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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Gluten Free Artisan Loaf

Dry Ingredients
1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup sorghum flour
4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese
2.5 teaspoons of instant yeast
2.5 teaspoons of xanthan gum

Wet Ingredients
1 egg
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Enough water (I keep adding until the right consistency is reached. It should look like cake mix.)

Mix all dry ingredients together FIRST. Mix well. Add liquid ingredients. Stop adding water when the mixture reaches the consistency of cake mix. Line 2 cake tins with parchment paper. Pop half the mixture into each cake tin. Let rise till double in volume.

Preheat the Visions (thermal resistant glass) or Le Creuset (cast iron) pot in the oven at 250 C for 15 minutes. Pick up the dough gently by the 4 corners of the parchment paper. Lay it gently into the very hot pot. Do this gently so that you don't break the bubbles in the bread.

Close the pot.

Pop into oven at 250C for 20 minutes.

Lay on cooling rack. Never ever cut a gluten free artisan loaf when it is hot. You will spoil the crumb.

This recipe gives a bread with excellent crumb and a yeasty taste. It tastes like normal bread.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Day In The Life of A Teacher

Please read this... HERE.

I completely understand. I have developed the skill of gently reminding parents to NOT call, drop me emails for any information that I have placed into the class website. This saves me literally hours of time. Parents find it convenient just to ask and get attention but with so many parents and each parent requiring attention, I would need a secretary/receptionist to answer just very simple questions already communicated online. Before I put my foot down, I would get calls from parents near midnight and Sundays.

This Teacher believes that she can make a difference. I respectfully beg to differ. I believe that no matter how GOOD, how PASSIONATE the teacher, the odds are stacked against him/her. There is no way to make a difference.

This is why the tuition industry is thriving despite the passion of teachers like her.

This is why Teachers need smaller classes. Put in smaller classes and the tuition industry will shrink.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cyber Attacks

On Wednesday, 27 April 2016, The Straits Times ran the article pictured above on Cyber Attacks. Read it HERE. I suggest that everyone read it for self-protection.

Bypassing the Do Not Call Registry
Ever since the Do Not Call Registry kicked in, companies have become very creative to get past those constraints. Some time back, during SG50, a communications company called S****** got in touch with me offering me and my tiny business free advertising. When I looked at the small print in the contract (and I always do) I realised that in return for some free advertising (whose effectiveness I had yet to assess), I was gonna have to give permission to 4 companies, S******, M********, D** and one other, blanket permission to text, call and email me for marketing purposes FOREVER and EVER!

There was not even a limited time period attached to it. 

It did not take long for me to figure out that S****** and M******** would be calling, texting and emailing me on behalf of other companies. Basically, they would charge other companies to telemarket, email market and text market to me. The Do Not Call Register has just created a new revenue stream for media/communications companies.

I was told that since these were reputable companies, they would not spam me with calls/texts/emails. I decided to take that assurance with a large pinch of salt. After all, I used to get calls from banks touting credit cards about 3 times a week before the Do Not Call Register kicked in. So, I declined the freebie. I thought it was a bad deal. I get some free advertising and pay for it with a lifetime of irritation from unwelcome calls, texts and emails.

Friends who sign on to such schemes (with any company) find that soon enough, they keep getting calls from this company touting other companies' products. Since I have never ever signed on to any such scheme, I have been blissfully left undisturbed ever since the Do Not Call Registry came into effect.

Implications on Data Security
Later, I realised something. It has to do with data security. Media companies rely on not very skilled staff (often temporary) to call, text and market right? How do they ensure that these staff do not copy the data and then pass it on? Friends who went ahead to give their data in return for freebies often receive calls with frightening children's cries and disembodied voices demanding ransom to be paid for the return of kidnapped sons and daughters. How did these perpetrators know that these ladies had sons/daughters of that exact vulnerable age?

A Gift In Return For Your Personal Details
On another occasion, I was mesmerised by a vacuum lunchbox. It was given away free to ONLY Singaporeans. I was amazed that such a good quality and cool product was being given away free, until I realised that the Giver wanted me to fill out a form with my IC, phone number and other family details. No can do. I really liked the lunchbox but I did not want to be called, texted, emailed nor visited by this company selling water-based vacuum cleaners. Also, I thought that if this company thought my details worth only a lunchbox and the stack of forms was left lying about, then it wasn't going to keep my data very secure at all. So, I returned them the lunch box.

These days, I refrain even to fill out lucky draw coupons because I am not sure how secure the company would keep my data. People think that personal details are free. They are not. They can cost you dearly. Receiving irritating calls is the least of it. You open yourself up to criminal attack by people in China, Philippines and Nigeria...

Social Media
I find it irritating that Facebook keeps asking me for my phone number and dubious people add me as Facebook friend after adding my friends as friends (so I think these are people I might know). Clearly these are people who are trying to snoop into my personal details on Facebook so that they can plan a cyber attack. I first add them as Friends, check them out, find nothing and immediately unfriend them. 

Anyway, it really doesn't matter whether they are my Facebook friends or not because I have never trusted Facebook with my true personal details (not even my phone number). I lie on Facebook. The deepest, best and most meaningful friends I have almost NEVER interact with me on Facebook either so no one can know who are those closest to me. In some cases, we have never even added each other on Facebook. They trust Facebook even less than I do.

It is easier just to text and call. Facebook is for people I never see, and sometimes, have never met!

Stay Safe
Such paranoia with personal details has kept me relatively immune from cyber attacks. I hope it is enough to keep me safe for a while more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Branded Durians

I am wary of brands. I always feel that much of the hype that surrounds branded goods emanates from advertising. 10% of your price is the cost of the product and 90% is the cost of that actress and the producer and the director and the photographer who make that advertisement showcasing that elusive dream.

I mean... come on... woman in flowing robes on horseback galloping on a beach with stunning make-up... well... the reality is that if I were on that horse, none of my robes would be flowing because I would be hanging on for dear life and jiggled about on a runaway horse. I have ridden before. You know, those tourist trails where the horses follow each other and it doesn't matter if you can't really ride because the horse knows where to go?

Horses (like babies, dogs and cats) have personalities. They either respect you, or they don't. Both times I rode, my horse had absolutely no respect for me. Both times, the horse stopped at every clump of grass and chewed. Then, when both understood that the rest of the horses were far in front, they galloped. Man! They really galloped and I was bopped up and down like a hapless water bottle. So yup... women on galloping horses (selling branded handbags and shoes) have little allure for me.

When it came to durians, I thought the same. Musang King is a sexy name for a durian. I ain't gonna pay through my nose for a brand, said I.

Well, I have changed. I really must admit that the Musang King is a yummy durian.

I came across durians at NTUC Fairprice in styrofoam boxes. I decided to buy one box at $15. I ate it and it tasted rather mehhhh... so I thought that if I was gonna eat something mehhhh... I might as well eat a cheaper mehhhh. So, I went back and bought 3 boxes for $10.

Since 3 boxes are too much durian for me, I gave a box to Mother-in-Law and stored the other 2 in the fridge to chill. Cold durians are nice!

Mother-in-law came by shortly after calling for Milo. She wanted to feed the box of durians to Milo because she very kindly called them "Thai Durians" when actually, I am pretty sure they were just Bad Durians and might not have come from Thailand. I was peeved a bit because I thought it was rude of her to diss my gift.

Then, I sat down to eat those durians. I kid you not. They tasted like chalk. No cream. Just fibrous, dry chalk. I gave the chalk to Milo who eats everything and anything (including carrots, apples and salads with vinaigrette surreptitiously passed under the dining table by a Smelly Boy who hates his greens). Milo wouldn't eat it!

He gave me a look that said, "Seriously!? You are giving me this to eat?"

I was most embarrassed by then because I had given Mother-in-Law a box durians that even a dog would not eat. I absolutely had to redeem myself so I dragged The Husband to a proper durian stall with rows and rows of dignified and majestic Musang King durians. We bought 1 durian which filled 2 boxes. We kept one and gave the other to Mother-in-Law.

I bit into the Musang King durians in my box and it felt like I was staring into the depths of Takeshi Kaneshiro's eyes.

So, that was how I realised that branded durians are not at all like galloping on a horse along the beach.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Natural Selection Into Secondary

After the MOE announced that they would dismantle the PSLE t-score, parents started clamouring for specific and unambiguous directions/instructions on exactly HOW children would be selected into secondary schools.

The MOE then made a humble and almost embarrassed admission that they didn't quite know. Yet.

I say Kudos to MOE. You have NOTHING to be embarrassed about. This said, I must say that MOE's recent humility is a refreshing change from the MOE of the past, who purported to be world class and know-it-all.

Please... please... please... forever don't know. The moment you devise a quantifiable and step-by-step system with clear and unambiguous direction, parents will strategise to game it. However, if your selection system has in-built randomness, there will be no way to game it.

So many Mommies complained to me: "How are they going to quantify character? How are they going to quantify holistic development? How are they going to be fair? How are they going to be objective?"

These questions left me perplexed. How do companies select staff? Do we have an employment t-score? I was perplexed at parents' inability to imagine any other selection system than the t-score when you don't even have to imagine.

Companies have different cultures and niches. Necessarily, they look for person-organisation fit. This means that each company would choose different profiles of people. They have different selection criteria. There is no consensus among companies on who is best because the best is dependent on context.

As such, The Daughter, with her 8 A level distinctions, Dean's list and whatever else she has in her portfolio... didn't make it through to work at GrabTaxi nor Uber. When she interviewed at Accenture, she was put through a Group Interaction interview, presumably because teamwork is important and she needed to clear a peer interview.  Deloitte has a one day assessment centre selection at the final round of the selection process.

Mommies who were Senior Execs all described the qualities they used to look for in selecting staff and it varied across industry and company needs and cultures.

This is roughly how the Ivy League universities pick candidates too.

Horrors of all horrors! Universities like Harvard can even CHANGE their selection criteria over the years and they aren't obliged to tell you. You can guess but you won't know. And even if you guess accurately, the criteria are subject to change without warning as Harvard seeks to diversify its student mix in response to dynamic internal and external environmental changes. You cannot game a system that is designed to change without warning to re-calibrate to real-time situations and a dynamic world.

Such selection systems are powerful because they are not only holistic, they are adaptive. Contrast this with the uni-dimensional t-score selection system which is far from holistic and certainly NOT adaptive.

Our fascination with ultra-objectivity and ultra-quantifiability is impoverishing and non-adaptive. That is a bad thing for Singapore. Parents are screaming blue murder because they can no longer game the system. That is a good thing. No one should be allowed to game the system.

Nobody has the wisdom to play God by codifying the exact criteria for entrance into every school throughout the country. Besides, such codification, once done, locks the whole country in for years, even as internal and external conditions change. God created everything in nature to be adaptive... evolution, social systems, the human body, the human psychology. Let us not fight that by trying to hard to be Know-It-All and Say-It-All.

We don't expect MOE to be Know-It-All. Leave some things to natural selection by the schools. Just make sure that you do not secretly compute t-scores and disseminate to the schools. If so, we are back in Square 1.

Done this way, there would be further internal coherence within the MOE systems. Why so? MOE has touted niche schools and pushed forth differentiated schools for a while now. Imposing a single t-score selection on all schools runs counter to this differentiation strategy. Let the schools interview children to decide if there is a personality-character-academic-extracurricular fit and schools would naturally pick students who would fit best within their school culture and aims.

Clearly defined school cultures and clearly stated aims will also allow parents to pick schools.

For sure, the top schools will still admit perfect scores. Lots of perfect scores will end up in RI. Similarly, it is entirely possible that Harvard admits more than its fair share of valedictorians. However, not EVERY valedictorian gets into Harvard.  Similarly, RI has no space for all the 4As at PSLE. 

It will have to choose from amongst the 4As that apply and IF... IF... IF... RI decides to include, in its selection criteria values  (hypothetically speaking) such as...
- tenacity
- resilience
- a strong body
- kindness
- humility
- un esprit d'aventure
- determination to rise above poverty
... I reckon that a large proportion of the over-tuitioned 4As will not make it in. Then, the tuition industry will shrink and then the best ex-MOE teachers will have to go back to MOE for a job. Then, RI would really be a true top school. Right now, it isn't really a top school. It is merely a school with lots of GEP and kids with very high t-scores.

I look forward to a day when RI becomes a true top school again.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Birds: Food or Foe?

I miss the rooftop garden at the old penthouse HERE and HERE.It was on the 14th floor so there was wind 24/7. The conditions were ideal for the growth of Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, rosemary and lavender. I had a large collection of these herbs.

When I moved to this house, the lack of ventilation gave rise to wave after wave of pest infections and my whole collection died. I dabbled in growing vegetables but the flocks of birds plucked away every seedling I raised at the 4-leaf stage. I hung out fake snakes and huge balloons with eyes to scare away the birds. I strung shiny CDs to keep them away. Nothing worked. My tender vegetable shoots disappeared down their birdie gullets.

I asked Little Boy to shoot them dead for my stew pot. He refused, saying that it was cruel. Let me ask you. What is the use of learning to shoot a gun if you don't even deign to help your Mom shoot some birds for dinner? Anyway, that will be my next project. I shall devise a pigeon trap to catch pigeons for pigeon soup. There is a family of mynahs too. Do mynahs taste good?

In my own small way, I shall practise farmsteading even as there is a supermarket a 3 minute walk away. Why waste those delicious birds that come around to eat my vegetables eh? Perhaps, if I eat a few of them, they will leave my vegetables alone.

Anyway, I think I have found a solution to protect my shoots, even without Smelly Boy shooting any birds. I wrapped the trellises in plastic. If the birdies get in there, hopefully they cannot get out. That will be extra protein for bone broth!

See! You eat my veggies. I eat you.

Oh dear me!What will my readers think of me now?!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

So Simple As To Change My World

What is impressive about the slew of changes announced by Ng Chee Meng on Friday, 8 April 2016, isn't so much the...
- changes to DSA
- changes to PSLE t-score
- changes to tertiary selection

These changes are welcome. They made me happier than I have words to express. However, these were not what impressed me. I must say that NCM has been so quiet for so many months that I had just about decided that he wasn't going to do anything worthwhile during in his term in MOE.

I am very ashamed that I had so little faith in him.

What really impressed me was that there was a clear educational philosophy. Every single change announced was coherent with this philosophy.

A child's worth is more than academic prowess.

Of course, it has been years that the MOE has been trying to tout holistic development. However, nobody dared to dismantle the PSLE t-score. Nobody dared to put faith in interviews and other qualitative assessments of human potential and worth (for fear of accusations of subjectivity and unfairness). As such, everything educationally holistic (from awards for character, to overseas trips, to DSA) was unable to pull the attention of a whole population of zombie parents with eyes staring blankly straight ahead at a central beacon of light splitting the pitch back darkness, and shining upon the notion of Top School.

I know. I used to be one of those parents.

When parents realise that Top Schools will now be assessing Character, Passion, Aptitude... when parents realise that top university faculties will now be assessing Character, Passion, Aptitude... they will spend more time paying attention to ...
- teaching their children values such as integrity, kindness, gentleness and collaboration
- discovering their children's passions
- and stop trying to squeeze every child into a single mould of excellence in 4 subjects (English, Math, Chinese and Science)

Schools might ask at the interviews, "Do you have tuition?" If the answer is "Yes", then they know that the child did not achieve his scores on his own merit. Of course, parents might instruct kids to lie, but really, if I were the interviewer, I would know how to probe enough to discover that lie. It takes some training, that is all. Since the child's academic scores were the result of parentocracy, the school might decide to withhold the place from that particular top scorer.

Then, Lo and Behold, the word will get around and the most kiasu parents will stop all their kids' tuition. Now, wouldn't that be a happy day?

The Change Is Now
Some parents lament that 2021 is 6 years away and why can we not have the change NOW!? If you examine the issue somewhat deeper, you will realise that the change is NOW. It isn't yet at the PSLE, but it already is at the universities.

From what I observe of the last 2 years of admissions into Law and Medicine, the universities are ALREADY assessing Character, Passion and Aptitude. Top students with perfect grades can be rejected from Medicine and Law.

So, if you are happy that your child DID make it into a Top School today (thanks to a great t-score) and you believe that this Top School place presages years later, a spot in a top faculty in a top university... and you neglect Character, Passion and Aptitude, you will get your comeuppance soon, if you do not change yourself today.

Conversely, if you have been the type of parent who did what he/she could academically for the child but paid attention to Play, Character, Passion and Aptitude, you will be surprised at how the university system will identify your child from a mere neighbourhood school/JC as worthy to go through its hallowed doors.

The Ministry of Education Is Tentative
The Minister of Education (yes, I know he is only Acting Minister but I have chosen in my own mind to respect him as a FULL Minister) has had ...

(1) the gumption and strength of will to dismantle what is not coherent with his philosophy or view of education

(2) the courage to move aggressively down paths previously untrodden by introducing qualitative assessments of talent and calibre

(3) the boss aura to drive his Ministry where he wants it to go and not let his Ministry drive him

(4) the brilliance to distill the complexity of our education system into a single simple philosophy

Someone once told me that clever people can handle complexity but...

The brilliant person can distill complexity into simplicity.

Yet, to some extent, one can feel he is uncertain. What is he uncertain about? He is afraid that parents will not change along with him. He takes pains to emphasise that he cannot do this without parents. I have this to say... "Sir... don't worry lah... you have all us parents by the emmmm... balls when you control access into Top Schools (to prioritise Passion, Character and Aptitude)." With this lever long enough, you will move my world.

For this, I am ever so grateful.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pesto Sauce

Basil from the garden.

Pine nuts from the TCM Hall.

Pine nuts pounded to a mush.

Extra virgin olive oil, basil leaves and salt goes into the blender.

The blender works its magic.

Pour it over the pounded pine nuts.

Stir and mix.

I like my pesto sauce with waffle. Actually, I like my pesto sauce with everything, rice, beehoon and kuay teow.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Kickass Big Chlorine Tablets

To save on maintenance costs, we decided to maintain the pool ourselves. It has been a long learning journey fraught with chemistry lessons. We even have a spreadsheet detailing the results of the various chemical tests we run on the pool water. The problem has always been trying to ensure that there is a constant supply of chlorine in the pool, without having to spend too much time topping up.

So, it was thrilling to discover these slow release chlorine tablets that we could pop into the floatee and then we don't have to worry about the pool running out of chlorine for 1 week at a time.

Dangerous things though... these chlorine tablets. Even wrapped in plastic, they give off vapours that burn my throat. I was stupid enough to put my face into the tub container and take a deep breath!