A Sense of Purpose

I am reconsidering joining the battle of alternative energy. The reason why I had recently abandoned it is that too many people are doing it. And this reason is not a good one. What I am avoiding actually is competition. Though joining a mature field will not provide me with large room for growth and its competitiveness may be stifling, a field like alternative energy has a different aspect associated with it. This aspect is to serve directly urgent human needs. And it is where I will find a sense of purpose.

This sense of purpose will give another perspective on competition. For any progress and breakthrough, I should be happy about them and for whoever made them because they represent another step closer to solving a problem. And I should be happy that there are smart minds that agree with mine on what is the most important thing in the world.

PS. I love Pirates of the Caribbean. Good movies always lift you above your personal daily trifle, and give you a perspective of life which should not be buried under day to day routine, and should instead shine even in the most dreary times.

PS. A person should not only be able to see the system he is in through the perspective of an outsider, in order to judge with an independent mind, but he also has to identify what he is capabable of doing in order to make a living. Such a person will never fail himself even if the system failed him. The purpose of living is not just to survive, but to thrive.

Green Dam

When I was setting up my first website justluck.cn with 512j.com back in 2005, I had to get a license from the Ministry of Information Industry (now the Ministry of Industry and Information), even though it is just for personal use. According the agreement, the license has to be placed in a place easy to be seen. I don’t feel much trouble at that time then, except that the Ministry’s website is poorly designed that it is not very easy to navigate around.

For the past a few days, I have been keeping track of the demonstration in Iran. And the Iranian postdoc in my lab told me yesterday during lunch time that he couldn’t even contact his parents because all means of communication to the outside world are shut. I asked why so. He said that the government installed a software in every cell phone which was initally for tracking child pornograph, but is now used for tracking any communication among demonstrators. As soon as they locate one demonstrator’s home, they will go to his/her place, tortue him/her and then force him/her to log into the computer and find all his frineds on social networking website such as facebook and twitter (which are being used heavily for demonstrators to get organized) to locate more protesters. He was apparently emotionally charged when he told me about it.

And what he said deeply troubles me. Blocking pornography seems just a smoke screen for keeping the mass from getting the information. Such measures bears the appearance of righteousness and indeed create a delightful ignorance. But it may be dangerous if used in the wrong hands, and even if correctly used, it creates an over-protection that might eventually indulge the next generation. Also troublesome is its apparent hypocrisy: You say what you want to do is blocking pornography, but actually what you want to achieve is something else. This obvious manipulation insult the intelligence of those who have sound judgment.


Critical Self-assessment 5 – Research

I submitted my first ever paper in early April to Advanced Materials. Writing it is a tedious journey. It took four months. I found it is very helpful to have the first draft ready as early as possible so that you know what is missing in the paper, and then you have a direction in planning experiments. Also, Whitesides’ advice on writing an outline first is an effective approach for organizing the data. Organizing references is challanging as well. The help of Endnote is indispensable through out the process. I hope after this first one, my next paper would be less time-consuming. (Nah, it never is.)

Failure as a reflective moment

Failing in the GH residence adviser is a negative feedback.  Probably it means that I am not fit for this position, in terms of skill set and personality, so instead of trying hard to fit myself into what I may not excel, I should look elsewhere and keep my energy focused on things that I am really interested and good at. It also makes me think about why I do what I do. I ask myself this question about the When Pigs Fly workshop.

It turns out that I like people different from me, and enjoy exchanging ideas and engaging in vigorous and yet civilized debate. So I love what I do in WPF. Besides, there is a need in a community like graduate house for people with diverse cultural and professional backgrounds to connect and exchange, in a meaningful way and in depth. So besides being my passion, it also feeds the needs of such a community and would be a contribution to the local community, which is the essence of WPF.

The tranquilizing effect of failure

After the first interview, my application for graduate house residence advisor, international student, came to an end. And somehow, I feel my mind is cooled, and whenever that happens, I know it is the best time to write something because there won’t be any trace of ego exerting, conscious or unconscious. The inner self is humbled.

I was watching the Champion Leagure Final this afternoon, and to my disappointment, Man. United lost the match. They lost it because of their arrogance, which reminds me the quote of Bob Noyce “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survives.”

I wouldn’t go as far as seeking failures from time to time in order to gain a moment of tranquility, but it seems to me that failing something every now and then is a necessary component to balance the mind, which often stays too excited with its own product.

Cricital Self-Assessment 5 — Health

To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.
– Gautama Buddha,’The Enlightened One’

It has been eight months since my last self-assessment. Over the last eight months, I have experienced steady improvement in my physical conditions, which is mainly attributed to regular exercises and a healthy diet. Tae Kwon Do has become an indispensable part of my life, and I am impressed by the pace of my own progress: I am a blue belt now. I have explored the effect of several more herbs and incorporated several new foods into my diet.

Through the exercises and my daily self-observation, I am more and more convinced that the strength of the mind relies heavily on the strength of the body. I cannot think clearly nor fully when I am tired or when my body does not function properly. Besides thinking, fatigue and any malfunction of the body also affect the emotional stability. Anger and impatience, cynicism and pessimism can kick in if I am not watchful enough. To guard against those negative emotions and thoughts, proper rest and self-awareness are vital. In a word, the brain cannot work without a working body.

A week at Stanford: Only the paranoid survive

I arrived at San Fransisco airport on 30 Dec. 2008 for a 12-day trip in Bay Area, to visit my aunt’s family and friends. After skiing in Lake Tahoe over the new year, I spent a week at Stanford, reading, writing, and meeting old friends. Chatting with old friends is one of the most enjoyable things in life. We have talked about lives, people we know, and mostly plans for the future.

One friend is preparing LSAT while doing his materials engineering PhD, and he plans to apply for a joint degree in Law school. The prospect of being among the first waves of Chinese oversea students obtaining both PhD and JD and joining the elite group of lawyers drives him. He has even worked out his schedule of the application, from taking LSAT prep course, to test date, to the year of application.

Another friend, who quit Intel before joining an EE master program, is searching for something more interesting to do for her life. She took me to the headquarter of Intel, where she used to work. I had a chance to learn about the history behind Intel and how the chips are made. The personal stories of the founders, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moores, as well as the first CEO Andrew Grove, are the most intriguing among all the technologies and science demonstrations. One picture showing all three of them injured either from skiing trip or some other sports is hilarious. One quote from Andrew Grove has a lasting impression on me: ” Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

The last friend I met is in her first year in business school. Heavy course loads have consumed most of her energy, but she still looks lively. Stanford business school offers her a big jump in her career, and she is looking for something big for her life. With the knowledge of what she enjoys doing and a realistic picture of what the world could offer, she has laid out several priorities for her career without losing sight of other options in this dire economic situation.

Most of the three conversations revolves around our future plans , not surprisingly, given our age. These talks help me refine my own career plans. Though the details of the plan still need fuller considerations, the rationale seems to have emerged: Use what I enjoy doing and what I am good at to satisfy the need of the society. The first half is personal. The second half, which is more important, is to ensure the plan is relevant to my time. Curiosity is sometimes aimless, especially in science, so relevance helps keep the aimless creature on the right track. Being relevant to the current need of the society also adds significance to the work, and serves as a perpetual source of motivation.

So the question is what is relavent. On the science and technology side, the big things are new energy, biotechnologies, (especially bio-pharmaceutical revolutions), bioscience (the origins of life), nanotechnology (especially quantum computation and new materials), information technology, neuroscience (especially the answer of what is consciousness), space science and technology (especially the prospect of space travel).  On the social/political side, the rise of China and India, the intergration of people from every corners of the world into an exceedingly connected world, the healthy aging of the superpower US, and the prevention of any large scale war. On the humanitarian side, poverty, the access to equal opportunity of education for the poor, fair distribution of wealth among nations and their citizens, spiritual harmony among various religious groups.

What one man can do is little, but as long as it is rightly guided by conscience, the contribution will be meaningful, and hopefully significant.

Image souce: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeaf/61348518/.