Saturday, August 30, 2008

Wall-E, survivor generalist

Recalling a tutorial I had a couple of days ago with x17. They don't much like the emphasis the industry is putting on their all-roundedness. It's too much pressure, they say, meeting their expectations in academics, plus other areas like sports, community involvement, leadership initiative, and the million and forty-seven other items they have to juggle per 24-hour cycle. If only they could specialize, they say, then they'd become the best athletes, or artists, or scientists, or whatever [and then we wouldn't have to import FT to help us win silver medals... mutter... grumble...].

Silly children. Knowledge is an interconnected web of the same basic ideas chain-linking in a myriad different combinations. Areas of specialism arise from certain configurations of knowledge that don't exist in isolation of one another. An athlete trains his muscles, but to succeed he must also be able to coordinate his muscles in concert to deal with the ever-changing competitive environment he will constantly be tested in. That movement is at the same time aesthetic, scientific and mathematical; and when we consider teamwork and crowd support there's an element of the social as well. Likewise, any other area of specialism might emphasise a particular type of knowledge, but all other areas will also come into play at some point or another.

Our mistake was to draw the boundaries between the different "knowledges" so squarely that studying five subjects now takes five hours because each one has to be studied separately from the others. Sadly, that's the strategy firmly subscribed to by most parents and educators, and so it becomes the strategy that most kids are harnessed to too. I believe the top students are the few who know how to use only one hour to study five subjects, then they have the time to excel at all the other stuff outside of curriculum time as well.

I bring this up because I watched Wall-E today. How does a little trash-compactor robot become the last survivor on the planet? It isn't that he abandons his programming -- his specialism, if you will -- in fact, his "directive" the only reason that gives him the drive to keep on going when all his fellow Wall-Es have finally succumbed to the elements and now rust by the wayside.

What makes Wall-E a survivor is that he has learned how to learn. While he is a highly competent trash-compactor, he's also become accomplished in repair and maintenance tasks, and has developed a sense of the aesthetic, hence his attempts at interior decoration. He's constantly assessing the utility or beauty of the odd things that he finds in the garbage, bringing them home with him when they pass muster. He doesn't always get things "right", but perhaps his learning is mainly facilitated by the fact that that there isn't any around to tell him that he's "wrong" either.

It's a little disturbing to see him cannibalizing his inert fellows for spare parts, but he can't be faulted. They're not going to need their parts any more, anyway. After all, they never learned anything more than their programming and so they lived and died doing the one thing they were meant to do: compact trash. And that's the way many people live their lives today too.

Trust me, the above is no spoiler for the movie. That's merely the preamble, which we should sort of have already grasped from the trailers. So you can still go watch what's probably the cutest (without being saccharine-sweet) movie of the year.

Teachers' Day 08

Edit 01:
The gift left in my pigeonhole was from NYeDC. I missed seeing them too. Thanks actors and crew!
Teachers' Day is an opportunity for staff to receive some affirmation for what we've been doing with our kids through the year. I'm especially appreciative of the short notes, like from YY, and even the offline Twitters collated into greeting card form that may or may not come with attached knicknacks or snacks. Which is why I may have committed a little social faux pas by not being personally available to receive x23's pretty hand-made card and gift that I discovered in my pigeonhole later.

So where was I? Thinking the festivities on campus were over, I headed off home to rest for a couple of reasons. I was tired out after the week's exertions and the dinner the night before. I had to gather my wits so that I could return to campus that afternoon and have a difficult consultation session regarding an essay topic I had very little knowledge about.

And, I had to stock up as much sleep as possible because at 0400, I and June were at the airport with Amy, B-lo, Mel, and Sha: HP's immediate posse which attempted to give her surprise #2 by seeing her off at her point of embarkation. Turned out we were surprised that she was ready for us with her own hand-written notes of affirmation to us when we arrived. Seems she was tipped off by Jxxh's slip of tongue at some point.

So anyway, my thanks to everyone for their words, thoughts and well-wishes this Teachers' Day. :)

Friday, August 29, 2008

'Live' at the Park Royal

At the risk of being killed by Mel and Bernard, I caught their performance last night on video and posted it online to share. The vid starts out quite shaky 'cos their item started before I could get to a good vantage point, but the shakes and sound quality do get better somewhat once we're past the introductions.

Presenting Mel & Bernard unplugged with the songs, "Rainbow Connection" and "What's Up"! Take it away, Mel!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Table behind the pillar

We're having our annual combined dinner with our feeder schools. It's an opportunity let our hair down a bit and generally behave in ways we don't often show our kids. Must set good example, you know?

Anyway, this year's theme is "Retro-F1", so of course Sha dressed for the occasion in this stunning gold jumpsuit. Won't she be the cause of several nosebleeds on the grid?

Sha's outfit would probably take the award for being most relevant to the theme, but Wayne's should take the award for being most last-minute creative. He wore a red polo to which he adhered the labels of well-known F1 sponsors, making him look like, I dunno, pit crew or something.

Yay! The most happenin' table in the entire ballroom. With Mel, our resident lounge singer and Wayne, the purveyor of contraband liquid refreshment which he kept hidden under the drapery, our table was noisy and ridiculous.

That we were positioned behind a large pillar that completely obscured us from the stage and the VIPs added to the merriment. And there was much to make merry about. The MC, for one, did not connect with us well. He used the wrong language for the occasion, and the entertainment he brought with him put Amy's eyeballs in danger of rolling out of her head. The little getai girl singer with the bare midriff and butterfly tattoo on her waist was more uh, eye popping, though. She could sing, too.

And speaking of singing, Mel and Bernard had a whale of a time, belting out two numbers as the College's contribution to the evening's entertainment. Singing along to Mel's unplugged rendition of "Rainbow Connection" and "What's Up" and being her raucous, adoring groupies confirmed that hiding us behind that huge pillar for most of the night was probably the right thing to do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fallow field

It's over. NBS and I have had our last class as joint instructors pioneering what was "the new subject" from two years ago. I'm not absolutely sure about the reasons for discontinuing the course apart from the fact that NBS is moving on at the end of the year, and I haven't the confidence to take the whole job on alone. The classes I've had have been stimulating and we've had many fun discussions, so it's disappointing that it's come to an end. But perhaps it's the best move for me too, 'cos I've felt diffused with too many different subjects to plan for and I need to refocus myself.

As for the new subject, it'll lie fallow for now. A cultivated field needs to replace its nutrients after a couple of harvests. I'll be looking for a new farm hand in the meantime.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cross my palm with silver...

Had a consultation with ZH who is thinking about taking philo at the uni. He was wondering what philo majors ate after they graduate. At first glance, philo doesn't appear to be a practical subject that lends itself to too many job openings for work that actually pays money. I told him to clear his JC hurdle with the best grades he can get for all his current subjects first, then if he still wants philo at the uni, go for it. Simple cause-effect: flunk 'A' levels, no uni. No uni, no philo. A nicer tutor might have given him the glass-half-full view instead. Whatever.

As I continued to discuss The Future with him, my crystal ball predictions for the job market and the economy overall looked something like the following:

In our region, it's clear that there's no way we can compete along the industrial manufacturing line any longer. Even in high-tech manufacturing, we're going to be hard-pressed. Anything we can make, our neighbours can make cheaper. They have the materials, lots of hungry human resources, and the desire to match us in economic success and prosperity. They are already moving into their own industrial age and they'll easily edge us out of the game if we're not paying attention.

Fortunately, we are. We know our neighbours are aiming for self-sufficient bread-and-butter issues, and so we have to move on to a new niche -- the "knowledge-based economy". In other words, we're in the business of selling ideas. Hence, our job market will need thinkers and creatives, and probably creative thinkers plus those who can manage and channel the right brain-power to the areas that need them the most.

We'll be developing in areas like education, the arts, entertainment, industries that can produce unique -- and therefore valuable -- objects and/or experiences. We'll also be brokers for thoughts and ideas, perhaps in technology transfers or political-social-ethical theory, like Athens might have been to the ancient Greeks. ZH, philo may not be such a bad choice after all.

For us, mass production has taken us as far as it can go. Our clientele can no longer be the mass market because our industry can never expand large enough to supply the demand from a growing mass of newly affluent peoples from our neighbouring countries, not to mention India and China. They can more than adequately mass manufacture for their own people anyway, so they don't need us for that. Where they are becoming competent in providing the necessities of life for their people, we will be providing quality of life.

We have to target a clientele further up the value chain from the ordinary masses. Customization is the way to go, ideas and designs that distinguish the better off from the riff raff. We're talking about smaller value-added industries creating [whatevers] in exclusive quantities that a higher class of people are willing to pay a premium for.

It's the only strategy that'll help tiny us survive in a world that is slowly but surely growing overwhelmingly humongous day by day. We will survive by creating, then making peoples' dreams come true. While the world learns how to live longer and better through their increasing capabilities, we'll survive by giving the people something to live for.

The reality is, our competitive arena is never going to be a level playing field for us. We are too small, too weak, and too helpless to compete head-to-head with any of our neighbours. So we have to ask ourselves what game we are playing so as to take our best advantage. I propose that we are at the dog races. All the thoroughbred greyhounds lined up, whichever crosses the finish line wins.

However, in this game, we're not any of the greyhounds. If we were, out of the starting gate, they'll eat us for breakfast. No. We're the hare -- a tiny, defenceless, fuzzy thing mounted on a track that the dogs chase in order to motivate them to run faster. The hare represents to the dogs the possibilities that could be, and is always moving faster than the pack. It cannot afford to be caught because it will be torn to shreds, but that also means that the race is over and everybody loses.

In case you haven't noticed, life here is already like that. If our future progresses along rational lines, our future promises to be quite exciting. It's up to us to convince ourselves that in the next 10, 15, 20 years, this is the place to be and make it happen.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Film Fest 08

Stayed late on campus to support Sha's film fest. Basically, it's the official launch of her kids' self-shot, self-edited movie. Won't say too much about the movie itself 'cos considering the kids put it together without much experience and advice, it wasn't too bad a job. Yes, there were the usual jump cuts, odd camera placement, continuity gaffes, occasional gaps in the plot and a couple of the perennial voice-over blackouts (they never learn year after year); at least the storyline was generally coherent, and the talent took personal risks playing in uncomfortable situations and the performances, though cliched, were mostly believable.

But the film fest was also an excuse for a handful of us to take some time off work and have some great laughs over dinner and a quick supper at the AMK garden McD's (free parking for the first hour!) where we analyzed Sha's movie to shreds in her presence. HP, though officially no longer fellow staff continues to spend her last few days here with us before her departure towards the West and the Grand Adventure that awaits her. B-lo and Wayne rounded up our little group tonight.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bolt or blot?

Usain Bolt wants to have fun. Bolt runs for a living, and as of the now-concluded Beijing Olympics, he's the fastest man in the world.

To be able to accomplish a feat no other human being has been able to makes his exuberant claim to be "number one" a statement of fact, though he may have made a bit too much of a meal of it on international television. As fellow human beings, we can take some pride in the physical proof that our frail design has broken yet another seemingly impossible limitation; but to see Bolt's index-finger waving in-your-face celebration on a 50+" LCD HDTV must have pushed IOC Pres, Jacques Rogge's I-so-want-to-smack-his-face button.

Rogge's job is to keep the good image of the Olympics. Scenes like Michael Phelps celebrating with family and loved ones after yet another record-breaking achievement are heart-warming and represent the spirit of sportsmanship that the Games upholds. That makes for nice family entertainment, and Rogge isn't about let his beloved Olympics degenerate into a quad-annual WWE-fest any time soon.

Though Bolt got his smack, he still remains unrepentant. To him, that display was just about him being himself, having fun, enjoying a great day at the office and entertaining the crowds the way they want to be entertained. And it was great for the ratings too! So what's the old man's problem?

Two guys on opposite ends of a tug-of-war rope. Traditional idealist vs Media-savvy punk. But if Phelps, a guy with more reason to be proud of himself, can behave himself in front of the international media, Bolt's excesses put a blot on his achievement. Grow up, boy!