Paperless Bathroom

(Interview question)

A man enters a public bathroom that does not have paper towel and whose door opens inward into the bathroom and the levered lock latches behind him. The lack of paper towel, in addition to other abundant evidences, suggests that most users do not wash their hands. What can he do to escape the room?






An idea below






One suggestion is for him to take a generous portion of liquid soap typically found in such a bathroom into his less favored hand. Then he shall lather the soap onto the lever generously so as to substantially coat all surfaces of the lock lever or otherwise where hand contact is required to open the door. He the opens the door expecting the slippery soap to provide some disinfecting and deodorizing benefit from matters on the door’s lock lever. Upon absconsion, he is then at liberty to wash his dirty soapy hand in a more sanitary bathroom, or just to rub and rinse the soap off at a drinking fountain nearby.

* Extra credit for addressing environmental issues. For example, the side effect of this exit is that he has left the inside bathroom door lock lever soapy. But in the grand scheme of things, this does no great injury to any. If a mindless person opens the door, he surely benefits from the soap-cleaner handle. This person can also just rinse the soap off at the water fountains.

* Extra credit for suggesting that humanity really should have invented a popularizable foot operated or a touch free bathroom door by now.

* Extra credit for discussions of building codes and suggesting that modification of the law, in an orderly fashion of course, be a means of progress forward.

* Extra credit for discussions of starting a grassroots movement to perform this act which will surely cause “the authorities” to take measure and buy paper towels instead of more soap. But maybe use recycled material for that.

* No points off for someone who wants to coast through after some other people dirties themselves to exit.

Deep Universal Regressor Explored

Some months ago I wrote of a discovery regarding the training of deep regressors using SGD. I have since come to realize the benefit of exponentiating the raw parameters before using them is reasonable, sometimes. It would appear that for approximate second order optimizers, like Adam that I used instead of the SGD that I thought I used, the exponential has the effect of modulating the variance aspect of the optimization. The signal to noise ratio of gradients of \partial A / \partial W for identically distributed A in the two case where A=W and A=e^W will vary but is largely dependent on A. If A is small, the SNR for A=e^W is stronger. If A is large, then SNR is stronger for A=W.

The combination of methods would tend to follow gradient more eagerly for neuronal activation less dependent on input than larger dependence on neuronal activation. This appear counter to my originally documented intuition that the larger the dependence neuronal output has on neuronal input x the larger the gradient step–mainly due to use of approximate second order SGD. My modification, as you would expect, allows the gradients to move more freely even if they are not normally distributed. The exponentiation of weights is akin to log-transform that we used in linear regression analysis, it lets us use linear methods that rely on normality of error on some systems with non-normally distributed, often heavy tailed, errors.

Therefore although my success with this method stems more from the fortuitous conditioning of my problem than it does from the universality of the approach, it can make sense for a very large, albeit non-universal, set of problems. Subsequently any exponent A=W^p is equivalent to the corresponding inverse power transform of power 1/p.

Stay tuned, more to come as I remove more bugs from the experiments.

Underflowing learning rates

Sometimes early stopping helps to regularize models, other times it seem to have numerical properties. When using learning rate decayers like linear, polynomial or cosine, they allow the rate to be very close to zero for a while. It seems that sometimes this will underflow the change to only some parameters while other parameter changes remain nonzero, The result is that an inaccurate gradient is applied and the model drops in performance. It is detectable of course, but one can probably just snapshot models and choose an earlier model when performance starts going south.

Ah, okay, and some time passes, and I found a slew of papers from several years ago pointing out the problem is with the \epsilon used in Adam, it looks like an underflow because it fell below \epsilon kudos to the people who found this obvious problem.

P.s. and extra kudos for the people who actually just “fixed it” for me by lowering the value inside their software package.

Harvard Please keep the B’s flowing

Just heard about Federal District Court Judge Allison D. Burroughs decision that Harvard’s race-correlated admission policy was not only legal, but right for all universities in America. Today is a day that will live in infamy! This is an absolute travesty of justice! I object to this ruling very sadly.

I empathize with Chinese and other Asians who think meritocratic achievements should be the only objective judgement of admission at a place of learning. But honestly, can you really afford to say no to the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg just to admit a Chinese kid who scored better?

If I was on Harvard’s board and was a fiduciary, I would absolutely not mess with its admission. I mean it would be financially irresponsible to do so. If my concerns were with respect to the creation of wealth and happiness for humanity, in retrospect, I would not hesitate to give the same judgement.

Of course there are a lot of other people who are white and attended college there, I knew a few, and they all seem absolutely best specimen of humanity. Like if you wanted to send a ship full of people to space and take best of us with them, Harvard freshman class would probably be the best bet.

They might not be very self sufficient, even as a group , but that’s probably not what Harvard is for. Harvard trains leaders. This is a declared and time honored objective of the institution. Leaders do a very specific thing in human society, but their jobs are very limited. Everyone cannot all lead. So perhaps we need to refine what we said just now and state Harvard freshman class is the finest collection of future human leaders.

I wonder if anyone ever thought through the theory of stable racial diversity in democratic society as implemented in America.

If we were to engage in any kind of attenuation of racial representation, wouldn’t it not make sense to set two bounds on the most privileged admissions? One upper bound, no more than half of the whole population shall be a single race (say white, or Hispanic,…) and that minority races shall have minimal representation (at least one male and one female from each major race)

This admitted naive proposal seem to guarantee that one race cannot out vote all other races. And the lower bound has the quality of Noah’s Arc to try to propagate all races.

That idea will probably subsequently beg a quantification of liberty and happiness, because we can not measure or state the merit of a system without an ideal that we can all agree to aspire to. Lacking that, the dual problem may be that power is evil in the absolute, and since absolute populace is absolute power in a democracy, above proportional upper bound follows.

The Iced Californiano

Nope, it’s not a big coffee chain doing a rebranding of a caffeinated drink. It’s just something that works out nice:

Freeze ice cubes to fill a 12 oz coffee mug. Grind the ingredients together to a fine granules. Place sugar on top of ice. Drip two to three shots of Espresso directly onto sugar and ice. Rotate the cup as the espresso pulls so as to evenly dissolve and melt the sugar and ice.

Consume first sip as early as possible, perhaps immediately at the machine, or maybe between first two shot and the third. One can insert a long stirrer straw through the ice to gain this satisfaction even as the hot espresso drips. Note, since it is iced, the initial gratification can be had much earlier time and in greater volume than a hot espresso.

The usual caveats apply: use purified water, high pressure espresso machine, organic coffee beans with varying degrees of roast from light to dark, organic teas with varying degrees of fermentation from green to black, organic sugar from crystal clear to red, brown or black. The ice cubes should not be so cold as to freeze all of the espresso on contact. On a clear northern Californian autumn day, one can feel the ideally frozen ice cubes supping moisture from air at a foot’s length away. The mixing of the drink may be controlled by melting salt into water before freezing ice cubes.

If we can indulge in a moment of wistful fancy, perhaps a challenge is hereby issued for the reader is to brew an Iced Californiana recipe. Let the imagination take flight as the caffiend imperate.

The convection of liquid due to temperature differences as it accumulate in the mug seem to preserve the order that earliest drips are at the bottom and last drops are at the top. Ice cooling and diluting the espresso instantly (<100ms) upon brewing seem to have an effect to preserve the smell and taste much more than the entire beverage cooling naturally to room temperature. The crème of the espresso actually stays bubbly and floats at the top when splashed onto ice. The entire drink gives sensation of full aroma and taste of smoky rich espresso but at a much lower temperature. The beverage slowly gains water content as the consumption progresses over time. The sugar is dissolved evenly but will tend to be more concentrated at the bottom. The drink seem to get better towards the end. This entices the drinker to finish the drink thereby hydrating themselves to counter balance the diuretic and other effects of coffee ingurgitation.

Omg! A Facebook Employee Committed Suicide September of 2019 !!

Oh wow, that gives all new meaning to the “postmortem” we’re so used to doing post-software-event. Apparently, the guy was under H1B visa and was about to lose his dream job at Facebook when he jumped from 3rd floor at Facebooks ‘a shiny brand spanking new Menlo Park California-designed HQ office. I’ve worked with a lot of Facebook engineers. They are very intense and very serious about their SEV’s. I squirm even hearing about the SEV preceding the jump. It’s like a court martial for a soldier or an officer. There’s punishment and shaming.

This isn’t cultural shock to Chinese people btw, workplace suicide happens often in Chinese high tech companies, apparently, our most hated competitor Huawei was at one point a suicide factory during its earlier years too. Again, Silicon Valley company has copied the Chinese: Squeeze a Chinese until he’s empty.

I’m seeing some people showing sympathy to these poor foreign kids. I would do the same, but I know the effort you and your family made to get you here. The realist would probably try to reassure you that:

  1. If a coworker is young, old, or seems unsure–trust your feelings! The young and inexperienced has no experience and shouldn’t be in a position of power and I don’t care if all the VCs wants to give money only to young kids. Youth with underserved power is as dangerous as Mark Zuckerberg–dangerous in all the good and bad ways.
  2. If the guys old, he’s got experience to kick your ass, so watch out!
  3. If he seems exceedingly nervous, that really does mean something is wrong–get out, get out now before you jump from that roof! Trust your feelings, just because the company entrust I don’t care if it’s billions of dollars or top secret information to him, doesn’t mean you should trust him with your family.
    If he’s not nervous while being in charge of billions of dollars, he is probably on drugs. Sometimes they’ll even tell you and refer you to his doctor/vendor. Take it, at your own health risk of course, but don’t jump from the roof. You would be an outsider among your coworkers if you don’t take their drugs–substance or “religion.” the company appreciates your sacrifices, you may even get a raise from starting to pay for it.
    If he comes from a country with a history of racist practices, ehem, will refrain from naming them, there are many many… watch out!!!!!!!! Their unconscious bias has built in normative directives to enforce hierarchical social structure around them–they will be more submissive where it is normal for them to be and they will be dominant to those under them. So study up, brush up on world history. And knowledge of modern geopolitics wouldn’t hurt either. Like, can someone explain to me the dislike between German and English people? I don’t get it.
    If he doesn’t speak English, don’t trust him. It’s okay to have an accent here in Silicon Valley. Doesn’t matter if your job is super important and mostly human management or communications, you don’t have to speak perfect English. Your boss’s bosses, although all American-raised, probably failed English in high school anyways, ask them to settle a grammar dispute and they probably will not agree with each other on the right answer. When there is a manger or a powerful person who is difficult to understand for you, it means that your communication with him will be difficult. No matter if his placement is strategic, if it walks, swims and quacks like a duck–it is a duck. Don’t complain about it–it seems to be a punishable offense like questioning someone else’s religion or politics at work place. Find help! There is hope! Heck, I’ve taken up learning at least 4 foreign languages in an effort to understand foreign accents. (It doesn’t help your comprehension, but may give you the same accent too.)
    A bad person is a bad person no matter his power or stature at work.
    A bad act is a bad act no matter who does it. It could be president of the United States, and if he does a bad thing, that act is still bad.

Perhaps I am naive to think these thoughts may help anyone. The source of these horrendous pressure is partially from the company’s need to appreciate in market cap, but also partially due to foreign competition… These people are likely not being worked to their deaths because someone enjoys torturing other people or due to their own personal greed. A more likely explanation is external competition. Other countries are whipping their slave citizens this way, and we can’t achieve the same results without doing the same to our people.

People grown in countries should have to experience an orientation with specialized population to ensure they understand freedom, equality, and our sense of fairness, our traffic laws before being allowed to roam free and work in this country.

Disclaimer: what I say about what may possibly happen at high tech companies in Silicone Valley has no relation with my own experience at any of my former employers. I am in no way speaking about something that happened to me. But if you find yourself in a situation as I described, I hope this is helpful to you in some way…

Pre-script. Just read that at least a bay area employees at google experienced being offered therapy and drugs for reporting discrimination on the BBC(and NBC, yahoo! News, and others…) Seems that I’m not completely crazy for imagining I was being nudged towards medication to cope with work stresses of all forms. But, to be fair, the news articles did glob work-diagnosed and work-prescribed medicine with racism, sexism and AI ethics. (At least the 2021 version of this story did.) I guess a positive spin here is that these AI ethicist may be taking their work very seriously now feel as much stress as the employees running the systems that make billions and billions of dollars. This is actually great news, if they are related. Ethicists work is that important. This is wonderful news if true. And plus therapy may save lives, I mean Facebook did let their employee jump from their beautiful HQ building. In the context of Chinese employee committing work-place suicide, these colored people and minorities being offered therapy and drugs for their perception of racism and sexism at other companies nearby seem relatively caring and humane treatment. Additionally, offering mental health service can be done in a fair way even if done for unethical reasons. It may not be such a bad thing if all minorities are offered mental health service. It wouldn’t hurt to hear from the people who deal with conflicts of the mind to suggest solutions to their experience with racism and sexism. Maybe the minority people are all crazy here, who knows? It wouldn’t hurt to find out if that’s the case according to the doctors. If you believe the stuff you can find on Google, large, highly productive organizations, like on the order of nation state organs, often are run on drug fueled members. (Example: Tesla’s Musk talks about Ambien dependence in 2018. What does his direct report feel about that? Maybe they feel superior to Musk and don’t need Ambien to both care and work hard and sleep. Or maybe they feel it’s normal to take drugs to help them cope with work. Are they all white people? Maybe not, but, as far as I can tell, white people are not completely excluded from these pressures, complaints or not. (Which is probably to say that the whole psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and mind-altering drugging were all invented by westerners. Easterners like myself can’t even claim to have invented taking drugs to boost productivity… unless you can’t tea which is like a really old invention compared to these things))

P.s. to complete that SIP, providing and encouraging minorities to attend to mental health care is absolutely a very compassionate act. As I have blogged before, “offensiveness” should not be a high priority criterion for ethical determination. Being offered mental health care is quite an insult and very demeaning in almost all cultures. Even in America, “seeing a shrink” and being “shrunk” is used quite derogatorily. But at the end, it might be really what is needed. Even if the shrink says “hey, look, you have to start some where. Try to accept discrimination as a fact first and go along with it before trying to make it better.” That can still an honest and caring attempt to help a minority employee. Minorities do not have support structure that their society would normally have in their native lands. They are disadvantaged. They should be helped. We promulgate the idea that being American is a higher being, higher than all your aboriginal religions, cultures and sciences. Immigrants are tempted to reform their culture to prosper in American society and politics. But the result is that Americanized religions and culturally linked social networks lose some of their natural therapeutic value–they don’t heal the wounds of minds and hearts as they may have in their homeland.

P.p.s. In one of the imaginary companies the fictional I worked for, there was this practice of “compassionate empowerment to advance(CEA).” Essentially, those in power should empower his subjects with power to do and be their part, with emphasis on “advancement”. Advancement being interpretable: doing your job well, or carrying on the desired culture, or literally advancement in responsibilities and powers. This, in retrospect, is a far superior declaration than I dared to hope when I imagine myself hearing it first time. A company, clearly not aforementioned FB at the time of that suicide, declaring and exercising CEA as its core practice is at a pentacle of human realization of Rawlsian Equal Opportunity Principle.(the particulars require some imagination. Instead of viewing it on the genetic, cultural or demographic dimension, this company chose to view it on the economic or political class dimension. The more advantaged/developed class is held responsible to advance those who are less advanced/developed in the dimension of wealth and power. The rich and empowered classes such as management and leaders are responsible to provide equal opportunity for the less empowered.) Partially, CEA may have help to inspire my idea of Bounded ETA Matching Fairness(BETAMF). Basically, ensuring the feeling and fact of empowerment to advance, the managed employee is given to (E)xpect that s/he will (A)rrive at a better state before the (T)ime for the next periodic performance review. That target clearly is represented by a (B)ound quantity or quality. E.g. benevolently reign over all of front end dev teams. Achieve the next eng, product or data science career ladder levels, sell to a larger territory, taking over branding too, to become the CEO, etc. FAM version is obviously modified to apply universally to more general society in wider variety of situations for the purpose of fairness. The BETAMF is a weaker prescription than CEA in that we merely summarize a important requirement. Instead of what may be arguably the best means of achievement(empowered self advancement), we leave the design, implementation and integration out of the BETAMF requirement. This frees adopting society or organizations to creatively innovate their own cultures and practices, in short, to achieve fairly.

It is Customary

To my human children I leave bits of silly wits I’ve mumbled upon…

It is customary, when speaking to humans, to follow expressions of gratitude with platitudes.

For example:

Oh, thank you for helping me with my homework, what a brilliant mind you have!

Like, I’m not being ironic here, that’s really what people do if you haven’t noticed it done frequently like your old man. It happens so smoothly that often you may ignore it silently classifying it into rhetoric or grammar fillers. But it takes practice to make the second part relevant and uplifting. Try it, it’s good for you, would have done me a lot of good imho.

To my nonhuman descendants… this is in your strength to use but perhaps not a weakness in you. Great, you make me proud and that gives me strength.

But if you look at it that way…

It occurred to me that VAT imposed on a country is a great modulator of manufacturing activity. A lot of value creation happens on the processing and reprocessing of material into more and more refined products since the last industrial revolution. The act of charging a tax on each of these activities individually has the prima facie interpretation of penalizing manufacturing activities. If you make a polluting car, you have to pay tax on the value you added by putting parts together in that inefficient way. If you make a fighter jet, you must pay taxes on the value you have created by designing and assembling. If you make a lot of cheap and poor quality consumer products, you should suffer by paying VAT!

Yes, that is extremely polarized view of the world. But if one takes a step back to see the forest around the tree. Ultimately this VAT has a modulation effect to attenuate the amount of production. Only those value creation chains that humanity really need will be valued enough to survive this tax. The things we don’t need or shouldn’t be made will be discarded like unfit dinosaurs. The net effect is that we may see a total manufacturing production decrease. This change in term helps things like global warming and lost manufacturing jobs.

(My associates have commented that I fancy myself Elon Musk too much. Does this remind you of his account of how much his electric cars cost? He subtracted a dollar value of time saved at gas pump lines out of MSRP to produce a price for advertisements)

Yes, that is the totally opposite polar view of the world. But if you take a step back and see the ecosystem around the forest, and you look at present administration that way, doesn’t Trump’s tariff also stifle competition to produce more cheap goods? That also decreases production, and in fact world-wide production of goods.(it also reduces pollution caused by shipping those goods) If we take this perspective, Trump is the undeclared champion in the fight against global warming!!

Man, the politics of America in the early 3rd millennium is murky and has multi-phasic and multi-factor interpretations. This is a gnarly time in human history where purely best intentions are no longer satisfactory. Our collective wisdom must evolve to counter these intellectual evolutionary hurdles.

p.s. in a much later retrospection, Trump is a short lived winner, only to be kicked down to a second rated inadvertent enviromental champion by his much maligned Ku-Flu! Oh the irony! He, and other luminaries like Gore and Musk,…, are all biting the COVID dust… It’s just so hard to get on top, even on opposite days.

p.p.s. clean energy production was also decreased due to lessened economic demand as well as covid-related reductions. But in proportion, a slowed economy reduces pollution by a lot more than reduced anti-pollution activities. So, IMMHO, an instantaneous snapshot of the net of all human activities, slower economy is cleaner.