Saturday, March 29, 2008


By way of the Belmont Club, I came across this story of a Filipino eskrimador master and famed guerrilla fighter in the Phillipines.
Grandmaster Illustrisimo lives in one of the toughest sections of Manila, near the docks. He was a merchant seaman for 35 years, and has spent his life in this same area. As an example of the respect these people give to this legend, the story is told of a gang fight between a local Manila-born gang and a gang of men who had come from the Visayan Islands for work. At the height of the melee, with many men fighting, Tatang walked through the middle of the place, and everyone stopped fighting until he had passed. He is one of those rare men whose reality justifies the legend.
Cheesy youtube video here of him demonstrating his art. He was probably 80 plus years old when this video was made.

Sports and Life

There was a very interesting book review over at Samizdata the other day. It was on the relationship between sports and life, and how lessons learned in sports can often be applied to our lives.

There were two points that stood out for me. The first was that the foundation of success is often a previous failure.
We never think more deeply than about our profoundest failings. They often form the foundations of our clearest analytical insights.
The second was the oft-cited younger brother syndrome. How many times have we heard of the younger sibling, who had to play against older, taller, stronger boys, eventually become a renowned player of his sport, because he had to push himself to his utmost limit, in order to compete?
Basketball legend Michael Jordan had an elder brother, for instance, of whom Jordan said: "When you see me play, you're watching Larry." In learning to defeat Larry, Jordan learned to beat the world.
Singapore soccer may be on the up and up recently, but our footballers are still too... timid? Unskilled? Undetermined? To go overseas in even second class leagues to compete. I rather suspect this is the big fish in a small pond syndrome. Our players just don't want to taste failure, even if it's important in laying the foundations for success in the future. Which is why the FAS is bringing in foreign talent to bolster the ranks. If we can't get our big fish out in the bigger pond, we bring in other big fish from the pond to toughen them up.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm in!!!

Hah! Got the email just a while ago. I've made it into the Masters of Public Policy programme in the Lee Kuan Yew School of PP! Now, all I have to do is to fill out the forms and send them in, and then, I'm going to be a student again!

It also means I'll be able to rejoin the NUS choir! Alright!

Now, for that damn textbook and the year end gaming convention...

Baskeball African Style

This is just a human interest story, but what a human interest story. Note: You have to be a basketball fan to enjoy it.
As the ref handed us the ball, he turned, looked at me as if there was not a game going on. And pop! Not an elbow, not even a signature yours truly gutter. He decked me right in the jaw. I couldn’t believe it. And come on. I freely admit when I throw cheap shots. I wouldn’t hide it if I started to. I mean, I’m in the middle of basically middle eastern country playing the local team. I know better (read on to see my contradiction). He nailed me, we turned it over, and yes, my Rodman 101 class did well. I looked up court, saw both refs back and calmly asked him in by most polite French, “Pardon me sir, I object to you striking me.” Next thing you know… Both teams on the court going at it. Wow.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Reference Letter Madness

Over the past week, I've had 5 students from my former civics class calling me for references for scholarships, university admissions, testimonials, and whatnot.

And to think two months back, I was pestering my HOD, subject head, and other teachers for my own letters of recommendation for my own Masters application! Karma's funny that way.

As I promised my colleagues a good treat, which I have yet to follow up on (arck!), I should expect the same from my students, right? Hehe...

I remember my own scholarship application. I simply toted up my choices, went for the talks, made my choice, submitted my application, and... that's it. Competition during my time was stiff, and frankly speaking, all I kept hearing was that no S paper, no chance. Sure, I had gotten 5 distinctions (including the highly sought and elusive distinction for GP), but... no S paper. There was also no such nonsense like referees and grading applicants on their intellect, discipline, etc. Just our grades, testimonial, and CCA record.

Simpler times. Good times.

While I will endeavor to do my best for my students, it's always easier when I do have stuff, good things, to write about. Thankfully, that's not an issue for this bunch.

Speaking of results, I remember being scared stiff when receiving my results in the hall, only to be told by a teacher, "Your result slip is in LT3. Go there. Congrats, only the best scorers go there." I couldn't believe my eyes when I received the result slip in the lecture theatre. Only one B for any of my subjects, economics. Others were peeking over my shoulder and sighing with envy. Sure, there were those who scored even better, since this was National JC we were talking about.

For all the hard work I had put in, this was vindication. This was success, sweet and intoxicating. I was half-dazed as I stumbled out. No consultations, crazy CCA participation, late nights slogging away at my tutorials only for a short reprieve of watching Star Trek or Babylon 5 after midnight before plunging back into work.

And our students, if they are willing to make the same sacrifices, can do it too. What are they willing to give up, though? From what I can see, all too few. However, they do exist, and I am honoured to have the privilege of teaching some of them. Of the five students featured on the school's website for the A level results, I taught three of them.

Zachary, Jonathan, and Boon Rong, well done!
(In hindsight, I should have called Jonathan to get a haircut before collecting his results... sigh... that was a mistake I would not repeat again)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Potato Chip Day!

Arghhh! March 14 was Potato Chip Day(at least in the US)! Despite my not celebrating it yesterday, I'd celebrate it today.

Have some fun!

Which of these do you know?
  • Maxwell's Demon
  • Schroedinger's Cat
  • Brain in a Vat ie. The Matrix
  • The Chinese Room
  • Ship of Theseus
  • The Violinist
  • Infinite Monkey Theorem
  • Doomsday Argument

What is education?

No student in Singapore is being educated today. Yes, they're learning skills. They're gaining knowledge. But they're not being educated. Moral and civics education lessons in schools are less about frank and honest examination of values and philosophy than outright manipulation of emotions.

So, am I educated? I would like to think so, but I also know I am definitely less educated than I would wish to be. I've not even touched 5% of the books in the Western Canon. Heck, I'm struggling though Don Quixote and Canterbury Tales! Not to mention the Discourses of Livy, Leviathan, Wealth of Nations, etc.

Oh well.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Heart of Darkness

Slavery, abolished? Hah! There are more slaves today than at any other time in history. The slavers didn't disappear, they just slunk deeper into the shadows.

The details of the entire sordid issue is truly monstrous. Just the first chapter of this book was enough to turn my stomach.

The question becomes: what can we do? Is it possible for an entire nation, an entire culture to become so sick that no amount of money or power could heal the festering wounds, or is there still hope for those people?

This is a war worth fighting. How many people are aware of it?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Good Day

Friday was a good day. Sent in the draft chapter to the publishing company for the chemistry textbook I'm writing, and the initial response was very positive. Hopefully, I'll get the contract.

The next thing was, of course, the release of the A level results. 100% pass in chemistry for the classes I taught. Even those students I had expected to fail pulled through with a pass, and several even skipped at least 2 grades up from a fail! I've got an overall of 45% As (better than national average!), and an overall MSG (not the chemical lah!) of 1.9. It's true enough two of the classes I taught were good ones, and they were certainly expected to perform well, which they did. But a lot of credit goes to my form class 06S19, as well as the ever-lovable (and frustrating!) 06S13, both of which exceeded my expectations.

Well done!

For my H3 chemistry, four out of twelve students managed to get distinctions, while 7 achieved at least a merit. And everybody passed! HAH! While the distinction and merit percentages are below the national average, we have to take into account that our students largely have lower L1R5 than their peers in other JCs, so this was really an accomplishment. So permit me some time to gloat.

Finally, at night I received an email from the LKY School of Public Policy regarding my Masters application, calling me down for tests and an interview. WOOT! I had not expected this. For normal admission, certainly I knew I had a chance, but for the scholarship?!?

The test consists of a maths segment, and an english segment. Accordingly, I've borrowed a set of GP compre papers from the GP tutors, and am now working hard on it to revise my ang-moh.

All in all, things are going well, even the planning for the year-end gaming convention. The only things I was disappointed about was the choir's recruitment and my gnawing lack of a girlfriend. Oh well.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Going to buy the Orange Box by Valve sometime this weekend, just for the Half Life 2 Episode 2 and Portal. The 2D flash version of Portal here is simply great! Best concept ever since Tetris!

The 3D version, by all accounts, is simply nuts. And there's an addictive, simply brilliant ending song for the game, "Still Alive". It sounds so plaintive, but underscored with sheer wittiness and irrelevance! You'll need to play the game and Half Life 2 to understand some of the references in the song.

Still Alive
This was a triumph.
I’m making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.
It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.
Aperture Science
We do what we must
because we can.
For the good of all of us.
Except the ones who are dead.
But there’s no sense crying over every mistake.
You just keep on trying till you run out of cake.
And the Science gets done.
And you make a neat gun.
For the people who are still alive.

I’m not even angry.
I’m being so sincere right now.
Even though you broke my heart.
And killed me.
And tore me to pieces.
And threw every piece into a fire.
As they burned it hurt because I was so happy for you!
Now these points of data make a beautiful line.
And we’re out of beta.
We’re releasing on time.
So I’m GLaD. I got burned.
Think of all the things we learned
for the people who are still alive.

Go ahead and leave me.
I think I prefer to stay inside.
Maybe you’ll find someone else to help you.
Maybe Black Mesa
Anyway, this cake is great.
It’s so delicious and moist.
Look at me still talking
when there’s Science to do.
When I look out there, it makes me GLaD I’m not you.
I’ve experiments to run.
There is research to be done.
On the people who are still alive.
And believe me I am still alive.
I’m doing Science and I’m still alive.
I feel FANTASTIC and I’m still alive.
While you’re dying I’ll be still alive.
And when you’re dead I will be still alive.