Friday, December 8, 2006

Two Classes

I just completed my two-week stint working as a teaching assistant at the Stanford Uni EPGY expository writing workshop held at HwaChong. Two weeks ago, I had another two-week class teaching folks in prison school website design and Photoshop as part of our GESL community work quota. Our group enjoyed ourselves so much, some of us are thinking of going back for more sessions with them. By most accounts, the two classes were worlds apart; the guys from prison were years behind the academic progress of the counterparts who're not in prison and they'd most probably have trouble finding employment in the future simply because they have served time before. The second group of smart kids would probably go on to the best Ivy League schools in the years to come. But as I thought more about it, I realised that they are probably not that different after all, or rather, they are more alike than different. Both groups were excellent students. The prison folks were among the most humble, teachable, enthusiastic and nicest group of students I've yet encountered. The smart kids were also very quick to pick up new ideas and are very motivated. I'm constantly amazed by their craft. It's just utterly fascinating to me what their minds are capable at the age of 13-15, tackling Stanford undergraduate materials. Still, great teachers are essential for the whole thing to work, and Jessica, Steffi and Raphael completed the equation... So anyway, probably the differences between the two groups that seemed apparent to me did not necessarily pertain to the students themselves. It seems to me now that perhaps the way we view them, and how we predict they might perform on standardised tests, or what they might achieve in the future, might be the real cause for such assessments. Is this a good thing? I'm not sure...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Silly FAQs / Shure Earphones

I'm doing some research on the Core 2 Duo system that I'll be building. So far I've completed research on the motherboard/processor, and am still left with the graphics card, hard drive, memory, monitor, sound card and chassis. Before getting the sound card, I'm also considering buying a Shure microphone in the future, and so needed to know more about the configuration and sound card needed to make this happen. Shure has a great resource for that: their Frequently Asked Questions section. It's probably the most readable and enjoyable FAQ I've yet come across. It just feels like there's a straight-talking human answering the questions, and not some manager from the PR department. I periodically go there to read, just for fun. Consider this question, which was answered.
Should we bang on mic to see if it's on? Please settle a matter for us. We need a professional opinion. We have Shure SM58 microphones at our church for our praise team to use. Is it ever ok, when checking sound, to bang on a mic to see if it’s on. If not on these models, on any mics?
Mind you, this question is from the professional products FAQ section, and not the consumer section. Now, if you work in the FAQ department, how would you answer this question from a customer who is supposed to be a sound professional? I'd probably go like this: Are you nuts?! What kind of ridiculous question is that? Do you bang on your mobile phone to see if it's working? Would you kick your computer if it crashes? You do know that banging the mic voids the warranty. So sure, go ahead, make my day. Bang it to see if it's on. You think I care? Of course not, for you'll be getting a new Shure soon enough. I like that idea, a lot. Well, the official answer, typed with a straight face, is:
No, you should not. It will not hurt the microphone, but you stand a chance of damaging your loudspeakers. Instead, try snapping your fingers in front of the mic.
I love it when silly questions are answered by nice people. Someone said the only stupid question is the one not asked. Why is it, then, that people don't like to ask silly questions? The first reason is that they are afraid that they would be scolded (or get some form of disapproval from peers). Problem is, this starts the vicious cycle. A person who wants to ask a silly question obviously doesn't know the answer. And if the person doesn't know the answer to a simple question, it means that the more difficult questions remain unasked and unanswered. In school, teachers sometimes don't like students to ask too many questions. I think the objection is towards students who ask frivolous questions, and not serious, 'value-add' ones. But this judgement might be problematic, for what teachers see as frivolous, students might view them as quite serious. (I think the microphone question is quite a serious one, actually.) Then again, which teacher like to see their lesson plans getting waylaid by runaway questions? Maybe only a few... In online communities, there seems to be this dislike for folks who ask simple, nOOby questions. The usual response would be 'go read the FAQ', or 'go Google it'. I think that if I can take a few seconds type the answer, I'd do it, rather than say go look for it somewhere else. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but many people still enjoy saying 'go RTFM'. The time one takes to reply with that unhelpful response can be used to give the correct answers. Anyway, since I'm talking about Shure, might as well help them advertise a bit. After i got my iPod, I thought that I should a more expensive pair of earphones since the iPod isn't that cheap to begin with. I'm not sure of the correctness of that argument, but I do know that the earphones are so good, it actually provides more than good music. It actually buys you peace of mind. These are the E2c Sound Isolating Earphones. You need to stick them into your ear canals, and they become like earplugs. If I wear them, and you stand in front of me, I can't hear what you're saying to me. It's quite incredible how you feel you're able to instantly disappear amongst the crowd when you put on one of these. I guess Sony intended to achieve that when they invented the Walkman, and I think the illusion is complete with ear isolating earphones. The other benefit is that you can save your hearing because you don't need to switch on the music too loud to be able to hear the music. I can turn down the volume of the iPod to the lowest setting, and still be able to hear the music on a quiet night. The sound quality is great, though it's quite expensive around S$155. For the peace it provides, I guess the price is worth it...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Portal Redesign

I just attended a preliminary research debrief of the 'rebuilding the Portal' focus group interview session that I participated last month. They gave me a $20 Robinsons voucher for my time. I'd have given them money instead if that meant that my two cents would be considered by them. The school portal as it stands, can probably be described as, at best, 'it works OK, I guess', or at worst, 'this thing is soooo bad.' What precipitated my interest was this interesting phenomenon of the technical people not really using, or aware of, what's happening in the Internet space these past couple of years. One of my social studies tutors wanted to do a wiki for us so that we could upload our stuff and share with others, and I believe the tech person he approached didn't know what a wiki was! Maybe I heard wrongly, or maybe there's a technical restriction, but it certainly is a weird situation when students can't make use of current technology to do their stuff. My classmate Billy has more on related issues. In my interview that they taped, I just let it fly after getting the assurance this was what they wanted. This is one of the most bizzare and unsettling portals I've seen. The first section is completely separated from the academic modules section. This makes absolutely no sense, it destroys the cohesiveness of the whole thing. Folks don't hang around in the Portal. Why? Because there is no stickiness. No, no, no, nooo, noooo!! Forums might have a chance to achieve that. Get the community going! Get the academics to share and talk with the students. Get the students to talk with students. And not just about pedagogy, about anything. COMMUNITY. There is none, or little of it, right now. But the forums are confusing. So many categories. This is what you must do. Take out this, this, and that. Put them into a single category. When the traffic goes up, then consider splitting them up. Too many features in each of the Blackboard module sections. No sensible and reasonable way to get to where you want to go or do what you wanna do. Now what can be done about this? Dump Blackboard! Yes, even if it hurts. Use another CMS, or create it inhouse. Integrate everything together, the modules and the rest of it under one Portal. Don't separate it, there's no logic to it. Bring in the rest of the things that everyone is using. Blogs. Yes, blogs, even if you have heard very bad things about it. And bring in the wikis too. Get the SHARING going... Anyway, the Siemens consultants get it. I was quite happy to see the some of the results of their interviews with staff and students, their recommendations, and their initial new mockups. The user interface designs look a lot better. It's still early days, but they are recommending bringing in the blogs, the wikis. They are making the whole thing much more open to the world, and they seem to be modelling it in part after the Stanford Wiki, and strangely enough, tomorrow.sg. Also, they feel that students' work/resources should exist perpetually even after leaving school, to be shared with future cohorts. I think things are really going to change, for the better...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cover Girl

I've just discovered that the aircraft repaint I did last year made the April cover of Computer Pilot magazine! I'm going have to buy that back copy now...hehe I'm taking too long a flying hiatus, shall resume next month when I get a new Core 2 Duo desktop... woohoo!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Naivety

Princeton Uni professor Harry Frankfurt has come out with a new book called On Truth after his On Bullsh*t became an unexpected hit. I haven't seen the Truth book yet, but Stephen Colbert's On Truthiness might just as as informative. Today, we shall look at a new pamphlet called On Naivety, something that speaks the truth to a lot of us, I reckon. From the ST:
Opposition MPs 'naive' to expect upgrading funds OFFERS of upgrading in opposition wards were part of a slew of policies proposed by People's Action Party candidates during the General Election, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said yesterday.

But as voters rejected the PAP's candidates, it was 'naive' of Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir) and Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) to now expect the Government to give them the funds for upgrading, he added...

Yesterday, Minister of State (National Development) Grace Fu... made the point - reiterated by Mr Mah - that the PAP's upgrading offer was part of a larger package of policies which the ruling party offered to voters.

'The electorate in Potong Pasir has obviously not supported that and therefore they should not stand to benefit from any surpluses that are generated from that suite of policies,' she said.

On Naivety deals with what we think we know, and what actually happens in real life. It has to do with the disconnect between our ideals, and how the world actually works. It delineates the idea that even though everyone matters, some matter less than others, especially those who live in certain districts. It reminds us that despite a call for inclusiveness and that everyone pays taxes, some won't have access to the benefits accorded by those same tax monies. On Naivety forces us to self-reflect; that even though we have come so far, we need to do so much more. Anyway, On Bullsh*t might be appropriate reading at this juncture. Update (!): An 'anonymous coward' has tomorrowed this entry.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Garmin Constructivist Logo

My favourite GPS manufacturer Garmin announced their new logo a week ago. This is the old one they've used for the past 16 years. Nice globe. This is the new one; it's very classy.Naturally, one might ask what the triangle represents. The reply from the person writing in the company blog was: we don't really know; you tell us! And I thought, wow! The customer needs to activate their prior knowledge and schema to interpret the logo! Which is most brilliant because the logo then becomes an apt metaphor for what Garmin is all about. It is understood best by the individual using the device, for everyone has different ideas, objectives, and how to use it. It's pretty much open-ended... Generally though, on any Garmin GPS, the pointer/cursor/triangle represents where you are. It also points to the heading that you're travelling on. So it can just be that; a simple pointer. Or it could be a mountain. I think it represents something that urges the person on. The pointer will be on the GPS screen even when you need to move around obstacles (like, for e.g., the embarrassingly lame SS assignment I handed in recently), and eventually, it'll lead you to the destination. You just have to keep on moving forward until the next waypoint appears. The satellites will take you there...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

SPUG

Just a public service announcements for Palm users. SPUG is currently down. The situation is currently being monitored. If need be, a Task Force will be formed next week, and some Emergency Plan might be implemented. Anyway, it'll probably be offline for a while... In the meantime, just surf the other websites on the Internets; there are lots of them besides SPUG! :)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Speak Good English!

I'm not exactly sure how my pedagogy stacks up against established schools of thought, but here's just a reminder to all: speak good English, and be understood!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Corrinne May Preview

Corrinne is doing a Christmas concert again at the Esplanade on 16th December. Tickets on sale Oct 19th. New preview songs are out at her myspace. Update(!): Listen to the new Christmas album and preorder an autographed CD now!

Monday, October 9, 2006

Stop The Presses!

Today's activity is: Spot the differences! (Click for larger pictures.) Oops, I thought maybe they didn't like the layout and decided to shift the story elsewhere in the online version of today's TODAY newspaper. Turned out the story was removed altogether. Maybe the headline could give us some clues... Oh no, perhaps the story got pulled because it distorts the truth (just look at the weird paragraph before the byline, and after), among other things... (Cute illustration though!) Next Day Update(!): Correction. The existing article is available, not found in the .pdf file, but as text, here. So there are a few combinations. 1) The test tube article was pulled, but couldn't be done in time because it wasn't possible to stop the presses. Hence, the online .pdf version (which can be updated/amended quickly) has the Thailand story. 2) The Thailand story got pulled and the test tube story put in its place. If this were the case, why couldn't yesterday's .pdf file be updated? It's still showing the Thailand story today. Here's the fun part; both of these stories appear in the text archives. Here's the second fun part: someone has written a reply and it's published in today's paper version and the .pdf version. Text here. I think this is the first time I'm seeing something resembling a fork in newspaper articles! Update(!): There are more posts on test tube washing at Tomorrow.sg. And my social studies tutor Kenneth mentions this entry in his podcast, currently the only Singaporean podcast to be featured in the 'education' category at the iTunes store!

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Singapore Dreaming / 望春風

I watched Singapore Dreaming with Steph this past week. If you haven't watched it, it'll be showing at GV until at least next Wednesday. Now this is one of the top 2 local movies I've seen; and I can't decide what number one is.

The even better thing is that the music that starts off the movie, 望春風, is one of my favourite songs. Its motif gets done in different ways and is repeated throughout the movie. 望春風 (Longing for the Spring Breeze) is an old song, generally acknowledged as Taiwan's unofficial national anthem. (More background here.) Now I wonder, apart from the soothing melody, why on earth did the music people (I think it's Dr Sydney Tan and co.? Actually it was Director Woo Yen Yen who chose the song.) use this as the theme song for the movie? I've talked about old songs last year. I argued then that traditional songs are essential to building up a nation's culture. Maybe the national song of Taiwan was used in the movie to highlight the lack of importance placed on building a national culture here in Singapore. (And no, songs like Stand Up for Singapore do not count! LOL) Despite the fact that MM Lee says there's no Singapore culture (to the chagrin of lots of people), I think without a culture, we'd all be in limbo.

Of course there's a culture; the things that locals believe in. Dreaming tries to tease that apart. In the process, we find how disturbing some of our stereotypes are. So, is 望春風, and the things it hints at, the answer? Maybe. The context for the song is longing, and so is the movie. We're all longing for (or dreaming of) something, but what is the right thing to long for? It's not explicitly stated in the movie, although the Chinese beer-promoting woman does provide some clues... I think perhaps the answer is love (like in the song). Love is like oxygen. Love is a many splendoured thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love! And then some would say, love can only result from the 5Cs. Oops. We're back at square one. I wonder whether this aspect of our culture can be changed... For now, bring on the old songs...

Anyway, other places that you can find 望春風 is in Kenny G's Miracles: The Holiday Album (Asia Edition) and a video of some kids singing the song. (Cute!) David Tao's first eponymous album (Flash animation of song here) has it too. According to Wikipedia, 'The album also featured an a cappella song, Spring Wind, which was a new R&B version of a favorite old Taiwanese song. David sang all the vocals in this song, which still stands today, widely regarded as one of the best a cappella songs in Chinese.' The neutrality of this opinion is disputed, however. What's undisputed is that you must watch SGDreaming! Go TalkingCock folks!!
 
Update(!): I just got the movie soundtrack. There are four wonderful major variations of the song and three minor ones, and the rest of the album is really good too. The piano interpretation by Stephen Hough is just shockingly stunning... some background on the music...
"The Hokkien song' Bong Chun Hong" (Pining for the Spring Breeze" serves as a recurring motif in the film. The song is very popular in Taiwan, where it's almost their unofficial second national anthem. When the directors were writing the script in New York, they wanted a song to evoke the past, and also illuminate the characters of the parents. Yen Yen Woo called her mother in Singapore to ask for songs from the days when she was dating her father. The first song she came up with was "Bong Chun Hong", which unlocked a flood of memories in the old lady about many places in Singapore that have either disappeared or have changed beyond recognition. The directors picked the song and incorporated Woo's mother's memories into the script." From IMDB.
(Click for bigger pictures.) 望春風

獨夜無伴守燈下,
do ya bo pua shui ding he
Spending the night alone under some lights

清風對面吹。
qing hong dui min cui
The refreshing wind blowing on her face

十七八歲未出嫁
zarp qi bae hui bue chuk ge
Seventeen, eighteen, yet unmarried

想着少年家。
shiu zoc shiao len ge
Thinking of a young man

果然標緻面肉白,
go ren biao tee mi ba bae,
 Turns out he's handsome and has fair complexion

誰家人子弟?
xia ga lang zhu di
Which family is he from?

想要問伊驚歹勢,
xiu bei meng yi gia paiseh
Want to ask, but afraid of being embarrassed

心內彈琵琶。
shim lai dua pi pae
Heart beating like the pipa

Monday, September 25, 2006

Gillette Fusion Power

How much money does a company need to spend in order to create the world's best selling 'shaving system'? Well, in 1998, Gillette spent US$680 million to come out with the Mach 3. I bought the slightly improved Mach 3 Turbo three years ago. In early 2006, they released the new Fusion, with 5+1 razor blades. This development was predicted in 2004 by The Onion (warning: course language). And they again spent many hundreds of millions of dollars on R&D. What you get is this! Now, one very excellent thing that came out of the huge R&D expense was the packaging. Dismantling the blister pack was a breeze. You just tear down the dotted places in the plastic. I cannot begin to describe the dangers of a lot of blister packs found nowadays that require the user to use scissors and brute force to tear the package apart. It is so ridiculous... You can click the picture below for a larger view. There're now five blades, and one additional one at the back to do sideburns. The orange gill-like thingies are now so tiny! The design and the feel of the shaver is just wonderful, the rubber and plastic manufacturing and molding were done really well. It feels light, and it's so comfortable to hold; I don't even feel like using it lest it gets dirty! In Singapore, the Fusion is currently available only at Mohammed Mustafa & Samsuddin Company (as far as I can tell). The Fusion costs S$18 and comes with two cartridges. The Fusion Power, which includes a vibrator, costs S$21 and comes with one cartridge and one battery. Click here for the Fusion website. There's a comely host embedded in the Flash animation.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Rewriting Spam

Angie sent me the following email message. It looks like spam. Why can't spam be more easily understood? The second version is my rewrite. --------- Forwarded message ---------- From: SARTORI Date: Sep 6, 2006 11:38 PM Subject: PLEASE I NEED YOUR ASSISTANCE KINDLY HELP! FOR THE WORK OF GOD. I do not intend to baised your feeling as you read this mail thereby making you feel so pathetic about my situation, because i believe that every human being has his or her destiny to fulfil on this earth before passing to the great beyond,owning to this i was compell to accept christ as my saviour, having known the truth,I had no choice than to do what is lawful and right in the sight of God for eternal life and in the sight of man for witness of God?s mercy and glory upon my life. My name is Hellfried Sartori a citizen of Thailand based in Holland a successful business man formally married to mrs Trisha Sartori who died two years ago after a brief illness without a child. For over a year now i have been in the hospital battling with a chronic heart disease which has defiled all forms of medical treatment, and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts,this illment has detoriated my health to this point that i have finally lost my voice making me unable to talk any more.Although i have not particularly lived a generous life as i never cared for anybody except for myself and my late wife i was always hostile to people and only focused on my business But now i regret all this as I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in the world.I have willed and given most of my property and assets to my immediate family members,I once asked members of my family to close one of my accounts and distribute the funds to a charity organization and orphanages but they instead kept the money to themselves for this reason i do not trust them any more as they seems not to be contended with what i have given to them. Now the last of my money which i deposited in cash in a consignment form twelve million dollars($12m) with security firm abroad, Recently the security firm wrote me to come forward to sign for the release of this money or rather issue a letter of authorization to somebody to receive it on my behalf as time agreed for the consignment to be in their custody has expired,since i do have much time to live on this earth and i want this to be the last good deed i that i have done on this earth before passing on,based on this reason i am pleading to you in name of God to help me Stand and collect the Funds from the security firm which my attorney will guide and provide you with all the neccessary informations inorder to collect the funds and use it for the work of God(charities,churches and orphanages) while you keep $1.5m.for yourself for your time. I await your quick kindest response with your name,telephone and fax numbers so that i can have my attorney contact you directly inorder to furnish you with more informations on how the mission will be carried out.i wish to assure you that there is no risk of whatsoever involved in this mission as my attorney will provide you with all the legal documents inorder to back up the funds. please send your response to my private E-mail: hellsartorihea@yahoo.de Thank you and remain blessed. Yours faithfully Hellfried Sartori --------------------------------------------- Dear Sir/Madam, I believe every human being has his or her destiny to fulfil on this earth before passing to the great beyond. Having accepted Christ as my saviour, and having known the truth, I have no choice but to do what is lawful and right in the sight of God to receive eternal life, and also in the sight of man to witness to God's mercy and glory upon my life. Consequently, I don't wish for you to feel pathetic about my situation. My name is Hellfried Sartori, a citizen of Thailand who's currently based in Holland. I'm a successful businessman married to Mrs Trisha Sartori who died two years ago after a brief illness without a child. For over a year, I have been in the hospital battling a chronic heart disease, which has defiled all forms of medical treatment. Right now, I have only about a few months to live. According to medical experts, this illness has detoriated my health to the point that I have lost my voice making me unable to talk any more. I have not particularly lived a generous life as I never cared for anybody except for myself and my late wife. I was always hostile to people and only focused on my business. But I regret all this as now as I know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in the world. I have willed and given most of my property and assets to my immediate family members. I have asked members of my family to close one of my accounts and distribute the funds to charity organizations and orphanages, but they kept the money for themselves instead. For this reason I do not trust them any more as they seem not to be contented with what I have given to them. Thereafter, I deposited the last of my money, twelve million dollars($12m) in cash, with a security firm abroad. Recently the security firm wrote me to come forward to sign for the release of this money. They would also accept a letter of authorization for somebody to receive it on my behalf. The time agreed for the consignment to be in their custody has expired, and since I do have much time to live on this Earth and I want this to be the last good deed that I'll do before passing on, I am pleading with you in the name of God to help me collect the funds from the security firm. My attorney will guide and provide you with all the necessary information in order to collect the funds and use it for the work of God (charities, churches and orphanages) while you keep $1.5m for yourself, to compensate you for all your troubles. I await your prompt response. Please send me your name, telephone and fax numbers so that I can have my attorney contact you directly in order to furnish you with more information on how the mission will be carried out. I wish to assure you that there is no risk whatsoever involved in this mission as my attorney will provide you with all the legal documents in order to collect the funds. Please send your response to my private E-mail: hellsartorihse@yahoo.de . Thank you and may you remain blessed. Yours faithfully, Hellfried Sartori

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Irwin Felled By Stingray

Sometimes the truly ironic thing in life is that one can be killed by the very creatures one loves the most. In Australia, there are plenty of ways to get killed by wildlife. I'd recommend the first chapter in Bill Bryson's very funny Down Under.

Two months ago I printed out a technical manual meant for salespeople, and put Steve on the cover. It only seemed natural for such a fun car. The guy had appeared in Toyota TV ads, and his infectious joy for wildlife was just perfect... what a feeling! [jumps!]

The interesting thing about Steve's death is that some folks choose to criticise his career choice. Why did he have to do such a dangerous job. Shouldn't he be thinking about the risks involved? What's going to happen to his wife and kids if something terrible happened to him? Some thought that he was provoking the sea creatures, which is now shown to be untrue. It was a freak accident.

I think it'd be more appropriate to ask how many of us can claim to have a job we truly love? True, dying for what one loves might be a little extreme, but lots of people put their lives on their lines every single day. I guess most wildlife documentary makers encounter similar risks as Steve. A few weeks ago, I watched Jeff Corwin get close to the most deadly sea creature in Australia or something like that. There are others in high risk jobs: soldiers, miners, taxi drivers... doctors (especially in situations like SARS), reporters in war zones. Others risk less things, but we can't ignore those. Counsellors, teachers and others in high-stress/emotionally demanding jobs risk their mental health on a daily basis. I could go on...

I guess what I'm trying to say is that folks who love their jobs so much, and are able to make a significant impart on the hearts and minds of people (in Steve's case, it's describing wildlife as... 'what a beauty!' probably wouldn't want to trade that for anything else. Crikey, Mr. Irwin!

Update(!): I've subscribed to the Geographics for over 15 years now. The very first issue in my 'collection' has stingrays on the cover. I wonder how Steve would have liked the world to see them now that he's the victim of a cruel accident. I'd bet he'll still say these creatures are indeed a ... beauty... but be careful, they kill, too.

'I never forget-and diving guides like Jay and Pat never let tourists forget-that stingrays can be dangerous. But these were so gentle that I became accustomed to having heir tails cares the back of my neck or scrape across my faceplate...' -David Doubilet

Friday, September 1, 2006

How Do Search Engines Work?

I was looking at my logs recently and found something quite bizarre. Go to Yahoo! Singapore, and put in 'xiaxue' in the search box. (She is Singapore and Asia's most popular blogger.) The first search result would be her blog, right? Strangely, no...

The Social Sciences All Mixed Up Together

School has been lots of fun, even though right now I'm still stuck at a 400-word short essay trying to argue why 'the English Language Syllabus serves no useful purpose for the English teacher.' Hmm... maybe I should be arguing for the opposite... Besides dealing with languages, I'm also doing this thing called Social Studies. Now, in my experience, this was one subject that few kids were interested in (at least in my time during primary school). I was told before my job interview that it would be one of my teaching subjects if I got hired. For someone like me who regularly thinks in ironic terms, the idea that I was asked to teach this was quite funny. Now a lot of folks see this subject as Pr*po**n*a, and rightly so. During the interview (paneled by obviously wise and experienced ex-principals), one question was: 'Now, how do you feel about teaching Social Studies?" And I said, "Well, many people think that Social Studies is Pr*pog*a**a/National Education. [laughs] While that is somewhat true, I think it's much, much more that. It's history, geography, political science, citizenship studies... blah blah blah... very interesting... blah blah blah... I love it...blah blah... more people should be studying this! blah blah blah..." And the interviewers were smiling because I think they knew where I was going with this: the interesting question of balancing the positive/useful P with the very important introduction to the various social sciences (essentially, the study of the world around us). Naturally, one worry I had was whether teachers have any room in the classroom for critical thinking and the 'look-the-emperor-has-no-clothes!' sort of questioning. Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be the case so far. The two tutors (one local and the other American prof) that we have seem to understand this tension, and it's discussed very openly in class, which was, like, so refreshing to see. Asking questions and having a constant sense of inquiry seem to be a main purpose of the subject. Of course, the reality in a real classroom might be totally different. Nonetheless, it's good to see intelligent folks in class, both tutors and students. The honeymoon is going great so far... Anyway, happy Teachers' Day to all the real teachers: heros working hard on the front lines! Update(!): Archaeologist Xenoboy engages in some excavation.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Tiger Woods Is An Alien/Swing Portrait

For many years, I've had the suspicion that golfer Tiger Woods isn't really a human, but an alien from the planet SasQuatch. That guy is a bloody machine, for crying out loud! A new feature that appeared a few days ago at NikeGolf's website seemed to confirm my worst fears. The Nike folks used a digital camera capable of capturing 4000 frames per second, pointed it at Mr. Woods, and requested him to do a swing. As I watched the swing portrait, I realised it should be obvious that anyone who can repeatedly replicated that sort of deadly power and grace, winning 50 PGA titles by the age of 30, simply can't be human. As Sherlock Holmes once said, once you eliminate all possibilities, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. Anyway, even if you don't like golf, have a go at watching Tiger swing if only to see what a 4000 frames per second camera can show you. The cello background music is very nice too... I just started golf lessons for the first time and I was determined to learn as much from this alien as much as possible. I think watching the swing sequence numerous times might have helped; I got my breakthrough with the second set of 50 balls I hit last night. Everything just fits together when the ball flies, it's like a point of singularity so precise and yet so elusive. Anyway, here's a writeup I did 10 years ago if you're interested about this 'slow' sport works...

In The Jungle/Teacher's College

So a few weeks ago I started school again at Teacher's College. This place is really cool. It's in the middle of a thick secondary tropical forest and they simply cleared away some land to make way for a very nice campus. The library is especially wonderful. I'm writing this sitting at the circular balcony on the fourth floor, it feels like I'm in some exotic place, with trees stretching as far as the eye can see... The instructors have been wonderful so far, way better than what I'd heard or expected; the students are supportive and intelligent. Eventually, I'll be teaching political science, human geography, history, and languages, all of them English, so that'll be really interesting. But let me just enjoy the oasis of green until that happens...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Truth In Advertising: Real Reason For GRC

As I was flipping my paper version of The Straits Times a few hours ago, I thought their editorial office had been hacked by The Onion or something. Something got published that just wasn't supposed to be revealed to the populace. But it's one of those things that makes this country just absolutely fascinating for someone like me who likes to read National Education pronouncements and somehow try to make them relevant to my daily life. I've always thought that pigs would fly before something like this happened. It now seems that either the editorial office got hacked, or pigs really do fly!
GRCs make it easier to find top talent: SM Without good chance of winning at polls, they might not be willing to risk careers for politics By Li Xueying SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday gave a new take on the role of Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) in Singapore politics. Their role is not just to ensure minorities are adequately represented in Parliament, he said. They also contribute to Singapore's political stability, by 'helping us to recruit younger and capable candidates with the potential to become ministers'. 'Without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics,' Mr Goh said at an event marking the appointment of members to the South East Community Development Council (CDC). 'Why should they when they are on the way up in the civil service, the SAF, and in the professions or the corporate world?' But he was quick to add that GRCs themselves do not guarantee victory...
For the full version, please subscribe to the online version of the newspaper. This article alone is worth the entire year's subscription! What really happened that induced an 'admission' of this sort? I don't know, but developments in the next few days would be very interesting indeed! :)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Aussie Socceroos Win!

Wow!!! A few hours ago, I switched off the TV with 10 minutes to go between Japan and Australia; Australia was trailing 0-1. I thought the Roos weren't really playing inspiring stuff and a few minutes won't make much of a difference. I just read that the Roos had beaten the Japanese 3-1!! Substitute Tim Cahill scored three times in eight minutes! Go Aussies! I like this team because the kangaroo is my favourite animal, but I also wish the Japanese would win because I have the same hair colour as them, and my last name is the same as their national currency. So I'm happy no matter who wins hehe...

GSM Mobile Phone Tells You Where You Are

La what?! When this appeared on the handphone today, I thought I got a handphone virus and promptly switched it off! hahaa... It's about time the telcos switched on this feature. When I was in Perth, I would get Northbridge in the bedroom, and East Perth in the living room. It's really quite fun...

Saturday, June 3, 2006

How Does One Understand Irony/Satire?

"If you're going to tell the truth, you'd better make people laugh. Otherwise they'll kill you." ~(probably) George Bernard Shaw
I was just thinking about what Mr. Wang wrote about Dr Lee, our Information Minister. I've talked about him before, and this time, it's about mrbrown's podcasts. At Wang's comments section, there's an interesting discussion about whether mrbrown is doing the right thing, whether humour will dilute the message or make it less respectable. As I see it, mrbrown has totally neutralised the bizarre tactics of the Ruling Party with that single podcast episode, at least in the blog-sphere of influence. mrbrown is so good at this, he's been doing it for the past eight years. To be fair, it's sometimes quite difficult to 'get' what mrbrown is trying to do (especially if one's feels the same as Dr Lee), specifically, the idea of satire or irony to tell the truth about something, even if it's sometimes rude and irreverent. Although I think strictly speaking, these two terms are not exactly similar, but they do share some characteristics. These dramatic tools require one to become illogical. Yes becomes no, no becomes yes. 'There are no 300 taels of silver buried here' becomes 'there are actually lots of treasure buried here'. A different set of logic might thus be needed. Now, I'm fascinated by how folks understand or think about these sorts of things, but let me just sidetrack to non-humans for a second... I was at the zoo earlier this year. The zoo is actually quite an ironical and funny place, because it should occur to some that it's unclear whether humans are actually visiting the animals, or whether humans are being met by animals. This sort of bizarre relationship was not lost on one particular orang utan, at least that's what I thought.
From the zoo's website
There's a 'photo taking' area just beside the orang utans' enclosure where visitors pay a few dollars to have the opportunity to stand beside one orang utan to have their photo taken together. When I was there that day, there weren't any visitors queing up, so the orang utan and his keeper were just hanging around, looking a little bored. I could see from the expression of the orang utan (at the risk of being anthropomophic!) that he was getting restless, and had the 'this is bloody ridiculous!' look on his face. Waiting for people to pay us money just to take a picture with us?! What's wrong with those humans? The keeper was probably thinking the same thing. Then something bizarre happened. The orang utan started to punch the keeper on his upper arm! Now, those weren't just feeble punches. It really looked like he was going for it! And he started to hit the keeper again, again, again, again and AGAIN! And the orang utan was SMILING. And the smile was really WIDE! (It's hard for me to describe it, you got to see it yourself!) Real punches from an arm that could open up a coconut without any tools! Now the keeper decided to play along, so he started faking and twisting his face as if he were in real pain. The orang utan didn't care, and continued his assault, smiling. He was obviously having lots of fun. Moments later, the keeper decided he had enough, and started to bring his hands around the orang utan's neck and strangle him! Of course, it wasn't real, but the orang utan was STILL SMILING from ear to ear! It's very funny, but those two chaps were just bored out of their wits waiting for visitors wanting to take pictures with them. Now, I was just STUNNED as I watched this mock interplay of violence between animal and zookeeper. Aside from the fact that an orang utan's face looked like a human's face, this sort of behaviour seemed to me to require 'higher-level thought processes'. While it's not strictly satire or irony, I suspect it requires a 'different set of logic' to appreciate. How is the orang utan aware of this? Maybe I'll punch an orang utan next time and see what it would do... Anyway, coming back to court jester tactics, the only way to tell the truth around these places is to make people laugh. Getting killed for doing the same is just not worth it!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Maths: Election Rally Attendance Numbers

Phew! The NDA agreement I signed with myself has expired today, so I can start writing again. I've got a few entries backlogged. This one is about the election. I attended only one rally; the Last Night of the Proms at Serangoon. I wrote then in the forums...
I just came back from the Serangoon Stadium rally...darn it, this is the first time I've truly felt Singaporean... at the end LTK and SL led the probably the standing room only 40k crowd to recite the pledge in both English and Chinese... really class act campaign...
It was standing room only at Serangoon Stadium that night and many were turned away, but it didn't compare to the rally at Hougang held a few days earlier; the field there was much larger than the stadium. This picture by Yawning Bread was probably the iconic picture of the resistance movement in this election. I was curious about one thing: how many people attended this rally? YB did some calculations based on estimates of the density of people within a certain area, then projecting the numbers to cover the whole field. He felt there were 100-120,000 people that night. Tym also attended the rally and she estimated that 10-20,000 people attended. Malaysian newspaper The Star mentioned 10,000 folks (via SGWatch). There's quite a difference in estimates here. Was there another way to solve this crowded problem? I realised I did have another lead: Google Earth. I already know the capacity of the National Stadium. The rest is straightforward. Step 1: Use Google Earth and find the two locations. Print both locations out using the same scale. Step 2: Cut out the seats of the National Stadium. Step 3: Continue cutting the stands and placing in on Hougang field. The capacity of the National Stadium is 55,000 (source). You can see above that all the seats of the Stadium covers about half of Hougang field. I believe this is a conservative estimate. People stood at the rally, and they most likely stood very close to one another, compared to the seating arrangement found at the Stadium. Therefore, I think the number that night at Hougang Field was very nearly 100,000 people. YB's estimate was quite accurate according to this methodology! Anyway, the folks who organised this rally won the Hougang seat, but lost the larger Aljunied Large Area Constituency in a close fight. More good years! (And thanks for the memories!)

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sony Ericsson Z520i

This morning, the screen of the Nokia 8210 that I've been using for the past five years suddenly went dim. So I had no choice but to look for a new handphone. Problem was, my impression of the latest handphones was that they just wouldn't good enough. Yes, they have colour screens and so on whereas the venerable 8210 has a monochrome screen, but the newer phones that I'd seen just felt confusing. My benchmark for these sorts of thing is the 'inbox test'. How many buttons does one need to press to read the latest SMS? (And without using 'shortcuts'!) It took 4 quick presses on the same button on the 8210. I think the newer models need more presses. The other thing was infra-red. I didn't need Bluetooth, but I need infra-red because I dislike typing SMS messages with the keypad; I never do it unless absolutely necessary. Instead, I write on my Palm and send it to the phone through IR. The newer Nokias and other manufacturers seemed to have phased out IR in favour of Bluetooth. So I was resigned to the fact that this new purchase would really be a 'downgrade' from the 8210. Not only would I need to endure a worse user-interface, I couldn't use my Palm to do SMS too. Luckily this week, M1 had a few models to give away (they put out newspaper advertisements every Saturday), and there were two 'cheaper' models. One was the Nokia 6020 ($0), and the other was the Ericsson Z520i ($38). The Nokia doesn't have IR, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Ericsson has both IR and Bluetooth! That was all I needed to know, and I promptly bought it. The build quality is really good, the buttons are nice and the user-interface is quite straightforward. Hopefully, this phone will last four more years...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Travelling Great-grandparents

Stranger! If you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you? ~To You/Leaves of Grass/Walt Whitman
If you meet someone that you don't know on the streets, it's reasonable to think of that person as a stranger. But I just read in this month's Geographics that even though he's not someone you know, he's still someone who's related to you!
"Scientists now calculate that all living humans are related to a single woman who lived roughly 150,000 years ago in Africa, a "mitochondrial Eve." She was not the only woman alive at that time, but if geneticists are right, all of humanity is linked to Eve through an unbroken chain of mothers. Mitochondrial Eve was soon joined by "Y chromosome Adam," an analogous father of us all, also from Africa. Increasingly refined DNA studies have confirmed this opening chapter of our story over and over: All the variously shaped and shaded people of Earth trace their ancestry to African hunter-gatherers."
The stranger you meet on the train is technically a distant relative with the same great-great-great...grandparents! The Geographics also has this very interesting thing going, called The Genographic Project. It invites folks to pay USD100+++ to have their DNA samples analysed to see how exactly their ancestors travelled from Africa to Europe, Asia and so on. Yeah, I know my most immediate ancestors look Chinese. But before that, they were Africans. So how did they walk from Africa? What route did they take? Very intriguing indeed...

Update: The results can be found here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Straits Times Survey: Almost Half Of Respondents Don't Trust Straits Times

Oops! From today's Straits Times:
Believe those blogs? Only 1 per cent find them credible IT MANAGER Jerry Chia, 34, trusts the newspaper in his hand more than a fleeting TV snippet for his daily dose of local news. To keep up with local politics, he would rather read a page of analysis in the newspaper than catch a newsflash on TV. His preference is typical of 88 per cent of young Singaporeans who rely on newspapers for news on local politics, according to a survey commissioned by The Straits Times [1]. TV is a close second, with 87 per cent... When it comes to credibility, newspapers top the list. They were considered most credible by almost 60 per cent, while 35 per cent picked TV... [2] Agreeing, magazine writer Sim Jui Liang, 31, said: 'Newspapers have more depth. You can't compare full-page coverage in print to a one-minute coverage on a news bulletin.' Lagging far behind on credibility are news websites (3 per cent) and Internet blogs and forums (1 per cent). [3] Miss Poon Jiat Ling, 22, a pharmacy student at the National University of Singapore, offers a possible reason: Mainstream media is more comprehensive and objective in its coverage while blogs are more personal and 'can be heavily biased' [4]...
[1] It's time people with online diaries and folks from TVLand start commissioning their own surveys! [2] Even the survey commissioned by the newspaper found that 40 percent of respondents don't find the newspaper to be credible, assuming that the article title is correct! I mean, wow! The title of this article shouldn't be about bloggers; it should really be: Almost Half Of This Newspaper's Readers Don't Find It Credible ! [3] One percent of respondents find blogs credible. I really do hope that most, if not all, of the readers of this blog make up the 1 out of 100 people who find blogs mildly credible! [4] Too funny, considering [2] LOL. Update (!): Mr. Miyagi was nice enough to feature this blog in his weekly column for the Today newspaper. More from tomorrow.sg.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bibbulmun Track / Hewett's Hill Campsite

Two days ago, I walked the Bibbulmun Track. Well actually, just 1% of it since the whole trail is almost 1000km long! Took the first 7am bus to the Kalamunda, found the Northern Terminus traihead, but promptly got lost within the first 100m. Luckily, that didn't happen too often for the rest of the 20km return hike. The view before the descent to Piesse Brook. The plan was to walk 10km to Hewett's Hill Campsite, and then walk back. It was quite straightforward because of the cool morning, except for the ascent immediately after crossing the bridge at Piesse Brook over loose, eroded rocks. That was tricky because I was wearing running shoes and not hiking boots. The yellow triangular signs tells folks where to go. If it points to the right, it means 'turn right'. They're nailed onto trees along the trail. I reached the first Hewett's Hill Campsite in around three hours. The place was fantastic! Beds for eight people, tables, benches... And the most important thing as far as I was concerned as I'd seriously underestimated my water requirements, two large tanks of rainwater! There was an American hiker from Minnesota there. He'd already walked 100km from the south for the past five days and was finishing up the trip back to Kalamunda. The blue box on the table contains visitor logbooks. Some of the entries were like long essays; most of it very funny, and others more heartfelt. One person wrote in an entry that his life wasn't going too well and maybe something better would come out of this experience; the trip was also his way of staring danger in the face... Little did I know that I was close to experiencing the same thing on my way back to Kalamunda. I guess it's a combination of several things: the heat, the limited water supply, and probably the climbs. If the ground were flat, it was probably OK. On hindsight, I definitely need another water bottle for trips like these. The GPS was a lifesaver, without the electronic breadcrumbs and the indication of distance travelled, it's much harder to ration the available water.

So apart from that, the hike was really wonderful. The trail was well maintained, and the campsite was great. The thing I love about the Australian bush is that the trees and plants are much 'neater' compared to tropical rainforests. It doesn't seem as 'overgrown'. Another very dramatic thing is that it's so quiet in the bush. There aren't a lot of the loud insects or whatever, there's only the rustling of the leaves in the warm wind. But sometimes the silence was interrupted by jumping kangaroos. I saw around four, and the 'thump thump' they made as they moved around so effortlessly like Zhang Ziyi hopping from rooftop to rooftop in Crouching Tiger was a thing to behold. They looked like they were flying... Anyway, I reckon if I go to Perth once a year to spend 5 days hiking 100km, I would finish the route in 10 years! Oh well, the journey of a thousand kilometres begins with the first 10...

Heirisson Island

OK Amy, here's proof that 1) there's an island called Heirisson Island, and 2) kangaroos live on this island! LOL This place rocks. The last time I was here, there were I think six kangaroos. This time I either saw two, or four (because I was unsure if the two that I saw initially were the same two that I saw a few minutes later.) Can you see them 'roos?! The good thing about the 'roos here is that they aren't really afraid of people, so it's quite possible to get closer to them. Anyway, a plug for the Singapore Zoo, it seems that more grey kangaroos are joining the existing colony. Crikey!