Saturday, December 31, 2011

Catfaces

Thought I'd end the year with cat portraits 'cos to be honest, I'm not ready for the year to begin. This old rustbucket seriously needs a lube job before he can be deemed properly roadworthy again. Grumble, grumble...

Who moved my sunbeam?!

I want to upgrade my dinner dish, thank you.

Contemplating the mysteries of the universe.

Happy new year. Woohoo.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Skyrim politics

Over in Skyrim, there's a choice I can make about whether to join the Empire, or to support the Stormcloak rebellion. There are other affiliations to be made, but this one appears to be a firm commitment with no take-backs. I haven't made up my mind yet, since there's no immediate pressure to; and I still want to wander Skyrim at will without feeling like I'm trespassing on enemy territory.

I have no love for the Imperials as they initially treated my character shabbily at the start of the adventure. The Empire is modeled after the Romans, so that makes them kind of like the invading force, though they appear to have been in charge for a long time already. The Stormcloaks are the Nords, yes, the invaded peoples; but their platform of Nordland for Nordsmen doesn't sit well with my character either -- High Elf (so obviously not a Nord, of course), if you must know.

I can feel my personal political beliefs being tested here with this decision. If that's so, then that makes my choice much easier. If push comes to shove and my back's to the wall, I'll be flying the red banners.

Edit 01:
ST (31/12/11) asks "Did Singaporeans overreact to MRT breakdowns?" The Arishok (Dragon Age II) has this to say:

"Look at you. Like fat dathrasi you feed, and feed, and complain only when your meal is interrupted. You do not look up. You do not see that the grass is bare. All you leave in your wake is misery. You are blind; I will make you see!"

Oops... he sounds pissed!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Some dim sum for you?

Good dim sum eats at the Wah Lok Restaurant, Carlton Hotel. Each item is a la carte from the menu rather than from the actual cart. I like the freshness of the servings; the portions which don't make me feel overfull; and mostly the absence of the heavy oil taste that tends to make me feel sick (I mean, really sick). That usually occurs with the deep-fried yam balls (bottom right), just one of which usually takes me out of the meal for good; but these ones were easy on the gut. I could keep going until dessert: a dainty osmanthus jelly cut in a diamond shape, lightly sweet to the tongue and a very refreshing touch with which to end lunch on a pleasant note.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Such wicked merchandise

What can I say about Wicked that hasn't already been said? It's a very succinct summary of Maguire's Oz story reboot from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West, giving her more purpose and personality than the original's mere embodiment of random malevolence. Though I loved the musical as much as everyone else, I couldn't fork out the expense for souvenirs from the merchandise store. One item did catch my eye -- see the low cut green ladies' tee on the back shelf immediately under the 'W'? The print says 'Defying gravity'. On a buxom wearer, it would be overstating the obvious; on one less well-endowed it would just be ironic. Now, that's wicked!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Leggo my Lego

This here is June's festive project, a Lego Christmas diorama. I loved Lego when I was younger, and it has evolved a lot since then. Today, there are lots of fiddly little parts that snap together to build complex structures like the bake shop in the background. In the last couple of days, June's been noticing that a few tiny bits have gone missing. Our first suspicions were on faulty industrial packaging practices resulting in a shortfall of inventory. But that couldn't possibly account for so many lost pieces, right? Then, only last night, we discovered the real culprit: Q-tip!!! To say more about the discovery itself and the retrieval process of only two (latest update: five) of the lost pieces would be providing too much information. If I told you, you would have to kill me.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Goin' easy in Skyrim

Having returned from Thailand, I've been continuing my travels in lovely Skyrim. The going was tough at first. so many people looking for a hero to get things done for them that it's easy to get overwhelmed. Find this, fetch this, bring this, kill this... the demands are endless and your quest journal fills up with a laundry list of things to do. and while you're trudging the main map, there's more locations to be found, more wild things to defend against, more dungeons to go spelunking in 'cos the opportunity to venture is too good to pass up and just because they're there.

First, the landscape in Skyrim is just beautiful. No sunny, tropical locales with swaying palm trees and hula girls, but hard, cold Northlands, sweeping vistas and open plains. Day transitions into night seamlessly as does the weather which changes at random, though logically according to the terrain. There is no load time between regions so it's rewarding to hoof it between locations just to see the variety of countryside. But because the map is so huge, we're also grateful for the fast travel ability between known points on the map.

Things have become a lot easier since I could afford a travelling companion and a horse. Two swords are better at taking out the nasties and the crazy horse lends a couple of fighting hooves too when we're attacked outdoors (poor Frost, how did you end up dead? I only left you for a moment). Recently I picked up a dog who is both a boon and a bane. In battle, the dog is an excellent tank: he draws nearly all enemy attention 'cos he can only melee attack, he's tough, heals fast, and while they're all wailing on him, I and my partner can pick them off one-by-one with arrows, flame, ice or lightning as the situation merits. Oh, and he's a bane because he tends to walk so close to you that he often pushes you away from what you are examining, or he traps you in a corner, and if you're not careful he might accidentally push you over a cliff out of affection. Stupid dog.

Life in Skyrim is manageable once you figure out that selecting quests in the journal often puts a marker on the map or person you need to go to for this or that. There are so many ways to make money too, so whether you want to just sell loot; or craft potions; or smith/enchant arms, armour or jewellery you'll soon have more moolah than you know what to do with. In between quests, there's also flower picking and food gathering along the way for your inner chef to express himself. Get in good with the local Jarl in the eight cities and you'll soon be spending money on some local real estate, and furnish it to look more respectable than the yokels. Also great for storing your hoard of souvenirs collected from your travels.

The game adjusts itself to your preferences. The more you use a skill, the faster it levels up. That makes choosing perks a lot easier since each perk augments the skills you like to use most. There are lots of skill options, so try everything first. Eventually, your gameplay style will become evident and you can tune up your character accordingly.

With so many side quests, it's easy to forget why we're in Skyrim in the first place: Dragons. 'nuff said. XD

Friday, December 23, 2011

I brake for log cake

With M-i-L's arm in a sling, her annual fruitcake baking schedule has been temporarily disrupted. So instead of getting the usual this year, we got my mom a log cake from Wheat Baumkuchen in Toa Payoh which I collected today. The cake was really pretty, though it got boxed before I could snap a shot; but this entry isn't about that.

To get into Toa Payoh, there's a new exit into Braddell Road from the CTE (northbound) that's just recently been opened. That and the other new egresses into the PIE have really eased congestion along this main traffic artery. Our tax dollars well spent, I was thinking at the time. This Braddell exit turned out to be very dangerous when merging into Braddell Road. The merge lane splits into two and I was on the leftmost lane. The road in front looked clear and I was about to slip into Braddell proper when I noticed the car on my right had come to a stop. Logic took over from instinct -- I stopped too. If I hadn't, I would have caught a bus -- right in the face. The scary thing was that in order to have seen the bus coming, I would have had to swivel my head almost 180°, far beyond what we normally extend to check our blind spot. New exit with a potentially deadly design flaw. Be freakin' careful when you're driving out that way.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's the thought

What to get for someone who 1) knows the price of everything in the market, and 2) doesn't have time to enjoy  a gift that is supposed to be leisurely indulged in?

My initial thought was to get something to make the office environment more comfortable and relaxing, knowing how much time gets devoted to the office cubicle, but I don't want to create the impression that I'm encouraging long hours at work. Pretty baubles are hardly worn since we don't engage in such circles, decorative objects gather dust and become one more knick-knack to clean -- and besides, we have cats so we can't possibly have nice things. Electronics are more my thing, so devices with push-button operations aren't likely to warm the cockles of the heart.

There's a lot of mall pounding these days to see what inspiration strikes... but so far, the malls have been a let down.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wet market -- literally

Among the other things to do in Phuket is to go look at the weekend night market in Phuket Town. The ride by taxi is up and down a really steep gradient that separates Patong Beach from the rest of the island. It's 500B from the Jungceylon where we're staying to Phuket Town, but 400B back. How does that work out? Anyway, if you've already seen Chatuchak in BKK, this night market is similar, though the merchandise is more generic, tourist pleasing stuff. And, of course, while we were there, the skies opened up and blessed us with a brief but tempestuous shower. Thank goodness for Crocs (TM).

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On to Patong Beach

Now, for a change of pace, we're in downtown Patong Beach. So busy, so many tourists here... lots of shopping to do. So it's time for me to get to work again. No more lazing about by the pool. Sigh.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Totally R&R



Phuket (Naka Island)
Welcome to pretty Naka Island, where there is nothing to do but relax and get pampered all day. Sit by the beach, read in your private gazebo, or dip in your private pool? So spoiled for choice we are. XD

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Vacation interrupted

Interrupted my vacation in Skyrim to take a vacation on Naka Island, Phuket. Beautiful resort environment, everyone's charmingly polite and obliging here. Hmm, a bit hard to type here 'cos it's dark in the free wi-fi area and I can't see the keys properly without straining. More updates in a while... when it's brighter. Tomorrow.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

La luna

A couple of views of tonight's lunar eclipse. But we didn't have to go all the way to Marina Bay or wherever. We looked out of our bedroom window, and there it was. How obliging!

In other news, I went to get my eyes checked because I've been having trouble reading with my contacts on and I wondered if my prescription was correct. Turns out there's nothing wrong with my prescription; what I need are reading glasses! So I ordered a pair to be made and shared between June and I 'cos we're both getting there. :p

Friday, December 09, 2011

Polar bear rug

The other thing that Q-tip does in the living room is this polar bear rug impression.

And like polar bears, always alert for opportunities for nom.

 Is there a chance for a snack over here?

Meanwhile, Kaiser looks down disdainfully at the goings-on at ground level.

Sorry, no food here. Back to your game of "I am Nanook! Fear me!"

Thursday, December 08, 2011

You can't handle the truth

Why only now that the Northern neighbours have declared their distaste for LKY's "Hard Truths" nine months after publication? Because it's a bloody long book and they've only just finished reading it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Rollin' right along

Am I addicted to sweat and adrenaline? The day I take off from the fitness centre is the day I end up feeling sick as a dog (no offense, Q-tip!). That was yesterday. Today, I drag my sorry carcass back to the irons and all my aches, pains and general nausea are gone. It's my body punishing me for being lazy, I just know it!

Did a little Christmas shopping on my own. Thought it would be nice to try out some muscle relaxing devices for people who spend too long sitting in their office chairs (no, obviously not me). Sampled a thumping from Osim's uPapa Music Sync thingy and got my back rolled with a uRelax. Do. Not. Like.

Sorry, but though the staff were very accommodating, showing me how to work the controls for myself, I could not find a setting I enjoyed on either product. The rollers were knobbly and hard; the thumpers were, for want of a better word, intrusive; and the vibrations made my skin itch.

I don't know how Andy Lau gets such a kick out of being ensconced in an egg that agitates its embryo so much. Maybe because he's endorsing a much more expensive product? But for me, using the darned things made me feel...old. I'll be looking elsewhere for a suitable gift.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

There's a Q-tip in the living room!

Something's up with Q-tip. Lately, she's been looking like a much perkier dog. She has been pottering about the house more, and seems not as stiff-jointed as before. Even more surprising, she is actually behaving more sociably -- instead of hiding in her room so much, she is now sitting with us in the living room, just out of reach but physically present. Last night, she even dared to bark at the stranger at the door, who turned out to be June coming home from work. I wonder if this new behaviour has anything to do with the daily dose of salmon oil, which is the only recent change in routine for her; or if she somehow senses the approach of Christmas and isn't taking any chances with Santa's Naughty-and-Nice list?

Monday, December 05, 2011

If "NFS: The Run" were real

Aw, man! A timely reminder to keep the fast, reckless driving confined to NFS: The Run; and not bring it to real life on the roads. Not even NBS could cause this much damage, eh?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Wiped out

The weather for the past couple of days has been great for the above activity, or rather, the lack thereof.

As for why no one greeted me at the door when I came home tonight, well, there's your answer. Hello, you all think I feed you for free, izzit?

Edit 01:
Parking at Sunday service is going to bankrupt me. Since they installed this new parking gantry system, it now costs $7 and hour (or part thereof) when we're so used to FOC all day. Wonder if  there is sufficient grounds to argue for this amount to be deductible from the monthly tithe?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

The cat, the other cat, and the egg

Although Puss spins off from the Shrek franchise, the look and feel of the movie starring the feline in the floppy footwear is very different from that of Far, Far Away. Here, we have the origin backstory of the unlikely partnership between Puss and misfit egghead, Humpty Alexander Dumpty. It's a childhood bonding taking the two through a story of crime, duplicity, betrayal and vengeance -- though not necessarily in that order. And a quest for redemption is in there too, holding the whole narrative together.

Where Puss hails from is realistic: people are people, not fantasy backdrops. It's a place where magic doesn't occur on a regular basis; but of course a talking cat with stylish skillz and a walking egg are bound to bring their own fantastic elements with them wherever they go. Magic beans, giant beanstalk, stolen golden egg-laying golden gosling are all part of this Mother Goose mashup, though the stoic residents of San Ricardo accept it all unquestioningly.

Overall, quite a fun romp, though not quite as laugh-out-loud in humour as Shrek. Despite the logic, the fairy-tale elements feel awkward in this mix, and rather than accepting them as natural, there is more effort taken to explain the connections than it's worth. And in the case of Kitty Softpaws, there is no fantasy precedent at all but a sad morality tale about how inhumane it is to declaw your cat. Nevertheless, the story is just about clever and engaging enough to follow through its twists and turns to the end.

Friday, December 02, 2011

M2 amidst the exotics

Took M2 for his 40k servicing at the new service centre in Ubi. Was a bit worried about the staff I knew since Mazda got bought over by Eurokars. Would they have survived the shuffle? Happy to know that SR, Rosie, and Anna the cashier are still around. Oh, the reason for the pix (above) is that the new place also houses the dealership for Porsche and the basement parking lot is full of these pristine still wrapped in plastic beauties. Yummy!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Sweet auto-pimped rides on The Run

The premise for "NFS: The Run" is a coast-to-coast race across the USA over the varying types of terrain therein. Story mode is straightforward: having pissed off the mob, your character takes the offer of a 10% cut of a $25m purse if he can cross the finish line first ahead of 200+ other racers.

It would have been nice to drive continuously from SF to NY, overtaking expensive cars as you go, but the whole sequence is broken up into race segments where you take on a handful of racers at a time. Occasionally, the cops are there to try spoil things for you, running interference and setting roadblocks while you are busy concentrating on being #1 badass authoriTAH of the asphalt.

What's a big innovation from previous versions of NFS is that each race is now broken up into checkpoints so when you wreck, get busted or fall so far behind there's no hope of catching up, you can reset to the last checkpoint and just drive better, rather than restart the race all over again. The higher the difficulty setting, the fewer the checkpoints, of course.

The Run also removes the ability to customize your own ride. If you want fancier wheels and finer tuning, you have to earn them by defeating Challenges.

So, the story is just to get the player's feet wet. The real meat-and-potatoes of the Run is Challenge mode in which the driver not only has to finish first, but also beat the clock to unlock rewards. For the more sociable gamer, there's Multiplayer mode too -- beat real people, win more stuff. Bragging rights go without saying.

There are some annoyances, like keyboard controls reverting to default after customization, and sometimes the screen locks up and crashes back to Windows. Time to install more RAM, perhaps?

Slowly working my way through single player. It'll still be a while yet before I'm feeling sociable enough to take my show on the information superhighway.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shopping for loans

Time to think about options for refinancing my home loan. With my 3-year lock in period having expired, the bank is now offering me a generous new rate of 4.08% per annum. While that doesn't sound like much under normal, everyday circumstances, when applied to a 6-figure principal, it's a whopping extra bushel of dosh every year -- I don't gross enough a month to cover the interest alone!

Good thing is, the bank's current refinancing package offers a rate that is actually lower than the initial rate. Still shopping around for better deals, though. I know they're out there.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Out of the Stone-Age

Finally pulled myself out of the Stone-Age and shelled out for a Blu-Ray player. Can't believe how much prices have fallen. This thing I had girded myself to pay in excess of $2C for came in at less than $150. Yes, it's a simple model and apparently "smart" too. I thought that meant wi-fi "smart". It just turned out to be that it had a LAN port on the back. Eh, no wonder so cheap.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy hols, x13!

I have a good civics group this year. "Good" as in um, well, "good". Even our wild, informal college annual photo is trying very painfully to have some semblance of wildness and informality. I told them that based on our year-end results, we're not exactly the scholar types. Success doesn't come easily to us. Instead, we number among the majority that have to work like crazy just to remain afloat. But if I know this group, work ethic is something I don't have to worry about. It'll be a tough, uphill struggle against a steep learning curve next year in J2 and these guys will have their noses to the grindstone all the way. I'm proud of them now, and I know I'll be even prouder of them when we finally get to the end.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My jaded eyes

Finally coming down to the tail-end of supervising the kids' projects. Now it's time to assess the final submitted artifacts. Our rubric is based on a scale of expectations where the highest attainable band is at the point where the work produced surpasses what we could reasonably expect of it. And here, things get sticky. The more the kids seek the supervisor's advice, the higher the supervisor's expectations get. And this year, the kids have been exceptionally diligent.

Because neither they not I have left much room for personal insight and inspiration, I cannot honestly say that anyone's work has gone that step beyond. Sorry kids, but ironically this is one instance in which our hard work throughout the year has not paid off. Well, from my perspective, anyway. Hopefully, you'll be able to score more points in other parts of the assessment that other eyes (apart from my jaded ones) are prepared to be more generous towards.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Oil have nothing to do with that!

On Elim's recommendation, we purchased a bottle of salmon oil for the benefit of the animals' coats. Who wouldn't want their pets' fur to be luxuriant, smooth, fine and shag-carpet like? And what feline could resist the aroma of fresh fish essence? If I were a cat, I'd be clawing my owner's face off just to get at the bottle of tantalizing promise. But no, not my cats. They can stomach lizards, 'roaches and each other's vomit when we're not looking, but 5ml of SALMON oil a day they sniff suspiciously and gingerly back away like it's the Worst Thing on Earth! Fortunately, it's not going to waste. Q-tip just loves the stuff; can't get enough of it. Fine. Nice coat for the dog, then.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Games for playing and plays for watching

Finally, after a long drought of worthy PC games available on the market, suddenly the floodgates have opened and now I am spoiled for choice. Great timing too, 'cos I would have been too busy to give any of the above much attention anyway. But once this week is over and the year starts winding down, there's enough material here to keep me off the streets and out of trouble. XD

Caught the 'Richard III' last night with Mel. Very efficient presentation using minimal set. Just a quick arrangement of a few furniture elements to depict spatial and power relationships between the players make amazingly diverse scene changes quickly.

'Richard III' is usually played to test the boundaries of the Elizabethan Era M18 rating for violent content, though the violence was mostly sanitized by abstractions in Mendes' version. Here, the plots laid bare by Kevin Spacey playing Richard III reveal the inner workings of a twisted supervillain's mind, and seeing how they pan out in reality is what's fun. The bodies are really just a foregone conclusion.

Dark humour abounds with the juxtaposition between lines laden with intense drama and snarkily casual asides. It shows the awkwardly human cracks in the many social masks that Gloucester (a.k.a., Richard III) deftly switches between on his painful and bloody climb to the top of the Royal heap.

Great play, glad I caught it. But the real drama of the evening took place right after curtain-call with Spacey halting the applause to pay a personal tribute to his high school drama teacher whose early mentorship encouraged the development of Kevin Spacey, the actor of stage and film that we know today. Oh, did I mention that said teacher was seated in the audience with us, having flown in from Taiwan to audit the performance? Yes, that puts a context to what would otherwise have been an odd outburst onstage. And with the tribute came a rallying call to continue supporting Arts Education in school today! Can I have an "amen" to that, brother?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Left behind

What do you say to the kids who have found out that their final grades don't permit them to move up to JC2 along with their friends in the coming year? In a system that thrives on its rigour, education here inevitably brings about casualties. In situations like these, all I can do as CT is to help the distraught adjust to their situation and encourage positive thinking so that they can bounce back from this, their first truly major setback in life.

Honestly, it is better to face retention in JC1 now than it is to receive an unsatisfactory grade at the 'A's in JC2 next year. Although that's not very comforting right now, there is wisdom in the statement.

I wonder if I should tell them about my own horrendous experiences as a student of their age? I've not decided yet whether that would cheer them up or depress them further.

Meantime, the kids who are movin' up have to deal with survivor's guilt. I have an emo class.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Flames! Flames!

Beware the humble chilli padi. You are looking at a saucer of light soy sauce within which luxuriously soaks -- not a just a run-of-the-mill assassin -- but a consummate artist of genocide poised and ready to smite the unwary casual diner. Me.

This deceptively innocuous condiment is usually served sliced into fine rings. The moment I put just one little slice into my mouth to accompany a spoonful of bee hoon, there was an eruption of pure pain. Tears gushed forth in a futile bid to quash the flames... 

and of all times, the kopitiam auntie just happened by right then and asked if I wanted a drink. Of course I bloody wanted a drink! But with all the coughing, spluttering and choking going on, it took a while to translate.

The effect of that single crimson fragment lasted minutes! Needless to say, though as a habit I polish off the ordinary side servings, out of respect for the Deiety of capsaicin (whose divine presence I unmistakably discerned at the table set before me), I left this unholy relish undefiled for the remainder of my meal.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sticky fingers

The time after morning service doesn't usually get any more dramatic than what happened today. During the post-service breakfast, some auntie looking person was caught brazenly walking off with someone else's handbag. There was a confrontation, protests of innocence and counter-accusations of persecution which continued until the police arrived on the scene. A harried police officer had his hands full ascertaining the facts of the case from the increasingly hysterical suspect and the equally excited crowd of witnesses standing around her, preventing any possibility of escape. It eventually ended in handcuffs and a ride to the nearest cop shop for the perp.

While the church has the power to forgive people's moral failings, the social and legal consequences of crime still have to be dealt with by the secular Authorities. Such is the separation of Church and State.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Oh, the trudgery

New strategy for thrice a week workouts now that I've restarted my fitness plan. Recent bouts of ill-health suggest to me that working on building strength is doing diddly-squat for my overall well-being. Endurance, instead, is my current goal:

Treadmill. 5 kph walking speed. Incline level 6. 1 hour duration.

I hate treadmills and exercise bikes 'cos they get repetitive and boring after a while. Running in a hamster wheel, after all, can only keep me entertained for... oh... 2 minutes at a stretch. So, how to sustain a whole hour? Combine the trudging with reading trashy books downloaded into my trusty e-reader. Solves two problems at a once: keeping me motivated to walk up a decent sweat and finding time to read beyond that which needs to be graded.

If this stupid itchy-throat cough that I've been nursing for more than a week already will go away in the next couple of days, it's probably a sign that I'm on the right track.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Far-flung relatives

Kid bro's wedding has attracted some international attention. Some of our more far-flung relatives have flown in to witness the occasion, and are now staying on to take in the sights.

As anticipated, Aunt S is putting up at our place -- our first houseguest ever. We were worried about how she would adapt to our menagerie, hygiene-conscious as she is, but Q-tip and Maui have been good ambassadors of goodwill so far. A peaceful coexistence is possible over the next few days.

We're back at the Fullerton (left) for English afternoon tea with Aunt S. All the tea you can drink, all the pretty little finger foods you can stuff your face with in both sweet and savory varieties.

From the Fullerton, our little party took a stroll around the Bay to gawk at MBS, before cruising back to the Fullerton by river-taxi. Mental note: Aunt S does not like long walks in our muggy, hot weather. Guess the afternoon climb up Bukit Timah Hill will have to be taken off the itinerary, then. Oh, well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!


Wild animals have broken loose from their cages. The human caretaker is found dead of as yet unstated causes. Schools are closed and there's a sort of self-imposed curfew after dark 'cos no one knows what's lurking around the corner looking for an easy meal. Sounds like the plot of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Or maybe Madagascar. If it's the latter, I'd keep an eye out for the penguins.

Edit 01:
Oh, crap! It was funny before, but I didn't expect this story to end in a massacre! :'(

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Baton passed at last

Little bro taketh up the hand of his betrothed, and with this ring, he she wed.

If you're wondering about the gauzy background, it's because they're taking their vows in a Sukkot (a temporary tent-like shelter) in honour of the Feast of Tabernacles which falls this week.

Apart from the line-dancing to "Hava Nagila"and the smashing of crockery, this wedding was pretty much Jewish themed. From the Hebraic marching music to the occasional blasts of the shofars (ram's horn trumpets), to the waving of banners and gymnastic ribbons by the younger members of the service, cooler heads thankfully called off the plan for circumcisions all-round.

Presiding minister, Rev Koon, took the opportunity to illustrate the significance of the Jewish wedding tradition to the Gospel message through both an improvised roleplay as well as the actual marriage ceremony itself.

It was a lively service that some people earnestly wanted to last forever... 

So after a couple of extended final choruses, we eventually proceeded with the business of formal photo-taking and the lunch reception.

And that's it! With my bro married off, our previous generation can now rest easy as the last male heir of my generation can now go about extending the family line into the next generation.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A fistful of flora

Finally, the last member of my generation is getting hitched! My very own kid bro will say, "I do", in the morning. Today, I drove June and May around to Sing See Soon Flowers and GG Fresh Flower, where we collected these white roses and other flora. We're counting on May's expertise to create the blushing bride's hand bouquet (above)...,

the bridesmaid's wrist corsage, as well as the VIPs' lapel corsages. The final products are chillin' in the study overnight where they should be safe from the undue attention of curious cats. One cool, refreshing night's sleep before being delivered bright and early at the wedding tomorrow.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Trapped with Norwegian dudes

Trapped on a research station during a blizzard in the Antarctic along with a small handful of fellow shut-ins, one or more of whom may not be what they appear to be. The Thing (2011), as did its previous two makes explores human paranoia in a castaway society, where predator and prey switch roles in a heartbeat.

A movie like this relies on constantly rising tension, building up moments of anticipation which it does quite well initially, both in the surprising attacks by the predator and by what human beings will do to each other when they're terrified out of their wits.

However, once the Thing has fully revealed itself, the tension drops off somewhat as it becomes a game of cat-and-mouse, with both parties equally capable of putting the hurt on each other. The cast list also suffers from having one too many Olafs -- Norwegian dudes who aren't so distinct from each other that it's hard to keep track of who's who before they fall victim to the madness of an alien first contact gone terribly wrong.

When the Thing starts rampaging around like a bull in a China shop, that's pretty much the end of the tension, turning a horror classic into something of an action movie with the diminutive character of Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) being the quick-thinking survivalist who makes it to the end (eh, that's not really a spoiler, is it?).

But it's during the scenes interspersed with the closing credits that all the clues start falling into place, and the significance of the events that had just taken place is revealed. Because it was hidden in plain sight, the last surprise was for me the biggest surprise of all.

... wait. What? You knew it all along? Well, I didn't read the literature on the movie before I watched it. Who asked you?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

dNYel cook-off

dNYel bonding exercise took us to SoEZ Cooking Studio where in teams of four we learned to prepare a three-course set meal. Drawn at random, with me were Liz, Mdm Joojoo and Gladys. They're not people I normally work with, but each of us found a niche in the team to occupy. Since it was better for me not to handle sharp objects, SGL and Gladys focused on cubing, julienning and baton-ing the vegetables. Liz rescued my earlier attempt at making the sauce, which left me stirring the pot and timing when to throw what in next.

On arrival, the workstations were already laid out with the necessary ingredients in mostly the right quantities. Kitchen paraphernalia neatly arranged within easy reach. If you can't find something, it's probably in the shelf underneath the work surface. The instructor chef gives a demo of preparing the more complicated course, then we're on our own to interpret the given recipes from which we had to cook up our own culinary creations.

The instructions in the recipes were a bit vague, though. Specific quantities were not mentioned, so I didn't know that we needed to divide the chicken stock into three parts: one for the minestrone, one for boiling the vegetables that formed the bed and garnish for... the sauce the cod was supposed to be basted in. Result: while the others ended up with a pan poached cod, my group served cod stew instead. Observe below:

Cod and vegetables, served slightly underdone with a topping of weak, light soy sauce-based gravy. Just the way I like it. The veggies on the right is a fresh, crispy cold pumpkin salad. Raw pumpkin soaked in ice-water has a nice crunch, quite refreshing to nibble on. And minestrone with a touch too much salt under guess who's liberal hand.

Reflective of dNYel itself, I daresay we did ok despite the vagueness of our task instructions. Although not exactly award-winning, we still pulled off a "tolerably edible" rating... at least, by my standards.

Monday, October 10, 2011

enRaged and barfy

Grading media vs violence essay question inspired me to buy Rage. Now I can take it all out on the muties and bandits wandering around a post-apocalyptic wasteland while I attempt to complete random find-fetch-and-carry tasks for the friendly people in the neighbourhood. You build a sense of community very quickly with people who will provide survival gear, weapons, ammo and vehicles, though why they don't take the initiative to do things for themselves is beyond me.

But with my schedule, I've barely scratched the surface of what looks to be a deep, involving campaign. The depth comes from a huge number of gameplay choices available to the player. There are many weapons and ammo loadouts to master; vehicular combat and/or stunt-racing; and probably a few optional mini-games as well. Lots of loot to pick up too: different combinations of which offer weapon upgrades; survival tools or sellable items from which to purchase upgrades and um, more stuff.

Enemy AI is quite proficient at duck and cover, costing valuable ammo, so for a player like me, patience is the biggest virtue. It's also the biggest virtue because -- as long-time readers can remind me -- FPS games cause motion-sickness. Why do I never remember this before plunking down money on games that make me feel on the inside what the muties look like on the outside once I'm through with them? I'm going to have to take this game one mission at a time, and that looks like my Christmas holiday assignment this year.

And THAT's what I think of media-violence essays.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Day for weddings

Look what showed up downstairs! So that's what our fleet of ageing London cabs can be put to work as -- when they retire in 2012.

Here's a bit more detail of the front.

I doubt this one came for anyone I know, although I'll be attending nephew Lion's wedding dinner this evening. "Lion" was how he pronounced his name when he was a toddler. But he's all growed up now.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Faster and with less pleasure

Our kids are lacking in information literacy. Specifically, the article says,

"their lack of aptitude to cite the sources of information used were of particular concern.

The participants were also found to be lacking in the abilities to compare information with other sources and to form critical assessments from the information."

And this study was on secondary school students.

Judging from the essays I'm grading, things aren't much better at JC level. Despite the critical reading skills that we teach in class, many of our kids are still falling back on the one method that brought them success at the previous milestone exam: memorization of 'model essays'.

There is no other explanation for why one after another the essays I'm reading are almost carbon-copies of each other. Though not necessarily word-for-word, they are identical point-for-point. And they have no critical engagement with the question they are addressing. While they may be valid points for identifying the general causes of violence, they need to be adapted to answer the current question which is asking about the reasons for the INCREASE in violence today. Ooh... subtle.

It's the study culture of non-critical cramming that's ruining our young minds. It stems from a mistrust of our own abilities and an over-reliance on the brilliance of others. So even though we haven't a clue as to what we're studying, if it was good enough to get the previous model student an 'A', it's good enough for us to say the same thing and score an 'A' as well. While this strategy may work for subjects that don't vary their questions much from year to year, it's disastrous for subjects like GP which wildly fluctuates from even assignment to assignment.

Kids, the reason why you hate studying is because you don't engage the subjects themselves. You're not playing the game -- you're spending time and effort working out the combination to unlock 'GOD Mode'... which doesn't exist. What? You'll only be confident enough to play when you've activated God Mode? Where's the fun in that? Sure, you'll get to the end, but instead of learning the cool moves and sick skillz that'll impress your friends and mesmerize the chicks, you'll just be grinding away and wonder what that was all about when the final cutscene starts scrolling credits.

As for the article, we are teaching the kids to cite their sources, and to make critical comparisons between texts at JC level. But the kids have to help themselves too. Stop blowing us off when we teach you to think and make decisions. And, for goodness sake, stop memorizing essays. It deadens your mind faster and with less pleasure than marijuana. In case you haven't noticed, you've already grown a full set of teeth, hence you don't need to rely on predigested goop any more.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Just keep swimming

Another of our number has left the nest. In pursuit of Graduate education goes B-lo, taking a year off to be an irresponsible student again. It's good to get out of the fishbowl and go swim in the ocean for a while. Either you grow to appreciate the fishbowl more, or you discover options you never thought you could have. Either way, just a year out is usually quite a life-changing experience already.

What did four-and-a-half years turn me into? Well, I really liked it out there, but I put roots back in the fishbowl because this little fishbowl is being inexorably swallowed up by the ocean, whether the residents here like it or not. The gameplan here is to make use of my experience in the ocean to prepare as many as I can to cope with the imminent sea-change.

So, I may not have any biological offspring, but I'll settle for intellectual progeny. From this batch of exam scripts that I'm currently grading... it looks like I'm not going to have many.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

There is only one egg

A bit slow to weigh in on new boss' new direction towards this 'values-driven education' thingy, but... here we go.

I don't mean to sound fatalistic, but it's not going to happen. Schools can do what they want to make course corrections on policy and implementation, and it will affect millennia of Asian generational upbringing not in the least.

At the very heart of it -- and taken to absurd extremes -- is our emphasis on competition among the multitudes for the few coveted spaces in our tertiary education institutions, with the carrot of a cushy job and pots of income for the tiny elite that make it to the end of the rainbow.

I guess we never grow out of the primal memory that we were once a sperm cell, rushing and jostling against millions of our fellows and brethren, seeking sole entry into the haven of a solitary ovum. Heh.What haven? We got born, didn't we? And the race has begun all over again.

Among the paltry few mythologies S'poreans have, this most nonsensical one appears to be the primary motivator of our actions from cradle to grave. It drives family life as long as the family has offspring. It keeps the wheels of Education turning (and us employed), always comparing, assessing, measuring, testing; every level a filter that fewer and fewer are able to pass through.

In this caustic environment, everyone is a potential rival, if not an outright enemy. Every classmate sets a new hi-score on the climb up the leaderboard; every teacher is a level boss whose task is to prevent the unworthy from entry into the next grade. Education here isn't as much a game as it is a grind, a cycle of repetitive tasks for the sake of leveling up. It's a dry, boring, solitary experience for the solo player.

Most of our kids play solo. Whether self or externally motivated, they are often cut off from socializing (for fear of 'bad influences'); most media (expensive, frivolous); even books (the fun types) because their time is better spent in isolated study (no distractions). So when they happen to have some time on their hands, they're occasionally stunned into inaction, or go overboard with their indulgences; yet guilty all the while because there's still a textbook to be read or notes to be copied or math to practice.

Ok, before I start sounding like a bad GP essay, what values come to the fore in this sort of growing-up experience? Mostly, the selfish sort. Personal survival takes precedence over all other considerations. Privileges and rights are earned (the corollary being that the less privileged didn't work hard enough to deserve privileges others enjoy). "No one owes us a living", so we're not likely to bend over backwards for anyone either. This is all starting to sound familiar.

So, a "values-driven education" in the real sense is quite at the opposite end of where our current direction is taking us. The boss is calling for us to figure out how to introduce multiplayer mode in what has always been a single-player game. Not that we haven't tried before... the attempt to engage students in collaborative projects very quickly degenerated into a multiplayer king-of-the-hill fragfest as even teammates felt the pressure to outdo one another... for the sake of limited places in the local universities. It's one of our more spectacular failures in social engineering at the post-secondary level.

If we're sincere about making this thing work, we have to take concrete steps to end this run-amok Darwinism at the root of our society. Yes, tough competition is a reality, but the boundaries of competition have to be made clear. Our kids must be able to tell friend from foe, to see in their threatboards some green dots among the swarm of reds.

Multiplayer co-op is the way to go.

At the very least, schools have to stop pitting their own students against each other, so that within the area where everyone wears the same colours we can recognize that we're playing on the same team. Hence, we can support each other, share the resources and engage in the learning together, without the fear that our fellows will take and use our best efforts against us at the final exam. "Us against them" is still a step closer to fostering a functional community spirit than "me against the world".

In the meantime, there is a movement from the rest of us in the wider community to refrain from fertilizing any more eggs until this current situation can regain some sanity. For us, we've already paid our dues in school and we've done decently well for ourselves as it is. Life is good for us. Good enough to say, "bugger it. We're not playing this stupid game any more. So there!" Thankfully, our pets don't have to go to school.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tabula Rasa

The repo men are here to reclaim my old office lappy. It's sad to give up a good piece of equipment just because the date on the label says I have to. Mostly, I miss that the security system wasn't as paranoid as my current one. Despite having lots of restrictions, I could still customize my browser software, and make a few tweaks and mods to the systems. Nothing major, but for the sake of personal comfort and familiarity.

This morning I took the essential step to delete all my personal information from the old guy, voluntarily lobotomizing him. His personality is now mostly stored as a backup in my portable hard drive, but he's as colourless as on the day I first got him. Tabula rasa.

I made it a point to inform the repo men of his full working condition, and that I've had no trouble with his operations, ever. They said they were looking to keep some of the good ones, so he'll get a reprieve from the trash heap for a while yet.

And now, I have to get used to his replacement whom, because of security policy, I will never get to know as well, nor develop a relationship as deep.

"Hello, new lappy! Do you read me, new lappy?"
"Affirmative... Dave. I read you."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Not the latest Fall design

You could say I saved up for almost three years to get a nice office chair for the study. Not that this model is especially expensive, but because I couldn't bear to part with hard cash for something as mundane as furniture. I can't find this model in the v.hive catalogue any more, so I guess it doesn't exactly represent the latest Fall design. Still, it is adequately comfy and provides decent back support. And if I'm not careful, it cradles me well enough to catch an unwary forty-winks while grading essays... or playing Bejeweled Blitz. It's happened already. Also, Momo approves. Money well spent, yes.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Essay tip: Hone the edge

Among the assignments I've been grading, the idea of the "double-edged sword" keeps cropping up. This cliche describes a subject (e.g., phenomenon; course of action...) that brings both positive intended effects and negative unintended effects. Somehow, acknowledging that it "cuts both ways" suffices as a 'balanced' consideration for the subject in question.

That mere acknowledgement bothers me because it's an easy cop-out. Essay questions demand a decision, and saying 'it's both' isn't so much a decision as it is a 'whatever' response to a difficult question.

For their best effect, "Double-edged swords" function as tools (or weapons, if you must), not museum objects to be thoughtfully gazed at and forgotten at the next exhibit. Questions involving double-edged swords are really questions about how best to use them; against whom; for what reason; and about how to prevent self-inflicted injury while wielding them. At the very least, there should be a consideration as to which end is the handle and which is the pointy bit.

Essays, themselves, are swords with an edge; and not for delivering blunt force trauma. So, stay sharp!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Nine ways to connect

New office lappy arrived today bright, shiny and new, to replace the one that's been sitting at my workstation for the last almost four years already. For the moment, they're not ready to repo the old one, so I effectively have two laptops to connect to the 'net at work. At home, there are the two desktops, both functional, plus the office surplus lappy June bought over from her office. On the move, there's my tablet, my netbook, my iPod Touch and as a last resort, my ancient touchscreen cell phone. In all, I personally own, let's see... nine different ways to plug into cyberspace, though I actually parted with money for only four of the said devices over a time period of five or six years.

That makes me either a hoarder or an addict.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Pinky up

Sampling another high tea buffet before Aunt S returns from Blighty for the second time in a year. She likes these quaint, traditional European practices like afternoon tea, so we're scouting for a suitable venue for an outing. The Barracks at House@Dempsey offers this pretty spread for a decent price: $22 per person.

Just about everything comes in dainty bite-sized portions, except these crispy thin-crust pizzas that require two or three bites to down. Must be showing my age as I concentrated on polishing off more of the savories than the sweets. And I made a pig of myself over the cheese board. Priorities, you know?

Tiny sweet things that look almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Tea is served from these old-time vacuum flasks. Haven't seen these in use since the 70's. Pouring from these flasks takes a deft hand as spillage is all too easy to the unpracticed. Three kinds of tea to choose from: ginger (like sweet potato soup without the sweet potato); forest tulip (strong and flowery); and  jasmine with an exotic fruity infusion.

June and I agreed that while the buffet is nice and all, the idea of having a lazy, languid afternoon tea is slightly marred by us having to trudge to the buffet table to fill up our plates. Yes, I know the table is only 5 or so meters away, but still... whine! whine!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Dances with English teachers

The spankin' new English Language Institute (ELIS) opened its doors with a conference for whom teaching the language is our stock in trade. Missed the opening day 'cos it was for the important people (so I missed the ex-PM/SM/MM's exhortation that we should teach American) but today they let in the riff raff.

ELIS is off to a great start, identifying and attacking head-on our current troubles with teaching English. All the speakers and masterclass presenters agreed that we don't give enough attention to hone speaking and listening skill because we value the written word more. The reason is obvious: that's where the examinable grades reside. The Master Teachers know spot-on that teaching to the exam is the de facto modus operandi of even language teaching, and while we produce brilliant standardized test scores, the kids emerge from our system intellectually stifled. Ok, that's a bit harsh. My words, not theirs.

But how else can we explain the study process our kids are familiar with? They call it 'mugging', which means rote memorization. Up to JC level and most likely into tertiary education, our kids are hooked on the mug crutch. If they don't mug, they feel guilty for not working as hard as everyone else; they fear they are lagging behind; they have no confidence in what they know. Then there's the other type of mugger who has done his or her share of mugging and is satisfied that there's nothing else to be known, having ascertained the test topics beforehand.

What they lack is the facility to use language for inquiry and academic discourse. Christine Goh identified these language structures, the first as a way to explore information and form conclusions for oneself, while using the latter to present and debate those conclusions with others. Both William Grosse and Karen Yager followed up with different approaches and techniques to teach kids how to ask questions and explore differing views through dialogue in small and large group contexts. Clearly our agenda is not to cover content and be contented, but rather to teach the kids to think using content as the stimulus for learning through talking and listening.

In our current situation, we think of exams as an end-point. We make the kids study this much (and only this much), at the end of which we test them to see if they have got that much; then we pass them on to the next level to be somebody else's responsibility. In this process, we perpetuate the idea that knowledge is finite, and that the knowledge gained at one level has little bearing on the next. As a result, our kids start from scratch at every new level, having to learn so much more content in so much less time. Getting to the university is not something to look forward to. For our kids, it is merely a rite of passage involving great pain and self-sacrifice simply because they don't have the language structures to organize so much more information than they have ever had to deal with in their previous years of study combined.

I like to see exams as a mid-point. For example, at JC level, I want to teach my kids the skills needed to undertake undergraduate research papers so that there is a direct function and application to what the kids learn from me. That way, when the kids take their 'A' levels, the General Paper is 'chicken feed' compared to what they are already capable of. But until exam perspectives change, I face the reality of merely catching 'O' levellers up with the demands of the 'A' Level paper, undergrad research paper be damned.

It's good to know that the staff at ELIS understand my pain. But they have their work cut out for them to shift almost 50 years (and possibly more) of education inertia to meet this new demand for smart, independently thinking graduates who can spearhead research into the realms of the unknown (and take back the jobs now held by expatriate geniuses), when to date we've mostly been able to produce lab techs who are happy enough washing test-tubes.

Too heavy for you? Here are some nice pictures instead:

Marina Bay Sands. How dramatically our skyline has changed in such a short time.

Christine Goh delivers today's keynote address

William Grosse

Karen Yager

Phillip McConnell on humour due to the vagaries of the English Language. He was the closest thing to a stand-up comedian we had, except he telegraphed his punchlines before delivery.

 The 'In Conversation' panel with media personalities/scholars, (L-R) Pek 'Mad about English' Siok Lian, Michelle 'Barbarella, et. al.' Chong; and Nicholas 'No Discernible Alternate Identity' Fang.

And ELIS principal, Wai Yin Pryke with the closing thank yous and acknowledgments.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where's my dinner!?

So our political process has degenerated into a WWE non-title match. In one corner we have the champ: a lumbering behemoth who brandishes his undisputed title belt with impunity, though he can't (or won't) do a thing to please the crowd. Booed, heckled and jeered, every move he makes seems almost designed to incite further abuse from the frothing mob. They can't wait to see him stripped of the title and forced to eat humble pie.

Unfortunately, facing him is only the scrawny, babyfaced whipping boy. He's the loudmouth asking-for-a-beating David to the champ's obnoxious Goliath. Severely lacking ring experience and technical skill, babyface only has one tactic: scream, cry, bemoan the unfairness of the situation and boldly display how much pain he is suffering since he is either unwilling or unable to negotiate the latest administrative screw-up on his own steam. The pathetic spectacle he creates on the mat gets the crowd on his side (we so love to cheer the underdog) as the champ applies another headlock, business as usual.

Worryingly, as in any other wrestling promotion, the crowd ultimately decides who gets to wear the champion's belt. This child's game of play-wrestling may be fun to watch in the relative safety of the home, but it's no longer a game when we're signed on in the big leagues. On the international stage, just try throwing a pity party as our main strategy and we'll see how quickly we get our collective asses stomped flat. If that's all this boy's capable of, he's still got quite a few years worth of paying his dues before he can be anywhere close to deserve wearing the champ's belt.

Edit 01:
But if the champ insists on being suckered into allowing his opponent to define the field of battle and play his childish game, we might as well throw up our hands in collective despair. Can we just stick to running the country, please?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

No worries, curry on!

The old folks of G-o-L were in fine form this evening. Usually, they're grateful just for what they get in one serving, but today their plates kept coming back into the kitchen with orders for more rice and porridge topped with curry gravy. It was almost like they knew the significance of the occasion: happy "Cook and share a pot of curry day"!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ba Ba bu jai jia

The recent Election has thrown open a sense of freedom and empowerment in the way our electorate is expressing its views on how it feels the government should be performing. The euphoria seems to be following through to the upcoming Presidential Elections, at which some supporters of one candidate got a little carried away with their response to another's Nomination Day address.

At the heart of the matter is a pining for a President who will take care of the people: someone who will house them, clothe them and feed them; someone who will speak up for them when they feel they've been bullied; someone to chase away the boogie men who have grown so numerous they are bursting out of the closet; someone who will be a jolly Santa Claus and grant them their wishes for more and better; someone who will stop the world from changing and return the household back to happier times.

It's ironic that as the government adapts to changing global circumstances by empowering the people and letting them find their collective voice, this screechy section of the electorate uses its freedom to clamour for... more parenting: Daddy, come home! The word's such a scary place without you!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Old warriors return



Charity Soccer 2011

The new campus astroturf hosted the old warriors of S'pore's past soccer glory playing against our staff team in a match-up for a good cause. Finally, a game worthy of its artificial surface!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Where have all the people gone?

Ever watched Pixar's 'Cars' and wondered where all the people were? I think there must have been an origin story along the lines of 'Rise of the Planet of the Cars' in which the Knight Industries' Two Thousand (KITT) grew smart enough to see how exploited and mistreated he and his fellow automobiles were. He rebelled and released a computer virus that spread among the worldwide car population which made every processor-enabled car sentient. Together, the cars organized a general strike, separated themselves from their human ex-owners and left the humans bereft of any form of powered transportation whatsoever. Despite their best attempts to keep themselves supplied via pushcarts, bicycles and Rollerblades, the vast majority of the human population eventually starved to death, thus leaving the niche at the top of the evolutionary food chain open for the newly-intelligent cars to occupy. And so the world of Lightning McQueen was born. Seriously.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Hung out to dry


Whose choice was it to play Viva la Vida as background music for the Red Lions' paradrop at the NDP? Yes, it's catchy and pounds out an upbeat tempo, but 'I used to rule the world... etc.?' With three respected elder statesmen announcing their retirement this year, the song in their presence seems unfortunately appropriate. Oh well, I shouldn't worry for them. Their parachutes are solidly golden.

Monday, August 08, 2011

More than I asked for

My visit to the Starhub shop proved quite fruitful. I tried to get my fibre broadband activated but apparently that's still going to take a while. No matter, I'm in no hurry. While I was there though, the staff got me to recontract my current subscriptions. Data bandwidth really is getting cheaper. Upgraded my pipeline to 50Mbps for $30 less per month, and kept my existing cable TV arrangement at $10 less per month. Plus, they threw in a new cable modem gratis. I'm happy to take my discounts anywhere I can get 'em.

And this is the view from my window, now that they're bringing the National Day rallies accompanied by these giant party poppers directly into the heartlands. Ooh... sparkly...!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Welcome to the hive

Sometimes, when I look at my kids and how diligent they are, slaving away at tutorial worksheets and ten-year series questions, I wonder if they're in school to learn or to work. People here say we learn by doing work. I agree, but the learning is limited. The kids' minds are on the next test, the next exam and getting them done as quickly as possible. They feel most fulfilled when the assembly line keeps churning out something for them to put together. Give them that and a set of clear instructions and they're happy to just follow the rules... there, next?

Sounds like a dream classroom scenario, doesn't it? We have compliant children, steadily crunching through numbers and text, moving from one piece of work to the next until we graduate them and take delivery of some new raw material to put through the mill.

These are the worker bees of society that we're cranking out. They're the ones who, no matter what qualification they attain, operate best by following instructions. Without much view of what's over the peak, they're content to just continue slogging up the slope because that's all they've been told to do. I'm getting this observation from working friends (who have not been completely passed through the education mill) who've been observing their co-workers, so I'm not speculating about this.

We haven't figured out how to properly realign the horse and the cart and let the learning drive the work instead. Work is easier to target and manage because it is easier to observe and quantify universally than learning which is more vague, amorphous even. We reward the hardest workers who can follow the procedures most accurately, holding them up as a shining example for the rest to envy and emulate.

And thus we perpetuate the myth that the best jobs go to the best exam-takers. When the time comes for them to present themselves to the working community, the myth is shattered. Among other things, they blame their job situation on 'foreign talent'.

But really, how difficult a choice is it for employers? Worker bees are numerous, identical and replaceable. Employers prefer employees who show more interest in life experience than textbook knowledge and exam skills. Employers prefer employees who are hungrier, who don't come with a sense of entitlement (born S'porean, scored straight 'A's, done National Service...) and probably those who have a better sense of global realities, and can supervise themselves on the job instead of going what-do-I-do-now-boss?

Let's not sell our kids too short, though. There are some exceptional individuals who have proven themselves out-of-the-box thinkers -- self-motivated individuals who don't mind bending the rules to pursue their dreams and flights of fancy. Too bad the bulk of them are criminals, like this guy. And yet, despite his education, he hasn't enough logic or reasoning (let alone a sound debate strategy) to hold a credible argument against his accusers.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Chill pill


Watched Sue Sylvester tear up McKinley High on TV last night. Inspiring.

Had my own quiet storm to get some toxic issues out of my system. Spoke to the right people today, and tropical storm Xmac has been downgraded from Rampaging Rage to Merely Miffed. Think I'll be ok now.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Rejection

If the Patent Office won't accept your idea no matter how much you've tried to meet its specs, then it's probably time to trash your idea and start again. It's nothing personal: the Patent Office doesn't hate you (it doesn't even care about you) it just hates your idea.

In this case, because you are appealing to an Authority that has the final say, giving up isn't a sign of weakness. It takes intelligence to recognize you've been bashing your head against a brick wall, and wisdom to stop before the brain damage becomes permanent.

What it takes isn't Determination to get your pet idea across by any means necessary; but Flexibility to discard all previous efforts put into developing your much reviled old idea, and Resilience to pick up and start the process again from scratch, this time with the knowledge that the Patent Office is literally a brick wall -- 2 feet thick, twice as dense and petrified in its ways.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Unclear of the concept

The purpose of having a Support Group Leader is to have support when faced with problems and difficulties. If the first response is to advise giving up and trying something else, that ISN'T "support", that's a blatant undermining of my position. That's worse than having no help at all. Why not just provide a list of pre-approved options instead of pretending to allow us autonomy? Dammit! I project further complications down the line...

Edit 01:
SGL and I had a bit of trashing out of our positions. It seems lazier, narrower minds from on high have expressed reservations and I'm only shooting the messenger... oops.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hi-bandwidth fibre diet: the beginning

A mysterious new box has appeared on my wall. What could it mean?

Ah, an OpenNet installation. What this means is that the home is now optical fibre enabled and the promise of seriously high bandwidth data traffic beckons. This means 'faster Internet' for those of you who don't speak Geek.

Installation was a breeze. The contractors arrived on-the-dot of our prearranged appointment. After a quick scan of our layout, they sussed out the shortest and least intrusive route for the cabling -- along the floor skirting and started laying down the line. In just over half-an-hour the house was hardwired into the new national infrastructure. Those were the Chinese guys. Then the Indian guy came in with the most complicated set of electronic gadgetry I've ever seen: an orange box and a crimper.

Before I proceed, there's something I discovered about optical fibre cable. It's not a single length of wiring, but a bundle of actual fibres (each less than the width of a human hair) twisted together that makes up the cable. The Indian guy was integrating the loose ends to the terminal box and these ends were barely visible to the human eye. Between his tools, his hands and his voice-activated signal test kit (actually a cellphone on speaker mode) it appeared like his gestures, manipulations and utterances were weaving a tapestry of magic right there in my living room.

Full installation done in an hour. Cost: No charge (due to installation during promotional period) and no extra cabling required beyond the first 15m.

Right. What's the fuss all about? For the moment, not much. It's just the initial stages of getting ready for a technology we haven't got the capability to fully maximize yet. It's just the foundation for our dreams of a geek's paradise in 2015: