being called at all.

The final game played was after we left Mind Cafe, as triceo had brought Bohnanza with him. It's essentially a bean planting game, with players trying to collect plenty of the same variety to exchange for more gold, with the restriction of being able to manage at most two varieties of beans (or three, if one invests in a third field) at any time. Speaking of farming, if there are any Country Story players on Facebook, drop me a line.


Friday


Would have been helpful before the trip


Received my Eurail souvenir, a surprise since I had neglected to specify which souvenir I wanted, and moreover didn't supply them with my travel information to the level of detail specified, i.e. with train numbers. Brings back memories.

Attempted the hardest question on my algorithms homework and completed the first half, I think. A couple more crushing defeats on DotA, par for the course. Strangely I've been having a rather higher success rate with pubs recently.


Saturday

"Baby bonus has had little impact so far"

- Straits Times headline, Aug 15; I could have told them that...


Was alerted by psw to a special blog - that of a Stanford Ph.D. who had recently been made redundant from the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) of A*STAR, and is now working as a taxi driver (you would think that there would at least be advanced test-tube washer openings...). Keeping in mind that this is an unconfirmed report on an Internet website, I would plead that my blog should be held to slightly lower standards than the Straits Times, and therefore that blog is fair game for discussion.

A quick search of the IMCB website with the name claimed on the blog revealed that the blogger, or someone with the same name, was part of their staff, and an Associate Professor no less (thought they had tenure?), but with a (Left - Email Extension) remark, and no department. The blogger also referred to a paper he claims to have written after leaving IMCB, and various other details that mean that even if the blog isn't authentic, someone put in a decent bit of effort in crafting a fake.

Either way, it's a stark reminder that even a Ph.D. doesn't provide any guarantees, (not that there are any true guarantees in life), that the world always needs ditch-diggers and road sweepers, and that in the end, politics is the thing to study.

The tales told are entertaining, and a good read for those of us who may end up driving a taxi at some point in our lives. Facts: Singapore has nearly 100000 taxi drivers, a good 3% of the estimated 3.2 million citizens, a percentage made more useful by the citizenship requirement for taxi driving. However, since about a third of those citizens are probably retired or too young to work, a better estimate might be that 5% of all working Singaporeans are employed in taxi driving (!)

The blogger points out that "...taxi operating companies do not care about the demand in ridership. They only care about collecting rentals from the drivers. In the time of economic downturn, many people become jobless and they are the abundant source of supply of potential taxi drivers. The taxi companies recruit these people, train them, give them the license, and get them sign a taxi hiring contract for at least 6 months.".

By the way, the rental is a minimum of S$77 a day, not inclusive of fuel costs, meaning that drivers have to at least recoup that S$77 in fares before making any profit. From the companies' viewpoint, though, one driver equals seventy-seven bucks (or ninety two bucks, for newer taxis) a day, no more no less. Why not just rent them out (with a minimum six month contract), and let the market weed out the less successful drivers? Given that his company couldn't even find the time to fix his fare meter for him, I'm not sure if they would care too much...


Andddddd... the EPL is baaccccckkkkk, and so is the (virtual) $100 Challenge! To kick off,

$50 on Man City to beat Blackburn (at 1.90)

N.B. I'm also punting for fun on matchpredictions.com. Let's see how that goes.



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14 comments


anonymous said...

If the blog is real, the reason for him being told to leave COULD be his publication history. Check google scholar. PI in a research institute, his only first-authored paper was in 1990 (presumably from thesis), plus other cited papers are not much, even as second or third author. This could also be the reason why he finds it hard to get another field-related job. Just speculating.


August 15, 2009 - 22:41 SGT     

gilbert said...

According to this, it isn't quite his thesis tho. If the blog is real that is.


August 15, 2009 - 22:43 SGT     

anonymous said...

Sorry if it wasn't clear. I meant that his only first-author publication (that shows up on google scholar) was possibly gotten from part of his yeast thesis project or data, or some sort of project during the time when he was doing his thesis. Not the exact thesis. By the way, another point for the blog being possibly real - his omission and extraneous addition of the article


August 16, 2009 - 00:18 SGT     

anonymous said...

THE, which is in line with the sort of grammatical oversight a Mandarin-dominant person typing otherwise good grammar would make. Of course it can just be a really good imposter. Any friends from imcb to confirm this?


August 16, 2009 - 00:55 SGT     

gilbert said...

Hmm if it's a fake, the real prof should be sounding out very soon (note: he's still listed on both the NUS and IMCB websites).

On the publication history comment, using Harzing's Publish or Perish software, he has 24 papers (nearly half uncited, though) and 547 citations in total, with a h-index of 9 - slightly underwhelming if the "a moderately productive scientist should have an h equal to the number of years in service" info on Wikipedia is true, especially as the most cited works came early in his career.

Whether or not it was that or office politics that did him in, assuming the blog is legit, is not immediately clear - but fear not, a New Paper reporter appears to have dropped him a line.


August 16, 2009 - 02:48 SGT     

anonymous too said...

Hmm...after a check on Pubmed, I may be inclined to agree with the view on too few publications. the thing is, I'm not from life sciences nor yeast research. who knows how long yeast research actually takes.

second caveat is with using google scholar. publish or perish software relies on google scholar, anyway. I dunno if pubmed + google scholar can cover all his pubs.

as a side point, I would think that even if you publish zero articles, you can still teach in poly if u have PhD, from stanford some more...


August 16, 2009 - 03:06 SGT     

gilbert said...

Without even mentioning polys/JCs, teaching tuition would probably pull in a good packet with the Stanford name alone.

My guess is that the prof (again, if the blog is legit) is not seeking to maximize income here, even if the preface states that "...I had submitted countless CV and application letters to various places in Singapore including universities, government agencies, and private companies. Most of them, however, never responded."

[By the way, apologies to anonymous, whom I believe attempted to post "the" (with quotation marks) and had the comment cut off abruptly due to a bug in the way the comment is resubmitted for the reCaptcha check. As can be seen, that bug is now fixed.]


August 16, 2009 - 03:16 SGT     

anonymous too said...

yah got. got ppl post comment on his blog offer him tuition $30/hr. fucking underpaid for phd, but confirm much more than taxi driver.


August 16, 2009 - 03:20 SGT     

anonymous gilbert said...

wah i never knew there were so many anonymous people on the internet. how do we keep track of ourselves sia.


August 16, 2009 - 03:21 SGT     

C.wenhoo said...

eh u chee bye go and sleep lah 3:30 am u waiting for ghost at 3:33 is it


August 16, 2009 - 03:31 SGT     

Mr. Ham G. Bacon said...

AHHHHHHHHH GHOSSTTTTTTTTTT


August 16, 2009 - 03:33 SGT     

Mr. Fish F. Chips said...

hi


August 16, 2009 - 03:33 SGT     

anonymous said...

Number of pubs per se is not that important lah. If want to publish in low standard journal, every year also can churn out some. So, should look at publications that have been cited and number of citations. Google scholar makes the job easy.

Hi anonymous too.

wenhoo you scolding yourself is it. matlab finally drove you mad?


August 16, 2009 - 16:57 SGT     

anonymous said...



August 21, 2009 - 17:23 SGT     


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