Friday, 28 December 2012

Rethink about Dreams

"We already walked too far, down to we had forgotten why embarked."——Kahlil Gibran

It's my forth year here in Singapore and it seems that I am a bit lost.  Maybe it's time to reexamine myself before moving forward. Where am I heading?

The first time I wrote down my future plans was five years when I bought a time management book named "How to get control of your time" written by Allan Lakein. The book requires us to list down the top goals for 3-5 years, 3months, etc. It also provides an efficient way to organize and prioritise daily tasks. The methods worked great for me for a year before I came to Singapore. I started to realize that by noting the dreams down, dreams become step-by-step plans and are no longer difficult to accomplish. 

Fortunately, most of the so-called dreams I listed 5 years ago got accomplished. For instance, getting admitted by a good university, being able to cope with the new environment in university,traveling overseas, buy parents some gifts with my own money, etc. 

However, after coming to Singapore, life became more uncertain. I tried to use the same approach to list down the daily tasks and short-term plans, but it doesn't work any more. One of the reasons might be language. I started to think in English while the old methods kept pulling me back to a Chinese mind state. I sought for alternative ways to manage my own life, like another best-selling management book named"Get Things Done". However, it doesn't last long before I switched to different noting devices from paper to phones then to Google Calendar. There should be something/someone that I can really turn to. I thought for religious sustenances,but the churches I have attended cannot really help fully open my heart. I've been constantly seeking for the way/path, but there doesn't seem to be an answer.

There are basically three paths: academic, engineering job then management, entrepreneurship. The best and most honorable path is probably academic. My original plan was to learn Engineering, then get a CAP of around 4.5 and then apply for a US graduate school. Or else to apply for the Singapore-MIT alliance program with a CAP of >=4.2 without worrying about bonds. However, after learning Engineering for a year, I realised that I am not really interested in it. Neither am I intelligent enough to compete with some of my peers academically. 

Then I decided to switch to computing which was one of my interests since secondary school. I was fairly good in Mathematics,especially Geometry in secondary school and high school. I also learnt Pascal programming and some algorithms in high school. However, by the time I switched from Engineering to Computing, I knew that it would probably be very difficult to catch up with the top computing students. But I strongly believe it a right decision since it's out of my personally interests.

At the end of the second year, my academic record is around 4.5/5.0 which is fairly OK but not good enough for academics or research.  Then I read an article saying that the "A" students are doing physics/etc research, what should the "B" students do?  That's when I started to think about switching to the entrepreneurship path. The root of starting my own business grew from a very young age.My father started doing his own career after finishing high school. My mum was one of the workers he hired at that time. They later worked for a government company. Before long, they got fired from the company privatisation transformation in China. It's never secure or rewarding to work for other people. I remembered when one secondary teacher told the class that a senior went to work in Microsoft and earned over 1million RMB/year, I myself didn't feel excited at all. I was thinking that the senior should work for his/her own instead of working for other people. Then I applied for CS3216, involved in startup projects, then got to know more about other entrepreneurial aspects besides technology... 

Now the plan for the next few years is more of doing project management, becoming a computer architecturer and at the same time, seeking for opportunities to build a product/team and start my own business someday. I will probably write a more systematic plan later in a physical paper so that I would be more clear of what to do in the next few(3-5) years.

The topic is a bit too broad. I started to write this topic two days ago but ended up with lots of words. I think I'd better stop here. Hopefully, I'll have some other time rethinking about dreams.

[Yesterday's Reminder]
Last semester's exam results are out. The results are pretty bad. What are the true reasons for not doing them good?

Previously, I thought it's because I was distracted by too many stuffs and didn't work hard enough on those subjects. The previous conclusion is 1.Be more focused 2. Work harder. 

However, when I reviewed my mid-term test of NLP before the final exam, I realize that I won't be able to solve the unsolved problems even given another 2 hours working on those same questions.  
The total score for the mid-term test is 40 marks, and the average is only 19 marks. I got a mark of 17, which is below the average. 

The distribution is very similar to the blue curve here in the right hand side which was posted by Prof.Andrew Ng in today's talk. He also mentioned that the amount of time spend on learning is extremely important for weaker students. Sometimes, students need to review the same concepts several times before fully understanding them. Honestly, I wasn't as clever as many of my peers in that class to understand every topic in the class. Neither did I use other approaches to improve my understanding besides reviewing the lecture notes and assignments. Peer discussion and other collaborative learning should be involved to get a better result.

In summery:  
1. Not spending enough time understanding the lecture contents when I didn't learn as fast as the peers.
2. Fully relying on lectures will only guarantee a normal grade. Need more engagements.
3. Didn't personalize the learning material for my own understanding. 

[Coursera Talk]

I really love Coursera. It encourages learning and provides quality education for everyone. Prof.Andrew NG is very humble and caring for students. I took his machine learning course last semester which is a pleasant experience. I finished 100% of the CAs and programming exercises. The encouragement makes me more self-motivated in learning the contents of the course. Compared to Udacity which dumps the contents on the web and doesn't set deadlines, Coursera's approach seems to be more close to the students' real learning experience. It is also great to know that Coursera is more of a non-profitable organisation than a VC supported company. There can be plenties of ways to earn money and coursera's approach seems to be a win-win situation,providing students with career mapping services, licensing contents to universities, etc. That is really great.

Fortunately, I had the chance to ask a question to Prof.NG. I was thinking about the potential job threats which Coursera may bring to the less prestigious university stuffs. Similar to Google's replacement of the traditional publicity medias, highly machine-based automatic system can actually steal people's jobs. There will be a time when coursera can teach all sorts of classes like circuit design or music instruments, that might be fairly destructive to the education industry. Well, I personally think it a good thing. Haha. The traditional teaching approach has a lot of problems. There need to be some changes.

Good night:-)

Friday, 21 December 2012

About Memory

Today, I went for an Evernote Sharing event in an incubator named Blk71. The event is more on user feedbacks and marketing. There are three thoughts to be highlighted.

1. Attending this kind of entrepreneur events is a very good approach for reaching out more contacts. Many people who have their own businesses or plan to build their own startups will come and attend this kind of events.There is one entrepreneur who shared his experience of how he used Evernote to design his own app. He got the chance to advertise his own app while sharing the experience. Another software developer shared how his company integrated Evernote's public API. He indeed shared a lot more on his own product rather than Evernote. During the break, I talked with two entrepreneurs. One is a NUS computer engineering alumni. He is now running his own retailing company on baby products. It works well as there weren't competitors in Singapore when he first started his business. Though there is no relationship between baby products and software engineering, it was good to know that he liked doing it. Another entrepreneur is a PHD who invented a sensors-based jacket which helps parents monitor their children's body temperatur by remotely control the jacket temperature. It doesn't sound to be a right problem to solve. But at least they utilizes both hardware and software, which is pretty cool. At the end of the events, there are also quite a number of entrepreneurs who shared name cards with the presenter. So it is a pretty nice way for sharing contacts and knowing more people.

2. Psychology matters. My friend who invited to this event is an Evernote fan. He has created almost 1,000 notes since he started to use iPad few months ago. He is very interested in Psychology and he raised several questions for Evernote in a Psychological point of view.

First question is about privacy. Unlike Google and Facebook which publicly utilizes users' data for targeted advertising, Evernote is more of a filter for a bunch of private data. That's why it makes more sense to utilize free-premium model rather than to sell advertisements like the big brothers. However, as the cloud is never secure enough to protect every data, it will never be trustful enough when a cloud-based company claim itself never use the users' data for commercial purposes. That's part of the reason why Instagram lost so many users when they changed their terms and conditions.

Second question is about memorising. Evernote's CEO once said that the company's mission is to help people "remember everything". In a psychological point of view, simply"remember everything" is not enough. As claimed by some psychologies, human brains are similar to computer which allocate information in segmented memories. If people stuck their minds with too many things, it is likely that they cannot retrieve information very effectively. A good information retrieval mechanics is somewhat more important than memorising. An efficient data mining technic is needed to get the information instead of just memorising the information.  Thus collaborative data and public data are necessary to be integrated to the system if the company is going to grow beyond just"remembering everything". That's why self-learning should be accompanied with peer learning and etc.The company cannot jump out of the box if they keep training the private data(login user's data) without making use of other user data in the system. However, that's a contraction with their own privacy policy. This raises another question, which is"how the company is going to grow". The CEO said they want the company to be a "100 year old startup" which is a fairly big dream, but very hard to accomplish. Today, the world is more openly-connected. Software companies can make use of talents all across the world to make great products. That's a great opportunity. But how the company can grow to be both a big company and a startup, it requires a lot of wisdom. I've read an article which introduced how Spotify scale in an agile approach which is really interesting. Other startups may learn from them.

3. The combination of both the online stuffs with the offline stuffs(OTO). It was very interesting to know that Evernote worked together with a pen&paper company named "moleskine" which utilises color tags and convert them with digital tags. Digital applications are making things easier, but not necessarily making us smarter. There are some reasons why traditional medias cannot be replaced. One of the reason is that the smart devices are not able to provide all the possible functionalities a traditional media can provide. Human can receive a lot of rich data from their own sensors(eyes,ears,etc). Some of them are much more advanced than the digital sensors. However,there are a lot of restrictions on our own sensors which digital devices can help make into reality,like geolocation. That's where the augmented reality concept come. I may work some apps related to augmented reality in the IOS class next sem.

Monday, 17 December 2012

About Religion

Today, I invited some of my friends to the Christmas Gathering in our home church. By"our",I mean the church is at the apartment where I live and I've been attending the church for a whole semester. I cannot claim myself as a Christian as there is still one key fact I cannot accept at this moment, which is "Is Jesus God?". I've been seeking for the answer in Bible for weeks, but the conclusion I can draw is that "Jesus is the son of God" or "Jesus is part of God",but Jesus and God are not completely identical. However, I do believe it beneficial for people to know more about God. In fact, I invited five of my best friends who are non-believers, but only two managed to come.

This time, a Deacon in another Church came to our church to share God's words. It is very persuasive and I cannot pick significant flaws out of his words. At the end of the preaching, the Deacon prayed to God for guiding us to God. I prayed with the Deacon line by line. "...Believe that I am sinner...I will be judged by God...Jesus Christ is the only son of God...He died in the cross for us and resurrected...Only through him can we go to Heaven and sit at the side of God...Pray in the name of Jesus Christ"Believe or not, I accepted every line he mentioned in that pray. I listened very carefully and I remembered very well that he didn't say "Jesus is God" but"Jesus is the son of God". The "trinity" term is very hard to understand in a human point of view. One quite acceptive answer for me now is"the word became flesh". I guess I won't be able to understand that until I don't really care about it. However, I will read the whole Bible to seek for proper answers. 

There was a big debate between my Christian friends and my two non-believer friends. One of my non-believer friends is a materialist who only cares about facts instead of faith. He didn't talk too much, but every time he shared his view, he was strongly against religion(in fact, any kinds of religions).He listed a lot of facts from religious events and famous philosophers to claim that religions are sometimes disruptive to the world. The other friend believes that "There is God, and only one God". He has been reading many profound books about religions. He said religions teach us to be good persons,in fact, almost every "good" religion teaches us so. There is no persuasive reason why he must follow Christianity unless his parents are Christians or he has witnessed some miracles performed by Jesus Christ(not others). When I sent them back, I further listened to their opinions. I realised that the first friend is very hard to change his mind and the second is still possible to get improved.

Maybe religion is more about whether you believe it or not rather than whether something is genuinely true or false. To me, I'd rather believe that religions make people better humans and the world a better place. If not, it would be a tragedy.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Time to Write sth about the NOC Israel

After more than a month's waiting, I received an email today from the Financial Aid office saying that I am not permitted to go for the NOC Israel programme. 

Dear ShaohuanI refer to your appeal to participate in NUS Overseas College (NOC) Israel. As spoken on 6 November 2012, we understand that you are very eager to attend the NOC and we had submitted your appeal, together with the appeal from NOC to the sponsor.  However, we regret to inform you that your appeal to participate in NOC Israel is not successful.   The sponsor has advised that you look for an internship locally instead, if needed. We wish you all the best. 

Actually, I was informed by the NOC coordinator that she has been informed by her colleagues that the sponsor officially rejected my appeal(together with Prof.Ben's and NOC's appeals) on 21st Nov. She tried to confirm with her colleagues whether the decision is final or not, hoping to help me for the last try. However, I guess the result won't be positive anyhow. I am sorry for those who loved and helped me along the way. I am sorry that I didn't make it in the end.

There are several questions you may ask and I list some of them here in this blog.
1. You already get selected by NOC Israel, why do you need to ask permission from the sponsors?
2. Who's the sponsors? What do they want?
3. Why is it related to the Financial Aid office?Why didn't you contact the sponsors directly?
4. Did you try your best to get this opportunity?
5. Is there still hope?
6. Any alternatives? What's your next plan?
7. What do you learn from this experience?

Now I explain the above questions one by one in an objective matter(brief answers are highlighted).

1. You already get selected by NOC Israel, why do you need to ask permission from the sponsors?It is very hard to get an Israel working permit visa and it normally takes more than 3 months to proceed according to the NOC Israel coordinator. Thus the NOC Israel's approach is to apply for a student pass which will be handled very quickly.

In order to apply for the student pass, we will have to get the approval from school, which consists of a Term Leave approval from the faculty and the sponsors' approval if the candidates happen to be scholars.

I got the approval from the financial aid office saying that I am eligible to go for NOC Israel. However, my faculty coordinator said that my scholarship has some restrictions on overseas timstamp.  She checked with the financial aid office again saying that I am not eligible to go as I have been for SEP(student exchange programme) thus cannot go for NOC. The financial aid office then withdrew my offer.

I refer to the scholarship handbook which says"Scholars are also not allowed to participate in the Student Exchange Programmes(SEP) that require them to complete the programme partially with an overseas partner University for more than one semester."which means I cannot go for overseas programmes which is more than one semester.  To my understanding, it is OK that I can go for two separate programmes which is both not more than one semester. However, the financial aid office insists that I have to add up all my overseas programmes together to be no more than one semester. That's where the conflict begin.

2. Who's the sponsors? What do they want?

I was selected by the Ministry of Education(MOE) in Singapore four years ago to take the bachelor's degree here in NUS. They offered enough housing allowance, living allowance and school fee allowance which makes me financially independent. However, it has a big tradeoff which says that I have to work in Singapore registered company for no less than 6 years.Besides the 6 years' bond, there are other regulations which we will need to follow. The sponsor is one of the biggest companies in Singapore. However, I was told by one of my seniors that the sponsors are no longer paying, but MOE is paying all the money.

Their intention is to attract competitive human resources to Singapore to help maintain and further improve the competitive education and working environment.  It seems to be not only about money, but also about the benefits of the whole society. As for the "no more than one semester" regulation, their first intention might be to avoid the scholars from finding jobs overseas and escaping from the bond. The second intention would probably to protect the local students' opportunities from the competitive scholars. However, none of the above concerns is true in my case. I'm not working in Israel after graduation. I'm not stealing the local students' opportunities as we don't share the same skill set and we are equally selected. Among all the picked NOC Israel students, none of the local students are software engineers. Some withdrew their offers after knowing the unstable military situation in Israel. I cannot come up with a better reason why they disapprove the request. Maybe the sponsors are like Pharisees who care more about rules.

3. Why is it related to the Financial Aid office?Why didn't you contact the sponsors directly?

The Financial Aid office's role is a middle man which help communicate between the sponsors and the students.Students are not able to contact the sponsors directly as the contacts will be kept secretly within the Financial Aid office.

4.Did you try your best to get this opportunity?
I think so.

5. Is there still hope?
Probably not.

6. Any alternatives? What's your next plan?

Though I didn't get the chance to go for the NOC Israel programme, I still believe that entrepreneurship is the right path I shall be going. The company I planned to work in Israel is going to start a branch here in SG. I would love to help set it up. However, I may have to focus a lot on my studies as well, especially on things which may affect my future path. If possible, I'd love to learn CS3217 and experience the pain again.

This holiday, I'll be working on learning basic IOS development and software pattern design. There are a few other projects need to be done, too. For personally interests, I'll be creating 1-2 pop songs.

7. What do you learn from this experience?

One of my christian friends told me that people should obey the rules made by governors as the bible says the governors are assigned to rule the people. I asked,"what if the rules are wrong" or "the rulers are doing unreasonable things"? He said "we still need to obey". I didn't agree with him and argued back"what if the rulers are doing things against God"?  He thought twice and said"he will get punished". It seems that people have less power are always venerable to protect their own rights.
I contacted the Israeli company on my own without the NOC coordinator's permission one day before she finishes all the interviews and comes back to Singapore. I emailed her about my disobedience. She found my behaviour unlawful and mistrustful.I replied:

Dear **,Thank a lot for your reminders and suggestions. It was my fault and I shall be responsible to take any bad outcomes. There will be similar situations in one's lifetime when everything doesn't seem to be hopeful and one cannot even trust his/her own faith. I confess that I trusted you all the way through, but I cannot trust anyone any more when there is no hope. It's not because I don't want to trust, but I'm not strong/faithful enough to trust. There is a tiger lying in me.Though I'm very unlikely to get this chance, I still believe that entrepreneurship is a right path for me. You may doubt about it, but you'll witness it in 20 years time.

I guess I shall not try to get the chance any more, otherwise, more of my love ones will get hurt.Lastly, thank every one who helped me and I won't make you down/disappointed.

Appendix 1: My email to MOEDear **,My name is Shaohuan. I'm a PRC scholar from NUS Computer Engineering Year 4. I'm very interested in programming and technological entrepreneurship. Recently, I received an offer from NUS Overseas College Israel for half a year's internship in a startup company in Israel. It is a great opportunity as the Israeli startup has a very creative entrepreneurial environment and the company makes great products/services. One of their focus areas is Technological Education which empowers education with the latest technologies. It is one of my top interests as a long term career. I am writing this email to ask for permission from MOE so that I can go for this program and bring the entrepreneurial spirit back to Singapore.The startup company itself operates like a small incubator with innovative projects and brilliant minds. This kind of highly innovative environment is very rare in Singapore or even in the whole world. I really would love to bring the passionate entrepreneurial spirit from Israel to Singapore. In fact, the company is planning to start a technical branch here in Singapore. I strongly would like to be part of the innovation and make great products/services for Asia and the rest of world.If I get the permission, I will be delaying my graduation for half a year. However, I will not take any extra scholarship from MOE and the sponsors. The Israeli company will be paying me the internship allowance. My faculty coordinator and professors also support my decision. However, there is a issue with the fact that I have gone through another half-a-year overseas program and the faculty coordinator said I will need to confirm with the sponsors first to grant me the permission. I'm really looking forward to your positive feedback.Thanks a lot! 

Appendix 2: Reply from MOEDear Shaohuan,Thank you for contacting us with regards to your TG bond obligations.From what you have mentioned, you do not need to apply for deferment if you have not graduated from NUS with a degree. You will only need to apply for deferment if the programme is done after you have completed your studies at NUS.

Appendix 3: Reply from Financial Aid OfficeMy apology for not replying to your email as we are still waiting for your appeal result from your sponsor. In addition, I hope to clarify with you that you have contacted the MOE Tuition Grant Unit and they are not your sponsor for your Undergraduate Scholarship for PRC Student. Please note that their reply is regard to their MOE Tuition Grant bond deferment and you are not seeking for bond deferment at this moment. Therefore, their response does not prevail your sponsor’s final decision.Meanwhile, please concentrate on your examination and we wish you all the best.