28 September 2006

Smoking Ban on NUS Grounds

As most NUS students and visitors will know, there is and has always been a campus-wide ban on smoking. There are signs that declare NUS as a no-smoking zone, especially at strategic locations such as the entrances to the school. I'm not certain what exactly the punishment is, though I've read that warning letters are frequently issued to first time offenders. (And what about subsequent offenders?)

According to the Code of Student Conduct issued by the Office of Student Affairs,

The University believes in providing an environment of clean air for everyone on campus
and so has made our premises generally a "smoke free" zone. In consideration for our non-smoking colleagues and fellow students, we ask that all smokers respect this non-
smoking policy, which is applicable in all campus buildings, eating places and areas with regular human traffic such as bus stops and sports grounds.

While I see where this argument is coming from, I certainly do question if this rule is practical or even reasonable. Firstly, one must emphasize that "campus-wide" really means campus-wide, including the halls and residential areas. Yes, so that means that for students who smoke, he or she will have to, in principle, head out of the school grounds before doing so.

This kind of sweeping rule is not fair to smokers, especially those who already have the habit before matriculation. Smoking cannot be quit within a short time, and certainly not everyone is capable of doing so. Most smokers are willing to quit if they could (who wouldn't, given the absurd prices of cigarettes), but the fact is that cigarettes are just addictive. Preventing them from smoking may be an encouragement, but it is an aggressive one, and it may backfire, ending up with people breaking the rules which often appears to be the case.

Last year when I stayed in PGP, there are quite some students who smoke during the late hours in the kitchen, resulting in a rather stinging air everytime I enter the kitchen. Sure, I would prefer it there had not been any smoke, but I do not blame them for doing what they did. Asking them to walk all the way out of school to light a cigarette is utterly ridiculous. And smoking in any open area is an invitation to getting caught. And there aren't any "yellow boxes" (for those not in the army, yellow boxes are areas in a camp demarcated for smoking) marked out for them.

If the administration really has the intention of protecting the interests of non-smokers, a better move will be to draw out smoking zones within the school grounds at locations such as balconies or rooftops where the smoke can dissipate. The current policy exposes non-smokers to some smoke if the smokers decide to break the rule, defeating the purpose in the first place. In addition, it is fairer to the smokers as well. Of course, a complete ban is one damn bloody strong incentive (or disincentive, depending on your point of view) to quit. But is it effective?

23 September 2006

Singapore Dreaming: Facts & Trivia

Yesterday, I went with Yao to SINGAPORE DREAMING: Big Dreams, Small Island, a seminar with Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh, makers of Singapore Dreaming. The seminar was organised by USP, and I came to know about it through an email by my GEK2003 Government and Politics of Singapore tutor, Dr Kenneth Paul Tan. Attended by about sixty people, Yen Yen and Colin spoke on many issues with regards to the making of Singapore Dreaming, its performance at the local box office, and the local filmmaking industry.

It was an enlightening and thought-provoking exchange. It told me a lot of things I never knew... about filmmaking and the local movie audience, the richness of Singapore society and culture, as well as several interesting trivia. Here's some bits of information I found important or shocking, or both.

  • Singapore Dreaming made more than Perth, Be With Me, and 4:30 all combined, but still cannot break even. So far for all local movies, only Jack Neo can make a profit in the local box office.

  • The censorship board initially requested that the filmmakers dub all the Hokkien in the movie with Mandarin. To add insult to injury, it also said that the Hokkien can stay for foreign release.

  • Almost all the events in the movie are taken from real life stories the directors have heard. Perhaps I was a bit too quick in labelling the ending artificial.

  • Singapore, despite what some people may think, is one of the most expensive places in the world to make a movie. It's even higher than in New York.

  • For some reason, Singaporeans look down on local films. Little Man, for example, despite its universal poor reviews, earned many times more in its opening weekend than Singapore Dreaming, and was still in the top 10 local box office results last week. I'm not surprised though; after all, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo topped the local box office when it was released. So much for the Singapore identity.

    Please, please, please, if you haven't, go watch the movie. It's almost certain it won't last past this week in the cinemas.

    21 September 2006

    The Bifurcation

    As raised in an earlier post, I was considering bifurcating my blog into two, one for my boring, personal encounters and one for my nonsensical commentaries. I've decided to conduct a trial for that idea. If I like things that way, it'll become permanent. Also, let me know if you find that more desirable, although I doubt your input will affect my decision much, if at all.

    This blog, The Feynman Boson, will be the one which I'll use to enunciate my ideas on current affairs. The main reason is due to the greater exposure of this blog to the crazy world. Certainly, I want the blog with the smart ideas to get more attention than the one about my personal failures, so since The Feynman Boson has been sitting around in the blogosphere for quite a while, it should naturally assume this role.

    My personal stuff will be posted in The Feynman Fermion. More than ramblings about my personal life, any updates in The Feynman Boson will be reflected in The Feynman Fermion, so for those who like to dwell on my rubbish and laugh at my personal disasters at the same time won't be disappointed.

    Boson will be updated about once a week, though that is subjected to my busyness and thoughts. Fermion, on the other hand, should see weekly updates, though most will really be mundane twitters of the mood of the day.

    On a side note, as opposed to the name The Feynman Boson, which can have a meaning behind it, the Feynman Fermion, on the other hand, is absurdly meaningless. But then, isn't it apt, for my personal life is quite meaningless too?

    20 September 2006

    Movie Review: Singapore Dreaming

    This is a highly anticipated film for me, given my respect for its directors, Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh, and the article that formed the basis for the film, Paved with Good Intentions. In addition, given the raving reviews it received and the comments the reviewers left behind, I think I'd be doing a disservice to myself if I give this movie a miss.

    After watching the movie, I find myself having mixed opinions about it, though in my mind, of all local feature films, it ranks third behind I Not Stupid and Money Not Enough (this goes to show my opinion of local movies). It does have some amazing acting, mind-blowing when compared to typical MediaCorp artistes, and pretty much acceptable editing and sound effects, especially taking into consideration its budget. Moreover, given this sort of movie, it is the storyline that's the most important.

    However, that's where the problem comes in. Firstly, the plot has several parts hanging in the air... some hand-waving parts that doesn't really answers the situation, leaving behind a bumpy flow. Also, the pace was pretty slow at the start, and the cutting between various scenes and characters leave me tad confused. And what's more, the ending seems a bit too artificial. By this, I mean that for most parts of the story, it is entirely plausible to happen in a typical family, but the ending is an unlikely turn of events that would destroy this otherwise "perfect reality".

    One other major problem I had with the storyline is the message it is trying to get across. From its marketing and background, I understand that the directors are trying to tell us about what we're seeking in our lives, about the Singapore Dream and the Singapore Plan (the tagline of the movie is "What are you dreaming of?"). However, that is hardly visible in the storyline. Most of the time, I see a realistic depiction of a typical family struggling against certain odds, instead of some reflection or enlightenment of the characters. Sometimes, certain events in the storyline go against the original message. Take for example one scene in which, in an interview, the interviewer said that the degree is important, which kind of defeats the message of the Dream more important than the Plan.

    However, when I said that this is a realistic story, it is indeed a realistic story. It is like taking an interesting slice of a Singaporean family's life and putting it onto the screen. Close to the heart and thought-provoking, I can identify very well with it, and even discover elements of the story in my family and myself. It's like a Jack Neo film without the humour and perfect ending, because life is seldom packaged with these two.

    This is a high recommendation from me to anyone who's a Singaporean or lived in Singapore long enough, for despite its flaws, it is one story that touches the heart, one story that we may one day find ourselves in.

    What are you dreaming of?

    P.S.: if you're intending to watch the movie, you'd better do it soon. I'm not sure if it'll still be running in the cinemas next week.

    19 September 2006


    As promised, here are some snapshots of spherical orbits from my SP2172 project. Note that they all are spherical orbits (i.e. constant radius), so if they're not round, it is due to the unequal scales of the orthogonal axes.

    The generic "twine" orbit:

    Another "twine" orbit. Note the larger "hole" at the poles:

    Here's one rare orbit that hit the poles. A strict condition must be imposed to achieve this:

    This is an interesting orbit:

    This one is exactly the same as the previous but simulated for much longer:

    There's also equatorial orbits, but they're hardly impressive, being little more than a line (or actually many lines superimposed upon each other) running along the equator.

    The interactive 3D plots will probably not be up, at least not so soon, since none of us know how to create a Java applet yet.

    18 September 2006

    Don't Work Too Hard

    With the mid-term break revving towards us (which, truth be told, is not so much a break than a week-long intense studying for the mid-term tests ambushing behind it) and the exponentially multiplying workload as we move deeper into the semester, it is, perhaps, a good advice that we should, at times, not work too hard.

    Okay, show's over. Don't work so hard? Dream on... Get back to mugging!

    17 September 2006


    From Wikipedia,

    Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is a grammatically valid sentence used as an example of how homophones can be used to create complicated constructs.

    What the...

    I wonder how many people can figure out what 'Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo' means without looking up the Wikipedia entry or any other references.

    16 September 2006

    15 September 2006

    SP2172 Project Progress Report

    Finally! My SP2172 project, Spherical Orbits of Massive Particles Around a Kerr Black Hole, has shifted into a new phase. For the past few weeks, what we've been doing was reading up and learning what we could lay our hands on regarding Kerr black holes (black holes that rotate). But over the past few days, after putting the equations in a form that we want and verifying its results with other papers, we've finally moved on to generating data of our own.

    General relativity, which replaces Newton's theory of gravity, predicts several peculiar features, one of which is a black hole. A black hole is essentially a lot of mass squeezed into an infinitesimal point, such that, according to general relativity, the gravitational potential is infinity at that point. More than predicting this strange feature, it has also given rise to counter-intuitive orbits, such as a particle that revolves around a Kerr black hole and yet has zero angular momentum.

    Armed with the equations, we modified a C programme our staff mentor, Prof Edward Teo, provided us with. He used it to simulate spherical (i.e. constant radius) orbits of non-massive particles (i.e. photons), which had quite simpler equations (the equations for massive particles can span three lines across the page!).

    The programme gives a chain of coordinates, with which we will use MatLab to plot into a 3D graph. Currently, most of the orbits fall into the expected types, which has the general shape of a ball of twine. I shall post snapshots of some of the orbits here once I get my hands onto them, or if possible, upload interactive Java applets of the 3D orbits (if we figure out how to do that).

    Naturally, it is not these "twine" orbits that interests us. We'd be looking out for orbits that are not expected, and from there understand more about orbits around a Kerr Black Hole.

    Best of all, this week is my most productive week of this semester so far. Those nights of working down to 3 a.m. has paid off.

    13 September 2006

    Escape from Life


    But if there's really such an option in life, I'd settle for Ctrl-C.

    10 September 2006


    I dunno whether to love or hate this week. It was a monstrous emotional roller-coaster ride for me... the hurricane in which I was standing right in its eye seem to have shifted and scooped me off my feet.

    Sometimes, I really wish life weren't so complex and mired with complications I cannot see. Sometimes, I really wish life were logical, rational, and could be broken down into orderly relations like mathematics. Sometimes, I really wish I had no trouble understanding other people's feelings. Sometimes, I really wish things would go my way, ideally, smoothly, trouble-free.


    Human beings are really too perplexing for me to comprehend. Sometimes, it's not the crass jokes or clever puns or witty satire that humours me; it's the innocence of animals when projected onto a human perspective that makes me laugh.

    Please, enjoy these as I have.

    09 September 2006

    A Lost Bet: The IMF/World Bank Meeting

    The IMF/World Bank has issued a strong statement, requesting Singapore to allow protests during the IMF/WB meeting. More than that, it has also implied in that press release that by banning protests, Singapore has broken the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between both parties. This comes after the police released a statement saying that they will shoot to kill anyone who threatens someone else.

    Originally, the IMF/World Bank meeting is highly beneficial to Singapore as it serves to highlight Singapore's potential in hosting such international conferences and events. More than the immediate revenue from the event itself, if the meeting goes on smoothly, Singapore will gain by attracting the attention of other global organisations. Thus, this meeting has became a super-advertisement for Singapore.

    However, it is appearing to morph into a liability. Assuming that Singapore maintains its no-protests stand, the accusation that Singapore is breaching the MOU may have negative repercussions. Already suffering somewhat a bad name internationally for banning protests, this additional fact will smudge Singapore's reputation to host such an event. Why should another international conference be held here when Singapore will not keep its end of the bargain?

    If the government finally relents and allows protests, this will possibly result in a worse consequence, which has manifested in online discussions before the ban was announced: why are foreigners allowed to protest when locals are not? Why is it that foreigners have a voice while Singaporeans have their mouths zipped shut? How then can the government justify that Singaporeans are not allowed to protest on the basis of possible violence?

    Either way, it seems that the government gotten itself entangled in a Catch-22 situation, a lost bet.

    08 September 2006

    The Post of Mystery and Unknown

    Applied the litmus test. It turned out negative for now, but I'm definitely not giving up hope.

    05 September 2006

    "Political" Crisis in CHS?

    I seem to be standing in the eye of a hurricane the past few days.

    Surreal and stunning incidents seem to be unravelling around me. First there was the rejection for a hostel room, though that was kinda expected. Then there was the abrupt news of Steve Irwin's death just yesterday, but that is somewhat distant from my personal life. And then today, while I was browsing The Intelligent Singaporean, it appears that my alma mater, Catholic High School, is undergoing some sort of administrative/leadership crisis. (This incident was also Tomorrow-ed.)

    This came as quite a surprise to me, since two months back when I visited the school, there didn't seem to be much tension going on at the surface. Even when I chatted with some of the teachers, there didn't seem to be any gripe about the principle. Of course, they, as teachers, are forbidden to speak bad about their superiors, but there didn't seem to be any underlying disdain for the man in their words.

    Quite frankly, many of the allegations in the petition are rather startling, and they certainly demand some investigations (such as the public humiliation of students and forced donations). Others, though not so urgent, still needs to be looked into, for they are, to a certain extent, inappropriate actions and demands (e.g. the call for perfect punctuality). However, this is only one side of the story; I'd need at least the principal's side before I can make a fair judgement. Even so, my judgement assumes that both words are of the truth; an inquiry should be conducted to verify or refute these statements.

    To me, one of the most shocking facts in the whole situation was the transfer of the nine teachers. More than half of them were around when I was in the school. In particular, Mrs Alice Long was my teacher for maths in secondary 4. And here I give you my word that Mrs Long is one of the best teachers in the school. For one, she is extremely capable in teaching (I've got A for both my maths), and two, she cares about the welfare of her students and goes beyond what is necessary to help them. What's more, she has been around in the school for more than a decade, so if there's any question about her capability, she would not have stayed till now. In fact, the first four names on the list are long-time teachers in Catholic High School.

    I hope that the school can sort these things out, preferably out of public eyes, and more importantly without any casualties to office politicking. Such incidents are not encouraging to students who are taking their O levels this year, and certainly to the teachers whose only dream is to see their students soar above the clouds.

    Oh my... what a week... what a week.

    A Farewell to a Great Man

    Usually, Steve Irwin's actions are often seen to be crazy by many others, particularly his daring brushes with danger. Nonetheless, he was certainly an entertaining character, and his activism is very much worth praising.

    Yet sometimes, life is often a strange swirl of irony. Certainly, his death is absolutely sudden and unexpected, what more by a creature that one would've never come to think of.

    And the most surreal thing is, while he is seldom a subject of my conversation, it just so happened that I talked about him with a friend today. In fact, my friend wanted to go to Australia to see his performance...

    The Crocodile Hunter will be missed, but his legacy and legend will live on.

    03 September 2006

    My New Hostel Room

    After what seems like an unbearable long wait, the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) Residential Services has finally sent me an email on Friday with regards to my application to the waiting list for hostel.

    The waiting list is a list for students who failed to obtain a hostel room in the first round of application, which is allocated on the basis of CCA points. As demand for hostel rooms is fantastically high, the CCA points required naturally hit the heavens, and most, like me with fewer CCA points, get thrashed by the rest.

    There is, however, a second chance: the waiting list. It is a list of those who still want a hostel room, and priority is given on a first-come-first-serve (which they put innocently as "availability") basis. The rooms for this waiting list are mainly from those who got it in the first round but rejected the allocation. The application for waiting list typically opens in the first week of the term, and that's probably the last chance for one to get a hostel room for the semester.

    This year the application opened 21st August (Monday) at midnight. Knowing how hot the fight was, I set my alarm clock at 2345 - 15 minutes before the application opens - the rational being giving myself sufficient time to turn on the computer and log on to the site.

    The good news is that I did wake up and turned on my computer at 2345. However, because I had a camp the night before, and was in a friend's house for the subsequent day, reaching home only by about 2100 on Sunday night, I effectively had only one hour of sleep for the past thirty-six hours. And the poor estimation meant that by 2350 I was waiting in front of the application webpage and staring like a zombie at the screen.

    That was when I decided to lie down for a while and then it was 0530, when my handphone's alarm clock woke me up for school. I made a mad scramble to submit the application, half my brain trying to figure out what to fill into the online form while the other half trying to shake off the feeling that it has just came out of cryogenic storage.

    It is thus not really unexpected when the email from OSA informing me that there were no more vacancies. And as if to soften the blow, the email also mentioned that 700 other people got also rejected. That number is, in my opinion, quite substantial, which leads me to wonder why they just don't simply build the residences thirty storeys high, but that's not what I'm discussing now.

    OSA suggested off-campus accommodations, basically referring to renting flats from nearby HDB estates, but I'm not going for that, simply because I already have a backup. In fact, I've already been exercising that option since school started.

    For the past few weeks, I've been sleeping in SPS room. Basically, SPS room is a standard seminar room converted to an activity room for SPS students, with its own computer cluster (mainly Linux systems), study tables (which lines the wall), discussion areas (a few chairs in a circle) and a lecture area, as well as a mini library.

    Since I have one place for myself on the study table where I put all my stuff (books, teabags, clothes etc.), it's not really a ridiculous idea to sleep there at all. Of course, I do not stayover everyday, but only on days when I have 0800 lectures on the next (which, sadly, is four out of five). In addition, there are people who sleep there every single night (most are foreign students, SPS room being their hostel), so I'm certainly not the one and only. What's more, it's free, and in a convenient location (water cooler nearby, just above the canteen and central to most of my lesson locations). If that's not enough, the atmosphere in SPS room essentially yells "STUDY! STUDY! STUDY!", which is some rather good motivation for a student.

    The only drawback is the lack of privacy, as well as slight inconveniences (I mean, I cannot, for example, start hanging my clothes in the room, or walk around half-naked). Nonetheless, I do not see any reason why I should not sleep there. Some can slouch on chairs and switch off, but I need and have a sleeping bag, which of course essentially makes it as good as a bed when on the carpeted floor.

    So if you find my wandering sleepily late at night or early in the morning in the S16 block, do not be alarmed. And if you need to find me, don't head for PGP; you know where my hostel room is.

    On a side note, I believe the demand for hostel accommodations will continue to skyrocket, and the CCA points required to secure one will get obscenely high. Blame it on the ever-increasing intake of students, if you wish.

    On a side side note, this is my 200th post. Yay!

    02 September 2006

    Amazing Performance

    Here's another utterly mind-blowing performance by The Umbilical Brothers, a performance group in Australia. This is as wonderful as the performance by Tripod at Comedy Festival.