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Sunday, Sep 09, 2007 - 02:57 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

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Come Ten Twenty Issues

...I also not scared. No lah, talk cock only. But lets start with a personal observation in the morning.

Issue: Cyclists on Footpaths

So I was waiting at the busstop before 8 a.m. on a made-for-sleeping-in rainy Saturday morning, when a standing guy put his hand out to hail the incoming No. 198 bus, nearly knocking down a cyclist wearing a raincoat who had his head bowed down. The cyclist teetered on the edge of the pavement before going over the kerb, but managed to regain control before saying something not exactly very nice and continuing on his way.

In Singapore, I believe cyclists legally belong on the roads. Not long ago, though, there was an initiative to allow them on the pedestrian footpaths. Not that cyclists, in my neighbourhood at least, ever really cared about that particular rule; For every one of them I see dutifully keeping left on the tarmac, there are probably four or more who just go about their merry way on the pavement and ring their bells at walkers to let them pass.

One can understand why they are reluctant to pedal on the roads, where having heavy vehicles continually whizz by them a hair's breadth away, at sixty kilometres an hour or more, can be a harrowing experience. Since the lanes here don't have that much allowance to begin with, this may cause motorists to regard them with frustration sometimes too - at least the ones who bother to moderate their speed when close to a cyclist. Unfortunately, I get the sense that they are equally unwelcome on the pavements, which are again often too narrow for the cyclist to overtake when a single person walks in the middle of it.

Essentially, they are caught between two speeds - too slow for the roads, yet rather too fast for the footpaths. It may not be an issue during off-peak hours where there are few pedestrians, but during the morning rush where they have to more or less herd walkers out of the way every ten metres, I wonder about the point of riding at all.

Speaking of walking, I quite often observe that even if one keeps right to the side of the pavement, incoming groups approaching in the opposite direction all too often refuse to let one pass despite knowing well in advance. Okay, so it is debatable whether being in a big group confers the privilege of maintaining a four-abreast formation across the length of the pavement, but my own opinion is that it is quite a cock thing to do, so on principle I just continue straight on hugging the edge; Somehow I also notice that a mixed group (containing some girls) is far more likely to proactively let a lone guy through on the side. Maybe it's just a primitive game of chicken hardwired into our instincts.

But back to the wet Saturday morning. The reason for going to the campus was a Bafa-Bafa simulation run by the MNO class. Since the rules don't appear to be freely available on the Internet already, I won't spoil it for those of you whom may experience it in the future. Some interesting game theory implications, though.

This year's edition of Splashdown (renamed Swim+Save) was on right after the simulation, but I decided to give it a miss this time around. Next year maybe.

An invitation to a Monetary Authority of Singapore "Talent Attraction Event" got me again considering my exact career path for the first time in a while. I'll be the first to admit that I am not sure precisely what I want to do, but even this potential opportunity to work for a "big governmental organization" (accurate enough, roughly speaking) got my grandma pretty excited. Since my uncles have been in Singapore Airlines and the Air Force respectively for decades, and my slightly younger cousin has an MOE Teaching Scholarship, it's not hard to see why she may think that it would be a great job.

In response, I guess I may have to subtly tank the interview if it gets to that stage.

Then again, I could be singing a different tune after I graduate (which isn't that far away) and get to know what the marketplace thinks of the merits of Computer Science and Economics degrees. It's just that I think taking a job without being reasonably passionate about it is a lose-lose for both myself and the employer. Something just doesn't feel right about declaring an opening to be your "dream job" and going all starry-eyed when it isn't, which is why I haven't done that in any interviews so far - Someday, however, having to earn my own keep might push me over the line from polite enthusiasm to that :)

Issue: Legal Fees

Today's Straits Times reported the sad circumstances of a primary school teacher who was awarded $188 for damage sustained by his motorbike in 2004, but had the verdict overturned since the other party's lawyers managed to argue that the ex-PRDC (now e@dr) was not a true court and thus the order was invalid. Fair enough, perhaps, but the kicker is that the appeal cost $63000 - and guess who is liable to pay?

Anyone with a modicum of sense should be able to see that having to cough up such a sum for what is by all accounts a perfectly trivial matter is quite ridiculous - I don't think the teacher had much say in how pricey the lawyers his opponent had engaged were. Then there's the famous Ricky Bodine case in the USA.

There are several versions floating about on the Internet, and depending on which one believes, Bodine was "...a recent graduate who fell through a skylight on the roof of his alma mater", or a burglar who fell after stealing a floodlight. Likely both are true - it's just that the devil's in the details, and in my search for a definitive version I found a document on the case on UC Berkeley's law website.

If one skips to page thirteen of that document, it appears agreed that Bodine was indeed involved in burglary. So, although he was in the process of stealing from a property, and got to the gym roof by climbing ledges - not particularly a standard mode of access, and fell through a skylight and hurt himself, he still managed to claim US$260000 (and that in the early 80s) and a monthly stipend of US$1200. Maybe it was harsh that he became a spastic quadriplegic for petty crime, but I would say that it's hardly the school's fault he got into this mess. At least a judge didn't manage to win his US$54 million lawsuit for a lost pair of trousers.

Moral of the story: What's right may not be lawful, what's lawful may not be right. Nothing new, I know, I know.

Hmm, speeding things up...

Issue: CAP S/U

Okay, the background here is that NUS is reviewing its policy of allowing students to assign Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) grades to their modules only around mid-semester and not after. In a nutshell, S/U-ing a module makes it such that its final grade does not count towards the computation of a student's CAP, which in turn determines the student's degree class; Ideally, this would allow students to pursue modules in which they are not necessarily good, but do have interest in, without worrying that a bad result would pull their grades down.

Of course, using the S/U option cuts both ways - if the student in fact aces the module and gets an A+, his CAP will not be raised either; But in general, knowing that, students will put less effort in modules that they have S/U-ed, in essence allowing themselves an easier ride.

Now, NUS has proposed that incoming freshmen (and later cohorts) will be allowed to exercise the S/U option after receiving their results. In effect, they would be able to drop their three worst non-major requirement scores, eliminating the risk of wasting one of their their three S/U opportunities on a module they actually did relatively well in. Current students, on the other hand, would stick with the old system.

Predictably, there was a great hoo-hah.

A sampling of (non-freshmen) responses on the official forums to discuss the matter follows (My own comments in bold):

"Fair - all or none!"

"We take the same modules, why not the same S/U?"


"I doubt our concerns will be taken into consideration... so much for Top 20"

"We ([Faculty] Year 3 students) strongly agree that seniors should be applied to the new policy!!!"
(Glad to see that this student took the effort to poll so many of his peers)

"Fairness for all"

"I am already pretty upset that [Faculty] Year 1 students are preallocated modules... It already tipped the scales and made it severely unbalanced."
(Hm... perhaps their competition for module registration is really really strong)

"We pay school fees just like they do... Frankly the only difference between seniors and Year 1 students are our ages. And that is an unacceptable reason for not being allowed to use the new S/U option, just because I was born earlier than my juniors..."
(Refer to * - also, I'm not sure if the school fees paid are exactly the same...)

"Why should Year 1 be so privileged!!!"

"Do not even think of using the phrase that 'nothing is fair in this world' as an excuse, because the situation now is far from fair but unjust, ridiculous and unreasonable."
(Score one for the preemptive strike! But if 'nothing is fair in this world' is a catchall argument, isn't this sort of a catchall rebuttal?)

The freshies were quite a bit less vocal, though it may have had more to do with their unfamiliarity with the forums than of any selfishness on their part.

An NUS law student has said his piece on the issue, and I tend to mostly concur. His third point that the "S/U option is a matter of policy, not of principle or right" is an interesting one for me, though. Suppose now that NUS has decided that average grades have risen too fast, and that it does not want to fall prey to the grade inflation that has plagued other universities. So, to maintain the value of good honours classifications, they implement a policy that current graduating students have their CAPs cut by 0.25 across the board (or equivalently raise all honours class requirements by 0.25).

As a policy, I believe that it is well within the rights of the university to do this, but the screams of bloody murder that would echo around its world-class halls would dwarf anything that has happened due to the current real-life S/U issue. The point here is that very few things are cast-in-stone rights, but many things are certainly unfair. The reduction in NSF service period has been cited both in the above blog post and on the forums, with the intention of illustrating that sometimes total fairness and improvement cannot coexist (reminds me of Arrow's Impossibility Theorem and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle); The basic idea is that whenever some improved policy is put into effect that, it will always be unfair to prior batches.

Or will it? Indeed, seniors and juniors compete in the same modules, and probably in the same job market - and the difference between a second upper and a second lower is not a small one, at least in the civil service. An extra few hundred bucks per month from the start can add up. But I would surmise that the impact of S/Us is just one of very many unknowns. The difficulty of a module may vary quite significantly from one semester to the next. The percentage of As and other grades awarded by various professors may differ. And so on. Heck, even finding the percentage of each cohort in each honours classification has been a huge challenge for me (anyone with any publicly-available hard figures, please inform me).

And I don't see any protests on the behalf of the last batch of graduates, who must be just as adversely affected. There have been quite a lot of comments that "administrative complications should not prevent senior students from being able to reassign their old S/Us", but nothing on inviting the seniors' own beloved seniors back to possibly upgrade their own degrees too. The fact that frankly, the only difference between those graduates and current seniors is their age has conveniently flown over everyone's heads.

All I can say is, 人不为己, 天珠地灭 (Approximate Translation: The day when people do not look out for themselves, the heavens and earth will be destroyed). For all the arguments about fairness, it is mostly just dressed-up self-interest made to sound more noble, but no less natural or justified for that. If the situation were reversed and the S/U option slated to be totally removed, I wonder how many seniors would lift a finger to their keyboards to fight on the behalf of their disadvantaged juniors. Not nearly as many, I would expect. Then again, I fully expect all this sound and fury to signify nothing, the policy to be pushed through, and the uproar quickly forgotten. So nothing is fair in this world - just suck on it.

Just in case any of you were wondering, I personally don't give a beep about this. Haven't used any S/Us, don't plan to.

* Good opportunity for a joke on discrimination and affirmative action (USA context):

A manager called in his four employees and informed them sorrowfully that due to declining business conditions, he would have to let one of them go.

Black guy: I'm black, you can't dismiss me.

Woman: I'm female.

50 year-old: You fire me, and I'll have an age discrimination lawsuit on you so fast your head will spin.

They all look at the last employee, an average white male.

Guy (hopefully): Ermmmmm.... I'm gay?

Issue: Inflation

The Old Chang Kee curry puff (OCKCP) on campus has risen from S$0.90 to S$1.00. Certain burgers seem to have silently diminished to a healthier, smaller size too. Note to self: Investigate how Singapore's official inflation rate is determined purely out of academic interest.

Issue: Online privacy

By now, you must have heard of the ODEX saga, summarised here. I won't go into discussions about whether suing primary school kids for thousands of dollars without warning is acceptable, or turning to pirated fansubs is justified if the official version has shitty dubbing at a high price. Instead, I will just touch on local ISP attitudes towards consumer privacy.

First, ODEX approached SingNet, and by all accounts got the information they wanted without much hassle. A district judge wrote that they did not even bother to send lawyers to court to contest the order. Doesn't sound good, does it? The PR rearguard action came later, when SingNet claimed that "it did not "consent" to demands... to hand over [subscriber details]". Technically, that's probably true. Their attitude, as far as I can see, was that they needed a court order. And they got it, not by "consent" but by "complete absence of dissent". Although the order presumably ran directly counter to the interests of their valued customers, they just threw in the towel before the bell and fulfilled their legal obligations.

Starhub was next. They didn't win their case, but at least they sent their own lawyers to fight it.

Finally, they went for the smallest ISP, Pacific Internet. PacNet won.

I'm staying on PacNet for the foreseeable future.

Issue: Ten Twenty

Something trivial to finish up. The line references "You come ten twenty men I also not scared", slightly altered from the "You come ten twenty men I also dun scared ah" in the infamous Bangla vs Ah Beng conversation (full transcript). Its can-do spirit resonated with some of my friends, who invoke it regularly even today. Come to think of it, a long time ago it was "I give you ten (twenty) years to prepare".

"Ten-twenty X" has a nice ring about it, and I realised that in a rather unlikely place - Felice Benuzzi's No Picnic on Mount Kenya. There is a sentence: "... When any book enters the barracks, it is assaulted by ten, twenty men hungry for reading matter".

Déjà vu! Across long years, some phrases are just meant to be rediscovered again and again.

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Next: Busy Busy Weekend

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c.wenhoo said...

When any chio bu steps in SoC class...

September 11, 2007 - 00:20 SGT     

gilbert said...



I catch no ball leh...

September 11, 2007 - 19:42 SGT     

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