Monday, December 29, 2008

Capitalism in Education

Brilliant, brilliant idea. Adverts on quizzes and test papers... I should try it myself one of these days!

Friday, December 26, 2008

A long belated update

For various reasons, I wasn't updating this blog as often as I should have. Busy with my studies and all that. Also been stumbling across the weirdest stuff on the net that somehow jive a lot with what I've been learning.

For what's it's worth, I'm already well known as the resident skeptic and heretic in my Public Policy class. I'm quite openly anti-Obama, anti-socialist, anti-big government, HIV skeptic, global warming skeptic, economic Austrian, somewhat anti-democracy, and a whole host of other positions that normal, 'sane' people just will not accept.

Didn't hurt my grades one bit. I wish I could say I got straight As for all 5 of the modules I took, but I guess only 4 As would suffice(the last one was a B+).

And amazingly, I got onto the Dean's List. Plus another award. Heh.

Anyway, the days after the exams was spent preparing for the marathon, and caroling with the university choir. It's only now that I finally have some time to update this thing, and some time to properly frame my thoughts.

Over the past two months, I've come to a startling conclusion about the Public Policy course I'm taking. The most essential meta-context for the Masters I'm taking is this: we, the people in academia and the public sector, know better than the electorate what's good for them.

The politicians can promise whatever, but they have to convince us if they ever want anything to get done. We are the gatekeepers, the keyholders, the ones who actually decide. We can say, no, this ain't gonna work, or suggest, in our esteemed views, this is the best course of action.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong to let the electorate have an illusion of power. After all, a lot of people ARE pretty stupid, even in Singapore with its average IQ of 105 and a smart fraction of ~35%. And a lot of supposedly smart people have been fed bullshit for years, and in teaching, we know this as 'garbage in, garbage out'. No matter how smart a person is. For example, look at how many supposedly smart people voted for Obama.

Which brings us to policies, and the oft heated debates over them. To be honest, I have a very low opinion of Krugman who just won the Nobel prize. His contributions were essentially refinements on already well-developed theories. They're not wrong, but they don't really give us anything. And Krugman over the years has been losing his marbles. In more ways than one.

In fact, many of the talking heads discussing the current recession(maybe depression) are likely to be wrong. And I contend it is because they have yet to grasp the true nature of the world. Without accurate information on what you're handling, you can't even being to predict what your actions will bring about.

For example, say you're going to roast a duck. At the very least, you should know the condition of the duck you're using, right? What if the duck's already decaying? What if it's too old, and the meat too tough? So many analysts fail to grasp this important point: you have to know what you're dealing with, where you're starting from. Not doing this will only result in failed policies.

So over the past few months, I have been reading up on certain writers. There are a number I consider essential reading in order to understand the world as it is:

Spengler. He may be right, he may be wrong, but he makes you think. I consider his opinions on market capitalism especially telling. Markets are amoral, and if the people in the market want to go to hell, it'll provide the fastest way for them to get there. I'm an atheist, but even I can see the point.

Steve Sailor. Considered a racist by many on the net. But it's stupid to pretend everybody's starting with the same intelligence, and then have policies based on those premises. His analysis of the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US is the best I've seen so far, placing the blame squarely on Shrub and his strategy of pandering to minorities who have no business owning homes in the first place.

Mencius Moldbug
. In some ways, this guy is the most extreme of all. He advocates the removal of democracy in favor of either monarchy or what he calls neo-camaralism - the corporate state. His views on the role of democracy and the public sector (the Cathedral) are damningly spot-on.

Mises blog. This is a group blog by the Austrian economists, who have been running around for years being ignored by the rest of the economists despite being right almost every time. The only thing I disagree with these guys on is their isolationist view and matters of defense.

Gene Expression. A better understanding of biology and how it affects socio-economic behaviour goes a long way in knowing what you're starting out with(the duck analogy again).

Meanwhile, I'll be busy with my textbook over the next few days, and catching up with some old friends. Have fun checking out the links. There's plenty of great stuff there.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sea of Miracles

Was just surfing the net recently when I came across mention of Record of Lodoss War on an RPG site. It brought back memories of the classic high fantasy anime. What I remembered most clearly was the haunting song from the opening animation. I could still hum a bit of it, but now that everything could be found online, I figured having it on my playlist would be a good idea.

I went hunting for the full song, and it wasn't long before I found it on youtube - Kiseki no Umi(Sea of Miracles), sung by Maaya Sakamoto and composed by none other than Yoko Kanno. Truly a great 'mood' track.

Speaking of Yoko Kanno, her newest compositions for Macross Frontier are, on the whole, awesome. Lion and Northern Cross are great tracks. However, they're still edged out by Diamond Crevasse, especially the 'upgraded' version sung in episode 20.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Last Official Day of Work

Well, that's it for my time as an official teacher of MOE. Today was my last day as a teacher at SAJC, and it's now full speed ahead for my studies to get a Masters of Public Policy degree at the Lee Kuan Yew School.

The stats test today, BTW, was horrible. Utterly false advertising that got everybody thinking that it would maths - algebra with maybe some functions? Instead we got a horrible crash exam in statistics. What the heck is the Empirical Rule? I would know it if somebody had told me to study it, but we were wholly unprepared!

In fact, this is the first Orientation I know of that has already involved 2 assignments and a test. Wow. Talk about getting 'qieh' upside down.

With all the things happening , I'm still trying to get over the fact that I'm not a teacher anymore. Oh, to be sure, I'll probably be looking for tuition offers, preferably from my former students. But it's just not the same as standing in front of 600 students to deliver a lecture, and the thrill after it all when you KNOW you've done a good job of explaining the content(more or less). I'm applying for relief teaching, and when my timetable is settled I'll be sending it to my subject head, so I'll still be around in SAJC as a sorta advisory/reserve/backup role.

The year end gaming convention has been called off, but the textbook is still on, and my collaborator in Australia is getting ready to burn, and so should I.

So that's it for the time being, as if it wasn't enough. Studies, the project to set the J1 H1 Chem paper, the textbook project, and tuition. Argh, I should learn to say no the next time round...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Choral Conductors in Singapore

When talking to an aspiring DSA applicant, she asked about our practice schedules, and when I told her, she commented that she checked with the other JCs, and they're virtually daily practices. I retorted by saying that I don't quite believe that, and I made the offhand remark that certain conductors probably aren't that sort. She specifically mentioned Meridian, and I thought it was Zechariah Goh in charge, because I vaguely remembered somebody telling me that. And he certainly doesn't seem the harsh taskmaster kind.

But still, I wasn't quite sure, so I decided to refresh my memory, and checked online. Actually, Chee Foon was still in charge of MJC Choir. Then I thought about the other conductors who're around the same age as I am, and then it hit me: they were ALL guys.

Just a quick list of those I know: Albert Tay(SAJC, of course!), Terence Toh, Low Shi Howe(TPJC, now studying overseas), Yong Chee Foon(MJC), Leslie Tay(IJC, now studying overseas). Just about the only young female conductor I can think of conducting at the JC level is Ms Ong from NYJC, but I've never met her, while I've had either worked or sung with most of the guys mentioned. I've worked with Albert at SAJC, sang under Terence at NUS, and Leslie was my bass section leader back in NJC. Chee Foon kinda knows me because I make trips down to his shop to collect/purchase scores, and Shi Howe is the only one I've not really talked with.

Why is it that most of the young conductors are male? Something in the water, or the style of music now promoted by the experienced conductors like Nelson Kwei, Ms Lim et al? Heck, I don't remember Nelson ever taking in a female protege!

On the Horizon of the Azolla Event

It's pretty well known by now that CO2 levels in the atmosphere has been increasing slightly. And by slightly, I mean relative to (pre-)historical levels. Current levels are 390 ppm by volume, and global warming hysterics are running around warning that the sky might fall. Yawn.

In fact, the CO2 level in the Triassic period was 1750 ppm, and take note of this: the polar regions did not have glaciers, and were warm and temperate regions!!! In fact, cold blooded vertebrate such as reptiles were able to live at the poles, which is impossible today.

CO2 levels declined slowly during the Jurassic period, and during the Eocene period, a sudden(even catastrophic) bloom of a freshwater fern Azolla broke out in the then-not-as-cold Arctic Sea, in what is called the Azolla event. The fern consumed huge amounts of CO2(from 3500 to 650 ppm!!!) from the atmosphere, and sank to the bottom of the sea, where they were incorporated into the bed sediment and locked in with their corresponding loads of carbon. The decrease in CO2 levels and corresponding greenhouse effect caused the Earth's climate to change from a 'greenhouse' to an 'icehouse'. This also caused sea levels to drop, obviously.

CO2 levels continued to decline, until they were barely above the 'suffocation' level(200ppm) for plants. In fact, we are in a global ice age, though you would not have guessed it judging from the idiots in the media and pseudo-scientific institutions warning of anthropogenic global warming.

Where am I going with all this? All this is just evidence that Earth's environment can easily deal with hotter climes, and in fact may be a good thing, as higher CO2 levels will encourage biosphere growth, especially for plants and cold blooded species. It's also an indicator that perhaps we have less to do with increasing CO2 levels as we thought. And finally, I don't feel it's a big problem. Warmer temperatures on Earth would probably mean less deaths due to extreme cold(more people die every year from cold weather than from hot weather). Ocean acidification? If it's not a problem millions of years ago, it's not going to be a problem now either.

The only possible drawback that should be taken into account would be geological factors, especially considering the erosion of the continents hundreds of millions of years after the Triassic. Back in the prehistoric times, some of the continents were virtually submerged, like Europe, for example. Further denudation of shorelines in the millions of years since would probably mean a decrease in the land surface of Earth. Which is obviously not a good thing. Substantial energy would need to be expended to construct barriers against the sea as the sea level rises.

As a matter of fact, the greatest limitation and danger now facing human civilization is not global warming, global cooling, or whatever. It's access to cheap energy. Give me a cheap and plentiful source of energy, and anything becomes possible. Let's hope the Polywell fusion reactor pans out.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Last year, the school decided the performing arts groups needed a boost, so we solicited names for the performing arts CCAs. Eventually, after much debate, we settled on "Saints on Stage" - S.O.S.. Some protested against it, obviously because it also stands for Save Our Souls.

Yesterday, I managed to get my hands on the much awaited Macross Frontier OST 1(with more OSTs to come). Simply put, of all the soundtracks I've heard in my life, this OST tops them all. The top four vocals, by the characters Sheryl Nome(singer May'n) and Ranka Lee(singer Nakajima Megumi), IMO, are

1. Diamond Crevasse (Sheryl)
2. What 'bout My Star (Formo mall/J-Pop version. Not really by any one of the two singers, but Ranka starts, then Sheryl takes over a bit, with Ranka singing a haunting wail in the background, both singing together for a while, then Ranka taking the foreground again, with Sheryl in the background. Sometimes supporting each other, sometimes as though directly competing. A harbinger of the storyline?)
3. Welcome to My Fanclub's Night
4. Aimo

The best 4 background music(BGM) pieces, most of which can be considered classical pieces, I guess, are

1. Zero Hour (sounds like it came straight from Top Gun, fitting because the anime is also about fighter planes...)
2. Private Army (strong latin influences)
3. Twinkle (quiet but intense piano piece)
4. The Target (a stirring piece in the style of Star Wars; you can imagine Luke Skywalker taking aim with his proton torps at the Death Star)

There are also some commercial advertisement style tracks, such as the cute carrot song and restaurant Nyan Nyan ditty. The SMS mercenary unit theme song "That Girl is an Alien" is also quite lively.

So what's all this got to do with my first paragraph? Well, despite its somewhat sleazy name, which makes you think of downtrodden singers performing at seedy nightclubs, "Welcome to My Fanclub's Night" is actually an epic sounding piece, starting with fast strings, then into standard pop, with the chorus going:
Welcome to my fanclub’s night! S.O.S.!
choukuukan de yuuwaku ryuusei deeto?
Welcome to my fanclub’s night! S.O.S.!
choukousoku romanteikku! anata e!
What does S.O.S. stand for? Why, Sheryl on Stage.

If it's good enough for Yoko Kanno, it's good enough for us.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Better Music through Chemistry?

I've commented on the possibility of mind-enhancing drugs before. By way of certain allegations regarding Usain Bolt's recording breaking sprint, there was this interesting line - "After all, performance enhancement is allowed in the bedroom (Viagra) and in the concert hall (beta blockers)". In the concert hall?!?

Looks like drugs aren't just for athletes and students. These are drugs that can improve a performer's effectiveness during concerts by reducing stage fright, which in my personal experience is the greatest factor in affecting the quality of a performance, particularly with regards to inexperienced performers. It takes a lot of mental preparation and a certain mindset for a new performer to step out and perform to his or her best. Thankfully, the recent successful choir concert showed that our new J1s are okay in this respect, or maybe we've given them enough practice that they'd no reason to feel anxious.

It's pretty sad to read that even professional musicians resort to using these drugs to ensure a quality performance. The ethical implications are also very blurry - is it wrong for a musician to use these drugs to enable him to perform his best as long as the audience enjoyed the performance? The NY Times article had a comment that stated beta blocker enabled performances lose some of their intensity, though it's certainly debatable if it's amply compensated by the improvement in technical proficiency.

If you ask me about my take on this, I'd say it's best not to use drugs, but if it's clear that there's no other way to calm the anxiety ridden performer, then so be it. Of course, I'm not condoning its use by any of my students! *GLARES*