James Tang

Month: June, 2009

Virtues for Everyone

Currently reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. He was widely considered the greatest emperor of Rome and the closest anyone has ever come to Plato’s “philosopher-king“. Meditations is a book of spiritual exercises he wrote for himself to guide him through life. It was never meant to be published. This is my favorite quote so far.

No one could ever accuse you of being quick-witted. All right, but there are plenty of other things you can’t claim you ‘haven’t got in you.’ Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer – beyond excuses like ‘can’t’? And you still settle for less.

Or is it some inborn condition that makes you whiny and grasping and obsequious, makes you complain about your body and curry favor and show off and leaves you so turbulent inside?

No. You could have broken free a long way back. And then you would have been only a little slow. “Not so quick on the uptake.”

And you need to work on that as well – that slowness. Not something to be ignored, let alone to prize.

Nike’s take on it.

Bill Russell on Daily Show

I loved this story.

Jon Stewart: You never give up.

Bill: When we first moved into the projects. These five boys walked by and one of them slapped me. I was 9 years old at the time and I did what 9 year olds do. I went home and told my mother. She grabbed the keys and said, “Let’s go.” And we went all through the projects until we found the five boys.

“Is this the group?” she asked.

“Yes maam.”

“Well you’re going to fight each of them one at a time”

After I lost, she said,

It doesn’t make any difference. The thing you always have to do is stand up and fight for yourself. You can’t ever depend on anybody else to do it for you.


Certainty of Correctness

Borrowing an idea from Nassim Taleb, it is impossible for anyone to be absolutely certain about knowledge, unless it is within artificially created rules. One example of such an environment would be math, where statements are provable and therefore certifiably correct.

I have an habit of pointing out other people’s incorrectness, and then am challenged to come up with the right answer to prove it. Usually it is in the statement, “If you don’t know the answer, how do you know mine is wrong?” For the same reason that I don’t know what 981625 x 1283476 is, but I know it is not 10.

This example is a bit unfair since it assumes the basic rules of math and has a provably correct answer. When dealing with situations that have an unknowable answer (all other knowledge), I think it is more correct to assume a probability distribution of answers with every answer being possible, but some more probable based on current evidence. As time goes on, more evidence is uncovered and the distribution shifts, but will never converge to a single answer of absolute correctness (relation to Quantum Theory?).

I guess this mean that I should say your answer is improbable, rather than wrong.

20 Things About Me

1. I have eaten Miracle Berries.

2. My Elder Dragon Highlander general is Mayael the Anima. I won my first 5 MtG Draft tournaments in a row and haven’t won since then.

3. My main in SSBM is Ice Climbers, secondary is Sheik. I have placed 1st in UC Berkeley tournaments, and represented UCB against UCD.

4. I wear size 43 Vibram Five Fingers KSO.

5. I own 7 plants in my room.

6. I take over 10 supplement pills each day (3-5 Orange Triad Multivitamin, 2 Green Tea Anti-oxidants, 4-6 Spirulina, 1 Probiotic). In addition to 2 scoops of whey protein and a scoop of Perfect Food and Psyllium Husk. Also do the Shangri-La Diet of a tablespoon at morning and night of flaxseed oil to curb appetite, reduce inflammation and workout stress, and help with sleep.

7. I use Gatsby Medium Hair Wax, Ultra Hard Wax or Xtah Crude Clay depending on the current length of hair.

8. I played Varsity #1 Mens Singles in Badminton my Junior year of High School.

9. In my previous dream of becoming a millionaire by age 30, I spent months learning about personal finance from books and blogs to the point where I was helping my parents make financial decisions.

10. As a result of that research, I have since abandoned that dream in favor of personal investing in skills and memories.

11. Current favorite manga is Liar Game from my sister.

12. Summer between sophomore and junior year of high school, I hiked for 10 days at Philmont, New Mexico without showers or toilets, carrying 50 lbs on my back. No change of clothes either.

13. Straight A’s in high school, except for a C.

14. Over the summer between freshman and sophomore years of college, I lost 30 lbs.

15. I have a scar on my forehead from when I was 6 and I hit my head against a coffee table because I thought I could fly like superman if I wore a cape.

16. On our tour in China, my orchestra’s bus was accompanied by 4 cop cars that drove in the front, sides, and back of us.

17. When I read books, I annotate using Post-it highlighters and flags. My life-long goal is to have an entire wall filled with them, assuming books last that long.

18. Favorite brand is Calvin Klein because of the minimalist, timeless fashion their clothes have.

19. One of my favorite activities to do when bored is to watch people and try to guess their emotion.

20. Secretly, I wish I could pull a Bruce Wayne and leave my cushy life if for no other reason than to understand what Seneca meant.

University Diversity


I believe that the goal of a top university is to educate the best students. The best student is the one who can demonstrate the highest level of learning among his peers. It is impossible to ever measure how much a person has learned, but the most practical approximation is through testing and past performance. The problem with adding admissions criteria that are not academic performance is that there are an infinite number of them, and no particular reason to justify any of them as being more important. If we add race, why not add height, which has also been shown to have a significant impact on success? For that matter, why not attractiveness as a whole?

In the interest of keeping a top university pure, admissions should not add criteria that are unrelated to academic performance.

The solution to a lack of diversity in the UC system is not to skip over top students to admit the second tier, but to help those second tier students attain top performance. This maintains the integrity of a university, while increasing diversity. This allows the capitalist maket to decide what criteria are important  in increasing diversity, rather than a board of admissions which should be focused on admitting the top students. If a person decides he wants more black students at top universities, he can fund tutors to help black high school students or otherwise support their learning. If someone wants more short people, he can do the same. The good thing about the internet is it makes learning much cheaper than it used to be.

This is admittedly a slower process than changing the admissions criteria. It is unlikely that a black orphan child growing up in the projects is going to be able to support himself and put in the time to do well in school. But maybe he’ll work hard enough so that his kids will. We’ve seen how this works before with the Jewish population as Malcolm Gladwell describes in Outliers. Through hard work as garment makers, Joseph Flom’s Jewish parents (a group heavily discriminated against at the time) are to put him through Harvard Law.

The rich and already established communities are always going to have an advantage. That’s life and how it should be. Accept and move on.

The Long Tail

A thought I had while reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail (required reading for anyone who wants to understand the paradigm shift in value creation):

Our generation is the first where if you don’t like what you see or hear, it’s your fault. Previously, all entertainment was controlled by a few conglomerates whose goal was to maximize profits by making entertainment as widely appealing as possible. Now, every niche is being found (Google) and served. If yours isn’t, you have the opportunity to create it (Garageband, Flash, Aftereffects) and distribute it (blogs, Youtube, Facebook).

With this in mind, I need to start writing Wikipedia articles relating to Digital Signal Processing. Way too often in the past few semesters, I tried looking up terms and found stubs. Now that I’ve learned something, I can give back and preserve my knowledge.

Dream technical interview:

Interviewer: Tell me about your most recent project.

Me: So in my Digital Signal Processing class we learned about the Multiple Signal Classification Algorithm which we used to localize sound using data gathered from a microphone array.

Interviewer: Oh interesting. What can you tell me about that algorithm you used?

Me: Well if you go on Wikipedia [open up a browser with the page on loaded], you’ll see a recently created entry for it… And if you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll see my name.

World Class Fitness in 100 Words

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, clean & jerk, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”


Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class has been a fun challenge so far. I currently train at Gracie Fighter in Berkeley.  Everyone there is amazingly respectful and the old-timers that have been fighting for a while are helpful. Some simple rules I’ve learned in the two sessions I’ve been there:

1. Don’t turn your back to an opponent.

2. If you reach in with one arm, the other should follow.

3. Do strength training if you want to shock the hell out of the other beginners (even the old-timers who don’t know you yet, but soon will).

4. Theory works in theory.

5. Any kind of fighting where you bring people to submission or knock out brings out a beast in people.

1. Sushi Nobu – Fresh, well-cut sashimi. Fried food not as oily. Far.
2. Fuji’s – Unagi. Cheese Wontons. Closeby.
3. Davis Sushi – Mediocre.

Vibram Five-Fingers

I bought my first pair of KSO Vibram Five-Fingers for $80 + tax at Transports on College about a month ago. I wear them about 2-3 times a week, usually on my way to the gym or on days that are warm enough for shorts (they don’t really match jeans well). They are quite tough on the feet as I can barely make it the 0.8 miles to the RSF from my apartment without my feet and calves aching. It just goes to show how under developed they are. I even had to quit for a week because of serious blisters developing under my heel.

Painful as it may be sometimes, I already notice some very decent improvements on my jump and leg strength. Tim Ferriss even notes how it helps his back pains and improves his posture. I look forward to continued improvements on my health from these. I highly recommend them to anyone looking to increase their feet and calve muscles.


Tim Ferriss on Vibram Five-Fingers