Monday, December 29, 2008

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Christine Rosen takes a shot at multi-tasking (read the full article - do you agree with her?):

"Numerous studies have shown the sometimes-fatal danger of using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving, for example, and several states have now made that particular form of multitasking illegal. In the business world, where concerns about time-management are perennial, warnings about workplace distractions spawned by a multitasking culture are on the rise.

In 2005, the BBC reported on a research study, funded by Hewlett-Packard and conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, that found, “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.” The psychologist who led the study called this new “infomania” a serious threat to workplace productivity.

E-mails pouring in, cell phones ringing, televisions blaring, podcasts streaming—all this may become background noise, like the “din of a foundry or factory” that James observed workers could scarcely avoid at first, but which eventually became just another part of their daily routine.

For the younger generation of multitaskers, the great electronic din is an expected part of everyday life. And given what neuroscience and anecdotal evidence have shown us, this state of constant intentional self-distraction could well be of profound detriment to individual and cultural well-being. When people do their work only in the “interstices of their mind-wandering,” with crumbs of attention rationed out among many competing tasks, their culture may gain in information, but it will surely weaken in wisdom.

7 Steps to Making a MindMap

1. Start in the CENTRE of a blank page turned sideways. Why? Because starting in the centre gives your Brain freedom to spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.

2. Use an IMAGE or PICTURE for your central idea. Why? Because an image is worth a thousand words and helps you use your Imagination. A central image is more interesting, keeps you focused, helps you concentrate, and gives your Brain more of a buzz!

3. Use COLOURS throughout. Why? Because colours are as exciting to your Brain as are images. Colour adds extra vibrancy and life to your Mind Map, adds tremendous energy to your Creative Thinking, and is fun!

4. CONNECT your MAIN BRANCHES to the central image and connect your second- and third-level branches to the first and second levels, etc. Why? Because your Brain works by association. It likes to link two (or three, or four) things together. If you connect the branches, you will understand and remember a lot more easily.

5. Make your branches CURVED rather than straight-lined. Why? Because having nothing but straight lines is boring to your Brain.

6. Use ONE KEY WORD PER LINE. Why Because single key words give your Mind Map more power and flexibility.

7. Use IMAGES throughout. Why Because each image, like the central image, is also worth a thousand words. So if you have only 10 images in your Mind Map, it's already the equal of 10,000 words of notes!

The Outliers and 10,000 hours

Seth Godin (partially) reviews Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, The Outliers...then offers his own take on success:

You win when you become the best in the world, however 'best' and 'world' are defined by your market. In many mature markets, it takes 10,000 hours of preparation to win because most people give up after 5,000 hours. That's the only magic thing about 10k... it's a hard number to reach, so most people bail.

Yo Yo Ma isn't perfect... he's just better than everyone else. He pushed through the Dip that others chose not to. I'm guessing that there are endeavors (like being CEO of a Fortune 500 company or partner at a big law firm) where the rewards are so huge that the number is closer to 20,000 hours or more to get through the Dip.

But, ready for this? The Dip is much closer in niche areas, new areas, unexplored areas. You can get through the Dip in an online network or with a new kind of music because being seen as the best in that area is easier (at least for now). You can get through the Dip as a real estate broker in a new, growing town a lot quicker than someone in midtown Manhattan. The competition is thinner and probably less motivated.

Yes, it matters where and when you were born. It matters that you get lucky. And it matters most of all that you saw the Dip, realized how far away it was and chose to push through it.

BusinessWeek's Worst Predictions of 2008

1. "A very powerful and durable rally is in the works. But it may need another couple of days to lift off. Hold the fort and keep the faith!" —Richard Band, editor, Profitable Investing Letter, Mar. 27, 2008

At the time of the prediction, the Dow Jones industrial average was at 12,300. By late December it was at 8,500.

2. AIG (AIG) "could have huge gains in the second quarter." —Bijan Moazami, analyst, Friedman, Billings, Ramsey, May 9, 2008

AIG wound up losing $5 billion in that quarter and $25 billion in the next. It was taken over in September by the U.S. government, which will spend or lend $150 billion to keep it afloat.

3. "I think this is a case where Freddie Mac (FRE) and Fannie Mae (FNM) are fundamentally sound. They're not in danger of going under…I think they are in good shape going forward." —Barney Frank (D-Mass.), House Financial Services Committee chairman, July 14, 2008

Two months later, the government forced the mortgage giants into conservatorships and pledged to invest up to $100 billion in each.

4. "The market is in the process of correcting itself." —President George W. Bush, in a Mar. 14, 2008 speech

For the rest of the year, the market kept correcting…and correcting…and correcting.

5. "No! No! No! Bear Stearns is not in trouble." —Jim Cramer, CNBC commentator, Mar. 11, 2008

Five days later, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) took over Bear Stearns with government help, nearly wiping out shareholders.

6. "Existing-Home Sales to Trend Up in 2008" —Headline of a National Association of Realtors press release, Dec. 9, 2007

On Dec. 23, 2008, the group said November sales were running at an annual rate of 4.5 million—down 11% from a year earlier—in the worst housing slump since the Depression.

7. "I think you'll see [oil prices at] $150 a barrel by the end of the year" —T. Boone Pickens, June 20, 2008

Oil was then around $135 a barrel. By late December it was below $40.

8. "I expect there will be some failures. … I don't anticipate any serious problems of that sort among the large internationally active banks that make up a very substantial part of our banking system." —Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, Feb. 28, 2008

In September, Washington Mutual became the largest financial institution in U.S. history to fail. Citigroup (C) needed an even bigger rescue in November.

9. "In today's regulatory environment, it's virtually impossible to violate rules." —Bernard Madoff, money manager, Oct. 20, 2007

About a year later, Madoff—who once headed the Nasdaq Stock Market—told investigators he had cost his investors $50 billion in an alleged Ponzi scheme.

10. A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win, the title of a book by conservative commentator Shelby Steele, published on Dec. 4, 2007.

Mr. Steele, meet President-elect Barack Obama.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book Review: Heaven Can Wait, Conversations with Bonnie Hicks (reviewed by WH Loo)

I have been a Bonny Hicks fan ever since I read her books “Excuse me, are you a model?” and “Discuss Disgust.” She is everything that I hope to be and still trying to be…a free thinker, a free spirit.

After her untimely death in the SilkAir MI 185 crash in 1997, Tal ben-Shahar, a Harvard scholar and a humanist practitioner, shares the intimate exchange of letters between him and Bonny Hicks, his “dearest lover of wisdom” in this book he wrote in memory of Bonny.

Tal describes three reasons this book was written:

(1) it is an attempt to show the world the side of Bonny which many of us did not get to see – in part obscured by her modeling background and not being educated beyond junior college – a brilliant and passionate intellectual. Through the publication of the letters, Tal gives the world a glimpse into Bonny’s very private mind and soul and the intellectual relationship he shares with Bonnie.
(2) It is to put together many of the ideas that Bonny and him exchanged over the years and to share it with everyone – collegiality – as he believes it has important philosophical and social value.
(3) As a form of catharsis – Bonny’s untimely departure has created a permanent void in him.

Johan Berman, a friend, describes in the foreword that meeting Bonny was like opening your first bottle of champagne – both daring and incandescent, living a life filled with passion and courage – and always reflecting, always on the go. He calls her an intoxicating nectar and I truly agree, having read both Bonny’s books and one of Bonny’s favourite philosopher, Ayn Rand, whose work Bonny quotes frequently in her letters.

In the opening chapter Tal makes it very clear that both Bonny and him shares one simple purpose – that is to spread goodness in the world using the written word as the tool and philosophy as the medium.

True enough, once you start reading the book (Bonny’s letters), you will not put it down until the end. And like me, you will constantly go back to Bonny’s written words in your moments of madness and frustration. The phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword” is indeed very true when reading Bonny’s letters – succinct and impactful.

The first half of the book is arranged such that it revolves around the relationship between Bonny and Tal – and their interest in philosophy that binds them close. The second half shows the emphasis on their philosophical thoughts.

Some excerpts from the book (Bonny’s letters):

I read Emerson today. His writings are truly beautiful. Another philosopher of common sense. The greatest “lesson” I got from today’s reading is: “Be sincere or be silent. Speak the whole truth, as you see it, or do not speak at all.” I shall be a woman of few words, for a while. (p.20)

That a lack of university degree is a major disadvantage to me in my country is not the driving force for my wanting to further my education. The pursuit of knowledge in a setting conducive to exchange, discussion and contemplation, is. I hunger to learn for learning’s sake. I yearn for an environment that will challenge me, broaden my world view, and afford me with a myriad of new possibilities. (application to Cambridge, p.30)

I experienced great happiness and great sorrow in my life. While the great happiness was uplifting and renewing, the sorrow ate at me slowly, like a worm in the core of an apple. I realized then that stable happiness was not mine until I could eliminate the sorrow too. The sorrow which I experienced was often due to the fact that my own happiness came at a price. That price was someone else’s happiness. (on morality and happiness, p.92).

In closing, this is a great book – very sensitive, very inspiring and above all, very human. To me, it is justice for Bonny, a person determined to do well in spite of everything. It is not her background as an illegitimate child that pains her, but the rejection of her by her British father via a fax through the British High Comm that eats at her but it is also what propels her in her search for happiness and an appetite for Ayn Rand’s objectivism.

In Tal’s words, “In this book I have tried to capture some of Bonny’s uniqueness and goodness. The medium I used was the written word. Words were – are – the pillars of our relationship.”

….She was - is – a bright, free spirit who was not afraid to speak and, more importantly, use her mind on social issues…To anyone who argues that our youth do not want to stand up, speak out and be counted in society, I commend to them the memory of Bonny Susan Hicks – model, writer, thinker…..

(by Raoul Le Blond, Obituary, Straits Times Singapore, Dec 1997).

Do read it – the letters are published as they are. Rest in peace, Bonny.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Book Review Contest: Hikayat Hang Tuah (reviewd by Siti Awanis Othman)

Hikayat Hang Tuah is a Malay epic and work of literature that tells the tale of the legendary Malay Muslim warrior Hang Tuah. This book tells the establishment of Malays Sultanate that started in Malacca, the height of the reign that spans over 600 years of the Malay Peninsular's history and the end of the sultanate era on the 24th August 1511. Hikayat Hang Tuah pictures the Malay socio-cultural system during the feudal era.

Hang Tuah himself is a legendary warrior during the reign of Sultan Mansur Syah, the greatest of all admirals, ferocious fighter and held the highest regard in the Malysian Malay culture until today. The subjects covered in the work included the founding of Malacca and its relationship with neighbouring kingdoms, the advent and spread of Islam in the region, the history of the royalty in the region as well as the administrative hierarchy of the sultanate.

This book potrays Hang Tuah as a warrior with an absolute loyalty to his sultan. However, in his blind loyalty to the sultan, he bacame the envy of a few noblemen. It is a social fate where feudal principle of absolute loyalty to the Sultan may contradicts justice. This is why another legendary warrior, also his childhood friend and best companion, Hang Jebat avenged his death believing Hang Tuah was innocent. However, when the Sultan was told by the Bendahara (in modern parlance, the Prime Minister) that Hang Tuah was still alive ordered him to kill Hang Jebat. Being unquestioningly loyal to the sultan, he killed Hang Jebat after a long gruelling fight that lasted for seven days.

I would describe Hang Tuah as a Malay legend, embodying the values of Malay culture where allegiance and loyalty were paramount above all else. His famous quotes, “Takkan Melayu Hilang di Dunia’ which literally means “Never Shall the Malays Vanish from the Face of the Earth” is a rallying cry for Malay nationalism until present day.

On the other hand, I think Hang Jebat should be respected for his braveness to turn against the sultan he served to avenge his friend’s death. He believed in justice and wanted justice to be served even if it means going against the sultan’s orders. Hang Jebat's famous quote was "Raja adil raja disembah, raja zalim raja disanggah" which literally means "A fair king is a king to obey, a cruel king is a king to fight against".

The setting of Hikayat Hang Tuah is described in great detail, for example, as an admiral, Hang Tuah was assigned to the task of being the sultan’s ambassador to countries like Majapahit, China, India, Siam and Turkey. China was one of the biggest allies of Malacca and his trip to China has fostered closer ties between the two counties. The Emperor even offered his princess, Hang Li Po to be Malaccan Queen. Since then, the two countries has been in good terms.

The book made me realised that history forms part of us that should not be forgotten by the present and future generation. It made me think that it is not easy to preserve our culture, tradition and beliefs if we ourselves have no inner strength to do so. We should be grateful of what our country has achived so far and we have to maintain and improve the ties we have in the multi racial country.

The authors should be appreciated for this well written book that comprises Malay annals, legends and epics together with good moral values about loyalty and justice.

I think it is important to say that the book should be read by everyone, not just Malaysians. It should be translated into English as this would attract more readers to read and understand history. It is an interesting read although at the beginning I thought that reading a book with a historical theme might be bored.

Overall, I would recommend this book to everyone!

Book Review Contest: The Rice Mother (Reviewed by Yvonne Ho)

The novel reviewed entitles ‘The Rice Mother’ by Rani Manicka. This powerful and moving novel revolves around four generations of women who encounter love, war, duty and hope. A beautifully-woven novel that portrays an intense feminine figure that holds the cradle of life (as rice is the main staple of Asian cultures that sustains life) in her hands through its story title; this already forecasts to us that the story will primarily revolve around the courage of the women who handles life’s shortcomings in varying time periods. For a little introduction, The Rice Mother is known as the Giver of Life in Bali, where her spirit lives in effigies made out of sheaves of rice. She is so sacred that sinners are forbidden to enter in her presence or consume a single grain from her figurine. Along with this story, the matriarch, Lakshmi, is compared to the Rice Mother for it is her that holds the burning dreams of her children and grandchildren in her strong hands and passing years will not diminish her courage and strength in defending them.

Every good story carries a theme which is basically a one-sentence description of what the story is about. A theme is not the plot nor the story line but the meaning behind it. In this particular novel by Rani Manicka, it is evident the theme of the novel surrounds the lives of four generations of women who fight for love, war, duty and hope. The setting of the story spans through the pre and post Japanese Occupation period, around the year 1916 to the year 1991, in Malaya, now known as Malaysia. A crucial yet colourful period of the Malayan history, the author has chosen a very appealing setting in which she exploited to her advantage. It is most interesting to note that this story is presented from the first point of narrative view, where the story is told from each character’s own point of view in the form of memoirs. Readers would have to keep on their feet to tie each character’s narrations together and evaluate them because the first-person narration can be unreliable, as later proven through the memoirs of Dimple’s mother, Rani. However, Manicka has done a good job of arranging the sequence of memoirs in a systematic manner, even if it was not in a chronological flow, making it easy for the readers to capture the essence of her book.

The protagonists of this novel are three women from three different generations; Lakshmi the matriarch, Dimple the grand-daughter, and Nisha the great-granddaughter who is the true heir of the family’s dynasty. Lakshmi, Dimple and Nisha each face life trials from their own generations through the Japanese occupation, past violence, drug abuses, marriages, births, losses and family secrets. Lakshmi’s story begins when she is conned into an arranged marriage with Ayah who apparently owns a ‘rich’ business in the land of Malaya. At the tender age of fourteen, she dealt with this painful truth while separated from her beloved mother in India and attempts to raise her five children to the very best she could, often being very selfish and forcing her ambitions on her children. Lakshmi's oldest children, twins Lakshmnan and Mohini, are the most developed and dynamic. Lakshmi loves these two for their beauty and potential, but each breaks her heart in very different ways. All seemed well for the family of seven until the Japanese Occupation landed in Malaya and threatened to tear apart the family in shreds. The author has done a brilliant job of describing the disturbing and gruesome rule of the Japanese and it provides a very thoughtful insight for the readers. It is during the Japanese Occupation that Mohini is raped and tortured to death by the soldiers and this threw the family’s course to a new dimension never occurred before. Blaming himself for his twin’s death, Lakshmnan’s sudden change in personality shocks and breaks his mother’s heart. This line of tension is carried through to the relationship between Lakshmi and his wife, Rani. When Dimple is born to Lakshmnan and Rani, she instantly becomes the favourite grand-daughter of the family for she carried similar physical traits of Mohini. She captures the painful family history on audiotape and leaves her daughter, Nisha, to uncover the truths of the family heritage after her failed marriage and suicide.

Written from many points-of-views, in the voices of many family members, THE RICE MOTHER is an interesting read. Although the novel is quite complex, the painful message of love and hope is clearly delivered. This novel left me in tears for Manicka has cleverly captured the essence of the characters’ pain, loneliness and ultimately the beauty of the South-East Asian culture in a voice so unique of its own.

Book Review Contest: Five People You Meet in Heaven (reviewed by Karen Wong)

This is a heart-warming story effortlessly written by Mitch Albom. It is a story about the life and death of an old man who works in a local amusement park called Ruby Pier. It really struck a chord when I was reading his story in this book. Everyone can relate to his worries and thoughts. It will leave you in awe definitely and make you wonder about life. It will also give you a whole new perspective about one’s afterlife in heaven. It is truly an original and refreshing story that has captured my heart.

The story mainly revolves around the theme of one’s life and how it is connected with other people’s lives. Eddie who is the main character of the story is a maintenance worker at Ruby Pier. Ironically, the story starts with the Eddie’s death. This is one of the points that Mitch Albom is trying to present, implicating that for every beginning there is an end and for every end there is a beginning too. Eddie dies trying to save a little girl from a falling cart on his 83rd birthday. With his final breath, he feels two small hands in his and then nothing. His soul goes to heaven where he learns the most important lessons in life. He then realises heaven is not a lush Garden of Eden, but a place where your earthly life is explained to you by five people who were in it.

This is how the book gets its title. The first person Eddie meets in heaven is ‘The Blue Man’ named Joseph who is a member of a carnival show at Ruby Pier. This part of the story mostly portrays Eddie’s childhood. When he was young, he caused Joseph’s death indirectly. And the heaven they are actually in is Joseph’s one which is at Ruby Pier where Joseph can be himself. Joseph gives Eddie his first lesson that all are connected. Everything one does may affect others. The second person Eddie would meet is his captain. When Eddie was a teenager, he served as an army. His troop had a difficult time during the war. His leg was severely damaged and was the blame he put on later in life when he cannot advance further than a ride maintenance man. The captain sacrificed his life to save his troop. Also, the captain reveals that he was the one that injured Eddie’s leg to prevent him from entering a burning house to save a child. This sudden revelation leaves Eddie fuming and wonder how many possibilities are out there for him has he not injured his leg in the first place. Undeniably, the lesson here is sacrifice. The third person is Ruby which the pier is built for her by her husband. Here, she related her wish that the pier was never built because of all the sufferings there. She also tells Eddie how his father dies when she was tending to her ill husband who shares the room with him. Eddie had a troubled relationship with his father. After hearing Ruby’s account of his death, Eddie realises that his father is just like any other ordinary person who loves his family very much even though he did not show any affections. The idea reflected here is events before we are born still affect our lives as do the people before us. Eddie’s wife, Marguerite who died young is the fourth person he meets in heaven. Her heaven is a place full of wedding receptions. This is because the happiest moment in her life is her wedding reception with Eddie in a Chinese restaurant. Although it is not lavish, she still enjoys every moment of it. Eddie and Marguerite love each other dearly. So when Marguerite died too soon, Eddie was angry that their love had been broken into thousand pieces. However, she explains that their love is never lost, it just takes another form which is eternal: memory. In his last stage of heaven, Eddie meets the girl that he was trying to save in the burning house. He was responsible for her death. Tala shares the final lesson with him when he feels that he has no purpose on earth. But Tala explains that he is the one who protects children by maintaining park rides at the pier. She also says that he managed to save the girl from the falling cart and the hands he feels are hers who is pulling him to heaven, keeping him safe. At last, he goes back to the pier where he sees all the people that he has saved by maintaining the park rides. By his side is his young and beautiful wife. When he looks at the clouds, the word ‘HOME’ is formed. Many years later, Eddie will be waiting for the little girl he saved and tells his part of the secret of heaven. One affects other and next, and this world is full of stories but the stories are all one.

There are many inspirational quotes from this novel. The most notable one has to be “The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone.” Others include “Strangers are just family you have yet to come to know.” and “Sacrifice is a part of life. It’s supposed to be. It’s not something to regret. It’s something to aspire to.”

This is an absorbing story as everyone in this world now is finding our own identities. We struggle to find our places in the universe while actually we are already in those places. We just do not realise it. This book teaches me to sacrifice, to love, to grief and most of all to let go our grudges and just savour our lives. This novel is beyond describable. You have to experience it yourself personally. Who knows? You might just be like me who could not put down the book until the end.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

7 Mistakes Teachers Make With Technology

Doug Johnson rants:

1. Not backing up data. "You mean having two copies of my files on the hard drive doesn't count as a backup?" The first time a teacher loses his/her precious data my heart breaks. The second time, well, stupidity ought cause some suffering.

2. Treating a school computer like a home computer. Teachers who use a school computer to run a business, edit their kid's wedding videos, or send tasteless jokes to half of North America (including that fundamentalist English teacher down the hall) are being stupid. Teachers who take their computers home and let their kids hack on them are being stupid. Teachers who don't own a personal computer for personal business deserve to get into well-deserved trouble.

3. Not supervising computer-using students. It is really stupid to believe Internet filters will keep kids out of trouble on the Internet. For so many reasons. Even the slow kids who can't get around the school's filter, can still exploit that 10% of porn sites the filter won't catch if they choose to do so. They can still send cyberbullying e-mail - maybe even using your email address. Or they can just plain waste time.

4. Thinking online communication is ever private. Eventually everyone sends an embarrassing personal message to a listserv. I've heard of some tech directors who get their jollies reading salacious inter-staff e-mails. You school e-mails can be requested and must be produced if germane to any federal lawsuits. Even e-mails deleted from your computer still sit on servers somewhere - often for a very loooong time. Think you wiped out your browsing history? Don't bet that that is the only set of tracks you've left that show where you've been surfing. Your Facebook page will be looked at by the school board chair and your superintendent and principal know who the author of that "anonymous" blog is. Not assuming everyone can see what you send and do online is stupid.

5. Believing that one's teaching style need not change to take full advantage of technology. Using technology to simply add sounds and pictures to lectures is stupid. Smart technology use is about changing the roles of teacher and student. The computer-using student can now be the content expert; the teacher becomes the process expert asking questions like - where did you get that information, how do you know it's accurate; why is it important, how can you let others know what you discovered, and how can you tell if you did a good job? The world has changed and it is rank stupidity not to recognize it and change as well.

6. Ignoring the intrinsic interest of tech use in today's kids. Kids like technology. Not using it as a hook to motivate and interest them in their education is stupid.

7. Thinking technology will go away in schools. The expectation tha "This too shall pass" has worked for a lot of educational practices and theories. Madeline Hunter, Outcomes-Based Education, whole language, and yes, some day, NCLB all had their day in the sun before being pushed aside by the next silver bullet. (I think that metaphor was a bit confused. Sorry.) But it is stupid to think technology will go away in education. It isn't going away in banking, medicine, business, science, agriculture - anywhere else in society. Thinking "this too shall pass" about technology is pretty stupid.

What would make YOUR list of the top stupid mistakes you've seen teachers make with technology?

What would a LifeLong Learner look like?

According to the University of Adelaide, lifelong learners:
  • plan their own learning
  • assess their own learning
  • are active rather than passive learners
  • learn in both formal and informal settings
  • learn from their peers, teachers and mentors
  • integrate knowledge from different subject areas when required
  • use different learning strategies for different situations

Find out more.

15 Steps to Cultivate Lifelong Learning

Scott Young advises:
1) Always have a book.

It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time. Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

2) Keep a “To-Learn” List

We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study. Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

3) Get More Intellectual Friends

Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart. But people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you. Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

4) Guided Thinking

Albert Einstein once said, “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

5) Put it Into Practice

Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush. If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

6) Teach Others

You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning. Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

7) Clean Your Input

Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance. I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming. Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

8 ) Learn in Groups

Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills. Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

9) Unlearn Assumptions

You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas. Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

10) Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does. Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

11) Start a Project

Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging. If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

12) Follow Your Intuition

Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind. Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

13) The Morning Fifteen

Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education. If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

14) Reap the Rewards

Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

15) Make it a Priority

Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Adolescent Learning

A good list from think it applies to adults, too?

Problems with Webinars

Michael Gilbert talks about four problems related to Webinars...3 small, 1 big:

Three Small Problems

1. Too Much Lock In: You would think we would have learned the lesson of proprietary software lock-in by now, but it seems that we're doomed to repeat that one over and over again. Everywhere I turn among my colleagues who are also doing online seminars, I see their intellectual property tied up in someone else's web interface or file format.

2. Too Many Examples: We need more synthesis and fewer examples. Yes, of course, examples are useful for teaching principles. They can be inspirational when the student can relate to the protagonist of the example. And in large numbers, examples become the evidence from which we draw larger conclusions. This means either rigorously deriving generalizations from adequately large sample sizes of examples or just as rigorously choosing examples as tools for teaching. Instead, we get a bunch of stories tossed together.

3. Not Enough Integration: Stop making us use the telephone to get the audio portion of the presentation. Are there lots of people out there taking seminars who don't have the broadband needed for audio? Are all these workshops so small that the phone is the best way to take questions?

The Big Problem

Tips. Tricks. Hacks. Repeat that out loud a few times and eventually you just start spitting.

We search for tips, tricks, and hacks because we want fast fixes.. If Google is any indication, we want them all together - there are nearly 2 million results when you search for all three terms. We want quick solutions to hard problems. We need money but we don't want to invest in the relationships required. We want to feel informed and on top of things, but we don't want to be challenged.

If I were to write a description of an online seminar for nonprofits that captures what I see going on, it would probably be something like this:

Title: Don't Fall Behind in Raising Money: 27 Free Tips, Tricks, and Hacks for Online Fundraising

You can't afford to fall behind. Those online donors are being scooped up by organizations that are on the ball when it comes to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and all the other places new donors are hanging out. With this webinar, you'll have the secrets for getting your share. Each of the 27 online fundraising tips, tricks, and hacks are free and can be implemented in minutes!

This description might even work, right? But it has all the symptoms of fast fix obsession. It elevates and preys on nonprofit anxiety. It throws in some brand name buzzwords to leverage the appeal of the latest cool thing. Most importantly, it promises to reduce online fundraising to a set of tiny quick wins.

Don't get me wrong: Quick wins are great. As students, we all need the feeling that we can hit the ground running and see at least some immediate progress for our efforts. This is especially true when we're working on large projects. But the quick wins have become an end in themselves, rather than just another part of a balanced toolkit for teaching.

This misplaced emphasis on fast fixes is truly harmful in several ways. (1) After delivering some quick satisfaction, it sets us up for disappointment when those tips don't add up to anything. (2) It encourages sloppy thinking on the part of both students and teachers, generating lists of vaguely related ideas rather than coherent frameworks for thinking about the topic. (3) It fails to build the underlying strategies that in turn would make tips genuinely effective. (4) By asking so little of us, it appeals to and encourages our worst selves.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beyond Social Media

What's the relevance and application for teaching and learning, if any?

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: wikis podcast)

The Web Beyond 2008?

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: semantic 3.0)

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Flow of Skills

Here are some of the flow of skills by Clark Aldrich:

1. Instructors might learn from experts, format the information for students, who then become informed practitioners.

2. Experts might mentor practitioners.

3. Practitioners might get promoted to expert.

4. Students might work to get into a class, and get credit for successfully completing it.

5. Peer to peer communities might chew on problems and come to a solution.

What is obvious is the recent focus on eliminating or at least dramatically reducing the entire right side of the chart, the role of instructor and the role of student, while dramatically increasing the areas of overlap between expert and novice (middle left), such as peer-to-peer work and social networking.

Book Review Contest: The Last Lecture (reviewed by Dr. Tan Hui Leng)

It has been awhile since I read the book but my thoughts seem to return to the book often enough. This does suggest that there is much to be gleaned from its pages. Thus a book review seems timely.

To begin with, this is an easy book to read; only 206 pages long and the font is large with some photographs thrown in too! But be assured that those will not be the reasons why you are not letting the book go.

By now, many will know that Randy Pausch was a Carnegie Mellon professor in Computer Science who has since passed away on the 25th July 2008. When he received “his news”, he was in the final stage of pancreatic cancer. As a father to three children, Randy Pausch had lessons that he wanted to pass on to his children when he was no longer around. Since he was a university professor, he chose to do so in the way he knew best; a lecture and a book.

In that sense, reading this book is enjoying the privilege of a “sneak” look into a private matter of a father’s lessons to his children. Randy Pausch collectively calls his lessons “Achieving your Childhood Dreams”.

The lessons are laid out very simply. There are many personal anecdotes to drive these lessons. Close to my heart is his appreciation of his parents; “I won the parent lottery”. Personally, I have not heard many adults attribute success or happiness to their parents (perhaps, I am moving with the wrong group!) as they are more wont to speak of their spouse and children. The strong family orientation in many of the lessons as in “The Elephant in the Room”, “The Elevator in the Ranch House” and “Romancing the Brick wall” is indeed heart-warming.

Randy Pausch has a very candid approach to matters; his great sense of humour comes through very well in the book. There will be times you will laugh out loud. It is amazing for a writer who is looking death in the face to carry this easy spirit and optimism through the book.

However, in his final remarks, as he addresses his dreams for his children and begins “to speak to his wife, Jai directly”, a more sombre mood comes on. Many may shed a tear, as I did. Yet you will not feel too sad for too long for here is a man who will continue to be a husband, father and professor even after he has long passed on. The last lecture is indeed a clever legacy to leave behind. It is also a must-read for us to reflect on our lives and circumstances, making better people of us perhaps?

Meatball Sundaes in Education

EducationInnovation talks about Seth Godin's book and its application to education. Here are some excerpts:

In his book, Meatball Sundae- is your marketing out of sync?; Seth Godin describes what he calls New Marketing. But, I call it “the new reality,” because what he is describing is a fundamental shift in the world’s organizations, caused by changes in media and technology. This new reality is what education must be prepared for and what we must be able to prepare our students for.

Media and technology have fundamentally changed the world and Seth says that change puts us all at a crossroads. One path leads to frustration as the typical organization, school district, or school continues to operate in out-dated ways, or, another path leads to organizations, school districts, and schools that are, “…nimble, intelligent organizations that are poised and prepared to be propelled by the fresh tactics of New Marketing.” The new reality. Which path do you think your school or district is on?

Meatballs are the old ways of teaching and running schools. It’s basic, we know what we are getting, and they used to work. But, the world wants the sundae. So instead of using meatballs we are going to have to think of something else that will taste good on ice cream and chocolate sauce. The whipped cream and the cherry on top are the new techniques, strategies, models, and levers education needs to used to create a sundae fit for the new reality.

I believe, new organizations, leveraged with new thinking, technology, and creativity is the whipped cream and the cherry on top we need.

Catalytic Questions for Educational Institutions

If the “new reality” were a slogan on a bumper sticker or T-shirt, what would it say?

What is one current educational or organizational practice you could substitute for another that would make an impact on your school or district to bring it more in alignment with the “new reality.”

What might that look like?

In what ways might you take a small idea or practice you are currently using and exaggerate or expand it across your school or district?

Imagine a deadline of one school year, what could you change within that time?

How might that change make a difference in the years to come?

What assumptions must you update, what ideas must you discard, based on the “new reality?”

How might a failed idea or policy at your district or school open the door for new ideas and thinking?

If you could substitute your thinking for that of Seth Godin, in what ways might you change your ideas or develop new ideas? What might they be?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

7 Deadly Scenes

Sink your teeth into the forbidden fruit as The Oral Stage unleashes its closing season for 2008 with a sinful anthology of original plays. Inspired by the age-old classification of vices, the seven deadly scenes is a fresh Malaysian take on lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.


FEATURING PIECES by Jonathan Lim, Maximillan Lim, Johann Lim, Diane Goon, Shern Chong, Doreen Loo & Juria Toramae

Joanne Lee (Stage/Publicity Manager)Syar S. Alia (Set/Costume/Make-up Designer)Nicholas Chin (Production Designer)

Aple Ang, Bryant Albuquerque, Batsheba Zlikha Arsalan, Rashdan Harith, Ista Kyra, Rachel Lai, Melissa Loovi, Ash Mathew & Mohamed Shamirin

16th – 19th December 2008 @ 8.30 pm
20th December 2008 @ 3.00 pm & 8.30 pm

IndiCine, Level 2 The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts CentreSentul Park, Jalan Strachan 51100 Kuala Lumpurin

27th December @ 8.30 pm
28th December 2008 @ 3.00 pm & 8.30 pm

The Actors Studio Greenhall, PenangGround Floor, Zhong Zheng School Memorial Centre32, Lebuh Light, 10200 Penang

RM25 (Adults)
RM15 (Students, senior citizens & the disabled)


TICKET CONTACT (03) 4047 9000 (KLPac Box Office) (04) 2635 400 (TAS Greenhall Box Office)


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Lifetime Learning

"Lifetime learning has become the reality of the 21st century.

It is estimated today that more information will be generated in one year than in the previous 5,000 years. The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years. By the year 2010 it is predicted that it will double every 72 hours.

Perhaps the most important lesson today's students can learn is that they will always be training and learning. For those who are starting a 4-year technical or college degree program in 2008, one-half of the information they learn in their first year of study will be outdated by their third year."

Isn't it critical, therefore, to ensure our students love to keep on learning?

21st Century Education (from the CIDTT Gang again)

Jefri & Rahizan
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Route 21 - Promoting 21st Century Skills

Route21 is a one-stop center for 21st-century skills related information and resources. Download their white paper and framework overview as a start.

Malcolm Gladwell's New Book

Malcolm Gladwell, world-famous author of Tipping Point and Blink, talks about his new book, Outliers.

Book Review Contest: Twilight (reviewed by Daniel Low)

Twilight is simply and yet beautifully written. To draw an overview, the story generally revolves around Edward and Bella’s romance – a vampire romance that is. What makes Twilight even more distinctive is that the story contradicts the common view that vampires are evil and merciless blood hunters. This brilliant idea is the reason why Twilight is so unique it is almost like it is in its own genre. The story is narrated in the first person view from the perspective of Bella, so the reader only knows what she knows, making Edward and his family a mystery that is slowly unraveled as the story progressed.

The major theme of Twilight is prominently love and romance. The romance between Edward and Bella is both touching and compelling. Moreover, there is a melancholic feel to their impossible love, yet at the same time they both are unwilling to give up hope, self-convinced that their relationship is not doomed. Another theme found in the story is change and risk. This theme is particularly true as the relationship between Bella and Edward can also be regarded as predator and prey. Bella knew very well the danger she would have to face but her infinite affection towards Edward made her forgo her own safety. Edward too realized the risk he was undertaking but just couldn’t help himself as he succumbed to his human instincts. Eventually, the themes all converges as the story reaches a fever pitch of excitement as the romance between Bella and Edward turns into a frantic race to stay alive.

Overall, the mood is serious and at times melodramatic. This is in keeping with both the horror and romance genres that Twilight embodies. In either case, situations and emotions are heightened beyond the usual everyday concerns, often becoming life-and-death struggles with consequences beyond the lives of the main characters. Despite the elements of terror and suspense, there are frequent flashes of humor --sometimes sarcastic, sometimes morbid - which help break up the mood and make the serious sections more dramatically effective.

The story is set primarily in the small town of Forks in northwest Washington State. However, the very beginning and the climax take place in Phoenix, Arizona. The description of Forks is so minute you can almost smell the damp air and hear the rain falling on the roof. The setting plays an important role, specifically the weather. In this case, the gloomy weather effectively foreshadows the dangers lurking ahead.

The characters in Twilight are very much alive throughout the story and each one of them is meticulously described. The main character of the story is Isabella Swan, better known with the name Bella -a well written and realistic character, shy and lacking in confidence. She is the narrator of the story, a human girl who moves from Phoenix to Forks to live with her biological father, Charlie Swan. Bella’s swan’s character development focuses mainly on adolescence and finding her first and perfect love, Edward Cullen. To have a first love with someone as perfect as Edward is the key to the fantasy of Twilight. However, there happen to be traces of irony here as Edward turned out to be a century old vampire. Bella is a strongly emotional character, as seen by the tears she cannot control. However, she also has a strong intellectual side and great determination when she reaches a specific decision in her life.

The intensity grew as the Cullen family was introduced, the most prominent one being Edward Cullen – the vampire Bella fell in love with. Though a bit exaggerating, Edward is described with godlike characteristics and is compared to the likes of Greek gods. As the story escalated, Bella’s suspicion became true as Edward slowly reveals the truth, his superior strength and speed. It was later revealed that Edward also possesses the ability to read minds, but for some reasons unknown, not Bella's. Initially, he is attracted to Bella in a predatory manner, but eventually falls in love with her. By falling in love with a human-a human who greatly appeals to this vampire lust, he denied his vampire instincts and tried to regain touch with his humanity.

On the antagonist side, there is James, a tracker vampire who visits the Cullen family while they were having a game of baseball. He is known to be a vicious stalker and thirsts for Bella’s blood. And so, he took it upon himself to hunt down Bella and to provoke Edward. His comrades Victoria and Laurent were with him. However, Laurent did not have any ill intention and did not involve himself in the conflict.

In twilight, vampirism is the most obvious motif and symbol in the story. It is however, not a theme in itself, but is used to flesh out all the themes to varying extent. The vampire romance expressed here is the notion of love as an insatiable hunger that requires the very essence of a loved one. Of course, passion can also be quite dangerous, and a hunger must know limits or will threaten everyone involved - this is shown by the appearance of James late in the book. Probably Edward knows better the importance of curbing the vampire appetite, as it comes in direct conflict with his romantic desire for Bella.

To wrap things up, Twilight has plenty of love, drama and action. Furthermore, it is kept well balanced and the readers’ interest can be sustained throughout the story. Although this book is mainly a love story, it does have a bit of action. Some of the main characters are actually supernatural characters, and it's very interesting to discover their amazing abilities. Twilight is definitely a book worth reading.

Book Review Contest: Persuasion (an Anonymous Review)

One of Jane Austen’s brilliant works of fictional romance, her last novel, published in 1818 after her death in 1817. The story is about love lost and re-kindled or recovered.

Eight years before the novel begins, Anne Elliot, the heroine of the story was to be wed to Frederick Wentworth a young naval officer with no fortune / uncertain prospects of succeeding in life. Anne’s father, a baronet thought the proposal was a degrading alliance while her friend, confidante and guardian Lady Russell thought it to be “a most unfortunate affair.” The two lovers were therefore facing forces they could not overcome. Led by duty to society, to her friend whom she looked up to as a mother and respect for her father Anne broke up the engagement. Heartbroken Captain Wentworth leaves the country to make his fortune, which he indeed does against all odds and the believe that he would not.

Almost after eight years the estranged lovers meet again, they both hope to be insensible to each other about the feelings of the past, they both feel they still love each other, but wonders if too much time has passed and they have waited too long to make it work. Anne now much wiser and realizing that she had been led by prudence in her youth and duty to a society segregated by class and standard of position in life realizes that she has leant that her love has never altered, she might have fancied herself over the attachment but in truth she was still very much in love with Frederick. She now longs to re-kindle the feelings of the past with the only man she thought most agreeable and whom seemed to be the only one that can make her happy and fortunately for her this man feels the same way.

Anne’s father now sees Captain Wentworth as someone who is worthy of his daughter because of his now achieved status in society, even Lady Russell cannot help but admire the man she had once thought of incapable of securing himself enough to marry Anne. The novel thus ends with Anne’s happiness secured with her true love Captain Wentworth, entirely breaking from tradition and social expectation of marrying in her own circle as has been expected.

Jane Austen in this book explores the injustices of pride, status, class and perceptions of society regarding these, with much humor and class to entertain the reader, and shows that with these perceptions comes a self recovery stronger than anything else. It is a beautiful love story, where action is based upon emotion, instinct and interest for one's own personal happiness that offers subtle and incisive social and moral analysis and keeps the reader hooked and it’s suitable for all ages

Book Review Contest: The Wide Window (reviewed by Maliya Suofeiya)

Looking for a horribly sour and juicily funny bed time story? Allow me to recommend you Lemony Snicket’s third book in A series of Unfortunate Events, The Wide Window.

Unlike any other story that your mom has read to you, this book will bring you nothing but the nightmares of three clever and charming orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire.

Violet is the eldest among the Baudelaire children, she is an amazing inventor who ties up her hair in a special way with a ribbon when she thinks of an invention. Klaus, being the second child, is a voracious reader who knows a lot of facts. Sunny the baby has four sharp teeth, and she speaks baby language that only Violet and Klaus can understand. In this story, the Baudelaire orphans have to stay with their new guardian, Aunt Josephine, who lives in a house that has a wide window. Aunt Josephine is a widow who is very particular about English grammar and phobic towards harmless things like telephones and doorknob.

Everything is fine until the orphans meet Captain Sham, who is actually Count Olaf in disguise, in a market. This Olaf guy is their greedy, evil, and filthy distant relative who wants to steal the children’s large fortune. He has a lot of accomplices who are just as hideous as he is. The children informed Aunt Josephine and Mr Poe (the banker in charge of the affairs of the Baudelaire children) about the presence of Count Olaf, but none believe them. Being an excellent actor, Captain Sham appears to be so pitiable and charming that the adults in the story are completely deceived.

The personality of the characters in this story are uncomfortably twisted and exaggerated. The adults seem to be so stupid and naive that the young Baudelaire children appear to be much more matured and sophisticated. The stupidity of the adults can be so extreme that it makes the reader go crazily anxious. So, after going through a series of chaotic and dangerous ordeals such as eating peppermints and having allergic reactions, stealing a boat and sailing in the middle of a hurricane to rescue Aunt Josephine, being “rescued” by Captain Sham and so on, the children finally get to prove the adults who Captain Sham really is. But Count Olaf has already escaped with his accomplice, it is too late.

I just love the way Lemony Snicket expresses his characteristically dark humors. He will always stop in the middle of a suspenseful sentence and surprise us with a whole lot of sarcastic but true remarks, such as the one about business cards, where he says that “Anyone can go to a print shop and have cards made that say anything they like.” He is also very creative in giving new definitions for vocabularies that we hardly encounter in other books. For example, he thinks a “garish” restaurant is one that is “filled with balloons, neon lights, and obnoxious waiters”, and the word “phantasmagorical” means “all the creepy, scary words you can think of put together”.

Besides that, Lemony Snicket also seems to have a deep connection with a mysterious lady named Beatrice, who seems to have nothing to do with the story of the orphans. It becomes more intriguing when we look at his very blurry profile picture (which is the image of the back of a stranger who holds a book) and his confusingly brief autobiography, which begins with “Lemony Snicket was born before you were and is likely to die before you as well.”

The appearance of the book is horrid; it is of a sickly obsolete and dark color that can make your stomach churn. The pages in the book have an oddly moldy smell and they are all jagged. With the comically deformed images illustrated by Brett Helquist, The Wide Window looks even more nightmarish.

You will be kindly reminded not to continue reading at the beginning of this book. This is because, according to the author, the story is so “gloomy and miserable” that no ordinary people can take it. But trust me, The Wide Window is a very unique story for everyone in this world, unless you really cannot take the silly and comical tragedies lightly and laugh at them.


Book Review Contest: The Dip (reviewed by Lau Wing Wang)

This book may initially look like your average typical "Never Give Up" material. But Seth Godin, in his better-than-average ways, has produced something which is both original and worthy of serious attention (especially in a world obsessed with success and never-quitting).

Firstly, one must never give up, yes. But this attitude is critical only for those skills/ideas/products you have which make you the best in the world (the 'world' meaning which community/market you're a part of and necessarily all the continents if you know what I mean).

Secondly, for anyone who wishes to achieve anything spectacular, there will always be a period of dryness, lethargy, costs exceeding benefits, (apparent) failure which one has to go through i.e. there will be a Dip.

Push through this and you'll come on the other 'end' of the loop a winner. What's important - and thank God(in) for the reminder - is that we must ANTICIPATE and PLAN for the Dip.

Another famous speaker who mentioned something which sounds like a Dip is Randy Pausch who said that:

"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!"

Where Godin differs would be in two things:

1. The brick walls can be overcome if you're the best at what you do (this is when you must STICK)

2. The brick walls should be accepted and left behind if not (this is when you must QUIT)

Which brings us to his third point, the one that raises the most eyebrows surely: You must recognise there are times one must stop or, better yet, not even start a project.

Why? Because if you're not the best and there's no chance you will be, pushing through the Dip only creates discouragement and takes away time you should be putting into that which you can be world-class in.

To stick? Or to quit? That he even raises the second question puts Godin in the top 1% of the world's best thinkers and advisers. That it's okay and even commendable to quit is an almost-never-asked question which is more than way overdue.

This is not a how-to book. It's a why-not manual, a look-here work, an always-remember guide. It's also one the best (if somewhat subversive) "motivational" books around, one which nobody who's ever thought long and hard about irreversible (or hard-to-reverse) decisions related to careers and business can afford to miss.

Best thing is: It's a short book. No way you'll quit on this one.

Monday, December 1, 2008


A chart from Booz-Allen & Hamilton, comparing how organisations were run in the 90s' vs. now:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Book Review Contest: Do Less, Achieve More - Discover the Hidden Power of Giving In (reviewed by Syarina Abdul Kadir)

“Life is meant to be easy.”

‘Do Less, Achieve More’ by Chin-Ning Chu is a self-help book on how to live your life with eases, how to simplify it and enjoy life to its fullest potentials. The stories and advices in this book revolve around the story of the ‘Rainmaker’ by Carl Jung, a premier student of psychoanalysis. The ‘Rainmaker’ is, to some, a miraculous man whose job is to bring rain from the heaven above down to the dry earth. But to him, it is a job that does not need any divine power but only requires the power from within himself. He is very well in-tuned with his actions; his mind is always at ease and has discovered the great power in him. These are the three major secrets discussed by Chu. Chu proved that by doing less work with less worry, you can still achieve greatness and take pleasure in it.

In this book, it is apparent that Chin-Ning Chu likes to convey her train of thoughts to her readers by using allusions. She uses this method through mentioning famous names, events in history and by referring or quoting to well-known books. To be precise, several names of prominent people of today and the past were brought up. Names from the past were mentioned in the topic of the role of friends in life such as Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. Chu talked about the three phase that life follows; the ups and downs on achieving and revealing the destiny in this book of hers. She match up this context to the life of George Washington, from being a fraud to a great inspiring American icon and all the three stages he had to face through his life.

Furthermore, the oriental side of Chu was also put in. For example, quotes from Lao-tzu and Confucius. One of Confucius quotes that brought me thinking was “When you do not know how to live life, how can you ask about how to die?” page 138. Not to forget, “Every family has a sutra that is difficult to chant” meaning that we should not have envy in our heart because every one of us have our own problems in life that we cannot escape, are one of the several Chinese aphorisms that can be found in pages 52, 79 and 82.

Chin-Ning Chu not only involved histories and people from the west and the east but also from in-between. Hindu philosopher; Shankaracharya’s advised on how we should always be willing to face the worst outcomes and not run away from it, which was also included in ‘Do Less, Achieve More’. Hindu and Chinese wasn’t the only resource she used for this book, for example “Faith without work is dead” is acquired from the Bible, James 2:26 (page 43) and also a number of citations taken from the Gospel of Peace, William James and Meister Eckhart. Also several wise quotations from Sufis were put in. “My death is my wedding with eternity” (page 137) by a Sufi poet Rumi which means that we live our life to prepare ourselves for death. But one excerpt in this book made the most impression on me (page 127) which is actually taken from the Quraan (suroh Al-An’am, chapter 7, verse 59) and it quote “Not a leaf dare fall without Heaven’s permission”. It gives a meaning to us that nothing in this life happens by accident, everything happens for a reason.

In addition, metaphors like “spiritually bankrupt” and “ego’s balloon” are some of the ways Chu portrayed the natural attitude of a human being. To her, our life energy is like a bank account. There must be a constant deposit to ensure that we are able to make a withdrawal later on. When there is none, only emptiness inside our heart, we are then considered as “spiritually bankrupt” according to Chu. We are the “hostage of life”, we are tied to what destiny brings us, but that does not mean we should just surrender to destiny and sit back. Each of us has a choice in life that is able to twist and turn destiny to our desires. Moreover, on page 126, it is stated that “We are the audience as well as the actor”. Each actor has their own role to act out and each audience has their own opinion on the act. Signifying that whatever we perform in life, we must look back at what we did and should improve our actions to make a better ‘performance’.

Inserting quite a few of connotation in this book has made the words turned into an art piece. It strengthens the meaning of the words and shows the attitude a writer portrayed to her thoughts. Take for example the words “glorious perfection” on page 157. “Glorious” and “perfection” are already given a meaning of superb and flawless and could stand alone in a sentence as reader would already feel the positive emotions of the writer. But uniting these two words together brings a greater impact on the reader because you could feel how the object described before in that sentence is more than perfect.

To wrap this review up, her gift to present the most complicated ideas into everyday situation is incredibly impressive. As a reader, I am caught in her words and her book has caught my attention from the very first moment I saw the title ‘Do Less, Achieve More’. But I believed that this book might be quite difficult for some readers since just reading the book will not be enough without deep thoughts. Without thinking deeply, a reader will not be able to enjoy the contents of Chu’s ideas. I, for one, enjoyed it very much and I think that Chin-Ning Chu’s explanations and descriptions of her views and opinions on life are written very well in ‘Do Less, Achieve More’.

“Life is truly meant to be easy.”

Book Review Contest: Poetics of Self and Form in Keats & Shelley (reviewed by Hema Madhavan)

As second-generation Romantic Poets, it is understandable that John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley would feel the ‘anxiety of influence’ in relation to their Romantic forefathers. Coming late unto the scene, Keats and Shelley struggle to come up with a unique voice amid the throng of Romantic luminaries like Wordsworth and Coleridge. If we take Mark Sandy’s word, it is we, the reader, who share the responsibility of ensuring their poetic posterity. Mark Sandy is a pioneer in Romantic criticism for undertaking the task of comparing Keats’ and Shelley’s works over several genres in a field which is dominated by comparison studies between Shelley and Lord Byron. His study is mainly informed by Nietzsche’s idea of ‘the subject as a site of conflicting fictions’. It must be emphasised that Mark Sandy is not suggesting, Bloom-like, that Nietzsche exerts a strong influence on the writings of these poets; rather, Sandy is suggesting that the works of Keats and Shelley anticipate key Nietzschean concepts. These include (1) the rejection of rational metaphysics, (2) the Apollonian-Dionysian binary opposition, and (3) the idea of writing for a future, unknown audience.

Nietzsche’s rejection of rational metaphysics is a backlash against the Enlightenment’s insistence on a monolithic philosophy which purportedly categorises and controls natural phenomena. The belief in this one truth of the Enlightenment leads to the notion of the self being fixed and static, a condition known as Being. Nietzsche, however, believes that the self is multiple and divided, and has the ability to create fictions. By extension, this means that the idea of the Enlightenment is just one out of many possible fictions that can be concocted to make sense of reality. In contrast, poets like Keats and Shelley are seen to always be in a state of Becoming, a condition where the poet’s sense of self is flexible and amorphous. This indeterminateness allows for a constantly shifting sense of identity, so that the artist becomes the art object; the reader becomes the artist. This obviously undermines all Enlightenment pretensions of stability and certainty in favour of a liberating sense of Romantic chaos. Sandy uses the metaphor of the self as a revisable script, capable of constant invention and revision. Indeed, Shelley believes that poets should be regarded as the ‘unacknowledged legislators of the world’ (Shelley’s Poetry and Prose, p. 535) because they do not subscribe to a ‘fixed logocentric system of language’ (18).

In Keats’ Lamia, two types of illusion are pitted against each other, the mask of sensual illusion conjured by Lamia colliding with Apollonius’ philosophical classification system. Lycius is torn between these two fictions, and in dramatising Lycius’ dilemma, we as readers are made aware that neither of these fictions have any absolute authority over us. Neither is any better than the other; each attempts to seduce Lycius with its promise of illusion and order. What is telling is that Lycius dies because he finds himself unable to sustain either illusion, suggesting that though there is no one single fiction that fits all, one needs some form of fiction in order to go on living. Similarly, Shelley’s The Witch of Atlas explores the theme of self-creation through fiction-making as symbolized by the witch’s shape-shifting ability and her needlework (used figuratively to embroider tales). Again, the fragility of the fiction-maker is revealed, this time through the device of the poem’s narrator, who in telling the tale reduces the witch to a mere fiction who revels in fabricating fictions of herself. The common bond between Keats’ Lycius and Shelley’s witch is their dependence on fictions which prove to be ever-shifting and unstable, thus endangering their sense of existence. Having said this, it is that fiction which allowed either of them to function at all in the first place.

A useful concept suggested by Nietzsche and applied by Sandy to the works of Keats and Shelley is the Apollonian-Dionysian opposition. The Apollonian refers to the tendency towards illusory dream, a longing for absolute, idealized reality. The Dionysian, on the other hand, represents tragic reality, embracing the mutability and instability of the human condition. Both Keats’ Endymion and Shelley’s Alastor feature men who quest after an attractive but distant woman, representing the Apollonian desire for an ideal which is always just beyond reach. Similarly, Sandy points out that Wordworth employs a fiction of solitary communion with nature in Tintern Abbey as an Apollonian ideal. However, where Wordsworth is content to dwell in this illusion of harmonious communion, Keats and Shelley depart from their forefather’s influence by at first paying homage to that convention, and then later betraying an uneasy apprehension that this fiction might vanish at any time to be tragically replaced by a Dionysian waking unto reality. The self-awareness of both romances with regards to its own fictionality distinguishes them both from Wordsworth’s relatively self-indulgent reverie, which is in danger of becoming fossilised as another absolute truth of Being because it does not offer an alternative counter-fiction. The Dionysian artist is cautioned against settling for any pat truths, for the spirit of Becoming requires that he embrace flux and change.

‘Un-timeliness’ becomes the fate of Nietzsche, Keats and Shelley, in the sense that they see themselves as being ahead of their time and forced to rely on a future audience to ‘counter-sign’ them. Nietzsche’s prophetic lunatic finds his counterpart in Keats’ and Shelley’s visionary poet. These are people who see beyond the contemporary reality of their times and behold a vision of the future, at the expense of being misunderstood and ostracised by society at large. This holds especially true with respect to literary fragments, which demand the reader’s active participation for its completion. In the process of reading, the reader is also fashioning his own self-fiction, and in doing so, he counter-signs the author by interacting with the text. This borrows heavily from Derrida’s notion of the ‘borderline’ in which Keats’ ‘margin-sand’ (Hyperion, 1, 15) and the shoreline imagery in Shelley’s The Triumph of Life converge to delineate the “cross over point between the life and work of an author, poet and reader, forcing a collision of life and literature” (112). In reading the dead authors, the reader, in a manner of speaking, ‘resurrects’ the memory of Keats and Shelley, thus ensuring their legacy.

Notwithstanding his insightful ideas, Sandy’s writing tends to suffer from an excessive use of jargon in places. One gets the impression that to properly understand Sandy, one needs to either be a PhD holder, a philosopher, or Sandy himself. Wading through this thicket of thorny jargon impedes easy and smooth comprehension of Sandy’s subject, which is a shame because it is an engaging one. This kind of writing succeeds in intimidating novice readers such as myself, and may deter the faint-hearted student of Romantic literature from proceeding further.

A further objection that I would like to propose is that Sandy’s insistence on reducing everything into a fiction could in itself be seen as an imprisoning fiction. The assumption that Sandy necessarily makes is that instability is inherently desirable in literary works, and by implication, any author who displays a self-consistent unity in their writings should be suspected of promulgating a linear, autocratic view of things. But to insist upon instability is paradoxically Apollonian, for it betrays an ironic desire to order reality through chaos. Ultimately, all forms of thought reveal a propensity for system (even if it is in fact an order of disorder) and most systems have a tendency to tyrannize through convenient concept-making. Sandy, like Apollonius, comes up with a ‘dull catalogue of common things’ (Lamia, 2, 233) and imposes his systematic framework on the reader. To enforce liberty and choice by force may seem, in this light, the bigger tyranny. Besides, what’s wrong with tyranny if we happily choose to be tyrannized?

From reading this book, I have gained more insight into the writings of these second-generation romantic poets, especially with regards to the inter-textual connections between their works as perceived through the lens of a Nietzschean sensibility. The unique effect of reading this book is that of having witnessed a scintillating dialogue between Keats, Shelley and Nietzsche over the same coffee-table. Besides contributing much needed comparative commentary on Keats and Shelley, Sandy’s book does much to promote Nietzschean thought as a useful aid to illuminating Romantic works, especially in relation to its emphasis on the primacy of imagination (in creating self-fictions) over reason. However, Sandy deliberately omits a comparison of Keats’ and Shelley’s dramatic works, believing that such an undertaking warrants a separate study. It also remains to be seen whether the works of the first-generation Romantic poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge are equally susceptible to the Nietzschean treatment.

While being highly scholarly and refreshing, Poetics of Self and Form in Keats and Shelley comes across as a difficult text to read in parts. Still, praise must be accorded to Mark Sandy for pioneering a comparative study of Shelley and Keats which also promotes Nietzschean literary concepts. As a beginner, I am encouraged by the depth and ingenuity of his arguments to re-read Shelley’s and Keats’ works to verify his analysis. Sandy’s study should be used as a model for scholars who wish to initiate a three-way (or more?) study of major writers and thinkers. In Keats, Shelley and Nietzsche, we have three highly intellectual guests for dinner; in Mark Sandy, we have one very good host.

Book Review Contest: The Wedgwood Ladies Football Club (reviewed by Alan le Bras)

I came across this book a few years ago and immediately liked the author’s tone. The author,TRR Raman, is a famous independent bookstore keeper cum publisher in Kuala Lumpur. This collection of short stories is his first ever being published.

Among the eight stories collected here, a few really stand out and even convinced me to take up the task of translating them all into French. And this will not be an easy task as the author’s use of the English language is informed by the local Malaysian English, much to the reader’s delight, and a lot more to the translator’s plight.

TRR Raman deals very maturely yet at times quite humorously with touchy topics such as religion (Book of Records), politics, communalism (The Wedgwood Ladies, Snatch), but also with the difficulties a publisher may be faced with when dealing with a charismatic author such as Bernie (Bernie).

Drawing on the image of the Wedgwood well crafted porcelains; the author depicts his characters and settings with well‐chosen details, having the readers immersed in lively crunchy dialogues.

For the Western readership I may hereby stand for, the collection is never an object of exoticism but a foray into contemporary Malaysian urban life, with all the modern issues a foreign reader may not be aware of. Last but not least, this collection of short stories is an excellent opportunity to dig into Malaysian English literature starting with an emerging contemporary author from whom we’d like to read more in the years to come.

Book Review Contest: The Compassionate Carnivore (reviewed by Michelle Goh)

This is the latest effort by Friend to encourage us to think about what we eat and how it influences us, the environment and the meat itself in a hilarious and conversational manner.

We are like baby birds; waiting for corporations to shove food down our throats and we do not care where the food comes from. Over the years, we’ve seen many boycotts and public and controversial demonstrations by Peta and yet we do not do anything about it.

Friend describes the relationship between us, the carnivorous consumers and the animals, the meat and her as the middle person, the farmer. She never ask us to be a herbivore because it will not be good for the farming industry but she wants us to make the effort to not waste meat and be more aware of what we’re shoving down our throats.

From the nursery rhyme Old Macdonald, we always expect red roofed barns, with wooden fencing and animals wandering around doing what they have to do but the farms nowadays are far from that especially the factory farms which mass produce animals for the slaughter house.

For those who are on the gory side, she even described the whole slaughter process thoroughly and the difference between the slaughtering process done in factory farms and conventional farms.

Besides that, she tells of her daily challenges as a farmer who loves animals and yet has to raise them and kill them for meat. The words that she uses will tell you the cold, hard, facts and not some sugar dusted truth.

She leads a conventional and interesting life as she lets you peek into her life as a lesbian, Elvis loving farmer living with her partner in a small conservative town. After reading the book, you’re sure to think twice about the Double Cheese Burger you shove down your throat.

Book Review Contest: Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone (reviewed by Fong Chia Sin)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone written by J.K.Rowling were full with fantasy and adventure. This story introduces us to Harry Potter, an orphaned boy sent to live with his "horrible" Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and their fat, obnoxious son, Dudley. Since Harry's parents were powerful witches before they were killed by an even more powerful wizard known as Lord Voldemort on Halloween night, Harry has generational witchcraft in his background, making it very likely that he will be a wizard when he grows up.

Harry is totally unaware that he has Witchcraft in his background and that he might possess inherent "special powers" until he reaches eleven. This is where he was rescued by a beetled-eyed giant of a man named Hagrid to enrol at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In Hogwarts, Harry befriends other first-year students like Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. He, Ron, and Hermione were chosen to be in the noble Gryffindor house.

As the school year gets underway, Harry goes through many challenges where he participated in the Qudditch game as the youngest seeker. Gryffindor won the game against Slytherin. On Halloween, a troll is found in the building. He and Ron again went to find Hermione who doesn’t aware of the troll. Unwittingly, they lock the troll in the girls' bathroom along with Hermione. Together, they defeat the troll. He also discovers the Mirror of Erised, which displays the deepest desire of whoever looks in it. Harry looks in it and sees his parents alive. Harry, Ron, and Hermione begin to unravel the mysterious connection between a break-in at Gringotts and the three-headed guard dog. They learn that the dog is guarding the Sorcerer's Stone belongs to Nicolas Flamel, Dumbledore's old partner. Harry also learns that it is Voldemort who has been trying to steal the Sorcerer's Stone. He, Ron, and Hermione sneak off that night to the forbidden third-floor corridor. They get past the guard dog and perform many impressive feats as they get closer and closer to the stone. Harry ultimately finds himself face to face with Quirrell, who announces that Harry must die. He tries to kill Harry, but Quirrell is burned by contact with the boy. A struggle ensues and Harry passes out

When Harry regains consciousness, he is in the hospital with Dumbledore. Dumbledore explains everything to Harry. Harry heads down to the end-of-year banquet, and then Dumbledore gets up and awards many last-minute points to Gryffindor, leads to them winning the house cup for Gryffindor. Harry returns to London to spend the summer with the Dursleys.

In this story, the author uses the third-person point of view. He or she knows everything about the characters, generally stays close to Harry Potter’s point of view. In the book the author register surprises when Harry is surprised and fear when Harry is afraid. This makes the book interesting as I can feel all the characters emotions and feelings while reading the book. Not only Harry, he also takes the point of view of Mr. Dursley, who dislike by the signs of wizards around town. The shift in point of view from a Muggle's perspective to a wizard's emphasizes the difference between the two worlds.

The story uses straightforward and simple tone, with few purely decorative elements or artistic features, few metaphors and figures, and little playful irony and even foreshadowing. Example of some symbols is Harry's scar, Quidditch, and the Mirror of Erised. The pain that Harry feels at the end of Chapter 7 when Snape stares at him foreshadow that there is some underlying tension between the two. J.K. Rowling exploits our misgivings about Snape by leading us to believe that he and Harry will eventually confront each other in a climactic battle for the Sorcerer's Stone. Besides that, the language used is also easy to grasp. The narrator also never involves moral judgements on any characters, even the wicked Voldemort, but allows us full freedom to praise or condemn. This makes the story easy to understand and interesting.

There is also varies in the settings of the story. It changes from stage to stage. The settings start at Private Drive where Harry stays with his aunt and uncle there since he was a baby. Then the story sets at Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is where Harry studies and learn all the spells and also defense against the dark arts. This is also where he faces Voldemort at the end of the story. This varies in settings make the story more exciting and can have the feel of the atmosphere.

There is also meaningful theme underlying in this story used by the author. It underlined the deep friendship. This can be seen in Harry, Hermione and Ron who are best friend. They helped each other when there is trouble. Hermione and Ron helped Harry to discover the mystery of the Sorcerer’s Stone. They even joined Harry to stop Voldemort from stealing the stone. The friendship tie among them is very strong making the story very meaningful. In the story, J.K. Rowling too slips in many sub-themes such as the value of humility, the occasional necessity of rebellion and the dangers of desire.

This story is full of actions and adventure making it interesting. However, it is still very unrealistic as magic does not occur in our real life.