Điều tồi tệ nhất

Điều gì là tồi tệ nhất? Đây có lẽ là câu hỏi mà chỉ có một câu trả lời duy nhất chung cho tất cả mọi người, đó chính là cái chết. Nghe có vẻ hợp lí nhưng không phải ai cũng đồng tình với câu trả lời này – nhiều người chọn cái chết như một sự giải thoát khi cuộc sống của họ có quá nhiều bi kịch vượt quá sức chịu đựng. Trong bài viết này, ta hãy tạm bỏ qua những trường hợp này và giả sử mọi người đều đồng tình rằng cái chết là điều tồi tệ nhất sẽ xảy đến với chúng ta.

Chết là điều không ai có thể tránh khỏi, từ những kẻ trộm cắp, giết người, đến những bậc vua chúa đầy quyền hành hay những nhà tỉ phú. Có lẽ cái chết chính là sự bình đẳng duy nhất trên đời này: những người xung quanh chúng ta, dù họ có xa lạ đến đâu, dù ta có yêu quí hay ghét bỏ họ, thì kết cục cuối cùng của chúng ta cũng giống nhau. Khi  không thể tìm được sự đồng cảm với một người xa lạ, liệu ý nghĩ rằng rồi mai kia họ cũng như ta rồi cũng sẽ phải xa lìa cuộc sống này có thể giúp ta có ý nghĩ thân thiện hơn?


Some thoughts on learning based on reflection of my various learning experience. I also stole some ideas from Scott H Young and Barbara Oakley in her Coursera course ‘How to learn’. The summary is as follows.

1. Practice – learning by doing

Choose subject / topic that offers lots of opportunity for practice. Example topics include programming languages, DIY skills, cooking, gardening, etc.

2. Focus, intensity, consistency

Choose a subject that can focus on consistently over a long period of time. Study it intensely.

3. Chunking

Break a hard topic into manageable learning components. Finishing one component can boost motivation to further pursue the subject.

1. Practice or learning by doing

This I believe is one of the most important strategy for effective learning. I remember having to learn dozens of subjects in schools at various levels, some repeated multiple times. Yet despite all my efforts, I have very little retention of subject matters which did not involve enough practical components. Admittedly this may have to do with the working of my brain which tends to favour facts over abstractions. But even for people with strong aptitude for abstract concepts, such as mathematicians, it still requires thousands of hours of practice to master a subject. This is because new neural connections are only formed in the brain once we gain familiarity with concepts or patterns.

Insight: learning by doing is the key. For example, if you want to learn a new programming language, start writing code in that language as soon as you start your journey. If you want to understand a hard theorem, struggle until you can prove it.

2. Focus and Intensity

Curiosity and yearning to learn is good, but if done wrong can be a waste of time. I’ve been trying to broaden my knowledge in diverse fields such as culture, history, and economics, often by reading articles or sometimes books. But much of the information is not well-consume and in fact, has refused to be a part of me. The end result is that I only have a passing knowledge in such domains — enough to participate in casual conversations or to give a one-or-two-sentence response, but not profound enough to engage in deep discussion.

Insight: focus on a narrow topic and study it intensely (and consistently). With focus and intensity, learning becomes more effective and reward comes faster, which further motivate the learning process.

3. Chunking

Break a hard topic into sub-topics that can be tackled in chunks.

Bài học đầu tư

Tầm nhìn dài hạn:
Phải có tầm nhìn để dự đoán trước được trào lưu hay nhu cầu của người tiêu dùng trong tương lai. Ví dụ hiện nay ở VN có khoảng 4 triệu người thu nhập ở mức trung bình hoặc hơn. Trong khoảng 10 năm tới số lượng này sẽ tăng lên đến trên 20 triệu. Đây cũng là một xu hướng toàn cầu: số lượng người có mức thu nhập trên trùng bình sẽ cao hơn, và đây có lẽ là thị trường tiêu dùng lớn nhất trong tương lai. Như vậy nhu cầu cho các dịch vụ cao cấp như hàng hoá chất lượng cao, dịch vụ du lịch, giải trí sẽ tăng đáng kể trong vài năm tới.

Đầu từ với một tầm nhìn dài hạn cũng giúp chúng ta biết kiên nhẫn và kiên trì hơn với lựa chọn của mình. Thị trường có thể dao động trong thời gian ngắn nhưng ta cũng không bị ảnh hưởng nhiều.

Small talks

A few ideas I learnt from reading the book small talks.

FORM: Family, Occupation, Recreation, M

On the internet, M may be different things. Miscellaneous (don’t mean much), Motivation (e.g successful people), Money (e.g. investors)


Public speaking

This year I have to give 4 presentations in total (one for the weekly machine learning seminar we have here at NICTA and 3 for conferences).  I believe that we can only be good at some things if we have enough learning and practice. So these duties motivated me to pick up and finish the book ‘The Art of Public Speaking’ by Dale Carnegie which I started reading last year but then shifted focus to other more pressing tasks.

As other Dale Carnegie’ books, this book lays out important principles for effective public speaking. I have been trying to apply his suggestions to my talks and I find them very helpful.

A few important notes:

  • Know the background of the audience
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Be genuinely interested in the audience: when preparing and giving a talk, I constantly remind myself to appreciate the audience who spend their time (and perhaps money) to listen to me. If the talk is 20 minutes and there are 30 of them, that’s already 10 hours so I am responsible for not wasting such precious time. I put myself in their shoes and ask if I were among the audience, what do I want to get from the talk? How can I improve their life and work from my presentation?
  • Converse to the audience: a talk given in a natural and conversational manner will enter the audience’s mind more easily. This includes using different tones and varying the pitch.
  • Do not memorise a talk: I tried memorising a talk before but it was dreadful — there were distracting thoughts in the brain calling me to use the words which I had tried to memorise, which interfered with the speaking process. One could however writes down what one wants to convey and then naturally expresses the points as one progresses through a speech.
  • Never read from a script: The audience will know when you read from a script and that alone gives bad impressions which discourage them from listening to you.
  • Be confident: the speaker of a work is usually most qualified to talk about that work (especially in research). I often tell myself that I know about the subject I’m going to talk about better than most of the audience, which turns out to be true from my experience. This makes me confident and I can give the speech as if I’m sharing my knowledge and experience with them.
  • Be passionate about the topic: if the speaker sounds skeptical of his own work, he will have a hard time convincing the audience about the value of the work
  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you have told them (outline, body, summary)
  • Use visualization techniques and figurative words: don’t fill the slides with words or complex equations no one can understand
  • Focus on only a few key points: people have short attention span

Installing LaTex packages on Ubuntu

One thing I find lacking for LaTex on Ubuntu is a package manager with automatic package installations. Every time a package is missing, I need to search for the package and install manually. The package must be placed in the right directory of the Tex distribution, which I often forget and don’t bother to remember. So I wrote this 2-line bashscript for myself. It only requires putting the .sty file in a pre-specified location (~/Downloads for me), and voila, the script will install the packakge automatically. So here goes


echo “Installing package ” $1

sudo mkdir -p /usr/share/texmf/tex/latex/$1
sudo cp ~/Downloads/$1.sty /usr/share/texmf/tex/latex/$1

sudo texhash

Save the above into a script e.g. “texinstall.sh”.

Then when you need to install a package, just find its thepackage.sty file, place it in ~/Downloads (or modify the script to use your own location), run

./texinstall thepackage

then you’re good to go.

Better citations

Conferences typically have different citation styles. Personally I prefer a citation with author names and year, as the names can sometimes give indications of the paper content. For this citation style, the LaTex package natbib is a must.

I find this command simple yet most useful: \citep[see][chap 2]{nguyen2014} which yields (see Nguyen et al., 2014, chap 2). As a mnemonic, is for parenthetical. To provide citations without the parentheses, use \citet where t is for textual.