a journal of a researcher

Saturday, October 23, 2004

China Rising

“Get ready for China’s century”, today’s Global Mail focuses on China. It is a thorough report – economic booming, culture changing, low wages, human rights.

The outsiders are astonished by a modern China, plus the unique culture. The investors see the huge market. Many of the overseas Chinese go back to China, seeking for “a better life”. Some of my western friends told me their stunning experiences in China. They are curious to see the giant has its own rhythms of operating. I smile. Having the most ancient culture in the history, and the largest population in the world, of course Chinese have enough talent and wisdom to run the country and find a best way for the people. But China has too many problems. Many problems the outsiders would not know, such as the destroy of environments, the pressure of surviving for the low class people, the tense of energy shortage and nature resource shortage, the weakness in science and technology, and all kinds of conflicts in the society suppressed by the monopoly communism party. Which one comes first? A stable point or a blast point?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Back to Research

I finally finished my teaching. Then I can take a breath and go back to research. I have piled up work to do. Papers, papers, …:).

e-learning and else

e-learning will be the future of education. MIT has a lot of efforts on this direction. From the open courseware to the webLab. One can see MIT will be the major competitor in the future education market. If MIT’s core competency is at the content, the others will provide the Learning management system. I want to build an online experiment management system based on some open source.

Another effort is to give lectures online. MusicGrid is an effort lead by Dr. Martin Brooks , one of my collaborator and NRC colleague. MusicGrid is to use video conference devices to deliver music courses to northern Canada.

Actually I am doing the same thing. We use VC to teach a course to two campuses. I was asked to search for the VC in the market. We need a second set of VC, because we need VC more and more for any business in NRC building. I got to know that a decent VC that can be used for classroom is only less than $5000.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


Here is an article discusses the limit of REST:


I quote some of the points:

“The biggest problem most will have with REST is that it requires you to rethink your problem in terms of manipulations of addressable resources instead of method calls to a component. Of course you may actually implement it on the server side however you want. But the API you communicate to your clients should be in terms of HTTP manipulations on XML documents addressed by URIs, not in terms of method calls with parameters.”

Monday, October 11, 2004

How to Guide Master Students into Research

My experience so far told me that the master students are difficult to study a problem from abstract level at beginning. If you throw a problem to them, they just get lost. You need to guide them into the domain smoothly. Here is my recipe:
  1. Coding. Good researcher should be a good programmer. If your student can’t code, then, better do not work with them. Present the students explicit user case. Ask them to code a prototype system in a very simple way, without the research issues. This prototype is going to be the test bed of the research result later.
  2. Background investigation. Let the students know that width-breath background research is one aspect of research. It helps them to know the state-of-the-art. But this investigate should not be trivial. They have to read literatures. More important, hands-on on existing methods, i.e. try out the software, samples, coding.
  3. Select a problem to solve. This problem should be explicit, isolated enough. If it isn’t, you have to help the students to make it explicit and isolated. Then the student or you present the solution. The student tries out the solution, modifies it, improves it, and presents the results to you.
  4. Requirements on the proposal. The presented solutions should be tried and proved feasible. A proposal is not the beginning of research, it is at least close to 1/2 of the research. Thus a proposal is something you can really follow.
  5. Well motivate the students. Keep the enthusiastic in the students. Lead them into research without pain. Well guide the students, so that they can see their progress.
    Well control the students. You need to give students pressure. You need to point out the goal they have to reach before they can get their degree. Do not be too polite. Give orders explicitly and firmly. Keep your authority on the students.
  6. Demonstrate high quality of work. You need to show them that each step on research needs to be done in the first class quality. Do no tolerate compromises. Ask them redo their work, if they do not reach the quality.
  7. Work in group. I found they work much better if they are assigned the same work. Competition plus help each other.
  8. Thesis Writing. Ask them to accumulate materials for their thesis from beginning. Even draft some chapter while they work on the problem.

Some common weakness:

  • in the proposal, the problem is not explicit. The student still does not know what is the problem he/she to study.
  • Weak coding ability. The student has little real world experience to deal with complex problems. If they does only the assignments, you can be sure that they have not enough experience for coding. And you can not expect they can do research alone.
  • Many students choose to do thesis, instead of the other options, 3 courses and a report. You have to tell them that the actual work load of the thesis should be more than 3 courses and a report. Make sure they have good plan, do not let them sleep or rest.
    So this gives you an idea how hard you have to work. Do not believe you can sleep and rest.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

How to train the master students

From the master degree, the students have to do independent work. They study one topic and solve the problems by themselves. The students are expected to search the literatures, find the answers themselves. These skills make them superior to undergraduates.

I believe that I do not teach students, but they learn. For the students that do not learn, repeating 100 times of what you want to teach does not work. By observing how the students behave in my course, I want to find some students who are willing to learn and know how to learn as my master students.

For research, I think you can teach the methodology by demonstrating how you do research. Exposing some of your research activities and conversations, and studying some topic together with the student are good ways. For the topic assigned to the student, the student has to find the right answer alone under the guidance of directions and possible solutions.

I always tell my student, do not repeat what I have done. You have to go beyond. In the topic assigned to them, they have to do more than me. Then they teach me new knowledge. I always hear some famous profs thank their students bring them new knowledge. That is true.

Why Chinese students are weak in research

Science is to discover the new truths, debate what are the truths and stick on what you believe are truths. Science means to be independent and deep thinking.

The soil of China, i.e. historical, social and political environments, does not cultivate independent souls. We are educated to obey the authority, even for practical reasons. We are eager to make compromises and keep superficial harmoniousness.

Spiritually, we are pragmatic people. We are too willing to adapt to the environment, and find excuses for doing this. One good thing is that this makes Chinese survives for thousands of years. The bad thing is that you find they are distracted from scientific research.

Practically, we are empirical people. The know-how was accumulated by the practices of generations. But no enough theories are built for the explanation.

Fundamentally, Chinese do not grasp enough corner stones that built the western scientific traditions. At least that is not the over-all knowledge among the people. Only a few know the methodologies. Most of the teachers in all levels of schools and even the university professors do not how the methodologies. What they can teach is just know-how. They do not know how to train students to do scientific study.

The Chinese students were trained well in China to know enough background knowledge. But they do not have enough training on how to study one topic systematically and do profound thinking. One symptom is that the Chinese students ask many questions that they can solve in 10 minutes or just think twice. They want to know the answers quickly from the professor. But what they get is just a piece of information. It is better to solve the problems themselves.