Monthly Archives: January 2014

IIT FBI Study Trip

This post was first published on the FBI (Financial Business Informatics) blog on May 23, 2012. I’m putting it here as a backup copy. Click here to see the original post.

39 Students, 2 Lecturers, 1 amazing trip. I’m talking about the Study Trip to London and Paris during the April holidays that I was lucky enough to go for.

Lasting 8 days, the trip was overall very exciting and insightful. Not only did we have tons of fun, we also got to go places I wouldn’t normally have been able or willing to go to, like majestic cathedrals and amazing museums.

First off when we arrived in London was to visit the Oxford University, and take a tour around Oxford. Listening to the guide, we learned that Oxford was actually made up of 38 different colleges, each specialising in different academic areas. Throughout the tour, we were able to get a feel for the colleges and imagine what life would be like, studying in Oxford University.

As an extension of what we learnt in our course, we also visited financial institutions like Charted Institute for Securities & Investments (CISI), the London Metal Exchange (LME), and Reuters. This was the main reason for the trip and I enjoyed the visit immensely. All three places were educational, fascinating and worth the visit.

Our visit to CISI entailed a presentation and discussion about ethics which was very thought provoking. Imagine you are the boss of a company bidding for a tender and you only have one competitor. Your team tells you that they found a file containing your competitor’s bid proposal and that they intend to use it to modify their presentation. What do you do? We were presented with four choices and we all had to take a vote on what we should or would do in that situation. All four answers were more or less reasonable choices one would have made, with very slight differentiation in terms of moral value. Once we had made our choice on these little hand held devices, a graph was projected on screen and it showed that each answer had some supporters. The point of the exercise was to show that we had all disagreed on what to do and that was why CISI has an Ethics department. The Ethics department comes up with the ethics code of the company and helps to solve moral dilemmas. That was something new to me and I started to see that not everything in the world was black and white, that there were many grey areas with no right answers.

The LME was less interactive as we were only allowed to observe the pit from a room above. For the half an hour we stayed, we could observe the traders in action and have a glimpse of what life of a pit trader is about. There was a lot of shouting and crazy hand signals flying around and after a while, we realized just how much information could be conveyed. Just the twitch of a finger or direction and position of your hands could affect your message. It was just captivating and we stared open-mouthed at the speed and dexterity that each trader executed their trades.

The Reuters visit was much less hectic and a little more light-hearted. Of the three, Reuters was the most insightful and helpful for our future careers. We were given a tour of the building in Paris as well as some brochures to guide us on our choices for our career path.

I bet you are probably wondering where the “tons of fun” part comes in, right? Well, another part of the involved visits to museums and other tourist must-sees, like the Bank of England Museum, the Eiffel Tower and, the Louvre.

The Bank of England Museum was the most related to our course and I enjoyed it immensely. We were given a short presentation about the British Pound and then left to wander around the museum for a while. It was highly educational and we had fun answering questions and playing games. Well, at least I did.

After we arrived in Paris, we eventually got to visit the Eiffel Tower. We had a long wait, but eventually we managed to climb it. Almost all of us walked up 700 steps to the top! The view was breath-taking and it got colder and windier as we ascended. We weren’t given a lot of time to wander (only about half an hour) but I wished we had more time to linger and just admire the view. At least now I can say that I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower.

Although not directly in line with our course, I think the point of going to the Louvre was to get us to learn to appreciate art and culture, to understand why some pieces of art were so expensive. Also, it was probably to give us an all rounded experience, not just learn about finance and systems. Needless to say, not all of us are art lovers and everyone knows what bored, restless teens get up to – mischief. We were told that even if you had the whole day, you couldn’t possibly complete the whole museum properly. Naturally, we challenged that and on we went on our extremely rushed journey to cover every square inch of the place. My friends and I entertained ourselves by taking funny pictures and captioning them as well.

Finally, the majority of fun we had was at – where else? – Disneyland! I knew this was a study trip, but I couldn’t deny that Disneyland was a major reason why I wanted to go for this trip. It had been long time since I had last sat on a roller coaster and now that I was older, I was able to truly enjoy the rush of adrenaline that comes with each loop, plummet and turn.

This was indeed one of the best school trips I have ever been on. There were so many worthwhile places to visit, things to do and learn, and great friends to enjoy the trip with. I would definitely jump at the chance to go again.

-Jace

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Childish vs Childlike

This post was first published on my Tumblr on Jul 17, 2013, and is now updated with my experiences since then.

Yeap. This is my blog topic for today.

Essentially, these two adjectives have the same meaning. They both compare the qualities of someone to that of a prepubescent.

However, one of them carries a negative vibe to it. Why do people say childish to convey immaturity, but childlike to convey cuteness?

When I’m described as childish, it usually means I’m behaving without thinking. Just letting go of all the restrictions of society and just being happy. But I have the body of an adult, so because I can think like an adult, it means I should always behave like an adult.

Or so we’re led to believe.

I don’t see the problem with being childish every once in a while. Especially when I’m having fun playing outside. Some people are just so uptight because they’re so scared to lose control. I think when people see me being crazy happy, they get jealous because they can’t reach my level of bliss. So they call me childish and immature. It makes them feel better about themselves when they all agree that I’m not acting my age.

The truth is we never really grow up. We just masquerade as adults because that’s what we’re expected to do.

That’s the problem with society. We’re all such conformists that we lose who we truly are. Most other people have low self esteem and this makes them need to fit in even more. Because, if they don’t fit in, then who are they?

Don’t confuse my personality with my character. My personality is who I am, my character depends on the people I’m with.

I really admire people who are their own person. They’re so comfortable in their own skin that they’re free to do what they want without worrying about what others might think. Their mental strength and perception of themselves is so strong that nothing can shake it. That’s why I aim to be like them too.

Actually, I do care what others think of me. But only for the first few times we meet. Once I get comfortable, I get crazy. I’d like to be perceived more as childlike though. Playful, happy, innocent.

Okay, maybe not “innocent”. Heh heh heh.

You don’t have to conform to others all the time. Take a chance, be different. Who knows? People might actually like you better for it. So go ahead, be childish, be childlike. Let loose.

You laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at you because you’re all the same.

-Jace

The Hash Brown Theory

The creators of Magic: The Gathering (MTG), Wizards of the Coast, write articles on MTG, game play, game design and story background, and release them every weekday. I do my best to read these articles everyday too, and I came across an article on game design that introduced the Hash Brown theory to me.

The original article is here, but I want to summarize and rewrite how I understood the Hash Brown theory.

One of the fun things about a game is discovery. Learning about the new things in a game, what makes the game tick, combos and strategies to use. There might be mundane parts of the game that a new player is required to learn in order to enjoy the rest of the game, but he or she learns it anyway.

The discovery is like the crispy part of the hash brown that almost everyone likes and the mundane portions are the the rest of the potato inside the hash brown. Not as nice as the crispy shell, but people eat it anyway just because it’s part of the hash brown.

So the theory for good game design, like MTG, is that the game re-grows it’s shell.

Think about that.

The core things that make the game work don’t change. In MTG’s case (at least for the most part), these are the rules, basic attacking and blocking, the various card types and the turns of the game. This is good, because players need some familiarity. Too many new things to learn would just turn players off. So this core part is the inside of the hash brown.

The reason why MTG is so popular is because it creates new things. Every three months, a new set is released, with new stories, mechanics and characters. Players love to discover the new cards and combos. They get “AHA!” moments, which feels really good. In essence, Magic re-grows it’s tasty, crispy shell.

Of course, the Hash Brown theory doesn’t apply to every game. Take Chess for example. It’s a great game in it’s own right and doesn’t constantly have anything new. Yet it’s still extremely popular.

The Hash Brown theory is a pretty awesome design tool and it’s the primary reason why I love MTG so much.

-Jace

2 types of Zombies

Let’s think about zombies for a minute. Undead creatures, usually dead humans with an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

I think there are two kinds of zombies; fast ones and slow ones. Note that this post is purely my opinions and is aimed to be more flavourful than precise.

Let’s start with the slow zombies. These are the traditional zombies, raised from the dead by a necromancer. These zombies are reanimated by magic and are forced to do the necromancer’s bidding. I believe they have no objective or motivation on their own, save to do what their master wants so that they can return to their eternal slumber. I think they’re slow because they’ve been rudely awakened and they’re reluctant to do what the necromancer wants. Also, they’ve been decaying for a while, so their motor skills are rusty and their muscles (if any) are weak. So this kind of zombie moves slowly because they lack the motivation and physical capability to move fast.

Now the fast zombies, I feel, are the modern day zombies; living things that have been infected with a highly contagious mind controlling virus. The virus takes complete control of the body and only has one motivation: to spread itself. The virus also has full access to the body’s motor functions and resources and can thus push the body to it’s physical limit and move very very fast.

Both these zombies spread by bite, but while the modern zombie spreads the virus, the traditional zombies spreads the spell or curse that awakened it in the first place, not unlike lycanthropy and vampirism.

-Jace

In Time

This post was first published on my Tumblr on Aug 8, 2013, and is now updated with my experiences since then.

I recently watched In Time, a movie that came out in 2011 starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.

IT WAS AWESOME! Super intense and thought provoking. Just the way I like my movies.

WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD. Stop now if you haven’t watched it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Even though it was (more or less) an action show, I had to snigger at all the puns they made with deadpan faces. I mean, they weren’t intentionally being funny, but there were a lot of double meanings and references to common phrases in the show.

People actually die when their time is up. Law enforcement members are called Timekeepers. “Give me an hour” or “Do you have a minute” is freaking literal.

Hilarious.

Besides all the “punnyness”, In Time really has some very intense and serious takeaways such as:

1. Time is money, don’t waste it.
2. What would you do if you had all the time in the world? What would you do if you only had a day left to live?
3. There’s a lot you can do in a day.

While watching it, I was very torn as well. On one hand, what Will and Sylvia were doing was noble. Help the masses. Share time. There’s enough for everyone. No one should be immortal if even one person has to die.

On the other hand, I understand where the Timekeepers and the politicians are coming from. If everyone has too much time, no one will do anything at all. Time loses its value. There will be no system. Most people are weak, as shown when Will gave his friend ten years. The bugger went and drank til he died with nine years left on his clock.

It really embodied the phrase “too much of a good thing can be bad”.

Yes, no one person should have all the power (immortality) while others live day to day (literally). But there is also a need for capitalism and Darwinism.

Only the strongest survive.

I still can’t pick a side, but maybe this is one of those controversial things that just can’t be resolved, like abortion.

This is a really excellent show for teaching people the value of time and money. How to treasure and appreciate what you have, count your blessings and live life to the fullest.

I definitely recommend everyone to watch it. Especially spoilt kids and teens. Maybe this might wake them up.

-Jace

Ingress Part Two – A Reflection

This is a reflection of the game from my point of view. It will assume you know what Ingress is and how it works. If you’re unfamiliar with Ingress, click here to read my summary on the game.

I’m really hooked on this game ever since my best friend introduced it to me and I got my very first Android mobile. After the initial learning curve, the game is pretty easy to understand. At first, I thought it was just going to be pretty repetitive; hacking, destroying, claiming, fortifying. But it turned out to be so much more.

Just last Friday, I learnt two new strategies to up my game, a new term (“farms”), and met two Resistance members who came to say hi to us. It feels like the makers of Ingress incorporated a bit of the Hash Brown Theory. I like that.

But even without this, I like the game a lot and I want to share the basic advantages or byproducts of the game. First of all, it’s augmented reality. I really like the thought of escaping to another world for a while, having a different set of exciting problems to deal with instead of everyday mundane ones. The game also requires you to physically move about. That’s actually a pretty great motivation to exercise. This is one of the few virtual games that actually make you move (like Wii games). I think it’s great that I could just set up a jogging path that takes me past as many portals as possible and if I want to hit more portals, I have to run further.

Another thing that’s awesome is that the portals are mostly pieces of art, murals and sculptures and statues and other fascinating things to look at. The game turns into a field trip combined with a treasure hunt. Pretty fun thing to do alone or together with a friend or group of friends. Your friends don’t even have to play the game, you could just play it yourself and point out the cool stuff to them as you walk past. The game doesn’t even take up that much concentration unless you’re focused on taking down a portal, so you can walk and talk without missing a beat.

Speaking about playing it with your friends, I feel that this might possibly be a fun date idea, whether or not your date plays the game. You both get a walk, spend quality time together and get to know the area a bit more. Spots like these start to accumulate in your mind like fun facts and it’s pretty cool to show people around the place. Heck, the portals can be used as meeting places! The portals become landmarks for you and the friends you’ve shown them to, which is pretty handy if you’re exploring a new area together. Even on your own, this game does slowly increase your map sense, which is a huge boon for me. I wasn’t too great at mental maps unless I frequented an area everyday. But now I have small mental maps of Bugis, Jurong East and Yishun, all places that I seldom go to.

Great game.

-Jace

Ingress Part One – An Overview

This is a summary of the game from my point of view. Some parts may be inaccurate because that was how I perceived it. This post is in no way comprehensive of Ingress. Click here to read my thoughts on the game instead.

One of the minor reasons I got a new smartphone was because of the apps I could download and use. I actually made a list of all the apps I wanted by getting ideas from friends and a Vsauce segment called App All Knight.

One of these apps I got is this augmented-reality game called Ingress, which my best friend plays on his mobile.

The game is based in real time and space, meaning that you view a different world through your mobile device (called a Scanner) and you have to physically move around the real world to interact with the in-game objects. The game uses your device’s GPS to track your location, so you actually have to be in range of the objects to do anything at all.

These in-game objects are usually Portals. The story behind the game is that a new type of matter, called Exotic Matter or XM, has been found to be leaking into this world, mostly through the Portals. XM is believed to be able to affect human thoughts and emotions. Scientist have discovered a way to harvest XM and use it as an energy source to power electrical devices, like the Scanner. In the game, XM is scattered all around in splotches and when you move within range, the scanner absorbs the splotches of XM to recharge itself.

As with anything new, people are arguing over what they should do about XM. We humans have been split into two main factions: the Resistance and the Enlightened.

Because XM can influence human thoughts, the Resistance believe that XM is toxic, dangerous and the entities that have bled XM into our world (if any) are hostile. They believe that we should plug up the portals and set up defenses to protect humanity from XM and it’s creators/masters.

As you might imagine, the Enlightened take the opposite view. They want to learn about XM and use it to create new technology and improve everyone’s lives. If any entities are on the other side of the portals, then the Enlightened believe that we should welcome them, not unlike hosts welcoming guests to a party. They believe that a lot can be learnt from the entities and that we could share our knowledge with them too.

It’s a classic power battle between “change is good” and “change is bad”.

So what is a Portal? Portals are anything that showcase creativity, such as works of art, magnificent buildings and structures, or even unusual formations by nature. Those places have so much XM gathered that creativity and inspiration are at their peak. Hence, people put sculptures and works of art there and nature forms pretty and weird things.

These Portals are, by default, unclaimed, but both factions have to ability to claim Portals and fortify them. The Resistance is represented in Blue and the Enlightened in Green. Claiming a portal involves first destroying any opposing fortifications that portal may have, which are called Resonators. Resonators store XM and have different levels; the higher the level, the higher the storage capacity of XM. When all Resonators are destroyed, the Portal becomes unclaimed. To claim it, a user simply deploys a Resonator of his/her own. The Portal will be aligned to his/her faction and the Portal will be owned by the person who claimed it. Resonators are like batteries, they store the power needed to align a Portal and the energy slowly depletes over time. A user may recharge the Resonators by being in range. This uses up XM though.

The other type of fortification are called Mods, short for Modifications. These Mods include (but aren’t limited to) Portal Shields (which reduce incoming damage), Heat Sinks (which reduce the cooldown time between portal hacks), Multi-Hacks (which allow more hacks before the portal becomes overheated), Force Amps and Turrets (which improve the Portal’s counter-attack on enemies) and Link Amps (which expand a range a Portal can link to another Portal).

Hacking is the main activity of Ingress. To hack a Portal, the user must be within a 40m radius of the Portal, then press the Hack button. There is no physical skill involved when hacking and any portal may be hacked by any user. Hacking portals usually provides the user with items (Resonators, Weapons, Mods and Portal Keys) and this is the main way to increase one’s inventory. Hacking a portal of your own faction has a higher chance of giving you more or better items, while hacking an unclaimed or enemy portal will give you less or mediocre items. Hacking an enemy portal also grants you 100AP but it may counter attack and drain some of your XM. Regardless, all portals should be hacked when you get the chance to.

There is a five minute cooldown period between hacks, so Heat Sinks are useful if you have a nearby Portal you wish to hack multiple times in a short span of time. However, there is also a limit of four hacks a single user may perform on a single portal in a given four-hour cycle. Multi-Hack Mods increase this number, depending on the rarity of the Mod itself.

Portals will sometimes drop Portal Keys. These keys are needed to link two Portals together. Of course, there are several prerequisites before a link can be made, such as both portals must be within range of each other, both portals must have the same faction alignment as the user, and there must be no other links in between the portals. You only need one Key to link the Portals, but the Key is consumed once you use it. You may hack the Portal again to gain another Key and use that to link another portal as well. Portals have no limits to the number of outgoing links they can have at any one time, but can only hold a maximum of eight incoming links. Portal Keys also allow the user to recharge Portals remotely, although the distance does reduce the effectiveness a little.

Successfully creating three links between three Portals will form a triangle and the whole area within that triangle will become the colour of the faction. This is known as a Control Field, which has captured Mind Units (MUs). MUs are the only measurement of the control of different factions. It doesn’t matter how many Portals a faction has captured, it just matters how many MUs they have.

To destroy a Portal, players use weapons called Bursters. They have different levels as well, with higher levels doing more damage and having a further damage radius. Players can obtain Bursters that have a higher level than the player himself/herself but the Burster is unusable until the player reaches that level. Bursters explode and deal damage in an area, hitting all enemy Resonators in the radius. They drain the XM energy in the Resonators and when a Resonator has no energy, it is destroyed and cannot be recharged. The further away a Resonator is from the Burster’s point of origin, the less damage it will take. Shield Mods and links also reduce the amount of damage the Resonators receive.

The aim of the game is for one faction to annihilate the other by covering the entire world in Control Field, essentially gaining 100% of MUs (yes this is international). Of course, this will never happen, with the back and forth war between the factions.

Players can’t die in the game. The closest thing to “death” would be having no more XM energy in their Scanner and thus their Scanner would be disabled until it absorbs more XM. The Scanner can also be recharged by recycling items or by consuming Power Cubes (which give 1000XM multiplied by the Cube’s level).

Hacking enemy Portals, destroying Resonators and links, claiming Portals, applying Mods, creating Links and Control Fields all reward the player with Action Points (AP). AP is used to level up. Currently there are only eight levels, but it takes quite a while to get there purely because of the sheer amount of AP required.

-Jace