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James Tam: A bit about me

 
I've been working as a full time faculty member for the Computer Science department since August 2001. During a part of that time I was completing my graduate degree and before that I was an undergraduate student at this department. Also I was seconded twice for two four month work terms in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar at the UCQ. Here's a UToday university news article about my experiences. In addition to science I completed an undergraduate degree in business with concentrations in Marketing and Human Resources. Outside of work and school I have a number of other passions and interests some of which are listed below.  
  One of the finer moments in life, meeting James DeMile (from the movie "Return of the Dragon" and one of Bruce Lee's original students) in his Seattle martial arts school.

 

Video and computer games

  Although I don't have nearly as much time as I used to indulge in this particular vice (which is probably a good thing!) I still periodically enjoy playing well written and thought out games.  Some of my all-time favorites include:
     
  The Pool of Radiance. (I am referring to the original version by SSI and not the remake which I've haven't tried yet).  Even though its technical capabilities are quite dated by today's standards it's one of the games in my collection with the most replay value.  I'll never forget the time that the skeletal hands come out of the ground in the Valhingen Graveyard.  
     
  Dungeon Master (and the sequel: Chaos Strikes Back).   It was the first game that every really made you feel like it was actually you rather than some computer generated character that was exploring the dungeon.  Hearing the sound of the party as it fell down a pit would raise the hackles on the back of my neck.  
     
  The Rise of the Dragon.  I found the comic book style graphics were very good at immersing you in this gritty view of a future Los Angeles.  
     
  Hired Guns: One of the first games that allowed for multiple players to cooperatively or individually explore the world.  The truly amazing thing was this was done without a network and without an Internet connection, just one computer, one monitor and up to four simultaneous players.  
     
  Drakkhen: Draconian.  Although primitive by today's standards, at the time the graphics and sound were absolutely amazing.  It was the first game that I would stop every so often just to listen to the music in the pub or watch the sun set.  
     
  The Birth of the Federation.  It's the only Trek game that really captures the feel of large scale fleet combat and the strategic management of an empire or federation.  
     
  The Wing Commander Series (I - V).  Throughout it's life the series underwent more changes than any other.  The first game was drawn using VGA graphics and only 256 colors but was often cited as one of the strongest motivators for the sales of 80386 processors.  The third, fourth and fifth in the series were among the best of it's kind in utilizing video sequences of the quality found in big budget Hollywood movies (it was amazing that they managed to get Mark Hamill from Star Wars to play the lead role in two of the games).  
     
  Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries. I actually knew very little about FASA's futuristic universe until I started playing the game but almost immediately I was hooked.  One of the most memorable missions was the first time that my lance tangled with the omni mechs of the clans.   (The mission not over???!!!..not by a long shot merc.).  
     
  Silent Hill 3.  Silent Hill has a surprising amount of substance for a just video game, the designers admit to being inspired by a diverse number of sources that include: movies such as: 'Jacob's Ladder' and 'The Cell', the works of Stephen King and David Cronenberg, the mythology and beliefs of native Americans, Edvard Munch’s 'The Scream' and astoundingly even the theories of Freud, Jung and Francis Bacon.  Until playing this game I never truly understood when people said that they were more afraid of the monsters that you couldn't see.  The game designers managed to do this without relying extensively on obvious cliques such as the "Oh-no-a-monster-suddenly-popped-out from-no-where" (i.e. so-called jump scares).s  Instead it gets under your skin in a deeper and more subtle fashion that manages to stay with you for a long time afterwards.  I think that one of the contributors at horrorwatch.com put it best put it when they described Silent Hill in the following fashion "The game plays to and exploits nearly every base instinct and fear there is, fear of the dark, fear of what hides just beyond the light, fear of what cannot be seen, fear of enclosed spaces, fear of being buried alive and yes, even fear of fear. "  I've definitely got high hopes for the movie that's coming out.  
     

Creativity

  Although I would definitely not count myself as an artist, which you can probably ascertain with just one look at my drawings :-), sometimes outside of work, training and video games I sometimes like to exert my more creative side by playing the lion dance drum (as well dancing the lion head) or through informal sketches.
     
  Lion Dance  
    The lion dance is an integral part of the martial arts of Southern China.  In the past it was performed by the most advanced students in the class because the stances and movements of the lion dance requires that the student is already so proficient in the basic techniques of the martial arts style that they have already become second nature.  Although I haven't performed the dance for a few years it used to be something that I did on a regular basis.  At the martial arts school, The Jing Wo Martial Arts and Athletics Association, where I learned the Lion Dance and Wing Chun my student from many, many years ago Desmond Lee is now teaching one of the classes.
 
    You might want to turn the volume before playing the video. Also if the video does not play your browser, try Internet Explorer instead.  
       
  Textures in different chess sets:    
         
    Ivory chess set  
         
    Ice chess set (in retrospect I think that it looks more like Jell-O)  
         
    Wooden chess set  
         
  Technical drawings (the 'dreaded iron series' - if you ever tried to draw it you'll know why it's so dreaded):    
         
    Original schematic  
         
    Mirrored cutaway view  
         
    Exploded view of the iron  
         
  Upside down drawings (named so because that's the way that they were actually drawn!):    
         
    A sultan  
         
    My rendition of Picasso's "Portrait of Igor Stravinsky"  
  Some of the more formally organized projects that I've been privileged enough to be involved with include:    
         
     
         
 
  • Acting in the 1999 stage production (University Theater) of The Wizard of OS (Operating System) for which I ended up with three roles: a bouncer/thug, an evil computer virus (there was a good virus in the play too!) and a binary tree which I must say gave me an extremely diverse perspective of how things were run.
 
         

Martial arts

  Although I've trained in different styles of martial arts (Kendo, Shaolin, Kyushindo Budo, Yang style Tai Chi) I've mostly focused on Wing Chun.  By one account this style was developed by two women: the Buddhist nun Ng Mui and Yim Wing Chun specifically for people with slighter builds (e.g., women or slight men).  The techniques rely more on finesse and speed rather than building strength.  It's most famous practitioner was the late Bruce Lee - although he went beyond the bounds and limitations of any particular style or mindset it was the first major style that he trained in and according to his most famous senior student Dan Inosanto 50% of Jeet Kune Do (Bruce's new style/philosophy) was founded in Wing Chun.
       
  Unlike most martial arts Wing Chun techniques are embodied in a very small set of forms:
       
  Sil Nim Tao ("The Little Idea"): Focuses on the fundamental hand techniques and moving on side of the body independently of the other as well as in tandem.   
     
  Chum Kui ("Sinking bridges"): Learning how to absorb an opposing force by yielding to it (sinking).  Also it focuses on learning how to apply the rotary power from the hips in order to supplement the techniques from the previous form.  While the sinking motion can be straight forward like the low block that I've executed with my left arm in the thumbnail to the right it can be a more subtle yet complex technique involving a combination of absorbing the attack while apparently moving yourself directly into the attack.  
     
  Bui Gi ("Spearing fingers"): Focuses heavily on defense through offensive techniques such as the right hand finger jab shown in the thumbnail.  
     
  Lok Dim Boon Gwun ("Six and half point staff"):  This form consists of six and a half techniques that are practiced repeatedly on the Wing Chun Staff.  Although the original benefit of the training was self defense, now it's practiced more for the strength building and control that the practice provides (now-a-days very few people would carry around an eight foot staff for self defense).  
     
  Mok Yun Jawng ("The Wooden man"):  Although part of the reason for training on the practice dummy is to condition the hands and arms (striking the hardwood tends to toughen them up), the main benefit is to learn and to reinforce proper positioning for the Wing Chun techniques.  Because this style relies on speed and short distances, a small fraction of an inch can mean the difference between getting hit or successfully defending against an attack. Here is a video snippet of me training with the wooden man:
 
 
         
  Wooden man form: Windows Media video (for IE)   Wooden man form: Quick time video (if WMV video does not play)  
     
  Bawt Jaam Do ("Eight technique knife"): The emphasis is on muscle conditioning by applying the techniques (with a rather heavy set of steel blades shown to the right).  I've found that using the blades isn't hard but applying the knife techniques with the proper control is a pretty fair workout on the forearms.    
     
  Extra to the forms: Saw Bao Kune ("Sand bag form"): Although this form is not of the original six Wing Chun forms it is one of my favorite because it epitomizes the greatest strength of this style, simultaneous attack and defense.  
     

My foster child: Naidud Daza Diaz

 
I started sponsoring Naidud in Colombia when I was still an undergrad student in Computer Science and this is what she looked like then and now:
   
             
         
    My first picture from Naidud in Colombia   Naidud today!    
             
  Although it was tough to initially budget for (you won't get rich working as an undergrad TA but I figured that the 30 bucks or so that it cost me per month to sponsor her only equated to 6 cafeteria lunches or 1 cheap video game! so it really wasn't so bad).   Every day that I see her adorable little face in the picture on my desk by my workstation makes me glad that I decided to become a Foster Parent Plan sponsor and I've never regretted it since then.