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Tuesday, July 31, 2007 - 18:45 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Unsorted Assorted Thoughts

So the three-month hols are almost done and over with, and it's back to the three-day half-holiday school term; Can't say I will be too apprehensive, given that I mostly do my own thing whatever the calendar says. Next semester will end rather early too, with my last scheduled examination being on the first of December. No repeats of the long guilt-ridden wait for a paper for which there is not much left to be studied for.

And the roster for the upcoming academic season is more than tentatively:

CS3208 Undergraduate Research In Computing I - Ah yes, I better write a program for this and fast. And scan some notes.
CS3212 Programming Languages - Better not underestimate this.
CS5340 Uncertainty in AI - Good News: No tutorials! Bad News: May be stat-heavy. Warning lights blinking.
EC3332 Money and Banking I - Only six vacancies in Round 1A, with min bid over 900. Thankfully I have tons of Programme Account points by now (not as much as a certain 10000-point guy, however. 万分, 万分, 万万分!).
EC3333 Financial Economics I - Slightly oversubscribed.
PH2110/GEM2006 Logic - Hope this is just the Philo department equivalent of Discrete Math. To be bid for in the second round.

Since CS3208 won't have any official lectures or tutorials either, and with the rest of the modules having at most one two-hour lecture a week, this may be one of my emptiest timetables to date - The total hour count will be 14 or 15 hours per week on campus for six modules even without skipping anything, which means I'll be even more responsible for my own mugging. Personally I don't think I could stand certain other faculties' rigid timetables. As a side bonus, I get Monday free, which means there won't be any impediment to watching early-Monday EPL matches. Talk about a perk.

While I'm on the subject of the EPL, Starhub won the latest rights and promptly jacked up the rates. Not too much more, I hope, given the availability of free if slightly inferior alternatives on the Internet. This reminds me of an interesting analysis on multi-agent bidding, though; Given that different companies likely have different guesses of how much they can milk consumers for, with some guesses being more optimistic than others, the winner of the bid (who offered the most) often holds a less realistic outlook on the profitability of the product in question, assuming that the "correct" price is around the average of the bids.

Put another way, one can suspect that the winner of an auction with ten participants may have overpaid, and the winner of an auction with a hundred participants... let's just say he had better have some special use for the commodity. Of course, at least some people must be aware of this, and it may be interesting research to try and determine how widespread any self-limiting behaviour is.

In other comparatively recent news, our possible future Prime Minister shows his integrity even as a junior officer. For a summary, mr brown's podcast take can't be beat (thanks occ). With such mettle in the younger generation, Singapore's future is bright indeed.

At times, I am prone to wondering what exactly is my place in this world. It seems obvious that people should provide a service to others in one way or another, at least if they intend to partake of services from others; Some services are ranked higher than others, and money is how we keep score.

But what do people need? The physiological needs fall quite elegantly into a hierarchy, I feel. The air that we breathe and would perish within ten minutes without, has always been free (if perhaps more polluted), and will be for the foreseeable future. Water, which we can go without for days at most, literally pours from the sky, and if push comes to shove I would gather that putting some pails out in a tropical rainstorm might sustain one for quite some time. Bathing would be a luxury then, though.

And food, what about it? Despite the careless admonishments of many a parent (and amusement of sharp kids), food does grow on trees. Amartya Sen won a Nobel for pointing out that famine is at least in part precipitated by poor distribution, which would seem an obvious enough observation. Then again, sometimes only the truly wise can see the blatantly obvious.

Without resorting to any hard data, it would appear that this world does indeed have the potential to produce enough to feed the hungry, and the wherewithal to deliver it to them, but for some reason it mostly doesn't pan out that way. Avoiding discussion of geographically far-flung areas (i.e. Africa), less than two centuries ago Ireland actually continued food exports even in the midst of famine, just because prices were better next door in England. Yet even today, a third of humans supposedly may not have enough to eat.

A famous Sen quote is, "there is no such thing as an apolitical food problem". The most cynical among us might postulate that the current system works just dandy for those with assets - it is not their fault that the poor do not have enough cash to buy meals, after all, and if they are malnourished and entrapped in poverty, that is just regrettable; Throw another feel-good Live Aid concert or something and be done with it. Meanwhile, their own kids will quietly have a relatively greater headstart in life, in true Darwinian continuity, though of course nobody says it out loud.

More reasonably, people are probably not so callous on a personal level, given their willingness to help out that I have personally witnessed more than once. Somehow I have forgotten to mention the shaking hands of a none-too-well-groomed old lady in a none-too-well-furnished flat who handed some foodstuffs to me during Project C.A.N., which briefly led me to wonder about the point of it all given that she looked the part of a qualified recipient. Collectively, though, unfettered charity doesn't seem quite so prevalent. But a more thorough investigation would involve game theory that should be more relevant in an upcoming post, and there it shall go.

On some level, I suppose that kids who are told to eat their food because "there are starving children in Africa" suspect that it isn't a good argument at all, that the stuff on their plate that they would consume or not would not be shipped there anyhow.

To round things off, here's some bad photography from yours truly - demonstrations of out-of-focus and underexposed images:

Do not do this

On the left is a baby lizard - I wouldn't have thought that I would ever call a lizard cute, but this one had the tiniest stubby tail and not enough sense to escape into the dark. Haven't seen its parent for some time, now that was one fat and alert specimen. On the right is a pretty darn noisy procession of some sort right in the carpark downstairs. Maybe some National Day rehearsal. Eleven floats in total.

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