Saturday, February 18, 2012

Too late to regret

Wow. And now we have a father of three who writes to the press about his regrets for having children. He says of his kids that when he and his spouse "chose to have more than two children... [they, i.e., Mr and Mrs] were young and reckless". Interesting word, "reckless", suggesting making significant decisions without factoring in the costs.

Read: Dollars and sense

But as much as I am a penny-pinching miser when it comes to thinking about raising kids, I have to tell Mr Law that since he already has kids he does not have the time or the luxury to regret his decision. Now his "decision" has become a Responsibility that he can not run away from. His problem has moved to a different scale altogether. Although he wails over how current population boosting policies have "hoodwinked" him into thinking he can continue to depend on government handouts forever, the reality is that they are his kids and not the government's.

You can't have your cake and eat it. More dependents sharing your slice of economic pie means taking a crimp in your lifestyle aspirations. The more dependents, the smaller a slice everyone gets. It's mathematics.

Ok, I may sound callous and heartless and indifferent to Mr Law's plight. I would be more sympathetic if he had asked for help with employment, or something practical; but to ask for a major public housing policy change? Based on factoring his own difficulties? Overnight? Hello, let's deal with what we CAN control rather than wring hands over things that we can't.

The bottom-line of Mr Lam's argument is that he wants mo' money; and who doesn't want that? But all I'm saying is, you can't expect to get any more than you already have. Singapore is trying to operate on a budget based on what it can earn balanced against what is needs to spend on in the coming year. Mr Law should try to be more realistic and do likewise.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Whatever happened to "proactive and resourceful"?

One week ago, I thought the movement to save the Houses was quite touching. A gallant, last-ditch tilt at a windmill is still an effort and a symbol to remember and get behind...

But what we got instead was a sad display of roll-over-and-die.

Kids, in a fight for your lives, you have to show in a practical way how your existence is worth preserving. Appeals on moral grounds aren't going to stop the swing of the executioner's axe. Neither is pleading for mercy, for another chance if you haven't already got a bargaining chip to place on the table. Doe eyes and tears may avail you a hanky and a pat on the shoulder, but that's all. If you have no idea what to do to save your own neck, don't expect the guillotine to advise you on that account.

And now, we bid farewell to Gus, Nix, D'gon and Griff. You had so much potential, but we only used you for sport. Those of us who dreamed you into existence will regret your passing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

No human eyeballs

I believe I am quite accommodating with animals. My house, for one, is a zoo; and today I had to be peer pressured into taking on the staff project of clearing invasive water snails from a local canal over the project to remove invasive tree species from a local secondary forest. Yes, I know both projects will involve killing living things, but snails are a step up from plants. I happen to be more biased towards self-animated lifeforms, that's me. Oh, well, escargot steamed in garlic and butter is nice, too.

But I wouldn't go so far as to anthropomorphize animals. Dressing Q-tip and Pebbles up in cute t-shirts for photos is one thing, but DogTV? A "24/7 digital TV channel with programing scientifically developed to provide the right company for dogs when left alone" (quoted from website) is irrational, to say the least.

I can't even begin to think of a business model that would support such an enterprise. No human eyeballs means no ad revenue, period. The dog, smart as it may be, isn't likely to pick up the phone and dial for a nifty chew-toy. Besides, it's only a lucky few dogs who can randomly punch the numbers on a phone keypad and ring up a valid credit card number.

Financing will have to be done by subscription only. But how many dog owners could be gullible enough to pay US$4.99 a month, to keep the TV on all day for Poochie?

Anyway, I was curious as to what Q-tip would make of DogTV. I recorded a sample video from the website and set it to play on loop. I put Q-tip on the couch, effectively immobilizing her 'cos she won't jump down. While she was stuck there, I hid behind a room divider where I could keep an eye on my poor, unstimulated, captive canine. Did she get hooked to the goggle box in her state of aloneness? Not a chance. Eyeballs everywhere except the TV, even at max volume. Nope. No sale from this household.

In effect, $5 and a significant jump in power bills a month only soothes a salaried dog owner's conscience. The dog couldn't care less, and will probably appreciate peace and quiet more.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

'Koping' and hoping

Since I'm big about collaborative learning and the importance of the sharing of resources, I applaud Back To School for its attempt to aggregate good lesson plans contributed by our local teachers. This effort intends to build up a repository of classroom materials and activities that 'busy' teachers can reach into and pull out to use when pressed for time.

I just can't help thinking, though, that this effort doesn't really solve the problem of teachers being too busy to properly plan their own lessons. A plug-and-play modular approach may be dandy for mechanical systems, but dealing with a bunch of 40 screaming human beings held in confinement might need just a bit more than 'koping' somebody else's ideas and hoping for the best.

Besides, we know it's a bad situation and hence should be looking for much bigger fixes than slapping a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound.

Yes, I know... I should be more appreciative of well-intended help; but somehow I'm not sure this is a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Caffeine fix

I've never had a coffee maker in all my life. This one showed up as an awesome V-day gift from June. It's a Krups-Nescafe Dolce Gusto, reasonably priced and available from some of the more upmarket supermarkets in the neighbourhood. The unit comes in brighter colours than what you see here, but June chose a sober titanium to give the coffee dispensed some dignity.

What makes this an easy impulse buy is how simple it is to operate. There's a wide range of different coffee blends to choose from, as you can see from the sample box (above). The correct proportions for each blend are already measured out in those handy capsules which you stick into the machine. In seconds either a steaming or chilled(!) stream of java comes out to fill a mugful of perky goodness.

Of course, there is still a slight learning curve to deal with. This here is my maiden cuppa what's supposed to be cappuccino. It's practically turned out pure espresso O_o In order to make the proper blend, you have to estimate how much coffee to fill your mug and stop the machine right there. Switch the coffee capsule for a milk capsule then restart the machine to fill up the rest of the mug. Different blends require you to watch your mug carefully in order to stop-reload-restart at optimum levels as prescribed by the handy proportions guide printed on every box of capsule refills. 

Oh, yes, refill boxes come from the supermarkets too. At my rate of caffeine consumption, I should get through maybe a box a week. Some cynics are going to scoff at how they're ripping us off having to buy refills, but really each mug of coffee costs about as much as a kopitiam kopi. Not too bad for a machine-brew.

Minor inconveniences are the quick rinsing of the nozzle with every capsule change, and a little wiping down of dispensing splash; but nothing to get excited about. Also, it'll take a while for the eyes to see mugs in fractions, but it should come with practice.

Now I shall reinstate a nighttime ritual I thought I had lost forever: a coffee before bedtime. Mmm...

Monday, February 13, 2012

You've come a long way, baby (but not very)

Kids were discussing Schumpeter's "Womenomics", the key question being whether women have to adopt male traits in order to successfully compete in today's workplace, or can they rely on their own 'feminine' traits without having to grow a pair of ba**s in order to get ahead at work?

In localizing the question, the kids had to look at successful women in S'pore and decide if they were successful because they were essentially 'one of the guys', or if they were successful and could still look and behave like women in their workplaces.

I admit it was a very shallow pool of candidates to scrutinize as case studies, but eventually we concluded that it was still essentially a man's world out there. Man-traits still rule the corporate world in S'pore. From our ridiculously small sample of successful women, we noted common traits such as hyper-competitiveness, bull-headedness, and a high propensity for risk-taking; all of which Schumpeter identifies as characteristics of men in the workplace. To be fair, S'pore men aren't really known to be risk-taking either, so there you are!

We also examined S'porean attitudes towards women in leadership roles. The most telling case study was in comparing two prominent candidates in the recent General Elections: Nicole and TPL. Why they are the basis of a good case study is because they stood directly opposite each other in the elections. Voting for one meant the ouster of the other...

And now I deviate from class discussion to extrapolate implications on my own:

Disregarding the actual outcome of the election -- which was subject to its own quirks -- in terms of the popular vote, it can almost be undisputed who was the preferred candidate. But if you look at how they presented themselves in public, one was clearly more masculine in comparison to the other. It seems to the electorate that between the two, the more Alpha-male one (the one who emphatically told us what to do) easily gathered our support, while we excoriated the other for being such a woman: in behaviour, demeanor, and personal taste.

To test our gender bias, swap the candidates and their parties. See what I mean? It wouldn't matter which party either stood for. If "Bluto" stood with the incumbents, we would still have given her our resounding support. If "Olive" stood for oppo, she would still have been flayed alive, thus prompting instant replacement with someone exuding more testosterone. Oppo is very sensitive to what's popular.

By this thought experiment, our popular choice appears not to be as politically driven as it is prejudiced by gender. Schumpeter would not be surprised.

And by now a whole bunch of people is going to tell me how in so many ways my conclusion is wrong. 3... 2... 1... Go!

Edit 01:
One thing I'm definitely wrong about is assuming that Schumpeter was the author of the article. The name "Schumpeter" refers to a column in The Economist written by anonymous contributors. So, author, unstated.