Category Archives: Daily Scribble

My random thoughts of the day.

My first IPSC competition

I just completed my first IPSC competition today. I took the black badge course last year and it is required to complete one match to be fully certified. Unlike the elaborate match setup in the movies “double tap” or “triple tap”, a real IPSC match is more down to earth. We don’t have old school bus or custom built course with lots of props. All we have are empty barrels and mesh screens pretending to be real combat setting. We also have to help running the match by patching and setting up the target between each shooters. In today’s match, I worked in the morning and shot in the afternoon.

My instructor gave me some good advices, for the first match, try to finish last. It is better to finish the course last than being disqualified. The most common mistake is finger in the trigger while moving or changing magazine or the muzzle of the gun points more than 90 degrees when running to the side or running backward. Once your are disqualified, you are done for the day. Following all the procedures and do not violate any safety rules has the absolute priority.

The second advice is take your time and focus on accuracy first, don’t rush the course. On the stage that an average player takes 30 seconds to finish, while the best players take less than 20 seconds, it took me over 2 minutes to finish. I have fairly good accuracy and had completed a couple stages with most my hits in the A zone. However, at the last stage, I was very tried and start losing focus. I totally missed two targets and screwed up big time. That is partly due to I have to wake up at 5:30am in the morning to arrive at the shooting range on time at 7:30am, and partly due to the stress of shooting over 150 rounds in previous stages really worn me out.

People are friendly at the matches and I learn a lot just by watching how other people shoot. I also meet some interesting person in the match, an old lady play the match to company her husband, a mom using a baby stroller to carry her ammunition, a teenage boy shooting in the match with his dad and his time beats everyone in the group. The majority of the people are middle age men or old men, just like me. To my surprise, I see a lots of Chinese faces, probably a third of players speaks either Cantonese or Mandarin. Looks like shooting is a popular sports among the immigrants.

Playing IPSC is a very unique experience, totally unlike target practice. I felt the excitement and adrenaline rush, but at the same time I have to stay calm and stay cool. A match day is pretty slow, you are sitting there watching other people shoot most of the time. I stayed in the shooting range from 7:30am to 5pm, even longer than a normal work day, but the total game time is probably less than 15 minutes. However, this 15 minutes make the other 9 hours worth waiting for. It would be more fun if there are friends shooting the match together. I should starting promoting IPSC to my friends and lure them to join the game.

When the Problem Is the Problem

This is the only thing I learned from my master degree. Asking the right question is half way done to get the right answer. In fact asking the right question probably more important than getting the right answer. Once you stated the question correctly, things magically fall into place and you can outsource the work to someone else.

Finding the right problem is half the solution
By Robert W. Lucky, July 2011, IEEE Spectrum

A problem well stated is a problem half solved.
– Inventor Charles Franklin Kettering (1876–1958)

We’re all fairly good at problem solving. That’s the skill we were taught and endlessly drilled on at school. Once we have a problem, we know how to turn the crank and get a solution. Ah, but finding a problem—there’s the rub.

Everyone knows that finding a good problem is the key to research, yet no one teaches us how to do that. Engineering education is based on the presumption that there exists a predefined problem worthy of a solution. If only it were so!

After many years of managing research, I’m still not sure how to find good problems. Often I discovered that good problems were obvious only in retrospect, and even then I was sometimes proved wrong years later. Nonetheless, I did observe that there were some people who regularly found good problems, while others never seemed to be working along fruitful paths. So there must be something to be said about ways to go about this.

Internet pioneer Craig Partridge recently sent around a list of open research problems in communications and networking, as well as a set of criteria for what constitutes a good problem. He offers some sensible guidelines for choosing research problems, such as having a reasonable expectation of results, believing that someone will care about your results and that others will be able to build upon them, and ensuring that the problem is indeed open and underexplored.

All of this is easier said than done, however. Given any prospective problem, a search may reveal a plethora of previous work, but much of it will be hard to retrieve. On the other hand, if there is little or no previous work, maybe there’s a reason no one is interested in this problem. You need something in between. Moreover, even in defining the problem you need to see a way in, the germ of some solution, and a possible escape path to a lesser result, like the runaway truck ramps on steep downhill highways.

Timing is critical. If a good problem area is opened up, everyone rushes in, and soon there are diminishing returns. On unimportant problems, this same herd behavior leads to a self-approving circle of papers on a subject of little practical significance. Real progress usually comes from a succession of incremental and progressive results, as opposed to those that feature only variations on a problem’s theme.

At Bell Labs, the mathematician Richard Hamming used to divide his fellow researchers into two groups: those who worked behind closed doors and those whose doors were always open. The closed-door people were more focused and worked harder to produce good immediate results, but they failed in the long term.

Today I think we can take the open or closed door as a metaphor for researchers who are actively connected and those who are not. And just as there may be a right amount of networking, there may also be a right amount of reading, as opposed to writing. Hamming observed that some people spent all their time in the library but never produced any original results, while others wrote furiously but were relatively ignorant of the relevant literature.

Hamming, who shared an office with Claude Shannon and knew many famous scientists and engineers, also remarked on what he saw as a “Nobel Prize effect,” where once having achieved a famous result, a researcher felt that he or she could work only on great problems, consequently never doing great work again. From small-problem acorns, great trees of research grow.

Like a lot of things in life, it helps to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes all the good and well-intentioned advice in the world won’t help you avoid working on a dead-end problem. I know—I’ve been there, done that

Double Down

It seems everyone is crazy of KFC’s new double down sandwich. It is two piece of fried chicken sandwiching bacon and cheese. Colleagues at work made a trip to KFC during lunch just to try it out. When I was in KFC today, everyone is ordering a double down. I don’t think it taste that great and it’s really greasy. Probably after the novelty wears off, the hype will fade. The hype partly thanks to the stupid Ontario Premier who propose ban the selling of it and make it a national news. It sounds very unhealthy but it’s actually not worse than a Big Mac. Both of them has 540 grams of calories and 30 grams of fat. A double chess whooper at Burger King is worse, which has 670 grams of calories and 30 grams of fat. If Ontario going to ban double down on the risk to health, they pretty much have to ban all fast food.

My New Computer

I have being using my old computer for almost 4 years, it is about time to retire. It took me a while to put together the specification for my new computer. The new branding scheme of Intel processors is very confusing. I had to read a lot to understand what’s the difference between i3, i5 and i7. At the end, I figure that I don’t really need hyper-threading, so I am OK with a quad core i5.

I picked i5 760 based on the review on Tom’s Hardware. It suppose to give me the most bang for the buck. I picked a medium range graphics card, AMD 5750, base on Tom’s review as well. I do not play much games so I don’t need a high end graphics card and save my budget. I am big fans of Asus motherboard, I forgot how long I have been choosing Asus, probably since high school days when I built my own computer. I got a Asus P7P55D-E which support RAID, SATA3 and USB3. Motherboard is something too much trouble to upgrade, so I better pick one that can address the need in the next few years.

Since I got a SATA3 motherboard, I get a Western Digital SATA3 hard drive as well. It seems SATA3 is still pretty new, WD is the only manufacturer has SATA3 offering. I settle for a 1TB hard drive since I can reuse my two 500GB SATA2 hard drive, run a RAID0 and turn it into another 1TB hard drive. My computer has 2TB internal disk space, plus an external 1TB hard drive for backup, that makes it 3TB in total. Moreover, hard drive is pretty easy to upgrade in the future if I need more disk space. I also have another 2TB backup drive connect to my router and three hard drives with a total of 800GB in my old computer. I have almost 6TB of storage in my house.

I go cheap on RAM this time and only got 4GB. The moment I installed Windows 7 and virtual PC, I regretted my decision and wish I had bought more RAM. My major concern is there is virtually no 4GB dimm on the market. If I want to get 8GB of RAM, I will have to buy 4x2GB dimm and used up all my RAM slot in the motherboard. I will just wait a bit and get another 8GB of RAM when 4GB dimm is more common.

I was talked into getting a pretty good computer case. I used to get the cheaper case on sales, but this time I got a Fractal Design R3 computer case. It looks really cool with the shinny pearl black look. Other than the looking good, it is very functional. It has air filter to prevent dust building up inside the case. All screws of the case has padding so the case is very quiet, it won’t have the annoying humming sound when the parts gets loose. The internal design is very smart, the opening of the hard drive bay turned 90 degree and facing up instead of facing the mother board. The wiring is a lot more tidy and make changing hard drive very easy. I keep my old mouse and keyboard, but I get rid of my old 4.1 speakers and get a pair stereo speakers. My old 4.1 speakers just has too many wires.

I have to install drivers and software for both my new and old computer. I reformatted my old computer and put it in living room using the LED TV as a super size monitor. It is nice to have a second computer in the living room so I can use the living room space as well. The two computers are hooked connected in home network and all the hard drives are mapped. I set up VNC for them so I can control one machine from another. The living room computer is connected to my Wii USB hard drive, so I can use it to transfer downloaded Wii games. Setting up my two computers took up all my free time in the past 2 weeks, that’s why I am really falling behind in my blog update. The old computer is up and running with essential software, I can focus in finishing setting up my new computer, so my life can go back to normal.

Wii

I finally got a Wii, 3 years later to the party. I didn’t buy it, I inherited it from my cousin who moved back to Hong Kong. Although the console is free, but it does not come with any controllers. So I have to spent some money to buy a few controllers. $15 a Wii remote with nunchuk from eBay, much cheaper than buying from Future Shop.

Believe it or not, I never own any gaming console. I never have a Red-white Nintendo, no a Sega, not Playstation, no XBox. I am used to playing games on my computer. Wii is the first console I have and I did not even buy it. The feeling of playing games on TV is quite different. I feel I have less piracy because anyone walk by can see my screen. Playing games on the couch is actually not as comfortable as sitting on office chair in front of the computer. The couch is designed for sitting lay back, passively receive the content from the TV. Playing Wii requires active interaction and naturally draw your body closer to the TV, which is not the most comfortable position.

I have been debating whether or not soft mod my Wii for a few days. On one hand, I don’t want to go over the trouble of soft mod the Wii and risk bricking it. On the other hand, I would never spend $50 on a game. At last I swallow my pride as an engineer, paid $40 and let someone soft mod it for me. Soft mod is a must for Wii to play download games. So far I have downloaded a dozen of games, I have spent a bit more some time playing Super Mario and the Gundam Wii game which I think eventually I may finish them. For the other games, I opened each one of them and lost interested pretty soon. I found playing Video game is just a waste of time in general, especially some games won’t foster any collective memory.

Other than playing downloaded games, the bonus of soft mod my Wii is the Home Brew Channel. (Read more at Wiibrew) I can run all soft of applications and thinker with my Wii. I installed Google Earth for Wii, a VNC client to copy my desktop from my TV over the Wii using the Wii remote as a mouse. The gold mine is really tons of ancient gaming console emulator. I can downloaded ROMs of old games from Snesorama and ROM Nation. I have played old games with emulator on my computer, but it’s different. You gotta play console games on a TV. I found I enjoy playing those ancient games more than the new Wii games. I feel like the Wii emulators finally filling the hole in my heart that I did not own any console game in childhood.

Free money

I just got $90 from BCLC (British Columbia Lottery Corperation) totally risk free. BCLC is the government charted lottery company in BC. They just started a new online casino business. In order to attract customers, they give out $100 token any new registered customer who deposit $100 into the account. As an engineer who had learn probability, I know those are free money at once. I can easily cash out the $100 by playing sicbo (big-small), betting on big and small at the same time. I lost a few games to triples, but since I only bet a small mount each time, I still have $90 out of the $100 after all the tokens are converted to cash.

I wonder how much money BCLC loss by luring customer this way. BC has 4.5 million population, times $100 per person, that comes to $4.5 billion. According to BCLC’s balance sheet, it only has $3.1 billion of net asset. If everyone in BC did exactly what I did, take the money and never come back again, we can bankrupt BCLC! Maybe anti-gambling organization should mobilize everyone get their $100 free money. What’s a better way to fight against gambling by bankrupting the casino?

On top of that, I suspect how many customers will BCLC get for their online casino. Gambling in a real casino, at least you can feel the physical atmosphere of a casino. Gambling in an online casino, it’s like just playing a crappy video game with poor graphics. Your money only shows up as a number on screen and all you can do is just making a few mouse clicks. What’s the fun of that? Since the odd is against gamblers, you already lost the moment you bet. Why would anyone want to lose money by clicking the mouse? I can click the mouse for a lot less money. Any reasonable mind would not find any amusement from gambling in online casino.

IPSC training

There are many competition events in shooting sports. The Olympics Games has .22 rifle and .22 handgun, trap and skeet shotguns. The marksman in Olympics shoots from static position on paper target or flying clays, which is very different from real-life combat scenario. In contrary, the IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) is an very dynamic shooting sport that provides good training on marksmanship and shooting skills. The competitors has to compete on courses or stages featuring different combat scenario including draw the firearm, fire from different positions, moving, reload and avoid shooting no-shoot target. The competitors are ranked based on their speed and accuracy.

I just completed the IPSC black badge training course. But I am not yet black badge certified. I have to shoot a qualifier match to obtain my class classification and provincial ranking first. My instructor Murray Gardner is 8 times national companion and he is really good. The 3 days training course emphasis on safety and we also have a fun time. The IPSC rules are very strict, any unsafe handling of the firearm is a disqualification and you are out of the competition right away. We were given exercises that breaks down all the actions in combat shooting into movements and drills to train us how to shoot safely and effectively.

I learnt a lot from my IPSC instructor. I have been shooting for 3 years and I was holding the gun the wrong way all along! Once I correct my grip, I can see improvement on my accuracy. IPSC is all about speed and accuracy, and out of the two, accuracy is more important. No matter how fast you can pull the trigger, it is useless if you can’t hit the target. You are just wasting ammunition. My accuracy is OK but my time is pretty slow. I scored 44 out of 60 points with 50% of shots hitting the A zone in the target. It took me 2.5 seconds to draw the gun and fire the first shoot, 4.8 seconds to reload and over 15 seconds to fire 6 rounds on 3 targets, reload, and fire another 6 rounds. The world companion can finish the same sequence in less 4 seconds and the instructor can get it less than 5 seconds. Slow is not a problem for IPSC beginners, your will speed up the more you practice those movements. The key is to practice so much that you don’t have to think about how to draw or how to reload, your hands should know where to move from subconcious level. I can practice those movements at home with unloaded firearm to build up my muscle memory, it only takes 15 minutes a day.

I will probably start off at class D in the bottom and my goal is slowly move my way up to class A. Above class A is Master and Grand Master and that is probably out of my reach. There is a long road ahead of me in IPSC. Skiing is my sport in Winters and IPSC is my sport in Summers.

Chess Game Analysis #2

This week my rating in chess.com is still fluctuating around 800-900 level, but I stop dipping down to the 700 level. I can easily beat any 500-600 level players and stand a good chance playing against 900-1000 level players if I did not make any blunders. In number of times, I have material lead in mid game but lost a major piece making a obviously stupid move.

I found studying the chess game of Grant Master Kasparov really improve my chess skill. It is an eye opening observing how the grand master plays. I learn a few things in due process. The number one lesson I had learn is when I have material advantage, I should patiently exchange pieces one at a time, don’t rush for checking that will not force a mate or it will end up destroying my formation. Advance the pieces by marching them slowly, make sure every piece is protected by another piece with the chain of defense starts at the King protecting the pawn. Beginner usually thinks an attack is an attack on a piece, but I start thinking attack in terms attacking empty squares to limit how the opponent can move his piece.

I played against a stronger player in this game and I won. Comparing this game to the last game I analyzed, I can see my improvement.

1.e4 c6
I always use king-pawn opening. I will master this opening before I try other opening style. Black response with Caro-Kann defense.

2.Nc3 f6
I protect my prawn with queen-side knight. The standard response should be march queen-pawn. He advance the king-bishop-pawn for no reason.

3.Nf3 Qb6
I mobilize the other knight. Black move the queen to add my king-bishop-pawn. After many losses, I think I finally learn how to deal with queen’s attack by setting up traps.

4.d4 Qb4
Advance the queen-pawn to block black queen’s attack and black queen move again to skewer my knight.

5.a3 Qa5
I can’t move the bishop to block the skewer yet or I will leave the b2-pawn defenseless. I need to chase the queen away with the a2-pawn. Queen moves but stay in the diagonal.

6.Bd2 Qb6
I move the bishop to protect the king and prepare for a discover attack. The black queen is being chased around. He is losing tempo keep moving the queens when I slowly develop to castle

7.b4 g5
b2-pawn is under attack, march it forward to get protection from the queen-rook-pawn. Black is developing on the right, I think he wants to mobilize his king-bishop.

8.Be3 g4
I move the bishop to prepare for another discover attack on the queen. Black falls for the trap and march the pawn to threaten my knight. A lone marching is useless.

9.Na4 Qc7
Computer analysis think I should move king-knight to h4, but instead I chase the queen away with the queen-knight.

10.Nd2 d6
I retreat the knight from the pawn. Black advance the queen-pawn and block the queen. Advancing the pawn to d5 is a better move.

11.Be2 h5
I move the bishop to attack the lone pawn. Black back it up with the rook pawn.

12.f3 b5
I throw in the king-bishop-pawn. Black march the queen-knight-pawn to threaten my knight.

13.Nc3 Bh6
I retreat the knight, black wants to exchange the dark-square bishop.

14.Bxh6 Rxh6
Since no piece can protect my bishop, I accept the exchange. Computer analyze suggest march the king-bishop-pawn to protect the bishop, but I am not very convinced. I expect him to develop the knight which will protect the g4 pawn, but he use the rook instead.

15.fxg4 hxg4
Since g4 pawn is under protected, I started the exchange.

16.Bxg4 Bxg4
Continue the exchange.

17.Qxg4 Rh8
I finish the exchange and my queen has an eye on the black knight. Black retreat the rook to protect the knight. It is better to use the king instead. Remember, the king should be at the end of the chain of defense.

18.O-O-O Kd8
I castle to the left and black move the king. I should have move the queen to g7 and take the rook. Black should move the knight to chase my queen instead.

19.Nb3 Qb7
I move the knight to build up the defense for my king. Black move the queen to the left, probably want to attack my king from the left.

20.e5 Qa6
I thought for quite some time to design which pawn to march. I guess I should just take the free knight (or rook) instead.

21.Kb2 Nh6
Move Knight to guard a4 square. King is protected by the two knights. Black finally chase my queen away.

22.Qh5 fxe5
I move my queen to pin his knight against the rook. Black takes my middle pawn

23.dxe5 Qc8
I retake his pawn. Black wants put his queen to use on the right side.

24.exd6 Nd7
I prepare for a discover check, black move a knight to block the way.

25.Rhe1 exd6
Exchange pawn

26.Rxd6 Qc7
Take the pawn with rook. Black queen try to chase my rook with the queen and let me take the unprotected knight.

27.Rxh6 Nf6
Prepare for the rook trade. Black keep chasing my queen with his knight.

28.Qh4 Rf8
I move queen to pin his knight against his king.

29.Rxf6 Kd7
I propose a rook trade. Black move the king

30.Ref1 Rfe8
The black queen is skewered, I should trade the queen instead.

31.Rf7+ Re7
I line up the rook, but I missed a force mate.

32.Rxe7+ Kd6
I took another rook. Black is pretty much done.

33.Rxc7 Kxc7 34.Rf7+ Kb6 35.Nc5 a6 36.Qh7 Ra7 37.Rxa7 a5 38.Qb7# 1-0
The rest of the game is just the painful dead of black. However I missed so many force mate opportunities. I need to work on learn how spot force mates.