Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Retiring from Hanayama Puzzles

Scott got me hooked on these puzzles. But after finishing the three level 10 puzzles, I'm going to retire. I still liked the Cast Enigma best.

The Cast News is also fun. But you either get it quickly or you don't. I got lucky with it.

The Cast Chain was very tedious.

Fun with commas

Last week during dinner, a friend asked everyone to guess the ratio between baby boys and girls in China during the peak years of the one child policy. We all guessed in the low 1.x's. After a hint that the number is higher, a few increased their guesses to three or four. My friend told us that the answer is 1,200 according to a study done by Columbia Univeristy. Yes, 1,200 boys for every girl! I couldn't believe it. For the ratio to be that high, 1,199 of the 1,200 women having a girl needed to somehow terminate it. It sounds so crazy. I could imagine a small village in a random place being like this, but I cannot believe it for a country as large as China. The law of large numbers will catch up to you. Since 1/6th of the world's population is Chinese, this unbalanced ratio would have huge global implications. I had to find the article and see for myself.

Luckily, another friend beat me to it. Read the numbers above carefully. In America, a comma is used between every three digits to make it easier to read and a period is used as the "decimal point". Well, in some other countries, it's the other way around. So the ratio is really "one and two tenth" (as most of us guessed correctly).

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Funny quotes or sad reality?

After a bus crash in Spain, the newspaper headline was "6 people and 2 Portuguese die in a car crash"! Neighboring countries rarely like each other. After all, they are forced to get in each other's way, like two kids who share a small bedroom. There is usually a lot of history involved that prevent the parties from being reasonable, like a divorcing couple who spend hundreds of dollars of legal fees per hour to fight over a small item. For proof, look at all the land, sea or river disputes!

In Japan, the weather person says "Luckily the hurricane missed Tokyo and is heading to Hokkaido". It's funny in a sad way. It even sounds like a mistake. Regional issues within a country is even worse in some ways. I've never understood why. And the more you zoom, it's more of the same. Even within a city or even a school, cliques and stereotypes are quickly formed.

I guess it's just human nature. We generally like to be around people who make similar decisions and trade-offs in life. Is there a way around this? Or are we simply not evolved enough?

Monday, April 10, 2006

A funny and sad lesson from history

I've heard a few stories on how people started to be vegetarian, but none of them sound convincing to me. After all, humans evolved together as hunters, so why would some groups suddenly stop eating meat. The following theory is the latest attempt to explain this.

Back in the Stone Age, humans discovered how they can build tools using stones for hunting. They attached sharp stones to a long stick for hunting. Well, there was one person named Bubba who always missed and was never able to hunt. It wasn't his fault. The poor guy had lazy eye. Each day, he was the only person in his tribe who returned home empty handed. His family, especially children, were always sad and hungry. He wanted to stop going hunting as it was futile. So he finally came up with the idea of being vegetarian and that's how it all started. He was quickly kicked out of the tribe, so Bubba started recruiting other people who always missed from other tribes and formed a new tribe. Over the years, many cultures who share Bubba in their lineage consider being vegetarian a virtue. As usual, the truth got lost along the way!

History is often full of untold stories. And the legend of a courageous Bubba who dared to be different from those around him should be celebrated more in today's centrist world where most people sadly strive to be the first person to be like everyone else. Long live Bubba!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Low Hanging Fruits

Many years ago, I read a paper by Dijkstra, a very accomplished Computer Scientist, on how to conduct scientific research. Although my undergraduate research quickly convinced me that doing a PhD and conducting research in general was not for me, Dijkstra made one key point that has stuck with me. The goal of the scientific community is to create new knowledge. For this, each scientist must work at his/her limit of knowledge. In other words, if you know that someone else in the field can solve a particular problem, leave it and solve a harder one. This strategy maximizes for the total output of the community by trading off the success rate of the best scientists for total output. Most people have a natural tendency of going after the low hanging fruits. But Dijkstra's point is that if a group wants to maximize the number of fruits it picks from a tree, each person has to work at his/her limits -- leave the low hanging fruits for someone who is afraid of heights or someone who is not as able.

Granted, practicalities of project management might not allow this to happen all the time in a work setting. But I really believe that this attitude also helps in a work setting. It's sometimes tempting to go after low hanging problems. But it's often best to leave them for someone new or with less experience in order to give them the experience and the confidence to reach higher next time. Sadly, in many organizations, people run after the low hanging fruits as it provides the shortest path to getting rewarded. This sadly fits in well with the super short-term view of most corporations as everyone scrambles to optimize the quarterly EPS number.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Puzzle: 50 coins

With your eyes closed, somebody puts 50 coins on the table: 40 heads and 10 tails. Let's assume that you cannot tell the side of the coin from touching or any other mechanism. Your job is to divide up the coins in two groups. All the 50 coins must be in one of the two groups, but the number of coins in each group may be different. Your aim is to have the same number of tails in each group. What do you do?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Fire!

I came down to California last night for a couple of days. I have started selecting middle seats on short flights to double my odds of finding a good person to chat with on the plane. But this time, I flew down with my coworker Niniane, so we were able to chat the whole way.

After having a good chelo kabab for dinner and getting tea in Palo Alto with a good friend, I went to my hotel. Around 12:30, the fire alarms went off. Luckily, I decided to go for a walk until the issue was resolved. There was an actual fire in the hotel! Luckily nobody got hurt as the fire was in the laundry room. We were permitted to return to our now smoky room much later. It was funny to see others random people blog about this too from the hotel's business center (the hotel is comprised of several disconnected buildings).

It seems like I have bad luck with hotels in Palo Alto. Last time I was here, they gave me the keys to a room that was not vacant and I walked into someone else's room. Luckily, nobody was there! On another previous occasion, a stranger starts loudly knocking on my door around 4am. Another reason to miss home!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Tapas in Spain

I never like going to Tapas places for dinner. For those of you who don't know, Tapas is a style of food from Spain where they serve many very small plates. For example, a plate might have 3 shrimps or 2 garlic sauteed mushrooms. And since it's popular to go with a large group, I always find myself sharing a plate that's not even big enough for one person with 8 people. And ordering many dishes somehow doesn't end up being enough food for me. I usually leave Tapas places hungry and craving a place like In-N-Out to get stuffed.


In Spain, Tapas are not for dinner or lunch. They are only consumed in the afternoon before and after siesta (a wonderful ritual of closing business in the afternoons and sleeping). So Tapas were designed more for an afternoon snack than a meal. So nobody leaves hungry. I loved many of the Tapas plates there. But my favorite was probably
Jamon Serrano -- think of it as Prosciutto++ (Scusi to all Italians). Here are some pictures to wet your appetite! Another good place, recommended by a Googler, was a swedish-argentinean restaurant called Olsen. Sadly, they had no giant swedish meatball, which is the first thing that came into my mind when I heard of this interesting mix.