Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sinking the Yamato 大和 (戦艦)

Link dump featuring the end of the battleship era in modern naval warfare.

PBS first aired it in Oct, then I got to know that a Japanese production (「男たちの大和/YAMATO」) on it is set to hit the big screen in Nippon (or has it already?) this month. I wonder when it will be shown here. (I can't find the DVD on

Ironically, it was the Japanese who showed the world that battleships with no air cover are vulnerable against aerial attacks (at Pearl Harbor and against Prince of Wales and Repulse of the RN's Force Z). 大和 would never have stood a chance against the carrier-based bombers of the US navy.

Found (from flickr) the (almost life-sized) mock-up of the ship used in the movie. Check out the 25mm/60 caliber AA guns...

A 1/10 scale model can be found in the Yamato museum in Kure. This flickr set shows you various angles of the ship.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Empty Nest Syndrome

It is always...trying (for lack of a better word that I can think of) when calling home during the festive season. Invariably the conversation topic (with the old matriarch, OM) will end up on the question of whether I will be going home for the holidays; if so, when and if not, why. With a cousin and me in the US, another in Australia, and a son (my uncle) and his family settling in HK, it is not hard for me to understand why she feels that way.

An excerpt

OM (婆): 这个新年有回来吗?
我: 上课,不回了。
婆: 你们啊,一个一个出国后就不回。外面很好(meh)? 现在过年是越来越静, 每个都不在家。我们在家的,都为 你们担心。

I am sorry I cannot make it in time for the Chinese New Year. But I will go back during the summer. I promise.

Related: A mother's love, home

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Of Cheerleaders

This guy captures it so succinctly. Probably explains why the many home football, basketball and volleyball games are always so popular with fans. :P

Ode To The Cheerleader

O, Cheerleader! What is about you that has so captivated the hearts of sports fans, lo these many years?

Is it your bright smiles, shining gloriously no matter the score? Your brilliant white teeth always on guard so that no athlete could look your way without seeing that pearly reminder to B - E aggressive …

Is it the pom-poms? Those puffy beacons of revelry that never fail to lift the spirits of even the most downtrodden crowd …

Is it the cheers themselves? The chants and calls that rile the spirit, rally the will, and spur the flesh to rise up and conquer the most dreaded foe …

Is it the pyramids? The backflips? The lifts? The throws? The stunning acrobatics that send nubile young bodies hurtling through the skies like angels heralding the latest victory of our favorite squads …

Is it the sweaters? Soft, fluffy, form-fitting cotton hugging your curves, inviting us into the warming embrace of the name emblazoned across your chest — our alma mater (Latin for "nourishing mother") …

Is it the skirts? Short and sweet no matter the weather, keeping exposed the nimble legs that drive your performance. (You're an athlete too, you know!) The ruffled symbol of your very cheerleaderness, fluttering with every movement, tantalizingly rising and falling with each shake of your hips, every kick and tumble and jump offering an all-too-brief glimpse of your panties, which match the rest of your uniform, because we can totally see it, but you know that and you don't care, which is what makes it so freakin' cool, because where else can you be allowed, in fact, encouraged to try and look in a girl's drawers, while also enjoying a beer and a football game … it's like, holy crap, we live in a great country, and your skirts should fly on a flag post right next to Old Glory, because dammit, I'll sure as hell salute!

Anyway … whatever it is, hold on to that uniform. No matter how old you get, you can always break it out and make some guy very, very happy.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Red, Amber, Green

So now you know how it is possible for some scholars to

1) receive a congratulatory letter from the university/department for getting into the Dean's List (or something similar)

and at the same time

2) a warning from their sponsor for poor academic performance.

Red Amber Green

If you are not yet sick of blog entries dissecting the scholarship issue, I further recommend these to read:

a. The Kway Teow Man (I, II)

b. Kevin

Yeah, I realise this time of the year is also the start of the scholarship applications season in Singapore. So erm, good luck to those of you applying? Ho, ho, ho...

Related: Scholar cannot fail

Edit (1 Jan 2006): A reader to this blog tipped me off about a case of a PRC ex-scholar in NUS being sent to jail under two counts of the Computer Misuse Act. Many of the relevant issues (I think) were already discussed in earlier entries. Although as a Singaporean, I share with many others on this: Why is the MOE giving out so many scholarships to the PRCs to study in the local universities when locals have to take out loans to finance their tertiary education?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Holidays

I was tempted to wish readers "Merry X'mas and Happy New Year", as I have had always done in previous years to my family and friends via email, online chats, over the phone or face-to-face meetings. But at the same time, I realise that this is a little not-so-politically-correct (PC) in the 21st century, where there will be some of the non-Christian faith(s) who will get upset. (BTW, I am not a Christian).

For those not in the know, there is currently a big debate in the US right now over the use of "Happy Holidays" in place of "Merry X'mas" by retailers and the government agencies/leaders. There is also that of the "intelligent design" thingy, which I will not go into.

Anyway, whatever your faith(s) is, take the time to reflect on what you had or had not done for the past year, and make new resolutions for the next one. I am sure everyone will enjoy the holiday season. Time to feast and go traveling!

solstice sign
The fine print says "Freedom from Religion Foundation."

Readers can probably draw their own conclusions with the above signboard. I personally think that it is unwarranted, and highly offensive to those of us who do celebrate the X'mas season even when we are non-Christians. Imagine calling the Christmas Tree the Holiday Tree, and have the sign placed next to the tree in the major malls and government buildings. I think P.C.ness have gone too far.

Have a warm and safe winter break for those of you out on the roads and in the air.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

PSC Scholar siamed NS and broke bond

Thanks for the tip. I am surprised that you have chosen academia. The pianist got a fine; I am wondering what you will get if you ever set foot on Singapore soil. Unlike him who left Temasek's shores when he was 12, you left Singapore with a PSC scholarship in hand to one of America's finest universities and an early disruption from your NSF duties.

Do you know that many of your JC peers hold you in contempt?

Well, I hope you will be as big a name in academia as he is in music when you are past 40. Maybe then you can also return be invited home as a prodigal son with no danger of being sent to camp in No.4 or a holiday visit to the Changi resort. And how was your relationship with the American girl that I heard you were dating? Are you married to her already? I am curious to know if one can renew his Singapore passport if he defaulted on his National Service. Will he be stateless then?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Rising China; Mac vs. Char Kway Teow; Passwords for Multiple Bank accounts; Grad School Admissions tips

Another link dump (and quotable quotes) entry.

The new China
Most appropriate in explaining why many PRCs in ECE and CS are heading home. It's the new frontier.

You can read from the IEEE Spectrum.

A friend (on why he wants to date Ang Moh girls here...):

I didn't come to MacDonalds to eat Char Kway Teow.

BTW, he's a SAPper.


Password methods for those of you with Multiple Bank Accounts.

Disclaimer: I will not be responsible for any losses (of your money) if you use it. Be sure to change your passwords regularly.


Self-explanatory. Directed more at the physics PhD wannabes though.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The snotty Grandes Écoles; Growing Gender Gap in Computer Science

In case you haven't read it from the New York Times already:

December 18, 2005
Elite French Schools Block the Poor's Path to Power

PARIS, Dec. 17 - Even as the fires smoldered in France's working-class suburbs and paramilitary police officers patrolled Paris to guard against attacks by angry minority youths last month, dozens of young men and women dressed in elaborate, old-fashioned parade uniforms marched down the Champs-Élysées to commemorate Armistice Day.

They were students of the grandes écoles, the premier institutions of higher education here, from which the upper echelons of French society draw new blood. Few minority students were among them.

Nothing represents the stratification of French society more than the country's rigid educational system, which has reinforced the segregation of disadvantaged second-generation immigrant youths by effectively locking them out of the corridors of power.

While French universities are open to all high school graduates, the grandes écoles - great schools - from which many of the country's leaders emerge, weed out anyone who does not fit a finely honed mold. Of the 350,000 students graduating annually from French high schools, the top few grandes écoles accept only about 1,000, virtually all of whom come from a handful of elite preparatory schools.

Most of the country's political leaders, on both the right and the left, come from the grandes écoles. President Jacques Chirac and his prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, studied at the National School of Administration, which has produced most of the technocrats who have run France for the last 30 years. Two opposition leaders, François Hollande and Laurent Fabius, did, too.

"It's as if in the U.S., 80 percent of the heads of major corporations or top government officials came from Harvard Law School," said François Dubet, a sociologist at the University of Bordeaux.

These schools - officially there are 200 but only a half dozen are the most powerful - have their roots in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire. Just as the SAT's were meant to give all American students an equal shot at top universities, the examination-based grandes écoles were developed to give the bourgeoisie a means of rising in a society dominated by the aristocracy.

It worked for nearly two centuries. Throughout the 19th century, French administrations drew establishment cadres from the loyal ranks of the grandes écoles, avoiding the universities, which, outside the control of the government establishment, they saw as potential pools of dissent.

Even in the 20th century, the merit-based system allowed young people from modest backgrounds to move up into the corridors of power.

But children of blue-collar workers, who made up as much as 20 percent of the student body of the top grandes écoles 30 years ago, make up, at best, 2 percent today. Few are minority students.

In the 1950's, only a small proportion of French students pursued higher education, leaving room for a slice of the working classes to get into the schools, said Vincent Tiberj, a sociologist who studies social inequalities in France. Since then, the number of candidates for the schools has expanded far faster than the schools themselves.

At the same time, the channels leading into the schools have narrowed: the vast majority of students entering the grandes écoles today come from special two-year preparatory schools, which draw their students primarily from high schools in the country's wealthiest neighborhoods. "The top five or six grandes écoles recruit students from fewer than 50 high schools across France," said Richard Descoings, director of the elite Paris Institute of Political Studies, better known as Sciences Po.

Administrators at the grandes écoles say students who do not follow the focused, specialized curriculum of the preparatory schools have almost no chance of being accepted. And while, theoretically, top students from any high school in the country can apply for the preparatory schools, the system has become so rarefied that few people from working-class neighborhoods are even aware that the opportunity exists.

"There's a lack of information, no one talked to us about the preparatory schools," said Alexis Blasselle, 20, the daughter of working-class parents and now a student at the exclusive École Polytechnique. She learned of the preparatory schools by chance the summer after graduating from high school. "The solution isn't to open up another avenue to get into the grandes écoles, but to make people aware of the possibility."

Sciences Po (pronounced see-ahns po), alone among the elite schools, has opened a new avenue of entry for students. High schools from disadvantaged neighborhoods nominate students, and Sciences Po then gives them oral examinations for intellectual curiosity and critical thinking. This year, 50 students were admitted through the program, while 200 entered through the normal examination process.

The Conference of Grandes Écoles, an association of the 200 schools, has also started a program that reaches out to top students in working-class neighborhoods to help guide them through their high school years and better their chances of getting into a preparatory school.

But the top half-dozen grandes écoles, those that provide the country's leaders in politics and business, remain more or less closed.

The barriers for second-generation immigrants are enormous. Schools in poor, often immigrant neighborhoods get the most inexperienced teachers, who usually move on as soon as they have gained enough tenure for a job in a better area.

The initial fork in the lives of many young people comes when they are about 13 and have to choose between a general course of study or vocational training. Many young second-generation immigrants are guided into technical classes or, at best, post-high-school associate degree programs in marketing or business that are of little help in finding a job.

Second-generation immigrants also often "live in an environment that is outside of French culture," said Mr. Descoings of Sciences Po. "They are not in the proper social network. There isn't the socialization that exists in a wealthy family in an exclusive neighborhood of Paris."

Sitting outside Paul Éluard High School in Saint-Denis, one of the poorest suburbs north of Paris, Bélinda Caci, 16, calls the school guidance counselor "the head of disorientation," saying that the school cares only about making sure that the students graduate, not what happens after that.

"To become part of this crème de la crème, you have to have benefited from a favorable social environment and education," the sociologist, Mr. Dubet, said, calling graduates of the grandes écoles a sort of state nobility. "It's like the Olympics; you have to begin very, very early."

Vive la France!
Vive la France! Wall Mural at the Ecole Polytechnique

Brings to mind an email exchange I had many moons ago with the admissions official at one of the écoles. Back then I was already (sort of) considering overseas institutions of higher learning. With tuition costs being a major factor, I also looked at the continental European schools, other than the well-trodden Anglo-Saxon ones (in US, UK, Aussie, Canada, NZ etc).

So I wrote to them, detailing my A level grades, the countries I was thinking for tertiary education and asking for admissions procedures. This guy replied:

Dear takchek

I am going to try to explain you how engineering education is in France: Among the very best students at scientific baccalaureat ( A level), the best students are selected to enter " classes préparatoires", which is a 2 year programm of hard preparation in maths and physics; after these 2 years,students take a national examination and, according to their rank, can enter such or such engineering " grandes Ecoles". It is a different system from university, more selective. The students have then to take 3 years . this means that it is a 5 year curriculum to become french engineer.. INPG is the federation of 9 Grandes Ecoles in different field. The social status of engineers in France is very high, and nothing to see with english engineers. I do not advise you to study engineering in GB, I rather advise you to go to US. But the best advise i can give you is to enter NUS. It is a very good faculty, and we have a partnership with them, so if you wish to come to France, you can apply after 2 or 3 years to that exchange program of one year, which is a very nice experience; I advise you to take french lessons to prepare this stay.

!@#$% I have nothing against NUS, but in the email I had already made clear I wanted out of Singapore (under the guise of 'international exposure'). I was expecting some kind of directions as to where to learn more about the preparatory schools and the écoles. The écoles' websites then were poorly set up for non-native 'international' students, and their 'English' sections had too many broken links.

This Polytechnique page says it all.

The German Technische Hochschules were worse, directing me to DAAD. BTW, one was Aachen; I figure that they must be of quality as Imperial has a close partnership with them. ETH Zürich wasn't exactly that welcoming of international applicants at the undergraduate level.

Trivia: Imperial College London, TU Delft, ETH Zürich and RWTH Aachen are members of the IDEA league. That probably explained their close relationship. But I didn't know about it in the late 90s.

On hindsight, well, perhaps I should be glad I didn't go to Europe.


Women shunning CS. - From the Boston Globe.

The field is already as lopsided as it is already.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Streaking at UC Berkeley; Melvin replies

Reminds me of American Pie, Old School and Road Trip...

Go streakers! (NWS) :P

Tip: -ben


I feel honored to have Melvin reply to this blog. The list grows...

From vernacular education to bilingualism (A confused mix all in the family)

If your family has been resident for a long time in Singapore, ask about your parents' and grandparents' education. I suspect mine ain't that atypical of the average Singaporean family. My grandparents were educated in the Chinese-medium schools of the day - namely Hwa Chong, Nanyang (Girls) and Chung Hwa. I guess economic realities of post-WWII Singapore forced them to enroll their sons and daughters in the English-medium schools, seeing how the Chinese educated were excluded from many government jobs as well as openings from the many new MNCs setting up shop locally.

It's all about the economy, stupid.

The surprising thing is that grandparents of both sides did not teach them the Chinese language. So you have a generation fluent in Mandarin and the other in English. My mum and aunts all had Malay as their second language in school; the males did take CL2 but apparently it was quickly forgotten after they graduated.

At home, we conversed mainly in dialect liberally sprinkled with English and Mandarin words/phrases. To the casual external observer, this probably makes for a very confused mix of languages. And I did grow up feeling deficient in my command of both English and Chinese, even though I spent many a weekends in kindergarten and lower primary hanging out by my grandfather's Chinese bookshop (now torn down) in town. I would enjoy sitting next to him while he would pick out some dusty yellowish Chinese novel from the shelves and read it aloud to me. Unfortunately, the only recollections I have now of those days are of me trying to see if there are pictures/drawings in those books. I didn't particularly enjoy looking at those '方格字 '.

My mum had slightly better luck with me with English. I felt more at home with the Enid Blytons and Alice, and how I found so familiar when I read about life in the English countryside and drinking tea. Try regaling me with some poem about a Chinese lake or waterfall. I would probably fall asleep.

Secondary school on the other hand was a different ball game altogether. There was a strong emphasis on 'Chineseness', and for the first time my Chinese grades languished at the bottom of the class. I still remember the first Chinese essay that I had submitted; the teacher returned it to me with the comment something along the lines of 'this is such a lousy piece of writing that I wonder how you even managed to get admitted to this school.' and had mine shown as an example to the rest of the class of how not to write one.

Actually, I don't blame the teachers. Most were Nantah alumni, and many times in class had berated us for our deteriorating standard of Chinese (frequently directing their diatribe at the 'kantangs') and how many of us were uninterested in state of current affairs in the country. The good bad thing I learned from them was that they made us politically aware, and provided me with real life examples from which to look at the 'dry' history topics like the Hock Lee Bus riots and the merger/closure of Nantah. Secondary school was also when I turned to non-fiction.

Incidentally, during PSLE my folks did consider putting RI or VS as first choice, but were eventually sold to the idea of a SAP education. Life (on the romance side) might turn out to be different.

Related: L'oiseau rebelle, Nantah and its legacy

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Wearing the Academic Garb

Bet you don't know this, do you?

A little pomp and circumstance, and an acknowledgement of an achievement. Plus, a justification of the investment in you that you and your folks had put in.


No, it's not the Doctoral degree, at least not yet.

Trivia: The faculty and platform party wore regalia representative of the degrees and the institutions from which they earned them. Hence the multitude of colors and gown designs on stage.

Blog Admin Stuffs

I have decided (for the time being, subject to changes later of course) to turn off comments moderation and allow non-blogger account holders to post comments.

But no trolling, personal attacks and those kinds of shit please.

Sounds just like a certain city state no? Slowly loosening up, and it comes with conditions.

Friday, December 16, 2005








Free Image Hosting at
诗歌朗诵; 你有选修中华文学吗?

Of interest too: State of Chinese, and loiseaurebelle's story.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Singapore K-12 Miscellaneous; HKPolyU Bra studies; Nerdy girl outfits

This entry is a link dump.

K-12 issues:

1. Of scholarships and elite/independent schools vs neighborhood schools. Increase in fees for elite schools. (PDF to original article)

2. (Over)Tuition in Singapore, How to be a better tuition teacher.

3. RJC (again). mrsbudak's and yanling's experiences. Bad results in JC probably won't put you in too much of a disadvantage later in life.

Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in Intimate Apparel (ie Bra studies)

Hong Kong's Polytechnic University now offers a degree in bra studies (termed euphemistically as 'Intimate Apparel'). Hat tip: The WSJ.

Diana Eng

I tend to gravitate towards girls who wears glasses and college sweatshirts. Beauty and Brains (Nov 30 entry) perhaps? The comments too. As opposed to this one.
Hat tip: Kevin.

Image Hosted by
MIT sweatshirt and glasses

Edit: A reader shares her pic (in a Harvard T-shirt).

Me: Doesn't look as cool as a sweatshirt leh.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Marriage (Or finding your other half)

This entry is in part inspired by Mr Wang's analysis on marriage and the slew of articles from Channelnewsasia and Today. (Both are part of Mediacorp News.)

Interesting bits (to me) from the Media cock corp ones:

Two decades ago, men used to get hitched when they were about 28.5 years old and women, at 25.4 years old.

10 years ago, this increased to 30.6 for men, and 27.1 for women.

But last year, the mean age of Singapore grooms was 32.4 years and that of the brides was 28.6.

Good, this means that my marriage age will be considered average when my time comes. Heh heh, take that! nosey relatives who dare to poke me with such questions during CNY. Then again, why should I care? It's my life to lead, not theirs.

More than 16,100 Singapore men got married last year, but only about 12,500 of them to Singaporean women.

The rest - some 3,500 - took foreign brides.

Hmm, interesting, but set against Singapore's backdrop as a global city, does one's nationality matter? These guys could well also be marrying Malaysians, Indonesians, Americans, Brits etc who are long time local residents (aka PRs).

Other news: It's GREAT to be back on the dating scene, especially after the hypothetical not-so-ideal previous ones.

This time, it's the same building, not half-a-world away. Hopefully next year can see the moon together and not get the SAP curse.

Keeping my fingers crossed. Some friends say she has the RGS look.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Speed Demons; Tulane/Grad School Selection

People here drive at amazing speeds. My 70 mph (~112.7 kmh) on the Interstate put me in the 'slow' lane. Cars were zooming by me such that the term 乌龟 was the first that came to my mind. It was only after I had bumped up to 90 mph (~145 kmh) that I achieved some sort of parity with those in the center lanes. A little bird told me it would be ~120 - 140 mph (~193 - 225 kmh) for those in the 'fast' lane.

Even under inclement conditions the average speed was around 55 mph (~88 kmh). No wonder watching Hot Wheels AcceleRacers gave me a distinct sense of déjà vu. Now I could finally put a finger to it and I wished I have those soundtracks to play while driving.

Thankfully drivers here don't horn or show you the middle finger when you road hog at 70 mph; they simply overtake you.

Edit: Perhaps readers are a little confused about this phenomenon of widespread speeding when there are posted speed limits (55 mph) and state police patrol on the highways. To get around this, most drivers employ the use of this technique called 'wolf-packs'. Like the WWII German U-Boats, this means you attack speed in somewhat coordinated groups.

Never speed alone. That is a surefire way to get a ticket. And never be the first or last car in the 'wolfpack', for obvious reasons. The bigger the group (and better to stretch across multiple lanes) the harder it is to be ticketed. Although the highway patrol has also devised a countermeasure, and I had seen this in use once. They would employ several cars, one to the front of the group and the other to the back. The rest would form up by the side. Voila! The whole group would be caught.

Then again, this is rather rare and most patrol vehicles tend to operate singly. But who is to say it won't call for back-ups?

As for me, I value my life more. Cars tend to be most fuel efficient at around 55 mph, and some of the smaller ones aren't meant to be pushed to such high speeds. Once on a road trip, we rented a SUV and at one tollway we maintained at 130 mph. There was hardly a rattle from the engine.


It was with a sense of resignation when I read that Tulane will be eliminating most of its engineering programs (as well as layoffs from its Med school; 230 tenured/tenure track profs to be shown the door and 50 of these would be from the College of Engineering) to cope with the costs of rebuilding in the aftermath of Katrina.

An irony, as some posters in slashdot had pointed out - that it would be the engineers that would be needed most to rebuild the city infrastructure (leevees, houses et al). And with FEMA and other federal agencies likely to pour billions of dollars into NOLA, Tulane with its Engineering School would be in a good position to be awarded some of the funds for research and prevention of future Katrina-type catastrophes.

Talking about being supportive of grad students, I wonder if one can classify Tulane's case as sending the grad students to the dogs. Pity those mid-stage engineering doctoral students. Their advisors themselves will probably be too busy looking for jobs elsewhere to care.

Additional tips when it comes to selecting graduate departments:

1. Avoid schools in areas that are susceptible to the wrath of nature (hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc).

2. Avoid schools in which your major department is relatively small/weak/unimportant in the eyes of the university's administration. Even if there might be one or several stellar scholars there. You wouldn't want to be left to fend for yourself if the university decides to eliminate your program.

Edit: More on Tulane's renewal plan here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Scholar cannot fail

There, there, another reason NOT to take up any of these 'scholarships'.

The Electric New Paper :
He refuses to pay, then...
# Scholar fails 2 exams in second year
# PSA counsels him, but he fails another exam in third year
# PSA terminates scholarship and asks for return of money
WHEN he started his course at the National University of Singapore five years ago, Mr Chong Kwong Ki's future looked promising.

By Karen Wong
09 December 2005

WHEN he started his course at the National University of Singapore five years ago, Mr Chong Kwong Ki's future looked promising.

He was awarded a scholarship by PSA Corp to study computer engineering. It would have eventually paved his career with Singapore's port authority and a world-class container transshipment centre.


But his plans fell apart when his scholarship was terminated in his last semester two years ago.

The reason: He had failed three of his earlier exams.

Then PSA demanded a refund of the scholarship because he was deemed to have broken the rules by failing his exams.

He refused to pay up, so PSA sued to recover the money.

It is the first reported case in at least 10 years of such a dispute between a scholar and a sponsor organisation going all the way to the High Court.

Last month, the High Court upheld a District Court ruling in favour of PSA Corp and ordered the return of the scholarship money.

Now, Mr Chong, who is working as a software engineer, faces a debt of over $50,000, and a hefty legal bill on top of it.

In April 2000, Mr Chong, who was a good student from a top junior college, was granted a local IT scholarship to study computer engineering at NUS.

Apart from tuition fees and an annual allowance, he was also entitled to other perks, such as an interest-free loan of $4,000 for a computer.

All was well until he failed two exams in his second year. In his court statement, he said this was because he had been concentrating on other major subjects and projects.

He subsequently retook these exams and passed.

It is understood that he was then counselled by PSA.


But in his third year, Mr Chong got another F. He retook the exam and passed with a C.

But it was too late.

In his last semester of the four-year course, in March 2003, the PSA told him his scholarship was being cancelled.

Then came the next blow for him: PSA wanted him to return all the money under the agreement, including tuition fees and book allowances, plus interest.

That came to nearly $63,000.

Mr Chong told The New Paper he did not expect such a drastic move and had refused to pay up. (See report on facing page.)

So PSA sued him for the money.

His two friends who stood as guarantors for him were also sued.

In court, Mr Chong's lawyer, Mr Leonard Loo, argued that while Mr Chong had failed three semester exams, he had redeemed himself by passing when he retook the exams.

He subsequently graduated with a third-class honours computer engineering degree.

But District Judge Valerie Thean disagreed.

She noted, in her judgment dated 20 Oct, that on 'plain reading', the agreement said that PSA was entitled to terminate upon Mr Chong failing 'any examination'.

'Any examination', she said, would also include the semester exams.

She ruled PSA was permitted to cancel the agreement.

Then came the part about how much Mr Chong would have to pay.

She noted that PSA had spent some $49,493 in tuition fees, annual allowances, book allowances and hostel fees.

So, he or his two guarantors, would have to pay this amount.

Judge Thean ordered that Mr Chong must also repay the $4,000 interest-free loan he took in November 2000 for a computer.

PSA had also wanted Mr Chong to pay compound interest of nearly $12,000 and $1,500 for administrative fees.

But the judge said she did not have the sufficient information to make a ruling on this.

In all, she ruled, Mr Chong has to repay PSA about $53,500. His two guarantors were liable to pay about $49,500, should Mr Chong fail to pay.

But Mr Chong appealed against her decision.

The appeal was dismissed in the High Court early last month by Justice Kan Ting Chiu.

A spokesman for PSA Corp said: 'PSA has a very well-established scholarship programme that provides opportunities for bright and worthy candidates to achieve their full potential.

'PSA needs to uphold the credibility, quality and integrity of its scholarship programme.

'As competition for scholarships is very keen, it is only fair to other applicants that scholars be expected to fulfil their obligations to perform with satisfactory results.'

She added: 'Before legal action is taken to recover the sum due under the scholarship contract, several attempts will be made to reach an amicable settlement.

'If the offers are not accepted, PSA regrets that it will be compelled to recover the sum through legal proceedings.'

The New Paper understands that PSA had counselled Mr Chong three times before it terminated his scholarship agreement.

No scholarships terminated before

WHILE most scholarship agreements have provisions for termination due to poor performance, this hardly happens because scholars rarely fail their exams.

When approached for comment, the Public Service Division (PSD), which awards an average of 50 Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarships each year, said that in the past 10 years, it has not encountered a case of a scholarship being cancelled due to a scholarship holder's poor performance.

A spokesman for the PSD said: 'PSC officers are in constant touch with our scholars and provide support and advice to help them during their scholarship period.


'PSC scholars are expected to graduate with a good honours degree and the vast majority do.

'For the few who turn in lower grades, we will consider the circumstances leading to such grades.

'In addition, we will help them adjust and work at improving their grades.

'There has not been any need to terminate any scholarship in the past 10 years since those who needed help generally improved with counselling and assistance.'

Did not expect scholarship to be withdrawn

HE had only one more semester to go before graduation.

So Mr Chong Kwong Ki, 27, said he was quite shocked when he was told then that his scholarship would be withdrawn.

In a telephone interview with The New Paper, he said: 'When they terminated the scholarship, I had already cleared all my subjects. And I was in my last semester.

'I wasn't expecting the termination.'

Did he think he was doing well?

Mr Chong, who is now a software engineer, said: 'Not really. But then, I did not expect it to be so drastic.

'If I was not up to their scholarship standards, they should have terminated the agreement earlier rather than sue me only after I graduated.'

As a result of the case, Mr Chong is facing a hefty legal bill, which may add up to a few thousand dollars, on top of the scholarship bill he has to repay.

Nonetheless, he is taking full responsibility for what has happened.

'I just have to pay them.'

He added that he was not going to get the two friends who had signed the bond to cough up the money, even though they were also legally liable.

'There's nothing they can do. I'm not going to get them into trouble, or make them pay.'

He added: 'I'm paying the whole sum and my lawyer is now working on a repayment schedule.

'I have to find some way to pay them.'

What now?

He did not want to say more about the case, and sounded composed: 'Well, life goes on.'

Remember, your stellar A level (or poly) results are no guarantee that you will succeed at the undergraduate level. Or by extension, good undergrad GPA =/= shoo-in success in Grad School. Ironically in research, we learn by failing (most of the times).

Any wonder why scholars are under pressure to take 'easy' classes? Makes a mockery of the 'scholarship' process, isn't it? You become averse to risk (and the oh-so-interesting/in-depth/difficult classes), knowing that any failure on your part could result in a hefty financial penalty.

Oh yeah, also think twice about agreeing to be guarantors for your scholar friends. Be absolutely sure you got enough funds to pay if he/she fails exams/modules/courses or absconds.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

明天 (II); 昨天 (历史); 人才

An update (or sequel) to this. Incidentally, it also revolves around La Idler, who unfortunately has passed away. I won't be adding to the flame war (not that I want to anyway), but I do think Tomorrow is a scary beast with the potential to make or break your REAL life, even when you are DEAD. Notice how many blogs had gone the way of the dodo (or probably reborned like the proverbial phoenix somewhere else on the blogosphere anonymously) after being featured.

This blog too, saw its readership increased after being tomorrowed, which is something I am not happy about. Hence the layered defense system (comment moderation, no-anonymous comments, word verification) you see if you try to comment on any of my entries. No trolls please.

Anyway, I enjoy reading Kevin's, Tribolum's and geekgeek's commentaries on this latest debacle. This probably gives you an idea of where I stand on this issue.


The sorry state of Singapore youths' knowledge of her political history (post 1965), if TJC forums is of any guide. Of course, staticians are free to disagree, since this sample size is awfully small. (But remember case of the Nazi flag being featured in some secondary school?)

From kungfuzi:

1) History is written by the victors.
2) History repeats itself.
3) Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them (Santayana?).
4) Happy is the country without a history (attributed to Montesquieu by Carlyle).
5) ", indeed, little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind" (Gibbon).

Those who would like to know more about the GCE A levels history syllabus (as opposed to the O levels one, which was plain regurgitation) can check it out here and here.


Top American game school to build a campus here
Thursday • December 8, 2005

Lee U-Wen

AS further proof that gaming is big business in Singapore, an American school is bringing in degree courses to develop computer animation talents.

The DigiPen Institute of Technology, a top school in game development education, will invest $3.4 million to build a new campus here, its first outside of the United States.

To be opened in January 2007, the campus will first operate from a 1,000-sq-m site at Fusionpolis in One-North.

There are plans to move to a permanent home once it finds a suitable location.

The news comes just days after the Economic Development Board, which wooed DigiPen to Singapore, unveiled a $1-billion fund to boost the digital media industry here over the next 10 years.

The industry, which includes special effects, animation and video games, is experiencing double-digit growth rates worldwide.

Digipen's chief operating officer Jason Chu said Singapore was chosen because of its strong education system and intellectual property rights ownership.

For a start, students here can look forward to a four-year Bachelor of Science course in real-time interactive simulation, as well as a Bachelor of Fine Arts programme in production animation. There are plans to launch a computer engineering course and Master's programmes in the coming years.

Fees will be about $78,000 for a four-year degree course, 25 per cent cheaper than the US$58,520 ($98,625) one would have to pay for the same education at DigiPen's main campus in Redmond, Washington.

Mr Chu, 40, said his target audience is fresh A-level and polytechnic graduates.

"I expect an initial intake of about 70 students before reaching 1,000 in our 10th year of operations. Half of them will be international students, and we're looking to recruit from countries such as China, Vietnam, Thailand and India," he said.

He added that 12 faculty members will fly down from Redmond to teach here.

Nanyang Polytechnic, which churns out graduates of its two digital media-related courses, welcomed DigiPen's arrival on the scene. The polytechnic's deputy principal for development Bruce Poh said the industry is short of creative talent to feed the growing demand.

"People like game designers and computer animation specialists, especially the experienced ones, are hard to come by.

"Having DigiPen here would help increase this talent pool," he told Today.

I guess these two Singaporeans (Hector Yee and Tammy Yap) won't be going back to help, what with the bond breaker tag branding them for life. Tammy gives a good overview (esp the MIT alum opinion column) of the computer gaming industry, so please do go in with both your eyes wide open if you are considering this as a career. Don't be like the Life Scientists, or the IT students of the late 90s.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Songs of Physics

Came across these two songs (The Entanglement Tango and The Physics Today Rag) while browsing through Physics Today, as part of the centennial celebrations commemorating the pioneering contributions of Albert Einstein in 1905.

One thing led to another, and I found an online database of Physics songs, as well as a Quantum Physics musical. Physics Today also had its own music songbag with midi files.

Melding music and science, E = mc2

Code Breakers (ESPN)

Kevin was asking me if I would be interested in compiling a list of official videos of US universities attended by Singaporeans to add to his site. Unfortunately, I have to decline.

But don't fret! I just got to know that ESPN would be airing one of their original movies, Code Breakers, starting this Saturday Dec 10 (9pm ET) on ESPN and ESPNHD. It is based on a true story (of the expulsion of a group of football players) set in the early 1950s at West Point.

Free Image Hosting at
Duty, Honor, Country. What happens when one of these is at odds with the others? What do you do?

Go watch, if you are considering an institution that combines OCS with NUS and want a SAF scholarship (The only way for Singaporeans to get admitted). The cadets' uniforms remind me of the board game Stratego, very Napoleonic.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Lost Airline Baggage (for sale)

Bargain hunters take note! Shopping, for those willing to venture off the beaten path.

Check out the Unclaimed Baggage Center, nestled in the Appalachian foothills (in Alabama).

Friday, December 02, 2005

More bang for your buck?

The image below came to my mind when I read loiseaurebelle's irresponsibility.

coat of arms
The more appropriate coat-of-arms, esp for many US public universities (at the undergraduate level)

UNIVERSITIES the world over love symbols, from medieval scholastic garb at degree ceremonies to the owls, martlets, chevrons and scrolls of scholastic heraldry. But for many universities, especially in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, a more accurate emblem would include slummy buildings, dog-eared books and demoralised dons. - The Economist, Jan 22nd 2004

Be glad at least that you are not in a European school.


Putting the human touch (through pictures) to the story of the Vietnamese brides. Go buy this book, to read/know more about the modern slavery wedding industry. They could already be living amongst you, as fellow neighbors, friends, or even your wife/in-law. Although pictured is the case for the Taiwanese, I assume it is not very different for Singapore's.

The pictures can also be found online, and they speak more and better than whatever the Straits Times journalists can write about.

A selection:

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Now, look through the window and select the girl you fancy.

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Is she the one?

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Come on, smile!

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And they live happily ever after...No?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Going home? Erm, let me think about it...

Opening quote from superstardeejaylawyer:

“The PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) is currently studying how we can better engage overseas Singaporeans, in particular recruiting the young overseas students back to Singapore, and is seeking feedback from the students on how the government could facilitate that.”

Well, for one first thing, don't talk down to us as if we owe Singapore a living. Or anything along the lines of being unpatriotic/dishonorable/rude. The guys are already 2.5 years (of their prime) behind due to NS, and who in the right frame of mind would like to leave behind loved ones and familiar surroundings back home to seek opportunities overseas if they can have it in Singapore? I have no encounters with the PMO, but I can attest to such attitudes from HR personnel of certain stat boards and the local universities when they go on 'recruitment tours' to US campuses. Freely throwing the 'Q' word around as if it is a joke. No, I don't think it is funny at all.

Much has been written (and debated to death) both online and off on this issue since Goh Chok Tong first raised the stayer-vs-quitter thingy during NDR 2002. And readers can go google to see all angles of this debate.

Personally, I think that returning to Singapore will reduce the chances of any student who has harboured thoughts of an international career to actually embark on it.

Ditto that. I can't speak for other fields (deejay gives a good one for lawyers, esp UK-trained ones), but in my area of work, there are only realistically three employers I can work for - and all can be broadly classified as belonging to ONE organisation. Ever heard of the old adage, "Never put all your eggs into one basket?" Job prospects aren't that good anyway.

There's also the money - yeah, accuse me of being shallow, but on the global payscale competitiveness scene (for scientists and engineers), Singapore lags behind those in the US. US-based PhD engineers start off at around USD80k/year (offers range from 60k - 120k), and Assistant (engineering) professors in the local universities about SGD5k/month. You do the math. Some might argue about the exorbitant taxes here, but you don't forget houses and cars are cheaper in the US, if you reside outside of the main metropolitan areas.

You can't blame us mere mortals when even one of the elites chose to stay west.

There are more, of issues like NS (ICTs, RTs, IPPTs), society in general (the silent, conservative majority) and its obsession with the 5 Cs. Read Colin Goh's Paved with Good Intentions.

Ng Boon Yian, a young journalist with TODAY, wrote,

"The skies are airbrushed a gloomy grey. People are not placing any bets on their future."

Laurel Teo, another young journalist, from The Straits Times, lamented,

"The pay has been lousy since we started work. It doesn't look like improving, and we'll have to slog doubly hard just to keep our jobs. Now, we may never be able to make long-term plans such as buying a car or a bigger home … This … is tantamount to the shattering of the Singapore Dream."

I met Boon Yian and Laurel over dinner with some other young journalists. Both ladies are under 30. Laurel is a Singapore Press Holdings scholar. She attended school in RGS and RJC and went on to Yale University in the US. Boon Yian will soon leave on a postgraduate scholarship for Johns Hopkins University in the US.

Why are these two bright, young girls with promising futures not placing any bets on Singapore?

Maybe they were reflecting the low morale and high expectations of their generation... - Goh Chok Tong's National Day Rally 2003

Perhaps, but that's only if one chooses to benchmark using Singapore's standards.

I shall end with deejay's; better make full use of your time to make your dreams overseas. I apologise if I seemed to have ignored familial/SO relationships back home. For many of us, these are the only ones tying us to the island.

What good can fresh graduates do in a system where heirarchy, seniority and bureacracy reigns? Whatever fresh ideas and new thoughts that we might introduce will merely be dismissed as being the 'idealistic wishful thinking of a young upstart'. So, unless that changes and the views of young people are regarded as equally important and useful, both of which are highly unlikely, then perhaps it should not be us that the government should be seeking to attract.