Monday, December 31, 2007

Queer Altering of Behavior

I find it interesting that when people visit foreign lands, their behavior is often different from their usual state. This effect is particularly evident in tourists.

Consider a person A, who is usually unadventurous in his choice of food. And yet, upon arrival at the foreign land, A decides to try each and every kind of strange food he chances upon. Queer.

Or that A decides to climb a famous mountain, and yet, A has never even mounted the hill back in his native land. Odder and odder.

Fortunately, I am rational and consistent. My behavior is similar to my original state, with the only difference being that I have more cash to spend, and that spending all the cash is acceptable.

This is the last post of the year. I shall now take some photos of the fireworks, although I consider that to be irrational and inconsistent with my initial state.

This irrationality must be corrected.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Kill the Penguins !

Penguins led by the evil Guin Nep have invaded an iceberg ! There are so many penguins on the iceberg that every inch of the iceberg is covered with penguins.

You have to stop the infestation of penguins! You have 5 rockets, which can be used to bombard the iceberg. The rockets are all identical, and can hit any area of the iceberg. Each rocket will explode and kill all penguins within a radius Z of its landing spot. The yield of the rockets can be adjusted, hence, Z can be set to any value you desire. However, all the rockets must be set to the same yield, otherwise the launching platform will malfunction.

Your task is to choose 5 spots to target the five rockets at. Also, you must choose the minimum yield needed to kill all the penguins. In other words, choose 5 spots and the smallest Z such that the each spot of the iceberg is covered.

The final piece of information needed before you can save the iceberg from the penguins is that the iceberg happens to be in the shape of a perfect circle of radius R.

Alien Invaders

The great conqueror of worlds, Cyotr IV, was planning for the invasion of yet another planet. His advisor, the evil Guin Nep, stood beside him.

The great conqueror asked, "How many troops do I have available for this invasion ?"

Guin Nep checked some statistics, then replied, "Oh great one, you have a hundred thousand galaxy clusters under your control. In each galaxy cluster, there are a billion billion galaxies. In each galaxy, there are a billion billion stars clusters. In each star cluster, there are a billion billion stars. For each star, there are a billion billion divisions stationed there.

Finally, there are a billion troops per division. These figures work out to 10^86 troops. The figures are exact."

The conqueror paused for a moment, contemplating the great vastness of his forces.

"Split ALL my forces into 13 even fleets ! Prepare for the invasion of the universe !!!"

"13 even fleets, sir ? We won't be able to split the troops evenly; there'll be some troops left over. I would advise dividing the forces into 10 fl..."


How many troops would be sacrificed ?

The Cursed Pirate Gold

Once, there were 7 pirates. The pirates had just robbed a small fishing boat and were now splitting the loot.

The loot was a small chest of less than 500 gold coins. The 7 pirates decided to split the loot evenly between themselves, as they were petty and did not want any one member to get more loot.

After a while, the gold coins were split into 7 stacks. However, the 7th stack had 1 coin less than the others. An argument broke out over who was to receive this 7th stack, and during the heated debate, one pirate was "accidentally" killed.

While the loss of manpower was regretable, the pirates consoled themselves with their now larger shares of the loot. Again, they pooled the coins and split it evenly among themselves. After some splitting, the coins were split into 6 stacks. Alas, the 6th stack was again 1 coin short!

A new scuffle broke out and another pirate was killed. The remaining 5 pirates split the coins into 5 stacks. Cursedly, they were 1 coin short again of having even stacks! One of the pirates, shocked at this unnatural occurence, shouted "A Ghost ! It be the work of ghosts !", then flipped over and died.

While the remaining 4 pirates were unnerved, greed was a stronger motivator. They split the gold into 4 stacks, but again, they were short by 1 coin !!! The burliest member of the band of brigands, a person of vulgar courage, slammed his fist on the table and shouted "I fear no work of demons ! Give me my gold !". He was swiftly killed by a falling lamp which was dislodged by his slamming action.

3 pirates were left, and they were clearly spooked. Yet, they divided the loot into 3 portions. One member, on seeing that one stack was again short of 1 coin, feared for his life and ran, leaving his share untouched !

The 2 remaining pirates decided to make the best of things and split the loot again, this time evenly among themselves. But the stacks were again uneven!

By now, the 2 pirates were spooked and decided to flee for their lives !

How many gold coins were there originally ?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Epilogue : The world of the purple sky

And none were the wiser, that that which seemed the same, was not.

The unknown truth was that the professor was still on the Earth. He was not dead, nor was he missing. He did not hide, nor was he hidden. The simple truth was that he was still where he had started his grand experiment.

It was not strange that nobody could find him, because none ever knew what his grand experiment really was.

The purple hue was only to hide the missing stars.

And none were the wiser, that that which they thought was the earth, was not.

Read the first part of the story here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The world of the purple sky

The professor went missing three weeks ago. Prior to his disappearance, he was conducting yet another of his secretive experiments, which he described as being his “most amazing discovery”. We were all skeptical.

On the night he disappeared, a purple haze enveloped the sky, stretching beyond the horizon. It drew us to his home, but we could find nothing. Even his house had disappeared.

From that day on, the sky was draped in that cursed purple hue. We never managed to find the professor. He had vanished from the face of the earth, lost to an unknown space and time.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What's In a Name ?

Recently, some bloggers put up simple "Free Burma !" posts on their blogs. Then, yesterday, I saw someone on MSN with the nick, "Free Myanmar !".

Two words, refering ostensibly to the same object, and yet having absolutely different connotations.

Not too long ago, I was puzzled by the absolute refusal of certain global entities in using the name "Myanmar". After all, what's in a name, or so I thought. Then came the recent crisis in Myanmar/Burma, which highlighted the otherwise subtle differences in the words.

The fact that the choice of a noun actually indicates the person's political position is extremely interesting. However, in retrospect, this is not new - "Pro-choice", "Pro-life", are both terms which refer to the same thing, but signify different stances towards abortion. Many other examples exist.

Thus, I wonder - Is there a neutral word which can be used to refer to Myanmar/Burma ? With only two words to chose from and with each word implying the supporting of a particular faction, in naming that country, one would forcibly dragged into taking a side. Interesting, and troublesome, for any self-purported neutral observer.

Free Temasek, anyone ? Or, perhaps, free Malaya.

Monday, September 10, 2007


A war was waged, for the most mundane of reasons, in the most unlikely of places - a lecture theatre. The instigator of the war, motivated only by a need to satiate his boredom, thus began the FOOD WAR.

The 16 contestants, called from the recesses of the minds of the mad, fought for votes from the panel of bored judges.

Eventually, SUSHI won.

PS : Note contestant number 5.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Unfair Coin and Die Challenge

[Challenge #1]

Imagine that you have a biased two-sided coin. However, while you know that the coin is biased, you are unsure as to how the coin is biased; that is, you do not know the probability of getting a head or tail.

The first challenge is to use the coin to make a binary decision that has a 50% probabilty. In other words, find a way to make a fair decision.

[Challenge #2]

Imagine that you have a biased 6 six-sided die. As before, you have no idea how the die is biased.

The second challenge is to think of a method to somehow transform (via mathematical, non-physical-manipulation methods) the die into a fair die.

It may be neccessary to flip the coin more than once. Same goes for the die.

[Super Hints]
"May be" ==> "is".

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Revolver Cylinder Puzzle

Yet another interesting puzzle :
Someone has kidnapped you and forced you to play a game of Russian Roulette ! Your kidnapper loads two bullets into adjacent chambers of an otherwise empty cylinder, and then spins the cylinder.

Then he presses the trigger ! Click ! Thankfully, the chamber was empty (this time!).

He then offers you a gamble : If you can survive the next round, he would set you free. To make it even better for you, he gives you two choices : One, he would spin the cylinder (randomly) before firing ; Two, he would just press the trigger now, without spinning.

Assuming that you would want to live through this encounter, what choice would you take? To spin or not to spin ?

Credits : Picture from howstuffworks , question from here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Crazy Passenger Puzzle

Here's an interesting puzzle which I just encountered:
The Crazy Passenger

There are 100 airline passengers lining up to board the plane. They each hold a ticket to one of the 100 seats on that flight.

Unfortunately, the first person in line is crazy, and will ignore the seat number on his ticket, picking a random seat to occupy. All of the other passengers are quite normal, and will go to their proper seat unless it is already occupied. If it is occupied, they will then find a free seat to sit in, at random.

What is the probability that the last (100th) person to board the plane will sit in his proper seat?"

I found the puzzle (along with others) here. Unfortunately, I saw the numerical answer before giving the question much thought, but in my defense I did work out the solution almost immediately after.

Human Timeline

A poem from the dark abyss of my computer.
One o’clock,
Man learned to walk.
Two o’clock,
Man made tools from rock.
Three o’clock,
Man grew some plants.
Four o’clock,
Men learnt to chant.
Five o’clock,
Men lived in towns.
Six o’clock,
Men dealt with pounds.
Seven o’clock,
Men sailed the oceans.
Eight o’clock,
He made blasting potions.
Nine o’clock,
Came the Age of Steam.
Ten o’clock,
Life seemed like a dream.
Eleven o’clock,
Atoms were the game.
Twelve o’clock,
It never came.

Please pardon the unpolished state of this pseudo-poetry.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


Fans of unconventional fiction would be pleased to learn of a novel piece of writing, cleverly titled Meta-review. As the title suggests, the manuscript is disguised in the form of a review. Beyond that disguise, however, lies a pot of creative gold.

The entire concept of Meta-review lies in the idea of self-reference. It is not merely a review, which by itself would be mundane by any standards. Rather, it is a review of a review of a review of a ... And yes, you guessed it, it is a review of itself. The subject of Meta-review IS Meta-review.

While self-reference may seem like a confounding subject for any literary work, the author manages to tie all the strings together to form a cogent and thought-provoking read. In particular, many parts of the article will surely catch the mind's eye; One especially colourful example was when Meta-review suddenly changed the colour of the text just as it was making reference to the change of colour. This unexpected case of self-reference definitely made the writing appear more vivid.

However, the most amazing line in Meta-review is not that, but the sentence highlighted (in green) below. What a mind-boggling existential paradox!

Beyond the perplexing genius of the self-referential device, however, Meta-review also suffers from a number of non-critical flaws. The most glaring is a lack of proper editing, which is apparent in a misspelling inside a quote, which we have reproduced below.
The mispeling.
What makes things worse is that the entire paragraph containing the misspelling was superfluous, and could have been removed without affecting the contents of the article.

Another weakness, and one which is more serious, is that when under the guise of a review, Meta-review criticized the reviewed article for committing Tu quoque, when in fact, Meta-review was also guilty of making the same error. What was particularly distasteful was Meta-review's harsh denouncement of the error - such hypocritical behaviour should definitely be condemned.

All in all, Meta-review is an interesting and unique work that should be read by all readers of this review. Meta-review can be read by clicking on this hyperlink.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Interesting Maths Problem

I just encountered an interesting maths problem which I would like to share.

There are three classes in a school, each with the same number of students. The fraction of girls in class A is the same as the fraction of boys in class C. Also, class B has one-fifth of all the boys in the school.

What is the fraction of girls in the school ?

For your info, this question is a Sec One question. Frankly, I'm quite surprised at this fact. In anycase, I didn't use algebra to solve this problem - that felt unfair. Anyway intuition should prove helpful in tackling this question.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Problem of the Bones

I've just stumbled upon an extremely interesting problem, to which I've only been able to derive a partial solution after some intuitive thinking. The problem itself is called "The Problem of the Bones". Here's the problem statement :

Imagine that a creature from outer space walks you before a pit. In the pit are 10,000 leg bones. The creature tells you, "I have cracked each bone at random into two pieces by throwing them against a rock. What's the average ratio of the length of the long piece to the length of the short piece?

This problem is pretty difficult to solve. I've only been able to obtain a solution for the case where there are infinity leg bones in the pit.

I'm now attempting a simulation to obtain the answer. If you are able to solve this problem, please leave the solution in the comments.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Applying the Principle of Desert to Organ Allocation

Here is an essay I wrote last semester for my USP bioethics module. It is somewhat long (at 3K words) so read only if you have the time.

Applying the Principle of Desert to Organ Allocation

Organs are commonly allocated on the basis of need, meaning that priority in allocation is usually given to those who have the most urgent need for the organ. While the principle of need appears to be a reasonable method by which to allocate organs, such a method is, by itself, insufficient, since we would not want to allocate organs solely on the basis of need. Additional principles must be used to supplement the principle of need. I believe that one such principle is that of desert, and in this essay, I will discuss how the methods of organ allocation can be modified with the inclusion of this principle of desert.

Before I begin the main part of my essay, it is first necessary to examine the principle of desert itself. In simple terms, desert rewards those who are deserving. We can see many examples of this in daily life, such as when we pay someone according to the amount and quality of work he does. However, desert can also involve punishing or penalizing those who are undeserving. Again, examples of this are common, such as when we sentence a criminal according to the severity of his crime. Evidently, desert seeks to give people what they deserve, be it reward or punishment, on the basis of their merit or demerit.

There is also another relevant distinction which comes into play when we try to apply desert to organ allocation. The two examples given previously are essentially non-comparative in nature, meaning that what people deserve is only dependent on their own behaviors and characteristics, and not dependent on the behaviors and characteristics of other parties. For example, if a student answers five questions correctly out of a ten question test, he deserves to get fifty marks, and he would still deserve fifty marks no matter how well or badly the other students do. However, desert can also be applied comparatively, meaning that what people deserve is dependent on their relative merit as compared to other people. To reuse the example of the student, we might want to award a grade of A to him, not because he scored fifty marks, but because he scored higher than his peers. Similarly, when distributing a scholarship, each candidate might himself be qualified, but we would need to compare each candidate against other candidates in order to see who most deserves the scholarship. From this example, it can be inferred that comparative desert is relevant when the reward (or punishment) is itself in short supply, as it is with donor organs.

Having given a short description of the principle of desert, we can now attempt to apply the principle towards organ allocation. As stated previously, desert rewards or punishes people on the basis of their merit or demerit. Here, we need to answer two questions. First, upon what criteria should we judge merit or demerit? Second, what should be the reward or punishment for such merit or demerit? I will attempt to reason out the answers to these questions by considering two scenarios. Each scenario will involve two people who require organs, and for simplicity’s sake will be identical in every aspect (for example, in need) except for the criterion which I will be examining.

The first scenario involves person A, who is a registered organ donor , and person B, who is not an organ donor. Given that there is only one organ for transplantation, is there any reason to give the organ to any specific person, or are there no morally relevant reasons for a choice to be made either way? In this scenario, I believe that most will choose to assign the organ to A. Why is this so, and is this choice based on a morally relevant reason? I believe that there are at least two relevant reasons. The first and weaker reason is based on the idea of rewarding virtue. We would like to grant the organ to A because in his prior act of pledging an organ, he has reflected the virtue of altruism, and altruism is worth rewarding. Of course, I find this reason as being less strong because in some cases, organ pledgers might be drawn less by altruistic virtues than by self interest. This concern is especially valid if we begin to reward organ pledgers with priority in organ allocation. The second and stronger reason is that of reciprocity. Because of person A’s prior act of pledging an organ to the society, as a society, we are compelled by reciprocity to grant him an organ if he is in need of one. This reason is stronger because even if people pledge organs out of self interest, the principle of reciprocity is still applicable.

The second scenario again involves a person A, who experienced organ failure as a result of his habitual heavy drinking. Person B also experiences organ failure, but this is attributed to natural factors not within his control. Again, is there any reason to give one person the organ? I think that most will choose to grant the organ to B. There are again at least two reasons for making this choice. The more obvious reason is utilitarian in nature. We might want to deny A the organ because he might continue with his drinking habit even after an organ transplant, and possibility need another transplant later on. We would prefer to give the organ to B, because he could make more use out of the organ. Utilitarians would grant B the organ because the organ would have greater utility. However, this reason tends to be weaker, because it is not always true that A would continue with his drinking habit- if he does quit his habit, this renders both A and B equal on utility. The stronger reason is based on the idea of personal responsibility. We might deny A the organ because he is responsible for his organ failure, and hence is less deserving than B who experiences the same predicament through no fault of his own. Of course, some may question the grounds for penalizing someone for their lifestyle choices, but I will address that concern in a later paragraph.

Through the previous scenarios, we have determined that we should give priority to organ pledgers, and that we might want to penalize people whose predicament is in some part due to their own fault. How then do we incorporate these two ideas into a system for organ allocation? I believe this is best done by modifying a method based on need. First, we should classify patients according to categories of need. For example, we might group patients with very urgent need (death in one month or less without transplant) in one bracket, followed by a bracket containing patients with urgent need, then another bracket containing patients with moderate need and so on. Organs would always go to the neediest bracket, and organs will go to the next bracket only if there are no patients within needier brackets. Within each bracket, we prioritize the patients according to our two previous guidelines, giving priority to organ pledgers and reducing the priority of people with self-caused ailments. The exact system of prioritizing within a bracket may be done by a points system, such that we grant organ pledgers a certain advantage in points. Then, we may impose penalties depending on how responsible a person is for his condition. For example, if a person is a smoker, and if smoking is a minor contributing cause of the medical condition resulting in organ failure, then we may impose a slight penalty. Heavier penalties may be imposed if a person is strongly responsible for his ailment, such as if the person’s condition is the direct result of him taking drugs.

This proposed scheme has at least one advantage over allocation methods. The advantage of incorporating desert into allocation schemes is that doing so actually alleviates the problem of organ shortage. This advantage stems from the fact that desert is a principle that rewards and punishes based on certain behaviors or characteristics, which necessarily means that desert encourages or discourages these certain behaviors. In the case of organ allocation, we encourage people to pledge their organs, and discourage people from engaging in risky behaviors . Both work to reduce the organ shortage, one by increasing supply and the other by reducing demand. However, the same cannot be said about other methods of organ allocation. For example, if we were to allocate organs based on the principle of need, and to give organs to those who need it most urgently, we would not be encouraging either organ donation nor would we be decreasing organ demand. On the contrary, it might be argued that allocating organs based on need encourages people to engage in risky behaviors, since they would not be denied an organ on that basis. Similarly, if we were to distribute organs based on social utility, we would be rewarding people on the basis of their social utility. This does nothing towards alleviating the shortage of organs, since there are no incentives to donate nor are there penalties for any risky behavior. In fact, it might also be argued that distributing organs based on social utility encourages people who are socially useful to engage in risky behaviors, since they would have priority in organ allocation. Again, this outcome is most unfavorable, as it conceivably increases organ demand.

Having discussed the moral motivations and the advantages for incorporating desert into schemes of organ allocation, it is now time to consider some possible moral objections to such a scheme. There are a number of criticisms of desert-based allocation schemes, which I will broadly classify under two categories. The first category consists of extrinsic concerns, which are concerns stemming from factors external to the allocation schemes. The second category consists of intrinsic concerns, which are concerns inherent to the organ distribution method itself. I will address the extrinsic concerns first.

The extrinsic concerns revolve about how organ distribution methods incorporating desert might fail given certain external factors. One such criticism argues that rewarding organ pledgers is fair only if everyone was aware of such a choice. However, if some people were not aware of the choice to pledge organs, and if we were to penalize them for this, in effect we would be punishing them for things that are beyond their knowing. In other words, we should not penalize people for their ignorance. In particular, since one of the underlying principles of desert is the idea of personal responsibility, punishing people for what is essentially beyond their knowing seems unreasonable and self-contradictory. I would agree that this criticism is valid. However, I believe that the solution is not to forgo the desert-based allocation method, but rather, to ensure that everyone (or at least a very large majority) is made aware of the choice of organ pledging. In any case, we should broadly publicize the desert-based distribution scheme, as doing so not only addresses this criticism, but also contributes towards increasing organ pledging rates.

The second extrinsic concern takes the form of a slippery slope argument. In our proposed scheme, we penalize people engaging in certain risky behaviors which would contribute to organ failure. Critics would argue that such a desert-based scheme could eventually be abused such that it would become an indirect tool of discrimination. For example, the scheme might be adjusted to heavily penalize homosexuals or minority races. Alternatively, desert-based schemes might also be modified into becoming a method of social control. For example, if the society were to find smoking undesirable, they could modify the allocation scheme to deny smokers priority, regardless of whether smoking had any significant effect on the condition leading to organ failure. However, while I would admit that desert-based organ allocation schemes could be abused, I do not think that this is sufficient reason to reject such schemes. Firstly, desert-based allocation methods can (at worst) only act as tools of discrimination or social control, but they are themselves not the cause of discrimination or social control. Rather than rejecting desert-based allocation schemes, it would be wiser to tackle the root causes that might motivate such abuse. Furthermore, since not everyone needs an organ transplant, organ distribution methods would be extremely inefficient tools for either discrimination or social control. It is highly unlikely, then, that organ allocation would be deployed to such nefarious ends.

Having addressed some extrinsic concerns, I will now address the intrinsic concerns. In a previous paragraph, I have already alluded to the first concern. This first concern asks whether it is right to penalize people for their lifestyle choices (i.e., their risky behaviors). While I am reluctant to actually penalize people for their personal choices, I am led to believe that doing so is fair. I obtained this conclusion by revisiting the scenario posited earlier. If we were to award the organ to person A (who is responsible for his own organ failure), it might be said this is unfair to person B, because B is essentially paying the cost (of being stuck without a transplant) of A’s risky behavior. This runs contrary to the ideas of personal responsibility, where one should shoulder any outcomes of one’s actions. Furthermore, we believe that it is unfair to force one’s burdens (which are due to one’s actions) to an innocent party. Hence, even though we are reluctant to penalize people for their bad lifestyle choices, this is required in order to be fair to other parties.

Another related criticism argues that if we penalize people for some bad lifestyle choices, what is to stop us from extending the principle such that we penalize people for even minimally bad choices? For example, we would not like to be denied an organ just because we do not eat a balanced diet or if we do not exercise on a regular basis. In my opinion, this criticism is partly valid, in the sense that we should not penalize people for minimally bad choices. However, this is still perfectly consistent with the proposed organ allocation method, which penalizes risky behavior according to how much the behavior contributes toward organ failure. Even if we were to penalize minimally risky behavior, the penalty will correspondingly be minimal and thus have little effect on the outcome of the allocation. In fact, if we were to implement the proposed organ allocation scheme, we might want to ignore such minimally risky behavior in our considerations, since there are other more morally relevant considerations (such as waiting list time, number of dependencies etc) which can be taken into account.

The last and most serious criticism stems from criticisms of the principle of desert itself. Basically, desert rewards people who are deserving, and penalizes those who are undeserving. However, desert is also based on the idea that there is a level field for this comparison. For example, in a race, we might award the fastest runner with the gold medal. However, if the fastest runner was later found to have been born with a special gene which greatly boosts his athletic ability, we might be less willing to say that he deserves the medal, since his athletic gene, and not his effort or skill, might be responsible for his win. In our organ allocation scheme, we based the prioritizing criteria on organ pledging and on lifestyle choices. It might be said this criteria is largely level and fair, since both are personal choices within the control of the individual. However, there are two ways in which the criteria might be said to be uneven or unfair. Firstly, there are certain circumstances in which organ pledging or some lifestyle choices are not a matter of personal choice. An apt example can be found in Singapore, where the Human Organ Transplant Act offers priority to organ pledgers (although this is done via an opt-out rather than an opt-in system). However, Muslims, due to religious reasons, are unable to pledge their organs . We might want to question whether it is right to penalize Muslims for something which they have little control (beyond apostasy, which is unreasonable to expect of them). While we might want to reason that the principle of reciprocity still holds, and that it is actually acceptable to penalize Muslims, this conclusion is at best highly controversial.

The second way in which the prioritizing criteria can be said to be uneven is when the person is partly or absolutely incapable of making the requisite personal choices, such as when the person is a child or is mentally disabled. Clearly, these people would fall outside the judging criteria, since they are not responsible for themselves or for their actions. Of course, we could still apply the principle of reciprocity to justify any prioritizing decisions we make against them, but to do so would be callous. Rather, some alternative provisions should be proposed to cover children and the mentally disabled, otherwise we risk disadvantaging those who are the most innocent.

Having discussed a desert-based organ distribution method and some criticisms of such a method, it might appear that while most criticisms can be addressed, some concerns require more attention. In particular, such a scheme might disadvantage people from certain cultures or religions. While this is a valid concern, I am not prepared to dismiss a desert-based organ allocation scheme so readily, because of such a scheme’s intuitive nature (rewarding the deserving and penalizing the undeserving) and also because the scheme would help to reduce the organ shortage. Rather, I would propose incorporating more elements of consideration (social utility, beneficiaries etc) into the scheme, such that nobody would be overly disadvantaged due to cultural or religious reasons. Admittedly, such an expanded criteria would be more complex, but in the interests of fairness this should be tolerated.

In conclusion, although there are some valid concerns regarding the application the principle of desert towards organ allocation, it cannot be denied that desert offers much promise as a priortising principle for organ allocation. Hence, I believe that more attention should be devoted to incorporate desert into a scheme of organ allocation.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

To be an Incorporeal Ghost

I wonder what is it like to be an incorporeal ghost, with neither form nor substance. Such a ghost can neither be seen nor heard, or even detected. Its incorporeal nature disallows it from interacting with the material world. Hence, the ghost is only a viewer of events, and a silent observer of things.

Some would find being a ghost enjoyable. Free of a physical form, one is free to roam to where one wishes. Having no detectable existence, one would be capable of learning all the fleshy secrets of the mortal world. What delectable joy!

Yet, others might find this state of existence torturous. Indeed, while being immaterial grants one the freedom to be anywhere without restraint, what use is that if one loses the ability to act and affect the world? Similarly, what good is the knowledge of all the secrets if one is unable to tell tales to any listening ear?

I am uncertain whether being a formless ghost would be a joy or a torture. I would think that being a ghost is like watching a movie - ultimately, one is unable to affect the scenes being screened. However, what one can do is to perhaps chose another movie, one which is more enjoyable. And, even granting a deluge of repulsive films, one can always try to convince oneself to relax and enjoy the show.

And similarly, if one is merely a pawn of fate and destiny, the least one can do is to enjoy the ride.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Decepticons should rule !

But they do not. In fact, even afghan farmers wielding shotguns against Apaches have better success rates than the Decepticons. This outcome is most puzzling, since modern military strategy would indicate a Decepticon victory over the Autobots.

Firstly, the Decepticons have far superior mobility. This alone should be able to compensate for numerical inferiority and inferior firepower (although I could never understand how fighter jets could be more poorly armed than cars and vans). Mobility allows for the Decepticons to select their battles, and more importantly, to avoid unfavorable ones. In order to maximise this mobility advantage, they should engage in i) hit and run operations ii) resource raiding operations.

Secondly, since the Decepticons have a secret undersea base, this allows them to employ the two tactics given earlier to the greatest effect. The secret base allows the Decepticons to be permanently on the offense, and to spend no resources on defense. Furthermore, given the inferior numbers and firepower of the Decepticons, any such defence would be futile.

Of course, given such advantages, why did the Decepticons not achieve victory ? I believe that the answer lies in Megatron, the Decepticon leader. Megatron transforms to a gun, not a fighter jet, and hence is unable to comprehend the correct set of tactics to attain victory. This is most evident in his tactics, which can be summed up in the words "Charge !" and "Retreat !".

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

CORS Tutorial Balloting Strategy

Having just recieved the results of my tutorial balloting via CORS, I decided to explore the tutorial slots still available for balloting. As I had expected, the tutorial balloting results reflects the student population's balloting strategies.

To provide a general idea of how the tutorial balloting results are, I'll copy the results for one particular module.

T1[25/25]   T2[25/25]   T3[17/25]
T4[6/25] T5[6/25] T6[3/25]
T7[25/25] T8[25/25] T9[25/25]
T10[22/25] T11[12/25] T12[13/25]

Each set of 3 slots corresponds to a tutorial in a certain timeslot. For example, T1, T2, and T3 all correspond to the same timeslot.

Assuming that each student has a specific preference for a certain timeslot but no preference for any tutorial group within that timeslot, it becomes obvious that the most prevalent strategy for tutorial balloting is to rank the slots (for the desired timeslot) in numerical order.

However, since that is the most prevalent strategy, it also means that those who adopt that particular strategy face the greatest competition in their tutorial balloting. This situation is analogous to that of a discoordination game (or congestion game), where the player is rewarded for making a dissimilar choice to the majority. However, if everyone adopts the same strategy for making a dissimilar choice, eventually everyone makes the same choice and the strategy fails (badly!).

Hence, although I would certainly advise students to not rank their ballots in numerical order, if everyone does so, my advice would be useless! In anycase, I always rank my ballots in reverse numerical order. But, please, do not adopt my strategy!

*P.S. For more pseudo-useful advice regarding bidding or balloting strategies, refer to this previous post.*

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Should you post photos of bad behaviour?

Should you post photos of bad behaviour? was the name of a Straits Times article which reported the controversy over some pictures, which depicted people with 'bad behavior', posted to the Straits Times' online portal. The controversy lay in whether such pictures were justified as tools to shame bad behaviour, or were simply unjustified, being nothing more than outrages of privacy. According to the article, both views recieved some support.

I don't claim to be absolutely certain of every nuance to this issue, but I believe that any society that believes in shaming as an acceptable resort to curtail bad behaviour is essentially flawed and immature. Why so ?

Let us just consider the particular case discussed in the news report. A woman, upon noticing that some commuters 'fell asleep' when a mother carrying an infant entered the train carriage, snapped a picture of those commuters and posted it to STOMP (the Straits Times online portal). Now, I have a very important question here. Did the woman perform any actions in order to solicit a seat for the mother?

If the answer is No, then I can detect a very singaporean angle to the behavior of the woman. Some would call this behaviour a complaint-reflex, in which the singaporean seeks to point out what is wrong with the situation rather than finding solutions for the problem in the first place.

Alternatively, we might say that singaporean society is a punitive rather than a restitutive society. In other words, as a society, we prefer to seek retribution rather than to find a solution. This symptom manifests itself most visibly in our legal system, where many sentences seem more concerned with punishment rather than rehabilitation (although this is improving gradually).

Of course, when I point out the previous two points, I must admit that I myself am very singaporean and hence would fall prey to the same base impulses. Perhaps, given time, we can all extract ourselves from such behavior.

In the meantime, if you see bad behaviour, just approach the offender and politely ask him to correct his behavior. Otherwise, hiding behind the safety of a camera certainly does not give one the moral ground to criticize the offender.