Friday, July 27, 2007

Another essay exercise for my kids means another essay from me to entertain myself with while overseeing the task. Question reads: "Science cannot explain everything; religion can. Discuss."

In answering the question I tried to be objective. Instead, I ended up sounding more aetheistic than anything else. Oh, well. Click here if you must.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dinner at Mad Jack, in Jln Kayu. The old Teochew porridge place is long gone, and has since been replaced by this Aussie-styled burger joint.

This place offers a Halal menu, so no Q-tips permitted on the premises. Poor thing.

For just slightly higher than food court prices, we got a burger and a striploin steak. They offer a triple-deck burger they call a "Blue Mountain", but I chickened out of that challenge and went with the reg'lar ol' single-patty variety. On hindsight, I think I could have taken on a Blue Mountain and survived.

Love the patty. Tastes freshly hand-made before grilling. There's no filler or other nonsense holding the patty together, so it's pure meat and can still fall apart in the sandwich. Never mind, that's why they provide forks.

The fries are large but surprisingly light and fluffy, and go nicely with the Heinz ketchup proudly displayed on every table.

Still, while the food's pretty decent, I feel it lacks the presentation of, say, Botak Jones. Mad Jack's is stark, minimalist and fuctional, whereas Jones is overwhelming with the largesse of their portions.

Jones still rules the big burger places here in S'pore.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

NYconneX seems to have touched a nerve with last week's project work article! And I couldn't be happier! There is a real discussion going on with angry, angsty comments in the tagboard. Finally, we're getting to the point where our readers are opening up and speaking their minds. Perhaps they aren't so apathetic after all.

The beef is about how some JCs have attained a miserable "A" "B" grade percentage in last year's assessment compared to others scoring astronomical results. The kids are upset that for many of them, their efforts didn't score them an "A" and they are bemoaning that PW is just a waste of time, should be scrapped... whine, whimper, sob.

There's no consistency in the grading, and supervisors have their own interpretation of what's important and give conflicting advice, depending on who's asking and who's answering. In other words, PW is one big giant complete mess and so what's the point?

People, arise and savour the olfactory sensation of fresh brewed caffeine. In the real world, there IS no consistency. Unless a group firmly believes in the worth of what it's doing (like maybe the Al-Qaeda), projects usually put people who hate each other together to work towards a common but highly negotiated, diluted, compromised goal. Group members are hell to work with -- we have control freaks; leave-me-aloners; slackers who need fork-lift assistance to help them turn over in their beds; slave-drivers; just to name a few. And in the real world, project failure is more common than project success.

An even bigger mystery is how some projects can be so utterly crap (check out the multitudinous complaints directed at the iPhone, for example) and yet, they are such commercial successes. NASA engineers scribble ideas on pub napkins (see Wolfe's "The Right Stuff") and they send astronauts to the moon and back. In short, why some projects succeed and so many others fail, no one can say for certain.

Part of the reason for a successful project could be in the way the project is ultimately sold. Regardless of how much effort goes into a project, how well it has been researched and tested, if no one buys it (literally and figuratively) it's wastebasket material. For our kids, I think many lose points for being unable to carry themselves confidently at the oral presentation. If they doubt their own project, it shows. If project members haven't been carrying their own weight, it shows. If the team lacks unity, it shows. If you don't believe in your own product, or your own rationale for doing it, who will? I wouldn't buy your product if your pitch went, "We don't know why we did it, but we won't go to university if we didn't." That's just stupid.

And what about The Grade itself? If we were grading the kids on how much effort they put into their project, how many late nights they spent on it, how many brain cells they sacrificed for it, how much TV and Nintendo time was lost because of the endless meetings and paperwork they had to file for it, and we didn't give them an "A", that would be grossly unfair of us. Unfortunately, that's not what we grade their projects on. Ultimately, we want a project that works, that is socially responsible in its benefits, and is something we can believe in. Give us something REAL, and maybe, just maybe, we'll appreciate what you are offering.

PW isn't about the grade, anyway. The learning comes more from the attempt and the experience in working with others towards a real and realistic objective. If you get an "A", maybe you'll get to go to the uni. But if you learn how to collaborate, solve problems, and sell your own creations to an audience, maybe you don't need university to get on in life, after all.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Caught the RSC double-bill over the weekend, together with the lit and drama kids. It was wonderful to see how lengthy Shakespearean speeches could be so visually arresting as they are being delivered. The actors move, position and pace themselves so well, the audience is looking at a constantly moving picture that is coherent with the speech. Nothing random or incidental in the movement, but nothing static either; King Lear may have been nearly 3 hours long but it was a fascinating experience nonetheless.

The costumes were lush, rich fabrics with very striking colours -- quite a contrast to the simple pragmatic set that transitioned quite seamlessly with the action. Set changes took place in full view of the audience, though in half-light. Like characters themselves, each piece of set entered with purpose and exited with purpose, so even these brief in-between periods were interesting to watch.

And the story itself is as relevant today as it was way back when. Who's gonna look after senile old dad once the error message on his ATM reads "Insufficient funds"? Even though the old man hasn't actually lost his wits -- well, not all of them anyway -- neither of his daughters whom he has generously given all his assets to will put up with his excesses, and instead plot to remove the decrepit inconvenience once and for all. Too bad the country has to got to war as a result.

Sir Ian got a well-deserved standing ovation for his portrayal of the old king. Such a range of human emotion, and such a drastic change of status plus the intermediate stages in between the extremes already isn't easy to play, let alone the fine balance between sanity and stark raving nuts that the old king teeters on. Whoa.

Chekhov's The Seagull was another quality production of the RSC. Played in contemporary English, it was a little easier to follow than King Lear, though the plot is just as convoluted. As Sir Ian clued us in on Friday, most of the characters are plagued with self-doubt. They struggle to meet their own expectations, which are what they perceive society expects of them.

Everyone is unhappy because they can't get what they want, particularly in the area of love. Each is in love with someone who is in love with someone else. In the attempt to gain the favour or even the attention of the one they love, several characters embark on a self-destructive trail leading deeper and deeper into despair. Some characters deal with their situation better than others, of course.

I guess this is true for the human condition. People's desires can never truly be satisfied, with each success, each conquest simply being an eye-opener to new heights to scale, new goals to achieve. Perhaps it's the difference between those who curse God for what they don't have rather than thank him for what they do.

Still, having said that, I personally support our right to be unhappy. I'd rather live knowing there's more to life out there, than being satisfied thinking that was all there was to life. Faint heart ne'er fair hand won.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Hey, 'deep, here's a recording of Sir Ian's spellbinding recitation so we'll never forget it!