Student Directed Seminar: the application

Two months after the initial post, which outlines what SDS is and what my general ideas are, and two months closer to the deadline of May 16th, it’s time to come back to this endeavor and get to the specifics.

So let’s print this application out and answer them questions yeah?

Coordinator Application Form

Course Details

Title of proposed course:

(really tentative) Real projects: from the making to the launching

Coordinator Details


I chose my English name when I was 5 )



Academic Year (as of September 200 8)



me by first name


me after 6pm (cuz then it’s free!)



Student Number:


Co-Coordinator(s) name(s):

(if applicable)

Still looking for the special one

Faculty Sponsor Details

Faculty Sponsor Name:

(please indicate whether they are secured or not)

Target: George!




Science/Computer science


him by first name too


if you don’t know the number you probably shouldn’t have the number


preferred by most comp sci ppl

Ok that wasn’t too bad… wait, there’s a 2nd page:

Open-Ended Questions


What qualities/skills do you possess that would make you a good SDS Coordinator?

Time management, project management, general charisma and


How did you acquire an interest in the subject area of your proposed SDS?

Interest in developing computer projects since first year brought about the ttb project, and through out its development I realized there are many things that were required but not taught, from website design, management, and scripting to launching a marketable product and user servicing


What do you expect to learn during your seminar, both in terms of subject content and the experience?

I hope to learn technical skills important for a project in workshops as well as ideas and philosophies from successful comp sci developers. Heck, I might send Steve Chen an invitation.

Experience-wise, I have no doubt that coordinating something that I have active passion about will strengthen my technical skill-set, enhance my communication skills, and open new grounds in project development


What do you expect the students taking your proposed SDS will learn from the experience?

How much everyone learns from this seminar would depend on how much he or she puts into it, in terms of time, interest, and energy. More specifically, for example, a student who actively seeks out presenters for the seminar would likely benefit from the process in ways that the remainder of the class would not


Have you had any experience as an activity/class coordinator? PLEASE BE SPECIFIC concerning dates, places, description of your role, etc.

UBC SCI Team, Comp Sci trimentoring representative, TTB founder


Do you foresee any challenges as a course coordinator/facilitator?

Cannot find suitable workshop facilitators for topics we’re interested in (eg. what if we can’t find a PHP guy?) or inspirational speakers (what if Steve is too busy?)


How do you foresee yourself overcoming these challenges as a course coordinator/facilitator?

We would plan ahead, start gathering names as early as this summer. We could also look for students who have experience in a particular topic. If Steve is too busy, we would try other people (who are perhaps more local).


Have you taken an SDS before? If yes, which course and when did you take it. What challenges, if any, did you encounter as a student in the course? What would you do as a coordinator to avoid these challenges?



Is there anything you would like the selection committee to consider when reviewing your application?

Enough about myself.

Course Proposal

  1. Course Content

· What is the focus of the course?

Technical: skills that are important or useful for a typical computer project that can be learned quickly (in a tutorial session or two). These might include: graphic design using Photoshop, database management with MySQL, scripting in PHP and HTML forms, security issues, website hosting, etc

Business: things to know in general when a project is ready for launch, or getting the inspiration to do it

· Who might be interested in the course?

Students who are interested in learning quickly applicable computer skills or the business side of computer projects

· What are the requirements of the course?

A great deal of interest and a good amount of time 🙂

· Will interested registrants need to submit prerequisites, certain grades, or an expression of interest?

Expression of interest and description of some relevant experiences (unless of course I know the registrants well enough. Then they just have to bring me chocolate. j/k!!!)

· Do you think a department will be willing to provide you a course number? If so, which department?

Totally man, department of comp sci ROCKS MY WORLD.

  1. Course Structure/Format

· How often will the course meet?

How about 1.5 hours a week? That makes about 15 sessions.

· What role will the coordinator take vs. other participants? Will everyone have a chance to lead or facilitate a class?

Coordinators would meet throughout the summer to plan out about 6 sessions of the course, so that the course would not stall at the start. Participants and coordinators would then discuss what topics to cover and who to contact – and everyone would have a similar role. Opportunities to facilitate a class depends on the participants’ experience and interest, so it’s not exclusive to the coordinators.

· How do you see the structure of the class? (e.g. lecture, seminar, discussion group, films, field trips, etc.)

The technical sessions would be done in workshops in which participants bring computers with relevant tools installed. Non-technical sessions would depend on the presenters, but we will try to keep a Q&A period.

· Will the class include guest lecturers? Discussions of readings? Debates? Case studies?

Guest lecturers and case studies sounds like good ideas, thanks 🙂

  1. Course Requirements and Evaluation

· What are the assignments?

How about the person who organized a technical session design the assignment for that session? The assignment can be a quick application of the skill learned (write a short script, etc)

· What form will the assignments take? (e.g. collaborative research projects, class presentations, essays). Keep in mind that SDS are 4th year classes and assignments should be at the 4th year level.

How’s this question different from the above? Fine, add “at the 4th year level” after my last sentence.

· How will the assignments be evaluated? (e.g. by faculty sponsor, peer evaluated, through an expert in the field)

Peer evaluation.

· What other criteria will students be marked on? (e.g. participation, facilitation of a class etc.)

Facilitation or organizing a session can be a bonus mark?

· How will you ensure your seminar is sufficiently academically rigorous?

By covering academically rigorous topics. (will consult faculty advisor)

Remember that the course is an exploration with other students and a democratic process. Be prepared for changes to this section during your initial class meetings. It is vital to get the course marking scheme and criteria for assessment finalized with the class before the UBC course withdrawal date.


  1. Rationale for why this course should be offered at UBC

· Why would you like to see this course offered at UBC?

Cuz it would satisfy students’ need to learn applicable computer skills, and apply them somewhere.

· Will there be a demand for this course?

I sure hope so.

  1. Qualifications of the coordinator(s)

· Please include: Year, program of study, related work/volunteer experience, academically related courses, why you are passionate about this subject and what you hope to learn from this experience.

I did that already.

(That took 2 hours ladies and gentlemen… please pardon my increasing brevity.)


What I got from Entrepreneurship in Science

Once again, SCI Team put on a successful event. This time, Entrepreneurship in Science.

Keynote by Dr. Ali Tehrani was animated, engaging, inspiring, and at places, controversial.
Questions were raised regarding his claim:

decide now, what you want to be: a 9-5 person, or a 5-9 person? Do you want to be a family person, or a career person? Because you can only be one or the other. It’s a choice, not a judgment. And don’t fool to yourself that you can do both, because you can’t.

His other points worth noting:

When everyone looks this way, entrepreneurs looks the other way. Biofuels is hot now, but it won’t be hot in a year. It would be gone. (The biofuel mentor invited at the event may have felt insulted.) That’s why everyone is selling out. Everyone’s leaving, to find their next thing. Get in early, and get out while it’s hot.

Find people who share your dream for your company, but you have to sell your dream first. Let them see what your dream is, and make them want to be a part of it. So you must dream big, to get your team excited. It’s 6pm, and as I speak, half of my team is still working. Not because I make them, but because they share my dream. My passion.

Entrepreneurship is about sacrifice. It’s hard work. I work 70hr weeks, and I love it. If I don’t do what I do, I will be “itchy” all the time. I’m not married. I don’t have time for a serious relationship, because it would be unfair to my partner. What am I gonna be, a 2-hr husband?

Just to insert a little blob here about Ali’s company Zymeworks: it’s a company that uses computer algorithms to simulate molecular interactions such as protein folding and enzyme substrate binding to produce molecules for industries such as pulp and paper and pharmaceuticals. As a double major in pharmacology and computer science, my reactions to learning about Zymeworks can be imagined.

Mentors invited also provided very nice insight. I didn’t know Professor Donald Acton from Computer Science was also an entrepreneur until I was introduced as such, and I was surprised by how much real business experience he has and is willing to share. Importance of company structure (incorporate your company if you are serious about it), and getting professional advises from a good accountant (“we actually interviewed several accountants”).

Also talked to a long-time Shad friend Daniel Dent, who founded OmegaSphere in high school (which is providing me with web hosting and awesome customer support for our project), and we talked about his plan to expand his business.

And my plan to start mine: TimetableBuilder (TTB). In a nutshell, we aim to improve the course selection process at UBC, which currently requires students to select the right sections manually. TTB allows students to simply name the courses they want to take – and optionally, what time they want to take them, whether they want extra days off, etc. – and produce timetables that suit their needs.

We brainstormed some business models that are interesting, but I don’t think I like:

  1. Auction the best timetables – users who place the highest bid can be guaranteed registration into that timetable. I can immediately see how UBC would not like this.
  2. Subscribe users to a mailing list, and spam them. That’s not my style.
  3. Donations – this will never put money on the table.
  4. Ads on the website – again, this will not put money on the table, and it’s ugly.

The best business model that I have in mind, is still this: incorporate our program into UBC’s registration system, charging UBC in the same way WebCT charges UBC. This benefits students because they won’t have to visit two websites (ours and UBC’s) to do their registration, and this benefits us because the hundreds of hours we spent will at least be compensated. And this gives us a good model for expanding to other universities.

Daniel Dent, being a businessman as he is, warns: the current registration system is not causing UBC problems, so they do not have a reason to spend money and upgrade to our more user-friendly service.

I thought about that for a while. And I can come up with a few reasons for UBC to support us:

  1. University support students’ entrepreneurial endeavor looks like a nice headline on Newspapers.
  2. If this project goes well, UBC will be its birthplace and a good parent.
  3. I don’t know how much UBC wants to be the university with the best registration system (for a while)?
  4. Hopefully student satisfaction counts for UBC.

That’s very well. Daniel Dent also warned: don’t work for the hours. That’s an easy trap to fall into. I’m sure the WebCT people don’t work for UBC by the hours.

Well, where TTB will go depends on how well it’s received when we launch it this summer. So all is just a big wild dream at the moment.


Google and my thing for comp sci

Just came back from a successful Industry Panel put on by Department of Comp Sci (which I helped poster, haha), and had some thoughts to write down.

  1. Google once again stole the show. This time by bringing with the bright panelist, a Google camping chair as the grand door prize.
  2. Telus, Accenture, IBM, HSBC, MDA, and Google all had wonderful things to share, and the questions and answers covered topics like the transition from technical developer to management, what job you can get with different level of education, how was their education applied in the work force, etc.
  3. Google has the most interesting structure. I will list a few things:
    1. 20% time. Every Google engineer spends 20% of their work time working on pretty much anything they like. It can be some other projects, or you can put your idea forth and push to create a new project. If the crazy idea didn’t work out, people would just say: neh, too bad. Better luck next time.
    2. PhDs, Masters, and Bachelors, unlike in other companies, are treated fairly equally. Obviously PhDs will have more expertise in some areas, so they tend to “gravitate” towards their area of expertise. But everyone work in a group, and people move around projects often. Those who have been on a project for the longest time become the leader of the project. It all depends on people’s skills, not their degrees.
    3. Google Internship is around 3 to 4 months, and a sure big plus on the resume for a full time Google position.
    4. Google screen resumes, do phone interviews, and then those who pass will be passed onto engineers for an in-person interview, at which stage the questions will be very technical. The engineers want someone good on their team, not someone with good marks or even their resume. The guy who came to speak said “yeah sure, I will ask you about your past experiences, but that would be like an icebreaker sort of thing.” This is quite unlike companies whose HR department does all the hiring. (Although GPA and resume is very important to get past the resume screening and phone interviews.)
  4. Also managed to steal a minute from the event organizer, whom I’ve happily worked with for 2 years, for some contacts for our Entrepreneurship in Science event. Yeah sure working for Google will be cool, but what would be cooler is to spin off and use those skills to start a super awesome company.

Now where do I come in to all of this?

What areas of comp sci am I strong in? What have I done that would land me an internship with Google?

How would my life science background be a help with this, what seems to be a whole different dimension?

That would be for me to reflect on 🙂

Commenting and Blog Traffic – an experiment

I will test the hypothesis that commenting on other people’s blogs increase visibility of, and thus increase traffic to, my own blog.


  1. For week one, I will not visit nor comment on any new blog.
  2. Week two, I will visit and comment on a post of 1 blog that I have not seen before every day.
  3. Week three, 2 blogs every day.
  4. Week four, 4 blogs everyday.
  5. Week five, back to 0 blog.
  6. Week six, still 0 blog.
  7. Average overall traffic to my blog for each week, and compare the average (and standard deviation, etc).

I chose to do this over the course of a week because there may be significant fluctuation in overall traffic throughout the week.

Week five and six is to show that how sustainable the traffic is after discontinued commenting.

I will read the post in entirety and write a meaningful, 2-line response to it. I will pick a post at random, using WordPress’ “random post” function. I will find which ever blog on that interest me. I don’t think there’s a “random blog” function 😦

More about this experiment on next Friday morning then!

Tags and Traffic experiment – 16hr mark

16 hours later, the morning after the Tag and Traffic experiment for North Americans, which I suspect is the major audience of WordPress blogs.

First, there is a dramatic 60-fold increase in the total traffic to my blog (See Figure)Figure 1.(lol, that sounds so much better than saying I went from 1 visit to 60)

But there has been no more traffic from the tag portal since the 2hr mark: 2 for Life, 1 for Politics, 1 for Blogging. I found a small flaw in the experimental design though, because there are three entries from me that are tagged with “blogging” along with the experimental post, and that traffic result may be “tainted”.

The decline in traffic from the Politics and Life tag portals suggests that most people read posts that are earlier in the pages, meaning they are more recently added. Few people read posts beyond page 2.

The lack of traffic from the lower ranking tags such as Christianity and Hip-hop suggest that people don’t even look for posts from the tag portal for these tags. For these topics, I suspect that people would visit their regulars instead of looking for new blogs, whereas people would look for new blogs for Politics to find supporters or enemies, and Life to read other people’s stories.

In terms of generating traffic, only Baking soda has one new visitor since the 2hr mark; that ties with Ecology, Politics at 1 visitor, and closely follows Life at 2 visitors.

This suggests that specific, obscure tags receive visits from a source different from the popular tags, and everything in the middle does not receive much visit at all.

P.S. Now that the posts on the tag portals are flushed to obscurity, I expect future traffic to these experimental posts would be from other sources.

P.P.S. If the total traffic to my experimental posts add up to only 6, where are all the visits from? Well, turns out I couldn’t resist telling a few friends about this blog, and I suspect they would account for much of the traffic. I sort of cheated and used a temporary homepage too, and people need to click on an extra link to get to my blog, and that also count as page views. And of course, the experiment itself attracts more traffic than any other posts.

Tags and Traffic experiment – 2hr mark

Two hours have passed since the experiment. Two visitors fell into the “Life” trap through the portal, and 1 visitor fell for “Politics”. Both of these are among the most popular tags.

An interesting thing is that another visitor fell for “Ecology”, but not through the /tag portal. Who knows where he stumbled across this post and wasted his 10 seconds.

My posts are moving rapidly off the more popular /tag charts: you need to go to page 6 to find the “Life” post, while the “Christianity”, “Google”, and “Israel” posts are still on page 1.  But they have not attracted any traffic so far.

I can’t even find my favorite tag: “baking soda”… I think that’s a lost cause.

Tags and Traffic experiment – a follow up

So, the first thing I noticed after implementing the Tags and Traffic experiment is that my blog got completely screwed up. An influx of 12 spam posts occupied my entire front page and my “recent posts” sidebar.

So I cleaned up my front page and left only this post to greet my visitors who would otherwise go “wth, spam attacked on the 3rd day!?” To read my other posts, try the “categories” or “tag cloud” sections in the side bar.

Oh well, no pain, no gain. I changed “___ is interesting” to “___ is an interesting thing”, in hope that it will sound more interesting. But I didn’t make the same change to “Israel” and “Christianity”, because that would sound rude.

The time is now 5:30pm. No clicks last time I checked. Game on.