Sunday, March 25, 2007

Quick Update

Just a few things I've done over the past week.

Gnashed my teeth over the Block Test results. Sheesh, it's worse this year.

And hey, the school's AVA club can't do normalization and reverb addition to tracks. Guess who has to do it now?

Pretty fun stuff though. The school song is now ready to be played. In about an hour's time. Hope I got the DVD format right. If not, well, I hope it rains then. :P

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Exotic Locales for Tourism

As a science fiction fan, I've always found exotic environments and settings as one of its biggest draws. However, there are few writers with the capacity and imagination to devise environments unlike any we have ever seen.

Fantasy doesn't have this problem, they just wave their hands and presto! What pesky physical laws?

For real science fiction, however, there has to be a modicum(or a lot) of real science and thinking poured into the construction of exotic settings. My favorite two are listed below.
The Sunless Sea(by Mike Miller)
Mike Miller, or Cray, as he's commonly known on the CBT boards, is one very smart guy. He thought of placing a human civilization within the harsh environs of a gas giant.

Yes, you read that right. A gas giant. One that had its hydrogen 'coat' shaved off when its system primary went supernova, but a gas giant nonetheless.

Pressure and temperature conditions within the planet itself are, needless to say, extreme. At the sea surface, miles below the atmospheric envelope of the gas giant, the pressure is already 64 bars. For comparison's sake, earth's atmospheric pressure at sea level, where you and I live, is 1 bar.

The ocean itself is a ammonia-water-methane mixture, in a liquid state despite the high temperature of 125 celsius due to the high pressure. For you chemistry/physics students, please study phase diagrams if you do not understand what I'm saying.

Everything in that place is over-engineered and designed to take a massive amount of abuse. Humans can survive on the surface, but only when swaddled in chilled coats and wearing respirators.

As to why anyone would be so insane as to live in such a hellish environment, I have no idea. But it's one heck of a cool setting.
Integral Trees/Smoke Ring(by Larry Niven)
Larry Niven is one of the acknowledged grandmasters of science fiction. It helped, of course, that he was a maths major.

The setting for Integral Trees/Smoke Ring was beyond unique. There is, quite simply, no ground to speak of. Everything is in constant free fall in the gas torus about the neutron star. The gas torus itself, at least at the thickest central portion, is quite coincidentally composed of a breathable oxygen/nitrogen mixture.

Travel is a real pain. Because of a frisky thing called Newton's Three Laws of Motion, people can only travel through the air by means of jet propulsion when no solid surface or objects are available. The challenges of surviving in such a low-G environment are immense, and completely different from the Sunless Sea.

My biggest gripe with the setting is the presence of indigenous life forms. For one, while evolution is quite possible, abiogenesis given the conditions is not. Our single celled ancestors were probably cobbled together from various RNA and protein molecules in Earth's primordial 'soup', but the Smoke Ring is a gaseous environment. Statistically speaking, the odds of molecules coalescing to form a self-replicating organism are far worse there.

Leaving that quibble aside, it's a great setting for those who want a challenge, either of writing a story, or for role playing gamers who want something out of the ordinary, but still very much based on reality.
Anybody reading this, if you have come across similar exotic locales, pls feel free to comment!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Mahatma Gandhi is an idiot

I once thought Mahatma Gandhi was a great man. Pacifist, humanist, full of wise sayings, blah, blah, blah.

Then I grew up. Fell into the rather dubious company of atheist libertarians and skeptical rationalists. I learnt that Gandhi was truly a great man, but one in the mold of Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. One who moved the world in ways detrimental to human dignity and progress. Partly due to his insane vision, democratic India was mired in poverty for decades, and which it is only now getting out of.

Read the links below for yourself, and you make the call.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March performance bonus coming up!

Came across some more interesting links. Both are for teachers, since with the March performance bonus coming soon, many are understandably anxious about how much they're getting. We'll all get a certain amount, but we often can't figure out just what we had to do to get the next higher level. So hopefully, the links below will help rather than hinder.
I'm sure many, many teachers will recognize some of the same problems cited by the author of this blog.

My favourite line:
Suppress the urge to assign special projects to HR, things like implementing TQM or reengineering, or programs to imbue the “seven habits.”
That's right. Bottom line is always the most important. For schools and teachers, the bottom line is the students' results(in terms of value addedness), and somewhat peripherally, their CCA achievements. Everything else are ways to getting that bottom line. Must never lose sight of that.
Provides a bit more transparency into the opaque world of ranking and promotional exercises. Oh well, I'm not too worried. At least, I'm still too new to worry about it... though I do hope my status as a PSC-LMS scholar should carry some weight...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Interesting note of the day

Came across a very good story at Winds of Change.
Both Chew2 and Winston (#49) suggested that Sparta left no mark on Western civilization, at least no positive mark. That they are wrong is shown by the story Plutarch told in his life of the King of Sparta. The story is that an ambassador visiting the king was amazed at how little fortification Sparta had. He expressed his surprise to the king, who took him to where the Spartan army was arrayed. Pointing to the army, the king said, "There are the walls of Sparta. Ten thousand men and everyone a brick."
I'm sure the National Education aspect of this is obvious. But are we, the NSmen of Singapore, bricks, or men of straw, liable to be blown away at the slightest whiff of grapeshot?

I want to start headbanging again...

Ran across this post by a JC2 student on a blog.
_______ overheard a conversation between two JC1s, and they wanna get out of SA because "the J2s are so playful, they are not studying hard like the students in Nanyang JC!" hahahahaa oh my gosh!! isn't it this kind of atmosphere that make people wanna come to SA?? don't they usually associate SA with "fun"? okay maybe that's why they don't belong. or maybe my concept of a junior college is just wrong. they're right- JC is just a stepping stone to uni, we should just work hard, study and nothing else.
Can somebody put me out of my misery? PLEASE?!?

Fun, fun, fun. Fun for 3 days of Orientation. Fun for 2 years of JC. No fun for everybody when 'A' level results are announced... We're getting poor results because of the culture of 'fun'. I say get rid of it. GET RID OF IT!

The Principal is hopping mad over the results. What can we do when students think this way? She doesn't want to imitate what other JCs are doing(RE: NYJC, MJC), but that's exactly how they're getting such good results, getting extra value out of their students. If she doesn't want to get on with the program, pls don't complain about the poor results. It's illogical. The end result is exactly what we, as a school, the teachers, the students, the administration, deserve.

Bought a DV camcorder today at the IT fair at Suntec. Spent a pretty penny on it, $749. With the $400 subsidy, that means I actually paid only $349. Not too shabby. There was an offer for a High Definition Hard Disk Camcorder(JVC) for $1499, when it normally cost $2499. I was tempted for a moment, before I told myself sternly, "You have zero experience in fully exploiting the capabilities of this device, so forget it! Furthermore, it'd mean a $1000 out of your own pocket."

I bet Yeow Heng would have loved it though.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Tag, you're it!

Just slapped a chatbox in the sidebar.

Students, if you're reading this, feel free to flame away. I'd much prefer it if you asked me tutorial questions there instead. I know it's tough to ask organic chem questions online, but condensed structures could be written in the comments.

Managed to speed read John Ringo's entire Paladin of Shadows series today, or at least the four books that're already out. Now waiting eagerly for A Deeper Blue. Also looked for Jim Butcher's Cursor's Fury, but it apparently hasn't reached Singapore yet.

Felt the urge to buy Perkins' The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization today when I saw it in the history section at Borders. But it was also very expensive. I could have bought it using MOE's LDS, but I'm going to use the 400 dollars to subsidize for a video cam. Damn...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Appeal for Appeals

Thursday was yet another crazy day. Simply crazy.

The choir teachers, all three of us, scanned through the files for prospective choir appeal candidates, and came up with more than 30 names. We actually went to call each and every one of them to inform them of music auditions.

While flipping through the files, there were many, many appeal candidates who did not indicate how exactly they wanted to appeal to enter the school. Oh sure, there was a box where they filled out their CCA in their secondary school, but about 30-40% of them were from uniformed groups. I really pitied them, because nobody was going to give their application a single glance, let alone allow them in, for one very simple reason: what can they offer us? Uniformed group? So what?

Not that I have anything against them, despite uniformed groups being the one category of CCA I've never joined(I was in Christian Fellowship, ELDDS, dance, choir, squash, soccer, and chess at various points in my life). It's simply sad that nobody bothered to tell these students about the harsh reality of the appeal system. That they should not even bother to send in an appeal form to the school if all they can say is, "I was a scout leader".

You have to be in either a performing arts or sport to stand a chance. For sports, it's pretty obvious how people would be selected. For the performing arts, it's also quite straightforward, especially for the instrumental CCAs and dance. You have to be pretty good at an instrument, or have a decent dance background, to get in through appeal. Otherwise, forget it.

The single interesting exception, of course, is the choir. Of course, if the perception that choir guys are wussies isn't so strong, choir would just be another performing arts CCA where the appeal candidate has to have at least grade 4 in music, perfect pitch, and a range spanning 3 octaves to stand a chance. Wah, nice dream. Even Nelson Kwei's VJC doesn't demand that standard, though Nelson probably wish he could(who wouldn't?).

The choir is the only performing arts CCA accepting appeals that complete noobs stand a chance of succeeding in. Serviceable voice, can follow and carry a tune, good enough. And even so, only about 10 of the 30 odd people who turned up for auditions fulfilled those requirements.

Even those who were from supposedly reputable choirs didn't turn out to be as good as we hoped. Oh well...

So here's some advice for you secondary school students, if you're reading this. Please, please, if you think you need to appeal into a JC after your 'O' Levels, take up an instrument or a sport when you are in secondary school. If you really want to experience uniformed group life, do so, but for the 1st three months of JC, head for a 'useful' CCA.
Been quiet on the BTech front these few weeks. Gotta start pushing games again!

Also been slacking off on my jogging. Must start piah-ing again!

The Wobbly Guy

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Last few days have been more than crazy.

It all started yesterday after my tutorial lesson with 06S27. I had an hour's break before my SPA with 06S13, but before I could go for lunch, Jiaqi dashed in looking for David, who was supposed to be assessing skill B with her. Since he wasn't around, and the students were waiting(the time was 1145), I had no choice but to stand in. There, I thought, goes my lunch break.

So we started SPA at about 1148. David came in at 1155, and I took the opportunity to quickly dash down to the canteen to grab a burger. Apparently, that was when the earth shook for the first time. Probably when I was descending the stairs.

Just after I bought my burger, the staff started evacuating the canteen. I immediately thought of the people having SPA. I had two choices at the moment.

1. Not my problem. Just go to the gallery, enjoy my burger.
2. Go upstairs to inform Jiaqi and David to get the students down.

Guess which option I took?

I dashed up to the fourth floor, and I was right, the students were still in the midst of their experiments. I couldn't make the call to get them down, so I quickly went up the chain of command with my handphone(ahhh... the wonders of modern tech; imagine such a situation 15 years ago!). Thankfully, I got hold of HOD Mannan.

"Boss, we still have students in the chem labs having SPA!"
"Bring them all down. Orders from the top."

I opened the door to the lab. Some students glanced at me, wondering what I was doing and why I looked so flustered, and for a moment I didn't know if I should just call out the orders or defer to Jiaqi, since it was her class. Again, I thought, important things first. We're already slow in getting down, and giving the story to Jiaqi would have taken too long, so I just gave the students the instructions to put whatever they were doing down, and proceed in an orderly manner down to the assembly area.

At the assembly area, I did all that was expected of a civics tutor. Check attendance, blah blah. At 1220 hrs, the all clear was given, and students trooped back to wherever they were supposed to be.

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach then. My lunch break was gone! At 1230, 06S13 went into Lab 4 for their SPA.

Clamping down the feelings of unease in my stomach, I conducted the SPA as best as I could, hoping that nothing else would happen.

With less than 10 minutes left to go, it happened. I was standing, quietly observing the students as they put the finishing touches to their reports.

Then the ground swayed. I had to shift my balance a bit, and for about 5 seconds I was leaning on one foot and then the other. Lagi best... another tremor.

So natch, the response was obvious, even if I didn't want to admit it. I shouted at the excited students to clamp it down and continue with their work, while I made another quick call to Mannan. Again, orders from the top: proceed at best speed to assembly area.

Down we went, and we waited at the field for about fifteen minutes when the orders finally came: school is dismissed, and all staff and students are to leave the premises ASAP.

So... that was it for Tuesday. My lunch? Instant noodles at home. Sob.

Today was nuts for another reason: Choir appeal cases. I remember when I appealed to National Junior College via choir. Check L1R5 - close. Subject combi selection - excellent match. Science scores - no problem. Since I was there for the 1st three months, in the choir, no need even for auditions. All I needed was a phone call, and I jumped at the offer.

Today, it was different. Some of the students called hemmed and hawwed before they were even willing to come down for auditions tomorrow. I was half tempted to ask them to shove off.

Gotta sleep now. And I still haven't finished my line of thought concerning education. Got some new complaints from my dad again. Sheesh.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Alternative "Lord of the Rings"

Was just fooling around when I ran across a mention of Richard Sharpe, main protagonist of Bernard Cornwell's excellent Sharpe series. It also brought to mind Xiang Hao and Nah's offer to get the entire dramatized 'Sharpe' TV series, starring Sean Bean, who was also Boromir in Lord of the Rings.

Which, of course, led me to recall the exceedingly funny site I saw once before spoofing LotR, using various authors and coming up with humorous "what if wrote LotR?" using these author's peculiar writing quirks and styles.

There were ones by Mike Stackpole, Bernard Cornwall, Tom Clancy. One of the best entries, I remember, was the Everquest RPG version with Fordo being a complete noob getting beaten up in the Mines of Moria battle.

I went googling for it, but no luck. All I got was a much shorter site here.

Anybody care to give me a hand?

Friday, March 02, 2007

On Song

Well, finally performed with the SAJC choir after months of talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

The first time was last Friday for their CIP at the SGH. Just went out there and whacked at the two chinese pieces. I tried to get as loud as I dared, but somehow it didn't seem loud enough. Maybe I should howl at the moon more often, to get back the volume that I achieved back at NS when on guard duty at the detention barracks(military prison), since we howled at the moon every three days(I'm not joking...). Then again, I can still be very loud. When I want/need to.

And then there was chapel the last two days, for the J2 and J1 assembly periods respectively. It was fine, pretty good actually, except on Thursday when our principal Mrs Lim told Mrs Wong to introduce us the teachers, when Wincy and moi were safely ensconced in the 2nd row in uniform and undercover (Oon Hui's cover was blown early on when she played the piano). Elroy and Zhicong(IIRC) dragged me out. Dudes, you are going to pay for that.

So when I talked to Mrs Lim this morning to protest(timidly), she insisted on our introduction, because she felt SAJC students were too timid and mousy, and we teachers should set a good example by being proud of what we're doing.

Excuse me, but the last thing SAJC students need is more courage. I'm sure Mrs Lim prefers a student population that's outward looking, daring, adventurous etc, which SAJC students certainly are, for the most part. There's also something to be said for keeping your peace and reflecting inwardly too. The balance, I feel, has been skewed towards the former, and not the latter. The atmosphere is completely different from my own JC experience at National. After talking to many, many teachers, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Being open and fun isn't a bad thing. NJC, for a fact, was boooooring. Maybe that's why I joined so many CCAs: choir, soccer, chess. Because there simply weren't enough events to keep hyperactive youths occupied. Back to this issue in a while.

Anyway, for this morning, it was better. The songs were sung(no mistakes for Little David!), audience enjoyed it, but Ji Hyun commented dynamics were poorer for Little David today. Maybe I should have blasted at 100%, which would have really annoyed poor Sam. Methinks the tenors have got to learn how to blast. When it's acceptable to do so, of course. It's almost true that conductors have never asked for less tenor in a forte passage. Almost, because I vaguely remember the section being asked to hold back a bit... when was it... maybe when I was in JC2 under Ms Tham?

Anyway, chapel was a blast. Took a picture with the tenors too.
From left to right: Sam, Kubaren, Chin Yan, Me, Rong Ming, Steve

I look stupid in uniform, but at least not as stupid as ten years ago. That was when I looked super-duper nerdy. Not wrong... after all, I AM a nerd. One who plays soccer and does a whole lot of other things... but still a nerd.

Oh well. Hope all the tenors stay on, and we get some more recruits. 3 more tenors would make up the section very nicely. Of course, Albert gets final say in the composition of the choir.

So back to the matter of SAJC students. Playing hard is fine, but they're simply not working hard enough(at least it seems to me). And if they're working hard, they're not working smart. Typical example was on Wednesday, when I asked some of the comm members about their homework. To a person, they said they would slog through the tutorials before going to sleep. I told them it was not productive nor efficient. It's easier to do work when you're not tired, and faster too.

Let's say you have 9 hours to spend after reaching home from school at 9pm. It takes 2 hours to finish a maths tutorial when tired, and 1 hour when you're fresh. You're already tired upon reaching home. Isn't it better to sleep for 2 hours, then wake up refreshed to finish the tutorial in 1 hour, and go back to sleep with 6 hours(for total 8 hours of sleep), then to slog through the tutorial in 2 hours, and have only 7 hours left to sleep?

Maybe I'm wrong, and some people work better when they can finish their work in one shot, but working efficiently that way is what me and my sis did when we were in JC. For me, I grabbed my sleep wherever and whenever I can. One eye closed during lectures(maths especially, but I somehow managed to copy all the notes; weird), on the floor in a corner during breaks and while waiting for assembly, on the bus. Wolfing down my lunch in just ten minutes so I can use the rest of my break to do work or sleep. Etc.

Back to the point, because they're either not working hard or smart enough, SAJC students end up with less than desirable results. Case-in-point: today. 'A' level results were not bad, but it wasn't too good either, in that given the quality of our student intake, they should have done better, most of them. Every teacher in SAJC had considered the question: what the heck is wrong with us? Is it us the teachers? The school? The administration? The students? Parents? What exactly is/are the factors that make us underachievers?

Waitaminute, are our students underachievers?

The grading system from PSLE to the 'A' levels works by using the gaussian curve(La Griffe Du Lion's Occam's Razor for any sociological statistical study), so there's always somebody better and somebody worse, assuming you're in the big fat statistical middle.

SAJC students, by and large, are roughly in the upper 10-25 percentile of their cohort. I've arrived at this figure by calculating the rough number of J1 students in the top five JCs(about 6000?), and then use the population of the 1988 cohort(roughly 53000) . SAJC is strictly 2nd tier(I think), so that gives us students that are mostly in the next 6000 after the first 6000 that go to the top five. 6000/53000 = 11.3%. So the next 6000 are in the 11.3-22.6 percentile, which, according to this site, corresponds to an IQ of at least 110. By any measure, these are bright kids!

The problem with all this is the percentile thingy. If you apply the same system to results, many of our students will somehow backslide in terms of their percentile measured against their peers. For example, let's take a student who scored abt 8-9 points for L1R5 for his Os, and comes to SAJC for his 'A' levels. Let's put him in the 18th percentile(my rough guess; too lazy to do the maths now) of the cohort.

For the past few years, that 18th percentile student will exit at 19th, or even the 20th percentile of his cohort as measured by his 'A' level results, which is why SAJC has not won any value-addedness award recently. Value addedness, like what Meridian JC has achieved, often means moving say, 25 percentile students to the 20th percentile. So if somebody gets better, somebody will have to get worse. It's a zero-sum game.

Guess who's getting the short end of the stick then? That's why we're underachievers.

Some of you will say that it's all relative, and furthermore, it measures only academic ability. And that's exactly the point. It's all relative. In absolute terms, all our students have improved. Sure as heck, they have learnt a great deal of stuff in their two years here academically(they'd better!), and hopefully in other things as well. But at the end of the day, it's the academic ratrace that matters most. In Singapore.

What is our college's goal? I hate all the vague statements I hear all the time from the school management about making our students better. I would want something concrete and definable, a metric which gives us a number we can use. So I'd make it simple, damn simple.

Students should leave at the same percentile at which they came in. Let's not even think about value-addedness. Just make sure they're not losing out. And we should keep on doing all the things SAJC is pretty well-known for: sports, band, dance, CIP etc. And we must keep in mind, there's a limit, especially of time. Yes, we should push the students to study more, but for every student, there comes a breaking point where a choice must be made: CCA or studies?

So far, the answer for our students is CCA, or simply not studying even when the prelims are impending. In that case, don't expect our students NOT to backslide when people at MJC are studying and working till 8 or 9pm to get that extra edge over our own students. And our students are that way exactly because they're overconfident and not reflective enough. They certainly do not need us teachers to make them even more so!

Sorry for the long rambling rant. But I needed to get that bit off after giving out the 'A' level results in the afternoon.
Still working on the education post. Need to organize my thoughts a bit, as well as do some research on vouchers and subsidized education systems.