Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mathematics in Malaysia (2) - Overemphasis of Practice

Note: This post is adapted from my comment in ReCom, and I think it is an apt continuation of an earlier post.

Math Café IIIFrom my personal experience and brief scanning of math threads in ReCom, I observed that many teachers advocate "practice makes perfect" philosophy in the teaching of mathematics. And as someone who loves maths and wishes to see higher mathematical aptitude in Malaysia, the prevalence of such mentality in our schools disturbs me profoundly.

Maths is about understanding, logical reasoning, critical analysis and creativity. NOT rote memory and algorithmic drills. Among all our subjects in secondary and primary schools, maths is arguably the subject that requires the highest degree of comprehension. Ironically, among all subjects, it also tends to be the subject where the most number of teachers give their students a daily drill of "do more practise and you should do better in it", instead of "think and learn more about it to understand it better".

Now, I fully understand and empathize that not everyone is able to fully understand all mathematical concepts taught in school, as each and every one of us are born with unequal talents in different fields. You may be a fine artist but flunk your math tests on a regular basis; I may ace math tests but draw like crap. So in this regard, I understand that it's indeed necessary for teachers to make practice an essential component in mathematical education, as it is indeed the easier, if not the only way for many people to do well in maths exams.

mathHowever, I have a feeling that practice has been overemphasized in our schools, to the extent that it has now supplanted understanding which is the essence of mathematics. You often hear people giving advice like "do more, more and even more practice until you are sick of it, and that would be the highest level you could achieve in preparing for maths tests". But you don't often hear, "hey my friend, let's work together to understand what this formula actually mean, why it is true and how it actually works". From my personal experience, when faced with such approach of teaching, many people simply turn it down and say "hey skip the crap, just tell me how to do it from the first step to the last". It seems that understanding is now relegated to something that only Olympiad maths participants should be interested in, the rest of us should aim more at buying more practice books.

Practice is good for SPM exams, this fact nobody can deny. However, when understanding is being increasingly perceived as an unnecessary evil, and practice being supposed to be the most economical approach for good exam scores, I fear that we will do badly when it comes to "real world maths". When you go to university, you would realise that "step by step" and "practice" is no longer relevant - understanding is the key. With years of incessant practice and scarce attention to understanding, I fear that many people, even those who actually have the intellectual capacity in the first place, would have been blunted in their creativity and comprehensive faculty, and consequently face hindrance in their further studies.

I hope that this post doesn't come down as being elitist, but this is something I care deeply about so I would love to hear from others about this.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

ANZAC Day Dawn Service

IMG_4922 (by Chang Yang)
5.25am: Melbourne University tram terminal. A tram was late.

IMG_4924 (by Chang Yang)
The tram was packed to the capacity, and the tram driver kept on announcing "keep the doorway clear!", to the disgruntlement of the passengers. As if we were able to follow that instruction.

IMG_4931 (by Chang Yang)
This was where everyone was heading to - the Shrine of Remembrance, located just south of Melbourne city centre. In the darkness, a 35,000-strong crowd gathered at the Shrine to commemorate the dead. As reported by The Age:
The hymn Be Still, My Soul was played by a military band and sung by a choir. It was followed by God Save the Queen, the Australian national anthem during the two world wars of the 20th century, and the present national anthem.
IMG_4937 (by Chang Yang)
I was awed by the number of people, old and young alike, standing in solemn respect at 6am. Here, a little girl was seen lighting a candle.

IMG_4942 (by Chang Yang)
As dawn unfurled its splendour, the dawn service came to an end and people went in to the shrine to lay a wreath.

IMG_4954 (by Chang Yang)
I didn't go into the shrine, and this picture should show you why. It's not often you see that many people at 6.30am.

IMG_4959 (by Chang Yang)
So, instead, I went to the eternal flame, a permanent fixture outside the Shrine. It was also thronged by people and cameras.

IMG_4963 (by Chang Yang)
Some kids and teens kept on throwing coins towards the flame, and it irked an elderly who yelled out loud, "Please refrain from throwing coins. This is a sacred flame, not your fancy wishing well!". This stopped the coin-throwing for a while. One minute later, people continued throwing coins, to the consternation of the annoyed bloke. Poor guy.

IMG_4969 (by Chang Yang)
ANZAC day is a meaningful day as it honours the dead who fought for the freedom of their posterity. Listed on this monument are some of the countries the Australian army fought in. You can see the word "Malaya" on it.

IMG_4972 (by Chang Yang)
The day may not be very relevant to me as an international student, but witnessing the dawn service has been a very unique, or as they said, a "very Australian" experience for me. May we all remember the veterans, dead or alive, who served and sacrificed themselves in war.

Other pictures available in my flickr album: ANZAC Day Dawn Service 2008.
Read more about ANZAC Day in Wikipedia.

Technical note: It's almost impossible to shoot before dawn. Even ISO 1600 and f/2.8 couldn't help much with the low light, especially in picture number 3 and 4 where I had to expose for 1/5 second even with the ISO and aperture above. After the break of dawn though, things got a bit easier but I still needed to crank up to ISO 800 and f/2.8 most of the time. What an experience for low-light, tripod-less photography.


Thursday, April 24, 2008


If you haven't started using PicLens, you probably should:

It brings so much fun and novelty to viewing images online. Works on flickr (my photo album is there), google image search, facebook, picasa, friendster etc. Now it also lets you view youtube videos, although for some reasons it is not yet working on my computer.

Available for Firefox, Safari, and, eeer... yea, Internet Explorer.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Few Night Shots

IMG_4906a (by Chang Yang)
I was bored and didn't feel like doing anything productive tonight.

IMG_4904a (by Chang Yang)
So I decided to take some pictures of the surrounding of my house.

IMG_4907a (by Chang Yang)
Our suburb is teeming with high rise buildings. Those buildings house lots of refugees, and students like us.

IMG_4914 (by Chang Yang)
You have houses with drastically different architecture abutting each other.

IMG_4918a (by Chang Yang)
You also have houses with different colours and lighting.

I felt a little bit unnerved as I took pictures alone in the eerie silence of the night with some occasional cars zooming past. I quickly scuffled home as I saw some suspicious teenagers walking past nearby. I probably will take more night shots on some other days.

Technical Note: Photos taken in RAW and post-processed on Photoshop.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

I Will Listen to More News

... if all of them are like this.

Tok tok tok… Pukul 10 malam.
Inilah Berita dari Radio 9 Brickfields

Mula-mula berita penting:

* Amerika utara berjanji mahu membeli 8 buah meriam daripada malaysia tetapi tidak jadi.

* Pasukan Negeri Sembilan telah berjaya memenangi acara bola jaring di Padang Dadah Paroi petang semalam.

Berita seterusnya… err sepenuhnya, mana satu tah:

* Amerika syarikat telah berjaya membeli 8 buah meriam daripada Malaysia yang akan digunakan untuk perhiasan di muzium di Amerika.

Pada mulanya tentera-tentera tidak mahu membeli meriam itu kerana tidak tahu macam mana mahu menggunakannya. Tetapi menurut pegawai muzium di sana, mereka boleh menggunakan meriam itu untuk ambil gambar.

* 24 April, satu kejadian ngeri telah berlaku di sebelah hulu Kedah bahagian hulu dekat kedai basikal sana, satu eksiden telah berlaku di mana sebuah basikal telah melanggar sebuah lori yang berhenti. Plat lori itu patah. Basikal itu pula dilaporkan dalam keadaan teruk di mana lampunya pecah dan bertebaran di atas jalan bertabur-taburan seperti pasir-pasir di tepi laut.

Pemandu basikal itu pula dilaporkan cedera parah di mana dua helai tali perutnya putus dan buah pinggangnya telah hilang. Menurut hospital yang dihantar pada malam itu selepas kejadian tersebut… macam mana dia tulis ni, nanti saya baca balik semula. Menurut hospital di mana rawatan pesakit luar dijalankan… mana pulak kertas… hilang… ha ni dia. banyak sangat la potong ni dia tulis tak betul ni, berita ni. Menurut hospital, pemandu basikal itu berada di dalam keadaan tenat di mana sebelah daripada buah pinggangnya telah hilang. Pihak hospital telahpun mengadakan bedah siasat dan mencabut lapan batang dihadapannya untuk menjamin kesihatan.

* Dan ada satu berita baru dihantarkan kepada saya. Berita ini dikirimkan oleh… argh sapa nama dia, takde di sini, dari Brickfield.

Tiga orang pemuda dijumpai mati terduduk di sebuah kawasan perkuburan. mereka terkejut…

Apa ni tulis ni, tak nampaklah. sekian sahajalah berita pada malam ini sebab saya tak boleh nak baca. tak nampaklah, lampu takde. Assalamualaikum.

Small talk: Sorry for the string of nonsense in my recent posts. I guess I am just a bit stressed up by the impending deadline for my research. :(
Small talk 2: Can someone point out the origin of this clip? It's in my MP3 collection and I don't know where it's from.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ridiculous Indeed

I was chatting with a friend about history (called Sejarah in Malay language) in Malaysia a while ago. As we shared our thoughts, I am reminded of something that happened to me in Form one.

Form One was the first year I came to learn Sejarah "academically". I remember that for almost the whole year, the only thing we learned was the history of the Malacca Sultanate. Founded by Parameswara, a prince from Palembang, Malacca thrived as an entrepôt where traders along the East-West route converged for trading.

Our teacher was a great narrator. She always had a great way of making Sejarah interesting for us. At the same time, however, she had the tendency to aggrandize the greatness of the Sultanate, to the extent of describing Malacca as the world capital and the leaders as flawless statesmen. She also has this ludicrous way of punishing us - she got us to run around the school as the punishment for not doing her homeworks.

So there was one day that she said something ridiculous. I can't remember exactly what she said, but I think it was something like, if the Portuguese had not used some unfair magical tactic to distract the Malacca troops, the troop would have been able to fend off even ten Portuguese marine troops. Or China during 15th century would have had to bow to Malacca's greatness. Something like that.

As recalcitrance got the better of me, I yelled out indignantly,


The teacher's jaw dropped. She hurled the chalk towards the blackboard, then sat down livid with anger. Go figure the rest of the drama with your imagination. Or ask Eric.

That would go down the history as the most ridiculous thing I have done in my life.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Free Tibet (?)

Free tibet... with purchase of $20 or above

Okay that was not meant to present any point.

Lots of controversies have arisen about the current unrest in Tibet, and while I have lots to learn and say about this issue, for now I would just link to a discussion thread in ReCom.

What says you?

Image credit: JSOnline


Friday, April 11, 2008

A Trip in Mornington Peninsula (4)

Note: This post is continued from here.

IMG_4851 (by changyang1230tream)
Our last stop was a maze. It seems to me that mazes are the most common tourist attractions in Australia. I have been to at least three different mazes here.

IMG_4812 (by changyang1230tream)
In this maze, we were given some questions about dinosaurs,

IMG_4784 (by changyang1230tream)
and we needed to go all around the maze to find the answers.

IMG_4811 (by Chang Yang)
Throughout the area, there are also weird sculptures made of scrap metals,

IMG_4824 (by changyang1230tream)
and the conventional statues like this,

IMG_4849 (by changyang1230tream)
and this.

IMG_4837 (by Chang Yang)
The lushes of greeneries in there

IMG_4834 (by Chang Yang)
made for

The Fan (by changyang1230tream)
great photo opportunities.

IMG_4857 (by changyang1230tream)
That concluded our trip. On our way back, we came across this perfect lookout spot where the vast expanse of Mornington Peninsula spread before our eyes. So we made a brief stop.

Fotoholics Committee (by changyang1230tream)
There you have it, an amazing trip brought about by the Fotoholics Committee. It was a shame I didn't help out much apart from driving the car, but oh well. :D I definitely look forward to the next one!



Thursday, April 10, 2008

You Are Now Friends With...

I have always thought that Facebook uses the weirdest language I have ever seen:

Wee Loon Ong and Yee Pin Tan are now friends.
John Doe is now in a relationship.
You have 10 friends.
It's as if Wee Loon and Yee Pin were not friends before they added each other in Facebook; or they need Facebook's cap mohor to be friends. Facebook also seems to find a need to declare "you are now in a relationship", the same way as a pastor saying "you may now kiss your bride". It doesn't help when Facebook occasionally also announces "John Kay and Cecilia Aniston ended their relationship".

Today, Multiply (another social website) totally trumped Facebook by taking the language to an entirely different level:
Chang Ching Yew has invited you to be his brother.
This is getting more and more ridiculous, one day everyone will be doing this:

Facebook defines relationships. 'Yeah, we would have broken up last night, but the net connection was down.'
Have you had grouses or funny experience with quirks in social websites?

p/s: By the way, my mum hasn't accepted my invitation in Multiply.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Blog :: A Portrait

A good blog to the world is almost like a portrait in Hogwart's headmaster office to Harry Potter. It's the encapsulation of one's character - it's not the real I; but it's I.

I was especially overwhelmed by what a blog could mean to the rest of the world, when I read the last blog post by a US Marine who died in a war. That particular post was submitted AFTER he died. Very touching and thought-provoking.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Trip in Mornington Peninsula (3)

Note: This post is continued from here.

IMG_4715 (by changyang1230tream)
In the morning on the second day, we visited a vineyard. The weather was gloomy, and it started showering soon after.

IMG_4657 (by changyang1230tream)
Xuan Ni was not too pleased with the weather. And neither was she impressed by the few bunches of small, dry grapes in the vineyard. It was a huge disappointment for her as she had always wanted to see grapes in a vineyard.

IMG_4659 (by changyang1230tream)
There was a little consolation when we accidentally found one bunch of better-looking grapes. Only one though.

IMG_4690 (by changyang1230tream)
Due to the weather, one of the most exciting part of our itinerary, the dolphin cruise was cancelled. So we had to spend a few hours in the vineyard. Sadly enough, the weather didn't seem to ease as the time passed.

IMG_4669 (by changyang1230tream)
Feeling bored, we took pictures again.

IMG_4711 (by changyang1230tream)
And again.

IMG_4701 (by changyang1230tream)
And again.

IMG_4734 (by changyang1230tream)
After the vineyard, we went to a strawberry farm where we had the chance to pick our own strawberries.

IMG_4738 (by changyang1230tream)
As you would expect, there are succulent, flaming red strawberries in the farm;

IMG_4717 (by changyang1230tream)
but to our surprise, we found BUNCHES of grapes there as well! Needless to say, Xuan Ni was happy.

IMG_4750 (by changyang1230tream)
And to cap off the excitement, this is the ultimate ambrosia - an icecream called "strawberry temptation". Taste superb. Steep price too. :(

[to be continued...]


Monday, April 07, 2008

A Trip in Mornington Peninsula (2)

Note: This post is continued from here.

IMG_4377.jpg (by changyang1230)
Fruit farm.

They have a special type of fruit called quince. It tastes rather like a cross of a pear and an apple, said Xuan Ni. It is only edible when cooked.

IMG_4359.jpg (by changyang1230)
After having done picking some fruits and taking pics of alpacas (they are from the same genus as llamas),

IMG_4414.jpg (by changyang1230)
the big group set off again

to the lighthouse,

IMG_4514a (by changyang1230)
and then to the beach.

IMG_4515a (by changyang1230)
As the waves lapped against the shore,

IMG_4503a (by changyang1230)
some anglers waited for the fish (I don't know how fishing at the beach works, anyone?),

IMG_4522a (by changyang1230)
while fotoholics continued to do what they like to do most,

IMG_4533a (by changyang1230)
till the last ray of the sun receded from the horizon.

Credit: Pic 2 & 5 by Su Min
[to be continued...]
[Apr 9: Continued here]