Monthly Archives: August 2008

Degree Mills

JUST how easy is it to get a doctorate from a degree mill? To put it to the test, The Straits Times applied for a doctorate for my pet beagle Harry two weeks ago.

All I did was go to http://www.ashwooduniversity.net, fill in his name (Harry Doggy), date of birth (Nov 19), age (I multiplied his seven dog years by seven for the equivalent in human years and put down 49)and work-life experience – where I wrote ‘spent years studying the interactions between people and animals’.

I then clicked on a Doctorate in Social and Behavioural Sciences, costing US$599 (S$850), one of the cheapest in the market. I also chose his grade point average (GPA). A GPA of 3.0 comes free, but anything above 3.5 with Latin honours (summa cum laude) costs another US$60.Within 15 hours, the experience evaluation committee of Ashwood University which claimed to be in Humble, Texas, sent a congratulatory e-mail to Harry Doggy saying that the ’10-member evaluation committee’ at Ashwood University had ‘approved’ him for a doctorate in social and behavioural sciences.

The degree would be issued once payment was received, which could be done in instalment plans over a month… (article continues, subscription required)

The Straits Times carried an article today about degree mills which I found highly entertaining. Apparently it’s really easy to get your own degree from one of these organisations (which is hardly surprising really), but somehow when a dog is the recipient of a doctorate, hilarity ensues. I actually found myself vaguely tempted to order a nonsense degree myself just for fun, but US$600 ‘just for fun’ is quite ridiculous. Maybe if it were like 1/10th that price…

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A ride to nowhere

I was on the way to school today when I realised that I actually didn’t have lessons today – the one I was headed to was cancelled because of some learning festival today. It was printed in the timetable, but the tutor hadn’t said anything beforehand, so I went all the way to Jurong East before turning around and heading home.

Even though I wasted about S$4 on travel expenses, at least I finished a novel on the ride. Plus, I bought back some Katong laksa for lunch, so not a totally wasted trip, I suppose.

I actually had an 8.30am class that wasn’t affected by the festival, but we’re supposed to do e-learning this week so that class slot was effectively cancelled as well. I think e-learning is wonderful in concept (especially when it removes the need to travel to a school 90min away from home), but not when the (assessed) assignment is ridiculously more time-consuming than the actual 2h lesson would have been.

Oh well. That’s life, I suppose.

Being Rafflesian

I sat between 2 RI boys on the train today. Seated opposite me was – you guessed it – another RI boy. Trapped within this train carriage of Raffles-hood, I suddenly experienced the desire to return to my alma mater and be a part of the school once more.

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, since I was never really all that big on the concept of ‘school spirit’ throughout all my years in school (no, not even when I was a councillor – shhh!). Somehow, almost a decade after graduating from secondary school, despite having skipped all those cheering sessions, going home early on school Sports Days, going bowling during national track and field finals, ignoring most of the inter-House activities (the list goes on), I actually have a genuine desire to return to it all and even help propagate this silly little idea of school spirit.

I guess I’m just a late bloomer.

One of my fellow NIE trainees (whose wife is a resident teacher at the RI boarding complex) told me that teachers who volunteer to be boarding tutors actually get free lodging as part of the package. Furthermore, most of the younger teachers there are married and usually have less time/energy to devote to the students, so they’d quite like to have a young male teacher added to the list. I’m actually rather attracted to the idea – aside from having the freedom to live independently once more (with free utilities!), I actually think it’ll be rather fun to look after all the kids staying there, especially the foreign students. I guess the experience of living abroad has influenced me somewhat, here.

I’m also increasingly thinking that perhaps I might not be working in schools for the rest of my life – somehow the idea of working with policy is becoming increasingly viable, in my head. And if I only have limited time to teach before going into pencil-pushing, RI is definitely where I’d want to do so.

It’s kind of funny when I think about it, because I don’t usually reveal myself to be Rafflesian (unless explicitly asked) and hang out primarily with my VJ friends these days, but when asked which of my alma maters has moulded my life the most, I would have to reply – Raffles Institution.

New reads?

I’ve abandoned the plan to cycle daily to school. I’d actually gone as far as to borrow Allan’s bicycle, but it looked too nice (and thief-magnety), plus the bus to NIE isn’t quite as packed as I’d feared (there’s a NIE-specific bus service that few of the NTU kids use), so I decided it wasn’t quite so practical in the end.

I’ve managed to get quite a lot of reading done on those hour-long train ride to and fro home, and I must say that commuting via public transport is really not that bad (rather enjoyable, even) if you manage to secure a seat and are properly armed with a book. I’ve mainly been reading novels by Dennis Lehane so far, which have been really enjoyable, but I think I’ll have finished reading all his works in maybe a fortnight’s time.

I’ve not been reading very much these few years though, so I’m quite out of touch with what’s good and what’s not. So, just wanted to ask everyone reading this for some book recommendations. Leave a comment, drop me an email, contact me on IM, anything – just recommend me some books to read!

Black and white morality

I recently let slip (in front of an aunt of mine) that I’d been exploring Protestant churches, so she’s gone on a mini-crusade to get me back on that good ol’ Catholic path. Part of this mini-crusade involved passing me a little booklet to read, summarising the main beliefs of Catholicism.

This isn’t an inter-denominatory comparison, though. While looking through the booklet, somehow I’d started thinking about the issue of morality, especially in the context of Christianity. Specifically, I thought back on a lesson on the Ten Commandments I had a number of years ago – to make a long story short, they were taught in the context of absolute morality, as rules that must never be broken (or you would have sinned)! I was apparently a bit of a contrarian even back then, because I remember asking if there were exceptions to this. As an example, I brought up the hypothetical example of a crazed gunman holding hostages, threatening to execute them unless you were willing to tell lies. I suppose a more real-world scenario might be how a police officer/negotiator might state some non-truths while in the process of persuading the gunman to release the hostages. Basically, was it acceptable to break these laws in order to save lives?

My hypothetical scenario was at the time dismissed as being too extreme and impractical, and the underlying question was essentially ignored. Even in the case of the police negotiations, Christians might argue that negotiations can be conducted without any explicit lies being told. More recently though, I’ve read the novel Silence in which a similar scenario pops up. Granted that the story is a fictional one, but it was based on historical events and it isn’t too hard to imagine the events happening in real life – basically, Japanese believers were being tortured in a bid to make a foreign priest publicly renounce his faith, with the promise of the torture being halted if he were to do so.

I’m sure there are many arguments against caving in to such a demand, but it seemed to me that in agreeing to make a public display of renouncing one’s faith (even if privately that faith is still adhered to), lives would be saved. Although there are other implications at work here (e.g. the effect of a religious leader renouncing his faith), in my head the possibility of lives being saved by deviating from “God’s law” is indication enough that there cannot be a simple black and white morality, that there are always exceptions to rules, that it is impossible to come up with a definitive list of rules that one might follow in order to lead a good life.

DIY Durian Degustation

Durian! Nomnomnom.

After reading about ieat‘s Durian Degustation sessions (1, 2), I was really tempted to go for one of these durian-sampling expeditions as well, but somehow I wasn’t really interested in meeting all those new people, so I decided to try and get a bunch of friends together to sample different breeds of durian on our own. Not much of a durian connoisseur, I did try to prepare myself for the session by reading online, and found a handy online durian guide. It’s actually near the end of durian season already, and the shop near my house was only selling the two more popular varieties, but Xianna and Weiyi managed to get three more types from Geylang.

For S$160 split between eight people ($20 per pax), we ended up trying five varieties – D24 (aka Sultan), 猫山王 (Mao Shan Wang, aka Cat Mountain King), 红虾 (Hong Xia, aka Red Prawn), 青竹 (Qing Zhu, aka Green Bamboo) and the mysteriously labelled D666. Google seems to indicate that the D666 is in fact the same as the Mao Shan Wang breed, but the ones we had were clearly not the same thing. The characteristics of the breeds can be quite easily found online (like in the previously-linked online guide), so none of us took notes as was jokingly suggested.

My favourites ended up being D24 and Mao Shan Wang, which also happen to be the most popular breeds currently, so I guess my palate is a pretty common one – as far as durian is concerned, I’m just another one of the masses! In the end, I do think that these ‘premium breeds’ are definitely superior to your $2-per-fruit durians. Whether the price difference is justified, however, is very much debatable. It’s not something I’ll buy everyday, but probably choose to indulge in every once in awhile.

After stuffing ourselves with durian, we proceeded to play Bang!, an interesting card game that Carey brought. I won’t bothering explaining the rules – it’s summarised quite well in the Wikipedia article – but it was quite easy to pick up and was really quite enjoyable. I thought it vaguely resembled Polar Bear or Murderer (simple party games that’re relatively popular in Singapore), in that you have to try to identify hidden opponents among your fellow gamers, which is really ineresting. I’d probably have got a set myself, except that I’ve now realised that it’s a little silly to own a duplicate copy of a game someone else in my clique already owns.

Maybe I should get my brother to buy it instead – apparently he’s played it before and really enjoyed it, too…

Malaysianisms

I’ve recently discovered Malaysianisms, a blog about stuff Malaysians like – suspiciously similar to Stuff White People Like. Nevertheless, I’ve been finding it a pretty entertaining read, mainly because many of the descriptions can easily be applied to Singaporeans too, and even those that can’t help to highlight the sometimes-subtle differences in culture between the two nations. It’s easy to not notice the similarities when you’re actually living in Singapore (and I suppose maybe in Malaysia) – it’s a pity we spend so much time hating each other, we forget how similar we really are.

Somehow I doubt that blog was designed to improve cross-straits relations though, so just head on over and have a little chuckle at them Malaysians poking fun at themselves.

Love and social exchange theory

Looks like my brain exercise regime is starting to fail. Ironically enough, this is in part due to the hours I’m spending in (and travelling to) school every weekday, and the free time I have is usually spent meeting up with people. My timetable changes in 2 weeks’ time, though, plus Ailin would have returned to Japan by then, so maybe it’ll pick up again then.

Although I think perhaps right now, my body needs exercise more than my brain does. Hmm.

Anyway, I recently read a post on Weiyi’s blog which challenged its readers to reply and discuss three statements. He predicted that no one would bother replying, which of course somehow made me want to prove him wrong, plus one of the questions actually reminded me of something I’d covered in university before, so I figured I’d take some time to tackle it, if less thoroughly than might be expected for ’20-mark questions’.

In your response, consider the dynamics of relationships in our contemporary society. Full credit is given for expressing what you feel and think is correct. The definition of love should not be limited to a romantic relationship between a man and women. (e.g. Friendship, God, Family, Animal, Food, Gaia .. etc.)

1) Love is the only way to achieve happiness.

2) The marriage described between the couple above is normal. There is nothing sad about their situation, merely how the author chose to write it in a sombre way. As idealistic as we always hope, no marriages are fairy tales. There is no happy ever afters in our modern society.

3) Which brings us to the last conclusion that: There is nothing “bad” to stay in a relationship because the opportunity cost to find another is too high. In other words, a relationship of convenience is perfectly OK.

1) So broadly defined, I suppose that love is the only way to achieve happiness – at least, that’s what humans seem to generally think, be it love of wealth, success, God, friends, family, or what not. In fact, offhand I can’t think of any way to happiness without seeking/achieving a certain passion. I know the traditional Christian viewpoint is that you can only achieve happiness through God, but it seems like there are people who can be pretty happy (or believe that they are, anyway) with wealth and/or friends – but I do think that a more lasting happiness can be achieved in seeking higher things.

Kinda depends on how you define happiness, huh?

2) I suspect that the described marriage, one that begins to stagnate as time goes by and practical matters take precedence over the actual relationship, is very possibly a normal one, in terms of frequency. I’m not really an expert on the matter, but I do think that’s a trap that many couples would fall into. At the same time, I believe that such situations can be avoided – you probably can’t achieve happily-ever-afters, but I think that with some conscious effort to pursue common interests together (perhaps religion or eating or making retarded jokes) and to discover new ones, the marriage can be a life-long journey of discovery together, rather than a routine job you’re stuck in forever.

This all sounds a little too idealistic though, so maybe check back with me when I’ve been married for a decade.

3) This is where something I covered in my course comes in. Social exchange theory is a simplified cost-benefit model of human relationships which can be used to explain why people stick to or leave their partners, sometimes regardless of whether they’re happy with the relationship.

If I remember correctly (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), the theory is that people compare their current relationship against their expectations of a relationship (CL) as well as their perceived alternative options (CLAlt). If their current partner (Outcome) exceed both CL and CLAlt, the individual will be happy with the partner and not terminate the relationship. If Outcome is below CL, the individual will be unhappy, and if Outcome is below CLAlt, the individual will end the relationship.

This theory may sound oversimplistic, and people might be offended at the idea that relationships can be reduced to a simple cost-benefit analysis, but if you consider that the actual factors involved in the comparison levels are actually really broad-ranging (like how much history you have with your partner, any children you have, social backlash from ending the relationship, etc), I do think that it’s pretty much how humans work. This is why relationships of convenience exist – even though the Outcome is below the CL (leading to an unhappy relationship), there is no perceived CLAlt that will improve the situation, so people continue to stick together.

So, to reply the original question, no – I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with a relationship of convenience, if the perceived opportunity cost for ending the relationship is higher than for continuing it. I don’t believe in tailor-made soulmates out there waiting to be met, or in predestiny in general (but hey – if I’m wrong, it’s not like believing otherwise is going to change anything), so I do think that if you’re unlucky enough, you might never actually meet that conceptualised ‘special someone’ you hear your friends gushing about.

On the more idealistic note though, if someone is young and thinks that he/she will probably meet someone better in the years to follow, perhaps it might be worth reevaluating the CLAlt to take the future expectations into account. Assuming you aren’t psychic, there’s always a bit of a gamble involved in trying to predict the future, but I guess if the clock hasn’t started ticking for you yet – why not?

Blogging as brain exercise

I’ve been actively trying to blog more frequently these days, and I guess if the monthly post count is anything to go by, I’ve succeeded.

When I first started blogging, I was creating posts rather frequently – with an average of >0.75 posts per day. Then 2004 came along, and with the decreased time at home due to BMT came a drop in blogging frequency. I guess I’d never really resumed the habit after that, clocking as little as five posts in some unproductive months.

This isn’t really a competition though, and it’s not like I earn any money from this blog, so all this didn’t really bother me too much. What bothered me, however, was the reflection-free pattern of life I’d fallen into. Especially now that I have working hours (well, similar to that) and have to commute everyday, usually returning home rather fatigued – it’s far too tempting to zone out, perhaps absorb information, and have nary a thought come out of the grey matter in my head.

A step in fighting this, I decided, would be to try and blog more frequently. Anything would do, ranging from lengthy reflections on current issues to little p365-style nuggets – I just wanted myself to write more. Any act of writing, I figured, would exercise my brain a little, and probably help maintain my language proficiency a little. Besides, I do plan to use blogging as a tool for teaching in the future, so I’d better keep myself in the know of how it all works!

I’ve also been told that I seem to blog for an audience these days, especially compared to the early years when I typed without regard for punctuation and whined a lot. I guess that’s true – the reason being that, well, I am. Blogs are pretty much public domain, and though I’m primarily writing for my friends to read, there’s no telling who’ll end up reading your stuff. I think in such a situation, it’s pretty foolhardy to write anything too personal.

Besides, if I’m not wrong, my ’emotional’ posts were mainly sad/angry rants, which nobody (including myself) would be interested in reading. I’m pretty sure I wrote plenty of stupid stuff back then, but I’ll just assume that people will be forgiving of an angsty silly JC kid. Not so much for supposedly rational 24-year-olds, though.

In summary, I do think that blogging can serve to be a good thought/writing exercise, especially if you’re like me and need the help to keep the gears tickin’.

Disappearing street food

The Sunday Times (Singapore) published an article yesterday title ‘Going, going, gone?’ that discussed how a lot of our hawker food would be disappearing because a number of ‘street food masters’ do not have successors – many of the kids of second-generation hawkers are better-educated than their parents are, and are not interested in the long, tiring and unglamorous job of cooking street food (not that I blame them).

It is a great pity, however, that such delicious street food will not be easily available anymore a few decades later. I was just musing to myself that someone should offer to buy out the recipes from those successor-less hawkers, and with a large enough base of food items they can open a restaurant selling ‘branded’ street food (at premium prices). I think it’s something that Singaporeans (and tourists) would be willing to pay for – witness Chatterbox‘s chicken rice – and will help preserve the good food, too!

In fact, if I had the time and money, I’d consider doing it myself. I have near-zero business sense though, so who knows? This hypothetical idea might actually be a total monetary flop. But it sounds like a pretty nice concept, preserving some of our culinary heritage, making money off it at the same time…