Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A sample of cousins

Chan Jun Shern

Loong Joo Lee

Chan Jamin

All photographs captured using Super-Takumar 50mm/1.4


Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Eat Sleep Shit Week (day 6)

The Eat-Sleep-Shit Week is a movement by Jolene Lai to relive the hey-days of blogging, to recover the ability or inclination to spew endless sentences about anything and everything.

"The rules are that you must type everything that happened to you in the past 24 hours and you can add any tid bits from the previous days."- Jolene Lai


My flight was due to leave Beijing at 4.30 pm, which means I had to check in at 2.30 pm. The journey from Tianjin to Beijing takes approximately 3 hours by bus, so the latest bus I could take was the 11.30 am bus.

Airport buses depart Tianjin at 6am, 8am, 10am and 2 pm, so I left at 9.30am to take the 10 am bus.

The bus was seriously fucked up. At least one quarter of the seats were faulty – some of the mounting bolts locking the seats to the chassis were missing, and the chairs flopped back and forth on the remaining one or two bolts. Good thing the bus was not even quarter full, so passengers could choose to sit away from the cibai-ed chairs.

And then there was the drive train. The gearbox was in a sorry state – I could feel the dog gears painfully engaging the drive gears with a tortured clunk (the whole chassis thumps a bit, which is not that surprising given the flimsy state of the structure); when the driver starts off with a bit of clutch slip on first gear the entire vehicle judders nastily with seats, loose air vent louvres and shelves all juddering and shaking in a discordant chord.

Despite the shortcomings, it was definitely not a dangerous contraption to travel in. The engine was too miserable to produce the required power to propel that thing to any dangerous speeds, and the clogged roads generally restrict the speed of other vehicles anyway.

Arrival at Beijing International Airport was timely and uneventful. After getting some food, I checked in. Paper signs taped at each counter announced the grim news.

Due to delayed arrival of incoming flight, MH 379 from PEK to KUL will be rescheduled for 2035.

Holy shit. That's a delay of... 4 hours. To placate travellers, a meal voucher was given out to passangers, redeemable during dinner time (after 5 pm).

Let's have some numbers; we all love numbers and patterns, don't we?

Since 2003, I have flown on the following flights which HAVE NOT been delayed:
7 flights from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne;
7 flights from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur;
1 flight from Melbourne to Brisbane;
1 flight from Brisbane to Kuala Lumpur;
1 flight from Melbourne to Singapore;
1 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing;
1 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong;
1 flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur;
1 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai;

Since 2003, I have flown on the following flights which HAVE been delayed:
1 flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur;
1 flight from Singapore to Melbourne;
2 flights from Beijing to KL;
2 flights from Shanghai to Tianjin;
1 flight from Tianjin to Shanghai;

There's a slightly disturbing inference to be made here: air travel in China is fantastically unreliable.

At the airport, I finished reading Congo (Michael Crichton) and realised how fantastically researched that sub-plots were. This is in contrast to the progressively dodgier books Timeline and Prey (oh, don't touch Prey, the plot is too absurd yet at times predictable). With nothing to do, I fished out the computer and start typing this.

At the moment, I'm quite impressed by the battery life of this new thing. The power indicator says 3 hours! My old Compaq's half dead battery would find 20 minutes a challenge. But then, that machine has been working endlessly since mid-2003.

Oh ya, I haven't blogged about this new computer! (oh shit, my blogging style has taken a dramatic change since this Eat Sleep Shit week. I blame you, Jolene.) This thing is an almost-standard Dell Vostro 1500 speced-up to a 2 GHz dual core processor and 2 GB of memory. Adobe Photoshop has not been installed yet but I believe the RAM and processing power would make RAW processing a breeze.

After sitting at the boarding gate for a good two hours (possibly more), I went in search of a water cooler. I did find one, but on the way I also passed by a Starbucks branch.

I haven't had a decent (non-instant) coffee in about 2 months, and decided to give Starbucks a try. I am regretting every bit of the 31 Yuan (RM 13.95) I spent on that large iced mocha; the Buddha was right- (material) attachments give more trouble than they are worth. The iced drink was not ice-blended. The mocha was dull; a Neslo Ais (iced Nescafe and Milo) would have been a close enough substitute for that stuff.

I'll squeeze a real cup from my aunt Sabrina's coffee machine. At the press of a button, it automatically grinds a correct quantity of coffee beans, passes pressurised hot water through the grounds to produce espresso, then drops a compressed little cylinder of spent grounds into an internal waste bin.

This post was written at Beijing International Airport.

End note: I arrived at KLIA at 3.30 am, and got home at 5am. Having started the journey at 9.30am the previous day, the bus ride, check-in time, flight delay, flight time, baggage collection, immigration and the drive home added up to 20 hours. And that's just between Tianjin and Petaling Jaya. In that time I could have taken boat to Europe, pfft.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Eat Sleep Shit Week (day 5)

The Eat-Sleep-Shit Week is a movement by Jolene Lai to relive the hey-days of blogging, to recover the ability or inclination to spew endless sentences about anything and everything.

"The rules are that you must type everything that happened to you in the past 24 hours and you can add any tid bits from the previous days."- Jolene Lai


The treatment system was being pressurised and tested sequentially today; it was quite eventful. The secondary feed line was pressurised to 2.5 Bar, and filter assembly #5 was found to be operational.

An engineer from the client dropped by to have a look. When he noticed some leaks (due to the high pressure, even minor crevices result in water squirting out in streams or mists), he asked if there were any problems. “All is fine,” our engineer told him, “In a project as big as this, little leaks are inevitable. We'll just tighten the leaky connections and reseal the welds and it'll be ok.”

Reassured, the client's engineer went away to worry about other things.

Filter assemblies 4, 3 and 2 were faulty and required patches. The inlet valve to #5 was closed, and the valve to #1 opened.

No reaction.

Check the flow meters. Is there water coming out via the waste line? What's the pressure like? Has the pipe been completely been bled of air?

I was standing next to the inlet valve of #1 when the pipe ruptured. All at once, there was a loud bang, a huge fragment from the PVC pipe hit me in the arm and I was drenched. I spewed some vulgarities as I made my way out of the cascade of water.

It hurts. Being blasted by that fragment is like being punched by someone who knows how to throw a punch. Judging from experience, I'd guess that spot will remain sore for some days.

So the pipe fractured. The parts will arrive tomorrow; there's no work going on. I milled about the site for a while, pondering a conversation from some dinners back.

They had talked about black holes and particle accelerators. Someone remarked that if a little black hole was created in an accelerator, the black hole would progressively suck in the earth and that would be the end of us.

[caution: black holes; scroll down]

My intuition told me otherwise- black holes do not suck; their gravitational attraction is exactly the same as that of any other normal mass. And black holes evaporate, a phenomenon called Hawking Radiation. The mass-loss rate of a black hole is inversely proportional to the square of the black hole's mass.

The mass is lost in the form of radiation, and as the black hole becomes smaller the mass loss rate increases rapidly, eventually resulting in a burst of gamma rays.

So, the question is, will the presence of a small black hole threaten the existence of mankind?

A simple solution in which the presence of a small black hole will not threaten our existence is one in which the black hole evaporates faster than it can assimilate mass from its surroundings.

The black hole's mass is no different from any other mass in that it behaves the same way in a gravitational field. Thus, a black hole will fall towards the centre of the earth due to the mutual attraction between the black hole's mass and the earth's mass.

The black hole is also absurdly dense compared to the everyday substances on earth, so it's path towards the centre of the earth will not be significantly obstructed. This is similar to a case in which a dense cannon ball falling towards the earth is not obstructed by the surrounding air.

The mass loss rate of a black hole can be directly inferred from it's mass. As the black hole moves through matter (air, earth, water, rock, condom storage facility), mass in its path (plus a margin on its sides) will be swept into the event horizon and thus contribute to the black hole's mass gain.

A set of differential equations can be formulated to generally describe the black hole's path as it falls towards the earth's centre and the black hole's mass change.

The rate of change in mass is the sum of Hawking Radiation (mass loss, function of M^-2) and mass gain in the form of swept mass as the black hole falls (velocity of black hole relative to the earth * cross-section area of event horizon * density of surrounding matter).

The cross-section of the event horizon is proportion to the square of black hole mass.

The velocity of the black hole relative to the earth is a described by the dif ferential equation describing the attraction of the black hole towards the centre of the earth, and the addition of stationary mass to the black hole.
[end caution]

I hope to properly express the equations and solve the differential equations numerically... one fine day.

With nothing to do on site except ponder the significance of black holes, I returned to the office. Once at my desk I removed my socks and shoes- they were soaked. My jeans were wet too, but it was impractical to remove them at the office.

8.30 pm – my arm still hurts. Blasted PVC pipe... it was a huge pipe too, 16 inches inner diameter and ~10 mm wall thickness.

I bumped into a wall earlier in the afternoon and realised how remarkably painful it is.

I'll be flying to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, and moving house over the weekend. Therefore, Eat Sleep Shit posts will be on hold until further notice.

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The Eat Sleep Shit Week (day 4)

The Eat-Sleep-Shit Week is a movement by Jolene Lai to relive the hey-days of blogging, to recover the ability or inclination to spew endless sentences about anything and everything.

"The rules are that you must type everything that happened to you in the past 24 hours and you can add any tid bits from the previous days."- Jolene Lai


After extended bouts of uncertainty, it is now confirmed that my tourist visa cannot be renewed further - I will have to return to Malaysia to get a new entry permit. Yay!

A major sigh of relief. I had already estimated that the visa needs further processing in Malaysia, and had arranged elaborate plans concerning my allocation of time and appointments.

We will be moving from Petaling Jaya to Manjalara this coming weekend. It will be a mess. We'll be using the services of professional movers, but the aunts, uncles and cousins will be coming to 'help' anyway. Even the god sister will be coming from Malacca.

Judging from two aunts' moving experiences, the help received from the guests will be generally be restricted to watching the movers, assisting with the procurement and consumption of lunch, chit chatting and just having fun in general. It will be interesting.

Most of my time spent on the office was dedicated to researching CFD (computational fluid mechanics). It's a terribly frightful step- because we are not buying the commercial packages, I have to stick to the free codes. Not only do those require a fair bit of programming, they also require... (ominous drum roll) Linux.

I've already got Ubuntu running on this machine, but right now I feel like I have brought my own car and have only managed to figure out how to start the engine.

Lets not talk more about work.

I spoke to my father later in the evening, and he asked about my progress in the CFA material.
“It's ok. I'm running to a tighter schedule just to see if I will have problems next term when I only have 6 months to study, instead of 9. So far I'm on schedule.”
“The topics are not too hard are they?”
“So far they are the easy ones. They are ethics, statistics and macroeconomics. But the next one is financial statements analysis.”
“Oh that will probably be difficult.”


“Wei, you must remember, however much knowledge and technical skills you have, you still need to work on your interpersonal skills. You cannot only rely on your knowledge; a lot of times you'll need to build working relationships with different people.”

Ah yes, the ugly truth.

When I got back to the hostel at night, someone was already working at the dining table so I studied in the living room. Not much progress was made – the blasted TV was just too distracting.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Eat Sleep Shit Week (day 3)

The Eat-Sleep-Shit Week is a movement by Jolene Lai to relive the hey-days of blogging, to recover the ability or inclination to spew endless sentences about anything and everything.

"The rules are that you must type everything that happened to you in the past 24 hours and you can add any tid bits from the previous days."- Jolene Lai


It would appear as if everything here works on cronyism and contacts. Like an addict, the local economic growth is dependent on cronyism.

This project exists because someone's friend used to be course mates in the UK with someone who happens to be the relative of a high level provincial officer. The office is rented not based on economic considerations, but because the aforementioned officer's sister has an unoccupied unit. The driver was hired because someone in the public utilities board had a nephew who was in search for work. The receptionist was recommended by somebody because [god knows what].

My existence here is no different, I am somebody's somebody but let's not reveal too much today ok? It's not an ideal situation.

Due to the several major setbacks at the construction site, on Monday someone remarked that perhaps we should seek blessings from any spirits nearby. That random remark was picked up by the project manager, who thought it was a good safeguard. So she summoned the subcontractor to prepare some fruits, incense, biscuits and wine as offerings.

Yesterday, a desk was hauled from the site office to an open space, and some apples, a comb of bananas, a bottle of rice wine and a deep bowl of uncooked rice was arranged on it.

Later that night, The Wise One mentioned they should not have used uncooked rice as the support for the incense; that is used only for the dead.

One by one, the engineers and managers stepped up to the makeshift altar to light a few sticks of incense, say a few words seeking cooperation and then stand the incense sticks in the bowl of rice.

It was a remarkable scene. It was early in the evening, and the sun was low in the sky. Hidden behind some clouds, it threw an orange glow across the entire cloudy western horizon. Higher up above the horizon, the sky remained a crisp blue interrupted by a few distinct puffs of orange-hued clouds.

It was with this fantastic background that this little ceremony took place. Should have brought my camera; it would have made a cute series of photographs.

It seems the Mainlanders are not accustomed to such things. The construction workers gaped at our antics, occasionally pointing and laughing. Most of the engineers felt out of place doing it, like bears forced to shave their fur and eat tofu.

The project manager turned to me and said, “I wonder if we will be caught for doing this”
“Yes, for practising deviant religion. Praying to ghosts.”
Then someone piped up, “it's ok. When we pray during the day it's to the minor gods; if it's at night then its ghosts.”

Dinner was with the CEO, his PA, the chief financial officer, the project manager, the office admin guy and 2 of the subcontractors. As with most meals outside, it was absurdly under-vegetabled. There was roast pork, char siew, some overly-rich curried crabs, pork slices stir-fried with soy sauce and spring onion, goose liver and mushrooms and chilli fish head, with egg tarts for dessert and washed down with complimentary watermelon slices.

It came up to 700 RMB for 8 people, which is not a price you can find in Malaysia. Still, with no vegetables I'm feeling deprived.

Having left the computers at the office, there was no MSN and blogs to distract me from catching up in my studies. Ploughed through 2.5 chapters yesterday evening, sufficient to partially make up for the accumulated slack over the past 3 days.


This Eat Sleep Shit style of blogging is actually quite fun. There's a certain pleasure to be gained in shitting out words like an unstoppered geyser, letting the mind and the figurative pen wander seductively across the endless field of a word processor.

Oh and I don't use MS Word anymore; OpenOffice is the new black pink.


Monday, April 21, 2008

The Eat Sleep Shit Week (day 2)

The Eat-Sleep-Shit Week is a movement by Jolene Lai to relive the hey-days of blogging, to recover the ability or inclination to spew endless sentences about anything and everything.

"The rules are that you must type everything that happened to you in the past 24 hours and you can add any tid bits from the previous days."- Jolene Lai


On Saturday afternoon, the plant's main feed pipe was to be pressurised in preparation for a flushing of some pipes feeding the filter assemblies.

A bunch of engineers stood below the overhead pipe, craning their necks to look at the pipe. It was merely a 10-inch PVC pipe, large but nothing of great interest. Nothing changed as it was pressurised; it was still a pipe. The bunch of engineers continued to crane and look.

Then there was a dull thud. A massive torrent of water (probably in excess of 150 litres per second) erupted from a fracture and cascaded towards the bunch of engineers. I was caught in that mess.

It was actually quite interesting. There was a thump, someone shrieked, water everywhere in the air, people in red coloured hard hats running about...

My sweater was wet, and it was not wise wearing that around. As the water slowly evaporate, the sweater become unhealthily cold. So I had to remove that and make do with just a t-shirt. But the weather was cold (it was cloudy, and there was a bit of a cold breeze), so it was almost as cold.

The pipe would take some time to repair, so there was not much that could be done. We hung around a bit more, pointing around and assigning blame, then left by 6 pm.

The night passed in a haze. There was dinner, studying the economics module for my CFA, a long phone call, setting hot laps on GTR 2, more studying, writing the first Eat Sleep Shit entry and more studying.

Sunday was supposed to be a long day, but with the ruptured pipe, nothing could be done. A T-joint had to be replaced, and the joint being a massive contraption with odd sizes, it had to be acquired from a happy place far far away. Nothing substantial could be done on site so I stoned at home.

The intention was to study, but the cousin had trouble with her statistics homework and wanted me to explain the concepts to her. I admire her specific request to NOT solve the problems for her, just to provide a conceptual guide pointing towards the solution method.

Then there was MSN which was sufficiently distracting, not to mention GTR 2 and blogs.

Damn it, it is obvious. I cannot study with the computer next to me. When the internet connection here was not ready I could storm through the chapters like Germany through Poland.

Part of the reason I'm so concerned about passing this series of exams is because it's my money on the line. 600+ USD per year is not loose change.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Eat Sleep Shit Week (day 1)

The Eat-Sleep-Shit Week is a movement by Jolene Lai to relive the hey-days of blogging, to recover the ability or inclination to spew endless sentences about anything and everything.

"The rules are that you must type everything that happened to you in the past 24 hours and you can add any tid bits from the previous days."- Jolene Lai

This is my attempt.


Friday evening was my first time driving in China, where they drive on the wrong side of the road. It was the company car, a brand new VW Passat with an remarkably powerful 1.8l turbocharged engine and a beautifully smooth manual gearbox.

The colleagues who were uncertain about letting me drive asked if I've driven, do I drive often etc. The best way to soothe these nerves was to tell them, “I used to like driving other people's cars to get a feel of them. So far I've driven about... 85 cars.”



The first kilometre was a bit hairy. The left hand went looking for a gear shift and found nothing. I nearly went into the wrong side of the road. The passengers gasped, pointed and warned.

After a bit of acclimatisation, I got used to shifting with the right hand and driving on the wrong side. After a few double-clutch gear shifts, someone said my driving is remarkably smooth; better than the driver's.

My head bubbled, although it should not – the driver's skill in smooth motions is really abominable.

We went for dinner, the project manager, 3 other engineers and myself. Dinner was some strange hot-pot like stuff. We ordered a fish, and they slaughtered one for us. A clay pot was put on the stove at our table. The inside was line with carrots, sweet potato slices, garlic, celery and spring onion. The fish, already cut in pieces, was then laid on top of the vegetables. A dark brown and extremely viscous gravy was then heavily drizzled over the thing. It was covered and cooked for approximately 15 minutes.

When the fish was ready, we... well damn it, when it was ready we ate it, obviously. It was merely ok; I wouldn't order it again. The flavouring was indeterminate- it was very light, and ambiguous. Neither here nor there, I would say. The colleagues liked it though.

We returned to our respective accommodations after a long dinner. By then, it was close to 9pm. After dilly-dallying about, a spell on the loo and a longish shower, it was already 10pm when I hauled the books out for my study session. I didn't get far- the brain was malfunctioning.

Then the girlfriend called on Skype and we talked for half an hour before I had to excuse myself. I really need to sleep, and the next day (Saturday) was going to be a long day too.


Saturday started early in. The construction dateline was looming, and there were investors and client bigshots to impress.

At 8 am, I drove over to the hotel to pick up the Shanghai-based senior engineers and headed off to the construction site. There was a fair bit of dilly dallying about before things really started moving.


No, I cannot do this. The eat-shit-sleep approach had never been my forte; I'm far too concerned with boring myself to death by the mundane stuff. I'm sure you don't want to know that the pneumatic butterfly valve actuators had to be tweaked to control their opening and closing speeds, and that the pneumatic lines hiss and puff like Darth Vader high on coffee.

Off I go now; I need to study. A bit behind schedule at the moment.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Marginal production and average production

Note: This post is here because my girlfriend refuses to be impressed by my prowess in calculus.

In economics, the study of costs as a function of production quantity (or vice-versa) is one of the key considerations.

In many cases, it is desirable to know the production quantity that would give the greatest profit margin- this is the condition that gives the highest ratio of production to cost.

The marginal output curve is also of interest, because it will describes the effect of investing additional resources into the venture. Given that we are currently using so much resources to produce so much output, what additional benefit do we get from additional resources spent?

When the marginal output curves and average product (ratio of production to cost) curves are plotted on the same axes, the intersection of these two curves occur at the maximum ratio of production to cost.

This little observation (presented as a statement, without neither explanation or evidence) had disturbed me when I studied macroeconomics in 2002, and also disturbed me when I studied economics yesterday. When I wheeled out the unrivalled fire-power of calculus, all doubts crumbled.

Let x be the resources invested in the venture, and f(x) be the production output resulting from an investment of x.

The marginal production M(x) can be expressed as the first derivative of f(x) with respect to x, the average productions A(x) is the total production over the total cost.

When the average production is maximum, the gradient of A is zero. Therefore, the first derivative of A is equal to zero at the maximum average production.


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

On the toilet habits of Mainland Chinese

In almost all public toilets I’ve seen (including the ones at the office), a waste bin is provided in each cubicle. At first, they seemed like innocent rubbish bins. However, I later realised they were much more sinister than rubbish bins- people throw used toilet paper into those bins.

Yes, the people over here do not drop soiled toilet paper into the toilet bowl; they throw them into a bin on the side. As expected, not all the paper in the bin are the colour of fresh snow- some have visible traces of… colour.


A Ferrari approached, young lady at the wheel. The V8 engine’s flat-plane crankshaft layout and the under-muffled exhaust system combined to produce an awe-inspiring and annoyingly loud wail.

It was bright red, the standard colour that Ferrari uses for marketing - a colour named Rossa Corsa (racing red in Italian).

As the car streaked past at a sedate 60 km/h, people turned to look at it. Its low profile, the threatening wail, and above all, the eye-catching red, drew attention to car like matter to a black hole.


A few days ago at the office washroom, a flash of red drew my attention. Using pure undiluted logic, I deduced that the red was not a Ferrari- the washroom was too small to hold a Ferrari.

Instead, the red came from a blood-soaked piece of toilet paper in the bin.

Despite menstrual discharge being a perfectly normal thing, it was quite a shock to see that stuff in a rubbish bin. Most of the time, they are immediately flushed out of sight and out of mind (for the males anyway).

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

What is the matrix?

The god-sister was having conceptual trouble with matrices. We can’t blame her; the mathematics text books we use do not justify the importance of matrices.

Today, I received a simple message from her:
PS. I get matrices. Thanks!

Perhaps it would be useful to make the material publicly available.


The following shows one aspect of how matrices are damn useful.
It might appear magical, that the two solution methods below manage to produce the same result. It is not magic.

Matrices were designed by humans. They were designed to have certain properties (the main one being: for multiplications, sum the products of row and column elements).
Matrices and matrix manipulation rules were designed so that they would be useful. If a matrix operation was defined with some stupid rule (like when you multiply two matrices, you multiply each number with the other number, and then add the number of days in your menstrual cycle) then matrices will be of no mathematical use.

Lets have two equations:
The coefficients a, b, c and d are known. The constants j and k are also known. We want to find the values of x and y that would satisfy these equations.

A typical way to solve this is as follows:
Multiply equation (2) with a suitable number so that the coefficient for x is the same as in equation (1).
Then subtract equation (2) from (1). From this step, we will be able to solve for y. With y known, we then put y into one of the equations to find x.

Sticking to the symbols (so we can have a general solution that would work with any a, b, c, d, j and k):

Now, in equation (1), y is now expressed as known numbers. Therefore, y is now solved. We now replace y into equation (1):

Because we are long winded, we will repeat our results:

We will also rearrange the results for future convenience:

If we were to solve this pair of equations using a matrix, the procedure applies:

To inverse a 2-by-2 matrix:

The results match the result we obtained from the above equation manipulation. And it’s much faster, no?

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

What does this mean?

Note: all conversations were in mandarin

Sometime in the distant past, probably two years ago, I was reading a Chinese periodical on a tram somewhere in Melbourne when a fellow commuter remarked, “oh, is that the so-and-so journal?”

This so-and-so journal was The Reader, a monthly publication consisting of an assortment of light reading, letters to the editor, casual discussions on socio-economics or current affairs (but never politics) and some touching tales. Content wise, it is a Chinese equivalent of The Reader’s Digest- a large variety of articles presented in a format for light reading, perfect for mass appeal and large circulation numbers.

I told the commuter that it was indeed The Reader, and he mentioned that he likes reading this publication. He had been reading it since he was a young boy back in Guangdong.

“I find it to be very meaningful,” he told me.

I condescendingly thought he was a bit shallow. A haphazard collection of touching but generally pointless stories and surface-scratching articles is ‘meaningful’?


A new power generation plant will be coming up in Ghana, and the company will be designing a portion of the system.

I asked the project manager if she would be involved in the project, and she said probably yes. It will not be easy for whoever’s on site managing the thing. The people there are black people, and they would need to speak English (not Chinese). And Ghana is probably not as developed as Tianjin or Shanghai.

“But you wouldn’t be there for the entire duration of the project right?”
“No, of course not. It’ll be several short visits.”
“Then that should be fun, it’ll be something different.”
“Yes, it’ll be very meaningful.”


Friday being qing ming (the day when people pay their respects to ancestors and do some housekeeping on the burial plots and tombs), this is a three-day weekend.

Yesterday, as we drove past a road along the periphery of the large park near our office, we noted that it was unusually crowded. Apart from the long weekend, it also helped that the weather was a pleasant 17°C and spring’s eruptions of vivid green is still going on.

Along the walking paths in the park were families (always in groups of threes, due to the one-child policy) and lovers (always in groups of twos, due to the fact that generally accepted human relationships are one-to-one).

Someone pointed at a pair cuddling on a bench, “look at them, huddled together for all to see, don’t they have shame?”
Someone else replied, “and they are both males aren’t they?”
“No, one’s a female,” she suddenly got distracted by something else and shifted her attention (and finger) in another direction.

“Look, they are camping!” Someone had set up a tent among some peach trees. “How meaningful!”



It was at this moment when I realised my interpretation of the phrase ‘very meaningful’ had been erroneous.

My model of the phrase ‘very meaningful’ needs to be modified. There are two options:
- The Chinese application of ‘meaningful’ is less intense than in English – it can be used even in the most flippant of situations
- There is an alternate (perhaps informal) meaning of ‘meaningful’, perhaps similar in meaning to ‘interesting’ or ‘fascinating’

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Variance and covariance of a weighted portfolio

You should not be reading this post; shoo, get a life.

Was fiddling with some equations on my flight from Shanghai and Tianjin, and the following came about. The stuff I found in the text was unsatisfactorily complicated and not generalised enough.

I think the most conceptually challenging part of the preceding definition of variance lies in the sudden appearance of the index j (this appears on line 5). A brief illustration follows, showing how the additional index is summoned:

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