31 October 2006

3 Best Stalls in NUS Canteens

Okay, here's a meme I'm starting off. I'm hoping that, through this meme, I, as well as others, can know which stalls in NUS canteen are more popular and thus perhaps more worth eating there.

1) List three stalls (in no particular order) in NUS canteens that you like the most.
2) Explain briefly your choice for each.
3) Tag three people (NUS students and staff... duh!).
4) Link back to the person who tagged you so that backlinks/trackbacks will appear.

1st Choice: Char Kway Teow stall in Arts Canteen
Tucked at the quiet corner of the canteen, there are very few reasons why I would like this stall. Firstly, the food is slow. Also, the selection is extremely minimal. Yet, manned by a friendly couple, their Char Kway Teow is amazing, though it may be considered unhealthy by some. The orders are even flexible; you can ask for a $2.50 plate (despite the listed standard $2.00 and $1.50), or request for more egg, for example.

2nd Choice: Chinese Food stall in Science Canteen
Except for the sotong which I felt was a bit substandard, the food there in general is pretty satisfying. The price is reasonable, the food is great; the only thing I can complain about is the length of the queue. Not surprised though... Try to go there after 2: the queue will be short by then. Most of the time it's not opened for dinner though.

3rd Choice: Yong Tau Foo stall in Science Canteen
To begin with, the stall has some pretty neat selection of food (unless you're eating dinner). The stuff there tastes pretty nice, and what's more, their fried bee hoon or fried noodles make a good breakfast (together with an egg and a slice of luncheon meat).


27 October 2006

The "Erotic" NTU Lecturer: A Discourse on Morality

By now I presume every single (online) soul in Singapore has watched the antic video clip of the NTU lecturer showing some ludicrous feedback about him. No doubt all found it hilarious, so does Yao when I first showed her, but she had reservations about the lecturer's actions.

She felt that the lecturer's behaviour is unbecoming of the supposed way he is expected to carry himself, because by screening such crass comments, he is simply encouraging his students to become cruder. He is, in a way, consciously or unknowingly, influencing them to think this way. This, to her, is inappropriate, be it for pure entertainment or scoring popularity among students.

She raised an example. Suppose in a lecture the students all like pornography. Is it then okay, on moral grounds, for the lecturer to screen pornographic materials to entertain the students? If the lecturer forbids that because of his own moral standings, then can we say that the lecturer is upholding his/her code of conduct, that this is an absolute moral expectation from people of his/her stature? If the lecturer allows, does it then mean that there is no absoluteness in morality? That morality is defined by the majority, or more appropriately, the society at large?

(At this point I think it'll do good to apologise to Yao and everyone reading this, in case of any mistakes I might've made in representing her stand above. After all, I'm writing this from my memory, which is mired by my own arguments.)

Naturally, from her comments on the NTU lecturer, it is clear that, in the hypothetical example above, she believes that the lecturer should choose the first option, because this conduct is demanded of him/her, and that despite morals changing over generations, there are some morals which are completely absolute, such as this, and the wrong in murder, for example.

She further expounded that in the past, after the age of mankind's amoralism, people did not stick so closely to these absolute morals because they are not easily known and understood. In addition, akin to technology, morals have been changing, and mostly for the better, and we get closer and closer to these absolute morals. Where this source of absolute morality comes from or by what it is driven, she is not so sure, but she believes there is some factors that forms this basis.

However, I beg to differ. I believe that morals are everchanging, never absolute. This does not mean that I expect the lecturer in the hypothetical example above to choose the latter option, mainly because morals are not defined by those inside the lecture theatre at that instant of time. It is formed, shaped and influenced by history, politics and society of the entire civilisation over a period of time. But the fundamental idea remains: morals are never absolute. Never fixed. Shifting with time. Changing always.

Slavery is largely seen as a barbaric act today, but it is quite widely accepted in many societies in the past. Then okay, now not. Suppose in the future because of overpopulation, governments have begun selective killing of genetically inferior human beings. And they have been doing it for, say fifty years, such that it has developed into a social norm. Universally accepted. Agreed by all. Is that bad?

Morals change. We cannot use today's moral standards to judge yesterday's actions. In fact, it we were to use our morals to look at times other than ours, we will probably be repulsed by what the humans were/are doing. We are stuck in today's morals; what we see in the past and in the future will not appeal to our moral tastes. It's just like asking someone from the ecclesiastical past to judge the role of today's institutionalised church.

Expectedly, our arguments glanced off each other as we assume differing bases. She assumed that there is some unyielding force driving morality; to me, morality is everchanging. Of course, we did not come to a consensus, but it was a good philosophical exercise nonetheless.

25 October 2006

The Trollish Online Community

Unless you have been living in a time capsule (or in Tekong) for the past week, you should've been aware of the ugly saga unravelling around Wee Shu Min. Her stinging reply, together with the apology of her MP father, has smashed open a sluice gate of criticism that ranges from chiding to outright insulting. Even Technorati, at the current moment, has "Wee Shu Min" crowning the top search.

I'm not going to comment on my opinions, since they're largely similar to other bloggers' like Kitana's. What I'm more concerned with is the insults, down to the personal level, of many blog entries and comments, as well as the Sammyboy forum where it all began. The criticism of her physical appearances... nasty words that has no relevance to her reply... in essence, the trollish behaviour of a significant group of the online community, is as disturbing to me as Wee Shu Min's original reply.

Previously I have always thought that when one resorts to insults, it means that he/she has lost the argument on the level of reasoning. This is exactly the character of a sore loser, refusing to step down when he/she has clearly been defeated. But given other blog entries with more rationality, I doubt this applies to the trollish conduct of these people.

Another situation whereby insults will be hurled is when an highly emotional incident is freshly out of the oven, where many people are still hot-headed and beyond the point of reasoning. But this incident has been out for quite a while. Insults are still ongoing, from what I observe, though it is now at a lesser intensity, but I wonder if it is the case of people gaining control of their head or just that the news is getting old. But the bottomline is, insults are still flying all over.

Thinking about it, I have arrived at the conclusion that this is perhaps the nature of the Internet: free and anonymous. Lack of the need for accountability or reply. That is when people find and do thrill in dishing out such insults. Or perhaps satisfaction. Or perhaps it is just some revenge for her strong words to the working class, or a vendetta against someone associated with the government.

Yet, this does not justify their actions. Such personal criticisms are uncalled for. They do not advance anything; in fact they widen the rift between the two sides. And it is sad that many of the online community subscribe to this behaviour. Yes, I know such comments deserve to be ignored, just as I've told myself many times, but the fact that they exist tells something.

19 October 2006

Maths Skills Inversely Proportional to Confidence?

This article is pretty interesting to note, considering my aptitude and gratification in mathematics (primary/secondary level), as well as Singapore's excellent performance in the subject itself. Perhaps this explains the general misery of our school students?

I'm not in the mood to comment on it at the moment, but I've highlighed several parts worth noting.

(From CNN, 181006)

Confident students do worse in math; bad news for U.S.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Kids who are turned off by math often say they don't enjoy it, they aren't good at it and they see little point in it. Who knew that could be a formula for success?

The nations with the best scores have the least happy, least confident math students, says a study by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

Countries reporting higher levels of enjoyment and confidence among math students don't do as well in the subject, the study suggests.
The results for the United States hover around the middle of the pack, both in terms of enjoyment and in test scores.

In essence, happiness is overrated, says study author Tom Loveless.

"We might want to focus on the math that kids are learning and just be a little less obsessed with the fact that they have to enjoy every minute of it," said Loveless, who directs the Brown Center and serves on a presidential advisory panel on math.

"The implication is not 'Let's go make kids unhappy,"' he said. "It's 'Let's give kids better signals as to how they're performing, relative to the rest of the world."'

Other countries do better than the United States because they seem to expect more from students, he said. That could also explain why high performers in other nations express less confidence and enjoyment in math. They consider their peer group to be star achievers.

Even efforts to make math relevant may be irrelevant, says the study, released Wednesday.

Nations that try to teach math in terms of daily life have the lowest test scores.

All this is not easy to compute. Math teachers typically don't avoid enjoyment, confidence and relevance in their math lessons. They strive for those things.

Speaking on behalf of those teachers, one educator took exception to the study's conclusions.

"If I'm a math student and I don't perceive myself as confident, you think I'm going to major in it? The answer is no," said Francis "Skip" Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and another member of the federal math panel.

"Is enjoyment important? You bet it is. Is confidence important? You bet it is," Fennell said. "If we don't have those variables, we can't compete."

Yet Loveless says pleasing kids has come at the expense of mastering skills.

His findings come from the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a test of fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the globe. Along with answering math questions, students were asked whether they enjoyed math and whether they usually did well in it.

The eighth-grade results reflected a common pattern: The 10 nations whose students enjoyed math the most all scored below average. The bottom 10 nations on the enjoyment scale all excelled.

Japan, Hong Kong and the Netherlands were among those with high scores and lower enjoyment or confidence among students.

Within a given nation, the high-confidence kids did better than their peers. But that changed when students were compared with a different peer group. Even the least confident students in Singapore outscored the most confident Americans.

Loveless is not suggesting it makes sense to undermine kids' confidence or make math revolting. But he says the U.S. should rethink "the happiness factor," as he puts it.

Math textbooks in the United States, for example, tend to have colorful photos, charts and stories to please kids, he noted. In other nations, the texts strictly have math.

Fennell said engaging, relevant lessons are important. But he agreed with Loveless that every lesson should be about teaching math, not simply providing a fun class activity.

14 October 2006

Movie Review: Rob-B-Hood

Rob-B-Hood is Jackie Chan's latest gongfu flick that revolves around a comedic theme of an adorable baby. Packed with glowing stars that appeal to all generations - the internationally renowned Jackie Chan, the heartthrob Louis Koo and the established comedian Michael Hui - this movie is somewhat similar to those Hong Kong movies of the 80s and 90s, but it deviates slightly from the normal Jackie Chan movies one would associate with.

For once, Jackie Chan plays the bad guy - a gambling addict and a thief - which is quite different from the roles in his previous movies. This is rather queer given that he once said the characters he play are always upright so as to impart the appropriate moral values to the children watching his movies. Perhaps that will explain why, so as to stick to this rule, he ended up being a good thief and repented his actions eventually.

Given this interesting twist, it could've been a fresh perspective to Jackie Chan's line of movies, but this is totally crushed by a confusing storyline combined with unrealistic turns of events. Added into this terrible mixture are the stereotypical movie elements like a fanatic triad boss, resulting in a concoction of plot that smelled like melted plastic.

In addition, the movie was full of cheap laughs with toilet jokes (the typical jokes of a comedy involving a baby), and with gays and effimate men. Perhaps it's these ruthless jokes on and making fun of the latter that turns me off. One can argue that this is not the director's and scriptwriters' intentions, but it is a very weak case from the way the situation is cast.

But apart from the storyline, the other aspects like sound effects and music are pretty average. The gongfu stunts are something to watch for, as always with Jackie Chan movies. Together with thrilling stunts (though, understandably, at a lesser intensity and frequency) and comical moves, I can easily associate it with the older Hong Kong movies Jackie Chan produced.

Nonetheless, overall, it leaves a pretty bad taste in the mouth. I think one advice Jackie Chan has to take is that the storyline of a movie is very vital, which probably explains why his recent productions has not been as popular or classic as his old ones. To those reading this, I advise you not to watch the movie unless you have spare time to throw and spare cash to burn.

13 October 2006

Hip-Hopping MPs

There has been a big hoo-hah over the recent news that some twelve, post-65 MPs are going to dance hip-hop at next year's Chingay Parade. In general, many see it as a lame attempt by PAP to "open up" to the younger generation, and some were pretty cynical about this move.

Personally, I cannot figure out why people are getting so worked up over this issue. I mean, yeah, if they're trying to connect to the younger generation, I won't deny it is a lame attempt. There are certainly better ways to connect to us, and those who are at least somewhat concerned with politics will be more interested in seeing greater engagement than rabbitt-ing about. And what's more, I doubt all youths like hip-hopping; I for one dislike it.

But still, this outcry begs the question: why create a big fuss about it? They are, just like they said, having fun. I'm not sure how tough the training is gonna get - whether it is back-breaking or not - but as long as they think it is worth it, it is worth it. If it doesn't affect us the slightest, so be it. Let them do it. Why the noise? Is it another instinctive reflex of a typical online Singaporean to criticise every move of PAP that appears to try and get in touch with the people?

The only worry I have is that the MPs use time that they're supposed to do their parliamentary or constituency work to prepare for the event. I doubt that is likely, given the intense eyes on them. That leaves them with using their personal time and/or time to do PAP work. That's pretty fine with me. Oh, and as long as they don't get too excited and injure themselves, I think there's no harm to that too.

In any case, I probably, just like in previous years, won't watch the parade. To be frank, I won't give a hoot about it even if Lee Kuan Yew decides to breakdance, just as long as he doesn't break his neck. No, it's not because I fear for his life. I worry more for the image of Singapore, if the foreign media starts putting headlines like "Singapore's Founder Dies While Breakdancing".

12 October 2006

The Ig Nobel Prize 2006

I'm a bit late in announcing this, but still it's better than never. The winners for the Ig Nobel Prize for 2006 has been released last week. The winner for the physics prize goes to Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch for their painstaking study on why dry spaghetti breaks into more than two pieces when bent.

I particularly like the work that earned its author the prize for mathematics: Blink-Free Photos, Guaranteed, which in short calculates the number of times you have to take for a group photograph to ensure that no one is blinking.

In case you think that these are just some fancy fabrication of a highly imaginative mind, it should be clarified that these are real works done by real people and (for academic research) published in real journals/books. The rule of thumb of the Ig Nobel Prize is "research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK". Take for example the 2005 prize for fluid dynamics awarded for the study of the pressure build-up inside a penguin when they defaecate.

Sometimes the awards are given as parodical criticism, such as the 1996 prize for peace to Jacques Chirac for "commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Hiroshima with atomic bomb tests in the Pacific", and the 1994 prize for mathematics to The Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their statistical estimate of "how many Alabama citizens will go to Hell if they don't repent".

This year's ceremony included some pretty interesting events, such as the 24/7 Lectures, in which some of the top researchers in the world (real ones) are invited to give on, their field of research:

FIRST: a complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS

AND THEN: a clear summary that anyone can understand, in SEVEN (7) WORDS.

I am really interested in how Frank Wilczek gave his 24/7 Lecture on Dark Matter. I'll watch the webcast when I'm free.

Oh, did you know that a Singaporean was awarded an Ig Nobel prize before? It was the 1994 prize for psychology to a "practitioner of the psychology of negative reinforcement, for his thirty-year study of the effects of punishing three million citizens of Singapore whenever they spat, chewed gum, or fed pigeons."

03 October 2006

Cultures of Creativity

NUS will be hosting the world tour of the Nobel exhibition, Cultures of Creativity. It will be held from October to January at the University Hall. Admission is at a modest $2 ($1 if you're a student, senior citizen, or NSF; free if you can convince the ticketing office that you're a child) and will go towards the bursary fund to held needy students.

I've signed up to be a guide for this exhibition and have just attended the briefing. The exhibits are already here, but I've not gotten to see them yet. Still, from what the Vice Dean described, this exhibition looks set to be amazingly entertaining and informative, full of enticing displays and original artefacts, all brought together in sleek technological beauty.

Do pass the word around and let everyone know about this rare event. From what I understand, it is not easy nor cheap for NUS to organise such an event! They'll be getting the Minster for Education, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, to inaugurate the exhibition - if they can get a minister to do such a thing, it's bound to be big!

News Flash: Nobel Prize in Physics 2006

Fresh from the Nobel Foundation, the Nobel Prize in Physics 2006 has been awared to John Mather and George Smoot. Their works in cosmology - the discovery of the blackbody nature of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the radiation of wavelength 1.9 mm which is a remnant of the Big Bang, as well as its non-uniformity at different directions - are responsible for fetching them this honour.

Seldom has an award been given to an astrophysics or cosmology field. This discovery of the blackbody nature of the CMB is one of the five main observations that supports the Big Bang theory. And their discovery of its anisotropy (non-directional) is one that hinted at the incompleteness of the Big Bang theory, resulting in the birth of the cosmological inflation theory, which is the topic of my SP2171 project last semester. You can read some general information of this story in the outline of my project.