Saturday, February 23, 2008

Went to Kum Kum's wake a day later than my fellows had planned. June was busy and I did not wish to meet my long-lost school chums unaccompanied.

After all these years, apart from the moustache he sports, he didn't look all that different from the guy who sat behind me in our last two years of secondary school. Our inquiry revealed that he'd been battling liver cancer for a year already and had finally succumbed.

Guess he wasn't particularly inspired by our nickname for him, so for his official fighter jock callsign he answered to 'Mongol'.

So, to the 'Mongol' whose dreams of flying became reality in life, now the sky's no limit.
Took 12 J2s to the big general knowledge quiz at the national uni. There was a record-breaking number of teams participating this year with more institutions fielding more teams. The teams sat through the preliminary round in which each member had to complete a pencil-and-paper multiple-choice quiz comprising 50 questions. The top three teams with the highest team totals went on to entertain everyone else in the final round held in the afternoon.

The finals was vastly more entertaining than the preliminaries. The three teams representing AC, JJ and R, had to answer time-limited questions in three separate rounds. The first was a multiple-choice with no penalty for wrong answers. The second was a true-false with penalties for wrong answers. The third and last round was a Jeopardy-like game with opportunities to double points for correct answers, be penalized for wrong answers, and to shunt questions to a rival team hoping they don't answer correctly and threrby lose points accordingly.

Arch-rivals, AC and R kept 'sabo-ing' each other, leaving JJ virtually unscathed through the final round. In their all or nothing game, AC emerged victorious while R came off worst. JJ happily accepted second place, though not to take anything away from their performance as they answered their questions correctly when it counted.

Wonder if we could run a similar contest on campus among the CTs? It could make for a fun and educational Assembly session.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bowling alleys. How hard can it be to find one to train in during the late afternoon/early evening hours? Yishun SAFRA fully booked for school tournament. CSC fully booked for school training. Star Bowl closed for a complete overhaul, reopening in July or thereabouts. My last resort was Marine Bowl, ECP, which had some vacant lanes at last.

Marine Bowl boasts the most basic of electronic scoring systems. The pin sweeper is wobbly and the setter occasionally loses a pin on the second roll. The lanes are narrower and shorter than any I've ever bowled in. But because the pins are packed a little more tightly together, it's a great place to rack up some easy strikes.

Bowling here can be quite an ego boost as the pins go down quite easily as long as the ball stays roughly on course down centre. Check out the scores of my three game series: 148, 212, 159. Now, that's a forgiving lane!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Just got word of the demise of an old school chum of mine. From his obituary, it seems he was an air force pilot of both fighters and unmanned aerial reconnaissance craft. No idea what happened to him, so I'll probably find out... if I decide to attend the wake tomorrow.

I'll just immortalize this story of him here: When we were classmates in lower secondary school, there was a cartoon on TV called Kum Kum. We nicknamed my friend after this character because they shared a similar name. One day, he got in trouble with our lit teacher who hauled him up in front of the class and gave him an earful. Thinking the tirade was over, my friend turned to walk back to his seat. But, no, our teacher wasn't finished. She stretched out a hand at him and called him back, "Come come!" I doubt she ever knew the reason why the class dissolved into hilarity at that.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The dog and bunny detectives never fail to amuse me. Sam and Max are into Season 2 Episode 3. This time the case involves returning the undead -- zombies; an emo goth vampire; and his Frankenstein monster -- back from whence they came.

For all the cartoon violence that has been a trademark of the Sam & Max franchise, this episode actually deals with death, though in its own loopy cornball fashion. Let's just say the undead in this universe aren't so bad once you get to know them.

As usual, as with any other point-and-click adventure game, there is a mix of easy puzzles and obscure head-scratchers, though for the latter, the solutions are usually quite 'duh' once you figure out that the game leaves ample clues to indicate what you should do next. The challenge is in seeing the connections, which usually fall into place only after lots of random clicking on-screen.

The one great moment in the game for me is in the exchange between the monster and Max. The monster tells his woeful tale of being the only one of his kind... alone, so dreadfully alone; "no one to confide in, no one to love," to which Max astutely replies, "No one to smack you and tell you to get over yourself already!" If Max wasn't the psychotically violent half of the "freelance police", he'd make a wonderful psychotherapist.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Finally gathered enough people together to throw Mel a seriously belated birthday lunch. We made up a table for 12 (including Linc who made a special guest appearance), occupying the entire bank of tables along the side wall.

The prices at Friends have increased quite a bit. What helped is that with HP's membership privilege, we got a 1-for-1 deal for every Executive Set Lunch we ordered. For those less mathematically inclined, if we had ordered 12 sets, we would have only paid for 6.

For $29 something +++ per Exec Set, we got a soup du jour (the fates arranged that today's soup combined two of Mel's fave things: soup and broccoli); a choice of lasagna, hamburger steak or sea bass; dessert which turned out to be carrot cake; and a choice of hot beverage.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

To avoid the V-Day crowds, we held back till today to use the Spa Esprit@House vouchers I gave June for Christmas. She could have used them for one glorious afternoon of personal pampering, but she chose to buy a single treatment for each of us instead.

Spa Esprit@House is one of the big tenants of Dempsey House, occupying one whole floor of differently themed massage rooms and relaxing corners for tea and light reading. The set-up is modern and professional, and the rooms give a calming sense of privacy as they overlook the secondary forest area of Dempsey Hill.

We both opted for the 'Hot Stone' massage which fully focused on the back, neck, shoulders and limbs... whatever was accessible without having to flip us over on the table. Having slept badly the night before, I was grateful for the extra attention I got for the crick in my neck I'd been nursing all day. While the massage didn't make the pain go away entirely, at least it got soothed down some.

The massage was mostly the application of rolling pressure to the muscles. With the application of some wood-scented essential oil, ginger and black pepper, after a while I felt like pastry being prepared as piecrust. There was an odd disconnect between mind and body -- about halfway through the treatment I couldn't tell if I was awake or not. Mind in beta, body in alpha, a pleasantly weird sensation.

After a relaxing rub-down, it was dinner at Margatita's. I had no idea what I was in for when I ordered the lamb shank. I got two huge, meaty bones of stewed lamb with tortillas on the side. June ordered the mixed fajitas, chix and beef served on a sizzling hot plate. There was so much in just these two dishes, we couldn't get everything down. Way too full for the Ben & Jerry's we had planned on.

Next time, we'll split one main course and top up with a couple of starters and dessert. Or work out a solid week beforehand.

Off topic: Anyone looking for more kitten pix? Got a couple of new shots over on Flickr.
Pegging pay to performance is a contentious issue for the education industry. Facing a shortage of teaching professionals, the US has begun debating this idea to as means to attract and retain good staff. Attracting talent is not so much a problem. Wave enough money around and potential workers will line up around the block to submit an application. It's sort of like chumming the waters to bring the fish to a boat. But without appropriate tackle, hooking and landing the big fish is going to be a much more difficult proposition.

We need a better analogy to understand how the human resource of our industry works. How about a well kept aquarium instead, with a diversity of niches where different kinds of organisms can be at home in, be well fed, happy and can expect to live a decently long life? One of the mistakes the industry makes is to take a one-size-fits-all approach to their aquariums, not bothering with regular maintenance, and very quickly the fish choke and go belly-up in the murk. In such environments, only the scavengers will survive by eating the crap and scum that the tank is rich with.

While education boards in the US are still debating with their unions, as of last week we have already transferred our lot to a performance-rewarded aquarium -- more like Sea-World than a living-room fishbowl, to extend the analogy. All public teaching staff individually had to choose to either keep their pay package at status quo or to adopt the new performance-based pay package our industry has decided to implement from this year on. Even if we opted out of the new system for now, on our next promotion our pay will go according to the new scheme. The assumption is that if a teacher is worthy of promotion, he or she is already performing well (and probably intends to continue performing well) and might as well be rewarded accordingly.

Now that most of us have opted for performance pay, the next question is how to measure 'performance' so that we get the pay we deserve? I think that our baseline concern is not in how much the high-fliers are going to get, but it's more about how poorly our lower performers are going to be treated.

If this new system is going to work, the one thing our policy makers have to absolutely assure us on, and our middle-management has to absolutely carry out is to ensure that while our rewards may be performance-based, our survival is not. Our schools are not jungles in which predators prowl and prey have to keep looking over their shoulders at every snap of a twig. If this is the mental picture our HR has about our new pay structure, there may be a catastrophic brain-drain which we may never recover from.

The new pay system has got to be sold as if our industry was a massive Sea-World theme park. Every organism is well taken care of and given clean tanks, suitable habitats to live in, and have their daily dietary requirements met. The environment is predator-free so each organism can happily focus on the Maslow-ian higher-order things in life, like teaching kids.

Having few worries about their basic needs, there will be a much larger pool of staff interested in doing a little bit more for better rewards. Every Sea-World needs its dolphin/orca/sea-lion shows to bring in the crowds, so these performers get additional training, more varieties of stimulation, recognition and applause. They get their names in lights and their faces on posters. They are the reason why people come to Sea-World in the first place.

But without the smaller fish-tanks for the people to admire, there would be nothing to do between the shows (performers need their rest time too) to keep the people interested. So whether they 'perform' or not, every individual organism has a role to play in the industry. Their efforts, big or small, keep their visitors happy and coming year after year, ensuring enough revenue to pay for regular maintenance, upkeep and rewards for themselves. Of course taxpayers pay for the service our industry provides, but we do want happy taxpayers who feel their taxes are well spent, don't we?

In our industry, a lot of what we do tends to be unquantifiable because we deal a lot with human unpredictability, so we really do need to view 'performance' as a value-added incentive, not a threat to our survival. Convince us of this in our daily work and in our work environment. Don't make teachers territorial and competitive with each other but value everyone and what each of us has to offer. Give more to those who do more, but don't take away from those who do comparatively less (for one reason or another). If that's how our industry shapes up, I think we'll have a winner on our hands.