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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Fertilising Plants for High Pest Resilience

An organic garden must have strong plants. In my early days of gardening, I would use only one type of fertiliser with high nitrogen. The plants grew lush and green but were soon overcome by pests. The, they died.

Since then, I have learnt to rotate my fertilisers and use those with less nitrogen.

Guanito is an organic fertiliser (probably made with bat shit) that has proportions 6 nitrogen: 15 phosphorus: 3 potassium. According to its manufacturer (see HERE), it also has calcium and magnesium. This is nutritious plant food. Its high levels of phosphorus encourages strong root growth. When growing plants from seed, this is important. A strong root system means that the plant can absorb nutrients well later in its life. Magnesium is important in the production of chlorophyll that the plant needs to convert sunlight into energy it can use. 

Calcium is important to build strong cell walls that are hard for plant pests to penetrate with their suckers. Plant pests like aphids and mealybugs suck plant sap. If their mouth parts find it hard to penetrate the leaves, they leave your edibles alone.

Phenix is an organic fertiliser that has proportions 6 nitrogen: 8 phosphorus: 15 potassium. According to its manufacturer (see HERE), it also has magnesium. This is also a nutritious plant food. Its high levels of potassium improves plant metabolism and thus encourages flowering and fruiting. 

Plants need sulphur too. So, I sprinkle sulphur flakes to the soil. Sulphur is an important nutrient that affects many different metabolic processes and contributes to production of chlorophyll. If you want sweet tomatoes and bell peppers, you need sulphur because only when chlorophyll is present, can the plant convert the sun's energy into sugars.

Epsom Salts = magnesium sulphate. I dissolve this into water and spray the plants daily when they are fruiting. This ensures that fruits are well-formed and sweet.

When plants are well fed with nutrients, they grow strong and then they will be naturally pest resistant. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Worm Farm

I dug up some salad greens yesterday and was overjoyed to find earthworms in my potted soil. Into the worm bin they went. When I started the vegetable garden, a neighbour asked me what fertiliser I put into the soil. When I told him, he scoffed and said that he only used worm pee. So, off I traipsed to his garden to look at his worms. The generous man gave me a clutch of earthworms, helped me set up the worm bin and I haven't looked back since.

Since then, I have been trying to repay the debt with home made kefir drinks and home grown vegetables. Every now and then, I traipse down the road with my goodies for him.

How does one assign a value to such gifts? His worms to me. My vegetables to him. I guess they are invaluable. You could price them but it doesn't do justice to the heart that went into the making, and the respect that went into the giving. They're only worms and vegetables after all. Cheap stuff. Yet, they are stuff that are hard to find in a world that is increasingly chemical laden.

The 1st storey catches the worm pee. I use worm pee to water the plants.

Inside the 2nd storey, it looks like so. The worms feed on vegetable scraps and produce worm poop. This is a clutch of baby worms. Yay! They are making babies!

Result of worm poop and worm pee: fat and healthy organic vegetables.

I find it so sad that Singaporean children and adults look at ALL insects and worms with distaste. 2 weekends ago, a child walked through my garden only to find later, a tiny grasshopper in her hair. By the time I intervened, the grasshopper was already dead.

To me, all these little critters show me that my garden is clean.

Up in the penthouse garden, many years ago, my garden had many many ladybugs and I even found a praying mantis once. Ladybugs eat the soft bodied insects which feed on my plants (and kill them) - aphids and mealybugs. Most gardeners would spray insecticides to get rid of the soft bodied insects. The very same insecticides also chase away the insect predators such as dragonflies, praying mantises and ladybugs. 

Result: one has to spray more and more insecticide. Eventually, when you eat those vegetables, you poison yourself.

I even have some tolerance for the odd grasshopper or caterpillar. They signal to me that there are no poisons in my garden. So, I leave them to bite holes in my vegetables. Of course, if the numbers grow, I try to bring down the numbers by picking them out by hand. Usually, there aren't so many, especially when the birds come by.

My next post will about how to fertilise so that the plants are naturally pest resistant without pesticides.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pesticide Free Vegetables

I am moving my family towards a mostly organic diet. This is costly so I embarked on a vegetable garden. Today, 30% of the vegetables we eat are home grown. I don't use pesticides so we sometimes share our greens with little bugs, which I think is a good thing.

In time to come, I hope to reach 80% self-sufficiency in vegetables and then buy the rest from the pesticide free hydroponic farm 5 minutes away - Oh Farm at Bah Soon Pah Rd (just across the road from Sembawang Air Base). Going organic greatly reduces my exposure to xeno-oestrogens (present in pesticides and growth hormones). Oestrogen encourages the body to lay on the fat and hold on to it. It also contributes to heavy menstrual bleeding and in the long term, too much exposure to oestrogen can lead to cancer.

Bell pepper

The leaves of this whatchamacallit serves up a nice garlic stir fry. The neighbour
gave me permission to cut those branches that grow over the fence.

Lady's fingers. 

French beans.


Xiao bai cai.



Earthworms. I feed them vegetable scraps which they convert into worm poop 
and worm pee for use as fertiliser.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Russian Hackers

This blog was set to Private for 24 hours on 23 to 24 July 2016.

Russian hackers mounted an attack on this blog. Hackers target personal blogs for several reasons:

- personal blogs are poorly protected
- load malware to attack readers
- launch attacks from a compromised blog

The Russian attack was unrelenting for 3 days. It was probably a hacker bot designed to cycle through all possible permutations of passwords. Happily, as the attacks had not ceased by the time I took further security precautions, this blog has not yet been compromised.

In any case, if readers note that this blog redirects you to pornography or other advertisements, please drop me a note to let me know. There should be ZERO advertisements on this blog and NONE of the blogposts are paid advertisements of any sort.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

New PSLE Scoring System

I am not going to cover the details of the New PSLE Scoring System here. You know, the 8 ALs and all that? You can visit the MOE website to learn about that. I am writing this post just to share my opinion about the change.

Will It Get Rid of Highly Difficult Exams In Schools?

I think so.

The PSLE bell curve rank orders children to 6 decimal points. Performance on the bell curve not only affected children's lives, they affected teachers' appraisals and school appraisals. If enough children reached a certain competence level in a subject, the bell curve would be left skewed. Then, the following year's exam would need to be set harder so that the next year's bell curve would NOT be left skewed. It was a moving target.

As a result, everyone (and anyone who cared about their own careers and the schoos reputation) was trying to preempt and predict the toughest questions in the PSLE. Everyone played it safe and set questions beyond the most difficult they knew. Schools would teach challenging material earlier and set extraordinarily hard exams because no one knew how difficult was enough difficult.

In the past 2 years, MOE has been sending teams to examine Primary 2 materials and tests in schools. The schools have been told that they are teaching too much too early. Nothing doing. Schools weren't about to change because top schools have every intention to stay at the top, and if they dumb down their curriculum, how would they ensure that their students can do the hardest questions of the PSLE exam?

It didn't matter what the MOE audit team said about the overly difficult curriculum. No school would dare to risk falling behind on the bell curve.

Will It Get Rid of Stress?

Since achievement levels are pegged to the curriculum and all it takes to score 90 plus is to meet a set standard, then schools have no reason to set harder and harder exams. They will find the exact difficulty level and train their students to that. It will not be like catching a moving train.

If this does not reduce stress, I don't know what does.

It usually is overly hard exams that frighten the bejesus out of parents and send them running off to find tuition, or makes them yell at and punish their kids.

Does MOE Care About Student Stress?

I rather suspect it does not. No really... if MOE cared about children's stress, it would be tracking the number of child suicides closely and try to study how many suicides are linked directly/indirectly to academic performance. This would be a KPI. It isn't.

MOE does care about developing a future workforce. This workforce is needed to see Singapore into future economic prosperity. Increasingly, the government realises that our workforce lacks a diversity of talent, has precious little EQ and lacks a robust moral grounding. It has realised such a workforce, whilst highly competent in numeracy and literacy was not a strong workforce because of a paucity of non-academic skills and values. All that focus on beating the bell curve left our students little time to grow in other areas - kindness, gentleness, charity... etc...

So yes, there are surely parents who are stressed by the random ballot because what if their 4 pointers cannot get into RI? It would be so awful to be shunted by random chance to HCI or SJI or ACS(I).

That sort of stress is irrelevant to the higher purpose of the MOE. The MOE does not exist to reduce parent stress. It exists as the country's Human Resource Development Department and it wants top talent distributed across the top 10 schools so that these schools with different ethos and different foci will groom top talent to be diverse.

We need that. This country needs that.

Choice Of School Gives Priority

Whoever thought this up is really smart. If I had a 4 pointer, I would more carefully consider the ethos and niches of the top 10 schools and ask myself which of the top 10 schools best fits my child. I would have to do this because chances of RI and HCI going into ballot will be high, and I will certainly stand a better chance of getting the school of my choice if I placed a well-researched non-RI and non-HCI school first on my list (rather than straightforwardly choosing RI or HCI). By lazily choosing RI and HCI, I might lose out on the ballot AND end up not get into ANY of the other top 8 schools because enough OTHER 4 pointers had placed those other 8 top of their list.

I would then need to go to a 2nd tier school.

So What About DSA?

If I had a 4 potential 4 pointer, I won't wait for the PSLE to get my choice of school. At P1, I would be researching the CCAs that RI and HCI want. Then, I would make sure that my child is well positioned to get in through that CCA. From young, I would try to angle for Leadership Positions to help my child get in through CCA.

Unless the DSA loophole is plugged, we are going to see an entire CCA industry grow in the same way that the tuition industry grew in the past 15 years.

Then, RI and HCI will have half the country applying to them via DSA. This is the ONLY way left to game the system once the new scoring system is in.

10 Years After The Change
10 years after the new PSLE Scoring System is put in, parents will realise that there really are 10 top schools because the top talent was randomly distributed across all the top 10. You really cannot discount the impact of IQ. Really.

I teach children. Some kids get it even before you have finished explaining. They put 2 and 2 together and voila! You give them feedback once and they get it. Some children have stiff brains that absorb slowly and think slowly. The processing speed is simply not there. The rate of absorption is just poor.

Right now, the fastest processors and the best brains go to RI and HCI (mostly), so is it any wonder that those 2 schools produce the most lawyers, doctors and scholars? The kids that go there are just very intelligent and one cannot underestimate the degree to which pure intellectual horsepower drives performance.

With top brains disseminated across 10 schools, we will realise (10 years after the change) that scholars, lawyers and doctors will come from 10 schools... and these schools will then all be considered equally good but different. I like the ACS(I) ethos. We were given a form to fill out a DSA to RI through shooting. We did not fill it out. In our choices, we put ACS(I) first. The ethos of the school fits our family. The school had CCAs my son was passionate about. In ACS(I) he is Captain of this and Head of that. He has just been picked to do a research internship with DSO at the end of the year. He thrived in ACS(I). The school values and culture fit us like a glove. We actually grew to love the school.

It will take a while to get to the point where parents see groups of schools as equivalent.

Whither the Stress?
The MOE has done what it should. It has taken away the bell curve, which was a major contributor to stress (because it directly caused schools to set harder and harder exams). No matter the system, there will still be parents who stress their kids. If so, then it really is parental accountability.

The MOE is no longer at fault.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Adorable Flirt

The Husband and Smelly Boy go to a team of male hair dressers that charge $5 per cut. It is a small little HDB half shop that has chairs snaking out onto the five foot walkway. There are always queues because they cut well, fast and cheap.

I sometimes tag along and wait on one of the chairs.

I was just sitting and waiting when the lady next to me gave me the most cheeky smile I had ever seen. She had an entire head of perfectly coiffed black hair and an entire face so wrinkled you might think it was a 3D topographical map of the Grand Canyon. I reckon she was in her 80s. She asked me, "Are you waiting to get your hair cut?" I replied, "No, my husband cuts my hair for free."

Then she nodded towards one of the male hairdressers and said, "You should try him. He cuts well and he is handsome too!"

Then this octogenarian flashed me another cheeky smile and flashed her eyes up at the said hairdresser, who turned to her and raised his eye brows in a sort of "Come on, baby" look. This encouraged the lady with the wrinkled face to further compliments, "I stay in Woodlands and I cannot  walk. My daughter drives me here to get my hair cut because he cuts well and he is so handsome."

By this time, the other 2 hairdressers (one of who was cutting the octogenarian's hair) were smiling quietly at their scissors and The Husband was grinning from ear to ear. Everyone on the chairs were smiling at this little old lady's audacity and the way the hairdresser played along.

I found it adorable!

Then, the little old lady leaned towards me and said conspiratorially, "He is married." Then, she smiled, wrinkled face alight and eyes sparkling.

Our little family left the shop with lightened hearts and good spirits because she had introduced a sparkle of humour and good fun into our day. We all agreed that that must be the oldest, most adorable and most shameless flirt we had ever met.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tempest in a Teapot (aka, Khaw's Routine Matter)

It pains my heart to see how this hapless Minister Khaw Boon Wan is being excoriated for speaking the truth. For an engineering organisation to (1) find fault with and (2) send faulty equipment back to the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) is really a ROUTINE matter.

When You buy Equipment Some Degree of Defects Are Expected
When YOU buy electronics (rice cookers, ovens, cars etc...) do you not expect (as a matter of routine) that there might be failure? You don't? Really?

Then why do you insist on a warranty, huh?

In some cases, at Courts or Harvey Norman, people pay extra for a one-to-one replacement warranty. Companies ROUTINELY provide warranties because they also ROUTINELY know that a small percentage of their products might fail. To keep customers happy, they ROUTINELY provide After Sales Service. The fact that you want a warranty means that you ROUTINELY expect that your product might fail, even though you chose to buy it.

So, tell me again that sending faulty equipment back to the OEM is not routine (and all in a day's work for an engineering organisation)?

People say that all of this is NOT routine because hairline cracks would later pose a safety problem. This assertion is very strange for a two reasons.

(1) What has a later safety problem got to do with whether a practice is routine or not? A routine is "normal practice". The notions of "later safety problem" and "normal practice of finding fault and sending equipment back to OEM" have no relation to each other. One is a routine practice. The other is just a potential safety problem.

(2) There is no safety problem anymore because LTA and MoT have ALREADY taken the ROUTINE initiative to remedy the hairline cracks before they pose a safety problem.

There really is nothing to discuss. The controversy is a non-issue. Faults were found and dealt with.

Must Be LTA Cheapo lahhhh...
Reputable brands and manufacturers can fail too. I bought a Fisher & Paykel fridge years ago. Sexy American brand right? Well, they came and carted away the whole fridge 2 months after I had bought it. I was given no new fridge. I was given a crappy interim fridge to use whilst they repaired that one. When it came back, it still gave problems. That was the last Fisher & Paykel I had ever bought.

After that, I bought a CHEAP Korean made LG. No problems for 12 years. Since then, I buy LG everything.

Smelly Boy's Macbook Air developed a crack across the screen 3 months after we bought it. The service centre told me that it would cost $1500 to fix it despite the warranty. I was so shocked that my hair stood on end.

In contrast, when my CHEAP ACER laptop went kaput during the warranty period, ACER fixed it for me at no cost. ACER's After Sales Service was top notch. I later owned 3 ACERS in a row... a relationship that spanned 12 years before I recently yielded again to Apple's seduction.

So, LTA and MoT bought trains from China. I don't see how different that decision is from my own when I chose to buy a cheap Korean made LG fridge. You guys have never bought cheaper electronics and been pleasantly surprised?

CSR Sifang's After Sales Service 
So, hairline cracks were found on the aluminium chassis of the trains. When alerted, CSR Sifang Kawasaki went into After Sales Service Mode. It packed up the trains, shipped them back (at their owncost) and changed the WHOLE chassis. Man! This sure sounds like what ACER did for me when my ACER laptop died.

As someone who uses electronics, I know that there is a chance that some products have defects. I felt safe with ACER because it had a top notch after sales service. CSR Sifang - Kawasaki provided LTA top notch After Sales Service. If it were me, I would be more than happy to buy a 2nd lot of trains from them.

Would I Have Bought the FIRST Lot of Trains Though?
Despite what I said herein above, here is where I think there was poor judgment. CSR Sifang had not much of a track record AND this was a matter of an entire country's rail service (and not just a laptop). It is also a PRC company and I would have worried about the quality of workmanship, given the notoriously poor quality of China made products.

If we hadn't bought the first lot of trains from them, there would be no issue of hairline cracks today. However, I believe that buying a 2nd lot of trains from them made perfect sense.

The 1st lot of trains were bought by a previous silly Minister. Now, Khaw Boon Wan is left taking crap in the face just as he is working hard to improve transport.

Was There Intent to Cover Up a Deep Dark Secret?
No lah! If you work in an equipment intensive organisation, it really is ROUTINE. There was no secret. Simply, no one thought such a ROUTINE matter was worth reporting (especially since it had already been dealt with).

A month ago, Nissan made me drive my 8 year old car back to the Service Centre to change a part that would have safety implications (not yet) some months or years later. I took time off and did it. I did not tell my kids (who ride in my car). I did not tell my in-laws (who also ride in my car). I did not tell my friends (who ride in my car). I wasn't COVERING UP anything. It just was a problem that I had already dealt with and so I found no utility in mentioning it.

There was a potential safety issue later on if the part were not changed out. Nissan changed it and case closed lohhhh...

It was Nissan lehhh... not Cherry QQ.

Open Report Every Routine Action LTA Takes?
Asking LTA and MoT to open report something like that is not reasonable. They do hundreds of things a day. You really want full open reporting of every routine?

Poor Khaw Boon Wan
I really feel for him. People make fun of him all the time. To me, he is worthy of every respect. Every time I walk into Khoo Teck Puat Hospital I thank God for the blessing that is Khaw Boon Wan (aka, Mr Fix It). Have you even been to Kuala Lumpur's public hospitals. There is paint peeling and mould growing on the walls. Patients are parked along the corridors with frayed blankets. The place smells funny too. In contrast, when I visit the hospitals in Singapore, it is like walking to a private clinic. There are paintings, flowers, comfortable armchairs and competent staff.

People who find it easier to get HDB flats now also have Mr Fix-It to thank.

Mr Fix-It has given his whole life to the service of Singapore and he has done so much for us. If you don't thank him, at least stop bullying him.