Oct 26, 2008

Kids and School

I NOTICE something strange every morning as I go to work. I see kids of pretty much every age steadily walk to school--braving traffic and crossing roads, stoically and resolutely, come rain or snow. Much like Canada Post deliverymen when you think about it. Alone or in groups, with siblings or friends, walking long distances at 8 am, which was early dawn to me in my university years (i.e. upto last year).

And the strangest part is, the parents are nowhere to be seen. It's like the kids have been brainwashed into thinking they actually have to go to school!

Now take me when I was a kid. You'd need wild horses to drag me out of bed, a court order to make me brush my teeth, and both the carrot and the stick to make me put on my uniform. And if the car wasn't available to drop me off? Back to bed!

Kids these days....

Oct 25, 2008

Alexander & W.

WARNING: this post (probably) has spoilers for both movies.

I'VE recently found myself borrowing a lot of movies from my local library. I always thought borrowing movies made much more sense than buying, but never had an easy, well-stocked, and convenient library system to use. But now I've just gotten the hang of taking out stuff from the local library system.

Anyway, a pattern has emerged. I've been taking out movies by directors who've released new movies recently. For example, after Burn After Reading came out, I took out and watched the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowsky. Will write about that later, maybe. Right now I want to talk about the titular movies.

When W. was released, it was just totally new to me because I haven't been following upcoming movie news from Hollywood. I just learn about new movies from Roger Ebert's reviews. So I thought that W. seemed like an interesting movie to watch. And as it turned out, I did get to watch it last weekend in the cinema. Definitely worth the ticket money.

Seemingly by chance, I'd watched Alexander recently as well--I'd seen it once already but just wanted to refresh my memory. Had forgotten that Stone had directed it, but after watching W. something just clicked and I found that he was behind both the movies. So now, with the context out of the way, I can explain what I found similar between the two movies and their title characters:

First off, obviously, they both focus on a single person on his journey through life and rise to power. If you put the two of them in parallel and look at it like that, it's a very startling similarity. I don't know to what extent Stone wanted to do that consciously, or just ended up doing it because it's his style, but the similarities are definitely there.

Both their fathers are leaders. Alexander's was Philip, king of Macedonia and obviously W.'s father is an ex-US president. They both have something to prove to their fathers--that they're worthy of leadership. Stone tries to show that neither can take criticism--Alexander blows up at his generals when they question his decisions to marry a foreign woman, to keep pushing on into India; and W. angrily crashes his car when Laura tries to critique one of his speeches.

Another thing I noticed, and I don't know how symbolic this is, is that both have armies of conquest in Asia. Alexander in ancient Persia, and W. pits the US into a war in modern-day Iraq and Afghanistan, not too far away. Their armies probably would have crossed each other's paths several times if they were in the same time period.

Ultimately, Alexander is both a tragic and triumphant figure in history--he brings a taste of civilisation and unity to half the known world, he wants to emulate Prometheus, who brought fire to mankind--but it all falls apart after his death. In W., President Bush and his inner circle are trying to bring democracy to the Middle East--they see themselves as lighting a fire of freedom that will spread throughout the region. So what if they really want to secure a continuous supply of oil? As Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) says of Alexander, 'no tyrant ever gave back so much'.

At the end of the movie, in a dream sequence, we see W. tilt back his head in expectation, trying to catch a baseball that's just been hit, the crowd going wild--but the ball never comes down, and the sky is pitch black. This tells me that we've yet to see the outcome of his tenure.

Of course, we have new information since the movie came out, and it doesn't look too good.

Oct 19, 2008

Wrong Answer Every Time!

Just found this awesomely hilarious joke. I think it's safe to say that with each question in the joke, I got the wrong answer every time! :-)

Hello Mr. Warren Buffett

This is an old one......but, nonetheless, a "beauty" & is "brilliant".............!!!!!!!!!!!
I bet, you will enjoy reading this.......!!!!!!!!!! And for sure you had all the wrong answers for it...
Beautiful Madam was having trouble with one of her students in 1st Grade class.
Madam asked, "Boy, what is your problem?"
Boy answered, "I'm too smart for the first-grade. My sister is in the
third-grade and I'm smarter than she is! I think I should be in the 4th Grade!"
Madam had enough. She took the Boy to the principal's office. While the Boy waited in the outer office, madam explained to the principal what the situation was.
The principal told Madam he would give the boy a test and
if he failed to answer any of his questions he was to go back to the
first-grade and behave. She agreed.
The Boy was brought in and the conditions were explained to him and he agreed to take the test.
Principal: "What is 3 x 3?"
Boy: "9".
Principal: "What is 6 x 6?"
Boy: "36".
And so it went with every question the principal thought a 4th grade should know.
The principal looks at Madam and tells her, "I think Boy can
go to the 4th grade."
Madam says to the principal, "I have some of my own questions.
Can I ask him ?" The principal and Boy both agree.
Madam asks, "What does a cow have four of that I have only two of"?
Boy, after a moment "Legs."
Madam: "What is in your pants that you have but I do not have?"
Boy: "Pockets."
Madam: What starts with a C and ends with a T is hairy, oval, delicious and contains thin whitish liquid?
Boy: Coconut
Madam: What goes in hard and pink then comes out soft And sticky?
The principal's eyes open really wide and before he could stop the answer, Boy was taking charge.
Boy: Bubblegum
Madam: What does a man do standing up, a woman does sitting down and a dog does on three legs?
The principal's eyes open really wide and before he could stop the answer...
Boy: Shake hands
Madam: You stick your poles inside me. You tie me down to get me up. I get wet before you do.
Boy: Tent
Madam: A finger goes in me. You fiddle with me when you're bored. The best man always has me first.
The Principal was looking restless, a bit tense and took one large Patiala Vodka peg.
Boy: Wedding Ring
Madam: I come in many sizes. When I'm not well, I drip. When you blow me, you feel good.
Boy: Nose
Madam: I have a stiff shaft. My tip penetrates. I come with a quiver.
Boy: Arrow
Madam: What word starts with a 'F' and ends in 'K' that means lot of heat and excitement?
Boy: Firetruck
Madam: What word starts with a 'F' and ends in 'K' & if u don't get it, u have to use ur hand.
Boy: Fork
Madam: What is it that all men have one of it's longer on some men than on others, the pope doesn't use his and a man gives it to his wife after they're married?
Madam: What part of the man has no bone but has muscles, has lots of veins, like pumping, & is responsible for making love ?
The principal breathed a sigh of relief and said to the teacher,
"Send this Boy to IIM, I got the last ten questions wrong myself!".

From http://blog.tmcnet.com/blog/rich-tehrani/warren-buffett-sends-a-letter-to-tmcs-tracey-schelmetic.html#comment-36751

Oct 14, 2008

Where Do Classroom Essays Go to Die?

I'VE always felt that I did a good job back in middle school with a few short stories, in essay form, that our English class had to write. And I keep wondering from time to time what happened to those stories, the only copies that ever existed, with my writing on them, with those stories that always stuck in my mind. One was about a tense hospital situation where a doctor has to bring the news to a little girl's parents that she may be in terminal condition ... unless they can try a radical new treatment. Another (the better one) was about an Indiana Jones-type treasure seeker who, along with his fellow grave-robbers, fall under an ancient Inca curse and ... well, it's not pleasant.

So anyway, for some reason those two have been really bugging me, especially recently. I know that as soon as they were marked, the class assignments were put away in archival. But for how long? A week, a month, a year? In any case, they were probably thrown out a long time ago.

Kind of makes me shake my head and think about what it would've been like if we'd had the chance to keep a copy for ourselves, type it up and put it online ... silly really. I myself must have written countless little pieces of fiction through my school years. And that's just me, hardly an O. Henry or Mark Twain. Makes me wonder though how many amazing and insightful stories written by young people have been thrown away over the years....


I REALISED after reading David Allen's Getting Things Done (well, most of it) that Gmail has been designed almost from the ground up to make implementing Allen's personal productivity system, easy. Now I realise this is probably not news to anybody, least of all Gmail aficionados (first time I've ever used that word--whew). But I just feel like going over some of the productivity-enhancing features in Gmail that have been going through my head lately.

First of all, the idea that you don't use folders--you just get an inbox and an archive for all messages, and you can tag messages with any--and multiple--tags that you like. The point of this is that you treat all incoming mail as something to be processed, something that requires your attention. And you view the inbox as a place that holds this mail--mail that you need to process as you soon as you get some time. Any mail you don't need to act on--like information for your reference, you might as well put it in the archive. And in fact, you might as well set up filters in Gmail that automatically archive it, if you know that you always get this kind of mail from somebody (or whatever other criteria). For example, I've set things up so that mail from the online vendor I buy bus passes from automatically gets archived, since I don't need to act on it--it's just order confirmations.

So in this way, you get your inbox down to zero messages, ideally. Everything that you don't need to act on, and everything you have finished acting on, has been archived. Anything you didn't want to keep, deleted. Simple, but it feels good to know that you're on top of your email instead of the other way around.

And of course, we do need to categorise our emails--work, personal, sports, whatever--and here we have tags. So you can tag messages any which way, for maximum flexibility, and then just click on the tag name to see all messages tagged the same way.

Of course, the real power of these categories, or labels, is that you can use them to find, say, all emails from friends about school--if you've tagged them as such: just search for `label:Friends AND label:School'. There's a lot of flexibility. After all, Google is all about the search.

So Gmail is all about these two concepts: the inbox, and the archive. Because broadly speaking, you're always either processing email, or finished with it and just keeping it around for reference. Everything else is icing on the cake.

Shameless plug: I highly recommend Getting Things Done. It's the one self-help book that I've ever read, but I can pretty much tell it's the only one I'll ever need to.

Oct 13, 2008

Thoughts on Immigration and Culture Clash

FROM time to time I get to thinking about the difficulties people go through when they immigrate to countries, especially in the Western world. Radically different cultures clash, disagreements arise, and the biggest bugaboo is religion. And every new generation rebels against the old one's ways. So what do we do about this? Should the parents strictly enforce the homeland culture, or allow total integration into the new one, or try to balance the both, as they usually do?

Sooner or later, trying to enforce your own culture on your family, or even trying to make compromises and balance what you think is fairly, will backfire. The kids won't want to pray and go to the mosque, or stay strictly vegetarian, or wear the veil. And it's a matter of religion after all, you can't let it slide. Who knows where it will end. The neighbours will talk, rumours will start, and in general things will be awkward--at the very least.

How about totally integrating into mainstream society? Take your holidays when everybody else does, wish people Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas, have the wife work 9 to 5 and make the kids do chores in exchange for cellphones and computers. After all, you're in a new country for a reason--things didn't work out too well in the old country; too much corruption and unrest; no rule of law and in general, things were going to hell. And here--what a difference! The bureaucracy actually works; things are done fast, online, conveniently, and in general, with peace of mind.

So what's the difference? Why couldn't things work the same way back home? Is it because of religion, cultural attitudes, laziness, corruption--who knows--probably all those combined. So, for all their faults, these people here have been doing something right--they've built roads and highways (and managed to put a street name sign on almost every damn road at every damn intersection), skyscrapers and freight ships. They've speeded up government, maximised efficiency, reduced corruption to a minimum, and made sure people are helped with education, finding work, getting social support--even tax money back from the government.

So, if we do as they do, kind of embrace the culture and values (well, without eating pork or ... whatever), what would the end result be? Who knows? Outrageous idea--it'll never happen. People of pride and dignity, people who hold on to their ancient traditions which have served them so well, are never going to jump in the deep end and embrace the sinful ways of the Western world. But their kids....

Oct 12, 2008

Some Credit Crunch Jokes

From http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7659334.stm:

Q: What is the definition of optimism?
A: An investment banker ironing five shirts on a Sunday night

Q: What is the one thing Wall St and the Olympics have in common?
A: Synchronised diving

Q: What is the difference between a pigeon and a merchant banker?
A: A pigeon can still put a deposit on a Ferrari

I went to buy a toaster and it came with a bank

Q: What do you say to a hedge fund manager who can't short-sell anything?
A: Quarter pounder with fries please

Q: How many commodities traders does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, they don't change bulbs; but the trading price of darkness plummets due to oversupply

Entries from a new financial dictionary:
Broker: What my stock adviser has made me
Standard & poor: Your life in a nutshell
Cash flow: The movement your money makes as it disappears down the toilet.