Miscellaneous – Tình cờ và bề bộn

While surfing the Internet and gasping for tidbits of fun here and there, I stumbled upon this April’s Fool post from my Duke colleagues. Extracting Pokemon data from Bulbapedia, he put together some revealing plots. Motivated by grad school to play quite a bit of Pokemon this last year, I saw more potential and thus decided to totally steal the idea and dig a little deeper.

A Pokemon has 5 stats: HP, Attack, Defense, Special, and Speed. I haven’t learned how to plot 5-D yet, so let’s do a Principal Component analysis to reduce the dimensionality a bit.

The biplot below shows how we reduce Pokemon’s 5 stats into 2 dimensions–principal component 1 (PC1) and PC2. The five red arrows demonstrate how each stat can be expressed in terms of the two PCs.

All 5 stat vectors point to the positive side of PC1 (x-axis), meaning that we can interpret PC1 as a sort of “Overall strength.” On the other hand, Speed/Special (Brain) diverge from HP/Attack/Defense (Brawn) in terms of PC2 (y-axis), meaning that we can interpret PC2 as a measure of emphasis on Brain over Brawn.

A graph to explore the relationship between pokemon stats

A graph to explore the relationship between pokemon stats

Let’s plot all 151 Gen I Pokemon according to these two principal components.


The plot makes sense. Mewtwo is clear outlier in all regards. Notice the next in line in terms of overall strength are the three legendary birds (Zapdos, Moltres, Articuno) and 2 dragons (Gyarados and Dragonite). This graph pretty much validates my all-time favorite team: Arcanine, Snorlax, Articuno, and Hypno.

It’s a bit hard to spot all Pokemon in the cluttered plot above, so here is the same idea disaggregated across types (which helps greatly to pick the best Pokemon within a type). Choosing a Psychic is a tough decision–I have always wavered between Hypno and Kadabra, for the former has less Brain but more solid overall stat.

Grass type clutters tightly at the middle of PC2, meaning that all of them are average in terms of Speed/Special. On the other extreme, Ground is mostly brawn and Psychic mostly brain (no surprise there).


Just to self-congratulate again on a well-picked team, this graph zooms in the Fire type, showing that Arcanine is the best of the lot (not counting the legendary Moltres).


And lastly, don’t start with Squirtle, kids.pokemonstarter


Today my blog got 500+ views and 300+ visitors–the highest since its conception despite the fact that I have not written anything much lately…

I’m genuinely curious… Did someone publicize my SAT Tieng Viet post? Most of the clicks are coming from Vietnam to see that post. Since it’s still morning over there, I hope people are still coming and, if you’re one, please let me know what brought you here.

You guys are making me feel really guilty about slacking off 😀 Even more so since I made bold claims of a glorious come back in the last entry, which has been collecting dust for 4 months itself.

EDIT: Okay, so the number of views has gone up to over 1000 and climbing, and new visitors at 500+. Could anyone please tell me what is going on?

… when WordPress brings back its snow theme, and I accordingly change the blog background to my favorite black and post Yiruma’s Falling 🙂

Ah – how lovely are rituals! Isn’t recurrence so comforting?

Falling – Yiruma (Media file) (Piano sheet)
– give it 3 minutes of your full and calm attention. Does it not go so fine with the snow theme, by the way?

Good luck with finals 😉

Whereas it is tempting to join the effusive chorus of eulogy for Steve Jobs, one cannot be taken aback by the degree of saintliness people attribute to this man these days.

Please excuse my (non-trivial) carping, but it is not “Jobs’ technology” — the true electronics genius behind Apple’s product is Steve Wozniak, the other co-founder of Apple, who is utterly unknown to the general public yet ardently revered among computer specialists. Steve Jobs is a brilliant salesman — this only an ignoramus can dispute — yet it is equally ill-informed to laud him to this godly degree, as if he were the sole source of Apple’s success.

Furthermore — what about Apple’s success? Is it even so laudable? Dennis Ritchie — the inventor of C programming language and the godfather of modern programming — died today without an iota of public recognition. Bill Gates — who dedicates his life to eradicate malaria and rescue America’s public school system — is never regarded with the same awe and reverence as the saintly Steve Jobs commands. (“Bill Gates? He’s a rich guy” — that’s all we think.)

Why is that? Because Apple’s products “transform” our lives? How much of a consumerist (dare I say, hedonist?) have we become to regard a consumer product as “transforming”, as “revolutionary”, while philanthropic work and basic science research are not held with commensurate esteem? How saddening it is that we now hold iPod dearer than public service, and iPhone cooler than the basic research that makes it possible in the first place.

(Not to mention that Steve Jobs’ career is pretty much a series of dick moves. In their early, poor, college-drop-out days, Jobs got $5,000 for developing a game, paid Wozniak $375 to do it, and kept the rest secret from his “friend.” He cancelled all Apple’s philanthropic works as soon as he assumed leadership. And he jumped the line for his liver transplant thanks to his stand-by private jet, which allowed him to register in multiple states. The loophole has since been closed.)

Am I a nitpicking alarmist? Perhaps. (Really, I don’t think so 😀 — that’s just soothing rhetoric). Steve Jobs himself is not even the issue, but only a case to demonstrate the rage-inducing gullibility of the public. (Sure enough, he is a great strategist and presenter–that fact is in no way tarnished by the farce of mindless reverence everyone heaps on him now.)

I guess misguidedness just irritates me. A lot.

This blog, despite my having not a clue what it is meant to be, is certainly meant to not be a place to just share cute links and leave it at that. That’s not much of a contribution, is it? And, if the world before and after the existence of a post remains absolutely unchanged, then what would be the point of its existing?

Yet perhaps you dear readers must bear with the recent influx of “mindless” sharing for a while here. It is partly because I am devoting all my time to finish my research (LIE!), and thus cannot concoct much ingenious thoughts. But mostly it is because I need to post this thing here to assuage my sudden insecurity regarding a life of Ph.D. and research. Ah, doubt! You are worse than pain and sadness.

Anyhow, please disregard my rant. The presentation below is so clever regardless. Quite heroic, too.


Matthew Might, a computer science professor at the University of Utah, writes: “Every fall, I explain to a fresh batch of Ph.D. students what a Ph.D. is. It’s hard to describe it in words. So, I use pictures.” Here it goes. (Link to the original).

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a specialty:

A master’s degree deepens that specialty:

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And, that dent you’ve made is called a Ph.D.:

Of course, the world looks different to you now:

So, don’t forget the bigger picture:

Keep pushing.

Here is an illuminating NY Times opinion piece on introversion, titled “Shyness: An Evolutionary Tactic?” The multitude of scientific studies mentioned in the piece nicely complement the literary finesse of “Caring for your introvert.”

Before everyone cringes at the article for its seemingly stereotypical perspective, it is important to note that there are always exceptions to the rule. Surely enough, I myself know a lot of brilliant extroverts and equally many lazy, amateurish introverts (me?). However, exceptions do not negate the rule, but prove it. Our “personal” experience carries little weight against the general pattern  discovered by large-scale studies like these. To say that, “But I know just a genius yet is very social” is no more a counter argument than to say that, “But my grandpa smokes a lot yet does not have lung cancer.” That, we must be reminded, proves nothing.


Both extrovert (rover, or risk-taker) and introvert (sitter, or heed-taker) are crucial to our evolutionary survival.

IN an illustrative experiment, David Sloan Wilson, a Binghamton evolutionary biologist, dropped metal traps into a pond of pumpkinseed sunfish. The “rover” fish couldn’t help but investigate — and were immediately caught. But the “sitter” fish stayed back, making it impossible for Professor Wilson to capture them. Had Professor Wilson’s traps posed a real threat, only the sitters would have survived. But had the sitters taken Zoloft and become more like bold rovers, the entire family of pumpkinseed sunfish would have been wiped out. “Anxiety” about the trap saved the fishes’ lives.

Next, Professor Wilson used fishing nets to catch both types of fish; when he carried them back to his lab, he noted that the rovers quickly acclimated to their new environment and started eating a full five days earlier than their sitter brethren. In this situation, the rovers were the likely survivors. “There is no single best … [animal] personality,” Professor Wilson concludes in his book, “Evolution for Everyone,” “but rather a diversity of personalities maintained by natural selection.”

As introverts have always secretly believed, they do better in school…

Once they reach school age, many sitter children use such traits to great effect. Introverts, who tend to digest information thoroughly, stay on task, and work accurately, earn disproportionate numbers of National Merit Scholarship finalist positions and Phi Beta Kappa keys, according to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, a research arm for the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator — even though their I.Q. scores are no higher than those of extroverts. Another study, by the psychologists Eric Rolfhus and Philip Ackerman, tested 141 college students’ knowledge of 20 different subjects, from art to astronomy to statistics, and found that the introverts knew more than the extroverts about 19 subjects — presumably, the researchers concluded, because the more time people spend socializing, the less time they have for learning.

… and are also more creative:

THE psychologist Gregory Feist found that many of the most creative people in a range of fields are introverts who are comfortable working in solitary conditions in which they can focus attention inward. Steve Wozniak, the engineer who founded Apple with Steve Jobs, is a prime example: Mr. Wozniak describes his creative process as an exercise in solitude. “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me,” he writes in “iWoz,” his autobiography. “They’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone … Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Plus, contrary to what is popularly believed (by introverts themselves), they are not inferior leaders either. (Whether people recognize that is, of course, another issue.)

Another advantage sitters bring to leadership is a willingness to listen to and implement other people’s ideas. A groundbreaking study led by the Wharton management professor Adam Grant, to be published this month in The Academy of Management Journal, found that introverts outperform extroverts when leading teams of proactive workers — the kinds of employees who take initiative and are disposed to dream up better ways of doing things. Professor Grant notes that business self-help guides often suggest that introverted leaders practice their communication skills and smile more. But, he told me, it may be extrovert leaders who need to change, to listen more and say less.

And finally, let’s be clear that, objectively speaking, all personality traits just are what they are. To indicate which one is better necessarily presupposes a personal preference. If you enjoy being in a lot of relationships (or a lot of accidents), for example, then being an extrovert is clearly the right choice. But, meanwhile, some people just don’t.

Relaxed and exploratory, the rovers have fun, make friends and will take risks, both rewarding and dangerous ones, as they grow. According to Daniel Nettle, a Newcastle University evolutionary psychologist, extroverts are more likely than introverts to be hospitalized as a result of an injury, have affairs (men) and change relationships (women). One study of bus drivers even found that accidents are more likely to occur when extroverts are at the wheel.

So, if you are in search of a steady relationship, go find an introvert now available in a bookstore near you! (Go quick, before the pharmaceutical industry and the psychiatrist community convince everyone that introversion is pathologic–just like what they did to homosexuality in the last century.)

What would the world would look like if all our sitters chose to medicate themselves? The day may come when we have pills that “cure” shyness and turn introverts into social butterflies — without the side effects and other drawbacks of today’s medications. (A recent study suggests that today’s S.S.R.I.’s not only relieve social anxiety but also induce extroverted behavior.) The day may come — and might be here already — when people are as comfortable changing their psyches as the color of their hair. If we continue to confuse shyness with sickness, we may find ourselves in a world of all rovers and no sitters, of all yang and no yin.