November 14, 2011

My Pursuit

The one thing I value most is intelligence. It is not academic excellence - as a doctoral student, academics is evidently one of my major pursuits; however it is not everything I am after. I do not mean cleverness either. Being clever is a genius, a gift, and it is certainly fortunate that one is quick in mind; but it is not essential. A very intelligent man can be without an exceptional quickness.

By intelligence, I mean the sharpness of mind, the sheer ability to accept information and make sense of it, the ability to see things that are not apparent by sight, and to make out the interior of what has happened, and generalize it to a grander subject, grander than our own humble beings.

Scholastic pursuits, as a major part of my life, is like an art to me. It is like practicing calligraphy, one of my longest-lasting pastimes: The greater you learn, the abler you become to appreciate the beauty of it, once your proficiency in the subject has reached a level that provides aesthetic value to what you do. Yes, academics is an art to me, an enjoyment, and a means to make a reasonably comfort living, in a life filled with the amusement of reading and thinking.

I hope at the age of sixty, when I will be freed from earthly obligations, I can spend a few years in a Daoist temple, to reflect on all my life’s happenings, and find the truth of Dao. Fangjing

October 19, 2011

A joke on mathematicians

This was told by my optimization professor.

A physicist and a mathematician were asked to solve two problems. The first problem was that given a waterfall, an empty kettle, and a stove, to prepare hot water. The physicist collected water from the waterfall with the kettle, and then put it on the stove to boil it; the mathematician did the same. The second problem was to prepare hot water given a waterfall, a kettle, this time already filled with water, and a stove. The physicist directly put the kettle of water on the stove to boil; but the mathematician first poured away the water from the kettle, and then the second problem was reduced to the first problem, solving the second one.

October 6, 2011

Market for everything: Name your couple stars

International Star Registry: Name a Star for Someone Special | Unique Birthday Gift - Buy a Star Name Today - Couple's Star Group
Since 1979 International Star Registry has been offering the gift to name the stars and is now offering your chance to name two stars in honor of your favorite couple. Couple’s Stars are available for couples, loved ones and family members. Two stars from the same solar system. Residing in the sky. Together forever.
Thank Terri for the pointer.

September 24, 2011


For one thing, the people-finding algorithm of Facebook is a clumsy one. If Google+ can effectively develop a superior algorithm to match friends (which is one thing Google is insanely good at), it may be a game changer.

September 20, 2011

September 4, 2011

Merriam-Webster's Recently Popular Words

I found this most popular words ranking by M-W. It lists the most frequently searched for entries for the past 24 hours, 7 days, and 4 months. This could include vocabulary related to current happenings and can be an interesting and effective guide to vocab learners.

August 1, 2011

Letter to my cousin

Congratulations on your admission to xxx High School!

I have been looking for this book for you, How to Become a High School Superstar by Cal Newport, since nearly two years ago, when it was first published, and now I can finally present it to you. Trust me: This is no ordinary high school study guide. I have read both other books by Cal, namely How to Become a Straight-A Student and How to Win at College; the prior for three times. They truly revolutionized my ideas about how to score straight As in college and get into top grad schools/find high-paying jobs. Without these insights, I don’t know if I could have made it, in an admission year as competitive as the one I have just experienced.

In a way, Cal is a lot like me, always eager to discover new methods and techniques to do things better by spending minimal effort as possible. Methods learned from here won’t be in the mouth of your high school counselors, nor will it be found in any conventional high school study guides.

Why I believe such methods exist? I have been a follower of such unorthodox teachings. In reminiscence, I think I have much enjoyed my high school life. Unlike many of my classmates, I maintain a balanced schedule, with at least one hour of physical exercise each day, a healthy diet, and even right before the Gaokao I hardly ever went to bed later than 10pm – even though due to the long distance between my home and school, I had to spend at least two hours each day in the traffic. I had a wide range of hobbies: I was the key member in the school choir; I practiced calligraphy intensively – in the summers I usually spent one to two hours each day writing; I wrote a blog regularly; I participated in school singing contests; I read comic books and watched many cartoons; I maintained wide social circles, and hung out with friends every now and then. However, this didn’t blur the fact that I have been a top student in high school all the way through. I discovered all these efficient working methods by trials and errors, but you don’t have to. With the help of this book, I am sure you will do much better than what I have accomplished.

I can still vividly remember how I managed to get myself into Beijing No.4 High School; and I am confident to say, had I just followed what my high school teachers told us to do, without putting into much of my own thought and experiments, I would have achieve merely what my other classmates have by following those simple-minded methods to grind and work hard. But remember, everyone knows you should work hard; and believe it or not, nowadays many high school students work really hard; and if you don’t have some unique skills and knowledge, in modern management science jargons, your competitive advantages, you will only be that boring and pathetic average hard-working student, which I bet you’d never want to.

Finally, if you would merely read and follow each and every method proposed in this book, the whole point of reading it would be lost. This book does not only teach you these methods per se; the most important is that you should develop methods that are unconventional and that work for you and not necessarily any other, if you want to achieve more than the average. If after reading this book, you would feel the passion for discovering and applying new methods to your studies, and constantly working on improving them, and forget about the worn-out clichés that those dignified high school counselors have been repeating for decades and childishly believe would work in today’s competitive world, that would suffice.

I hope this fresh start in high school will bring you six years of joy and reward, and that when you look back, you will feel the fulfillment that everything that can be done has been done, and you have achieve the most out of your natural talent. Don’t just be a star; be a superstar.

June 17, 2011

US Student Visa Interview

I finally received my US visa today. It has been more than two months since I indicated my acceptance of IU's offer. The I-20 form came quite late, and right after its arrival, I scheduled for an interview on this late Tuesday.

I got up at seven in the morning, and by eight forty-five, in full suit, I was already on my way to the Consulate. The Consulate was not far from the Central train station, yet the complexity of the transportation system on Hong Kong Island allowed my earlier pre-visit to the Consulate to pay off. It rained a little, and once I even had to seek shelter at the nearby St. John's Cathedral. Thankfully the rain soon faded, and I went up to the US Consulate.

Visitors need to enter at the gate upper on the Garden Road. The entrance hall is an open-space courtyard covered with a transparent plastic roof. Before you can line up to register, your belongings need to be searched through and examined. After that you can wait before the several windows for the officer to make a preliminary check of your visa documents. It was fast, and the lady collected my passport, visa application fee receipt, SEVIS fee receipt, DS-160 confirmation, and I-20, and gave me a slip with a queuing number on it. After disposing of the water in my bottle, I was allowed into the consulate building.

Here your belongings need to go through an X-ray machine, and yourself need to go passing an X-ray door. I deposited my phone and iPod, both powered off, before going through the X-ray. Like for most men, the door beeped when I went across it, and I was manually examined.

There were a few score people in the hall, and the interview windows as well as the post office windows are all located in this hall. There is a drinking fountain in case you feel thirsty. You will be beckoned first at Window 1 to take fingerprints. Then you can wait for the interview. During this time you may obtain a post office registered mail order and fill it out; this can be done right after the interview as well. I waited for around half an hour in total, then I was beckoned to Window 3, where a young Caucasian lady awaited.

We greeted each other, and she began with, "So you are going to do a PhD in the States?" "Yes." "And your major will be Economics?" "Yes." "I see you have been given a fellowship. Congratulations!" "Thank you!"

"So why did you choose Indiana University?" I have thought about this question before the interview, and answered, "My field of research is Macroeconomics, and IU is very strong in this field. That's why I picked IU over other programs." She seemed satisfied with my answer. "Have you been to the United States before?" "Not yet." "So this will be your first time in U.S.! Are you excited, or nervous?" "I think more excited, than nervous." I answered smilingly. She finally said, "Your visa's approved. Enjoy your trip to America!"

I said thank you for several times, and then brought the blue card with a number on it that the officer just gave me to the post office counter. It costs HKD25 for local registered delivery, and the post officer told me that I could expect to receive the visa by Friday. I cheerfully left the Consulate.

Throughout the process, the interview booking confirmation was not required. I am not sure if the officers checked that I have made the appointment in their database. Therefore I still advise visa applicants to make an appointment before visiting the Consulate to avoid unnecessary waste of time. The visa officer remained smiling during the process. As other students who were interviewed earlier told me, there were mostly yes/no questions only, and took only about a minute.

June 10, 2011


As some of you may have noticed, the URL of this blog has been changed to, which is part of my proposition to change the orientation of this blog to a more personal/casual one. (I know it is not very techy now, but I am hoping by such a shift I can focus more on my life and write more frequent posts.) What do you think of such a change? Drop me a line to let me know.

May 8, 2011

The two stages

In junior high, we learned in literature class the famed piece Yueyang Lou Ji (《岳阳楼记》) by the prominent Song-dynasty literary figure Fan Zhongyan. In it there were two most important sentences that have been quoted by writers and scholars throughout the one thousand years after Fan's era. They were Xian tianxia zhi you er you; hou tianxia zhi le er le (先天下之忧而忧,后天下之乐而乐, literally "Worry before the whole nation do; enjoy after the whole nation have done"), and Bu yi wu xi; bu yi ji bei (不以物喜,不以己悲, literally "Feel no ecstasies for the outer world; feel no sorrows for your inner self").

Back in junior high, I didn't fully understand either of these two sentences. By senior high, I think I already understood the first sentence, to think about state affairs and the future of the country before most everyone does, but I still couldn't bu yi wu xi and bu yi ji bei. Not until this day, I realized that I am now nearly capable of the second level, with myself unmoved by the many happenings, be it agreeable or unfortunate, in life.

May 2, 2011

Vocabulary Learning

I unexpectedly saw this article on learning vocabulary and found it quite interesting. I especially like his notion that "reading in Chinese can, in a sense, improve your English." I heartfeltly agree on this. On the other hand I am encouraged to have found quite some words the author (who I assume a native English speaker) was learning in college that I already know. This article also points out for me an online version of the American Heritage, which is nice.

I have been taking an approach to vocabulary quite different from this author. I'm thinking about trying out his though.

April 28, 2011


I am not superstitious, but this morning something happened in our dorm room that I cannot explain with any physical knowledge that I know. By the time I went to bed, the room light was off, and the A/C was on; the lights in the bathroom were on too.

About 5:55am this morning, I was woken up, by the sudden turning on of the room light and the simultaneous powering off of the A/C. I woke my roommate up, and told him what happened, and he had no idea why either. The electrometer for the A/C was not working; I tried to switch off the light, but despite that the switch can be moved, however many times I hit the switch, the room light stayed on. My roommate went up to the bathroom, only to discover that all the lights in the bathroom went off as well.

I called my electronic-engineering-major father, but he couldn't explain this. Before I finished my phone call, everything went normal all of a sudden: The A/C turned itself on again, and the room light switched off. The lights in the bathroom were also back to work again. This unnatural event lasted three to five minutes.

Until now I still cannot think of a good explanation for all the linked events. Can anyone help me on this? I think I will report this to the Student Residence Office.

April 25, 2011

How to produce an asterisk in LaTeX

Strangely I cannot find a document online showing how to produce a single asterisk (*) in LaTeX, except the centered version (by \ast in math environments). Multiple asterisks in a row are fine (**, ***), which are displayed as they are, but if you simply type * or \*, nothing will be displayed in the compiled file. After trial and error (which fortunately didn't last long), I figure out a solution by typing \** (yes, two asterisks) in the normal environment, which produces a single asterisk (*) in normal size and position.

April 8, 2011

A US government shutdown?

"They've got to be laughing at us right now" in China, said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry. "How terrific that the United States of America can't make a decision."

But a democracy that cannot resolve on a decision is still better than a dictatorship, very efficient might it be. Reuters: Lawmakers bicker over budget as shutdown looms.

April 2, 2011

Official transcripts

One TMer, philecon, posted on Feb. 22 ,
I logged in on Virginia's applyyourself webpage, and my application status still says Incomplete. I actually e-mailed the admissions office, and they informed me that I could send a pdf copy of my transcript, but I should send an official copy if I get admitted. And I already sent them a copy a month ago.
I do agree that some graduate programs are really inefficient in documenting the application materials, and I have no idea why would some programs refuse to accept an unofficial copy (whether of transcripts, or GRE/TOEFL reports) for review purposes. I mean nobody is going to fake this since the true copies are sent for check later, but this will save a lot of effort (and money) for the admissions officers as well as the applicants. Why can't we just make life easier for everybody?

March 19, 2011

A Market for Hukou

Amid the soaring housing prices in numerous major cities in China, some local governments have proposed contractionary housing market policies to cool down the fervency, including limiting the purchase of additional new housing and that by nonlocal residents. In Beijing, temporary residents without a Beijing hukou are now forbidden to purchase residential housing until they have been working and paying taxes in the municipality for five years. Some netizens even suggest that Beijing residents (hukou holders) make money by faking marriage with nonlocals who have the intention of buying a house in Beijing, and divorcing afterward.

The ill-justified hukou system has been a long-time issue, constantly debated among Chinese intellectuals. While seriously doubting the equity, efficiency and validity of this current housing purchase limitation policy, I cannot stop thinking about allowing people to trade their hukou under the existing system, so that people (like me) may get some extra cash by leasing out their little used Beijingese ID. If the government established the system only to limit the number of residents in urban areas to avoid congestion, then exactly who live there should not be an issue.

This cap-and-trade system can potentially make a huge market and a partially efficient solution, if the trading cost and barrier could be lowered to ground.

March 10, 2011

Economics Rankings

A few rankings in Economics that I found helpful:

World rankings:

  • ARWU. Also known as the Shanghai ranking.
  • Tilburg Top 100 Ranking
  • IDEAS. Compiled by the "largest bibliographic database dedicated to Economics and available freely on the Internet". But use this one with caution.

US rankings:

March 3, 2011

How to use a toolbox in Matlab

A Matlab toolbox is a batch of functions dedicated to a specific purpose, e.g. statistical analysis. Most Matlab distributions contain a handful of toolboxes of their own; they can be accessed from the "Start" button at the lower-left corner of the Matlab interface. But once in a while you may need to install external toolboxes for usage in a particular area.

Days ago I came across the Econometrics toolbox for Matlab (different from the (other) Econometrics toolbox installed with the Matlab R2009a distribution; see help econ) which I need for my Honors Project. At first I couldn't figure out how I can use the functions in this package, and I googled but there was no relevant document either. Thanks to Amanda and others, I eventually figured this out.

First you need to move the folder of the toolbox to some domestic location; I would suggest Document\MATLAB on Mac machines where is the default folder for Matlab files. Then, from the menu bar, choose File > Set Path..., click Add with Subfolders... before choosing the folder of the toolbox (which includes all functions of it). Now you should see all subfolders of the collection you've chosen included in the list on the right. Save it, and now you should be able to command any function newly added like all other functions. Enjoy!

February 17, 2011

CUHK MPhil Econ Interview 面经

On Feb. 10, I was informed by telephone of the interview. It was to be conducted on Feb. 17, 10:50am at CUHK's Econ Department. I was also told that the interview would last for about ten minutes, and that I should bring with me my HKID. Formal dressing code was advised by the lady.

Before the day of the interview I search online forums about this interview, and found little resources. Some report that CUHK's panel will ask technical questions depending on your area and courses you've taken, ranging from the IS-LM model to the assumptions in classical linear regression. Since I was participating in the MCM contest day and night for four days only one day before the interview, and I had homework to finish and lessons to go to in the only day in between, I really had little time to prepare. However, I still managed to dig out my Intermediate Macro and Econometrics textbooks to take a look at relevant graphs and theorems. That was the little preparation I did.

I left the student residence of HKBU at about 9:25 on Feb. 17. It was only four train stations to CUHK, so I was not in much hurry. In fact it only took me a little more than half an hour to get there (including the walking), but I think that is not unnecessarily too early because I think I benefited from the extra time in reviewing what I had prepared and gaining some confidence. I called the secretary and told her that I'd arrived, and she told me to report myself after 10:30 at the office facing the interview meeting room. During this period I made out the IS-LM model in my mind and committed the classical linear regression assumptions to memory.

There were three other students waiting outside the meeting room by the time I went there. I signed on the name list, and began conversing with the students. The one to be interviewed immediately before me was a CUHK mainland student majoring in Math; the other two, interviewed after me, were from the MS program at HKUST, and who had done their undergrads at Nanjing University and Zhejiang University respectively.

Not long after the CUHK girl left, I was summoned. There were two panelists, both seemed to be Hong-Kongers. Questions are mainly from the professor on the right side, asked whiling reading my application materials (mostly my transcripts), and the other only made brief comments. They first asked what is an "Applied Economics" program (which is what my undergrad program is called), and the difference from a normal "Economics" program. I told them that there should be little difference, and in fact many programs in HKBU has this unnecessary "Applied" in their titles. They then inquired about whether we have a three or four year program, and why the first year (Foundation Year) doest no appear on my transcripts. I replied that the Foundation Year did not count toward my GPA. They also asked why some courses on my transcripts do not have a grade (those are courses that I am exempted from), and whether I had a minor (Math). Lastly they asked why the Real Analysis course in only a 2000 course in HKBU, while in CUHK it's a 4000 course. I replied that I wondered the same thing and in fact Real Analysis is probably the most difficult in the whole undergraduate math curriculum. At the end I asked them how many students were invited to this interview and when I would be informed of the result, and got 40 students and within one to two weeks as the answers.

Generally my previous worries about technical questions proved to be unneeded. They only cleared some concerns they had with my transcripts, and the questions are in fact mostly to my advantage. I left CUHK with confidence, given that this MPhil program recruits nearly twenty students each year, and despite they might interview other students separately (say in Shenzhen), but overall since there must be students who decline their offer eventually, the odds of getting admitted are very high to those interviewed. The interview seemed only a "sanity test", or a final double-check before extending their olive branch.

January 16, 2011

Inefficiency of Dictatorship

I used to think that dictatorship may be more efficient (in a sense) than democracy, as the orders by the dictator could not be challenged and would be carried out without delay. While reading Prisoner of the State (by Ziyang Zhao), I am now coming to realize that dictatorship may have more inefficiencies in its own regard - despite the existence of a dictator, people who work under him or her still has their own takes on issues which differ from that of the dictator. However, they dare not express their opinions directly to their boss. The only thing they can do is to carry out something mediocre, not exactly what has been dictated, nor what they believe would be best. While everyone doing the same, each making his or her work fall short of what their boss asked for, the government can never be really efficient.

January 1, 2011

Books read in 2010

Books in English:
  • Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
  • G. Polya, How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method
  • Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World: A Novel about the History of Philosophy
  • Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
  • Loraine Blaxter, Christina Hughes, and Malcolm Tight, How to Research
  • Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success
  • Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
  • Tobias Oetiker, The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2e
  • Yutang Lin, Moment in Peking
Books in Chinese:
  • 柏杨 《丑陋的中国人》
  • 王文山 《美国名校全奖得主申请资料写作范例》
  • 许轶、曾舒煜 《留美申请白皮书》
  • 韩寒 《1988:我想和这个世界谈谈》
  • 韩寒(主编) 《独唱团》