Saturday, May 24, 2008

People get upset when their kids fail tests and exams. They get especially upset when they find out that their kid is just one casualty among many others in the cohort. They question the school practices, the competence of the teachers, they feel the pressure to get the kid some private tuition, everything except tell the kid to go study, or get his life under control or something.

What are parents really expecting when to the vast majority of them, perfection = 100%? They expect their kids to hit a target that high at primary and secondary level, and raise hell when the kid falls short within a 5% margin or so. At college level, how do we convince the same parents that because an 'A' grade describes the band from 75% and above, the pass mark actually works out to 45% and even then that's erring on the conservative.

Speaking from the experience of a foreign education, it certainly encouraged me that my profs never did pressure me for an 'A' performance. We all had the understanding that a 'C' grade was entirely satisfactory. 'C' stood for 'competent', a decent level of proficiency in the subject so that I didn't have to be shackled to my desk and textbooks all day and instead did other things with my life that weren't necessarily academic or even intellectual. I still turned in a "B+" average in the end, which meant I did spend some time studying, but my studies were never my life.

Having said that, things are quite different back here. Here people study to live, and our education experience tells us 'A' or die. We have a very penalizing attitude to our tests and exams, which filters down all the way to our setting of papers and our marking. Our papers are necessarily difficult because we hold our kids to very high performance standards. We often teach beyond their syllabus requirements, making them stretch to grasp our material. And when we mark, we usually have very high expectations of them. When they don't quite live up to our expectations, our marking reflects our disappointment. But we are loath to 'dumb it down' because no one is prepared to accept lower standards, and so the hamster wheel just keeps going faster with every subsequent batch of kids.

Wonder how many (if any) of the kids who, on entering university, suddenly realized that we were already trying to teach them the same stuff a couple of years earlier? Just asking.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Indy's back and it's another fun run. There are thrills galore in "Crystal Skull", though some of the stunts are worth the scrutiny of the Mythbusters guys. How Indy escapes a nuclear blast test is unbelievable -- i.e., cannot be believed even with copious amounts of disbelief suspended; rather than whoa, awesome, dude!

In this fourth installment the action takes place in Indy's backyard: in the US and in South America. It's the 50s at the height of McCarthyism. Paranoia runs rampant against the Communist threat, and apparently with good reason as a whole platoon of KGB goons in US Army uniforms drive freely around the country seeking paranormal artifacts kept in cold storage in Area 51. Indy himself becomes a victim of the witchhunt due to his unwilling involvement with the Area 51 incident, and having previously lost Marcus Brody and Dr Jones Sr., and recently his tenure at the University, decides to start a new life across the Atlantic.

His journey east gets interrupted by Mutt, a young, leather-clad biker and school-dropout, who brings news that an old colleague and friend is in danger, so off they go to a family reunion of sorts in the jungles of South America.

Spielberg ties both modern and ancient mythology in this episode as Indy discovers a link between the ancient culture of the Meso-Americas and the Roswell incident of 1947. Apart from his escapades in fast moving vehicles on the edge of a precipiece, quicksand, army ants and the usual company of heavily-accented gun-totting goons, Indy movies are fun to watch because they invent answers to some of the mysteries left behind by our long-lost and forgotten ancestors whose technological prowess we tend to underestimate.

In Crystal Skull, we glimpse deiety in yet another form, though this time one that is less than traditionally conventional. From this perspective, the story gets quite a bit hokey with lots of plot loopholes. Like for example, what were the crystal skulls doing together for a thousand years before one got stolen; then when the one is finally returned, what's the reason for all the sudden fireworks? Action and adventure get a heavier weightage than a coherent storyline, but that's Indy.

Ultimately, Crystal Skull is commercial fluff. It's addictive, like a bucket of warm popcorn, and offers as much nutritional value.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Spent another day improvising GP essays in front of students. One of the requests they made was for the question, "Is competition healthy for man?" Thought I'd put my take here in a more formal presentation. Click.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In our industry-sponsored dialogue with professionals from outside our industry, we had a couple of government-types and one NGO rep discuss with us the energy issue facing our country today.

While much of the presentations were rather technical to follow, we got the general idea that we are way too dependent on our neighbours for our sources of gas that powers our electrical generators that keep this wired nation humming. Like our water issue, our R&D experts are exploring other forms of power generation leaving no stone unturned in our quest for energy self-sufficiency. Interesting possibilities for our future, yes.

Meantime, we have to save what we can because we are running on finite resources. The second industry expert spoke to us at length about how his organization works to make buildings more energy-efficient. While we got lost in his diagrams, chart and tables, we met in him a guy who really takes pride in his work. With good old engineering know-how, a building's heating and cooling systems can be redesigned to reduce power consumption amounting to quite significant savings every year.

But it was the NGO rep that got our attention because he was talking about things within the household consumer's control -- that's us. He spoke about our behaviour as power consumers and laid out lots of eco-friendly options which we can make to live more responsibly. He spoke about the now compulsory labelling of appliances by his organization which appraises how energy-efficient they are (the more ticks the better); their efforts to educate the public with clean, green living; awards programmes and incentive schemes for organizations going eco-friendly (no school has won such an award yet, he said); and various opportunities for volunteer work.

In the wrap-up, we got the idea that both green initiatives and economic growth must balance each other. Pragmatic, as always, our colleagues in public service.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When will I learn that the only one I can count on is me; the only one who shares common goals with me is me; the only one committed to my cause is me? I should have expected this; after all, my charisma level is roughly equivalent to that of a corpse lying in an open field, and even then I couldn't attract the flies.

How did the game go today? We can safely say that we've firmly cemented our place at rock bottom despite facing a team we could have beaten. The Boyz were a complete no-show, and it was only thanks to the goodwill of ol' Des as a last minute subby that we were allowed to bowl at all -- one bowler short.

This is the last time I'm going to be organizing something that is so low on everybody's priorities. It'll be the last time I'll be organizing anything at all. I'm tired of being constantly brushed off like some kind of inconvenience. From now on, this act is going solo.

How's that for self-indulgent?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Installing Windows SP3 killed Mr L33t! Partway through installation, the update hung and Mr L33t went straight into a coma. The poor guy is now in intensive care. The best I can hope for is to salvage whatever files I can from my archives, then it's probably "good night, sweet prince." A full Windows re-install will be needed to revive him, but I don't have the time for that now.

Usually, I'd be climbing the walls in anxiety right now -- such is the extent of my addiction -- but I'm quite philosophical about this latest untimely demise. As it is, Mr L33t was starting to show his age already. He didn't even live up to the minimum specs of "Assassin's Creed" which I bought to keep me company over the coming hols. I'm also looking forward to picking up "Mass Effect" for PC which should be launching in a couple of weeks, just in time for when I'll be slightly freer to game on again.

So as soon as I'm able to get some time off, I'm donning my geek glasses and pocket protector and heading off to the market for some serious hardware upgrades. At this time, I wonder if Vista is worth investing in? Full DX-10 functionality... tempting.

Yay! Long weekend! Took my first Saturday off this entire term. Really been looking forward to it since quite a while ago. Had a most fruitful time cuddling up with essays to mark, with more essays to look forward to today and tomorrow's public holiday as well. If I'm good, I'll be done with this entire batch of essay marking by late afternoon tomorrow. Then I can sort of rest until the mid-year exam essays arrive at the end of the week. Have to earn my June hols, don't you know?