Monday, 25 July 2016

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Totems

I watched “The Butterfly Effect” with my housemates yesterday. From a conventional perspective, it was one of the most poorly written movies I’ve ever watched. For a movie that was made in 2004, the cinematography is very dated and falls squarely in the trademark campiness of the mid-90s. However, I enjoyed it much more than I imagined I would, certainly much more than I could possibly have just a few years ago.

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Monday, 22 February 2016

The writing that got me into Stanford

It’s been such a long time since high school. At some point in my final year, the idea of getting into Stanford became my singular obsession. Even though I only first learned of the school a year earlier, everything I knew about it told me that it was the place where I needed to be. Having coasted my way semi-consciously through the mundane and uninspiring routines of secondary schooling back in Singapore, the idea of being part of an intellectual community had a magical allure that the romantic part of me could not resist.

Though I had no outstanding academic or athletic achievements, I had always fancied myself a bit of a writer. Thus began a month-long effort to craft the essay that could perfectly encapsulate what it meant to be me, trimmed to neatly fit within two pages. In my zealous search for purity, I sought and desired no feedback during the month I spent working on the essay. Looking back, I remain convinced that this tiny fragment of my insanity was probably what got me into Stanford.

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Thursday, 5 November 2015

Tim O’Reilly on the topic of Unicorns

A man breaking his journey between one place and another at a third place of no name, character, population or significance, sees a unicorn cross his path and disappear. That in itself is startling, but there are precedents for mystical encounters of various kinds, or to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy; until–“My God,” says a second man, “I must be dreaming, I thought I saw a unicorn.” At which point, a dimension is added that makes the experience as alarming as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds no further dimension but only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and the more witnesses there are the thinner it gets and the more reasonable it becomes until it is as thin as reality, the name we give to the common experience… “Look, look!” recites the crowd. “A horse with an arrow in its forehead! It must have been mistaken for a deer.

― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Too much noise in Silicon Valley

First published in The Stanford Daily.

Startups are often thought of as a risky business. We imagine founders to be fierce visionaries who can see a better future and are willing to bet on their personal success to realize it. They tread the thin line between genius and delusion and their ventures are constantly on the verge of utter failure right up to the moment they cross an invisible threshold and achieve the fabled “hockey stick” growth — the supposed mark of a scalable technology business. Then, at long last, comes the vindication and adulation. The risky bet pays off.

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Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bioshock Infinite

Video game’s place in history

When it comes to video games, there are good games and there are great games.

The good games provide entertainment. They are challenging but not unfair. They show you a hint of what is possible and then push you on to incrementally discover the joy of the player mechanics and the choreograph of simple components that give rise to complex interactions.

The great games, on the other hand, tell a story. They are the true masters of the medium. For them, gameplay is not just a fun diversion but the essence of reality presented in radically new forms. What we receive from them is not a primeval sense of achievement at having accomplished a task whose primary meaning is a function of the time we spend on it, but a different, artistic and insightful take on the deeper questions of our past, present and future.

In that, it can be said that a great game is merely literature, but literature in its broadest sense because written words alone are not how games convey their meanings. A great game, like any other work of literature, has the capacity to inspire the mind and touch the soul, but it does so in its own wondrous ways.

Without a doubt, Bioshock Infinite is widely acknowledged to be a great game. I personally would take a step further and say that it is a great work of literature–perhaps one of the greatest.
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Monday, 20 July 2015

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Why I made Image to Brick

A few weeks ago, I was cruising the Reddit procrastination superhighway when I stumbled upon Legoizer, a web application to convert uploaded images to a mosaic constructed out of LEGO bricks. It’s such a simple and beautiful idea that I was surprised to find out that it took some long for someone to finally build it. After playing around with it, I decided that I really wanted to recreate the Great Wave off Kanagawa in LEGO. But before I do that, there were a few limitations of Legoizer I had to overcome.

Therefore, I set out to create my own LEGO mosaic generator with the options I need. The result, Image to Brick, can be seen at www.tobrick.com.

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Monday, 22 September 2014

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Microsoft and our virtual future

First published in The Stanford Daily.

Microsoft is buying a small game studio called Mojang for 2.5 billion dollars. Mojang is a small company with fewer than 50 employees, but they are the people behind the popular exploration and building game “Minecraft.” This is a good chunk of money — more than what Google paid for YouTube back in 2006, even adjusted for inflation. It is also more than a third of the price that Microsoft itself paid for Nokia’s devices business. “Minecraft” is an extremely popular and successful game, but is it worth that much?

As investors try to come to terms with the announcement, analysts are quick to point out that the game’s popularity on consoles and mobile devices will give Microsoft a useful asset for its faltering mobile strategy and its Xbox division, which began the new console generation behind its Sony rival.

Here is a subtler explanation.

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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Dota 2: The face of professional gaming

First published in The Stanford Daily.

Just over a week ago, history was made when a team of five young Chinese men left Seattle with $5 million in winnings. The game they were playing was not poker but “Dota 2,” a multiplayer online game made by the Bellevue-based gaming company Valve. This year’s annual “Dota 2” Internationals tournament, the fourth one since its creation, presented the largest prize pool ever seen in professional gaming – a total of $10.9 million. ESPN covered the matches and it seemed like every media outlet was trying to get in on the story, if only as a human interest piece. There is a sense that we are entering new uncharted territories.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Transhumanist Wager is a terrible book

I regret paying for The Transhumanist Wager on Kindle. It has worse writing than a Dan Brown novel and its handling of the philosophical discussion is no more insightful than if you threw a bunch of words like “artificial intelligence” and “cryonics” into a bag, let a monkey pick them out at random, and then edit for some (but not all) grammar. After seeing the writer Zoltan Istvan going onto TechCrunch to peddle his book in the comment section (writing in third person), I wonder how many of the 5-star Amazon reviews are amazed by the book because they have literally never read a real science fiction novel in their lives, how many of them are the writer’s alter egos, and how many of them are really minimum wage workers in some third-world country paid to sell a poor repackaged version of Atlas Shrugged.

Friday, 9 May 2014

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Ukraine: A question of history

First published in The Stanford Daily.

Be it the devout crusaders whose convictions grew from absolute faith, the American G.I. who died on a beach in France for the patriotic ideals of freedom and democracy or a science fiction writer who cynically set out to become rich by manufacturing a cult of fawning worshippers — every actor in history believes in some version of reality in which his actions are justified to the extent that right and wrong exist. It is only right, then, that the unbelievers be put to death for the glory of the rightful God. It is only right for good to triumph over evil. It is only fair for the intelligent to exploit the gullible and weak.

Assuming that the historical past is fixed and not fluid — and moreover, that in the presence of all relevant facts we somehow at long last arrive at a common definition of moral ethics — then somewhere in the complex history of Ukraine and Russia exist a set of facts that can tell us what is “right” and “wrong” in an escalating conflict between two distinct interpretations of the Ukrainian soul. Unfortunately, the past will always remain opaque to us.

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