December 15, 2009

Paul Samuelson R.I.P.

Nobel laureate, best-selling textbook author, and one of the most prominent figures in economics of the twentieth century, Paul A. Samuelson, died at the age of 94.

Twitter Queen

Queen Rania of Jordan is on Twitter.

December 8, 2009

Time-Inconsistency Problem

Today I tweeted about time-inconsistency. A friend later asked me what it is. I googled the term and found the definition from Wikipedia:

In economics, dynamic inconsistency, or time inconsistency, describes a situation where a decision-maker's preferences change over time, such that what is preferred at one point in time is inconsistent with what is preferred at another point in time...
One type of inconsistency is more closely affiliated with game theory, and "dynamic inconsistency" is the more commonly used terminology in this case. Another type of inconsistency is more closely affiliated with behavioral economics, and "time inconsistency" is the more commonly used terminology there.[vague]


Mankiw has a nice article on the game-theory sense. Though I actually used the term in the behavioral economics sense, meaning that I do not want my plan to be screwed up and myself diverted by trivia every now and then, especially during this exam period.

December 7, 2009

Federal Reserve Economic Data Gadget

The St. Louis Fed has provided a gadget that display a wide range of graphical data from read GDP to total payroll. You can search "economic data fred graph" in Google Gadgets to locate it in Google. More methods to access see the official webpage. Thank Alex Tabarrock for the pointer.

December 5, 2009

Markets in Everything

 Danwei:
Jin Tai Cheng, a Beijing company, is offering a creative solution for prospective buyers at its "Ecological Bay" Villa project. The company encourages future homeowners to date its sales girls and promises a wedding present of RMB 60,000 to any couple that ends up getting married.
Buying a flat with a wife and a discount, how great a deal it is.

December 3, 2009

Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance

Today is the first day Eva 2.0 is (finally!) in theaters in Hong Kong. I couldn't wait any longer and grabbed a ticket to the first show at AMC Festival Walk, our nearest cinema.

It was amazing. Unlike 1.0, the majority of the plot had been redone. The angels looked very different from the original, and the Third Impact happened right after Shinji defeated Zeruel, the fourteenth angel. The most eye-catching feature of 2.0 was probably the introduction of the new character: Mari Illustrious Makinami, with a miniskirt and stockings and eyeglasses. Not everyone likes her, but at least I do. I think the character of Asuka had changed a little from the original. I used to dislike the original Asuka, but this one in 2.0 was much more lovable. Unfortunately, she was quarantined after being infected by Bardiel, the thirteenth angel.

Nonetheless, the indisputable heroine in this movie was Rei Ayanami. It was explicit that Rei was fond of Shinji (and vice versa), and she goes as far as planning a dinner to reunion Shinji with his father, Gendo Ikari. After Rei being eaten up by Zeruel, Shinji yelled "Give Ayanami back to me!" again and again while Unit 1 destroyed the kernel of the angel and Rei was saved by Shinji. In the end, Rei, in the deified form, were hold tightly by Unit 1, now in "a form of being superior than man and close to god".

Right after the ending song, Kaworu Nagisa appeared from the sky and threw a spear (probably the Spear of Longinus) which went right through the body of Unit 1, ending of the movie.

I enjoyed this movie very much. It made possible many of my preferred improvements to the plot of the original TV series, including making Rei a more central role, and the mitigation of Asuka's character. Also, the newly introduced Mari was an attractive girl. By now, I really have no idea where this story is heading to - the Third Impact had happened, what could be next? Anyway, there are two episodes of this epic tetralogy, and it is definitely worth the wait.

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/taishaku/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

November 28, 2009

Convert MP4 to MP3

Have you ever downloaded a music video with DownloadHelper from Youtube.com but don't know how to play it in your portable music player or set it a ringtone of your phone? I've found a small and easy-to-use freeware that can convert MP4 video files to MP3 audio files (more precisely, it converts a wide range of video files to MP3, including MPEG, AVI, MOV, FLV, DVD, VOB). It is simply called Convert MP4 to MP3, which can be downloaded here. Thank My Digital Life for the pointer.

Lyrics Wiki

I'm trying out a new way to collaborate - to invite everyone to edit and correct lyrics. If you are a music lover, you probably find it common to see mistakes in lyrics downloaded from lyrics websites like AZLyrics. Though some websites are nice enough to let you send them messages making corrections to these lyrics; the problem is, 1) it is not handy enough to have to write an email to make a small correction to a lyrics (sometimes just a misspelling), and 2) mostly such corrections are made on-the-go when you are singing along with the lyrics; and after the song, you've probably forgot where and what you have corrected.

I have found a few websites, like Lyriki, that facilitates such collaboration; but most of them does not work very well for this and that reasons. The solution I found is using Google Docs to realize such collaboration. As a demonstration, I've uploaded the lyrics of Eminem's Beautiful to Docs letting everyone on the Internet to view and edit. You may choose to use the viewer mode where you can read and print the document; also, you can follow the link at the end of the page to edit the lyrics even without signing in! You are welcome to make big or small corrections while you sing along. The lyrics is right here.

November 27, 2009

Books Bought

Last week a book fair took place in the Student Residence courtyard, and I bought six items:

  • Adam Smith The Wealth of Nations: I've made attempts to read a copy from the library before, but as it is quite long and comes in two volumes, and it is written in a style of English language not familiar to modern readers, I found it difficult to finish it all at once. Therefore I decided I should purchase a copy of myself.
  • Tim Harford The Undercover Economist: I remember Steven Levitt recommended it and it seems an interesting topic.
  • Bernhard Schlink The Reader: A high school Chinese literature teacher (who turned out to be my aunt) recommended it to me in summer. It is a novel related to World War II, and it has also be shot into a movie (and the heroine is beautiful).
  • Jostein Gaarder Sophie's World: A friend recommended it to me when I was seeking some novels to read. It is about the history of philosophy. It may make an interesting supplement to the Brief History of Western Philosophy I read in high school.
  • Mitch Albom Tuesdays with Morrie: I've seen this book elsewhere quite a lot before. The cover design is simple and fine.
  • Milton Crane (ed.) 50 Greatest Short Stories.

Why Chinese students outperform their Western peers?

A German exchange student is doing a survey on the title topic and asked me about it in two sub-questions: 

1) Describe in your own words how you would revise for an examination. 
2) Do you try to understand what you are learning? (not knowing the dictionary meaning of the word) 

And this is what I replied: 

1. I would say it differs from course to course. For technical courses, I would normally read the lecture notes or textbook or whatever the course has, and summarize the concepts/formulas that are supposed to be remembered by copying them on a sheet of paper or flash cards, and try to memorize. After that I'll re-do the problem sets done before. 

For a non-technical course, I would only do the first part - though this time the work load of the summarization is much more significant. 

I think these methods differ among students. For example, some would sit before a blank sheet of paper and try to recall and jot down the structure of the course with all relevant theorems etc. 

2. I do not fully understand your question. Do you mean whether I will try to understand the material without knowing some words? Well I would say the meaning of a few words really doesn't matter in capturing the essence of a piece of material, except when this word is the concept that the material is trying to explain. However, in the second case, the article will normally pin down a detailed definition of the term, and it dose not matter if you do not know the original/literal meaning of the word - though it helps, it won't be tested anyway. 

That said, personally I would usually look up a new word if it appear in an article I read - be it a textbook or just some novel I find interesting to read - not for getting a better mark though; just that I love enhancing my vocabulary. 

Nonetheless, I think a major contributor to the fact that students educated in China outperform in some areas is that they have much more mathematics in primary and high schools than typical western students. I remember reading an article saying that parents of ethnic Chinese kids in the U.S. always complain that the math taught in school is too easy and superficial; while their Caucasian counterparts complain that the math taught are too difficult for their children to learn. 

For me, I do not find any subject that merit equal importance as math, except for possibly language courses, in pre-tertiary education. It's used everywhere and in every academic discipline.

November 23, 2009

What College is about

Today a Year-1 student approached me asking about minoring in Statistics. He complained that there are too many prerequisite courses and he was not so sure whether he could accomplish it. And here is what I replied:

...There are prerequisites; however, you may consider waiving them by consulting the math department head... [This practice] is common for students pursuing advanced levels of achievement. Do never be impeded by mere stated prerequisites. You will find the experience of taking advanced courses especially rewarding as you will learn a lot along the way and challenge your intellectual limit.


While I was reading Cal Newport's How to Win at College recently, I've been thinking, for what we came here to college? A higher than everyone else's GPA? A presidency of a student club? Being awed by peers and favored by teachers? The last two paragraphs of the above stated book really touched me:

I conclude this book with these words because I believe that pursuing your ambitions for the right reasons is more important than any specific strategy for succeeding at college. If you want to succeed because you like the attention, then this book can't help you. If you want succeed to prove yourself to others, then this book can't help you. If you want to succeed because you enjoy adulation and praise, then this book can't help you. You will never really win, because the fear of failure will always be lurking around the next corner.

If, however, you want to succeed because you love the excitement of pushing your potential and exploring your world and new experiences, if you want to succeed because life is short and why not fill it with as much activity as possible, then you will win. If you approach life with an attitude of never having regrets and always having a hopeful smile on your face, you can find a measure of success in all your endeavors. Don't have no regrets, but have plenty of fun along the way. In the end, that is what it is to really win.

So prove yourself only to yourself. Strive to reach your limit. There is no defined success for everyone. Success is defined for you and for you only by achieving the mightiest things in the world as you can.

November 20, 2009

On Learning English, Again

Ever since my success in the TOEFL test, the frequency of people asking me about how to learn English has risen to a brand-new level. Every time there’s someone asking me, I kept thinking, why can’t everybody do the same if I can do it. And here is what I came up with recently.

(Apparently) most everyone can speak their mother tongue very well – basically because they have no other choice, even if we cannot understand something written in our mother tongue, we still have to crack it, possibly aided by a dictionary or an instructor, but still, we have to understand the words in their own "physical form". There is not an alternative since our mother tongue is the primary choice in comprehension. The usual method we use in learning a second language, i.e. translating it into our first language, does not work!

Therefore I can’t stop thinking why we cannot learn a second language as if it is our first. Imagine you are a Chinese, and is reading a text written by the 20th Century Chinese writer Lu Xun (if you are not Chinese, think about some influential writer who lived some a hundred years ago). It is not uncommon for students to complain that Mr. Zhou’s (i.e. Lu Xun's) dialect is obscure and hard to understand. However, even after checking a reference source and having your teacher explain the background and theme of the essay, you still have to rely on your innate language ability to understand the article.

Okay, now let’s look back at learning a second language. When you are presented with a piece of text in English, and if you have trouble understanding quite a portion of the text either because of your lack of vocabulary or impotence to connect the words into meaningful chunks, you probably would look for a Chinese version of the article to read instead. That is at least common of many of my friends - many from the math department read texts in Chinese only!

My advice here: pretend that you can understand even if you don't! This may sound ridiculous at first but if we investigate further, we will find that it is effective in forcing yourself to decipher the meaning of the text as if it is your first language. This is exactly what I experienced back in high school. In fact I couldn't understand original versions of English novels very well until my senior years in high school. In at the first few trials I did encounter manifold problems following the flow, especially the detailed descriptions. But I did not just throw the book away and turn to a Chinese translation - I stuck with the book and read as if I could understand. And by the end of my high school years, I was capable of the vast majority of modern English articles.

This does not work only with reading - it works equally well with listening and speaking. Take speaking as an example. When you speak in English, imagine yourself as a native speaker. Talk as it you are an American or Briton - it does not matter that at first your accent would sound awkward; you will gradually grab the right way to pronounce and intonate along the way. And do speak with confidence; do make yourself heard clearly. Many language learners speak as if murmuring and the listener is simply disappointed because they can't quite hear the speaker.

These are I what I've thought of recently. Hope they'll be of help.

November 19, 2009

Retweet (Beta) on Twitter

Today Twitter launched a new feature (in beta) with a name that probably has been familiar to your for ages - Retweet. It is a feature that should have been there a long time ago. Basically it allows users to retweet on Twitter directly by clicking on a button at the end of the original tweet (instead of copy-and-paste). If you are not yet chosen a member of the beta group, the retweet will still start with an "RT" as before.

November 15, 2009

On Exam and China Leave

The exam season is lurking at the horizon. As a friend put it, I really take no "rubbish course" this semester. That means every one of the eight coming finals counts. Though it has been fascinating to learn extensive hard-knock knowledge from these courses (and some are inevitably quite boring, e.g. law), it is also very draining; and for some I had to learn external knowledge myself to make sure that I could meet the professors' expectations. All in all, I won't be here often these days, and as usual I will spend my Christmas in China, where Blogspot is blocked, for the sake of which I won't come here often probably until early to mid- January. However, you can expect me to appear every now and then on Twitter. Take care!

November 7, 2009

Google Dictionary is Collins Cobuild

By yesterday, I already noticed that the wording and style of the Google Dictionary explanations looked familiar. A thought that it was derived from the Collins Cobuild Dictionary quickly passed through my mind. Today, I was quite tempted to check it, and it turned out that I was right.

November 6, 2009

Google Dictionary

You probably already know the define: operator of Google for a long time, which serves as a quasi- online dictionary. However, do you realize that Google have a real dictionary service (which is, as you guessed it, free!)? Like the operator mentioned, the Google Dictionary provides you with definitions of a word. However, it is much more formatted than that of the define: operator, as well as enriched with example sentences; more importantly, it supports more than a dozen languages, and can help users translate around! You may also "star"/bookmark a word and review later. So besides dictionary.com and W-M (or any other such services you are accustomed to), you now have another choice.

P.S. I've enabled the Followers gadget of this blog. You can now openly (or secretly, if you wish) follow Hanrizon, if you have a Google account. The gadget is found at the bottom of the sidebar.

November 1, 2009

Statisticians who know economics

When I was reading the text of my statistics course, I came across a sentence that reads:

This relationship between reliability and sample size indicates that there are, to use a phrase from economics, diminishing returns to increasing the size of a sample. It seldom pays to take samples that are massively large.

I am not sure whether it was Freund or Perles who came up with this. I guess one of them probably had taken a course in economics before; or he had done research in economics, which is vastly probable - at least there is a sub-discipline in economics called Bayesian.

October 23, 2009

p-value

I have been wondering where dose the name of p-value (in statistics) come from. Is "p" from a name of a statistician? Or is it simply short for "probability"? I googled it but found no satisfactory result. Any suggestions?

October 16, 2009

Google Maps Street View Beyond the Streets

Google Blog: Dan Ratner:
With Street View on Google Maps, you can take a virtual drive over the Golden Gate Bridge or see the bustle of Times Square from the comfort of your own home. But some of the country's most interesting and fun places aren't accessible with our Street View car. What if you want to tour the campuses of prospective universities, scout a new running trial, or plan the most efficient route to your favorite roller coasters in a theme park?
I've been thinking if I am one day accepted to an institution outside China, how troublesome and costly would it be for me to pay a visit to the campuses to make the choice? Google gave me an answer.

October 9, 2009

October 2, 2009

The Most Difficult Language on Earth

On Wikipedia there is a page on the expression "Greek to me", referring to an incomprehensible language to the speaker of another language. Language Log made a tree graph of these relative relationships. By far Chinese seems to be quite hard, isn't it. Thank est's blog for the pointer. Image.

September 29, 2009

A Japanese Lady


A work of my friend Kaye.

Life and Virginity

BBC: Egypt anger over virginity faking:


A leading Egyptian scholar has demanded that people caught importing a female virginity-faking device into the country should face the death penalty.


Compensating people's lives for virginity? How unbelievable this is.

September 26, 2009

New Proof (wonkish)

There is a lemma proposition for the Bolzano-Weierstrass Theorem, namely, a sequence converges to a number if and only if any and every subsequence of that sequence also converges to the same number (technically a trimmed-down version of this proposition, i.e. only the necessary condition part, also suffices to prove the B-W Theorem). Traditionally, this proposition, or theorem by nature, can be possibly proved with a deduction occupying one page or so. However, I discovered today that my schoolmate Ling Hao from the Math Department has a better solution to verify the sufficient condition part (from convergence of subsequences to convergence of the original sequence). He simply picks the original sequence as the selected "any" subsequence and it is obvious that this subsequence has a limit, and consequently the original sequence, which is exactly the same as the subsequence, also converges to the same limit. Proof complete. I advised he write an academic paper for this.

New Computers

I just realized the true reason why the printing service in the residence computer room is faster than before. It is not that the printer server has advanced its memory, but the whole set of computers has been replaced with new ones (though the operation system stuck with Windows XP).


China's Century?

In per capita terms, China is still a poor poor country; and it still faces numerous problems. Read more from FT.com.

September 24, 2009

Eliminating Pirated Online Western Films

 Economist.com: Public morals and private property:
In mid-September the China Internet Video Anti-Piracy Alliance, a group comprising both big Chinese internet portals and foreign rights-owners, including the Motion Picture Association of America, announced a broad legal attack. It said that it had begun collecting evidence against more than 1,000 suspected violators of intellectual property and would start filing lawsuits, with the first target being 503 videos found on Youku, an increasingly popular website, that the alliance claims are pirated...

Websites that pay for content are understandably upset about losing a war to rivals that do not always do so. If Western entertainment were no longer widely available, they might regain the initiative. Bereft Chinese consumers, in turn, might help to achieve what foreign pressure could not, by persuading their government to allow more legitimate imports.


It will be a big step in protecting intellectual property in China if to succeed; but I do not think "bereft Chinese consumers" will persuade the government to allow imports. Such persuasion does not make sense in China.

Flea Market in BU

Hi I'm thinking about creating a Google Group where every BU student can freely visit and view and post to buy or sell stuff. One thing nice about Google Groups is that it allows everyone to participate and it facilitates the common need to browse and even search through all the posted information in the group. Also you can choose to subscribe to (bundled) updates about any new information posted in this group. I want your opinion before actually carrying it out. Thank you for your time.

If you have a minute, please help me fill out a questionnaire here.

September 21, 2009

What the Age of Information Has Brought Us

Days ago, when the new Marie Digby album was released worldwide, I wrote on Twitter:
Marie Digby's new album is out today. Still thinking about whether buy one.

8:39 PM Sep 14th from HelloTxt
The next day, I received this retweet:
mariedigby@hanrizon i was pondering the same thing ;) ... actually i think i am going to get it, i hear it's pretty okay.. lol

1:47 PM Sep 15th from web in reply to hanrizon
FYI, I've checked that this author is indeed Marie Digby herself.

September 20, 2009

How to Free Your Twitter Feed

Twitter has installed a mandatory user/password verification in every user's homepage feed a few months ago, making it incompatible with Google Reader. I understand that there are other ways to free this. One of them from the Google search result, says that there is a website dedicated to reburn your feed to be an unsecured one if you can provide your user name and password to them. Well personally I am doubtful about the credibility of that website, as it seems to be a small company. So now I've found another method to free your feed: using Feed Burner (now a service from Google). Insert "username:password@" after the "http://" and before anything else in your feed URL and burn it with Feed Burner. It's quite simple. As Google is (presumed to be) a trustworthy company (at least it's big and care about social influence), there should be less worry about the safety of your Twitter account.

September 19, 2009

No Room for Heterodox Economics

Notre Dame Plans to Dissolve the 'Heterodox' Side of Its Split Economics Department.

Does merely the inability to produce large number of top PhD students mean a failure for a university department? Does the fact that nowadays the field of economics is overwhelmed by neoclassicism and econometrics mean that these are the only and correct ways to do economics? Having just gone through an economic crisis that is rarely seen throughout decades, why cannot people demonstrate some openness toward a wider array of methods to study economics? A university can teach both traditional and modern medicine, then why not both mainstream and heterodox economics?

September 18, 2009

School Life

Vivid depiction of school life in China. This video is for those from my generation raised up in China.

New Way to Learn Math

Though I finally decided to take Numerical Methods in a later semester, Differential Equations already requires some mathematical analysis knowledge that I do not have (and this course is deem most intensive even by math majors). Dr. Xue will only teach linear algebra in this whole year during his Saturday sessions, which is not much to my current interest. Reading textbook by myself is kind of boring and requires hard effort to persist. Therefore I think I'd better to come up with some new ways to acquire this with the aid of something similar to a classroom.

Emperor Norton

Did you know that the United States once had an emperor?

September 15, 2009

Chrome 3 Is Out

Google launched the third version of its browser today. It is claimed by Google, that Chrome 3 is 25 percent faster in rendering JavaScript than the previous version and 150 percent faster than the original Google Chrome (reported on Computer World). Also, this new version is equipped with the long-awaited themes feature (gallery). Try it on!

Dan Brown Has New Book

It's called The Lost Symbol. The Da Vinci Code has been my favorite movie as well as novel but I am kind of tired of such plots after watching Angels and Demons.

Dads' Maternity Leave

BBC:

New fathers will be able to take six months' leave under plans to "split" maternity leave... The plan would allow mothers to return to work after six months and fathers to stay at home with the baby.

I am not sure why the British government is carrying this out but it will inevitably discourage discrimination over young ladies in the job market significantly.

Fast Flip

Want to try a new news reading experience? Google has launched a news service called Fast Flip. It aggregates news from major media and allow users to view the screen shots with speed. Google would like it to help the newspaper industry currently in struggle. More information on BBC.

September 14, 2009

Facebook Retweet

Facebook has announced a new feature: status tagging. Basically it is linking to your friends, pages, or other connections by typing their name following an "@"while updating your status. Sounds familiar?

Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus

Out of my unfading interest in paleontology, I came across an article telling the origin of the names of apatosaurus a.k.a. brontosaurus. I found it quite similar to TOEFL reading passages. It can be found here.

Personally, from a scientific view, I recommend the use of the name "apatosaurus".

September 13, 2009

Green Dam's Twin Sister

Now website servers in China are required to install the Blue Shield - a similar filter software, server-side counterpart of the de-facto-aborted Green Dam.

Change of License

The copyright license of the posts in this blog has been changed to Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (from the CC Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives license before). That means readers of this blog have gained more freedom in using the items posted here. For more information, please visit creativecommons.org.

Why Health Care Needs Reform

A Harvard medical scientist explains.

September 12, 2009

Speaking Italian


Second language instructors always tell us to be brave and try to speak with the language in whatever occasions we can find.

Reflection on the H1N1 Flu

Eight days ago, on September 5, the Student Housing Section (SHS) sent us residents an email that has the sentences:
The number of confirmed H1N1 cases increased from 8 on 1 Sept to 16 on 2 Sept and 19 on 4 Sept. A lot of residents who had fever earlier have now recovered. At this moment, there are only 4 students suffering from fever.
...While this wave of flu seems to be going away, you are advised to remain vigilant in enforcing all the health precautions.
I do not know from what does SHS recognize that the wave of flu is fading, as the report from Centre for Health Protection, Department of Health reads like this:


One can easily tell from the diagram that on September 4, the day before this message was distributed, there were about 370 reported cases of H1N1 flu in Hong Kong (and yesterday, Sept. 11, the number was 625).
Also, according to the SHS message,
The Environment Health and Safety Unit informed us of a latest advice of Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s that once the fever of a confirmed H1N1 patient has gone for 24 hours without the use of any fever-reducing medication, isolation is no longer necessary. In view of this, the Hall Management has now revised the isolation policy of confirmed H1N1 residents as follows:
1. Isolated residents previously confirmed of H1N1 may return to the Halls if fever has gone for at least 48 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication. 
2. After returning, the resident should wear face mask for at least 3 days,
3. Resident shall avoid social contacts with other persons for 3 days.
4. Resident shall wash hand frequently and maintain good ventilation.
I still remember that just about a week ago, when a student was tested positive for swine flu in a university in Beijing, not only was the student isolated immediately (I am not sure of the exact length of time, but I heard that in China it's usually one to two weeks), all the classes in the university had been canceled and students are advised to stay at home and rest.

Now, with my next-door diagnosed of swine flu and a student taking class with me having just recovered from 38-degree fever, and I am still required to attend classes and free to go to any populated venue, the difference in the attitude toward the pandemic between Hong Kong and China is now obvious. That is probably not the minutest contributor to the fact that there are only 7,505 cases among China's enormous population (and actually most of these should be located in the South, especially Guangdong Province which shares its border with Hong Kong), while in Hong Kong, a city of 7 million, there are already nearly 17,000 by yesterday.

Cultural Difference

I met a young couple traveling for sightseeing in Hong Kong on the train from Beijing earlier this month. The wife was a fresh graduate with an associate degree from an institution in the Province of Guangdong; the husband was a white American with a degree in agriculture and currently teaching ESL at a university in Beijing. At first I thought they were probably just girlfriend and boyfriend, but later, after I asked the girl, I found that they had got married a few months ago. The lady encountered this American man from a course she had been taking; they fell in love and got married in a few months after that.

I never seriously thought about a marriage between a Westerner and a Chinese. The cultural difference was just too huge to be dealt with in a marriage that was to last a couple of decades hopefully, and I truly wondered how this couple had been managing it. Watching the wife talking in English with an obvious Chinese accent, the question mark grew even bigger.

The second day on board, I woke early and met the husband sitting by the window. I took the next seat and began initiating a conversation. After talking about his career, my university life and other things, I raised the question: Is there any cultural differences that are difficult to overcome in your marriage? "Of course!" He replied loudly, laughing. I laughed with him and changed the topic.

I do not believe in anything racial; neither am I stating something nationalist. It just that, even when the language obstacle is fully overcome, the cultural difference, which could be in religions, ideology, past education received, political beliefs, and even merely cuisine, is sufficient to break many happy couples apart, or at least make the relationship a challenge to be worked out.

The girl and I exchanged our emails before debarking, and had some correspondence afterward. I am never against any marriage on the basis of love and commitment, and I sincerely wish them happiness till death.

September 11, 2009

Mathematics in Economics

It's now during the add/drop period of this new semester. I've been struggling in deciding what math courses to take that do not conflict with my core courses, and at the same time maximizing the total utility in getting myself into a good shape for future studies in economics. That's when I come across this article by Paul Krugman on the relationship between math and econ, and he writes:

[Y]ou can have great work in economics with little or no math. I can’t pull up papers now, but as I recall, Akerlof’s market for lemons had virtually no explicit math in its main exposition; yet it was transformative in its insight.

And later he says, "So by all means let’s have math in economics", but also stresses: "as our servant, not our master."

September 10, 2009

Laissez Faire

God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!
- Robert Browning, Pippa Passes

College Drop-out

An NYT report startled me:
Only 33 percent of the freshmen who enter the University of Massachusetts, Boston, graduate within six years. Less than 41 percent graduate from the University of Montana, and 44 percent from the University of New Mexico. The economist Mark Schneider refers to colleges with such dropout rates as “failure factories,” and they are the norm.
This dropout rate is kind of unimaginable in China, or Beijing at least. I can't stop thinking how difficult it would be to graduate from a graduate program, say, a PhD.

Economists as Prophets

The Age:
Professor Roubini embodies the old joke that a good economist is someone who accurately predicted nine out of the past two recessions.
Update: My friend Amy Wang sends in with a nice story:

In one of my economic lecture, when the professor Tony talking about the basic assumptions about economic theory, he said that Let's assume there is no arbitrage in the world, and then some students look at him doubtfully, then he said" Hey, we are economists!"

I think it is the assumptions behind the theory that make it hard to apply to the real world and fail to predict with accuracy about the past and future events.

September 6, 2009

Walt Whitman Quote

I read this sentence in the Leaves of Grass today:
Yet we walk unheld, free, the whole earth over, journeying up and down till we make our ineffaceable mark upon time and the diverse eras. 
-Walt Whitman "To Him That Was Crucified"
I should remember this.

September 3, 2009

Home

My family moved from the bungalows at Lane 7 Hongju, Xuanwu District, to an apartment in a building of more than a score stories near Zhongguancun in the second year of my life. Parents have been telling me that in the first few nights of our new life there, I could not recognize this apartment as home and was always crying to “go home”. At that time, home to me was a place that I was familiar with and could rely on as a shelter from the complicated world outside. A change of location was enough to deprive me of the sense of security.

When ten years later my family moved again to a house in outskirt Beijing, I did not have such resistance anymore. What was left was a strong feeling of inconvenience brought by unacquaintance. I had to give up almost all I had: my friends, my neighborhood, and a proximity to downtown. What was preserved was my family who stayed with me as before, and made this place feel like home again.

Last year, a floormate in our residence hall asked where my “old home” (literal meaning of the Chinese word for “hometown”) was. I told her, I had no old home. I came from Beijing, and that was where my home was. I am not saying that I do not enjoy life in Hong Kong or something, but I really do not feel at home here, although the University has made every effort in making the student hostel like one with hall tutors installed on every floor and hall activities every now and then. It just isn’t home. Here’s no family.

One night a week ago, I was lying in my bed at home in Beijing, thinking, throughout my life I would probably travel to many places and take them as temporary residences; but wherever I went, there were always family waiting for me at home, the people who supported me and cared for me.

Thinking about them, I know I am not far from home.

September 2, 2009

Performance at AMHKY Singing Contest 2009

Stan [Live] AMHKY Singing Contest 2009 from Han on Vimeo.

Featuring Catherine Young

Due to the Internet cencorship in mainland China, I could not post this video here until now.

August 27, 2009

Second Interview


This is from the three-hour interview I made last Friday. The author kind of exaggerated, and some of the quotes of me are not verbatim, so don't take me wrong.
Photo: Dr. Zhang Hongwei (right) (blog) and me.

August 23, 2009

Gmail supports SMTP of alternative addresses

With this, you can send emails with your own SMTP server instead of Google's. This is especially useful for   professional addresses (of universities, companies, etc.). The recipient of your message will not be able to identify whether your message is sent from Gmail, an email client, or the standard webmail interface provided by your institution.

After some investigation, I have found the SMTP server (as well as the POP and IMAP ones) of HKBU to be net16.hkbu.edu.hk, and the SMTP port code 587.

On New Oriental

The reporter of New Oriental again asked me what do I think about the New Oriental School and what kind of trainers do I like. Here is what I replied:

Like I said, the most important aspect of a New Oriental School (NOS) course is to teach students about what a test is like and how to deal with the many facets of the test, during registration, preparation, and the test sessions itself. Also, a good NOS lecturer can always integrate abundant general knowledge into their classes. This information may not be directly related to the course, but it serves to broaden a student's horizon and also help her with dealing the wide range of topics in the Reading/Listening sections of tests and providing supporting facts in her Writing etc. This is the kind of NOS teacher I like, who can always fascinate students with intriguing facts about anything.

August 22, 2009

Recent Interviews

I haven't been home very much these days. On Wednesday the New Beijing News (Xinjingbao) has done a thirty-minute interview with me about how to study for the TOEFL test and learning English in general, and a summary of this interview is expected to be published on Monday's (8/24) News in the "Learning Community" column of Part D.

On Friday the New Oriental School arranged a three-hours-long interview with me, covering everything from acing the TOEFL to how I spent my primary school life. It was quite draining but I did also learn something about myself through the discussion. The article to be resulted will probably be published on the New Oriental Spirit (Xindongfang Jingshen) Magazine.

Look out for them if you are interested.

August 19, 2009

A Survey

Survey on the response rate of email requests to two Academic Registry addresses

The survey is based on a sample of emails sent to the two addresses between 9/4/07 and 8/13/09 (both inclusive).

Address

Request replied

Request not replied

Total sent

Response rate

ar

7

5

12

58.3%

ugs

10

3

13

76.9%


The results listed here are based on a relatively small sample and sometimes vague memory of the consequence of the request. Also the results are affected by technical reasons, e.g. malfunction of the mail system etc. Therefore they should not be used for purposes other than personal reference.


Renren.com

The most popular social networking website, Xiaonei.com, is now changed to Renren.com.
But I wonder how many of my readers still remember the original Renren.com that was once prevalent a decade ago?
Image sources: http://www.lnuu.com/article/2373.htm; http://www.aboutus.org/RenRen.com

China sells US debt

BBC:
China reduced its holdings of US government debt by the largest margin in nearly nine years in June, according to data from the US Treasury.
The sales were made as the US treasury secretary was visiting Beijing to try to reassure the Chinese that their investment in his country's government debt is safe.

August 18, 2009

Test of English as a Foreign Language

I took the TOEFL test on August 2. I knew I could always score higher than 115 out of 120, but I really did not anticipate a 120, even after the test. I always thought a full mark required quite some good luck, which was not something I was good at obtaining.

 

But anyway, here I am with a score report of a thirty in each of the four sections. Friends congratulate for my success and I thank them.

 

Some asked me what materials I used during the preparation. Well, I think any comprehensive preparatory course would suffice but I used the Official Guide (also available in a Chinese version) and Delta's Key to the Next Generation TOEFL Test (here for Chinese version). Also I have to point out that the information available on ETS' website is most important. Adequately understand the format and structure of the test and do one practice test each day for a few days before the test. The TPO also proved to be helpful.

 

Above all, the most crucial, and pardon me to repeat what many have said, is to use the language; otherwise what's the point of learning it?


August 13, 2009

"Lost in Translation"

I just watched this film made in 2003 today. It tells a story of a U.S. movie star, who is staying in a Tokyo hotel to make commercials, meeting and falling in love with a photographer's wife from New York decades younger than he is. The love in this movie doesn't involve sex, but only the true spiritual love between two isolated souls.

Scarlett Johansson is the lead actress of this movie. She also played the part of Mary Boleyn in "The Other Boleyn Girl" (2008). Not until after the watching did I realize why she looked so familiar. Also she starred in "He's Just Not That Into You" this year, and together with Jennifer Aniston, I have no reason to put off watching this movie any longer.

August 12, 2009

Google's 'Caffeine'

Will Google's new Caffeine search engine make Google more addictive?

More than two months ago Microsoft launched its Bing. Though Bing was received with full anticipation, I still found that Google's results were more tailored to my need, even without this future Caffeine update.

August 5, 2009

Obama's Book

I've just finished reading Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father. It tells the story of how a black American boy sought for his origins, tried to understand the divided world around him, and to make a difference to the society, and finally grew up to become a man with concrete faith in life. Written more than a decade ago, Obama described in this book his childhood in Hawaii, life in college and as an organizer, and later, his experience during his first visit to his fatherland – Kenya, where he could finally get to learn about his other home comprehensively. The story is told with full emotion, and reads like a novel. Recommended.

August 3, 2009

Impressions on England

I went to England many years ago for a summer school at Eton College. It was the first time I had been to the Occident.

Eton was an aged town. I liked the centuries-old buildings, especially the unfortunate College Chapel with one wing destroyed during war. The climate there was humid compared to that of Beijing, but very comfortable, with a fine temperature and occasional light rains.

The Windsor Castle was exactly like what I had seen in movies depicting western royal life, and the bazaar outside the Castle was bustling with exotic goods and living statue artists at the centers of the streets. We went there quite often.

We only went to London once, owing to the serial subway explosion accidents. Fortunately the London Eye gave us a panoramic view of the whole city without exception. And the tour on Thames led us through the heart of the metropolis.

The Stone Henge was not as magnificent as I had once thought. I realized it must be the mystery embedded that truly attracted tourists and scientists.

The Hampton Court in no way resembled Chinese royal palaces such as the Forbidden City. However, its emotional appeal may be in marginal consensus with that of the Summer Palace.

Oxford was rather a town than a university. At least I could not make an assessment of it as a university  since I did not attend any lectures there. The town was of typical English fashion. It was on the day of a Harry Potter book's release. Some of our people bought more than one copy of it.

Nevertheless, I sincerely wish the Englishmen, together with the French, had not conflagrated the Garden of All Gardens, Yuanmingyuan.

July 21, 2009

July 20, 2009

Independent Central Banks

Alex Tabarrock:
A number of prominent economists have signed a petition calling for "Congress and the Executive Branch to reaffirm their support for and defend the independence of the Federal Reserve System."  The petition is disingenuous.
To me, the idea of independent central banks has always seemed inadvisable and sometimes recalcitrant. Monetary policies are an integral part of the economic policy of a government; together with fiscal policies, it is best left to the charge of the government itself.

*Googli-con*

On Xiaonei.com, a user named Yu Chunzi commented, after I stating that the only instant messenger I use frequently is Google Talk,  that I am a Gugekong (谷歌控), or Googli-con in English (see lolicon), meaning someone who is crazy about Google. I could not find an existing  translation of this term, partially originated from Japanese, into English; therefore I made it up myself.

I am not sure whether there have been people using this term before, in either Chinese or English. (Are there better translations?) But I think I am (happily) qualified to be called one.

The National Library

Last week I visited the National Library of China, the third largest national library in the world.

July 17, 2009

In Memoriam Prof. Ji Xianlin

A most distinguished scholar in modern China, Prof. Ji Xianlin, an Honorary Doctor of Letters of HKBU, passed away on 11 July 2009 in Beijing at the age of 98.

July 16, 2009

Global Role of the Yuan

FT.com: China plans global role for Renminbi:
If successful, this could lead to nearly $2,000bn in annual trade flows, or as much as 50 per cent of China’s total, being settled in renminbi each year by 2012, compared with less than 10 per cent today... "making [Renminbi] one of the top three currencies used in global trade.”

July 8, 2009

Words for the Future

President Obama's Address at the New Economics School of Moscow.

The Google Operating System (OS)

It's almost like a response to my post yesterday.  Google has announced that it's developing an operating system for personal computers (news link). The new Google Chrome Operating System will be open source, just like Google's browser bearing the same name.

After years of competition with Microsoft in the web market, Google is finally getting down to our desktops - Microsoft's major battleground.

July 7, 2009

Long live Google!

Blogger Quwei wrote an article giving reasons for his love for Google, mocking its Chinese competitor, Baidu's name as "hundreds of poisons" (originally meaning "hundreds of aspects").

As a Google fan, I share many of my feelings with Quwei, and have written articles and convinced friends and acquaintances to migrate their web services to Google. What I, and possibly most Google lovers, enjoy about Google is that Google has always promoted the concepts of freedom and sharing, with its motto "Don't be evil". Almost all services provided by Google, such as Gmail, Reader, Docs, Calender, Sites, etc., are free with all functions and features enabled, and Google has also developed open-source programs like Chrome and Gears, and funded the non-profit Mozilla Foundation for the development of Firefox and other open-source softwares.

Please also read my article about Gmail.

July 3, 2009

Donald Tsang on Dialogue

Hong Kong SAR Chief Donald Tsang was interviewed on China Central Television (CCTV) by Tian Wei on the topic "Asia seeks way out of financial crisis", in the prime time talk show Dialogue. Here's the full video.

July 2, 2009

Feline Prophet

This can be printed on the first pages of macroeconomics textbooks:
Money is not everything. There's Mastercard & Visa.
~ Garfield (Yes, the cat!)

June 29, 2009

Hanrizon on Twitter

I finally opened up a Twitter account, although until now I still doubt the necessity of having a microblog, while I already have a blog and a Facebook page for social networking and sharing my statuses. But as microblogging is getting popular, it is really tempting to give it a shot. Please leave comment on my Twitter page and share yours as you may.

The Truth

An article can have no value unless it has utility. No one will give anything for an article unless it yield him satisfaction. Doubtless people are sometimes foolish, and buy things, as children do, to please a moment's fancy; but at least they think at the moment that there is a wish to be gratified. Doubtless, too, people often buy things which, though yielding pleasure for the moment, or postponing pain, are in the end harmful. But here ... we must accept the consumer as the final judge. The fact that he is willing to give up something in order to procure an article proves once for all that for him it has utility, - it fills a want.
Frank Taussig, 1912

June 25, 2009

Google blocked in China yesterday night

According to my testing, starting from somewhere between 9:00 and 9:30 pm on June 24 Beijing time, all sites in the domain google.com were blocked in my neighborhood. The blocked services include the search service of google.com (except google.cn, which was still accessible), Gmail, Google Talk, Reader, Docs, Sites, etc.. The exact time of the recovery of the connection is not certain. BBC reports it was not resumed until today's morning; while some other source claims it was 11 pm yesterday night. The analysis on Kenengba, a blog in Chinese, is quite interesting, if you could read Chinese or would like to try some translating machines.

June 23, 2009

A New Mega-Competitior for iPhone

Intel and Nokia teamed up.

Buying a textbook or not?

College students, at the beginning of new semesters, have you often asked yourselves: Should I buy this textbook or not? It is a typical question especially in regions where the prices of textbooks are absurdly high. Of course there are very understanding instructors who speak openly that their recommended textbooks are not necessary in passing, or sometimes even acing, their courses. In those cases, I always followed their advice. However, most instructors would not be so merciful to students' bank accounts.

In the past two years of college experience, I've tried to minimize the money spent on textbooks so far as infringement on my grades or copyright laws are avoided. The way is to categorize textbooks (or the courses themselves) into two types. The first requires rote memorization of facts or theories, and the textbook usually does not present many "principles"; and the second requires you to understand and sometimes duplicate the deduction of theorems, or analyses of numerical or practical problems.

In classes pertaining to the first category, you can expect the materials to be memorized be provided by instructors in lecture notes and handouts, and as long as those are handled well the exams should be an easy shot. The textbooks usually serve as no more that an expanded version, sometimes with additional but inessential explanations, of the materials presented by the lecturer. For the second-type subjects, however, textbooks are indispensable, because it is usually not possible to remember every detailed proof made on class (whereas they are usually not included in the handouts), while the textbooks are clear and definitive references for those information not captured.

Unfortunately, such criteria may differ from country to country or even from one institution to another. If you are not sure whether you need a textbook, it is always safer to buy one. Even if you are not able to sell it after the semester, it can always enrich your personal library.

June 22, 2009

Green Dam Technology

Do you realize that the Green Dam is actually a pioneer in employing "technology of the cutting edge"? Nelson points out:

Although the government may not necessarily have been aware, they are utilizing the advantages brought about by distributed computing, as enormous amount of calculating tasks required by image identification have been distributed to individual personal computers.

US Complained to China

FT.com: US lodges China censorship complaints -  a rare scene partially driven by economic incentives.

June 21, 2009

Off-Campus Internet Access

Below is my letter sent to the Information Technology Service Center of my university on June 17 (five days ago), regarding secured off-campus access to the Internet. By now I haven't received any reply yet. I understand that this letter may suffer from inaccurate technical details in the second paragraph, as I am not an expert in network technology. However, I believe the point I would like to make is well conveyed.

Dear Officer

As is known to the world, the Internet censorship in China is most intensive, especially in recent years. Many essential resources on the web, e.g. Wikipedia, Bing, Live Search, AOL (partial), Google (partial), MSN (partial), Hotmail, Irish Chronicle, Hong Kong Economic Journal, United Nations News, The Learning Channel, Technorati, Blogger, Webshots, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, MotorBikeAssociation etc., are frequently blocked (though maybe intermittently unblocked) by the Great Fire Wall of China (GFW). As a university student, I very often have the need to study and research and access these and more sites at home. The inconvenience in not being able to access many blocked sites has been extremely troublesome during my study.

May I request the ITSC to provide services that equip students and scholars to access the legally allowed whole of Internet wherever they are in the world. Actually the Chinese University of Hong Kong already has such measure. CUHK students can connect to the VPN server of the University through an encrypted tunnel (via HTTPS), making the data recondite to the GFW, thus serving the purpose. I hold the belief that providing access of information to students and scholars is a university's foremost responsibility, and this responsibility should not be limited to the time students stay on campus but whenever and wherever they need it.

For your information, my intended access to the information provided by these sites and others, no matter blocked or unblocked, perfectly complies with local and international laws, and serves solely the purpose of necessary research and education.

Yours faithfully

Zhang Han

June 19, 2009

China forbids Google to offer foreign search results

FT.com:

Beijing has ordered Google to stop users of its Chinese-language service accessing overseas websites in the biggest blow to the world’s leading search engine in China since it started operating there four years ago.

I don't understand how this is reasonable, as pornographic content, the major censorship target claimed by the Chinese government, exists no less in China than elsewhere. Besides, as China now has antitrust laws, shouldn't Beijing also order all other search sites to disable their overseas links?

June 16, 2009

Noble vs. Rude

The construction of the pair of words, though unrelated they may seem, churl, meaning "bondman, villain," and earl, meaning "nobleman, warrior," is quite curious. To make things clear, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the Old English forms of these two words were eorl and ceorl respectively. Such a formation as adding a "c-" in front and invert the meaning seems rare. May it be related to the prefix "contra-"?

Of Blogging

Years ago in High School, having registered a dozen blogs at different service providers to test their performances, I started my first frequently updated blog. Back then, I did not believe in the idea of blog as web log. Instead, I managed the blog as an anthology - mostly posting answers to writing assignments at school and some other leisure-time essays.

After learning about philosophy during the Eton College Summer Course, I devoted much of my articles to the subject, especially epistemology. I thought ordinary people knew little about what the world was really like; therefore I wrote to spread the “truth” to my audience. Once a kid who hated writing assignments, I discovered a bottomless fountain of writing ideas.

I thought about the meaning of existence in this world. Mortal life lasts no more than a dozen decades, and then whatever can I leave to the world behind me? What would happen after my death? My children will remember me, maybe so will my grandchildren. How about the offsprings following after? A hundred years after my departure, will anyone in the world still hear of me at all? If not, what difference can I make to this world?

It came to me that the way to make my life worthy is to make a difference that endures. One way to achieve this is by writing. People die, but good books and essays survive generations and ages. That’s when I truly discovered my reason and passion for writing. Among all courses, by now, I enjoyed the Chinese language most, and I craved for writing assignments. I didn’t believe writing for oneself – it seemed a waste of time spending hours writing for only one person (especially when the person was the author and thus already knows the idea). And after I discovered the Creative Commons license, I adopted it for my works – hoping to serve my initial purpose for blogging, which was to let people know more about the reality.

After matriculation into college, I also used my blog as a personal bulletin board, posting news about my life and commenting on events happening around me and my friends, as a way to communicate with people in my circles. This was especial useful (and potentially risky) during my presidential election campaign for the Association of Hong Kong and Mainland Youths.

Earlier this year, I reestablished this Blogger blog (originally founded in 2007) and renamed it Hanrizon, a blend of my name and the word "horizon". In naming this way, I hoped this blog would not be limited to any particular topic or purpose, but everything I wanted to express and let either the public or my friends to know about. With intention to make information available to the greatest audience, I published this blog in English. Up till now, the posts consist of my perceptions on current issues, some of my essays originally written elsewhere, and proses in general.

I do not know where my blog will be heading to in the future. But I enjoy writing, and sharing, and that is why I blog.