a journal of a researcher

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Christmas Reading List

I normally spend Christmas and New Year vacation to travel around the world. But this year, I spent my time lying in my sick bed and reading some books which I do not have time to read in my usual days. I enjoyed the solitude days and deep thinking (or sleepy think?).

  • Steve Jobs (by Walter Isaacson): a good book to know all the characters of Jobs. Especially impressed by the persistence of pursuing the perfectness. The moment to “bet on the company”. The attitude of facing death. He really loved what he was doing. He could give up money and almost everything for it. I can imagine living with him would be a difficult thing.

  • Phoenix: the life pf Norman Bethune (by Roderick Stewart and Sharon Stwart): Norman Bethune is the most respectful Canadian in China. Mao had an essay prizing his purity in his humanity and his selflessness to the Chinese people. Not all the Canadians are fond of him, because he was a communist. But above all, he was a person living not for himself, but for the others, and a person who devoted his whole life to what he believed which was beyond himself.

Monday, July 25, 2011

An IT era without hardware and software

Do you see the cloud is coming? Soon, you will not buy hardware and software. Well, you still need a basic computer to type and connect the Internet. But your company will have no more a data center with all the wired servers. They are over the cloud. And the software to run your company, like the ERP system, the email system, the database, and the computation software, are all running on the cloud. And the pieces of the software are interconnected and interoperated. You will have a what so called collaborative working environment where you can connect to your colleagues, the database, the files, and the internal and external info you need for your work.

Is the cloud far away? Check the saleforce.com’s work. They bring the cloud over your head. It is very ambitious of them to provide the whole solution from the hosting service to the development process. You can build your IT solution on top of their service. You do not need people to do the backup, to maintain the hardware, and to keep the server running. But you still need developers to develop new business apps for your own company. That is going to be your IT department. So, the CIO’s function is reduced, and more close to the business operation.

What Google Nexus is not good

I am using Google Nexus phone for about one month. I should say it is not a phone with high quality. It more like a prototype with good ideas. But the phone is not very solid as iPhone or Blackberry. I just compare it with iPhone3.

1. The battery life is shorter than iPhone.
2. The GPS is way too slow. You cannot use it effectively, because it could not locate your location fast and precise enough. You end up with an electronic map and you figure out where you are by yourself. iPhone is not like that.
3. The default apps are not good. So you need to download third party apps and see the ads around.
4. No tapping sound on the soft keyboard, which is not a good experience.
5. The back lid is too hard to open.
6. Initialization problem. See my poster on June 22.
User experience is above all for the smart phone. So you can see the Android market will stop increasing to some extent.

Friday, June 24, 2011

RIM and Playbook

We received two more Blackberry Torch and six more Playbook from RIM this week. Our NSERC Engage project goes well. I consider the extra hardware is a support from RIM.

iPhone changed the smartphone market. RIM still did OK, if compared to companies like Motorola. Its Blackberry Torch is compared with iPhone 4. And its OS is considered less error compared to Android. However, Blackberry is not on the top fashion anymore. The carries do not recommend it to the end users as before. The competition is so hard that even iPhone 4 is not the top recommended phone. I got my Nexus S which seems on the top of the list.

The Playbook seems not so welcome in the market. But maybe RIM should check its marketing strategy. For the tablet, I like its size that you can carry it anywhere. I like to check weather before I get up and read a little bit before I sleep. My smartphone is too small and my laptop is too big to bring to my bed. I would like to play with a playbook for these purposes. In addition, playbook can be a professional hand held tool. Then, RIM should focus on applications, more cool applications, for playing and for work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Playbook, iphone, and google android phone

I am busy in the summer to work for the nserc engage project. We are using RIM’s playbook for a hospital application. At the same time, I am a three years user of iPhone 3 and a new user to Google’s Nexus S.

Playbook: the Hospital has an iphone solution already. But for some reasons, they want the playbook solution. Why? Do not think that once you use iPhone, you cannot live without it. Playbook has its advantage, maybe simply because it is not an iPhone. Many reasons. One of them is that iPhone is too much a consumer device and we need a more serious and professional hand held device in the Hospital. Long live the Playbook. I hope.

iPhone: I agree iPhone is so far the best phone in its usability. All the details are considered for the user to use it without any efforts. The user experience is wonderful. And you can show off among your friends. But if you are software engineer, you know the software design can still be improved.

Nexus S: I took 10 minutes and many tries to open its rear lid to put its battery in! I did not hear the clicks when I type on the soft keyboard. The default setting is vibrating. And the automatic time adjust did not give me the right time (thinking it gets my location correct). Heee, I want my iPhone back. My iPhone was an easy pick-up and use. Why should I go through all the hassles before I can play with it? Cannot you just copy these details from iPhone? But Nexus has a lot of cool apps from google. Even so, I do not see what I want most: I want a piece of software to read the ebooks to me. I also want apps to listen to radios and TV.
And I am building a cool app for the mobile device too with my students. The playbook one is cool. I still have another one.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Matrix

The Matrix is a 1999 movie and the two sequels appeared in 2003. I came back to the three movies after I saw some of new movies of Keanu Reeves. I like Keanu plays super heroes than he plays romantic dramas. Especially, he presented a perfect Neo in the Matrix.

The three Matrix are complex enough. This time, I even downloaded the scripts to really understand the story. No need to say the Matrix pushed the action sequence, the special effects, and the usage of philosophy in a movie to a higher level. As a computer scientist, here are some questions in my mind:
1. Does the machine communicate with human in a graphical/image way? You know the machine is not good in processing the graphics and images, especially the machine cannot understand them as human being. Therefore, why the architect and the oracle appear like a human figure to communicate with human being? if so, they are less advantaged.

2. How can Neo feel something wrong in his surrounding world and try to seek for an answer? Trinity said, I understand why you stay nights after nights, searching for an answer. We do not even know what the question is. Neo said: “what is the Matrix?”. But before he comes to this answer, he must find that something wrong to his human nature, because the Matrix cannot handle human nature properly. It says that 99% of the people can accept the current version of the Matrix. But the architect cannot avoid the anomaly which is due to the human nature. Then what is human nature? why the human nature cannot tolerate the Matrix’s control? I think Neo definitely feels that he is under controlled and he does not have all the freedom to control his own fate. Maybe some of his choices are not understood by the matrix, then the matrix cannot simulate the scenario properly.
I heard in today’s news that an Libyan woman said Cadafe decides what they can read, and what they can do. This is sufficient for them to risk their own lives and their children’s lives to fight. That is a real world version of matrix.

3. Do you think how the Matrix can simulate? Why the choices are difficult to simulate? I think if the Matrix can understand human behavior as an automaton, even if this automaton can be very complex, then the simulation won’t break. If the matrix is not perfect, that either means the human behavior cannot be summarized as an automaton, or the automaton is too big for the Matrix’s computation power. Who can prove the previous?

4. “There is no spoon”. I played this episode in my class to ask the students to free their mind for research. This is a very interesting scenario. The spoon boy tells Neo that “do not try to bend the spoon. That it is impossible. Instead, only try to realize the fact that there is no spoon. Then you will see that it is not spoon that bends. It is only yourself.” What Neo does is to intercept the code in the matrix, thus he has the power to change the matrix. I interpret it that you need to see the different rules applied to your subject. If you only see how it works now, you see no problems, then no research. Or you deny the possibilities to change it. If you want to change it, you need to find other rules that the reality also follows. You make the subject bend to the new rules. Then you succeed in your research, because you’ve changed the reality. Free your mind, you can find the other rules.

After more than 10 years, the Matrix is not fade. Long live Matrix. And immortal Keanu!

Monday, February 14, 2011

programming model in industry

I touched a little bit android programming. Actually it is not really android, it is just java. I really like this strategy. I think google is really a better strategic player. Android soon gained 24% market share, surpassing many long time players. And the ecosystem around android could be even healthier. Think how many developers could work on android directly.

Recently I contacted several companies in my work. Checking what kind of tools and programming languages they use, I find the development process may affect their market and cost greatly. I strongly recommend techniques with open standards, open source supports and using easier and popular programming languages. Though some old and classic programming languages are elegant and tell us the fundamentals of computer systems, it is really not the key factor to choose them as development language. Why not use Java and C#? They may be slower than C++, but they are easier to master and less possible to make mistake. Even my students do not like to apply jobs using these old languages.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Season of going home

Year after year, I just returned to China a week or two in the summer. In my eyes, it is like a Chinese saying: “although the garden is still there, it is no more my home.”

Needless to say that China is getting better and better. Now, it is the No. 2 economics in the world, surpassing Japan in this year. Things are all produced in China, cheap and abundant. The cities are built modern and big. People are plenty and streets are busy. Public transportation in the city is cheap and convenient. Restaurants are in all price range. What do you expect more? The government takes care of a lot of things: from adjusting the industrial policy to establishing the society insurance system. I can see that industrial policies are being adjusted. Real estate development and housing prices is expected to be more reasonable. Labor-intensive industries will move to inland. Industrial restructuring will be conducted. People will have a better life.

If to say what I dislike, I should say the strong control of the cultural life. Now most of the TV programs and movies are produced in China. Import products are rare to see. These products are in good quality. However, they are all from the same angle to describe and interpret life. Internet information is also controlled. Many of the sites that I regularly visit in Canada are not accessible inside China. Blogger.com and youtube.com are also banned in China. It seems the government only wants you to know what they want you to know and understand the things in the way they want you to understand. Any individual thoughts or thoughts that disapproved by the government are forbidden. This is completely intolerable for a person who knows the taste of freedom.

Children in China do not have easy life. They are facing high competition, even more serious than any competition in a working place, because the losers can lose all their future. They learn a lot of things and practice a lot to be perfect. I always tell the parents that most of the practices and what they learn do not really help to their future life. However, on the other side, I should tell my students in Canada that without hardworking, they can lose the competition to the Chinese workers.