Freedom of speech

Piazza is an online forum tool that is heavily used in the academia. It is used to help students ask questions and get feedback from both peers and instructors. It has a goal that is similar to Slack in the sense that they both try to cut the duplicate emails sent by several people for the same or similar type of request. It is a good tool but every tool that comes with power has its own consequence.

Instructors can perform the following configuration when they setup the forum for the course.

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 11.58.12 PM

Basically, this option means that when you make a post, whether you can choose to be “Anonymous” to both your peers and instructors or to your peers only (instructors can still see who makes the post).  The following picture shows what this option looks like from student’s perspective:

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 11.58.33 PM

The intention for this option I guess is that some students may feel embarrassed to ask questions. They might think their questions are dumb and will make them look bad in front of peers or instructors. I think this option is used as a way to encourage students to ask questions bravely.

However, this option may get abused. From my observation, Piazza is used as a way for instructors to show off their teaching quality. This is important for Assistant Professors because teaching still means something (if teaching quality doesn’t matter, why institution asks for the teaching statement at the very first place?). In addition, the teaching quality in some sense is an important indicator for students to evaluate you as a person. This is important for professors who are looking for graduate students because research publication is only part of the story and how those professors interact with students may be a crucial indicator to how good a professor as a human being is (evaluation may be a better indicator but it is confidential). Thus, if some potential students look at the piazza that his interested professor teaches gets a lot of complaints. The students may have a second thought on whether he should work with him for research (maybe he is a very bad person even he is doing a good research).

Thus, the instructors have a strong motivation to censor the posts on the piazza. This scares the students because they don’t have a secure way to provide feedback to the instructor. Let’s assume that the majority of students has a good heart: they won’t say bad stuff to the instructor who actually really cares about students. Thus, the time that something slightly negative appears on the Piazza may be a very important signal to the instructor that something wrong with his teaching. However, due to the strong motivation for instructors to show off their teaching quality through Piazza, the instructors may start to censor the speech on the Piazza by turning the option off.

I didn’t realize this thing last semester. Last semester, the instructor from one course sets this option off and I was thinking maybe he wants to know the students who are shy to ask questions and provide some individual attention. However, this semester, the instructor from one of my course initially turn the option on so that everyone can truly ask questions as “Anonymous”. Then, until one day, someone makes the below post and the option is turned off. Now, no students dare to make slightly negative posts.

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 12.28.57 AM

 

I fully understand the interests conflict between students and instructors on the use of Piazza: students may think Piazza is a secure way to provide anonymous feedback while instructor may think bad posts on the forum make them look bad. However, I still think there should be a better way to address this conflict to protect both students and instructors especially with the technology we have nowadays. But, (unintentional) censorship is not something we want to culture especially in the Academia. By the way, for this course, I still think the instructor is good but the material is quite challenging without laying down a solid theoretical foundation beforehand. He went through the material again after this post but too bad the truely “Anonymous” is gone.

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2017 End-year Recap

距离要起床去机场还不到2个小时了。实在是辗转难眠,就起床开始写今年的倒数第二篇博客了。如果我在飞机上能读完那本书的话,还是会有一篇book review的。

先贴上2016年的回顾吧。毕竟格式是要保持一致的。

2017年回顾

上来先做个工作报告,回顾一下16年展望中的工作进展:

  • 博客数量至少100篇!

粗略数了数,17年目前为止总共写了62篇博客。其中技术类44篇更新在我的个人主页上。虽然没有完成既定的目标,但是我个人对这个数量还是比较满意的。年初的时候就基本发现1年写100篇博客其实还是不现实的。如果在这个数量前加个“有质量”的定语,那就更加不可能。“有质量”仅仅是指对我个人来说。技术博客9月份以前由于工作原因时间比较充分,所以还是可以好好看看书,然后写写的。但是到9月份的时候就有灌水之嫌了。所以,我就果断作罢,停止技术博客更新了。希望回国冬假期间能补上几篇。Wordpress的博客这一年来还是坚持每月至少更新一篇,整体质量还算说得过去,只有11月份灌水了一下,这里作为半吊子作家自我检讨一下。博客的灌水究其原因还是时间不够。随着开始硕士学习,课程强度使得我没时间沉淀。每天都在张着嘴,被老师拿各种新东西往里揣。现在感觉有点消化不良,希望冬假能沉淀沉淀。

  • 体脂比降到15%以下,体重降到70kg

看到这个是老泪纵横。在国内控制的可以叫做胜利在望,但是出来了就可以叫做惨不忍睹了。最好记录是72.6公斤,12%体脂比。主要出来检讨一下在国外这几个月骄奢淫逸的罪行。首先没弄个体重秤是最大的问题原因。果然没有数字的直接刺激,就很难评估每次运动的直接成果。其次就是吃了。最开始吃还是克制了一些,但是后来就非常放飞了。10月底开始我家来了个重要客人来我这入伙,那真是变成了想怎么吃就怎么吃了。一顿饭不仅要弄个2,3个蔬菜,连肉大部分时间都是既有白肉也有红肉。每次蒸米饭,我的手抓个3把就差不多了。但是由于客人实在太过尊贵,就抓个4,5把了。米饭真是个好东西。亚马逊19.99一大袋便宜不说,吃起来特别管饱。每次两个人坐在椅子上,互相看着对方拍着肚皮的样子,一种幸福感与安全感混杂的情绪就油然而生了。现在我做饭口碑算是小有建立起来了,至少在那位不能说名字的客人面前,我做的饭是属于管够并且“多搁点盐就是餐馆水平”的了。现在和我室友,以及那位客人相约减肥,为此我室友还搞了个体重秤。希望能如愿。

  • 看书频率要达到这位的速度

这个又是罪过了,完全没有达到预期。如果把全年以出国日期8月5号作为切割点的话,两段时间各自出现了一些问题。出国前看书偏细致,算法书逢题比作,看的实在是过于精细了一点。同时,自己文学类书籍看过一些,但是频率还是不及。出国后看书效率明显提升。这个主要得益于跳着看这个方法。 这里非常感谢Prof. Dana Ballard教的Machine Learning以及其他courses的老师们,自学成为主要学习手段。疯狂的project进度逼迫着我这个完美主义者向能用就行主义者的进化。看一本书直接就看最相关的章节,所有背景知识都是后补,并且如果又不理解的但又不影响阅读的,就画个标记搁置起来后边再看。意识到一本书可以看多遍的道理,所以第一遍读时的贪欲就少了很多,就不求每个点都读懂了。是的,写这段话的时候,我脑海里浮现的书名就是PRML。但是,一本书没有看完大部分章节终究还是不能说看过的,所以8月份后问题主要出现在时间不够上边。介于未来几年希望能读完PhD的我来说,状况可能改善不会太大。

  • 每读一本书都要写book review!

这个做的还是不错的。因为毕竟真正读完的就没有几本而且都集中在上班时期,所以每本读完的书都写过book review了。

  • 有所学校能收了我!

这个愿望算是实现了。感谢主。我来到了UT-Austin!

从2016年的展望来看,5个点真正完成的了只有最后两个,完成率40%,只能说一般。但是从2017年整体来看,我还是比较满意的。适应了从职场人到学生的转变,虽然第一学期的Graduate school非常难熬,但是我还是非常高兴自己能挺了下来。希望新的一年里能继续加油。

2018年展望

  • 向下扎根,向上结果

其实这是教会2018年要交通的主题。结合自己来看就是希望自己能够更加的了解神,接近神,信靠神。教会里属灵前辈讲男人是头。17年的第一学期主要参加的就是团契和主日了。祷告会一次也没有参加过,甚是惭愧。重要的客人这方面已经积累了10多年了,要超越不容易,但是还是要做。具体来说,18年希望内心得刚强。有的时候我深深佩服我这位客人。总觉得内心是刚强的,尤其在美国,在外旅行的时候。要向她学习。这点我觉得解决问题的关键还是在主那里。也许主让我和这位客人相遇就是想去除我内心上的软弱呢?我还是非常相信这点的。

  • 找到实习或者署研

这点其实是老生常谈的问题。研究方向成为了17年一个贯穿始终的话题。坦率的讲,我第一学期之后还是没有发现我真正的研究方向。NLP已经成为我AI方向中的头号Candidate。但是System那边还是希望能多explore一下再做最终决定。至少目前我是这样想的,但是不到课表确定的最后一刻,任何问题都还是说不定。确定了研究方向暑期研究具体做什么也就确定了很大一部分了。剩下的就是确定导师了。实习算是另外一个方向,主要是为了刷题多积累点动力。另外一学期的政治学习也积累了不少动力。

  • 有学校可上

18年底又又又要申请学校了,这次希望继续有神的保守。

这一切的一切都需要主的保守!

Does teaching matter?

I really hesitate whether I should spend my precious hours during the working days composing this blog post. However, I feel I should. I wrote down the title several days ago but I felt some pieces were missing to formal a relative concrete post. However, today, the miracle happened and I can finally complete my puzzle.

Several days ago, I feel quite frustrated because there is a homework due for one of my classes and I have no clue how to finish it. I dig into the books on the subject and try to research the solution out. The most frustrating part isn’t the whole process of seeking answers. It from the lectures. The class is quite popular among the CS graduate student and no matter what areas of their research, everyone I know in the program will take this class sooner or later. The professor for the class is quite famous for his research but I have to say that the quality of the teaching is controversial. By controversial, I mean there is a debate in my head on whether his style of teaching is good or not. If you are familiar with Prof. Andrew Ng’s CS229 lecture videos, then his style is exactly opposite of Prof. Andrew Ng’s. Unlike Prof. Andrew Ng’s mathematical teaching style, professor in my class skips most the f derivations of the formulas and in some cases, he will read through the slides and talk loud about some steps of the derivation. He usually ends the 90 minutes lecture 30 minutes early and in-between he may make some jokes or take a diverge into his research areas that might seem related to lecture topic. The good side of his teaching is that he may offer some intuitions or insights on why we perform those steps and sometimes those few words may help you connect the dots. His teaching style may look like a good fit for someone has a solid background in the field but if you are relatively new to the field, you may have some hard time. This “twisted” class partially leads to my question in the title: “Does teaching matter?” For me, under the context of trying to finish the homework, I cannot see any good from my professor’s lecture style.

The reason that I now look quite peaceful in accepting his lecture style is because of some new insights into research. In a nutshell, you just really don’t have enough time getting everything figured out all at once. Once you’re inside the graduate courses, you will start to read research paper immediately. There can be a lot of background knowledge you need to clear up especially you are new to a field. However, can you say “let me take a pause and get everything figured out at the first.”? No! There are unstoppable piles of papers coming to you and all you need is try to iteratively make best out of the paper. If there are mathematical formulas you don’t understand, in most cases, that’s ok as long as you get a big picture of the paper. The formulas matter the most when you actually start to build your own models. But, that’s not like I have to super clear about every bit of variables appeared in the set of formulas. Many of times, you can take them as given and go straight to use them as basic bricks to build your own building. This feels a lot like playing with LEGO: you don’t care how each piece is made of. You simply use them to build your stuff. The way of looking at knowledge is totally different from your undergraduate where you are tested out every bit of information taught in class through the exam. This observation may look easy but it is really hard from psychological perspective especially when you are a strict person who holds tight to your knowledge system. This psychological barrier is hard to break when you have relative enough time to read through a single paper. You may really hog onto the background or related work section of the paper and you may think there is always a piece of information that you find yourself unclear. Then, you take several months to study the material in order to move a few words to the next sentence of the paragraph. That’s exactly the beauty of the graduate school where you get bombarded by the papers. You just simply don’t have enough time to get everything cleared up before moving on. Classes are heavily centered around the papers and you are sort of expected to figure out on your own by adopting an iterative approach to the knowledge understanding. Take PCA algorithm as an example. The first pass of the material may just simply know how to follow the algorithm and implemented it. The second pass of the material may involve understanding the intuition behind the method and some mathematics derivations. The third pass of the material may actually need to dive to figure out every bit of information and so on.

Now, let’s get back to the question: “Does teaching matter?” It is sort of yes and no question depending on the perspective. From the undergraduate perspective, the hand-holding strategy is probably the must because that’s how we help students build the solid knowledge foundation and allow them to have the basic strategies to survive in the water. Now, for graduate students, it’s debatable whether we should go freestyle of teaching like my professor of the class or we still proceed somewhat like hand-holding but with modification. I guess that depends on the information that the instructor wants to deliver: knowledge itself or how the research is done.

P.S. The miracle happened to me today is during the calculus discussion section, a bunch of freshman chats out loud when I try to explain the solution of the problem to the class. That brings me to think whether the education quality of public system relatively weak compared to the private institutions is due to the quality difference of students. People may think that the reason why faculty in public universities don’t really care about teaching that much is due to the lack of the incentives. But, I’m now starting to think whether that also probably involves another party as well: the students who in short give the wrong signals to the faculty who try hard to achieve teaching excellence. That’s probably an another post in the future.

 

Leaving IBM

To be honest, this is probably the most difficult post I have ever written. This is majorly because there is a ton of stuff I want to say but I’m unsure whether I should keep them public or should keep it to myself. Another factor that makes this post hard to write is because the span of drafting. I have been drafting this post since April in 2016, right after when I decide to start the whole process of quit-IBM-and-get-a-PhD project.  I used to use this post as a log to record things and feelings when somethings happens around me at IBM. Frankly, if I take a look at the stuff I record (mostly are rantings) retrospectively, lots of stuff still hold but the anger just passes away with the time. So, that year-long drafting really makes me hesitate even more because the mood when those stuff are written are gone. However, two years can be a significant amount of time and quitting IBM can be called “an end of era” and I should give a closure to my happy-and-bitter experience with IBM anyway. So, here it goes.

 

Thank you, IBM!

I’m really thankful for the opportunities working with IBM. This experience really makes me grow both technically and mentally.  Technical-wise, I have the opportunity to get hands on experience with DB2 development. DB2 as a database engine is extremely complex. It has over 10 million lines of code and it is way beyond the scope of any school project. Working on those projects are quite challenging because there is no way you can get clear understanding of every part of the project. I still remember when I attend the new hire education on DB2, there is one guy says: “I have been working on the DB2 optimizer for over 10 years but I cannot claim with certainty that I know every bit of the component I own.” This fact really shocks me and based upon my experience so far, his claim still holds but with one subtle assumption, which I’ll talk about later. There are lots of tools are developed internally and reading through both the code and tool chains are a great fortune for any self-motivated developers. I pick a lots of skills alongside: C, C++, Makefile, Emacs, Perl, Shell, AIX and many more. I’m really appreciated with this opportunity and I feel my knowledge with database and operating system grow a lot since my graduation from college.

Mentally, there are also lots of gains. Being a fresh grad is no easy. Lots of people get burned out because they are just like people who try to learn swim and are put inside water: either swim or drown. I’m lucky that my first job is with IBM because the atmosphere is just so relax: people expect you to learn on your own but they are also friendly enough (majority of them) to give you a hand when you need help. I still remember my first ticket with a customer is on a severity one issue, which should be updated your progress with the problem daily. There is a lot of pressure on me because I really have no clue with the product at the very beginning. I’m thankful for those who help me at that time and many difficult moments afterwards. That makes me realize how important is to be nice and stay active with the people around you.  Because no matter how good you are with technology and the product, there are always stuff you don’t know. Staying active with people around you may help you go through the difficult moment like this by giving you a thread that you can start at least pull. In addition, participating with toastmasters club really improve my communication and leadership skills and more importantly, I make tons of friends inside the club. Without working at IBM, I probably won’t even know the existence of the toastmasters club. If you happen to follow my posts, you’ll see lots of going on around me when I work at IBM. Every experience you go through offer you a great opportunity to learn and improve yourself. Some people may look at them as setbacks but for me, I look at them as opportunities.

toastmasters1

( the picture on the left is all the comments people give to me about my speech and on the right is the awards I have earned inside the club in these two years)

With the help of all those experience, I have developed a good habit of writing blogs (both technical and non-technical), reading books, and keep working out six days per week. All those things cannot be possible if I work at a place where extra hour work commonly happened. I’m very thankful for IBM for this because staying healthy both physically and mentally are super critical for one’s career. Even though those stuff don’t directly come from IBM, but IBM does provide the environment to nurture this things to happen.

 

IBM has its own problem. The problem is centered around people. There are many words I want to say but I think I’ll keep them secretly but I want to show my point with a picture:

ibm_survey

I don’t know why IBM’s term “resource action” on firing employees and the sentence “IBM recognize that our employee are our most valuable resources.” bother me so much. I probably just hate the word “resource” as a way to directly describe people and how this word get spammed so much around IBM. I know everyone working for a big corporation is just like a cog in a machine. However, what I feel based upon lots of things happened around me is that IBM as its attitudes represented by its first-line managers (because those people I commonly work with) makes this fact very explicitly. It hurts, to be honest. No matter how hard you work and no matter how many prizes you have earned for yourself and your first-line manager, you are nothing more than a cog in a machine, which is not worth for high price to have you around because there are many cogs behind you that are ready to replace you. They are much cheaper, much younger, and more or less can work like you because your duty in the machine is just so precisely specified, which doesn’t really depend on how much experience you have had under your belt. To me, that’s devastating.

This leads to the problem that talented people are reluctant to stay with company. My mentor and the people are so good with DB2 have bid farewell to the team. That’s really sad to me because they are the truly asset to the company and the product. The consequence of this is that crucial knowledge is gone with people. Some quirks existing in the product are only known by some people and once they leave the company, the knowledge is gone with them. That makes mastering of the product even harder. That’s the subtle assumption that the person makes during the new hire education and that’s also part of the problem when working with legacy code. The whole legacy code issue is worth another post but one thing I now strongly believe is that any technical problem has its own root cause in company culture and management style. To me, I’m not a guru now but I cannot see the way to become a guru with my current position, which scares me the most

That’s it for this section and I’ll leave the rest to my journal.

知乎问答

最近在知乎上面有两个话题特别的火热: 丧失了喜欢人的能力是怎样的体验?现在的男性是否普遍不再对女性展开追求了?为什么? 我相结合我的一些经历和思考去聊聊我对这两个问题的认知。

这两个问题在我看来是同一个问题。换句话说存在一种解释可以将这两个问题转化成一个问题并进行解释。首先第一个问题在我看来就是当你对人际关系失望的时候,你自然而然就会丧失喜欢的能力。而体验作为我,一个男性来讲就是你看哪个女生都会把她们贴上一个标签。这个标签提醒你“股市有风险,入市需谨慎”。其实这个并不是针对女生,对于平常所接触到的任何一个人来讲,你都会把他们用这个标签贴上。在这个前提下你就会发现,女生只是作为接触到的人们的一个子集,自然而然的可以用第一个问题的答案来解释。

那我分问题再详细展开一下聊聊。上学和工作的最大区别就是对于人性有更加深刻的认知,从而在心理上产生了非常大的变化,这种变化很难让你再去拥有学生时代的那种心态。这个体现就是对于“朋友”这个词定义的转变。上学的时候我和人交往的mindset就是谁都是朋友,我都想以交朋友的心态去和每个人去交往。如果他做出了不符合“朋友”预期的行为,那么他在我内心的地位就会一点点被修正。直到最差的情况是形同路人。 但是工作后,你经历过事情就会发现你整个心理变化的过程是和学生时代正好相反的。你所见到的每个人都是路人,他如果做出了一些符合“朋友”预期的行为,那你会一点点去修正他在你心里的地位,直到他在你心里占据了“朋友”的一个位置。你会发现,“朋友”这个词就像纸币,在学生时期你执行的是非常宽松的货币政策,你不停的在内心里去加印,争取让任何你所见到的人都可以拿到这个纸币。但是,在经历过事情之后,你就开始慢慢的去紧缩,直到这个纸币变得非常值钱,值钱到很少有人可以拿到这个纸币。但是当紧缩到一定程度,你不仅不再印这些纸币,你更加想法设法的去回收这些你之前发出去的纸币,比如说减少联系次数,停止更新朋友圈,不轻易在哪怕是“朋友”面前发表你的真实观点等等。之所以会去这么做,从我的反思来看就是对人性,人,人际关系的失望。你在心里筑起了围墙,这个围墙是如此的坚固,很难有人可以走进来。

我上学的时候,我的室友是一个曾经在报社工作过两年来到wisc学传播学的博士。第一次见到他,觉得他是一个非常礼貌客气的人。什么问题都会笑呵呵的和你说。但是我会非常明显的感受到你们两个人之间隔了一层纱,无发看透他内心的真实想法。有一次学期结束,坐下来和他有机会小饮两杯,我问他是什么原因让他想来美国读phD的。他跟我说是受不了国内报社这种吹须拍马的乌烟瘴气。当时我不懂,我不懂这些事情对于一个人来说会造成何种的影响,直到我开始工作后,开始经历了一些人和事之后,我才体会到我这位室友所经历的事情会对他早成何种影响。所幸的是,在我和他生活的两年里,我渐渐觉得他慢慢变得真实了。会去跟我分享他的看法,他所听到的八卦,他喜欢的综艺,会一起去图书馆学习。我觉得一层还没有形成很深的冰在渐渐的融化着。

我所经历的事请让我的紧缩的政策越发收紧,紧缩到对于友情是否真正发生过,是否真正存在过产生了质疑。交友不慎确确实实是存在着的。我在交友不慎的两端都扮演过角色。我曾经是受害者,也扮演过加害人。不管是有意无意,你在一个人身上所造成的裂痕是无法弥补的。弥补友情是一个伪命题。隔阂是无法消灭的。及时做出了多少的努力,你都无法消除你对一个曾经信任的人所造成的伤害,他们会永远记得。我知道,因为我也是记得所谓“朋友”对我所做出的事情。我想也许我会原谅他,但是所需要的努力,在现在这个快节奏的社会下,是很难发生的。因为每个人都有更多的选择,路人茫茫,彼此都可以是对方的过客,彼此都很难说的上是对方的唯一。跟何况即使你愿意弥补,对方也很难再去给你开启一道窗口。拆墙容易,筑墙难。我所做的就是承担起责任,去承受个人所带来的痛苦,任何道歉都无济于事,唯有离开并内化,希望相似的事情不会再发生。What is lost is lost.

现在再来说说第二个问题。经典之所以是经典就在于你不同阶段去看,都会有不一样的感悟。我个人非常喜欢老友记,他的经典之处就在于任何人在成长中所经历的人和事情,老友记都以一种夸张的形式将其淋漓尽致的展现了出来。回答这个问题同样没有意外: Friends Season 06 Episode 23 “The One with the Ring”。里边最开始是Rachel和Phoebe在聊天, Rachel说Paul是一个private guy, 她希望能多了解他。紧接着在下一个场景,Rachel鼓励Paul去share他自己内心的想法。在Rachel再三要求下,Paul说了关于自己童年父母送个他的”plastic chicken that hop on”并因此获得绰号”chicken boy”悲惨往事。终于door is open,Rachel终于受不了Paul再三的哭诉,和他分手了。虽然这个情节非常夸张,但是确实反映了现在的一些问题: 很难去和女生建立亲密关系,因为你绝望的认为几乎没有人会去停下来去倾听,你对人际关系感到绝望,你在筑墙,这并不是针对女生这个特定群体,这只是一种自然而然的内心保护机制。

也许这就是所谓的成熟?