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And the best students are those who obsess…

16 Nov

I hate talking about exams. Outside of knowing what’s going to be tested, and possibly reviewing what you didn’t know afterwards (ok, that’s something I don’t do but probably should)… I hate having protracted conversations about tests.

It’s just a stick or carrot. It’s just a tool to make you go forward.  If you were the donkey, why would you waste a single minute of your life talking about the tool? It’s inevitable, so talking about it won’t make it go away. They’re going to use it regardless, because it would be unfair to the other donkeys if they don’t use it. And yeah, it is kind of useful. Otherwise I’d have beaten my own track into isolation and starvation at this point (ie., a place with no resources and thus no means of feeding myself – or in the long term, a job). But outside of that, really? You would talk about the stick?donkey1050x700.jpg

The stick is a fact of life. I’m not going to give another minute of my life to talking about the stick. Since we’re here, might as well talk about more interesting stuff, he? Like why are we donkeys different? What makes you an individual? Do you perceive me the same way I perceive you? And why do the humans prefer certain facial features? The human women all look the same to me, so why are some women more valuable mates than others? How many donkeys can I make without lowering my productivity as a pack mule? Would it make sense to be sterile donkey? And why that dude such an aggressive, stubborn mule? Hey, have you noticed that it’s mostly dudes? I wanna be an aggressive, stubborn female mule! Why not? Why is it so unacceptable for both me and everyone else for me to be a bitchy mule? And why is being a bitch such a derogative?

Talking about the stick naturally makes you defensive. That’s not a nice way to be. The stick is there, it’s there for a purpose. It’s fulfilling it’s purpose. We don’t need to give the stick more power than it already has. Chill. You are the master. It’s rather nice to be alive. Time to Braaayyy.



Trust yourself – recent things I’ve learnt about learning

12 Jan

These few days have been very interesting as I’ve come across a few disparate nuggets about learning:

Time management: read Two Awesome Hours by Josh Davis. I tend not to spend my time on self-help books as I find a lot of it written by people whose careers are based on the self-help consultancy. This book was recommended as offering neurology-based practical advice. I found the first portion of it amazing, and the end basically a recap. But a few takeaways I found particularly useful:

  1. Take the time to consider your next move: this is something my husband does. He’s amazingly efficient at entering fields he has previously little knowledge about and learning the job. Part of this is due to his strategic use of time: instead of just taking the tasks that he comes across (such as slogging through 80 unread messages in his inbox), he actually tries to be aware of what would be the best use of this next segment of time he has coming up. This is probably why he finds my way of working around the house rather bewildering – I would stop on my way to do something I had determined as important – to do a little cleaning up here, a little crafting there – and leave partially finished projects all over the place, whilst my main work is disregarded. My husband actually plans ahead what he’s going to use this segment of time to do (ex: “I need time to cleanup X’mas tree + tie up loose travel plans for vacation Saturday evening”). This has also made our partnership easier as I am informed that this time I’m expected to mind the kids.
  2. Notice what effects your energy level and mood: If I do small crafts and chores in the morning, when I’m more alert after coffee, I hit an energy lull that pretty much dumps my afternoon for productive mind work down the toilet. However, if I study in the morning, I can do small crafts and chores when I hit my energy lull, because it requires much less alertness, and at that point I’m usually buzzing with the studying endorphins I got in the morning. I’m also becoming more aware of how social media taps my attention so that I might feel falsely refreshed whilst physically being really exhausted. Plus, that’s also a large segment of time that I’m not actually making progress in the things that matter. Besides social media, there are other rabbit holes I have to be aware of: I now know that reading about child abuse and mass murders can be very emotional and absorbing for me, so now I’m consciously trying to avoid clicking on these headlines or looking into the history of these things. If I know I’m going to be picking up the children next, I have to make sure that I’ve achieved something in the day so I don’t (irrationally) resent them for interrupting my time, and the things I do just before I pick them up have to be something I can just drop at the moment.
  3. The environment: Sitting upstairs vs sitting downstairs. I’ve always found myself more alert when there’s good lighting. Turns out the color of the lighting also matters: lightbulbs on the blue spectrum foster productivity, lightbulbs on the yellow spectrum foster creativity.

    Info from other sources I found useful:

  4. Staying challenged with new material/hobbies/levels: As a child, I’ve been pretty lackadaisical about practicing, because I was required to. Now that I realized I actually want to play piano, I’m finding out that I need to make sure I’m working on something harder while recapping pieces I’ve become more fluent at. This keeps me challenged and wanting to keep practicing.
  5. Recapping things to oneself instead of simply reading. Simply reading, underlining, and making notes from the book only gives one a sense of accomplishment. When I was studying for Organic Chem and Biochem, I was drawn to sitting in front of a blank note pad (interestingly, I even found that it had to be a certain size and placed horizontally), where I would recap what I had learned. I was particularly inspired by how this lady presented the information. It’s definitely something she learned well enough to explain so methodically. A delight to listen to.

    When studying for Immunology, I was drawn to making my own flashcards to test myself. And I wouldn’t be writing the flashcards out from the textbook, but from what I’d recalled I’d just read. After finishing a ‘set’ of flashcards, I would then refer to the textbook to make sure I’d gotten everything right. Usually by the time I’d prepared the flashcards, I only needed them for as refreshers when I felt I had gone foggy on the specifics. Writing out the flashcards on a notebook format was so slow though that I stopped doing it after a few chapters. Recently, I read about two online programs that let you create your own flashcards for free! Will have to try them out next time! ( & )

    Recently playing with duolingo, I’ve found myself gradually drawn to writing new vocab down, from memory, as I find my recall of new vocab slipping when I simply learn from the program (what I’ve heard people call the saturation point for new information). It’s a pretty awesome program btw. Which brings me to:

  6. Not telling people about your big goals: You know as a kid you often get asked what your dream is? When you’re applying to programs? My parents have often found me “noncommittal” when I chose not to tell them about certain goals that I was actually working for. It appears my instincts were right. The more you tell people, the more gratified you feel about it in the moment and the less likely you will work towards your goals.

    So Imma gonna go shut up now. : )


How we grow, and how we hope to grow

12 Jan

I feel fortunate and grateful every time I think of the excellent mommy friends I made in Doha – friends who share the same parenting values, making play dates so infinitely easier knowing that we set similar limits and allowances for our children. Now that we are back in Taiwan, I am experiencing some reverse culture shock. While we came expecting some approbation for our ‘scantily’ clad infants, what I was not expecting was how evolved many young parents are becoming, and how much I now notice some correlation between parenting and child behavior. I am also starting to get a feel for how the ‘traditional’ method of Taiwanese parenting and our school system may have an adverse effect on the long-term perspectives of children and teenagers. It is both fascinating, and worrying.

On to anecdotal evidence:

1. The aggressive-passive child After several days of delightfully healthy and varied Asian food, we decided we had enough virtue to go to McDonald’s. This McDonald’s I recalled had a fine soft-play climbing gym. It has, to my surprise, been replaced by a digital interactive floor game. The program is far too fast and busy for my (increasingly austere) taste. But Knox and Quin enjoyed stomping around busting projected balloons and whatnot. An older child was playing there as well. He seemed to not notice Knox and Quin at first.

Later, a game came on where the goal was the step on the eggs while birds flew around. He started pushing Knox because he wanted to step on all the eggs in a nest himself, calling: “You should step on the birds! Don’t step on the eggs!” (he didn’t bother Quin because she was just stomping about rather aimlessly). Knox came over to us crying. He appeared bothered that someone was being aggressive. Mike told him that “If someone is pushing you, just push back.” Which Knox went back and did, but he appeared to be not enjoying it at all: he seemed to be crying more because he had to push the other kid to defend himself.

Mike stood up and went to sit in the middle of the floor, at which point the child got up and left. He came back when Mike moved to the margins. Starting pushing again. Mike sat closer. The child went to his parents.

Mike was very upset that the child’s parents were not there to intervene. I was more upset at myself that I did not know what to do in this situation.

While parents generally believe the sun shines out of their children’s bottoms, I really do believe that Knox’s stressed crying when he pushed the other child back comes from a reluctance to deal violence as well. I do not want that sentiment to go away, but I was momentarily frozen – I did not know what to do. How can you preserve the peaceful nature of a child while teaching them to defend themselves? How can you also give a stranger’s child the opportunity to practice peaceful ways of interaction? I know that violence only begets violence. And I have done ‘walking away’ with Knox from violent children before. But I do not feel that that is the solution. Walking away from this child will not be helpful to him in any way. He obviously craves being alone to have the game to himself. He is so isolated he does not see the value of the company of this other child. What he needs is the ability to connect with other children.

You may think right now I am making a mountain out of a mole-hill. But putting aside the fact that I was not happy that the child he was hurting was my own, and the morals of picking on those who are younger. I do not consider such behavior normal.

It is not normal; it should not be considered normal that a child will devise a twisted logic to justify his actions of actual aggression. It should not be considered normal that a child will, at his young age, feel the need to be less than honest with himself. And it should not be normal that the child is so fixated on winning all of a game (that is designed for several children to play together), that he cannot see the value in another child.

I have seen some different forms of violent children. Some because they do not know their own strength, some because they do not seem aware of what they are doing, some have an irresistible urge that they need to learn to grow out of… this is slightly different. This appears to be a child who feels the need to hide his intentions and sense of rejection. A child who is afraid of adults but will pick on someone smaller. This child could be over-fatigued and out of his mind. But I feel that he needs positive connection with others, to develop his sense of self and honesty with himself.

It is a pity that children’s rejecting behaviors because of some inner need actually cause us to react in a way that exacerbates the situation. We walk away. We criticize and we punish. And those who need the most love are even more isolated than before. I feel that I will eventually learn how to react in this situation. I know I must. Right now I am not there yet. Any suggestions?

Update 11th Feb, 2015: Found this article that seemed pertinent to this situation. I suppose there is not much we can do when it concerns someone else’s child, but to protect ours.

(other anecdotal evidence, to be continued…)

I have a dream

17 Jan

Ihaven’t written on this blog for a while, and that is because I’ve been engrossed in the Montessori method. It’s an educational theory based on scientific observation of children. The goal is to help foster peaceful, independent learners and thinkers. So far in this journey in life, I have never met with something, however much I support it, that I agree with 100%. I am surprised to say that I think : Montessori could be it.

Today I was pushing a double stroller with our 2 year old and 5 month old in it, along the fine fair winter Doha weather. The roads are under construction, and there are a lot of too narrow sidewalks and makeshift bridges. Time after time, strangers would come up and help me carry the stroller over the bad spots. I thought of my husband at work, how he was doing, how nice it would be to concentrate on adult work and contributing to a community, and how nice it is being with our kids. And I was struck with an image of what the world could look like – what do you think it could look like, if children were more a part of our world.

If they could work alongside us.

If we designed all our public areas and homes to be also accessible to children.

If all parents could take their children to nursery where they worked.

If what we consider part time hours are regular hours, and the pay adequate for both parents to work, and have plenty of time to be with their children as well.

This is a video of Montessori classroom moments. It illustrates the beauty of a proper environment, in which you can almost hear the child humming with happiness from their purposeful activities.

I don’t think I can quite put in words precisely what it feels like. But I would like to be a part of making that a reality.

If enough of us hold a vision in our heads, we can change the course of humanity.

Researching Montessori

25 Dec

*This blog post will be updated regularly as I look more Montessori education result related studies. All studies looked at here are papers that are free for public download.

** Even though my current viewpoint is pro-Montessori, I am still keen to use this post to explore the quantifiable evidence of Montessori effects. I will be disqualifying some research results based on what I understand is important for evaluation, or methodology issues (I will try not to include studies that have methodology issues***, as it takes up too much room to mention, and my aim is not to elucidate what counts as sound methodology.) I hope to predominately use studies conducted in the past 2 decades, as it is a more relevant comparison to the standard public education environment that we have today. 

***Here I draw on my training from the Researching Epidemiology, Experimental Design, and Reading Paper courses in Kaohsiung Medical University.

Recently I have become interested in understanding more about the Montessori method. A book I am reading so far is “Montessori: The Science behind the Genius” by Angeline Lillard, which appealed to me because it looks at research on how Montessori theories match our current understanding of childhood development and optimal outcome. My husband and I also find the Montessori theories, in the broadest sense, tie in with our own experiences of methods that worked or didn’t work for us growing up, and what we hope for our child(ren). Though it has won us over in basic theories, I would like to explore the quantifiable effects of Montessori education by looking at recent studies done on it (and possibly also other alternative education systems) to increase surety that it is the best system out there for our ideals. I hope that we will also have the option in the future to put a 2nd child into the Steiner (Waldorf) method since birth to understand the difference it has on two different children (albeit the sample is so small it will be insignificant for study).

But moving on!

1. Our first paper I’d like to look at here is a 2006 study by Lillard and Else-Quest titled The Early Years: Evaluating Montessori Education. As a pro-Montessori person who wrote the above book, it would not be unexpected if she is strongly biased. However, while the researchers maintain a pro-Montessori tone throughout the paper, the fact that they are published in the Science magazine is some indication of sound methodology.


Mainly urban minority children near the end of the two levels of education: primary (3- to 6-year-olds) and elementary (6- to 12-year-olds) — 6 and 12 year olds whose parents entered the lottery for a Montessori school:

  • Experiment: 59 attending a Montessori school recognized by the AMI/USA
  • Control: 53 attending other schools in the area

90% of parents requested consented to participate.


Screen Shot 2012-12-25 at 1.30.51 PM Screen Shot 2012-12-25 at 1.30.29 PM


I particularly enjoy that this paper tested for social skills, including positive social strategies. I understand that in most studies done in the past it is found family life is a better indicator of future success than school environment. If a school system can make a difference in that respect, then I believe it is a worthy social investment that goes beyond merely being a daycare for children while their parents are occupied throughout the day.

You can find the link to the paper here:

The full text is free through here: 

I also found this comment and reply very interesting and informative:

2. The second paper is a 2005 study published in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education, by Christopher Lopata, Nancy V. Wallace and Kristin V. Finn, titled Comparison of Education Achievement Between Montessori and Traditional Education Programs.


543 4th and 8th grade students attending the below variety of schools,  comparing Math and Language Arts scores of TerraNova (McGraw Hill, 2002), :

  • public Montessori
  • Structured Magnet
  • Open Magnet
  • Tradition Non-Magnet


No significant difference was found overall.


The authors here assert that it is necessary to use quantifiable data to study the effectiveness of Montessori education. While I agree with the use of quantifiable data, the fact that the researchers chose to use standardized tests, which I assume that current non-Montessori schools (the other schools listed in this study) train their children to do, makes it an inadequate study in my opinion. At the end of this, it comes down to whether it is possible for the academic field to agree whether academic skills equate standardized test results, or standardized test results just equal standardized test results. I find the fact that it is possible to train for standardized test results, which does not usually equate a better capacity to problem solve in a broader life context, makes it obsolete as the quantifying standard.

Besides this, I understand that what the Montessori method means by academic skills is more an abiding interest in self-learning, and the ability to concentrate/conduct research. This is, sadly, unquantifiable unless one is willing to expend greater experimental resource on having the children write a paper on the same topic, then blind grade the papers, controlling for grading fatigue and subjectiveness (the more graders, the better)…etc. And it will always be suspect because it is not pure numbers.

You can find the link to the paper here:

Other articles I have enjoyed

Here a Montessori teacher since 2007 talks about the effect Montessori has on her child, comparing with a quality public school.

The question I have at the moment is that, why are most of the pro-Montessori resources/testimonials I find on Montessori relevant sites?

I welcome relevant comments and ideas.

Would you read for pizza?

21 Dec
Recently reading Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard, this passage caught my attention:
We also know that rewards can have detrimental effects on children’s engagement in learning activities, and yet we continue to reward and punish children with grades. Schools today commonly use programs in which elementary school children “read for pizza” or other rewards (including money). Despite the advances in our understanding of how children learn (…)
It brings me back to elementary school. I probably only experienced the ‘read for pizza’ program once, at the tail end of my fifth grade year. Before, I had experienced the ‘read for books’ program about twice. The idea is, you write down on form how many chapters you’ve read from books, and when you fill up the form you get a pizza. My form was probably the quintessential over-achiever’s form. The moment I got the form, I filled half of it with the chapters of 3 books I was reading (even then, I read multiple books at once), and the next day, the form was filled. However, we were only allowed to turn in the form at the end of the week. However, I did not care for deep dish at all. I just liked the idea of giving my mom the pizza token and the feeling of contributing to the family.
The read for books program, now, was probably even less enticing. The books that were available were ‘junior’ versions of classics which I found stripped of much period idiosyncrasies (slang, context, seemingly useless cultural artifacts) and thus interest.
I understand the logic of encouraging children to read through the reward of pizza. I understand the logic of the possibility that, the more children read, the more they will fall in love with reading. I was very glad when the program started in my brother’s class. I had been hoping and hoping that he would become an avid reader too, but my mentoring of his reading had been sporadic at best. Especially since it cut in with my own reading time. It is quite unsatisfactory to share a book, for example.
However, I found it curious that it did not seem to make a lasting impact on my brother. For a while he was devoted to reading at nights, and filled out the pizza form diligently. However, once the program ended, so did his reading.
It was later on, when his peers started being interested in certain novels, that he wanted to see what it was about, and bought a few. And I would read them with him, sort of competitively. That his interest in reading seemed to pick up a bit.
So I am curious, readers out there: Has anyone ever started their reading career through pizza?

Young Designer’s Workshop

23 Nov

This is an article in which, through the power of contrast, I discover my strong prejudices, and gain venture into a field in which I had no business dealing with.

I hadn’t really planned to attend a workshop on design, as it hasn’t previously been one of the issues I’ve schooled myself in. Though I do indulge in criticizing designs (particularly of public facilities and policies), the divide between ‘the expert’ and ‘the rest of us’ has been drummed into me enough for me to give pause when considering signing up for an area that I’ve not in any way trained in. On the other hand, nothing is learnt without dipping oneself into unknown waters. So when I discovered that the only way I could attend the conference at a reasonable price was to attend a design workshop a week earlier, I leapt at the opportunity – And convinced my husband to spare my company for a week.  (“Are you really so anxious to avoid my company?” He said as he paid for it.)

IDA congress attendance: 21,700NT
Designer Workshop attendance (including room and board) + entrance to IDA congress: 3,300 NT

Who could possibly resist?

I attended the Implementing International Rescue with Unitized Design segment, which is held at the Tainan University of Technology. It was one of the few workshops that wasn’t already booked full, which I found surprising, as I found the topic far more practical and enticing than the other topics, which seemed more philosophical. The fact that it’s not in Taipei might have been one of the reasons. This is day 2 of the Young Designer’s Workshop, and I believe it’s helped me gain some insight into what matters for some designers, and more insight into a certain group of humans in my society (more about a small group of people from relatively developed asian countries, rather than designers/design students per se).

To illustrate this I must mention that the workshop invited a professor from Japan, Satoshi Nakagawa, who brought along another instructor from Japan, who mainly serves as a translator, and two of his graduate students. His presence here seems to be regarded as a great honor to the school. Having no previous interest in the Hall of Fame in Design, I have no idea whether this is warranted. He seems like a kindly enough person though. One of his recent ventures was to take numerous trips into the affected area of Fukushima, where he observed vast destruction and many uncollected bodies (in vehicles, among the rubble) from the tsunami.

One of the problems with inviting foreign speakers to Taiwan is, the professionals in my country are far too apt to cede to the opinions of their oversea peers, than otherwise.

After introduction of the topic, immediately I lit upon an idea of a means for a small population in crisis situation to become self-efficient prior to the entrance of outside aid (more details later). My inspirations were the typhoon disaster in Myanmar (where outside aid was initially rejected by the junta), and a news piece which accused the UN peace keeping forces of not being aware that a village a few miles from their post was under vicious attack by guerilla groups (this article I was, unfortunately, unable to find again). However, this situation was harder for my teammates to envision. I was thus behooved to explain why such an object could be very useful.

On the other hand, I am entirely leery of expensive designs that attempt to increase the incremental comforts of those who are already quite well off, even in disaster situations. I can see how they may be useful, to certain populations that can afford it. But I’m inclined to like more basic designs to increase accessibility to resources for people who have less. This, I discovered in this environment, was a strong bias.

Day 3

He seems obsessed with the notion of ‘Shelter’, of a psychological comfort, of a passive people.

I guess I just don’t like the idea of having my idea restricted. I have no interest in coddled populations to whom the lost of a home and all the intrinsic accessories can come as a deep psychological jar. It’s a deep psychological jar for anyone to lose their home. What I’m interested in is whether there’s a way for victims to deal with the crisis on more or less their own terms, in the hours before a rescue team can effectively bring resources in. The ideal is to have provisional housing, with all the amenities that could bring semblance to the nicely ordered society/infrastructure that existed before – or be able to relocate refugees to a more civilized environ. However, the earliest such a unit can only be brought in is a week after the disaster, and in most of the cases of natural disasters in the world it would take even longer, if ever. If you think about it, there is a very good amount of documentary, in very good quality film, of the tsunami in Japan, both during and after. There is less footage of the during in Indonesia, and none that we’re aware of during the 2010 flood in Pakistan. Now can we say that Pakistan suffered less than Japan in this situation? What about the Congo? There is absolutely no footage of attacks going on in villages in the Congo, but since 1994, at least 5.4 million people have died. That’s nearly as many civilians killed in WWI.

It’s somewhat like the Holocaust having become the story of the Jews. It’s not to say that the Jews haven’t suffered as much as they say they’ve suffered – they have. Yet their grievance is universal. And it’s about time we choose to prioritize redressing the wrongs against those whose voice has not been heard. And if this means that we create something which those whose voice has been heard could use as well, great! But I would like to first look at the needs of disaster victims whose plight has yet to be seen, for whom help has yet to come, and who is in sure danger of being ignored and dying from the further complications of their isolation.

Thus it was that I came upon the idea of a survival box. It’s a common enough idea – an emergency toolkit that each household might have in a well-to-do society. What I want to do is create a toolkit that the poor can afford, and since the poor tend to not be able to afford individual household toolkits, gear it towards a small community, and design it in a manner that people will remember to, and will be able to, use it in a time of need.

So this is the way it looks: It’s like the little black box that airplanes have – it’s durable, can withstand time and harsh environments, and still come out with all its gear intact. However, instead of recording the voices of the dead, it will assist the continuation of that of the living.

The appearance of the box is in the shape of a life ring, which has become a universal symbol of safety at sea. The material is resistant to most trauma, lightweight, insulated, waterproof and may float. I was thinking steel reinforced plastic, that material that has recently become popular in lightweight, sturdy luggage. The appearance can be modified according to the decor of the surrounds (what color shows up most, or what the users prefer), and also glows-in-the-dark. It can be used as a stool or hung on the wall as decoration.

The contents would consist of a flare gun, a hand-crank communication transmitter, a water filter and mosquito net fit for 20 people. There will be other tools as well, such as a swiss army knife, a rope, a lighter, a mechanical camera and a hand-crank flashlight. A survival manual will be in there that would instruct the users how to assemble or most effectively use the contents of the box to survive, written in graphics: the universal language. Kind of like Ikea’s product self-assembly manuals. Finally, there will be a packet of seeds put in there by the villagers themselves.

There is an idea to also include a small disposable camera, vacuum wrapped for preservation. For these areas, being able to have a documentation of disaster would greatly increase their ability to seek aid in later stages. If technology and costs allow, there should be a small chip in camera that can be inserted into the transmitter. The transmitter would then transmit the images to a designated body that could feasibly bring assistance or draw attention to the situation (such as a media source).

What would be even better is if we can upgrade the general accessibility of these communities – the accessibility to communication and thus resources. Without constant communication, or even with it – a backup form of communication that is easy to carry along should exist.

Day 4

I’m told that my concept can’t be considered ‘design’, which I find frustrating, as I find it eminently useful. The vision at the workshop doesn’t seem to be “If I design this it can potentially be scouted by someone and actually made into reality.” The teachers also said, while trying to be kind about it, that it should be a team effort and team consensus.

I’m reminded of why I didn’t choose to study something artsy: Because it’s so subjective. And subjectivity leaves room for fools to assert themselves.

I believe that a few of teachers, who seemed so inclined to be kindly to me, are realizing that I’m not simply a sweet smiling student who can put their tutorage in a good light by responding well, but that I’m also skeptical of authority, stubborn, and unwilling to follow suggestions that I think are stupid. My mother has once told me that one of my teachers had complained to her that I’m a recalcitrant, unteachable girl, which I felt a blow to the general toeing the line that I’ve so carefully maintained. Upon thought, I understand that it doesn’t reflect so much upon me, but upon the teacher’s perspective that her authority to mold is unequivocal.

I’m a horrible team player, though, when the venture doesn’t go my way. An unambitious signal SOS signal light was proposed, and the team decided to go ahead with this design. I looked up supplementary information about this which would have helped for the feasibility of this – what type of LED lights, SOS signal, electricity input…etc. The team decided in the end to exclude this portion, which the team leader objected to because it was in English and he couldn’t read it. Given our target population, the only way we could potentially find investment for it was if we could communicate to a more international audience. I was disappointed with their lack of ambition and vision. At that point I had made myself a nuisance in arguing for my Life Box that I didn’t feel I had the leverage to ‘lead’ the team. Plus the lack of graphic design skills seriously stumped my effectiveness as a team member.

I still find this experience enlightening – to the extent of giving me some idea of the field of design. On the other hand, in order to create a niche of its own, the field seems incredibly narrow. For example, the household gadgets that come out of Japan are frequently commented upon, being very often considered innovative and thoughtful. On the other hand, the existence of these gadgets are driven by commercialism, and accordingly exist in forms that 1. inspire purchase 2. rather easily expirable and 3. are in actuality periphery to our general comfort and do not inspire continual use. Thus, the existence of these nic-nacs are more likely to become waste in a household rather than a continuously functioning item. Not exactly the direction that we should be making our designs for.

I’m also slightly worried about the education of the design students. I felt that they were very well educated in the theories of design, and definitely were very good graphic artists. However, they seemed to lack an international perspective – a stronger education in the humanities, if you will. Designers need to create things that fulfill human need, and an understanding of our world, a holistic education in various fields, should be at the heart of their capacity.

Buy video games for your kids? You must be kidding me

31 Aug

When there are free game to play on the internet!


This is Urgent Evoke, a game commissioned by the World Bank to involve African youth in solving world problems. Criticisms concerning the goal of this this online game may be valid. However, it’s easy to make blanket statements and seek bla…nket solutions to the problems in a region(which is precisely what the World Bank has been accused of): However little, there is internet in Africa. If marketed right, there are still those you can reach on the continent, and even more you can reach at home!
Looking for an alternate reality game? Look no further! The World Without Oil game is an alternate reality that prepares the noggins for a not-so-unrealistic future scenario. Zombie Survival Guide? Give your kids some REAL survival skills!
Hooked on SimCity? Try EnerCities! Established by Intelligent Energy Europe, this game lets you master the energy needs of your sustainable city! You can play this either on their website or challenge your friends on facebook!
Also, look here for some games related to Climate Change!
Reviewing your vocabulary for a test? This fun vocab game puts more on the stake than your grades! For each answer you get right, the site donates 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme to feed hungry people!
Feeling smart? Levels of the vocab exercise can be changed to reflect better vocal abilities! Besides English, they also have Math, Geography, Chemistry, Humanities and Language Learning games! Simply click on “Change Subjects” on the right-hand corner of your vocab quizz.
For more games for kids, check out the UN World Food Programme’s recommendation of games for kids from ages 7 and below and up!

Neurology Class: Fun vids

12 May

As I’ve promised Bella I would send her the links to the really cool vids we’re watching in neurology class, might as well post them here for everyone’s perusal.

So here goes:

In our second class we talked about the evolution of the brain, which involved our human perception of what makes humans ‘superior’ to other species. This distinction blurs when we look at Bonobos, a chimpanzee living in the Congo and facing extinction due to the very human war going on there : (

Bonobo: our closest relatives?

More about Kanzi

Chimp makes plan

Flossing monkey

Joshua Klein, this super cute geek obsessed with crows, offers us a look into our future symbiotic relationship with this incredibly intelligent bird:

Vending machine designed for Crows

The smartest parrot Einstein

And could this be ‘Ant empathy’?

Ants rescue entrapped relatives

There is the isolated jungle theory for our evolution into standing humans, and the aquatic ape theory about our uniquely hairless state. See Elaine Morgan read charmingly on our origin.

Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes | Video on

2011 3/23 The World’s Most Dangerous Drug: Meth (National Geography documentary)

2011/3/30 Cannabis, the Evil Weed? (BBC)

Pubmed article Cannabis reward: biased towards the fairer sex?

2011/4/13 Our sensory systems. Beau Lotto will change your perception of what you perceive… and the possibilities in synethesia-ic reading.

Beau Lotto: Optical illusions show how we see

Keith Barry Does Brain Magic

omg I think this person is evil. Reminds me of ‘the invention of lying’


On loving your mother, phantom limbs and our favorite synethesia

Ramachandran on Your Mind

Your mirror neurons shaped our civilization

VS Ramandchandran: The Neurons that Shaped Civilization

And, the TED vid that got me into TED

Jill Bolte Taylor’s Powerful Stroke of Insight


Again, Ramachandran


What does education mean for them?

13 Feb

In the first chapter of ‘A Crime so Monstrous’, Benjamin Skinner repeatedly mentions the need for affordable/available education to dissolve the ‘restavèk’ phenomenon rampant in Haiti (restavèks are children bought by lower-middle class families from rural families who hope their children will get a better life and education in the cities, but the children are instead frequently used and abused as unpaid domicile workers in their new residences.) In my trip to Kolkata, I was also struck strongly by the lack of adequate education available to the street and slum children. This situation is said to exacerbate their inability to change their social status throughout generations.

I felt troubled by what I saw in Kolkata. And after reading that it only costs $5 month for rural children to receive their basic education in Haiti (and $72 a month in salary for each teacher), I wished for a steady income so that I could contribute.

What sort of education would truly benefit these children? (picture from Greg Mortenson's book Three Cups of Tea, an inspiring story of building schools in rural villages to fight poverty and terrorism.)

But the situation in Haiti is different in some ways. Their economy consists of a majority of subsistence farming. Public infrastructure concerning health care and education is inadequate. The country relies heavily on foreign aid (to the extent that the ex-Assistant of Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega once stated that if sanctions were imposed on Haiti, the country would veer sharply towards becoming a full- on failed state.) It is due to these considerations that made me wonder – how useful is a normal education to these children? What is the purpose of the education we intend to give them? Will it really help them reach for better things in their future when their infrastructure evidently lacks better economical opportunities for all of them? For the two arguments I have heard in which lack of adequate public education was cited, the ones most concerned about their children getting an education were the parents. Hoping their children would get an education, parents in rural Haiti allowed courtiers to take their children into the city to live in the house of strangers, parents in rural Afghanistan sent their most gifted to madrassas where they were indoctrinated with fundamentalist Islamic teachings (Three Cups of Tea). These children do not receive the education that the parents hoped would help them, and this results in tragedy – child slaves in Haiti, human suicide bomb fodder from Afghanistan.

We all see smiling pictures of kids in school, kids who long to learn. What I’d like to know is how much is this education really helping them? What kind of educational content will really help them change their life and society for the better? And how do we define a ‘better’ society?

With basic education we often use a ‘one form fits all’ approach: Language, Mathematics, some Science. The content of such classes, if I don’t miss my guess, are adopted from texts originally designed for children who have a very high chance both of ongoing education and the developed environment to make mental connections with the examples cited in these books. How much will the content relate to the children in a developing environment? Also, I imagine the classes to be more of a top down spoon fed approach. Would these children, with their dynamic and challenging environment, not benefit more from programs that encourage greater self-initiative and creativity? I believe there must be a smarter way to design these programs to suit the environment that the children are growing in.

The second question is how we define a better society. Education programs from the developed world inevitably bring with them the image of development as we see it from our history of earth exploitation. However, there is an increasing call for a sustainable model of development which, though possibly not as speedy in effect as the industrial model we followed, would in the long term not only lower our adverse development footprint on this planet but help preserve the culture and environment of the developing region. In this case, we should make a conscious decision to import educational programs to these regions with an eye on preventing unnecessary cultural seepage that may cause confusion, and including an advanced component that helps them understand their environment and what informed actions they can take while developing to prevent damaging there as irretrievably as we have damaged ours.