Friday, October 08, 2010

Less than average

Edit 01:
Think I've been reading the figures wrong. What Credit Suisse is referring to is not the average income per person per year. Rather it's the average value of all the stuff we own individually. But considering that at least 50% of what I own is co-owned by June, my net worth is still nowhere near that estimate. Our rich-poor gap must be huge to hike up our expectation of what 'average' means around here.

Waaaait a second...! I thought I was average, but Credit Suisse has completely ended my delusion. S'pore is the second richest nation in Asia, fourth richest in the world. Average personal wealth per adult is USD255,488 (S$333,462). If this is true, I calculate that I'm just slightly above the poverty line.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Speed thrills

To the WRX Bengmobile who -- as I was filtering left from lane 1 so as to exit the CTE -- stepped on the accelerator to cut me off but ran out of space and ended up straddling lanes 2 and 3 sandwiched between me on the right and a truck on the left, thus causing a few anxious seconds before we could all get it sorted out: Ee-diot!

In case you think I didn't check my blind spot, Ah Bengmobile was actually in my rear-view mirror with space to spare between our vehicles. To close the gap that quickly shows a wilful intent on his part to pressure me to stay in my lane despite my early signal and the fact that I had already committed to the movement to change lane. Guess he was in a hurry. There was something urgent in the hand 'signal' he proffered in my direction immediately after we got clear of each other.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Small-time solutions for big-time poverty

Because we think of poverty in developing nations as a huge problem, we tend to leave the thinking of solutions up to international aid, government and non-government agencies and big business. We have this assumption that because they are much bigger, smarter, and richer than us, they have the responsibility to fix the problem. Who are we, after all, to even comprehend the scale of the problem, let alone contribute to solving the problem?

But here's a radical idea: since the people suffering in poverty are so short of many necessities, why don't we (as in 'normal' people) invent some kind of technology they can use to maximize what resources they do have, and sell it to them at a low cost? Notice I said 'sell' and not 'give', because resources can only be acquired at a cost; and if we don't recover our costs our Christmas Tree would run dry very fast.

And why should we even bother helping these poor folk whom we have almost zero contact with in our day-to-day lives? Simple: there are millions of people living under the poverty line in the world today, let's say on about US$1.25 a day. They may not have a lot of money in their pockets, but they do have SOME money they would be ready to part with IF we can sell them a product that is both good and useful to them.

If a few million people would give us a portion of their US1.25 a day, what's in it for us is a huge market with lots of further growth potential... or in other words, there's a lot of money to be made selling them a product they would be willing to buy. But we're so not selling them junk. As David Wolman says, "The poor may be poor, but they're not stupid."

So, if we're going to save people from poverty, perhaps the best ones to do it would be us, the small-time entrepreneur with an innovative idea that would benefit millions for a low, low price. Wait, why does this sound like PW all over again?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Essay skills: structure vs content

Josh and I have a difference of opinion. He thinks that when answering GP essays, content and logic are inextricably linked, whereas I would separate the two and place more weightage on logic over content. I've not been able to sway him from his position, but to be honest I haven't been able to explain my position adequately to myself either. That is, until this afternoon's consult with a student.

The essay in question was: Discrimination against women is still an epidemic in today's world. Discuss.

My standard question breakdown is as follows:
Subject: discrimination against women
Condition: in today's world
Qualifier: is still an epidemic

Despite many possible variations, a proper answer to this question (like any other question) requires a logical structure in order to be satisfying. For example:

In today's context (condition),
IF discrimination against women were still widespread around the globe (subject)
THEN we can say that it is epidemic in proportion (qualifier)
HOWEVER we observe that there has been a marked improvement in the lives of women in certain parts of the world
SINCE this improvement in women's rights is gaining ground in the world today
THEREFORE we can say the 'epidemic' has stopped spreading and -- though it may yet take some time -- the lot of women is instead getting increasingly better.

So this is the logic part -- a series of claims that deal with each aspect of the question leading to a fair and 'balanced' conclusion. Of course, these claims are unsupported at the moment so now we can start layering in the content to flesh out the argument and make it more convincing.

Yes, content is crucial to the essay, but in a secondary role. Content has to be filtered and arranged in a way that supports the answer's logic structure. Content alone is just information, but information is not what we are testing. We want to know if the student can make a decision [regardless of how nonsensical it is -- discrimination of women is like an epidemic???] and justify it through a logical thought process... with supporting evidence (content).

Conclusion: logic and structure first and always because that is what answers the question. Content is meaningless without either.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Not animal documentaries too!

This is going to feel like telling a child that Santa Claus doesn't exist. We've long held the assumption that animal documentaries are one of the very few programmes left on TV that we can trust as 'real'. Not so, says Chris Palmer, who makes a living producing them. Click.

Ok, before you get carried away and throw your Cable subscription out the window, I believe that, like any other kind of programme on TV, there is a genuine attempt to tell a true story. However, the true story cannot always be caught on camera at the time the camera is looking for a true story to capture. Very often, these stories have to be reenacted by actors, whether human or animal.

The truth in animal documentaries? Let's just call these presentations a sacrifice of low-resolution truth for the sake of high-definition video storytelling. It's better than channel surfing to Nat Geo and getting frozen on a "Service disrupted till the Truth appears" message before something interesting shows up.