Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Teaching Design: The creeper plant and the bonsai

I did a small lesson plan on design with my rather young yet challenging charges a few days ago and one of the things that I observe is the depth, or lack of, in their ability to see things, most of the times, beyond the mere statement of a given problem. It can be challenging to teach them about the intricacies of design, and design appreciation at times, but what I do appreciate most, is their rather innocent way of seeing things at times, which I do find refreshing for someone who can get too technical in his teaching. What my charges do taught me is the fact that at times, we tend to try TOO HARD to imbibe in them OUR way of seeing things, without taking into account THEIR way of seeing the same thing! Interesting to note too about how sometimes, to them, design can be something that can get a little too cute, or even 'impossible' in terms of its practical realisation, but then again, if we are to let creativity and innovation start to take root, shouldn't we then allow these 'creativity growth' to spurt on then, ok ok, maybe not to an unhindered wild-like extent like the creeper plants, but I guess we can always be more gentle and guide their growth along, to something that perhaps is eventually capable of leveling up their cognitive ability, maybe perhaps like a bonsai plant!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

When too many cooks spoil the broth. (Designing a 'STOP' sign in a signless world)

An interesting video on the design process that one should avoid being involved in. Somehow or rather, I do have that niggling feeling that such a situation doesn't just happen in the design world context, but then again, this is just my cynical hunch...

The Least Favourite Child

I would like to share the following interesting article written by a local journalist, that sure have managed to elicit some solid responses from members of the public, majority of which are surprisingly mature and willing to understand the context of what is being written. Sadly majority of the points that are written I can definitely relate to directly...I do hope that one day, we will be colour blind, but until that day comes, as I have mentioned in my previous posts on my own personal experiences on racism and discrimination, the community, whether be it the specific minority, or the population in general, must be willing to put aside their differences in order to not undo generations of work that is happening now, i.e. to forge a greater and more lasting Singaporean identity, '...regardless of race, language or religion.'

Aug 10, 2008

Feeling like the least favourite child by Nur Dianah Suhaimi

As a Malay, I've always been told that I have to work twice as hard to prove my worth

When I was younger, I always thought of myself as the quintessential Singaporean.

Of my four late grandparents, two were Malay, one was Chinese and one was Indian. This, I concluded, makes me a mix of all the main races in the country. But I later realised that it was not what goes into my blood that matters, but what my identity card says under 'Race'.

Because my paternal grandfather was of Bugis origin, my IC says I'm Malay. I speak the language at home, learnt it in school, eat the food and practise the culture. And because of my being Malay, I've always felt like a lesser Singaporean than those from other racial groups.

I grew up clueless about the concept of national service because my father was never enlisted.

He is Singaporean all right, born and bred here like the rest of the boys born in 1955. He is not handicapped in any way. He did well in school and participated in sports.

Unlike the rest, however, he entered university immediately after his A levels. He often told me that his schoolmates said he was 'lucky' because he was not called up for national service.

'What lucky?' he would tell them. 'Would you feel lucky if your country doesn't trust you?'

So I learnt about the rigours of national service from my male cousins. They would describe in vivid detail their training regimes, the terrible food they were served and the torture inflicted upon them - most of which, I would later realise, were exaggerations.

But one thing these stories had in common was that they all revolved around the Police Academy in Thomson. As I got older, it puzzled me why my Chinese friends constantly referred to NS as 'army'. In my family and among my Malay friends, being enlisted in the army was like hitting the jackpot. The majority served in the police force because, as is known, the Government was not comfortable with Malay Muslims serving in the army. But there are more of them now.

Throughout my life, my father has always told me that as a Malay, I need to work twice as hard to prove my worth. He said people have the misconception that all Malays are inherently lazy.

I was later to get the exact same advice from a Malay minister in office who is a family friend.

When I started work, I realised that the advice rang true, especially because I wear my religion on my head. My professionalism suddenly became an issue. One question I was asked at a job interview was whether I would be willing to enter a nightclub to chase a story. I answered: 'If it's part of the job, why not? And you can rest assured I won't be tempted to have fun.'

When I attend media events, before I can introduce myself, people assume I write for the Malay daily Berita Harian. A male Malay colleague in The Straits Times has the same problem, too.

This makes me wonder if people also assume that all Chinese reporters are from Lianhe Zaobao and Indian reporters from Tamil Murasu.

People also question if I can do stories which require stake-outs in the sleazy lanes of Geylang. They say because of my tudung I will stick out like a sore thumb. So I changed into a baseball cap and a men's sports jacket - all borrowed from my husband - when I covered Geylang.

I do not want to be seen as different from the rest just because I dress differently. I want the same opportunities and the same job challenges.

Beneath the tudung, I, too, have hair and a functioning brain. And if anything, I feel that my tudung has actually helped me secure some difficult interviews.

Newsmakers - of all races - tend to trust me more because I look guai (Hokkien for well-behaved) and thus, they feel, less likely to write critical stuff about them.

Recently, I had a conversation with several colleagues about this essay. I told them I never thought of myself as being particularly patriotic. One Chinese colleague thought this was unfair. 'But you got to enjoy free education,' she said.

Sure, for the entire 365 days I spent in Primary 1 in 1989. But my parents paid for my school and university fees for the next 15 years I was studying.

It seems that many Singaporeans do not know that Malays have stopped getting free education since 1990. If I remember clearly, the news made front-page news at that time.

We went on to talk about the Singapore Government's belief that Malays here would never point a missile at their fellow Muslim neighbours in a war.

I said if not for family ties, I would have no qualms about leaving the country. Someone then remarked that this is why Malays like myself are not trusted. But I answered that this lack of patriotism on my part comes from not being trusted, and for being treated like a potential traitor.

It is not just the NS issue. It is the frustration of explaining to non-Malays that I don't get special privileges from the Government. It is having to deal with those who question my professionalism because of my religion. It is having people assume, day after day, that you are lowly educated, lazy and poor. It is like being the least favourite child in a family. This child will try to win his parents' love only for so long. After a while, he will just be engulfed by disappointment and bitterness.

I also believe that it is this 'least favourite child' mentality which makes most Malays defensive and protective of their own kind.

Why do you think Malay families spent hundreds of dollars voting for two Malay boys in the Singapore Idol singing contest? And do you know that Malays who voted for other competitors were frowned upon by the community?

The same happens to me at work. When I write stories which put Malays in a bad light, I am labelled a traitor. A Malay reader once wrote to me to say: 'I thought a Malay journalist would have more empathy for these unfortunate people than a non-Malay journalist.'

But such is the case when you are a Malay Singaporean. Your life is not just about you, as much as you want it to be. You are made to feel responsible for the rest of the pack and your actions affect them as well. If you trip, the entire community falls with you. But if you triumph, it is considered everyone's success.

When 12-year-old Natasha Nabila hit the headlines last year for her record PSLE aggregate of 294, I was among the thousands of Malays here who celebrated the news. I sent instant messages to my friends on Gmail and chatted excitedly with my Malay colleagues at work.

Suddenly a 12-year-old has become the symbol of hope for the community and a message to the rest that Malays can do it too - and not just in singing competitions.

And just like that, the 'least favourite child' in me feels a lot happier.

Each year, come Aug 9, my father, who never had the opportunity to do national service, dutifully hangs two flags at home - one on the front gate and the other by the side gate.

I wonder if putting up two flags is his way of making himself feel like a better-loved child of Singapore.

When all is not what it seems: The fisherman and the businessman

I do like metaphors, and one of those that I like is this one about the fisherman and the businessman. Sometimes, in life, you just have to withhold your judgements about the things that you see, until you get the fuller picture. Something perhaps my significant other can learn a thing or two too. :)

"One day a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, with his fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf. He was enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the prospect of catching a fish.

About that time, a businessman came walking down the beach, trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working harder to make a living for himself and his family.

"You aren't going to catch many fish that way," said the businessman to the fisherman, "you should be working rather than lying on the beach!"

The fisherman looked up at the businessman, smiled and replied, "And what will my reward be?"

"Well, you can get bigger nets and catch more fish!" was the businessman's answer.

"And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman, still smiling.

The businessman replied, "You will make money and you'll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!" "And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman again.

The businessman was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman's questions. "You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!" he said.

"And then what will my reward be?" repeated the fisherman.

The businessman was getting angry. "Don't you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let all your employees catch fish for you!"

Once again the fisherman asked, "And then what will my reward be?"

The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, "Don't you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won't have a care in the world!"

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, "And what do you think I'm doing right now?" "

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The 'Nadim' syndrome

I read with interest an article in yesterday's Malay paper regarding this syndrome that somehow have hampered the intellectual capacity of the community, but of which its findings, though anecdotal in nature, are inconclusive. Originated from story about Hang Nadim, a young boy who grew up during the early days of Singapore, when she was still under the Malay Sultanate. Schools of swordfish were constantly attacking the local beaches and the fisherman and the government then was at their wit's end as to how to stop the marauding fishes from causing hurt to both themselves and their livelihood. Hand Nadim, a small boy barely into his teens perhaps, suggested to the Sultan (King) that instead of using (the rather stupid) the method of using his soldiers' thighs as beach barriers to the attacking fishes, why not cut down the banana trees, line them up along the beach, and let the fishes get stuck onto them instead. Of course, this method is so much better and managed to contain the attack. But instead of being rewarded for his intelligence, some officials, fearing that the boy will get even smarter when he grows up and then usurp power, then devised a ploy and managed to convince the Sultan to kill him instead! Convinced, the Sultan ordered that he be killed and his body, weighted down by metal chains, dumped into the seas off Singapore.

Summarising, the article is interesting in its observation that perhaps intellectual capacity is something of a rarity in our community. Or maybe it exists, but somehow it is not celebrated in the manner that is befitting of its stature, or perhaps our community is just too 'shy' to celebrate or give adulation to those with the prerequisite 'gift' unlike their open admiration for performing artists. Well, I guess the community do need that time to appreciate intelligence for what it is! But then perhaps, they will never be. I guess than, when that will never happen, the 'Wisdom of the Crowds' will never ever be applicable. Hmmm...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

This thing about making judgements

Congratulations to myself on my 100th post so far! Hopefully I am able to make that little difference in this information-pervasive world of ours to my readers.

And now I just to like to bitch, yeah bitching about people who seemingly think that they have that right to pass judgements on anyone or everyone, based on their inconsequential and shallow interactions with their audience. I just came to know, through my future colleagues at my new place of work, about how a minority of the people at the 'higher-ups' do their evaluation and 'ranking'! My, my, what a worrying thing to hear when people up there are making and passing judgements on presumably their middle-managers based on just their 2 to 3 hour interaction time with them, rather than looking at their quality and quantity of work done beyond this 2 or 3 hours. And to top it all off, they have that audacity to say that the discussions that happens during that 2 to 3 hours are shallow! Hmmm, come to think of it, who is the shallow one here? And this coming from someone who perhaps had their last actual, real teaching experience YEARS ago? Hmmm...just wondering...

But to be fair, I do think that my current colleagues and bosses are nice fellas to work with. And I thank God for that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Parable of the 2 Angels...

I love parables, and somehow or rather, it always strikes a chord with me when the message that it wants delivered is something that I can subscribe to at that point of time in my live. Being one who is always positive, and at times a little too positive, my weaknesses is sometimes my failure to see the bad in people. Seriously, why would I want to see that right. I guess not everything is what is seems to be. Here's one of my favourite, taken from a parable website:

"Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in their mansion's guest room. Instead the angels were given a space in the cold basement. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, "Things aren't always what they seem."

The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night's rest. When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field. The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel, "How could you have let this happen? The first man had everything and was willing to share nothing, yet you helped him. The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let their cow die."

"Things aren't always what they seem," the older angel replied. "When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn't find it. Then last night as we slept in the farmer's bed, the angel of death came for his wife. I told him to take the cow instead. Things aren't always what they seem."

Sometimes this is exactly what happens when things don't turn out the way we think they should. But, we cannot judge an event at the surface. Occassionally, sad events happen but there are important lessons or a hidden purpose behind them. Don't be too happy or too sad; no matter what happens for you'll never know the real outcome with certain."

The Majority/Minority Debate

As the submission deadlines for my young charges' project work comes to a close, it is interesting to see the attitude changes that one can see. You can see the 'kanchiong' kings and queens, the ones who had been slacking for the past few months, suddenly taking things into their own hands (and sometimes others) and can be seen to be laboriously working on touching up and finishing their projects. The smaller minority will be those who have laboured intensely for the past months or so, and is seemingly more relaxed and confident in their handiwork, since a lot of thought and sweat have gone into working on their coursework earlier. But what is worst of them all, are those who are seemingly in a state of constant delusion, about their own abilities, and sadly, are really in a dire need of some form of an intellectual and motivational dose of reality, laden with a little cyanide perhaps, to perhaps deaden them even further. Seriously when all things have been said and done, there is perhaps only so much that a teacher like myself can do to save, or to try to save, EVERYONE, because more often than not, we CAN'T.

I mean what can one do when there seems to be remotely NO hint of interest or for that matter, effort, to even have a little pride in their own handiwork. I don't know...seriously the things that goes through inside the minds of such students of mine! What kind of wake-up call will suffice to enable them to at least wake up to the reality that is hitting them, and at least still enable them to get them back crawling , at the very least, and then make them move again! I simply AM dumbfounded at the psychological and emotional absence that these students have about themselves!

But then again, seriously when the dust have settled down, we can only do so much to help them, no matter how hard we tried. I think, at least for myself, I have done whatever that I possibly can to at least save the majority from drowning, whilst losing those minorities, no matter how hard is it for me to accept!

And so life goes on....

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Apprenticeship of the Empirical Skeptic

Perhaps it IS interesting to note that as knowledge becomes more pervasive and easily obtainable, one's measure of intellectual capacity, and perhaps even their subsequent standing to offer solutions, theories and even predictions are very much sometimes more of a standardised commonality of opinions, rather than one that will really hit the spot! Seriously, the very antithesis of having too much knowledge, or sometimes information, is in fact stupidy! No...not of the idiotic kind, but more so of the fact that as the sum total of human intelligence and knowledge bank grows exponentially over time, Man, and very much the intellectual elitist, will become very much aware only of what THEY know, to make available their theories, without an afterthought to what that they DON'T know.

This enlightening conclusion is definitely something to ponder on, and I pay homage to the book entitled 'The Black Swan' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a book that I am currently reading. I happen to pick the title of the first chapter of the book as my post today.

Nassim definitely made me sit up and think more deeply even right from the word 'GO', as he peels off some of his analysis of what are in his opinion, the 'impact of the highy improbable'. Definitely something that is worth reading, especially for those who often, out of sheer folly, or just plain quasily uninformed, have the tendency to make overgeneralisations, especially when one considers himself or herself as a self- or publicly-appointed 'generalised statement maker.' Hmmm...

Friday, August 1, 2008

(De)Commoditizing Knowledge

It is interesting to note how as Mankind's database of knowledge increases exponentially over the recent years and as it becomes more widely and easily available, these very excesses seems to actually go beyond the conventional economic wisdom of 'having value in scarcity'. It seems that as more knowledge is gathered, people in general are actually valuing these knowledge even more. But is it really so? I mean if one were to go with the non-conventional idea that knowledge gets more valuable with increasing quantity, would it not then make millionaires or billionaires out of those intellectuals who seems to present themselves with a panoply of knowledge content?

In my humble opinion and analysis of things, it is NOT really the quantity of knowledge that would be THAT deciding commercial valuation factor, but more so it is in the way of how one weaves the various content knowledge and produces a relevant and viable 'new' and 'modified' knowledge content that matters! It is how well one can seamlessly and innovatively present a relevant, refreshing and perhaps revolutionary knowledge content that would decide whether one would get or be paid for it, or NOT. But seriously, with the strong movement of the open source software (OSS) and similar social virtual structures in place, wouldn't it then just be a matter of time before one can see the evolution of knowledge in itself becoming a non-commercial commodity, and perhaps even adopting a similar model like the developments of the Web 2.0 tools. Knowledge in itself would be free, but if this is so, then what would be the primary motivation of increasing Man's databank of knowledge then? Hmmm...perhaps the Utopian ideals propounded in the Star Trek series, where Man stops working just for money alone, is indeed a reality, though still a distant one perhaps?