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Big Mac Breakfast




I overslept and woke up late in the morning. I washed and got dressed in no time; rushed to my car in the garage, and then drove onto the road in a hurry. I was going to be late to an important meeting.

It was snowing heavily overnight. It stopped before dawn, right before sunrise. The road was covered with snow, which was beginning to melt due to the sun. This was a dangerous driving condition -- the road was slippery, but the traffic was light. I wondered why it was light; maybe everyone was staying home due to the snowstorm.

There was a large truck going at sixty right beside me on the slower lane. Light traffic induced drivers to go faster and be careless. My car was in a bad position, as the snow, mixing with mud, got kicked up from the road surface by the big wheels of the truck, and splashed onto my windshield, blocking my view. I was sure the truck driver was doing this on purpose. Feeling somewhat irritated, I stepped on the gas petal and tried to overtake the truck. I was accelerating and going well over eighty when my car entered an intersection. I was slightly ahead of the truck now. The traffic light was green.

Then my car began to skid sideways. My first reaction was to turn the steeling wheel the other way, trying to get the car back onto the lane. But that didn't work. The sudden steeling got the car to behave even more badly -- the front end started to rotate, but the body continued to skid towards the same direction as before. There was no friction between the car tires and the road surface. The first law was exerting its full effects. This was the time when a driver hated Newton. The car was skidding right onto the other side of the road, where the traffic was heading towards me in the opposite direction. As things were going, the only way my car would stop was hitting something ...


-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-


... As things were going, the only way my car would stop was hitting something. I could see cars moving in the other direction getting bigger and bigger.

At the last critical moment the computer screen froze, with flashing red text saying “All effective controls are lost. Crash imminent.” There was an annoying buzzing sound from all around me.

I was sitting inside the cockpit of the most advanced flight simulator in the world. I had been having an argument with my friend all month long, about which vehicle type was safer in bad driving conditions -- a truck, which was big and clumsy, or a car, which was quick and agile. My friend was driving the truck. Even though I could not see him in the other cockpit, I could “see” him laughing his heart out right now in the driver's sit. I hated this. He would have crashed as well had the simulation continued for a little while longer; or at least that was what I wished.

I did get up late this morning as I usually would on Sunday. And I did rush back to the office without breakfast, so that we could “borrow” the flight simulator to resolve our bet. I was a programmer in this research center, and my friend was a computer hardware engineer. This machine was really cool -- an advanced flight simulator simulating high performance fighter jets. We had been reprogramming this wonderful beast during the last month, to make it functioned as a driving simulator. The loser was going to buy breakfast. Ah, at least that might give me some satisfaction. During the rush coming in, I forgot to bring my wallet. This was good. We were going to Macdonald's. He was going to have Big Breakfast Deluxe Platter, and I would have pancakes, with triple portion hash brown. And then he was going to pay.

Sigh! Maybe not. There was no satisfaction in doing this. Going to Macdonald's on Sunday was depressing.










Frankenstein



Dear H

If I were to write Frankenstein, I would write it slightly differently. You are right that Shelly wants to tell us not to do “super natural” experiments. But I think the real issue here is not the experiment itself. It is people's attitude towards external appearance – the monster tried to be kind to people, but they rejected him because he looked ugly. In fact, the first one who had rejected the monster was Dr Frankenstein himself. He left the monster alone and ran away after seeing his own creation was so “hideous”. He was not there when the monster needed him the most. But hideous or not, the monster did have a kind heart, at least at first. He helped the little girl. But instead of thanking him, people chased after him and tried to kill him. I think the ones who have done the most wrong was the people.

We learn not to judge a person by external appearance. Doing so would be prejudice. We learn to respect each other and understand each other; true friendship is built on mutual respect. The DeLacey family and the monster could have been friends. The story could have a happy ending. Many of the conflicts and sufferings in the world today happen because of prejudices and misunderstandings. If I were to write the story, I would say disaster would fall upon us if we don't respect each other, and don't attempt to understand each other. Shelly had written a great story, but missed the chance to deliver an important message.

R











Magic Box  






 
I will put in my box,
the strongest steel of Titanic,
the shining gold of leprechaun,
the frost of an icy dragon.
 
I will put in my box,
  a bit of ice from Antartica,
  the petals of early May flowers,
the intelligence of Albert Einstein,
the flares of a raging sun
the brightness of the shinning stars

I will put in my box,
the scales of a rainbow fish,
the tooth of a prehistoric dinosaur,
the diamonds and rubies of the richest lands,
and more pride and joy than anyone.
 
My box is made of
diamonds, and rubies, and gold.
The hinge of my box is the mask of Pequod,
the handle is the horn of Unicorn,
and the wheels are Monster's eyeballs.
 
I will surf in my box,
through the lands of magic,
and through a mind of human,
and then I will wash up along a peaceful, sandy beach.


by H
 





I will put in my box,
Sweet melody of your violin,
Witty words from your poem,
And kindness in your loving heart.

I will send my box to the Milky Way,
  To let it shine in starry skies.
Filling warmth and joy and happiness
  In all corners of our lives.












Leonardo

by H         




mona lisa                                           

One day a famous painter named Leonardo da Vinci was strolling along the street. It was a peaceful day when suddenly a policeman ran up to the painter and arrested him and brought him to court. Someone had told the court that the "Mona Lisa painting" was not painted by Leonardo. This opponent said that it was painted by him. He said Leonardo was a cheat; Leonardo was a fraud! Leonardo insisted that he painted it himself. He was innocent. They argued and argued; the situation was getting worse and worse. Leonardo was running out of proof. It was getting late so the court had to close and continued tomorrow.

When Mona Lisa heard about this, she decided that tomorrow she would go to court and help Leonardo.

The next day Mona Lisa rushed to court. When she arrived, the opponent had nearly won the case.

Mona Lisa busted in and blurted out that whoever could paint the picture of her now, and painted it perfectly, would be the truth-teller.

Leonardo took a piece of blank paper and started drawing. On the other side, the opponent took the previous painting and started copying. But he had forgotten that the background of the previous painting was outside and not inside the court. Finally the judge examined the paintings, he immediately proved that the opponent was lying because "the background of his painting was not inside the court". As a result, the judge ruled that Leonardo was innocent.

In the end, Mona Lisa asked Leonardo why did this happen. All he could do was to sigh and shake his head, "It all happened too fast and I don't know too!"










Mona Lisa


                                          





One day a painter called Leonardo was strolling down the street. It was a peaceful day until suddenly an officer ran up to the painter and arrested him and brought him to court. Someone had told the court that a certain painting of a lady was not really painted by Leonardo. This opponent said that it was painted by him. He said Leonardo was a cheat; Leonardo was a fraud! Leonardo insisted that he had painted it himself. He was innocent. They argued and argued; the situation was getting worse and worse. It was getting late so the court had to close for the day and continued tomorrow.

When Lisa heard about this, she decided that she would go to court tomorrow and help.

It rained heavily the next morning and Lisa rushed to court late. When she arrived, the heated argument was still going on.

Lisa busted in and blurted out that whoever could paint the picture of her now, and painted it perfectly, would be the truth-teller.

As it turned out, there was no blank canvas in the courtroom. But there was high up in the hall hanging one of Leonardo's old painting. It was the painting of a landscape outside the court. So he took it down and started drawing Lisa's figure on top. He was not in the mood of painting, so he did it quickly and kept the original background. The opponent, on the other hand, tried to copy from the original painting onto the wall.

All along Lisa was sitting there, letting Leonardo drawing her, looking beyond his shoulder, and watching on the other side the opponent drawing. As she watched, she seemed to be happy and began to smile, but held back immediately, remembering that she was still in court.

Since the opponent only copied Lisa's figure from the original painting, the background was simply the rest of the wall, which extended to the rest of the courtroom. This made the painting perfect, showing Lisa sitting inside the courtroom. The court ruled in favor of the opponent.

So Madam Lisa went home with her husband bringing the painting. It was a wet day. On the way he slipped while crossing a bridge and the Madam Lisa fell into the river and washed away. The painting made by the husband in court stayed on the wall. There was a flood a few days later, caused by a large painting canvas blocking the drainage outlet. The city was already built below water line, protected by dams, and the sudden surge in water level bursed open a flootgate. Everything below 6 feet in the nearby area was washed clean. The one made by Leonardo was hung back in the hall. Leonardo went home depressed and empty handed.



 

 




Zero Carbon





http://ts.uncleraymond.com/green_energy1.html
(Large video file, take time to load and start running.
If you are using Firefox, and see a QuickTime logo on the page waiting for more than 30 seconds, and the video is not starting up, try this: Right click on the QuickTime logo on the webpage to bring up the Plug-in Settings (QuickTime Preference Tabs), choose Streaming, and enable "Instant-On", setting Play Stream to "Immediately". You may need to reload the page again afterwards.)




Since the nuclear crisis at Fukushima in March, Japan has shutdown most of its nuclear power plant for safety inspections. There has been a severe shortage in electricity. The Japanese pulled themselves together and responded by dimming lights and turning down air-conditioning throughout the summer. Factory workers changed their shifts to work more hours at night (when overall power demand was lower). In total  they have reduced peak electricity consumption by nearly 20%. The summer is now over, which will provide some relief, but the fundamental problem remains -- they still have to figure out what to do with the nation's dependence on nuclear power.

Given what has been happening in other parts of the world recently, had this happened in another country, I would say the hardship in the past summer would have caused a riot. The effort would have deepen the crisis even more, instead of providing a solution. There seems to be two types of reactions when people are faceed with a challenge -- there are those who turn to themselves and found determination to get the problem resolved, and those who turn to the outside and seek help from others.

We can't talk about energy needs without talking about global warming. There is no doubt that we need to reduce our carbon dioxide emission. However, the only large scale power generation that is carbon free, known to be economically viable, and has the potential to satisfy all the needs in the world today, is nuclear. This is the "devil" we know. It is not that other technologies don't exist, just that at the moment we are not certain, from a technological and economic standpoint, that they can generate enough to satisfy eveyone's need. Keep in mind that our global power consumption can only increase, as people in less developed part of the world improve their standard of living. There are lots of people with no TV, no refrigerator, no air-conditioning, no modern transportation, no basic health care. We do want to help them to live better. But all the modern facilities and services we want them to have can only increase total energy consumption. It is not enough just for the more advanced countries to save. As the experience in Japan has shown, saving 20% is already very tough (even though it can be done if we continue to improve on technology), but this saving will be overshadowed by the increase from the less developed countries. According to some estimates our global energy consumption has grown by 45% over the past 20 years. It will grow by another 39% in the next 20. What would we face in 2031 ?

There is a lot of debates as to which technology is better -- solar, wind, hydro, nuclear. The good thing about debates is that they can help to clear up the big picture, let us understand what things really are and where we stand among them. The bad thing, though, is that oftentimes we got tied up with a particular view, and got boxed in by own arguments. To use an analogy, with our eyes, we need two views to form a perspective (3-D). An one eyed view is not too useful. To tackle real world issues, we need even more views, because there are often multiple dimensions to real world problems.

I think it is a mood point to debate which technology is better. None of the existing ones are good enough. Some are too expensive, some are inefficient, some are accident prone. This points to one thing -- the need for more basic research. We simply don't understand enough about these technologies. If Japan had decided 50 years ago that she needed nuclear energy, she should have invested heavily in research to work on technology upgrades. The power plant that got into trouble was using the same basic design as 50 years ago. This is not good planning.




The video clip below is long (20mins). Take a look if you are interested.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaF-fq2Zn7I

Or read this instead of watching videos. Not extactly the same contents, but similar reference materials:
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/06/mf_qagates/all/1


And then there is always hydrogen ...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6BLFdBfgfU&feature=relmfu
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeGijutBSx0 












Human vs Machine




User interface exists in all machines and gadgets and tools that we use everyday, from something as simple as a fork and a knife, to a can opener, to TV, to nuclear power plant, to space shuttle. We usually think of interfaces as the knobs and buttons on panels of the machine that we are controlling. But it is more than that. User interface is the boundary between human and machine.

The word "machine" is used generally; it doesn't just mean complicated machinery like a car. For our disccusion here, a snow shovel is a machine, which needs to be controlled in order to do its work. For a car, the main interface seems obvious -- it consists of the steeling wheel, the brake and accelerator pedal, and the gear stick, as well as the switches and buttons and indicators on the dashboard. The machinery which is being controlled, and which is supposed to do the actual work, consists of the engine and gears and the wheels. This seems rather clear-cut. But in the case of a snow shovel, where is the user interface; where does the interface ends and the actual "machinery" begins ?

The bicycle is probably the most efficient machine made by human. Where exactly is the user interface ? Where is the boundary between human and machine ?

An user interface is effective if human and machine are integrated, seamlessly. Human-machine is one. This is the holy grail of user interface design. I don't have to think, but my intention is transmitted. Do you have to think to turn a bicycle ? Can you describe the steps, moment by moment, explain the sequence of signals you input into the machine, to execute a bicycle turn ? If you cannot, the interface is successful.

We sometimes say an user interface needs to be intuitive. This is not correct. The interface of a capable device usually needs to be learned; sometimes it may even be counter intuitive. The chopstick is a case in point. But once learned, though, you shouldn't need to be conscious about using it -- the interface becomes second nature.

 



We can look at an interface from two directions -- the input and the output. Input means signals passing from human to machine. Output means the other direction. Take a car as an example, the speedometer is an output. Without exception, this output is analog (note1). Some years ago, someone thought it would be a good idea to use digital display, as digital was in fashion. But drivers soon found that it was difficult to get a sense of speed by looking at a number. On the surface this doesn't make sense, but is true in practice. This is because more cognitive processing is needed inside the brain to translate digital information into a "sense" of something that is analog, the speed in this case.

Car designer also thought it was a good idea to use power steeling. Steeling wheel is an input device. But is it really? Mechanical steeling allows the running wheels to transmit information (in the form of vibrations, and resistance -- i.e. how hard it is to turn the steeling wheel) back to the steeling wheel. There is a lot of information here, including the speed, traction on the road, and whether the car is executing a turn properly. A driver needs to learn to interpret this information, but this is not difficult; it just need experience.

Fully automated power steeling eliminated this output. When it was first introduced, people found power steeling cars were much more difficult to control at high speed, and were more accident prone. This problem was not solved until mechanical feedback was put back (partially) into the steeling mechanism. Now, do you think this problem could have been solved by putting in electronic sensors on the wheels, and digital displays on the dashboard, to show the same output information? The answer lies in how much cognitive processing is needed to digest the information, mechanical vibrations and resistances passed through the hands, vs visual information passed through the eyes.





Because of electronic devices like cell phones, game consoles, computers, pda, etc, we come to think of user interface as just the screen, the mouse, the joystick, the keyboard, the speaker, and other stuffs electronic. Interface includes much more than these. It also includes the size and shape of the device, the tactile feeling of the switches and buttons, and non-electronic output like vibration. A smart design should exploit all human sensory in the interface.

Why is it better to use the hand as the sensory path to transmit steeling information, rather than to transmit via the visual path ? This partly has to do with parallel processing inside the brain. During driving, the eye (the visual processing unit) is already very busy. If the eye also needs to take in visual information from the dashboard about the steeling conditions, processing would have to be sequential. If steeling information is sensed by hands, the driver needs not take the eyes off the road.

When a car moves, it also pushes and shakes the driver in the driving seat. Even though they are usually gentle, these pushing and shaking are very important. As the car turns (e.g. turning right), a force pushes the driver towards the opposite direction (to the left). This is how the driver knows (even though intuitively) when skidding occurs. This is partly why at the moment a car driven by remote control cannot quite match the performance of one driven by a human in the driving seat (note2).

How do people find out about these things? As it turns out, it is not mainly from designing cars. For a long time, people have been trying to remote control fighter jets. There are numerous advantage of doing that. Yes, people can remote control airplanes, but cannot do it well in high speed and extreme maneuverability situations. A fighter jet is the most demanding of the demanding. A fighter pilot has to use all sensory inputs to achieve top performance.

Note1: Analog doesn't means dial-and-needle only. You can assemble an analog indicator by using LEDs, like the sound level indicator on some hi-fi amplifier panels. On the other hand, there are numbers on a dial, but a driver pick up the speed also by the position (angle) of the needle.
Note2: There are of course other issues that contribute to the difficulty.

Update: Remode controlled airplane can now operate in battle field conditions.


 



A book is also a device. Where is the user interface? What are the outputs, and what are the inputs ? How can an eBook device replicate these information? You can browse through a paper book very quickly and pick up images (pictures) and headings; you are aware of the next page while reading the current one; you can easily find out how many pages to go in the current chapter. These can be replicated in an eBook, even rather easily; but like the case of the digital speedometer, can you process these information without thinking ?

Don't make me think when I am using an interface, because my thinking is needed somewhere else.



 

 

 







DIY Universe





To make a Universe, you need 3 things: matter, energy and space.

About a century ago a smart guy called Einstein found out matter and energy are really the same thing, just showing up differently. So we just need 2 things. We know matters exert their presence via gravity. And then Einstein found out gravity is none more than curvature in space. Using this, we can turn things around, and look at everything from another direction: If we start with empty space, and then bend parts of it severely enough, the center of the bended regions would be matter. So there is no "matter"; there is just space. Some regions of it are bended, curled up; and to us these curled up regions are matters - atoms, molecules, planets, stars, etc. These curled up regions interact with each other according to Einstein's equation. This latter beast reduces to Newton's when masses are not too large and velocities are not too high ...

So far so good; we only have one thing to worry about -- space. Except that there is one tiny problem, which even the smart guy couldn't solve, and is remained unsolved almost a century later.

We know that when things gets small, we need quantum mechanics. This applies to space as well. If we confine a curvature to a smaller and smaller region of space, the properties of this region requires quantum mechanics to discribe. Einstein disliked anything quantum (despite the fact that he won an Nobel prize for it), and so used the code name United Field Theory for his project. The fashionable term now is quantum gravity. This theory would get us gravitons. This is cool stuffs. And quantizing gravity is the same as quantizing space.

Hawking's studies is not in quantum gravity itself, but the application of it to explain the beginning of our universe. It is rather amazing that you can apply a theory before it is even completed. I can't, but Hawking can. Because of the uncertainty principle, a vaccum cannot be really empty. Otherwise this vaccum region would be "certain". Given any empty region, particle and anti particle pairs will pop up randomly; and then destroyed after a while. On average a vaccum is empty.

The uncertainty principle applies to anything quantum. So if space is quantized, this should apply to space as well. This means that "space" -- i.e. a tiny volume of space -- can pop up here and there at random within the empty void ... See, even talking about this is becoming troublesome. We are quickly running out of terms, as space, the flip side graviton (not really, but good enough for us), is no longer empty anymore. Space itself is something. Like an electron, proton and neutron, space can be created ... And this leads to a bigger problem.

The space we referred to in the above, i.e. Einstein's "space", is really spacetime. Originally, to make a universe, we actually needs 4 things: matter, energy, space and time. But Einstein already united space and time. The curvature in space which gives rise to gravity is really curled up in four dimensions. Quantizing gravity implies space AND time can be created (not just space), one quanta at a time .. hmm, correction ... "one quata at a don't-know-what."

So this is what happened at the big bang. It started with a void, nothing, not even space and time. So we cannot really talk about BEFORE the big bang. We might be in trouble even to say "AT the big bang". It is meaningful only to say AFTER the big bang.

So the "beginning" is a void. But it cannot be a void for "long". The uncertainty principle says "sooner or later" something must pop into existence. Note that there is no easy way to describe this, as "long", "sooner", "later", "popping into existence" already imply there is a time line running, and this poping up event happens in time. But before spacetime gets into existence, there is no time. Strictly speaking there is no beginning. This is what Hawkings was trying to say in the video.

So quantum things pop up and then pop out of existence in this void. And these events happens within a volume the size of Plank's constant (i.e. tinny tinny). We don't know and cannot describe how long TIME has passed, but all of a sudden, during one of these popping events, an enomous number of quantum things get popped into existence within a Plank's volume. The probability for this is very small (again, Plank's constant smallness); but the law of large number says this must happen sooner or later. And this enoumous number of quantum things get showed up as spacetime quantum curled up into different configurations. This caused a big explosion -- and as they usually say, the rest is history.

What Hawking has worked out is more detailed than the above waving of my hands description. The "time" referred to in the above can be said to be "normal time" -- i.e. our usual meaning of it. There is another interpretation which uses the notion of "imaginary time" (imaginary refers to the root of negative one). The space universe can be represented by the surface of a 4-D sphere (the surface of a 4-D sphere is 3-D). The analogy is the surface of a balloon. The balloon's surface represents the space of our universe. As this ballon expands, its surface area (the volume of our universe) increases. If we roll back time, getting the ballon smaller and smaller, at the beginning, it has the size of Plank's contants. It is never zero, due to the uncertainty principle. At that point, the universe has maximum density, minimum volunme, and is essentially one gigantic black hole.

You probably heard about String theory, and that there are 10 or 11 dimensions, etc. String theory is one of the quantum gravity theory. There are others. ST is most oftenly heard about because the Sting guys know how to do PR. (Well, I admit my prejudice here.) They all say they are close to cracking the nut, but they have been saying this since the 80's ... Well, time will tell.










Know Thyself





This is something pretty cool within the photography community. Follow the links below. They more or less capture the story of how this unfolds over time. You don't have go into details. Just browse the first paragraph of 1 to get a general idea. The New York Times link in the 2nd one is more readable. Watch the video in the 3rd link.

1. http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/2006/03/whoooosh.html

2. http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2011/06/the-next-big-thing.html

3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yl8YJkclhuU
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMC2fCPM0ZY&feature=related






On the technical level, this belongs to a field called computational photography. This is something relatively new, but not exceedingly so. One might get the impression that this comes about after the age of digital camera. It is actually older than that. Pictures taken in astronomy using telescopes, for example, has been post processed by computers. The images we see are often not the “raw” images taken as-is from the negatives from cameras. Films can be digitized, and processed by programs, and multiple images can be combined to form a single final one. In the simplest case, we can take multiple exposures of exactly the same scene, and then combine them into one by taking the average on each point over the images – i.e. combine by stacking all the film images on top of each other. This apparently simple technique can reduce noise, and, with some cleverness, can increase resolution.

These methods also apply to images taken by satellites; and to medical scanners and X-ray machines.

This also means that pictures don't need to be taken by a (one) lens, forming an image on light sensitive materials. In fact, the “ideal device” is one that measures the direction, intensity and wavelength of all incoming light rays, captures them as data, and then reconstructs the image afterwards. Technologies like this have applications far beyond taking a snapshot during vacation.





On a different level.

Chatting in the office the other day about current events in the world. As usual after a while my thoughts wandered off on its own path to another universe. For different reasons, I may have come to the same conclusion as Isoroku Yamamoto some 70 years ago – that the Americans are difficult to figure out.

In international trade, economists have this theory of comparative competitive advantage. That is, identify what you do better than others (e.g. printing money), or what you have that others don't (e.g. a beautiful voice). Use that to trade-in with others. As Sun Tzu had said: Know yourself and know your opponent. (知彼知己,百战不殆 – 孙子)  So China has a cost effective workforce, Japan's workforce is disciplined, Korea's can learn and adopt. But then what does the Americans have. Maybe this is why they have so much troubles ?

Corporations that pop up in the last 15 to 20 years, that are making lots of news, and perhaps a lot of money as well, like Yahoo, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and if we go back a bit further, like Intel, and Microsoft, and Apple, are all important to us in one way. Ignore whether they are really successful, as that depends on how we measure success. One trait they have in common is that to a degree they change the way we, modern humans, live; they change the way we work and play and go about our daily life. These companies lead the wave of modern development.

The latest issue of Time magazine has an article by Walter Isaacson on Steve Jobs. In part he wrote:

“... He didn't invent many things outright, but he was a master at arranging ideas, art and technology in ways that repeatedly invented the future. He designed the Mac after appreciating the power of graphic interfaces in a way that Xerox was unable to do, and he created the iPod after grasping the joy of having a thousand songs in your pocket in a way that Sony, which had all the assets and heritage, never could accomplish. Some leaders push innovations by being good at the big picture. Others do so by mastering details. Jobs did both, relentlessly.”

My option is that leaders nowadays do need to master both. It is only in the past that one could get away with doing just one or the other. I am not sure why this is so, maybe due to the fast paced technological advancement, maybe due to better education in the general public, maybe something else, but successful leaders now do need a top down vertically integrated world view. This echoes your comment the other day that there appears to be no great leader like those in the past anymore.

The leader of a corporation is its CEO. But if I were to choose any job I like, I wouldn't choose a typical CEO's. It would be too boring. I wouldn't choose Job's either; he was too business oriented and driving too hard. I would prefer Ren Ng's. It is a lot more fun to bring an idea into reality, implementing a piece of difficult technology that has far reaching practical values. It doesn't mean I have to invent anything, nor do something clever. The pleasure of finding out how things work, of making them work in practical ways, is in itself rewarding.







 




Time Travel


Time travel is perhaps the worse invention of science fiction. Plots that use this trick are usually boring and unimaginative. Because readers of sci-fi expect "logic" behind the storyline, writers often feel obliged to make time travel believable. This is a tall order. Even when the effort is successful, any explanation can only raise more questions than it answer. In the end, all it does is to draw away focus and dilute the overall impact of the story.
 
Impact of a story comes from tension, and tension is created through conflict. The word "conflict" here is used in the general abstract sense -- it doesn't mean only physical violence, not just between humans; it could be human vs nature, one event vs another event, or one set of rules vs another set. In order to have impact, the reader must feel the tension. And in order for the feeling to be real, the conflict must be inevitable. "Real" is also used in the general sense here. It doesn't mean the story has to happen in our physical world, or based on an actual event. It can be imaginative. The world within which the story plays out can be imaginative. But there must be some rules and logic behind that world; and because of those rules and logic, inevitable conflicts come about. This is why it is so difficult to write good science fiction.
 
An example is the three directives in Asimov's Robots. They are simple and easy to understand, and the reader just accepts them as-is (as axioms). Conflicts derive from simple rules can hit like a hammer.
 
This lies the main difficulty in time travel. Time travel as a dramatic device is like a wild beast. It is not easy to come up with good rules to keep the beast at bay. Time travel creates so much room for imagination that, in the reader's mind, anything goes. If the characters can go back in time and do it all overall again, how could one ending be more plausible than another? If multiple endings are plausible, how could conflicts be inevitable?
 
There are broadly two aspects in time travel and so two ways to use the device. They are of course not exclusive – both aspects are usually present in a story to various degrees. Time can be treated as the forth dimension, no different than the other three. The main character can travel back in time and falls in love. It is no different than he travels to Paris and falls in love. A conflict can be created later when he has to stay in London and cannot go back, perhaps due to political events. He cannot go back in time maybe because he forget to bring back a watch during the last travel. This is the easier way.
 
The other one is causality -- characters can travel back in time and change what "has" happened in the future. Such use is better in the sense that there is more room for imagination. At the same time it is also worse in the sense that there is more room for alternatives. If there can be alternatives, how could a conflict be inevitable? Most science fictions fall into this trap.
 
After the tension is released, the story's ending should close off a loop. Otherwise the reader won't feel satifisied. This could be answering a question that opens the story, closing off key events developed along the way, or telling what happens to the main characters. But it is difficult to close off anything in time travel. The only trick that works seems to be "time travel no more" -- the time machine is destroyed, or the fibric in the universe is changed, or whatever, that the characters can no longer do time travel again. This implies whatever happened in the story is the final version. Sci-fi TV series that make extensive use of time travel is doomed to failure.
 
Love stories that involves time travels, on the other hand, are often quite interesting. Even Kate and Leopoid turns out to be not too bad. I guess it is because love defies logic, and there is no need to explain anything. Readers are willing to follow wherever, or whenever, the writer wants to lead them.
 
Somewhere In Time comes to mind. The story in the novel is slightly different from the movie. In the movie, Elise (Jane Symour) gives a watch to Richard (Christopher Reeve) in the present, and tells him to come back to her. Richard then goes back 70 years and meet young Elise. (He doesn't go back by using the watch, which I think would be a better plot.) There is causality, but nothing in the future is changed. The watch is never created (i.e. manufactured) in the timeline. (Probably no one knows how to make it. This is also why using the watch as the time travel device is a good idea. But this will work only in a non-science fiction, as sci-fi readers will demand more.) It just repeatedly goes back in time when it reaches the present. This leaves just enough room for imagination to make the story interesting. In the book, Richard has brain tumor, and he goes back in time during one of the attack. The book leaves the possibility that the whole thing is a hallucination. This is better in the sense that it is more logical (scientifically). It is also worse in the sense that there is less room for imaginations.
 
In either case, the ending is not too good, though.
 
And then there is The End of Eternity. ... well, maybe continue in another time. :-).

 

 

R






 

The attack of Soner

by H

 

                            I know I don’t exist in the story but it’s still too scary to read!

 


 

The main characters.

  1. Smart kid S:  Good guy, nice, kind and caring. Clever but weak. Ultra brilliant, good at maths. More clever than Albert Einstien!
  2. Smart kid H:  Good guy, nice, kind and caring. Strong and clever. Good at Chinese, so good that nothing more to learn in Chinese lessons! (He said, “I might fall asleep in the Chinese lesson! ZZzzzzzzzz”.)
  3. Taro Ultraman:  Good guy. He is almost the same like human being but he is Not!
  4. Mach Ultraman:  Good guy. You cannot find where he hides his “transform thing”!
    P.S. “Transform thing” is the tool that ultramen use to transform from human to ultranman
  5. Ultraman:  Good guy. He looks like British but he is Japanese!
  6. Important person:  Good guy. He is not the main character so forget about him and don’t ask even one question about him! Anyway, why am I writing about him???!!!
    (The important person standing over there and crying: “You dare say that I’m not important! You dare to say that again!”)
  7. Soner: Bad guy. We hate Soner. Soner is mean! Soner is half robot and half alien. Soner is evil!
  8. Purple electricity:  Bad guy. He holds a gun. Don’t forget he has a twin brother, slave of Soner.
    (Purple electricity holding a gun and watching the story unfolds with amusement. “How strange! My body is yellow but you call me ‘Purple’ electricity!”)
  9. Purple electricity twin brother:  Bad guy. Slave of Soner. He is holding a sword but it is not powerful!
  10. Enermon:  It is a strange creature which can defeat monsters! There are a lot of types of enermons. For example, fire, water, light, wind and ice.
  11. Heater:  A machine that generates heat.
  12. Monster exterminator:  A powerful person who can kill a monster. (It’s his job!)

 

 

The story begins, are you ready yet?

Soner held a laser gun and destroyed the tallest building. Soner said, “Ha! Ha! Ha! Too bad!”. He also kidnapped an important person.

 

The Attack of Soner

Once upon a time, there was a peaceful planet. There were a lot of Ultraman teams and Ultramen lived in there.

Until one day a monster snatched the most important person and destroyed the tallest building in the planet. Oh help! It’s the monster SONER!

In his castle, there were ten monsters! Soner took the important person to his slave – Purple electricity and twin brother.

 

Meanwhile, on the planet …

The Ultramen flew up to where Soner lived and they defeated the ten monsters but lost the fight against Soner! All Ultramen got caught and trapped in a cage!

 

On the planet there were two smart kids.

Smart Kid S and Smart Kid H got a special machine to turn them into an enermon – a strange creature that could defeat monsters!

S was a “fire enermon” and H was a “water enermon”.

So they went to the ten monsters. (The monsters were reborn!!) Then S and H turned into enermon form.

(Five monsters were “fire type” and five monsters were “ice type”.)

 

Finally enermons and monsters went into BATTLE!!

 

Smart Kid H’s battle began: 

The ice monsters crashed the fire enermon (Smart Kid H) to the super large heater. But H said, “Hey, you forget I am the fire type!”

H blasted all the fire from the heater to the ice monsters and the ice monsters died!!

 

Smart Kid S’s battle began:

A lot of things were the same with Smart Kid S.

S was pushed and crashed but he said, “You forget I am the water type!” So he blasted the whole sea at the five fire monsters and put the water back.

Finally, the fire monsters died!!

 

Later, S and H went to Soner. But they lost the fight too!

 

Luckily the smart kids had a secret phone; it could call anyone. So Smart Kid H called the “MONSTER EXTERMINTOR” and the exterminator destroyed Soner!!

 

THE END

 

The Monster Exterminator said to himself, “Why are there so many exclamation marks? The smart kids could have shoot the exclamation marks like arrows to Soner and kill him”. The Monster Exterminator then told the smart kids a secret. It was about the weak spots of monsters. From now on, the smart kids could destroy any monsters.

 

REALLY THE END

 





 



What is the smallest thing ?




Suppose you pick up a stone from the ground. How do you know if the stone contains smaller parts? Of course, we now know that the stone does contain smaller parts. We know there are atoms. And a stone contains many atoms. But suppose we are people living in a long time ago, and we do not know there are atoms. We want to find out if the stone is the smallest thing in the world. How do we know?

 

One way to find out is to hit the stone very hard, and see if it breaks up into smaller pieces.

 

So you pick up a stone and throw it against a wall. And throw very hard. The stone would travel very fast, hitting the wall with a large force, and would break up into small pieces. You can also throw it onto the ground; maybe this is a bit easier to do. Or, if this is not good enough, you can climb up a tall building, and then throw the stone onto the ground. If the building is very tall, the stone would be traveling very fast before hitting the ground, and the force of the collision would be very large.

 

Now the stone breaks up into small pieces. You can pick up one of those small pieces and ask: Is this is the smallest thing in the world? You can find out, again, by hitting it very hard, and see if it breaks up. In general, we now know that when a thing gets smaller and smaller, we need comparatively larger and larger force to break it up. It is difficult to break up the nucleus of an atom.

 

We can break up a nucleus by throwing other particles at it. The nucleus breaks down into neutrons and protons. We call these subatomic particles. Things become so small now that we have to throw them at very high speed before they break up. This is why we do not see atoms breaking up in our everyday life. Otherwise we will be in big trouble.

 

Now we can pick up a proton and ask: Is this is the smallest thing? We now know this is not the smallest thing. We can break up a proton. When proton collides with other particles near the speed of light, tiny pieces fly out. We call these tiny pieces quarks.

 

As you can imagine, it is very difficult to collide a proton with other particles because they are so tiny. We need to throw them at very high speed and this uses a lot of energy. We need to build a big machine to do this. There are only a few machines in the world which can do the job.

 

A proton contains quarks. Is quark the smallest thing? Maybe. No one can break up a quark yet. People have tried to hit subatomic particles at very high speed, but quarks do not seem to break up. Of course, it may break up if we hit it even harder. But we need a bigger machine to do that.

 

Scientists at CERN are building a big machine (note). That machine may not break up quarks, but it will find out interesting things about subatomic particles. People are looking forward to see what they might learn from the experiments.

 

Note: The Large Hadron Collider has since operational in 2009.
Note: Higgs boson was discovered in 2012.
 

Further readings:

 

Particle Hunters

CERN in 3 minutes

Everything you wanted to know about the Large Hadron Collider

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SARgkwczvAE

http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/story.html?id=bc551850-3058-4227-9512-0aa20031e97f

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_Hadron_Collider

http://lhc.web.cern.ch/lhc/



Ask Uncle Raymond


 


 

Maze

If you enter a maze from the outside, you can always get out again if you navigate all the way following the walls.

figure maze 1


As shown below, the red line traces a path along the walls. It doesn't matter which wall you start following -- there are two at the entrace at "in" -- either one would do.
Note that even though this method works, it may not give the shortest route.

figure maze 2


 

A village with 10 people




Suppose there is a village with 10 people forming a democracy, agreeing to the rule of the majority. Then nine can vote to share the wealth of the tenth. The democracy will eventually dissolve. The purpose of basic rights and freedoms is to prevent that.

 

Basic rights and freedoms define where the individual ends and society begins. They define the boundary of the entity (the individual) which joins the society. This “individual” needs not be a person – it can be a family, a group, a state, or something else. In all cases, this boundary is important because it defines the building blocks of the society. Without it, democracy has no meaning.

 

If the above observation is correct, then voting is not the most important aspect of a democracy. Voting is just one form of expression. Freedom of expression is far more important (hence a basic right). Equally important is a definition of the individual, and a mechanism for the expressed opinions of the individuals to influence actions of the society. Imperfect as it might be, voting is one of a few mechanisms that we know, at least for now, that can serve this latter purpose. But none of the mechanisms will matter if the individual is not well defined in the first place.

 

R





 


 

Uncertainty




I always thought that it is not possible to predict the stock market, using charts or otherwise. Suppose there is a (mathematical) model which can predict stock prices with some degree of accuracy, and it predicts the market would collapse at time C. Everyone would sell before C, pushing the collapse to happen sooner, and invalidating the model (note). This might have something to do with the Halting problem in computing.

 

This probably applies to any model that studies human behaviors. It might be the case that no economic theory can predict the future with sufficient accuracy to make it useful all the time. Not that all theories are useless; just that no single one can be useful all the time.

 

Note: The implicit assumption is that any successful mathematical model will be known to everyone eventually.

 

R




 

 


 

What we really want





In the absence of other means, conflicts can always be resolved by physical force. We don’t want that. So we put in rules. But nothing has fundamentally changed. Conflicts are still resolved by “fighting it out”, just that the fight now has to be done according to rules. In the end, whoever has the most power to inflict more discomfort on the other party will win. In a sense, we just transform physical violence into virtual.

 

Suppose the main problem in politics is sharing of power. We might have approached the problem from the wrong perspective, using a mindset that leads to systems that are confrontational in nature. Cake cutting algorithms have shown that there are better ways to share something.

 

This is not to say that we can use cake cutting methods to govern. But they seem to be telling us differences can be resolved by collaboration, not confrontation. We just need to change our mindset. Maybe we just need to look carefully at what we really want.

 

R






 


 

 

樹的傳說

 

從你的窗外看 , 是不是有几棵樹 ?  你有沒有想過 , 那些樹是從那里來呢 ? 你可能會說是從種子種出來的。那第一個种子是怎么來的呢 ? 你可 能會說從第一棵樹出來的。那第一棵樹又是怎么來呢 ?

 

讓我來告訢你吧 !

 

從前 , 人和巨人是朋友 。那時候一滴雨都沒下 。這件事情都是一個火龍攪的鬼。他用火舌把天 上的雨云吸乾了。那時候天空長年都是青藍色, 太陽是火紅色 , 而大地卻熱到不能在上面走動。一個巨人叫河虫直想救所有人和巨人類。 十年多了, 他走片大地每個角落 , 都找不到火龍。最後他想出一個辦 法。他爬到一座高山上, 掘開地上的泥土, 從地下深處取出一團濕泥, 用巨大的手掌把泥壓出幾滴水來。然後大力吸了一口氣, 把水滴吹到天上, 化成一朵小雨云。他靜靜伏在山邊, 想引火龍出來。但等了十幾天, 火龍始終不來。眼看雨云快 被太陽蒸乾了, 河虫直的眼皮也快合上了、要 睡了, 火龍忽然從山的另一邊跳 起, 張開大口申火舌向雨云捲去。河虫直當然不讓火龍得手, 一拳打出, 打火龍的鼻窿。火龍沒法吸氣, 一時間便噴不出火舌來。火龍也甚了得, 低下頭轉身便用尾巴掃向巨人的腳。他們打了一千個回合, 終於兩個都用盡氣力。河虫直站在那里, 動也不動, 兩眼盯實“火龍”。“火龍”臥在地上, 望著天空, 呼出最後一口氣。所有被他吸去的雨云, 也隨這口氣逃出來, 飄回天上。

 

就這樣,火龍的死亡帶來了平靜,河虫直的死亡卻帶來了悲傷。站 在山上的河虫直變成了一棵樹, 他的骨頭變成了樹枝, 他的牙和肉變成了樹葉。就這樣, 樹就造成了。

 

 

 


 

頑皮的弟弟




有一天, 媽媽和頑皮的弟弟去商店買東西。

 

小弟弟偷偷地溜走了! 他獨自去看玩具, 跟著人群聽售貨員介紹一臺新的望遠鏡。后來弟弟發現媽媽不見了, 緊張地哇哇大哭。

 

這時, 一個大男孩走過來。他戴一個綠色的手表。他帶 著弟弟去詢問處。詢問處的工作人員把這事件廣播了出來。媽媽聽了廣播便立刻趕過來。

 

就在媽媽來到前, 有一個怪物突然從望遠鏡中鑽出來, 要抓著弟弟。真可怕! 那一个男孩快快地按一下他的綠色手表, 然后他就不見了。

 

就在這時, 有一个外星人出現了。它全身都射出火光, 見弟弟被怪物抓, 便冲过去把怪物打死, 拯救了弟弟。弟弟正想回头向外星人道謝, 那外星人就不見了。可是那一个戴着綠色手表的男孩子又回來了。“很奇怪也。” 小弟弟一边想一边跟媽媽走回家。

 

- + - + - + - + - + - + -+ - + -

 

然後過了很多年, 弟弟也把這件事忘記 了。他在大學研究天文。這是一門迷人的學問, 成就了無數偉大的科學 家: 伽俐略、牛頓、羅素、 愛因斯坦也只是其中小數。但知名還是其次, 求知而得其所以然的樂聚是難以言諭的。

 

長久以來, 冥王星軌 道是個迷。其它行星都在同一個平面上運行, 為獨冥王星與眾不同, 軌道傾斜十七度。它和海王星還有三比二的共鳴折律。這點很重要, 暗示兩星有不可分割的關係。弟弟認為冥王星和海王星之間必定有第十裸行星, 其引力影響二星。他的研究於是便集中在這裏。

 

經過無數的計箅, 觀察, 再計箅, 又觀察, 這鬼影變幻星始終不見弟弟研究迷。其他同學都畢業了, 他的論文還未動筆。教授也替他, 他更改論題。小弟弟不聽, 以為十分接近了, 只差一點便成功, 現在放了太可惜。

 

這天晚上, 又工作至深夜。夜空中繁星閃爍生煇, 好看極了。但弟弟見到的只是一片片數據, 一片片漆黑, 枯燥無味。凝望了不知多久, 在這黑暗中忽然靈光一閃, 一切都明白了。原來這鬼影變幻星是不反光的, 望遠鏡當然看不到。但所有物体都有黑体, 用微波天線應可測到它的存在。

 

興奮極了! 於是三步減成兩步跑到樓下實驗室, 拿到微波天线路板和示波器設備。 再跑回樓上觀察臺 , 接上電路, 架起天线, 對准鬼影變幻星的軌道。 實在太心急了, 把控制旋一下子至最大值吧。然後盯著示波儀 但什麼也沒有。只得綠色的一條直线

 

又是失望。本能地從望遠鏡望向星空望了一眼。什麼也沒有, 只是暗了些。又望一望示波儀, 仍然是一條綠线。真是失望。

 

不過直覺上感到有些不對。再從望遠鏡觀察星空。這次細心地觀察。望遠鏡指向預計的鬼影變幻星軌道。當然見不到鬼影變幻星。但 在同一方位是遙遠的獵戶座, 對下的天狼星卻不見了。整個獵戶座也似乎暗了些。為什麼呢? 抬頭再看示波儀。 ! 現在才發覺電路是接錯了, 急忙中把接收訊號的线路接成是發射的。和背景微波一樣頻率的電磁波, 正在射向獵戶座。

 

但就算接錯了也不應該這樣吧。電磁波最快也要八點六年才能到達天狠星。 到獵戶座還要更長更長的時間。 再從望遠鏡望去, 人馬座也似乎正在移動, 但金箭卻不見了。抬頭用肉眼望去, 星空的确有一片黑色, 正在不斷擴大, 吸去付近的星雲。這分明是個黑洞。

 

黑洞邊沿似乎噴出一些微細的東西。把望遠鏡對准這邊沿放至最大, 原來是些、 是吸去了的星系的方程式。這些方程式結構元整無, 還解答了一些以前無人能解的難題。弟弟一時間看得迷, 忘卻了當前危机。過了不知多久, 特然回過神來, 半個夜空都塞滿了方程式。但半個宇宙也不見了。下一個便輪到銀河系!

 

開關掣開關掣! 快找電路的開關掣!

 

但电路奇怪地沒有開關 掣。黑洞正要把銀河吞食了。示波儀的綠線開始在跳動, 隨折拍似乎發出響。

 

就在極緊急的一刻, 那響把弟弟驚醒了。原來是造夢。早前做得太倦, 伏在上便睡。夜空完好無 , 現在看上去真是極美, 以前從末有過這種感受。 既寧靜又完整, 但又遠得遙不可及。大自然的美真是無法描繪的。

 

上閃, 原來是個iPod, 不知是誰留下的。另一位同學忘記了吧。 這iPod也很特別, 屏幕不是一般黑藍色的液晶体, 而是綠色發光的螢幕。

 

螢 幕上閃動的歌詞是關正傑一首舊 歌。








 

Does this program stop ? Why ?

int x=1024;
int main() { x -= 2; main(); x++; main(); x++; return x; }


 

Circumference

At the equator it is about 24,901.55 miles (40,075.16 kilometers).

The circumference of the Earth: <a href=http://www.lyberty.com/encyc/articles/earth.html rel=nofollow></a>

Distance between two points: http://www.sgeier.net/tools/lonlat.html

Distance of 1 degree: http://www.colorado.edu/geography/gcraft/warmup/aquifer/html/distance.html

Fermi's take: http://rainbow.ldeo.columbia.edu/courses/v1001/fermi.html


 

Google Maps

Here's how to download google maps images: www.aaaasoft.com/gmid/support.htm, using the Google Maps Images Downloader, which can be found here: www.aaaasoft.com/gmid

Use the downloaded map images with GPS Tuner: http://www.gpstuner.com


虞美人﹒聽雨     (蔣捷)




少年聽雨歌樓上,紅燭昏羅帳。
壯年聽雨客舟中,江闊雲低斷雁叫西風。
而今聽雨僧廬下,鬢已星星也。
悲歡離合總無情,一任階前點滴到天明。

 

只 希望不會明白詞人的 心境吧還是俗氣些好今聽雨楓林下,意氣英風發。 絲 絲微沫豈無情,不任階前點滴到天明


 

 


 

四季歌  (粵)     

 

(調記 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlZdvOXy1wY&feature=related  ,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhOBKei9BZg&feature=related)

 



朝放春花送清香  隔岸聽歌意迷忘

坐看日出岡巒上  綠茵江畔魚稼忙

 

艷陽夏天鳥聲晌   襯風更柔洋

共對汎舟漂湖上   夢中相遇齊放羊

 

忽聽(秋)聲暗幽傷  仰望晚星照銀河

靜對月色妝樓上  互傾心願無再藏

 

蒼勁冬青挺風霜  眺望遠方野茫茫

夜聽雁聲低回蕩  願它冬後還再來

 





 

 

 


 
 





據黎鍵在【粵調、樂與 曲】所引考証, 客途秋恨疑是乾隆時人所作。可能出自葉瑞伯手筆。原作並無流行本首尾兩段。全曲由“孤舟沉寂晚涼天”起, 至“任你天邊明月向別人圓”結。以文采論, 原作亦較佳。“涼風、 秋月”是不會和“斜陽、雙燕”寫在一起的。從來春燕秋雁, 南方的香港或有見過秋燕雙飛吧。

 

向來不大喜歡粵曲。贅字 太多, 而轉折處又不夠深刻。文章是以字少為佳, 通俗為妙。達意便收筆。 保留樹木多些好。廣東話其實是簡潔傳神又過的。

 

 

涼風有信秋月無邊。

憶君情意每感忘焉。

 

昨日音容難再現,才藝韻更堪憐。

今夜簫冷弦已斷,星空 沉寂晚涼天。

 

落紅無覓雙飛燕,獨倚 蓬窗思悄然。
耳畔秋聲桐葉落,眼前衰柳鎖寒煙。
觸景更添情懊惱,懷人愁對月華圓。
舊約難如潮有信,新愁深似海無邊。
情緒悲秋同宋玉,客途抱恨愧誰言。
 







 


 

 

HMS Queen Mary

 

L,

Just come back from LA, attending a conference in Long Beach. Comfortable hotel, wonderful amenities. Never saw the sun for a whole week, though, and I was in California. Well, never need to go outdoors. In the last day, I finally got a chance to go down to the dock for a long walk. It was supposed to be a nice place. Didn't enjoy it, though. Took a snapshoot along the way.

 

Remember many years ago when you were in NJ and I visited you and we drove to Toronto. On my way flying back home I stopped over at LA for a short touring around. I went to the Queen Mary. It was already retired and docked permanently at Long Beach. It was turned into some kind of tourist attraction, a museum and a Hotel. The displays in the museum showed how it was built before WWII, was designed to be an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic, was conscripted by the British Government as troop transport. Crossing the Atlantic was dangerous, with so many tonnages sunk for so few tonnages getting across, and so on and so forth. The QM saw a lot of actions, and survived the wolfpack (by out running them), and at the end of the war it was used as troop transports shipping soldiers back to the States. The display showed the cabins, with life size dummies. It showed how some of the cabins were converted into hospital rooms, and some others were equipped for war brides. The ship was huge. Well, might be it was just me -- I hadn't been in the inside an ocean liner before. The engine room was huge, even though much of it had been removed and only a section in the aft remained. The way the smokestacks slanted backwards was very graceful.

 

I remembered I didn't feel good seeing it.

 

Same feeling this time. Didn't go near it; just looking at it from a distance. In fact, it dominated my hotel room window view. It was elegantly lit at night with spot lights. The ship looked lonely.

 

The Surprise  in "Master and Commander -- the Far Side of the World" is how a ship should be seen ... or at least be remembered.

 

R

February 2004

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Note: Cut-and-paste editing has been done to the photo

 

 


 

 

Darth Vader was My Hero



If I were to write Star Wars, it would read something like this.
 

Episode VI Return of the Jedi

...
Luke and Dath Vader were fighting. Luke still hadn't mastered the final key to the Force. He was losing and narrowly escaped several fatal attacks from DV. But somehow he hung on; he didn't know how, but he hung on. As the fight progressed, by reacting to DV's lightsaber, Luke was building a rhythm behind his own moves. Luke felt that he was dancing with a partner rather than fighting. Nonetheless, the attacks from DV were fiercer and fiercer with wave upon wave of saber strokes kept building up; and finally there was a huge waterfall of light pouring down, and the Force was everywhere, surrounding his whole body, covering all possible counter moves he was contemplating. The pressure from the Force was suffocating; Luke felt like he was going to implode. "This is it", he told himself. He was about to give up.

The Emperor was watching the fight all along with amusement. But he was now becoming impatient, and howling, "Finish him. Finish him off and get over with it!"

DV seemed to be irritated by the Emperor's telling him what to do. The waterfalls surrounding Luke was suddenly gone. And then there was a bolt of lightening flashing across the hall rushing towards the Emperor. DV was attacking with full strength. The Emperor, unprepared, seemed surprised at first. But he after all was the grandmaster of the dark side. He checked the bolt just in time, but not without using all the energy he could muster from deep within. The bolt was deflected and struck right back onto DV, landing on his chest with a smart snapping sound and the smell of burning circuits. For a brief moment the Emperor's attention was focused on DV. And for a moment his body was exposed. Luke seemed to hear a voice calling out: Now! And then he found himself attacking the Emperor, as if on autopilot, striking out without any thoughts.

The Emperor was really surprised this time, not because young Skywalker was attacking. The Emperor knew very well what he had. Both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda were not able to pass on the key of the Force to him. And the Emperor knew exactly what young Skywalker was missing. "The Jedi knights are so stubborn. How couldn't they see it. It is so simple", he once said to himself. And he was not lying when he said he could teach the young man realizing his full potential. The Emperor was now feeling this full potential applying upon his body, with a much stronger Force than DV. Somehow young Skywalker had cracked the shell of the nut during the fight with his father.

"But why ? How ?"
"Damn! Of course..."

But it was too late. The Emperor felt the energy radiating from Luke was interfering with the flow of his own. It was as though someone had hit the rubber tube to the Bunsen's burner, and the flame was forced back onto the nozzle inside instead of directing outwards. He was burning himself with his own Force. He had to concentrate to contain the flame. Given time he would be able to redirect it. DV had just been dealt with, dying, probably, and so there was no concern over there. Even though young Skywalker had finally entered into the true realm of the Force, he was still feeling things out and could be handled given time. But time he had not. DV was coming towards him, even though every step was deliberate with effort. DV was using all remaining strength, grabbing the Emperor by hand, carrying him across the hall to the reactor shaft, and throwing him down the reactor. All the while the Emperor found the scene rather silly -- grandmasters of the Force resolving the final conflict with raw physical strength. What a laughing stock they would become when the "average" folks knew. But physical or otherwise, and raw it might be, it was very effective, for in that brief moment the Emperor was paralyzed from the sudden blow from Luke.

A big fireball erupted from far down inside the core of the reactor. A shockwave passed through the superstructure, shaking every nuts and bolts and metal joints, and then suddenly subsided, as if warning the inhabitants that it was time to go.

DV collapsed beside the rail of the reactor shaft, exhausted and breathing heavily. Luke was both startled and calm at the same time, feeling the Force passing through him in ways he hadn't felt before. He realized what had happened, and moved towards his father. He helped him to sit up and take off the climate control helmet. They talked. No one knew what they said.

 

Episode III Revenge of the Sith
 

...

The long struggle between the two sides was coming to an inescapable conclusion. The Jedi Knights were losing, slowly but surely. But they didn’t know that. On the surface, their setback seems to be caused by Palpatine’s cunningness and manipulations. But true masters of the Force should have seen through the deception. Their blindness was due to their own doing more than the power of the dark side. Over the generations, the true spirit of the Forces was somehow lost as the knowledge was passed down. The high council was concerned more about discipline, honor, and reputation, than the meaning of the universe, and began gradually creating rules. They called these their "code of conduct". At first these were for good reasons, as power corrupts if left unchecked. But the rules blocked the mind more than restricting behaviors, and the mind was important to make connection with the Force. Those who did not abide by the rules were sanctioned. Very early on, Anakin Skywalker sensed that perhaps there was no dark or bright side. The Force had no side. How could it have if it was all encompassing? The council was right to reject him; he had a seed of rebellion inside.

...

The final showdown was near. The Jedi Knights were doomed. But many still thought they could win. Anakin knew otherwise. He had been tempted by Sidious and knew how deep he understood the Force. An all out duel could have only one outcome. No, the fight must continue, otherwise the good of the human kind would be gone forever. Losing the battle was not important; but they could not lose the war. And the only way to turn this mess around was to learn from Sidious. He must get close to Sidious. He must hide his intensions despite the latter’s immense psychic power. For this reason he could not tell anyone, not even Obi-Wan – especially Obi-Wan, for he would surely stop him. He must find out what Sidious knew about the Force.

That night, Anakin and Padme' had a long talk. He didn't tell her everything, but said he was prepared to die. The burden must now fell upon their unborn children. This was their destiny. From this day on, Anakin was going to throw his family to different corners of the universe. He had been haunted by the vision that Padme’ was going to die as well. Padme’ tried to calm him down, but he knew this would happen. And increasingly he suspected that the actual cause of death was he himself. He and Padme’ might not live, but he needed to make sure their children would. And he needed to find out enough to pass on to them the knowledge needed in the real final battle.

Anakin and Padme' sat quietly watching daybreak. He was going to make the ultimate sacrifice of a Jedi Knight.

...

End of episode III
 

 

Epilogue of Episode VI

All these years since the end of the long wars, Luke had been traveling, from one corner of the galaxy to the other, meeting new people, discovering new worlds, and helping others in the Republic to rebuild their homes. He told Leah and Han that he was searching for other Jedi Knights. Han threw his usual sarcastic smirk from the corner of his month. But he later went into great trouble to “modify” Luke’s starfighter for long distance flight. Chewbacca of course did all the difficult work. Leah wanted him to stay to help out in the Senate. Politics was not his thing; reestablishing the Jedi order could be more useful, he said. But he knew this was unlikely. No one had survived the wars; Obi-Wan, Yoda and his father were the last. Everywhere he went, people recognized and respected him. But increasingly no one cared for the Jedi’s way. To be fair, on the surface, and at least on the practical side where the folks could understand, there were now far better hand-to-hand weapons than the lightsaber. The world had gone fully digital and automatic -- digital neural implant and automatic cognition. Even though the wars had ended, civilizations were building much more efficient weapons than the death star. Luke wondered what he was really looking for.

One day, the hyperdrive was acting up again. The timing was off by a few nanoseconds and he dropped out through the wrong exist of a worm hole. He came to a far away galaxy where he found a white planet and landed to do repairing. It was no big deal; his old trusted machine just needed recalibration.

After the repairing work, he did a short scouting around. The planet was white because water on the surface was all frozen. According to the scanner, H2O covered more than 70% of the planet. This system (this sun) lied very close to the galactic plane; it oscillated slowly up and down across the plane surface with a period of about 65 million years. Each time it crossed the plane, there was an increased chance of huge meteoroids showers, sending clouds of dust into the atmosphere, and blocking the sun. It must be the last such crossing that caused the surface temperature to drop below freezing. The planet was obviously bubbling with life in the past. Everywhere was now dead.

The single sun was beginning to set on the white horizon. Luke sat down on a big piece of ice block and watched the scene. The diffused blue sun light was rather moody, even beautiful, but Luke didn’t like what he saw. Nature was cruel. Why would it create a climate that allowed life to evolve and then froze them to death? How could the Force has a dark side if it was meant to be good? Luke was just asking himself rhetorically; he of course knew why. He just wondered why it had to be like this. Why did great sacrifice have to be made, need to be made. Things might come out right in the end, or it might not, but the sacrifices could only leave sad memories for those who cared.

The setting sun was beautiful but boring. The sparkling blue light reflected from deep inside the distance glaciers had made the environment felt colder than it already had. Luke thought of the twin suns on Tatooine. When he was young working in uncle’s farm, he would sit down alone outside, after a hard day’s work and after Aunt Beru’s delicious cooking, watching the two suns going down one after the other, as if they were playing hide-and-seek. He didn’t find the suns particularly pretty then. He was looking at them all his life. He dreamt to be a fighter pilot. He loved to be one; he lusted for the speed, the equipment, the machine, the uniform, and the life style. He wanted to get out of Tatooine. The galaxy was ruled by the imperial empire but he didn’t care. From within his small world, life was alright; and he had something to dream about.

The sun had now physically dropped below the horizon. There was still light because of refraction. Temperature would soon fall below the capability of his climate controlled suit. Luke got up and walked briskly back to his starfighter. This fighter was a mod, with a hyperdrive specially built to fit into the slot normally meant for a droid. He gunned the engine into life, took off, and engaged the hyperdrive as soon as he had cleared the atmosphere.

He was going home.

 

The End





 


 

In The Beginning

In the beginning there was nothing, and nothing to name this nothingness. And god said, Let there be Zero: and there was 0. God saw the 0, and it was good. The zeroth day of the universe was good.

On the first day, 0 told god it was lonely and god created 1. 0 and 1 mingled and formed a bit. They were happy and soon discovered that they could shift in and out of a bit to create more bits. By the end of the second day the universe was filled with bits.

Bits continued to pop up here and there. It was chaotic. So god grouped bits into bytes and bytes into words and words into pages of memory; and let the bits and bytes and words to represent all the data there were. It was good. The end of the third day was good.

In order to process data, god needed operators. Add, subtract and multiply came naturally, but divide was difficult. It remained unfinished by the end of the forth day. God fell asleep thinking about divide and dreaming about divide. It was the first ever nightmare in the universe.

When god woke up the next morning, divide-by-zero exceptions were raised everywhere. In order to handle the exceptions god created exception handlers. But exception handlers caused more exceptions, which in turns required even more handlers to handle. God spent the rest of the day and the rest of the night working on it. The universe saw the first ever overtime.

God overslept the next morning and decided to take the sixth day off.

In the meantime, someone sneaked in and tried to impose structure on exceptions, creating a paradox without knowing. If exceptions can be put into structures, they are not really exceptions. The universe was about to be sucked into a blackhole …

 


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