Friday, August 27, 2004

The woes of Watson are never-ending. Against all advice, I downloaded and installed the much hyped Windows Service Pack 2 just to be the first on the bandwagon of the latest Windows update, because MS insists it's the greatest thing since XP came out, and despite the problems other downloaders have been facing, MS invites us to install it first THEN sort out the problems later 'cos apparently it's worth it. As far as I can tell, SP2 offers an improved firewall and an option to automatically download Windows latest updates as and when there arises a new hole discovered and needs a-plugging. Like, I've got Norton Internet Security running already and it does a much better job of keeping intrusions and viruses out than SP2 even pretends it does, so WTH, there is no rush, is there?

MOE, like many other heavily networked corporations, advises employees to adopt a wait-and-see approach to SP2 just to make sure there aren't any compatibility problems that it might bring to their networks. I don't listen too good, do I? SP2 immediately crippled both my browsers (I run both IE and Mozilla. Why? Dunno, maybe just greedy), slowing down surfin' to a snooze. It could only handle text downloads, graphics were too much for it, and soon I'd come to a stage where I would simply get "Server not detected" messages. I was facing offline status again, and contemplating reformat... etc. Boy, was I ever moody today.

Fortunately, SP2 has one saving grace. It is uninstallable. Hence, I'm here blogging away again :P and warning one and all: install SP2 at your own risk.

Topic switch:
Q-tip is on a hunger strike today. For a small dog she has a nerve-wrackingly loud tummy rumble when she's hungry. She's been rumbling all evening, refusing to eat, even when June tried to tempt her with food scraps from our own dinner. Admittedly, the chicken was stringy and dry, but that's never stopped Q-tip from begging before. Tonight she kept her dignity and staunchly continued to fast. Hope she's ok. Wonder if she's sad that Mimi has gone home?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Word got around that I had studied abroad before. Was approached on this basis to respond to a JC1 project survey questionnaire. Spent a bit of time answering the questions so I thought I'd make it my entry for today.

Q: After studying abroad, why did you come back to Singapore?
A: Student visa expired before I could find a job.

Q: After pursuing an education abroad, would you migrate to that country with your family if you could afford it and had the means?
A: Possibly. Depends on which country is more able to support good family life, I suppose. If I had started a family there, I guess I would have stayed there.

Q: If you were on a bond while studying abroad, would you forfeit the bond and work abroad?
A: Probably not. Though it depends on how attractive the counter-offer was.

Q: How does the education system abroad (way of teaching) differ from Singapore?
A: In terms of teaching and learning, it doesn’t, really. Perhaps more emphasis on learning through student discussions and public presentations, though not as often as portrayed in the media.

One thing that is different is that students learn and apply academic research techniques from young so they read and write more maturely than their peers here. Students are assessed by continual assessment, with a strong weightage on classroom participation, much more than the measly 5% max we generally give to our students here.

Q: How different is the school culture in Singapore and abroad?
A: Maybe the students have a greater sense of independence because they are not so closely supervised by the authorities to the minutest detail. The authorities only set broad guidelines. The students make up their own social rules with their own peers and they obey these rules closely, rather than have very specific rules applied to them from top-down. There are pros and cons, of course.

Q: Singapore versus the country you have studied in, which country focuses more on academic achievement?
A: No difference. Education is important everywhere. However, in Singapore, students tend to pursue their studies almost exclusively, as if there aren’t any other aspects of their lives to develop. Singapore students feel guilty doing things other than their studies because of this.

Singapore society tends to belittle other achievements if academic achievement is not commensurate. All other activities that Singapore students participate in are for the purpose of “enriching” their academic achievements through schemes like PEARLS and CIP, rather than enriching themselves by their participation in these activities. As a result, Singapore students lack initiative in doing things for themselves because too many activities have been programmed for them already. After they’ve done their programmed obligations they’re just too tired, or sick, or bored to do anything else on their own.

Too much supervision, too much accountability, too much emphasis on doing things that have a foreseeable profitable outcome, too little independence – it’s not so much which country focuses more on academic achievement, it’s which country focuses too much on it?

Q: Singapore versus the country you have studied in, which is more stressful in terms of work load?
A: As long as we can prioritize our tasks, be realistic with what we can or cannot accomplish, including rest and recreation, in a 24 hour day and be consistent with our readings and assignments, student stress is quite manageable.

Unfortunately, in Singapore, we give priority to EVERYTHING. However, those things that have no obvious academic profit are things we engage in as guilty pleasures. When we rest or do something other than study, our conscience tells us we are doing something wrong even if we need to do it for our personal health and psychological well-being. Hence, we NEVER get any rest. No wonder we are such a stressed-out bunch.

Q: After those who have studied abroad and came [sic] back to Singapore, what impacts do you think [they?] will have on Singapore?
A: They will get sucked back into “the system,” or leave, or try to change things around them however they can. Hopefully, more will do the last.

***** THANK YOU *****

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Watched Tina & co performing tonight. Must say that performance discipline, the attention to form and line, and the patience of execution were visually very interesting. On the whole, movement was clean; simple clarity works everytime. However, at times the storytelling did get fuzzy, losing itself in a little too much detail. It's good that the company did focus on detail, but here and there we lost the stylized minimalism when certain movements became fussily realistic. It's a fine line.

Stories ranged from the bizarre supernatural to whimsical portrayals of human relationships and break-ups. The final item, "Re:cycling," is nostalgic for us alumni-types. Most of us have performed in this ensemble piece at some point of our stint with Tina. Competition, compassion, constancy, continuity; these main themes haven't changed from way back when.

There was the usual "audience participation" routine where random members of the audience were shown character portrayals within particular scenarios and then had to reenact them to tell the story, in this instance, "Romeo and Juliet." Nothing "random" about Fran being the choice of male lead -- after all, he's an old friend of the company and this might as well be his swan-song performance before he returns home to Winnipeg (for good) in the next couple of months. The woman selected for the role of Juliet was chosen at random, and as it turned out, she was a performer with another local theatre company though Tina, who did the selecting, didn't know it at the time. So we had fraternity performing as "clueless" audience participants, and they did their best not to look too "professional" as they were performing the antics Tina got them to do as the ill-fated couple.

It was nice to see old friends again too. William on sound, and performing were Caleb, Charlotte, Serena, Keng Shin and surprise, surprise, Flo, whom I haven't seen in years! It's great that continuity flows in the company with founding blood mixing with the new talent (so new to me I don't even know their names). I'd love to play again too, but time-wise and responsibility-wise it's going to take a lot better time management than I can cope with.

Still, in my capacity I am exploring interesting directions for closer ties between MU and NYeDC and, hopefully, the NYeDC programme will become an even more credible training ground for young stage talents to grow and cut their teeth on. Well, perhaps that's a little too early to say, so watch this space for further developments. There, now I've said it, I'd better do something about it.

Hope the four NYeDC members I brought with me enjoyed themselves this evening. If you're reading this, feed back, ok?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Once again, reading segments while in transit, I finished Gaiman's Stardust. A fairy tale for adults and a very easy-going read. 2 worlds, 1 cold, mundane, pragmatic, the other wondrous, full of life and surprises, and hidden dangers. 1 young man standing between both worlds and forced to choose between one or the other. As things go, the choice is not a hard one to make. He goes where he becomes most involved, where he has suffered the most, and where his heart's desire lives (literally speaking).

Tristran is a most peculiar boy who does not pursue his birthright until he is himself good and ready to do so. Most of the time he's ignorant of who he is anyway, but even when he does find out he absolutely refuses to claim what's his until he's settled all his other prior obligations first. 'Prior' here means having nothing to do with what he was born to do. So, a bit of a deviation from the regular fairy-tales that simplify destiny to a simple process of wanting and having.

The invocation of children's nursery rhymes as powerful event controllers is similar to that in Alice: Through the Looking-Glass, and the one rhyme, "The Lion and the Unicorn," is exactly the same rhyme Alice invoked, though the version in Stardust appears to have been re-worded to acknowledge the Lion's victory over the unicorn. But political power is fleeting -- the lion accepts his crown and is never mentioned in the tale again, while the loser, the unicorn, plays a major role in saving the life of Tristran's fallen star. The power of love, apparently, triumphs in the long run.

Complications in the relationship of Tristran and his star arise, but are quickly and cleanly resolved. Misunderstandings and misreading of messages occur but there is no time wasted in hand-wringing long-drawn out melodrama as these plot devices might be overplayed in Hong Kong TV serials. I guess people who love this sort of maudlin are going to feel cheated emotionally, but I think it just gets in the way of a good story.

Didn't get to watch AVP again today. Came back too late, but June prepared a nice seafood soup using fresh fish and frozen oysters (mmm...). Considering the small plate of mee rebus this afternoon was all I had to eat all day, a hot home cooked meal was most welcome.

Oh, the mee rebus came from the reception for Mr Niam, Number One guy from HDB who came to visit us and talk with the JC1s about "Principles of Governance." We shouldn't have worried that the Q&A session would be totally silent. The JC1s asked some politically touchy questions which our guest had to respond to very carefully. For example, the succession of LSL as PM, the casino conundrum, and the lowering of CSL standards as a qualifying criterion for uni admission. While the questions were thought-provoking, the questioners appeared a little belligerent (despite the reminder this morning), like they actually cared about getting a satisfactory answer to their query. Their words were polite enough, but their tone suggested otherwise. Interesting bunch, our JC1s.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Gave blood today. My prevous appointment was in 2002 so I skipped out of this blood-letting ritual the last two years. Blood Bank just chose the wrong days to show up, and I have been too lazy to go look for a blood donation centre if it didn't come to me first. Bad boy.

Today I remembered what's so scary about donating blood on campus. It takes 2 hours between the time you acquire the health questionnaire and declaration form to the time they let you have your milo and cookies. Next time, I'll bring a book to read while I wait.

At my last appointment, the nurse could not find the vein in my left arm. She poked and prodded with the needle, making 4 or 5 attempts before she hit the motherlode. I was a bit apprehensive that this would happen again and I said so to the nurse today. She made me feel really stupid when she just switched me over to a right-arm donating station. The vein was perfectly visible on my right arm.

The initial pinprick only stings a little and that's all the pain there is. 10 minutes of gentle forearm clenches to aid the flow and I was done. 1 more bag of B Rhesus Positive to add to the Bank's collection. Gratefully accepted a pack of Ca fortified Jacob's cream crackers (a bit too healthy for my taste. Last time they gave chocolate biccies), a packet of Milo, a week's supply of Fe tablets and an appointment card asking me to come back soon. Well, only if it's convenient I guess.

Intended to go watch AVP after dinner. 9pm show at Sun Plaza. Thought I'd watch a little TV before setting off. Fell asleep, woke up at 10:30. So much for tonight's popcorn-and-coke movie treat. Must be more tired than I thought.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

It's easy to be discouraged when our last medal hopes vanish into the elusive vapour that has always dogged us whenever we attempt to reach for athletic glory. To come so close, and then lose it all when at the last stretch it gets snatched away again. It's natural to wonder what went wrong, and to ask if we have actually set our sights too high, or if our hope is nothing more than a fool's cause.

The answer will be affirmative, if we let this setback prevent us from stretching out and attempting another grab at the next opportunity. If we no longer make another attempt, if we no longer do something to improve our reach next time around, then we are truly defeated. Then we can sit in the ashes and wait to die, and no one will care.

As far as Olympic table-tennis goes, considering the number of paddlers in the running (172 if you're counting, and roughly half that if you want to get picky) finishing 4th in the Olympics is already jaw-droppingly amazing. Celebrate the achievement and get over the disappointment, then let's take another swipe at it come 2008 -- and this time, the Sports School might be ready to field some new talent as well. 4 more years in personal time is an eternity, but to the national, collective will it's just barely breathing space to take stock and train harder and smarter before the next sally.

Also today, the new PM made his first NDay Rally Speech, and boy, did he have a lot to say.
  1. Old people worry that he will be a young people's PM, so we've got to take care of the old people too.
  2. The young people must be geared up and ready to take on the challenges that they will face when they go out to make a living and a life for themselves, so they must be educated to be intellectually sophisticated, physically resilient and psychologically flexible, to appreciate and participate in the cultures of others but in so doing keep their identity rooted at home here in S'pore, and to discover and pursue their individual niches because then they will carve out for themselves markets to exploit according to their own interests and abilities.
  3. That puts a lot of responsibility on their teachers because teaching kids to pass exams is the easy part of our profession. It's much harder to teach and be accepted if we have higher objectives for them. (Also, something I think PM missed: young people have to start believing that their work and what they achieve is for themselves, not for their parents, and certainly not for the 'government,' although how we're going to convince them of this is beyond me for now).
  4. Then if the new generation is for the young, then where are the young coming from if we don't have more kids today? Erm... 'nuff said about that for now.
A number of sacred cows killed tonight too, PM holding the sacrificial dagger himself. I'm most interested in the policy of the 5-day work week for the civil service. That's going to change a lot of our programmes and just the way we do things in the college, for sure. Will we really be able to let the students off from Saturday remedials, make-up lessons and CCA?

PM said we need to reduce our curriculum and homework quotas and give more time for the students to explore life outside their academic ivory towers, but that seems in direct conflict with what their parents and our paymasters want for them. Some students themselves are going to be upset about this too.

This one could potentially raise a stink and I hope it's handled properly. Worst case scenario is to give us all (staff and students) Saturday off and then require us to account for what we did to justify the off day. Messages from a well-meaning top get messed up in the middle and become nonsense when they implement their derivative policies with us bottom-dwellers. Let's see, shall we?
Today's when all the willpower and focus comes in to play for me. Today I can say that I have put a very serious dent in my marking deficit. I just need to put up the same performance tomorrow and I will be done! Past the deadline, but done nonetheless.

It's so hard to concentrate during the weekdays. So many distractions, so many duties and obligations to fulfill, so this one significant weekend is 'burned' just clearing my in-tray. I guess when I do find the time, and the imperative, I can be a machine, getting what I need to do done; but please, (mental note) not too often, ok?

Sadly, I had to sacrifice the NYeDC's seniors farewell party tonight. I would have loved to go and show my gratitude to 'sif and company for their time and effort in The Odyssey, and have another opportunity to see the 04-05 batch in action and show my support for them as well. Apologies all round for my tardiness.

Meantime, I hope Watson's completely virus-free now. Over the last couple of days I went through a routine of virus scan, delete infected files, edit Windows registry of virus program initiators, only to have to repeat the process again and again when Norton rediscovered the same virus I had just deleted resurrect and infect Watson again. WTH was happening?

Eventually I traced the problem to an innocuous-looking .cab file sitting in the root directory of my c: drive. Scanning it, I discovered it was a compressed file containing all the files the virus needed to activate again. Gotcha! I gleefully deleted it off my c: drive and... minutes later, the virus activated again!!!

Fighting to stay calm, I did a search for all references to the miraculously reappearing .cab file in my c: drive, and there was the culprit: a file in my Windows/Prefetch folder with the same name as the .cab file. This file explained why the virus kept reappearing after I had deleted it. The files in the Prefetch folder automatically download themselves whenever we go online. It's a convenient service MS provides, but it is also exploited by clever virus designers who ensure that their virus continues to be downloaded into the victim's PC after the virus has been dealt with already. Not taking any chances, I also scanned my Registry for any mention of the Prefetch file and deleted them all when they showed up.

Hopefully, I've done all I need to do to kill that damned virus (BTW, it was an IRC Trojan with an accompanying Hacktool, so it could have been quite nasty). I hope Watson's really ok now! Else I'm out of ideas.