Saturday, October 27, 2018

Education, the MMORPG

After the review session yesterday, from the fragments of observations other people talked about, I pieced together an analogy of how education works here, as in how it seems so successful at the early stages, then successes taper off at higher levels of development.

Our education system is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). All our kids play, or at least participate in the same game together. There arr monsters to defeat, quests to undertake, and rewards to gain for every success. But it's quite a challenging, and punishing game in that it's a grind, meaning that we spend a lot of time doing repetitive, meaningless tasks to accumulate experience points (EXP) as we level up. Leveling up unlocks harder, but more rewarding challenges. Everybody wants to level up as quickly as possible to 'farm' the best rewards the game can dish out.

Most MMORPGs work this way, but our version comes with an online trading system. Advantaged players with the most resources at the start of the game immediately source out and buy the best Unique or Legendary items with which to equip themselves, even before encountering their first low-level rat-monster. Armed with the most powerful level-permitted weapon, and the toughest body-armour money can buy, players blaze through the earliest tutorial stages with ease. Their achievements are impressive, leveling up faster than the other players around the rest of the world. While most other players are still struggling with basic arithmetic, our players are already tackling rudimentary algebra. Collectively, we continue wowing the education world with players constantly topping the academic Olympiad and PISA leagues.

Our successes are based on the pay-to-win strategy that we are all complicit in. All the extra tuition, all the best assessment books, all the best IT equipment, everything money can buy that will give our players a leg-up we willingly spend on. We even pay for dubious 'cheat codes', as some tuition centres purport to offer. We believe in advantaging our players early so that they can have the best start in life. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, if our rapidly unlocked 'Achievements' are dependent on our money-bought equipment, then our players aren't really learning to play the game. They won't need the think around a task or puzzle, or figure out how to defeat a boss monster. You don't need to develop a strategy if you can just bludgeon a problem to death. Many of our players won't even need to consider co-op play -- since they can solo everything, why bother with the complexities of working with other people, and sharing the rewards after?

And so, for our players, education is a game in which they do nothing else but grind, level up, trade for new equipment, rinse and repeat until they max out their characters at the Level Cap -- that is, the level at which there are no higher levels to attain. At this level, our players believe they have attained "Education", and the game is over. After all, what;s there to do when there are no more levels to grind for?

The thing with Education, the MMORPG, is that -- as with most MMORPGS -- the real game begins at the level cap.  At the End Game, the other players who have been learning the game instead of being 'carried' through start to shine. Having understood their characters inside-and out, and figuring out the game mechanics as they struggled through their levels, the real fun begins. They've learned to optimize their randomly-dropped equipment, and strategise around what they have instead of what they've bought to take on the toughest challenges. At his point of the game, the really good rewards are incredibly hard to find, but the sense of accomplishment is real, whereas those with a sense of entitlement are constantly frustrated by the rarity of the drops. Another reason to 'rage quit', since the game was never really very interesting for them to begin with.

What this analogy hopes to explain is how Education today seems to develop young minds so quickly and with so much promise, and yet in later life, most of them are stuck in unfulfilling, mundane job mediocrity, and are wondering where it all went wrong. So it's possible that we parents who so want to provide our children the advantages we never had growing up, could be killing their "joy of learning" with our good intentions instead.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Black Panther: Lion King recycled?

Is it just me, or does The Black Panther seem like Disney's The Lion King in reverse?

Spoiler alert:

Mufasa (T'chaka) kills Scar (N'Jobu).

Scar's son (Killmonger) is exiled thereafter and makes friends with the Jackals (Ulysses Klaue and gang).

Meanwhile, Simba (T'chaka) becomes king, supported by his mom (Ramonda) and the spiritual Rafiki (Zuri).

Simba has a love interest in Nala (Nakia), and is friends with playful and inventive Timon (Shuri+Everett K Ross), and stubborn, charge-into-battle Pumbaa (Okoye).

Crisis happens when the exile returns to the tribe and challenges the incumbent for the throne.

In the end, House Mufasa still prevails over House Scar.

Not to take away from a great movie presenting strong nuance and food for thought, but perhaps there really aren't any new stories to tell.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

The replacement

Behold the the new ride! Design-wise, it's still the same basic shape as the previous, so in a way, I feel I'm keeping the same old car, just with a heap of upgraded components.

Only got to drive him home from the dealership today, so there's not enough driving for a strong first impression. Still, there's a sense of more cabin space internally, while externally it feels slightly longer and the tiniest bit wider in bulk than I'm used to. And while the old car gave off a free-wheelin' fun vibe, this new model feels more mature in the upholstery, the safety features, energy efficiency, entertainment system, and the clean, functional dashboard display.

And because it's Chinese New Year, the dealership sent along a box of Goodwood Park pineapple tarts in the shape of ancient Chinese gold taels, each topped with a sliver of gold leaf. They offer a satisfactory bite, not crumbly and not too sweet. Best shared over a steaming pot of tea. Thanks, Mazda!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

No longer mine

M2 has a new owner now. Handed over with both sets of (working) keys, manual, servicing booklet, and roadworthiness inspection documentation. His new designation: an Uber car.

Selling a car second-hand was an on-the-job learning process for me. Here is the sequence as I experienced it:

List car on online auction site. Drive over and have them photograph the car inside and out, and run tests. The car gets advertised on their website along with their report of your car's condition, according to their tests. Open bidding ensues. After 24-hours, bidding closes and the seller is informed of the highest bid. If acceptable, the auctioneer informs the bidder that the deal is on and... that's where I found myself on my own.

The bidder called me to arrange a viewing and a test drive. At this point, it would have been good for me to have had 1) downloaded a sales agreement, and 2) obtained a Transaction PIN (T PIN) from the One Motoring website, to avoid looking like such a greenhorn selling my car. Note that the T PIN is NOT to be handed over to the prospective buyer until the sales agreement is signed -- meaning that the intention to transfer ownership is confirmed.

Since I hadn't yet obtained a T PIN, I went to the LTA branch at Sin Ming. The experience was nothing like the stereotypical DMV staffed by sloths. Instead, it was over so quickly, my head was still spinning when I left, sealed T PIN in hand. Arriving there a half-hour before closing time might have helped. Maybe.

On transaction day (for me today), I exchanged the T PIN for a cheque, signed the transfer of ownership form, and we're done.

Last thing I need to do is to cancel my auto insurance policy for a pro-rated refund since the car is no longer under my name.

Sigh. Hope to see you on the roads again, old boy!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

To market, to market

I feel like I'm selling a good friend off once again. M2's been a really good boy these 8 and a half years. He's given no trouble at all; and still gives fine, comfortable rides. I get speed when I want it, and confident control while corning. Compact, easy to park, manoeuvres easily around obstacles, he is difficult to give up. If it weren't for the dratted COE that limits car ownership to only 10 years, I'd keep him for years to come.

Here, I'm prepping him with an exterior wash and an interior polish so that he'd look nice and fetch a better price at the auction among 2nd hand car dealers. It feels like a betrayal, treating him so nicely now only for my personal gain. Really hope whoever takes over ownership from me appreciates the quality of this little car which has served me so well.

On a separate but related note, it's time to tell the truth about how M2 lost his original 17" stock rims and had them replaced with his first set of 15" sports rims. It was CNY 2015. On my way to work early in the morning, I made my usual U-turn towards the CTE. Sitting in the shotgun seat was a bottle of the wife's handmade CNY cookies intended for E. As I was making the turn, inertia caused the bottle to fall off its perch. I tried to catch it but in so doing, took my eyes off the road. Instead of straightening out, I kept the steering wheel on the turn. M2 mounted the central divider with a nasty bump, causing me to look up. It was horrific to see the metal railing just centimeters from my front grill. While thinking "this is it...!", I immediately yanked the wheel left. M2 responded instantly, barely avoiding disaster. The folks at the bus stop probably assumed that a stupid driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. Anyway, the initial bump tore my right front tyre, but I was still able to limp to the nearest service station. The rest of the story I'd already posted. Today, if anyone's curious about the car-shaped hole in the bushes of the central divider, yep, my bad.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Another set of wheels

Done it again. M2's getting to be 9 soon. Thought it a good idea to visit the Motor Show last weekend. Got a call today congratulating me on a successful COE bid.

That escalated quickly!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Old timer, meet new timepiece

Just arrived: my new wristpiece. As the box says, it's a Ticwatch with full Android Wear functionality.

Unboxing, the product bears a large display for which I am grateful. It has only one Home button on the left, but who needs more buttons when every other control you need is on the touchscreen?

The display is bright and clearly visible, and a relief as I am so used to squinting at my previous display, these eyes not being what they used to be. This model is the Ticwatch S, which means it comes with a lot of health apps, "S" being for "sports". One more thing to nag at me daily to get my 10K steps in. Other items in the box are a screen protector and a nifty pair of charging cables. I guess the future is here. If you see me talking to my wrist, I'm actually asking Google Assistant to take a note, make an appointment, direct me to a location, or text so-and-so.

Meantime, My old Pebble Time must have known he was soon to be replaced. Still perfectly functional, it really wasn't his time. But since his parent company got sold away, I needed to find a reliable replacement -- I just didn't expect the Ticwatch to be delivered so soon. Anyway, over the weekend, I suffered a careless misstep and fell head first into a parked bicycle. But most of the damage went to the old Pebble Time, with the now severely scratched faceplate. Guess it's his way of saying he will always be mine, now that I can't sell him off or give him away any more. I'll keep him paired with my old Note 5. Relics of yesteryear.