Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sarah Chang plays Shostakovich 張永宙演奏蕭斯達高維契

張永宙 Sarah Chang,神童,韓裔美少女,小提琴獨奏家,3歲學小提琴,5歲入Juilliard,8歲與著名交響樂團公開演出,9歲灌錄第一張唱片;不過這全都是昨天的新聞。今晚 (5月27日),她和香港管弦樂團合作,在大會堂演奏蕭斯達高維契的第一小提琴協奏曲 Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No.1。

這首樂曲非常艱深,我認為其剛陽的風格對女士是一項挑戰,但 Sarah Chang 選奏這曲,自然充滿自信。先說音色,她拉琴雄渾有力,於第一樂章的慢板旋律表露無遺,深厚的音色,即使在加了弱音器的片段仍可感覺到其威力。第三樂章是此曲的神韻,一段段 Passacaglia 的變奏最後引入極其艱深複雜的華彩樂段,充分表現小提琴獨奏的技巧。

下半場仍然是俄羅斯音樂,是史達拉汶斯基的彼得羅斯卡 Stravinsky's Petrushka。這是史達拉汶斯基繼火鳥之後另一套芭蕾舞劇音樂,這套劇描述木偶 Petrushka 在木偶劇團的遭遇,被劇團主人殺死,最後其鬼魂回來。史達拉汶斯基把俄羅斯節奏的豐富色彩盡納於此芭蕾舞曲之中,聆聽全套組曲,舞劇情節和場景都可以感受得到。

Aging population

The aging problem is a big issue being more and more recognized and put on the agenda of many countries. It may not affect the civil servants of this generation but will affect the progress of mankind. Mckinsey Quarterly ran several articles in its May 2005 issue on the economic impact of the aging population. They can be read at Here is a short extract:

By 2025, one in five Europeans will be more than 65 years old, up from 16 percent in 2002. Across the continent, the number of working-age citizens will stagnate or shrink while the number of retirees explodes. As a result, household financial wealth, which had enjoyed steady, healthy growth during past decades, will slow drastically over the next 20 years. The slowdown will leave households in three of Europe's biggest economies with a total of more than $4 trillion less than they would have accumulated. Around the world, the picture is similar. If left unchecked, the slowdown in savings and in the accumulation of financial assets by Europe's wealthiest countries could depress investment and economic growth, causing living standards to rise much more slowly. But the economic impact of aging populations could be blunted by raising the savings rates of governments and households and by increasing the returns earned on their savings. These challenges require tough choices today but could ease the pain in the future.

I recall that CS recently addressed this issue and asked whether the policy of family planning should be changed to encouraging families to have three children.

I have a pessimistic view on this subject. I think the root of the problem is the overall unchecked growth of human population to the extent that the earth cannot sustain it. Several decades ago, there were outcries that the birth rate must be checked. Many countries have the one-child policy. How come the situation is reversed on the face of economy instead of eco-sustainability? The economic problem arising from the aging population is of our own making. The measures to raise the saving rates and increase the returns on savings are very limited. Having more children in the next generation will aggravate the problem many folds in the next next generation. The burden of the aged will have to be borne until there is a change in demographics. To achieve equilibrium, mankind needs to wait until the aged generation passed away gracefully, on condition that the younger generation will be smaller instead of much larger. Then the demographics will show a larger proportion of the earning working age. My pessimistic view is that this will not happen without pain. Short-sighted politicians and economists will push for growth until the economy and the eco-system collapse. Then there will be a catastrophic adjustment. There are many examples in ancient history. We could only hope mankind could survive the change.

More on EGRIN problem

There are different layers of problem on EGRIN. The most obvious one is the quiet EGRIN discussion forum. We can ask what for, and if it is not delivering, why not just scrap it. Still we need to have a better alternative.

Another layer is the entire EGRIN platform which aims at solving a bigger problem: the communication among EOs, not just on the specific post-related matters but as a member of the grade. This requirement has been noted and pursued from the beginning of time. We are proud of the result in the form of the tight network of EOs, fellow EOs, and the backbone of the civil service. However, the modern knowledge-based society and the fast pace of IT networking make the old way fast becoming obsolete. The paper network, grapevine network and one-to-one telephone network are being replaced by the IT communication platform and this is a worldwide trend.

GGO did not lag behind too much and the EGRIN platform was created to address this. I must say EGRIN is quite successful in its role as an information dissemination centre of grade matters. It is still a step behind in elevating itself to an interactive and multi-channel information sharing centre. The EGRIN discussion forum is central to this important upgrade and is therefore worthy of nurturing.

GGO is not the only party to be blamed for the lack of two-way communication in EGRIN. There is also the culture of EOs -> civil servants -> Hong Kong citizens. But GGO has a leading role in promoting change, at least within her own house and within her capability. She is now trying, although IMHO the actions are not effective. There are many easy ways which she hasn't tried. I think one of the major barrier is the deep fear of GGO in getting her policies and actions challenged in public (not too public as EGRIN is a closed site). We all learned that the best way to clear misunderstanding is open communication. But fear is sometimes irrational.

The suggestion on the publication of Keep In Touch is excellent. Many modern publications have migrated to a website, and the mode of presentation changed from a plain 2D cold media to interactive information centre with multi-dimension links. This transition will be difficult for GGO, not because of the technology which can be easily outsourced, but because of the way content and information are managed. There is also the dilemma of opening up the site to the public, and retirees, in that order.

EGRIN problem

I pulled out the management tool book and analyzed our way to solve the EGRIN problem.

The first step I note is denial. We could just simply deny there is a problem. The quiet EGRIN discussion forum is a normal phenomenon which happens in any official forum. The chatting in eo_net is also a normal phenomenon of an informal forum. Luckily we have passed this initial stage, and are wondering how to generate, or kick-start, some mail traffic in EGRIN. We are also trying to generate more traffic on different subjects in eo_net.

The second stage is blaming others. We could think that all these problems occur because of the fault of others. For EGRIN, the first arrow is of course aimed at GGO. GGO also aims her arrows at all EOs who do not write in EGRIN. There are much worries arising from the fault of others. The most prominent one is that GGO will strike back if you say something bad. The root of this thinking stems from our innate fear of the superior power, kind of the survival instinct. There are two weak points to this argument. First, I cannot think of an EO writing something malicious in EGRIN. There may be discerning views. But EOs are skillful writers and we can always express different opinions in a nice, sensible and logical manner. Second, I haven't heard of any real case of GGO persecuting EOs for raising a different opinion. May be it is top secret. If anyone know any inside stories, we would like to hear them and exercise our judgment. So, I am thinking whether the GGO factor is just an illusion.

There are also diverging opinions on how to improve mail traffic. Some said we should write more and improve the quantity first and let quality emerges. Some said we should write less and let others have a chance to write, seems like a quota system to me. If we want to get pass the second stage, we need to get rid of the "others" element. Others have the freedom to do what they think right.

The third stage is blaming ourselves. I think this is a more difficult stage to overcome. Many members have blamed it to our cultural background, our education system, our slavery working environment. The bottom line is that many EOs are afraid to write, or speak, in public for various reasons. This may be a result of all the above factors which led to the present mental state of being indifferent, shy, fearful of losing face and losing security. I heard from some psychologists that the cure is to interact more with others through more work and life activities. Work should come first as the ability and willingness to express nicely a reasonable alternative opinion is a great help in career. Then it should be balanced by life activities, beware of the word balance which does not mean excessive, through communicating actively with family and friends and expressing yourselves. Thus eo_net is a good choice both in work life balance and as a platform of testing your writing, opinions and ideas. We are among friends and in particulars EOs who all share similar working experience.

The fourth and final stage is the real work of problem solving. I think we have done much on this. Surveys have been conducted by both GGO and eo_net. There are also many suggestions for improvement by the departmental secretaries, EGRIN consultative committee, EGRIN steering group. I have also written many times to GGO. For the fourth stage to materialize, the first three stages should first be addressed. GGO, as a bureaucracy, is always considering the suggestions to the end of time. Many big brothers have much experience on this. We now have a new management there, let's see if the bottle can pour out some new wine.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

HKU Museum 香港大學美術博物館







Monday, May 16, 2005

Feynman-Tufte Principle

I read an interesting article on the Feynman-Tufte Principle lately on the visual display of data. The full article can be found online at

The Feynman-Tufte Principle is invented by the author, incorporating views from Richard Feynman, the master of clear and concise thinking, and Edward Tufte, the master of clear and concise seeing.

Richard Feynman who passed away in February 1988 was one of the most influential American physicists of the 20th century, expanding greatly the theory of quantum electrodynamics. He participated in the Manhattan Project and helped in the development of the atomic bomb and was later a member of the panel which investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 For his work on quantum electrodynamics. He was also famous as an inspiring lecturer. Books on his lectures in CalTech on all aspects of Physics are best sellers. His well-known contribution was the method he developed, which is still used today, to calculate rates for electromagnetic and weak interaction particle processes. The famous Feynman Diagrams he introduced provide a convenient shorthand for the calculations. They are a code physicists use to talk to one another about their calculations. The following is an example illustrating the interaction between electrons and photons.

Edward Tufte is a professor of statistics, graphic design, and political economy at Yale University and an expert on the presentation of informational graphics, such as infographics, charts and graphs. His work is important in such fields as information design and visual literacy, which deal with the visual communication of information. Please see an example of his work on the graphic presentation of weather in Japan.

The connection between the two experts occurred when Tufte was invited to speak at CalTech. He asked to see the van of Feynman which had the Feynman Diagram painted on it. Both persons are experts in the presentation of information. In particular, Tufte has a strong feeling about the inadequacy of slideware. In one his books, he said “Slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis.”

The Feynman-Tufte Principle states that a visual display of data should be simple enough to fit on the side of a van. It refers to the Feynman Diagram which was painted on the side of Richard Feynman's van.

Tufte codified the design process into six principles on how to effectively convey ideas and information at a presentation. I think this may be interesting to managers who are frequently required to make PowerPoint presentations.

There are six principles:

1. Documenting the sources and characteristics of the data,

2. Insistently enforcing appropriate comparisons,

3. Demonstrating mechanisms of cause and effect,

4. Expressing those mechanisms quantitatively,

5. Recognizing the inherently multivariate nature of analytical problems,

6. Inspecting and evaluating alternative explanations.

In short, information displays should be documentary, comparative, causal and explanatory, quantified, multivariate, exploratory, skeptical.

These principles are easy said than done. I think they require in-depth research and deliberation on the subject matter. The basic requirement is that the presenter must have a good understanding of the issues and have considered them in different perspectives, before attempting to design the presentation.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

More Mendelssohn

2005年5月13日,香港管弦樂團在文化中心的音樂會演奏4首樂曲,分別是韋伯的《奧伯龍》序曲 Weber's Oberon Overture,孟德爾遜的小提琴協奏曲 Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto,夏布里耶的《西班牙》 Chabrier's Espana 和法雅的《三角帽》 Falla's Three-cornered Hat。音樂會就命名為孟德爾遜小提琴協奏曲,可知這曲就是音樂會精華所在。

這首孟德爾遜最著名的作品,大眾都耳熟能詳。此曲在1845年首演,160年來歷久不衰,是幾首最為人喜愛的小提琴協奏曲之一。這晚擔任獨奏的小提琴手是慧雲哈娜 Viviane Hagner。這位來自德國的小提琴神童,13歲就已成名。她現在已20多歲,不再叫神童,但她身材纖瘦,看起來仍然十分年輕。就這首小提琴協奏曲的優柔味道,她站出來已使人覺得人曲相配合。她拉琴的豐富而甜美的音色,加上超凡的技巧,使這晚上此曲的演繹有上乘的水準。


法雅是較新進的西班牙作曲家,在20世紀的初期,受印象派作曲家 Debussy 和 Ravel影響。三角帽是他其中一首代表作。作品用了很多西班牙舞曲形式,與夏布里耶比較,的確更為西班牙。雖然較難欣賞,但此曲在配器和音響效果上都有突破。

Sunday, May 8, 2005

Collapse of Chaos

The Collapse of Chaos
by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart
Sub-title: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World

Jack Cohen is a biologist and Ian Stewart is a mathematician. It is interesting to see the impact of chaos theory and complexity theory to their specialized areas. This book represents thoughts beyond the new science made popular by James Gleick in his far reaching book Chaos: Making a New Science, in which his description of Edward Lorenz's notion of Butterfly Effect dramatically altered the perception of many people from a orderly world to a chaotic world. The overwhelmingly numerous occurring phenomenon of chaos in nature was brought to the attention of the scientific circle. Chaos was found to be actually complexity beyond the comprehension of our mind but there is also naturally emerging simplicity out of the complexity. The collapse of chaos is the path of the development of our thinking from chaos/complexity towards simplicity. The opening of the book presents the intertwining phenomenon of complexity and simplicity.

The first half of the book is devoted to explaining the current reductionist paradigm by which cosmology, evolution and human intelligence are the consequences of lower level and simpler theories of quantum mechanics, chemistry and the genetic code. The content of the chapters on prevailing science is amazingly rich. It gives a concise and clear description of the foundation of modern science. Just these few chapters alone, before examining the authors' arguments on the collapse of chaos, make the money spent on the book worth.

On physics, it is Newton's laws of motion and gravity, Einstein's theory of relativity and also the basis of quantum mechanics, explaining in their own way the cosmos starting from the Big Bang and all the way down to atoms and sub-atomic matter.

On chemistry, it is Mendeleev's periodic table, supplemented by the explanation of electron shells, and also the versatility of the carbon atom which make up the complex hydrocarbon molecules: the origin of life.

On evolution, it's Darwin's natural selection, DNA and the genetic code, and in particular the interaction between genes and the environment.

These are strong illustrations of the complexity around us. The simple rules from our discovery of the laws of nature do not necessarily and adequately explain all the observed occurrences of natural phenomenon. We are therefore living in a chaotic world full of events we do not understand, but we choose to explain a very small proportion of the chanced events which happen to fit our perceived laws.

Science explains complexities as the interaction of a huge quantity of possibilities by finding simple causes which could produce a proportion of the predictable complex effects, and call them the laws of nature. The result is used to explain predicted large-scale simplicities observed, among the complexities. We think that the laws of nature represent the underlying simplicities, and therefore these simple causes produce simple effects, despite complexities involved. However, we ignore the reality that our laws also produce complexities which are not accordingly explainable.

Cohen and Stewart explain that reductionism, i.e. the use of reducing behavior to the interactions of the smallest entity, has brought forth great advances in biology, chemistry, and physics. They believe, however, that the potential of such scientific approach is exhausted.

Starting from the middle of the book, the authors expand the new science of chaos theory and complexity theory to show how inadequate our laws of nature in dealing with complexity which is all around us. Chaos theory, made popular by the butterfly effect on the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, shows that simple causes can produce complex unpredictable effects. Whereas complexity theory suggests the opposite, that complex causes can produce simple effects.

Here, there are two main features emerging from the style of the authors. First, owing to the biology background of Jack Cohen, there are detailed examples and explanations on the complexity of evolution, the embryological growth and the development of consciousness and intelligence. They are eye-openers. Second, the authors introduce a conversation between human: the spaceship crew, and the alien: inhabitants of another planet. The core of the conversation is the difference in culture and the laws of nature between lives in different world. It proposes that our world is not unique and life form in another world may be developed along a completely different path, including the atom composition and DNA composition. The conversation is quite inspiring and humorous. However, it attracted criticism from some reviewers who have expectation of more serious writing from a supposedly science book.

The interaction between simplicity and complexity gradually escapes the paradigm of reductionism and the authors introduce two new terms: simplexity and complicity.

Simplexity refers to the tendency of a simpler order to emerge from complexity. It is the emergence of large-scale simplicities as direct consequences of rules. It covers any features that emerge from sets of similar ground rules.

Complicity is a kind of interaction between co-evolving systems that supports a tendency toward complexity. It is more like convergent evolution: different sets of rules generating similar features. Both concepts of simplexity and complicity bring about a collapse of chaos.

The moral of the book is on the inadequacy of reductionism, building toward the two explanatory principles of simplexity and complicity. For example, one cannot simply map a lower level of organization, such as the DNA code, into a living organism. There is a dynamic in which both content and context are critical.