Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reminder of my favourite book

Well, I am escaping again!! This is yet another long sleepless night.

Google search reminded me yesterday that it was the birthday of the author of my favourite book -> The Little Prince. Since when did I start liking the book? Hmmm, long long long time ago.... the lines and pictures are so simple and yet so inspiring.... I am definitely going to read it again after I submit part of my thesis draft to the supervisor tomorrow!!! thinking of that gives me lots of motivation to continue my work!!

A phrase from the book that I really like is this: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." Although it is very "unengineer" and "unscientist", I believe that it is the heart that defines human being and differentiate us from the animals. (Well, I am definitely not a Darwinian advocate).

But I think I have been having more problem listening to my heart as I grow older. Many a time I've forgotten to ask what is in my heart before I draw a rational formulations to the considerations that I encounter in my life. Antoine de Saint-Exupery's birthday definitely reminded me to go back to my real self, to be simple, to listen more to the heart and to live life as I want it to be.....

Monday, June 21, 2010


ok, u are right, I am trying to escape from my research again..... it's 12:44 midnight and I am waiting for my MATLAB simulations..... it has been quite a productive day, I managed to write 2 pages of programming codes that do work as I want them to be. Thank God!! :) This article has been hidden in my post for many days so I decided to finish it up today.....

I found that human being have difficulties to rationally value many things. For example, how do we justify economic progress vs environmental impact vs social impact vs generation equity vs nationalism and many other things. Another example would be the values of arts. A few weeks ago, I went to Fitzwilliam Museum after sitting for examination to immerse myself into the beauty of arts and history after days of endless calculations and formulation of equations. I saw Picasso's pieces there and it immediately reminded me that one of his drawings was just sold for 100 million++ USD recently. As an engineer, I naturally put them into a very simple calculation. The value for a human being's life is equivalent to about 1 million pound for UK Court. So Picasso's drawing is actually worth 100++ human lives!!!! The last example is the value of Gates Scholarship, the scholarship that I am holding. I remember people told me that when Bill Gates was here last summer, he told the Gates scholars that the money that spend on each of us each year can actually help to vaccinate thousands of lives in Africa and save them from deadly diseases!!!!

While sometimes soft sciences can help answer some of the questions above (such as carbon pricing for environmental impact etc), we as human being depend largely on our gut feelings and experiences in making big decisions, both individually and collectively. That explains why we tend to make the wrong decision(ssssss). Can we change this fact of today into history tomorrow? I doubt so and I hope not. The world will be very dull if every thing can be formulated into a mathematical model and full of engineers and scientists....... I really can't imagine that, can you?

Life Maximization

Optimization is the name of one of the ten modules that I am taking here in Cambridge to get my master degree. Keeping the examination part aside, it was a very interesting subject to read. In short, it is a subject that deals with maximizing or minimizing certain objective function subject to certain constraints. An example for its application in engineering is a manufacturing plant trying to maximize its production subject to the limit in labours, raw materials, machineries etc. The theories are also widely adopted in minimizing the distribution cost of giant retailer like WalMart. All in all, it is a subject that tries to help people to make rational decision(s) with all the information available and of course, some assumptions.

For amusement purposes, I am now trying to put the theory of optimization into pondering about how I should maximize my life time. For me, life maximization consideration is like trying to formulate the objective function that I am trying to optimize with the constraints my life time, energy, ability etc. Mathematically, it can be formulated as below:

Assume that this is a linear programming problem,
Objective function, f(x) = ∑ a(i)x(i)

where ,
coefficients a(i) = {a(1), a(2), a(3)....... a(n)}
variables x(i) = {x(1),x(2), x(3).......x(n)}

f(x) is the overall objective that we would like to maximize and it is supposed to be able to measure the value of my life time. The difficult part is what are the variables that should be included in the objective function and how to determine their respective coefficients? Each x is a concern of life, for example, money, fame, family, environment, society, passion etc, whereas the values of the coefficients are associated with the weight of their respective variables.

What variables and coefficients would you place in your objective function of life? Of course, unlike many engineering solutions, there is no right and wrong answer in this mathematics question......... Also unlike many engineering solutions, there is no turning back, everyone only has one life to maximize.......