TIReD: A Personal Rating System

As the pandemic gives me a chance to look through my backlog of movies, shows, and books (read: anime and manga), I started to consider establishing a personal rating system to ease up writing (hypothetical) reviews.

Guiding Principles

Typical rating scales feature 10 or more levels, which is in my opinion way too wide a range to choose from, not to mention those featuring a 100-point-scales. Even the most common 5-star system gets cumbersome fast as soon as we take half-stars into consideration. What exactly differentiates a 6 from a 7 or a 4.6 from a 5.1? Higher granularity could be useful in aggregated ratings, but not so much from an individual reviewer's perspective. I much prefer the approach s1vote took: give the users fewer but more distinctive levels to pick from.

My anecdotal evidences show that most online ratings converge around the 70% mark, a rating just as safe and useless as predicting a 40% success rate for anything. In other words, the lower half of most rating scales are underutilized: how often would you rate something one-and-a-half-star instead of just one? Besides, more often than not, I read ratings and reviews to find out about good shows, not the bad ones. It should be sufficient to only focus on "the better half": why would I sit through the entirety of a bad show and take the effort to give it a rating anyways? There is no -1 star in Michelin Guide, is there?

Summarizing the quality of anything with a single metric seems unfair. I want the rating system to be more expressive, capable of conveying the different aspects of a show that I find enjoyable. At the very minimum, an opinionated pick should be distinct from something with a more general appeal.

Rating Methodology

Enter the TIReD scale! The following uses anime/tv shows as the example here, but much of this methodology also applies to other art forms. A show is scored in the following categories, with sum of points forming the final rating:

Category Range
Tangible 0-2
Intangible 0-2
Revisit-ability 0-1
Discretionary 0-1

Tangible aspects of a show include visual style, animation, soundtrack, CG quality, special effect, etc. To put it simply, how physically well-made a show is. Starting from a score of 0, a show would be scored a

  • +1 if the show is overall attractive to watch and either has consistent high quality with very few shortcoming (perfection) or utilizes unique ideas/techniques to great effects (ingenious);
  • +2 if its physical quality/way of expression alone would be sufficient reason to watch the show, even if it gets a 0 in all other categories.

Intangible aspects include story, character building, plot pacing, cultural reference, etc. This quality should be relatively medium independent, i.e. I would enjoy a faithful recreation of the story in other art forms at least just as much. Criteria for scoring is similar except for remakes/adaptations with an clear intent to follow the original and when I have seen/read the source material: scoring would be based on the source material's intangible score adjusted downwards by 1 point, with at most extra 1 point adjustment based on quality/difficulty/effect of the remake/adaptation with in the range of 0-2. For instance, a mediocre retelling of a +2 story should only be awarded at most a +1. Remakes and adaptations probably have an easier starting point than original contents, so I wanted to adjust for "how good the show could have been", provide an answer to "should I still see this if I've seen the original", and pick out the "watch this instead of the original" or "transcended and elevated the original story" shows.

Revisit-ability, as the name indicates, represents whether I would want to revisit/rewatch the show later. This correlates more with my own taste or nostalgia: is this something that I would gladly jump into in an leisure afternoon. Longer shows tend to suffer a bit by this metric, so I would take into account of especially memorable segments/episodes. However, in event of remakes and adaptations, this point should generally only be rewarded to the best version of the work in my point of view.

Discretionary point should be awarded sparingly and only when a show doesn't already achieve full scores in all other categories, making the possible maximum score 5 instead of 6. This is used as an adjustment for shows that I feel the current rating system doesn't do it justice. Common situations where this applies include but are not limited to:

  • categorical superiority: best of its kind;
  • a tight coupling between tangible and intangible aspects of the work: it simply won't be the same without one another;
  • quality in spite of objective limitations, especially for older shows or those with a tight budget.


A TIReD rating is recorded as X=T/I/Re[+D]. For instance:

  • a show scoring 1 in tangible, 2 in intangible, 0 in revisit-ability, and 0 in discretionary would be recorded as 3=1/2/0;
  • a show scoring 1 in tangible, 0 in intangible, 0 in revisit-ability, and 1 in discretionary would be recorded as 2=1/0/0+1.

Shows that I abandoned halfway, meaning I won't be able to give a rating, will be marked as DNF (did not finish).

Self Q&A

Some fragments of thoughts that I came across when designing TIReD.

Q: How should tangible points for books be awarded?

A: I'd say it's how good the writing is at face value, i.e. is it "literature" worthy. While I not really confident in my ability of identifying great works, but a +2 should at least be something better than Harry Potter.

Q: How should world settings built up in previous/related works affect the rating?

A: World building actually fits into both revisit-ability (if the system/world is interesting and makes me want to read more about it) and intangible quality (whether the character actions are justified).

Q: How was the rule for discretionary point determined?

A: The best shows should always get full score regardless of the exact scale, so awarding them discretionary points is meaningless. However, there are seemingly not-so-impressive works that really show the passion/devotion/love/good faith of the production team/author and shows whose existence alone is a boon for its fans. I want to express my enjoyment in a way that still allows me to assess the tangible and intangible aspects of a show on an absolute scale, as any further complication can be taken account of as discretionary point.

Q: What happens to ratings for a remake before and after you watch the original?

A: I'll adjust score for the remake now that I have experienced the original.

Q: A lot of details could be lost in translation. How to deal with translated works?

A: For now I will treat these the same way as remakes: adjust the rating if someday I came across the original.

Q: How did you come up with the name "TIReD" (and name for the categories)?

A: The first category to have a concrete name is revisit-ability. From there on it's mostly just playing around with words and initials. I almost settled on "TIRD" thanks to Urban Dictionary. Well, not everything is sh*t. 😜

Get GOing

Yes, I finished the Advent of Code this year! Aside from the problems being easier (for me) than 2019, I'm also using Go for this year's challenge and I find it to be particularly suited for this type of endeavor.

This year's puzzles mostly involve string parsing and finding efficient data structures. Majority of the logic flow are pretty straight forward and there's little need for sophisticated algorithms.

For string parsing, regex, which Go has built-in support for, is definitely the way to go. The abundance of parsing related problems means using only basic string manipulation could be rather painful, and I've definitely seen my share of horrible blobs of find/substr/trim.

Most of the time, slices and maps are all I needed. Go has multiple return values but no tuples, whose usage, I find, is largely replaced by either arrays or structs. Versatility of these data structures are actually increased due to the language's encouragement to use constants instead of enums: storing all information as ints opens up the door to some shortcuts and less conversion between types. Surely they don't give you the peace of mind type checked enums provide, but (ab)using them in short programs does provide the odd walking-on-a-knife-edge (or not-wearing-pants-during-Zoom-call) kind of satisfaction.

Imperative programs are easy to write in Go, mostly because of the language's plain and simple control flows and lack of mixed paradigms. There's no need to worry about whether we should use an STL algorithm or chained iterator methods: just write the loop. Reasonable mutability behaviors also helps: whether it's changing a map while looping through it or passing a struct containing a slice to another function, I can get the language to do what I mean without checking the specification line by line.

There's the ZOI rule about how the only reasonable numbers are zero, one, and infinity. Quite a few other languages I know, such as Python, C++, and Rust, all seem to hinge on the extreme ends of the spectrum in pursuit of consistency: everything follows the same rules and users can dictate what the syntax means as much as the base language. Go definitely has more exceptions (without supporting it) and "one" moments: built-in containers are magically generic, their methods can have variable number of return values, and everything else is denied the privilege of being eligible to be iterated over.

While just a quick comparison without touching other traits of Go (say interfaces or goroutines, but you don't really need them for Advent of Code), I do find Go's choices peculiar and interesting: everything is, well, just its own thing.

2020 in Review

Rooftops are covered in patches of white this morning. All the billboards have lost their typical splendor to the gloomy sky. Even the street lamps' orange glow failed to add any warmth to the car-free roads. Spots of light from a handful of building windows, however, do appear extra dazzling.

What a year. It feels like space-time has a higher viscosity than usual—dense enough to reduce sunlight to just an ivory ambiance—given how eventful the past 300-or-so days have been.

I'm actually glad that the first day of 2021 still feels like any day in 2020. Not very much should physically change simply because of a number flip, not to mention a rather arbitrary one, but perhaps it's exactly for the lack of change that we need to forge something new, something that gives an adrenaline kick, no matter how small.

Ugh, fine. I see no harm in giving in to this cheap psychological trick every once in a while.

Happy New Year, we made it.

2020: Apocalypse

I'm not cutting myself any more slacks this time around.

  • Run 550 miles. Run 205 miles and cycle 865 miles (2.5x). [205/205][872/865]
  • ☑ Write 14 blog posts. [16/14]
  • ☑ No donuts.
  • ☐ Dive into Go and C++20. [1/2]
  • ☐ Set up proper backup workflow.
  • ☐ Read non-technical books.

Because of COVID-19, I have stopped running outdoors since early March. After a few months of hiatus, I got a bike and a trainer in June and started cycling indoors instead. The 2.5x scaling factor is based on the speed differences between cycling and running. Working out in a more controlled environment is very enjoyable. Aside from easy access to fueling and shielding from the weather, being able to watch anime/listen to seiyuu radio while riding is a game changer. Behold, technology!

Blogging about the blog itself still takes up a sizable portion of my posts (and is a frustratingly self-defeating practice), but I did at least accumulated quite the amount of hoots: these fleeting thoughts aren't organized enough to be its own post, but still interesting enough that I want to write it down. I also use hoots to house my replies to other blogs and the rather cumbersome process of which makes me realize how little I really have to say most of the time. Not to color my still largely manual approach superior, but I do think there is some merit in eliminating low-effort-high-noise contents, both for myself and others.

Ah, donuts, the honey glazed shackles of guilt, the deep-fried cuffs of indulgence. While I would like to attribute this to my will of steel, it is COVID-19 that got the better of such temptations. My laziness and excitement for bunker life eliminated any chances of late night Dunkin' visits. Guess it's time to turn up the dial.

Writing Go was quite the mindless fun exercise. Finding an effective way to learn the C++20 features proved to be harder. <format> is the straightforward one and pretty much works as you'd expect (no compiler supports the standard version yet, so checkout the original). <ranges> is similar to Rust's iterator methods and allows chaining, too. Maybe I should update my enumerate() with C++ post. <concepts> seems like the logical solution to the problems SFINAE tried to solve, but I don't have a good context to test out its prowess yet. On a related note, Zig's compile-time function approach to generics is also intriguing.

3 copies, check. 2 different media, check. 1 offsite backup, not yet. I'm also counting Syncthing copies here, and whether they can be relied upon as full fledged backups is debatable. Still some way to go here.

Technically, I did read non-technical books; I didn't finish any (not counting manga at least). The truth is, aside from those I read purely for entertainment, I am not so sure about what to read. Most non-fiction books look like success stories marinated in flattery and survivor-ship bias. Fictions, on the other hand, just don't attract me that much: knowing another story to tell isn't as exciting as learning a new algorithm for me. Gee that sounded harsh. Do I really think my blog posts fare any better? Anyways, before admitting defeat, I will give this a more serious attempt this year.

2021: Days of Future Past

The ongoing pandemic sparkled nostalgia like never before. People look back at the "normal days" with fondness that I find repulsive. Not that I'm completely immune to the atmosphere though, just that it rubs me in the opposite way: I find myself grew more assertive than before. After all, doesn't everyone secretly think they are above average and thus know better, especially after reading the news? At the same time, the voice of reason tells me to suppress this urge before it turns into arrogance, or even worse, ignorance. Perhaps I should learn to let these out in the form of blog posts, like EWDs, except non-technical.

On a positive note, my transition to wake-up-at-5-sleep-before-10 schedule is a resounding success. The lockdown WFH actually helped in that I have more leeway to adjust my sleep schedule. Now I have plenty of time for exercise every morning or even the option of another two—or three if I'm really pushing it—hours of sleep. Given how I was able to clock in the last 100 miles of rides within the winter holidays, I'll bump the target mileage up a bit this year.

The schedule change also made me realize how unproductive the few hours before bed really is for me: after a day of work and much needed dinner, I don't feel motivated enough to exercise or focus on anything for an extended period of time. Since I started beancount-ing in 2020, I'm now looking to apply a similar methodology to my time. I've been testing out Toggl Track to log how I spend the larger chunks of my day and how many minutes in between slipped away with me blanking out watching YouTube. In particular, I figured having a crude "Strava for reading" system would also make my reading goals easier to achieve. As for which books to read, I'm thinking classic fictions.

After donuts, my challenge this year is to abstain from cookies, which can frequently be found in my work place lunch bags. It's strange how exponentially more attractive cookies are to their ingredients, i.e. sticks of butter and bags of sugar, the latter of which would have been sickening to consume directly.

I wonder if this is an age thing: at some point, human's auditory perception would just click with the sound of electric guitars, making it impossible to resist. I'm looking to sink more time into learning the instrument and be good enough to play a song or two by end of 2021.

The generation after Z is named Alpha, which makes no sense at all. To hell with inconsistent naming. To hell with COVID-19 (for other reasons, of course).

Un de ces matins disparaissent
Le soleil brillera toujours.

Bio Pages, Multiscale Writing, and XPA

Or, a roundabout way of explaining why I don't have an dedicated "About" page.

Bio Pages

I find bio pages hard to write.

I've always despised bio pages that sound like:

Scott Danger Solo, MIB, is a WHSA certified Sigma-level worm-hole surfing professional that shoots first, crosses the streams, and thinks 4th-dimensionally.

It grosses me out the same way that ego-flavored bubble gums would. I can't help but take these statements as a desperate attempt at smearing online contents with every last drop of legitimacy squeezed out of grand-yet-insincere-sounding words.

Most of the time, I opt to not include a bio on my online presences. Among the few exceptions is my old WordPress blog where I put:

EE major; new to WP and not very good at it; weeb; disproportional appetite for new hardware compared to my wallet size; may appear on social networks as shimmy1996; let's be friends XDD.

Even that felt too revealing for me. In other cases, I just use random made up sci-fi one-liners, for instance:

University of Trantor, Extraterrestrial Lifeform Breeding and Culinary Arts Major

Coming up with imaginary professions is actually a lot of fun and I can do this all day long. Just to give you a sneak peek at my stockpile:

  • Supervillain mechanic (the kind that engages in their repair and restoration, not actually in taking over the world);
  • Saturnian folklore and Demonology enthusiast;
  • Native speaker of Fishish (a dialect of Atlantish, used by most crustaceans and aquatic mammals in the North Atlantic Ocean; confusing name, I know);
  • Genff panel (chorono-voltaic modules, think about it as a reversed flux capacitor) technician;
  • Collector of ultrasonic music (no, that does not include Snake Jazz, they are inferior to Whale Blues or Bat Rock);
  • Star magnitude calibration specialist;
  • Dream composition and cinematography expert.

The list would have been longer if full-spectrum photography is not actually a thing.

Ah, see how easily I get distracted by these? Back to bio pages on a version of Earth where birds (or Biofueled InspectoR Drones if you prefer) are real and tree octopus aren't, unfortunately.

Why do I always read bio pages under the assumption that they are written with the purpose of exerting authority or "crafting your personal brand"? Wouldn't that make me, who is showing contempt and animosity towards others' qualifications, the one actually displaying syndromes bordering superiority complex? Is it being brought up hearing "modesty is the best policy" all the time finally backfiring? What should the bio page contain anyways? If the purpose is to sprinkle a few hashtags for others to shoehorn my personality into, I would rather not provide such a distraction from contents of the site. Then again, one can argue that if my personality as manifested through the site is easily swayed by the bio page, perhaps the contents aren't really speaking much for themselves after all.

Multiscale Writing

I currently classify contents on this site loosely into three categories:

  • Posts: anything with a publish time and a title;
  • Hoots: anything with a publish time but without a title;
  • Fixed: anything without a publish time.

Up till now, I have always put bio pages under the "fixed" category. However, I have come to realize this have more subtle implications.

This first came struck me as I was casually browsing my RSS reader and landed on a blog post without any indication of publish time. Since I vaguely recognize the page title from memory, I instinctively scanned through the page, searching for a timestamp of any kind. After some detective work, I was able to date the post by checking the HTML source. Realizing that this page was published long ago and only showed up in my RSS reader again due to updated feeds, I promptly left the page. Could there have been subtle wording changes? Maybe, but I didn't remember my first read well enough to recognize them. Could there have been substantial additions? Equally likely, but unless there's a FOMO-inducing "updated XXXX-XX-XX" in huge red fonts, I doubt I would have scrolled down. On a related note, I also see blogs displaying not only publish time, but also a glaring banner warning the readers that the contents may be out of date and the author's opinions may have changed since. Funny how the latter is apparently no longer obvious short of an explicit no-responsibility clause now, but it does illustrate the point: I treat pages without any indication of publish time as ones set in stone, completed works, and ultimate truths of the universe (from the author's view).

There's a mismatch between what I hoped to express through bio pages and the typical fixed page format itself. Well, what are the alternatives? I don't want an E/N site, as I value the process of organizing my fragments of thoughts as much as, if not more than, the process of collecting them. I've played around with the idea of a personal wiki, but I would like to have separate pages for "major versions", instead of cramming all edits, regardless of importance, into editing history. While for technical contents, latest edition with all the errata incorporated is naturally the most desirable, I don't view my former self necessarily as obsolete or wrong, yet I also don't want to mix past and present on the same page "long content" style.

I want bio pages to be condensed me-flavored words, which would be a moving target that a fixed page will forever be playing catching up with as my thoughts evolve over time. Between fixed pages and posts, there is a missing time scale: I need something that manifests change faster than a fixed page, but more long-lasting than regular dated post.

XPA (eXtensible Personality Archive)

Cool name, right? It's a happy accident that XPA is also the name of a protein (and the corresponding gene) responsible for repairing DNA damage.

Now, now, before discounting this as unnecessary formality, hear me out. Instead of a single fixed bio page, I think the most fitting substitute is a collection of gradually updated documents, not dissimilar to chapters of a book. While some books, like manga or web novels, are normally published chapter after chapter non-stop Markov-process-style, I'm thinking more of a non-linear progression where rewrites and revisions can happen more frequently.

Some blogs I visit feature sections named "articles" or "opinions" that are distinct from "posts" and serve similar purposes. The format I have in mind though is closer to RFCs, PEPs, etc. XPAs would be numbered, each XPA would be a dump of my current thoughts and personality pertaining to a specific topic, and they can be superseded by a later one with similar coverage. Meanwhile, posts are reserved for concrete things I did or experienced. In other words, XPAs contains literal states of my mind and posts/hoots serve to document some of the incremental changes between those states.

Following its definition strictly, XPA is actually a much more flexible format than I originally thought: reviews could also fall under its umbrella, for instance. Great Scott, just think about all the possibilities! Now the only remaining bike-shedding to be done before I can get started is to determine how XPAs should be presented on the site, whether I count from 0, which numerical system to use, how should we format the identifiers...

Hmm, naming really is hard isn't it.