Saturday, April 23, 2005

It's mom & dad's 43rd wedding anniversary so we took the opportunity to have a family dinner outside for a change.

The day began a little late. We overslept a bit but still managed to get to Sing See Soon Flower Garden at the junction of Paya Lebar and Bartley just in time to grab their last bouquet of purple roses for mom's pressie. The shop people called the species, "super-rose". They and a whole lot of other imported flowers were kept in a cold-room -- air-conditioned to match European spring temperatures. Cold enough to make breath visible to the naked eye.

The flowers here go for wholesale prices. A bunch of 20 gorgeous super-roses for only $8! Someplace to think about if Valentine's Day or some other special occasion rolls around for your sweetheart, eh, guys?

Drove to Gardens market for brekkie. Bought a lot of the usual local breakfast things like carrot cake, vegetarian noodles, yu tiao, and tau huay. We had Q-tip with us so we couldn't eat there. Instead we brought all that stuff over to mom's place for their second breakfast and our first.

Rushed off soon after to get the M2 groomed at Eddie's. M2's 2nd appointment for car grooming this year. I sent M2 looking filthy after last week's wash and I was a little worried that I would bear the brunt of Eddie's approbation over the state of my car. Last time I saw him, he had instructed me to wash the car twice a week, and if it rains, wash another time. Reasonably, which car owner's got that kind of time?

Caught a cab back home where we arranged to meet our neighbour from immediately downstairs of our flat. According to her, water from our bathroom is leaking into her bedroom and is becoming an inconvenience for her. We went in to look and yes, water does seem to be collecting in her ceiling lamp and a large piece of paint has peeled off from her bathroom ceiling and is now hanging pathetically downwards awaiting gravity to finish the job. We assured her that we'll get HDB to send a contractor right away to assess and repair the damage. As with HDB policy, we'll split the bill between ourselves. Watch this space for further developments.

Went back home, caught some TV, then before long, it was time to collect M2 from Eddie. From Eddie's we drove over to collect mom & dad, then drove back into Gardens to Jumbo Seafood Restaurant. June cursing and swearing that she forgot to bring her Jumbo membership/discount card. Stuffed ourselves full with the usual boring stuff we invariable order -- couple of meats, couple of veg, some tofu, but with the addition of some very fine steamed sea bass and 2 huge steamed crabs. Who thinks steamed crabs are better than chilli crabs? Yup, I thought so!

After dinner adjourned for ice-cream back at mom's place, then home again. Phew! Thought Saturdays were supposed to be for rest?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Last day of the course, today looking at the assessment of Paper 2, the Critical Thinking component of the subject. I must be mentally fatigued or something as I didn't have many intelligent things to contribute to my group's discussion. I kept staring at the sample students' answers and it took a long time for me to make sense out of what I was reading. It wasn't that the answers were bad, but I simply couldn't focus. I kept forgetting what I had read before and had to backtrack constantly. Or is it that my own critical thinking skills are lacking? All I knew was I needed sleep, or at least a week's vacation on a deserted island beach in the South Pacific. Umbrella drink optional.

To celebrate the end of the course, NBS and I paid one last visit to the Ya Kun at Tiong Bahru Plaza. This time we tried the sugar toast and concluded that it's neither the kaya nor any other spread in the toast, but it's the butter that makes it what it is. Must have gained some serious weight over the last week. Too much good food in the vicinity, coffee breaks with catered snacks between classes in the morning and afternoon, and hence, WAY too much coffee -- more than I usually get under normal circumstances.

Abandoned NBS after lunch to attend my promo ceremony. Got to shake the hand of one of our senior directors, whose youthful appearance was a bit humbling. She must be one of the scholar-types on the fast-track to the up-and-up, while the rest of us (me anyway) are contented being the bottom-feeders in the fish-tank of the ministry.

Pete snuck us into an oddly unutilized LT4 for rehearsal this evening. We ran the whole play through and though it's seriously rough, it's coherent. 8 more rehearsals to go, so they're going to be really intensive. Better prepare mentally and physically. And Yee's creating a publicity gimmick that's going to make a big impact on Monday morning. The cast and crew will be on campus this Sunday getting our surprise ready. Hope it turns out as he envisions it.

Last note: Happy bdae to Jane! Gorgeous cake!
Day 4 of my course and it's a marking and assessment workshop of students' essays in KI. Cambridge stressed how scrupulously fair their marking of exam questions is, so today we bashed out what we thought 'fair' meant in practical terms at college (ground-zero) level. The main concern was with Paper 3, the independent study project: just how far does the definition of "independent" extend? As always, there is little consensus between those who want to push for as-much-help-as-possible for the students, and those who interpret "independent" as completely-on-you-own, no help from the teachers at all, or else it's cheating.

Someone has to make a decision on this, but in the meantime, I suggest keeping it real. For the independent study, students should be allowed to seek whatever 'help' they can get as long as the source is relevant to the question they set themselves out to answer; students must credit all their consultations, dialogues, divinations, etc., in the bibliography section of the KI Paper 3. This way, the markers should get a better handle on what kind of 'help' the student got. And 'how much' of it too. Since part of the KI curriculum comprises ethics as a key module, what better way to test the students' internalization of ethical principles than making them be honest about the information and other assistance acquired in the writing of their essay?

Bowling tournament tonight. Bowled a lousy 133 average, and this was after I scored a "turkey" (3 strikes in a row) during the last game. Then my subsequent throws went all over the place. Still, this is roughly my current average -- I haven't made much improvement, personally, but I think as a team the Gutter Boys are slowly getting better. Perhaps next month we'll see some real progress?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Day 3 of my course and today we're looking at the introduction of our first real independent research paper for JC students. This is the main reason why I decided to move my teaching in this direction from GP in the first place. A chance to work directly with pre-university students on the kind of stuff they will be doing at uni level. Something real, and concrete, and skills that have direct application to their near-future rather than some nebulous far-off date close to never.

It's a tough paper, all right. A 6-month programme during which individual students will submit a research proposal to be approved by a Cambridge board (not by the teacher!) followed up with a major essay of 2500-3000 words in length, about -- get this -- thought and thinking about a particular topic of study. For example:

We know that "Jedi knight" is becoming a recognized religion by the increasing number of people who are claiming to be followers of this pop-culturally derived belief system. So, by what basis do we identify a body of human activity as "religious?" Since a religion spreads by the successful transmission of a particular canon of knowledge thus creating new converts (who had previously believed in a different canon of knowledge), how might a person be attracted to change his/her religion which may entail the eradication his/her previous belief system in order to accept the new one? How might a convert deal with such a radical thought-changing experience? How might the convert's previous socio-religious circle deal with such a change? (I made this question up, so it probably needs work still).

Well, something like that. The focus is not on "religion," mind you, but rather on the creation, transmission, and perpetuation of the knowledge behind religion, and more importantly, how that knowledge is used to expand a religion's reach amongst people; and perhaps a further exploration into whether such usage might constitute an ethical breach in our modern day social contract to respect religious diversity amongst our people.

This type of exploration goes far beyond what GP ever pushed JC students to think about. I think they can rise to the challenge if they have guts and gumption enough. Wonder what my class size will be next year -- 8?

KI has the potential for great fun and learning, and heated animated discussion, but it's definitely not for the squeamish.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Day 2 of my course. Yesterday we looked at critical thinking through the analysis of the reasoning behind chunks of text. We looked at argument premises and supporting points, and we looked at assumptions on which arguments are based. These components, depending on how they are related together make or break an argument and there is a logical, if technical way of determining if an argument is valid or not.

Today, we looked at the ethical dimension motivating decision and action for people individually and socially. We asked what was 'right' and what was 'wrong' and on whose authority do we make such claims? We looked at some simplified principles and ethical premises of various ethical schools of thought and we tried approaching various moral dilemmas on these disparate bases.

These moral dilemmas are to some extent similar to some of the decisions we have to make in KOTOR2. OK, I'm obsessed. Light-siders are motivated to do "Good" though there is the unlikelihood of gaining material reward. Sometimes, lightsiders even sacrifice material (making donations to "worthy" but unprofitable causes, for example) in the hope of gaining lightside alignment points. No material benefit, but your character's portrait appears enshrined by a column of bright, white light, stands up taller and straighter, and looks increasingly heroic. A virtue ethicist approach, as the end result of an action or the consequences matter less than the character building opportunity one gets from dealing with a crisis.

Sith characters, on the other hand, advance themselves through a more utilitarian approach. A pragmatic, what's-in-it-for-me attitude. Sith can gather more material resources this way, at the expense of an increasingly ugly (subjective term), twisted character portrait. Also, Sith get to use the cooler, more spectacular and deadly darkside powers at a discounted cost -- Force choke and lightning, for example. Who cares about 'character-building' when you can do cool stuff like this?

Hmm... now, how can I convince the college to let my students play KOTOR 2 so I can engage them in ethical discourse...?

This evening, Tina sent over the latest update on our Drama Night script and Shah is still choreographing for the Witch's big entrance number. If done well, people are going to love to hate our Witch as soon as she appears. HT dropped in on us to catch a preview. Hey, grrl!

And now for some good news: Girlfriend has recovered over the weekend at Dr Casey's and is now terrorizing the veterinary staff with her teeth and claws. Dr Casey arranged for us to take Girlfriend back to the Square where she belongs. She's a little tired out and annoyed with the blood testing, the sedation, the confinement, the drip and whatever else they put her through. She's eating again, so she should be able to fully recover soon. Hopefully, this is 1 cat that we have 'rescued' from this blight.
June thinks I am a control-freak, and maybe she's right. Today though I was supposed to be on-course I still started the day on campus to conduct my PW tutorial before taking off to Exams Branch. I felt I needed to explain the initial stage of this year's project tasks, and I hope they bought my explanation enough to actually find something useful to propose as their INDIVIDUAL project.

Was too clever and took a short-cut from campus towards the CTE, then annoyingly got lost on the way. It was a matter of knowing which lane turns where and I kept getting stuck on lanes that took me further and further away from my destination. Arrived nearly a half-hour late, and the course had already gone into full swing when I sheepishly opened the dors and tried to find a seat near some familiar face. Fortunately, I soon found NBS to sit with. NBS, my new partner in crime (or KI, anyway)... heh, heh!

Missed an opportunity to join Anthony & Co for drinks at the sub-zero bar tonight. After the course, I went back to campus for Drama Night rehearsal. After that I was simply too tired to go back downtown where I had just been just a couple of hours ago.

On the way home, another pick-up truck unexpectedly swung into my lane, and for once, I beeped my horn in anger. Nice to know you have this reflex at the time you really need it. I stepped hard on the brakes but thankfully the car behind me had been keeping his distance, so nothing more than a scare. Phew!

Monday, April 18, 2005

After our previous failure to secure Girlfriend, I purchased a proper cat carrier from the pet shop next to Dr Casey's. It has a locking door so no need to rely on cable ties and whatnot to keep the enclosure secure. This morning, Girlfriend happened to be sitting outside the NTUC and June lured her into the open with the promise of fresh kibble. It was then easy for her to pin Girlfriend down then pick her up and stuff her into the carrier. Mission Accomplished!

We brought Girlfriend to see Dr Casey but Dr Tan attended to us instead. We hospitalized Girlfriend for observation and further testing. Poor thing. Dr Tan called us later in the afternoon to ask if she should sedate Girlfriend who was getting increasingly agitated and defensive. In order to treat her immediately, sedation seemed necessary, and I didn't have any better options. So I gave consent, at the risk that Girlfriend might need more and more sedation from day to day if her attitude continues to be poor and her health continues to deteriorate. Too much sedation could kill her too.

Best thing would be for Girlfriend to quickly pull through this disease, then we can release her back to her natural habitat again. And after surviving this round of infection she should be immune to it if it should come round again. Today she's still looking pretty horrible with that stuff coming out of her eyes and making her face so dirty. Get well soon, Girlfriend.

This evening we saw Groucho who also looks sick. We also saw Nabiki (Girlfriend's daughter) who thankfully looks fine, except for being uncharacteristically quiet. Perhaps she misses all her friends who lived in the Square?