Sunday, 1 August 2010

Inception: Movie to "celebrate" the start of new semester

In all seriousness, I am terrified by the pace time is moving: haven't I just started 2010 but why is today the last day of July 2010? At this rate, I'll be a grandmother before I realise it!! Sometimes I am wondering, like Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, whether what happened around me were a dream after all. Is life itself a dream, a dream so real that we all think it is reality? Is some kind of devine force the architect behind all the images, feelings, occurrences that surround us everyday life?

I like Leonardo DiCaprio as a kid (like when I was in primary 3, 9 years old) - his acting in Titanic is just magnificent beyond words. And I as a kid actually thought he looked really handsome.

More than 10 years have passed and now Leonardo DiCaprio looks a lot older, and the little kid who was puzzled about why Rose didn't seem to feel embarrassed stripping in front of a young, handsome artist has grown into a 22-year-old.

Now back to the movie Inception: it is yet another good science fiction I watched in recent times after Avatar. I like the way the scriptwriter let his imagination running wild and came out with this idea of multiple layers of dreams/subconscious. It is really rare to have dream within a dream, but I think some people may have experienced it. My cousin used to tell me about this dream she had: in her dream she has had candies and when she woke up she found real candies on her bed; she was so excited and then something happened (can't remember what exactly, something like falling off the bed maybe) and she woke up again, this time back to reality. Of course there wasn't any candy on her bed this time.

I do believe in multiple layers of subconscious. We commonly call rare but accurate feelings about something that is about to happen "sixth sense" or "gut feel" - but I think they are really just wisedom that we've accumulated over time through experience, except our brain couldn't bother formulating them properly to be stored in the conscious part and therefore stored them in a haphazard manner in the closet called subconscious. 

I've also read somewhere that our subconscious mind can store things for longer period than our conscious mind. Knowledge, skills, wisedom that we pick up unintentionally and without realising them may last for decades, waiting for the opportunity to resurface as "sixth sense" to help us in decision-making.

Now, what happens if the subconscious side of our brain can be intercepted and extracted? At the current state of science I don't see how this can happen in the next century, unless mankind make some kind of impossible breakthrough on understanding ourselves: how we think, make decisions, and learn from lessons. Arguably there are currently some ways to know what a person is thinking, through hypnosis, psychological tests etc ... at present we aren't anywhere near to completely understand how the conscious side of human brain works - the subconscious end is likely to be 100 times more complex.

Leaving the science aside, this movie also provoked thoughts (in me) about whether it is worthwhile living in a dream. There is no perfection in reality, perfection only exists in dreams. Would you be willing to spend your whole life living in an artificial dream world, even though you would have everything you wish for there? This question is strikingly similar to one that I've asked myself some time ago: nobody wants to go to hell, but if heaven really exists, and so is rebirth, would I choose heaven over continuing to live on earth as an ordinary man/woman? Ultimately, is a perfect world the best world to live in? In a perfect world, everyone is equal, nobody will go hungry or homeless, wealth is everywhere, there is no need to labour hard to earn a meagre income to survive like how some unfortunate cousins of ours work in some parts of the world. But would a life under such perfect circumstances be more meaningful than living in our present world, where we have to work hard to pursue what we hope for, with no guarantee that success will come after the sweat, and with sorrows and disasters looming at the corner, warning us to cherish what we've got today because nobody knows if they would still be here tomorrow?

Dream and reality are intertwined in the movie, enormous concentration is needed to follow the storyline without getting lost in all the actions and gunshots. In many ways, I admire the scriptwriter for putting in so much thoughts into the wonders of human brain that scientists are yet to discover.

If inception and extraction of thoughts become possible, well, I can imagine that would spell chaos and the eventual self-destruction of homo sapiens. The way nature works is that all individual human, beast, plant, bacteria are independent in "internal processing" of will, wants, and actions. If it becomes possible for technology to steal/implant thoughts into someone's head, human greed would eventually guide those in power to control human minds, we would never know whether a person is acting under his/her will or is on an idea implanted in him/her. The chaos that follow would be unimaginable, but the end is imaginable. Undoubtedly, the final chapter would be disastrous e.g. wars that wipe out the whole human race.

As much as I love the movie (and Leonardo DiCaprio!), I hope the brain extraction/inception technology not to become a reality. I would like my next generations to be still enjoying the freedom of forming thoughts and dreams as they wish, and not let anyone know about them if they don't want to.

If you ask me what I think of the last scene, I really hoped that the spinning thing topples, so that it's happy ending that Cobb is awaken from his dream and back to the reality and his family. But the director is not telling! He's leaving the guesswork to the viewers. Did Cobb wake up from his dream? Or has he sunk deeped into yet another layer of dream, which is identical to the expected reality (dream completes its loop, which means he can no longer differentiate between reality and dream unless he spins that thing)?

This is indeed a very creative movie!!! 

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Against the Gods - another book by author with surname Bernstein

Author is "Peter L. Bernstein" -  the surname sounded familiar to me. Have I read one of his books before? What then? I don't read non-fiction, investment/risk - related books until late 2009, I remember their authors' names, certainly not Bernstein. (Thinking hard...) Ahhh!!! I know. The Birth of Plenty is written by William J. Bernstein .

So are these two persons related? Father and son? Brothers?

I googled "Peter Bernstein and William Berstein related" - and found the disappointing answer that they are NOT!!!

(Quote book review for The Birth of Plenty)
"Bill Bernstein's erudite history of the causes and consequences of growth grasps the main issues and keeps them up front all the way through. This book is a great magnifying glass for studying the complex world of today.� � Peter L. Bernstein (NB: Mr. Bernstein is not related to the author of The Birth of Plenty.) "


I thought I've found an evidence to the hypothesis "Like father like son" or "Like father produces like brothers" - the evidence is even stronger if Peter Bernstein and William Bernstein were brothers and happened to have a father who also wrote investment/trading books.

Anyway, it is an enlightening masterpiece, especially for us actuarial students who went through gruesome actuarial training that plants the idea of probabilities all over our head.

This book is really about modern risk management, but why is the book's title Against the Gods? The first step of managing risk is to believe that God doesn't control 100% of your future, that you can change the future by changing the ways you behave/your actions today.

Risk management necessitates understanding on how the future might turn out to be - Would Gillard lady change immigration rules after winning the election? Would Woolies (woo woo tongue-twister it is)  have special offers on canned tunas tomorrow morning? Would Claire be eliminated in today's episode of Master Chef (I'll find out soon)?


Probabilities=Probable+abilities=what is the chance (how probable) that something is able to happen
Why are probabilities invented anyway? Is it because we love the number zero and one so much that we'd love to invent something that always lie between those two extreme ends? LOL~ 1 and 0 are my favourite numbers when I was a school kid - they were so EASY in elementary maths.

Me in Elementary school: "So EASY!!! "

Me in Elementary school: "So EASY!!! Oh wait, teacher!! What is 9/0?"
Teacher: "Girl we don't divide something by zero."

Back then I imagined the hardest math (ie math in high school, uni) must have involved HUGE numbers e.g. 998883666388277673889298983+87837283787848787872=?

Of course I found out later that it is not, especially after starting Actuarial Studies when I realised that sometimes getting that answer between 0 and 1 can be such massive headache.

Probabilities are calculated because we want to know the rough picture of how the future would look like, and so that we can tailor our actions to either change the future or to cope better with the future. BTW, the title of this book should be Predict and Against the Gods - clearly doesn't sound as good, but that's the main thesis. Can human predict the future and go against what God has pre-arranged ???

BTW for those who have misconceptions about what an actuary does, the kind Blog author has some explanations for you:
Actuaries DO NOT know for sure what the future would look like!!!

So, don't come to me and start asking me to calculate how long you can live, who would be your wife/hisband, who would win the election in November (I personally want Gillard lady to win, Tony Abbott looks like an old-fashioned man with old-fashioned ideas.)

Because I DON'T KNOW. If I do know I would have become the richest person on earth by placing wagers on everything e.g. football matches. Actuaries are NOT fortune-tellers. Paul the octopus can predict better than me.

Probabilities all straighforward for games of chance ie games that are invented by human, such as roulette wheel, black jacks, kiddish games that I see in Jim Farmer's combinatorial probability notes. (How kiddish? e.g. Anne and Bob plays a game by throwing 2 coins, if the sides turn out the same, Bob pays Anne $1; if the sides that turn out different, Anne pays Bob $1.)

Which sane person would play a game like that? LOL~ The games I played as a kid were much more interesting than this one. But having said that many mathematicians, statisticians studied kiddish games like that and work out answers to questions like "What is the chance that Anne's pocket has more $$ then Bob's after 100 throws". The purpose is either to get rich - by working out the "optimal" ways to place bets if they so happened to have played these kiddish games with their best mates; or simply to kill past times or satisfy the inner curiosity of theirs.

Regardless of the motives, probability theories were developed over time by great nerds from the 17th , 18th, 19th centuries (from the way Peter Bernstein portrays them.)
BUT, God doesn't play simple games of chance!!!!

The games that God plays are much more complex!!!

Hurricanes and Tsumanis don't happen like how heads and tails appear on a coin toss, or how the ball lands in a roulette wheel, or how the faces of 6 dices turn up in a single throw. Global temperatures and sea levels don't go up like a straight line you drew on a graph paper. Things around us don't happen in neat fashion: independently, frequently and consistently - which are the qualities in games of chance invented by mankind. The three qualities are what we need to work out or approximate probabilities, and we have neither in circumstances where probabilities are most needed.

As if things are not complicated enough, the MOST COMPLICATED game invented by God is actually the brain of human. Yes, your brain, my brain, everyone's brain. I don't even know precisely what, when, how I am going to do something tomorrow (what more to say in a month, year, decade's time?), even though I am the person who should have the most amount of infomation about myself.

If you can't even predict yourself, how can you fancy predicting other people? Well, we hope that although each of us behave in erratic ways, the collective us behave in predictable ways - RATIONALLY, in the long run. Being rational means choosing the action that is best/optimal for your own good. E.g. you choose to do your homework despite not liking it because you know it is good for you. Being rational also means not being swarmed by emotions - you should keep your emotions at bay when choosing the option that is best for you e.g. if you know your wife is going to kill you if you keep a mistress, you should not keep a mistress even though your emotions tell you to hide her in your cupboard.

Sounds simple? Not till you start trading in the stock market - the place where emotions override rationality in the biggest scale. No stocks go up forever, very few stocks go down forever - you know that, I know that, but still when we see stock prices going up most of us choose to believe it to climb endlessly, and cry (if we've invested our $$) when it collapses.

Are you rational? I am not. Rational people don't make decisions based on sunk cost (cost you incur in the past e.g. $$ I paid for my gym membership) but based on opportunity cost (cost that you will incur by choosing something over some else e.g. the time I could have spent sleeping had I not chosen to go to the gym). The fact is, LOL~, the biggest motivation for me to head for my workout is the thought that if I don't my $$ would go to waste.

But all models used in the world of finance assume rationality - that is, hoping that the irrationalities of everyone happen to cancel out so that we as a population behave rationally. It's like "Oh please God, please~ ~ ~ We know each of us are not rational, but can you make all of our irrationalities combine into a big rationality fondant that ooze out thick stream of rationality when I cut through it?"

God isn't listening - that's why we have the Global Financial Crisis. Human came out with great, accurate formulae to predict our nature - the plants, the animals, the rocks, the rivers, but we are nowhere near to be able to predict our own thoughts and actions.  

Peter Bernstein said perhaps human would become better over the time and eventually come out with something that can predict ourselves.

Let me see, this book is published in 1996. 14 years down the track, has human, with the help of computers, moved closer to that noble target?
No. There will be no economic crisis if we were that good.

Can we ever be smart enough to create something to mimic ourselves close enough? Perhaps not, unless:

1. The earth is conquerred by aliens who turn us into robots e.g. send human for reformating so that all our brains are programmed identically - with emotions extracted and rationality inserted.
2. Someone become God's best friend and got the secret algorithm that determines how the 7 billion persons in this world think and act.

So why go Against the Gods?

We should Befriend the Gods.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Over Mount Fuji - As volcano erupts, Hot German guns won against Uruguay!!!

Hahaha...I just LOVE matches with >=4 goals ~ ~ They exceeded my expectations!! 3 goals to Germany and 2 goals to Uruguay!  Hot young german guns  held off Uruguayans, who also played exceptionally well in this tournament, to seal the third place of FIFA World Cup 2010. Forlan and King of Volleyball (Suarez) were dramatic too, and they almost forced the match into extra-time!! But thank you germany for producing such entertaining display in this tournament. *Clap clap clap* for both Germany and Uruguay .... and Paul the Octopus who predicted 100% correctly for the German's games.

Fellow Malaysians: this is a book written by one of our countrymen residing in Australia - but the setting is not Malaysia, he is too scared about being caught by ISA.

Instead he wrote about Japan - where the mystic Mount Fuji is located. You know Mount Fuji? Is it the place where Fuji Apples came from? No need to do research folks, because the kind me already helped you to do so:

(Source: Wikipedia)
"The Fuji apple is an apple clone developed by growers at the Tohoku Research Station (農林省園芸試験場東北支場) in Fujisaki, Aomori, Japan, in the late 1930s,[1] and brought to market in 1962. It originated as a cross between two American apple varieties, the Red Delicious and old Virginia Ralls Genet (sometimes cited as "Rawls Jennet") apples. It is named after "Fujisaki ([藤]崎)," Aomori Prefecture (青森県), but often mistakenly thought to be named after Mount Fuji (富士山)."

Unfortunately, the answer is No.

Nonetheless, it's good effort by first time novelist Joel Huan. Fictions are always difficult to write - I remember the narrative essays I wrote in primary and secondary schools. They can be summed up in one word: LOL.
Lame,  funny and ridiculous -->pretty good value huh? But my school teachers don't appreciate that type of qualities, so in the end I settled with writing argumentative essays instead.

If you are curious to have a quick look go to, you can read for FREE! All there, if your eyes are strong enough to endure about 300 pages of reading on computer screen.

Bloop...Bloop...Bloop...what's that??? A Dragon? Water Bubbles? Mother Earth's "fart" maybe?

After today's football match, I'll say it must be King Octopus snoring!! Octopuses are set to become the next ruler of planet Earth after homo sapiens!! The whole human race, with thousands of football pundits, can't predict anywhere close to 50% as well as that little octopus Paul. OMG.

Life and Death have always been what human are struggling to comprehend - not just the science of it, but also the spiritual part. Where do we head to after death, or rather, is there anything left in us to make this question relevant? Is everything as simple as what science has put it: that you and I are temporary visitors to this world, and our existence, insignificant. Just like the dust on your furnitures, each of us, when the history of whole universe is looked at. *Blows* Gone! No marks, no legacy, not even memory.

Do heaven and hell exist? Or are they just spiritual inventions by us - to make the evils amongst us guard their behaviours, to exploit the fear amongst us for the good of the community. Everything around us, their existence, their smell, their taste, their touch are temporary - aka impermanent. What are maths, what are science, what are statistics, what are philosophy, what are money and numbers? They are really just creation by us, homo sapiens - the most intelligent creatures on planet earth. Strange enough, if you think about them individually, they don't add much value to life and survival - or do they? Perhaps they create power, authority, hierarchy in the society that are necessary for a species to prosper. We can't eat numbers, we can't eat laws of physics, but in a strange way, the creation of those allow human race to rise above the beasts. 

But can we beat Mother Nature? No.

Who is Mother Nature then? Just a planet formed by random particles during the Big Bang? Is there a force that regulates the happenings around us, aka God? If there is God, everything that seems random is predestined - your race, your gender, your wealth, your success or failure, survival or death. If there is predestination, theoretically time travelling is possible, since occurrences are 'lined-up' in  a preorganised fashion and therefore 'forwardable' or 'reversable'. Conversely if randomness is the force, time travelling is not possible because (as stats students know), a string of random numbers can never be reproduced or predicted exactly (with your limited lifetime).

Maybe there are cycles of life that we are yet to comprehend. The forces that wiped up Dinosaurs may be acting to wipe out Human, but we don't know when.

Volcano eruptions, tsunamis, severe storms, rising sea water - if there is such thing as an 'equilibrium' like how economists put it, what then explains the increased frequencies of those natural disasters? Human greed, you may argue. Human are too greedy and exploit nature too much. But why does greed exist in our blood (not just human, all other beasts as well)? Greed is essential for survival, leopards can't survive in the wild with limited food supply without the hunger to out-power the others. With greed, human/animals launch wars against one another, to destroy, to assume dominance. Terrorism in the homo sapien's world is akin to territorial intrusion in Safari. What's the difference? It might then be the case that greed is a double-edged sword, that ensures survival and the eventual extinction of living creatures.

Who is the Mighty Force that is smart enough to design such regularity that ensures no species is bound the rule planet Earth forever? We might never know the answer, because our intelligence and senses might be programmed in such a way that we would never find out. 

Shall we human then be proud of our achievements? We're the second ruler of planet Earth after Dinosaurs. Who is going to be next? (Answer: Octopus)

Okies, I am clearly not giving a book review here - but this book provokes the above thoughts. 

Now some suggestions to Joel the author (may contain spoiler, close the window immediately if you're planning to read the book!):

Overall Wulfstein and Eileen are the main characters - whether or not they fall in love (as in, develop romantic feelings for one another) is not clear. Byron and Nobuko are just supporting characters. I especially think you could have involve Byron more in the storyline, not just a detractor of his mentor for the most part of the book. Romance between Byron and Nobuko isn't very "smooth" - as in, I think you could have developed the feelings of both a little more before making them hold hands, kiss, hug and have sex. 

The part about Wulfstein being swipped away by a tornado is a bit too rushed - given that he's the main character you could have explored the feelings of him a little. E.g. what occurs in his mind when he realised that his end is near. To me, Wulfstein is clearly the main character, he's the one who drives the plot. LOL~actually it'd be good if you let Eileen and Wulfstein fall in love with one another (you might have, but it isn't real enough). You might have let them talk about things apart from tetonic plates, you know, about her marriage to Jerry, about her life thereafter. Maybe you could have made Wulfstein a divorcee after several failed marriages, because his wives couldn't stand his obsession with earthquakes. You know, things like that.

I have to be honest here - I haven't quite developed enough affections for your characters after reading the story, which are essential for me to cry or laugh when the characters cry or laugh. This comes with experience I suppose, I'm sure your second novel would be much better on this. For example, I'm sure you could think of alternative/creative ways to describe Wulfstein's obsession with science other than making him sweat, tremble and refuse to talk. Those are typical "nerdiness"- we readers love to read about "craziness" instead.

We chatted about dialogues last time, and yes you write far better dialogues than I do. Just would like to suggest, perhaps make the English sentences said by Japanese different from the Americans? You could argue that Nobuko grew up in US, but given how long she's been staying in Japan, the Japanese culture would have a greater influence on her speaking. By varying the tone of language a little, the conversations become more real.

Some other minor suggestions:

* Remove page numbers 1-4, you don't need them. Start page 1 with the prologue.
* page 75, 6th line from the bottom: now it is "on" the move.
* Use a wider variety of "swear words" - not just damn it, shit. LOL~ e.g. certain spots can be replaced by "oh my goodness" or "damnation" or "you must be kidding me". Just some suggestions.
* Think you could also have used some alternative to "nothing". ~Just my opinion, coz I realised that I read them a number of times.~
* A couple of diagrams, pictures in the book showing the archipelago, how the electromagnetic field spreads, how the "ambience" moved, the relics of shipwrecks would be effective at helping readers to understand what Wulfstein is talking about. This technique is not unusual in many books which explore ideas that aren't straightforward e.g. the Da Vinci Code.
* pg 260: "As Eileen rushed back to the deck, assiting survivors..." --> you mean, her leg has recovered? She just got injured on pg 258.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Birth of Plenty - Awesome read for those who doubted their economic lecturers

To non-economics students -  think of "Plenty" as the everything that you're now having: a comfortable house/room, a TV set to watch Netherlands vs Uruguay, pocket money from your parents, books to study for exams (does this excite you babe?), and in future, a car to drive around, a nice book like this one to read in your bed, a massage on a trip to Bali - basically, why are you, YES YOU, not planting corns to feed your tummy and sleeping on the mud, like how our less intelligent cousins who talk like GWAK GWAK GWAK?

Bruce Edward has a pretty similar taste for books as me, I realised. "The Black Swan", "The Birth of Plenty" and "Against the Gods" are all good books for people who'd like to exercise their brains a bit during this cold winter. Just like how gym workout makes your body fitter, reading books make your brain fitter - and the activity generates HEAT which - you would agree with me - a precious commodity in July of Australia.

You can safely assume that economics-related BOOKS are nearly always more interesting that economics JOURNAL ARTICLES or TEXTBOOKS. The latter are full of graphs and over-simplified models which no one believes in practice but everyone writes down on exam scripts LOL~

How is "Plenty"  born? How does the world start growing the pace it does today? In other words, how did we human start to realise that we can generate much more than what we thought we could. WB puts the source of "growth" in a package that contains:

1. Property rights and Rule of law - ie a set of rules that restrict what you and I can do, but not too much, and a set of rules that give me assurance that my money, ACST notes, Indomee, this blog, my business (when I become a boss one day), my invention (in case I invented some gadgets, models, theories that have a wow factor one day LOL~) would still remain mine tomorrow, next month, next year, ...., if I choose not to sell them to someone else. In other words, if there is no rules to protect my property rights to my ACST notes tomorrow, economic growth might be stunned (to some extent) because XinYin can't study -->just kidding. What's the point of making more money, if the 'king' can take them from me whenever he likes; what's the point of investing in a business if at anytime it can be stripped from me; what is the point of creating something e.g. a gadget, a theory if I can't claim ownership and thus reap rewards out of it?  

2. Environment that gives incentive to scientific research and intellectual development - ie there must not be a tight regime which restricts intellectual thinkings of yours and mine. E.g. we should be allowed to tell our lecturers how wrong their models are, and not get a sour face in return.

3. Easy access to capital - ie there must be fairly abundant $$ at affordable interest for you and I to borrow to invest in something we invented. For example, if I want to set up a new instant noodle company to challenge the superpower status of Indomee, I should be able to borrow to employ workers, buy machines, build factories that churn out massive quantities of dried noodle and seasoning full of toxic, so that I could sell them off to university students who are too lazy to cook. Because I set up a rival company, Indomee would feel threatened and do more research on how to improve their toxicating seasoning so that more people would be willing to spend $0.50 on each packet of poisonous monster.

4. Efficient transportation and delivery of goods and ideas - ie I must be able to obtain the things that I don't produce myself, access the knowledge/news/gossips/world cup matches, and fly to Australia from Malaysia in 8 hours, not by boat in 6 months. I must also be able to access the (mostly boring, long, some pretty interesting) academic papers to do my thesis, and to obtain a copy of 'Over Mount Fuji' to understand the ideas that had Joel Huan obsessed for 10 years.

The historical path that eventually led to "the birth of plenty" was rocky, with many emperors rose and fell, countries achieving glories then collapsed. The first sign of economic growth was seen in Holland and Britain - not US the modern superpower. There is an interesting chapter on British Imperialism that explains the economic side of British colonialism in Southeast Asia. Well, the account that I read on History textbooks was all about how humuliating it was to "lose national sovereignty" to whites, about "natural resources that got litched off by whites", and spirits of patriotism that eventually motivated "heroes" that fought for independence. 

I dread to think about how Malaysia would look like if there was no British colonial masters. Would the country still be run under a feudalistic system? Would I have the opportunity to study overseas? Would I become a paddy farmer who has to pay >70% tax to the landlord or the king, and sing Dollar Tuanku everyday? I suppose no, because the fact that the country was run feudalistically was the trigger point for western colonialisation i.e. British took advantage of exactly that to topple the local kingdoms and negotiated (forced) the rulers to hand over controls. 

For the price of having to call the British "masters", roads and railwork were built, schools were set up, local governments were established, rules and laws were enacted, foreign banks were allowed to set up branches. In some ways, these were exactly what led to the nationalism movements. Who cares about the flag on top of government buildings if there were no educated minds and adequate income to feed the stomachs so that energies can be generated to run the minds?

By the turn of the second half of 20th century, the superpowers - the US and Britain especially - realised that imperialism was poor investment so they retreated. If they didn't, many countries today would still be colonialised.

Of course, it is far easier to explain what happened in the past than to predict what would happen in future. WB is pretty smart, he avoided speculation in 95% of the book and only gave a brief, broad speculation at the end: the growth shall continue, the growth figures are there to stay.

I would guess so, but given how unpredictable future are to human at any point - the Europeans living in the Dark Ages wouldn't imagine how XinYin could type a blog entry while eating porridge, and post it up at whims, he/she simply couldn't understand how XinYin who doesn't know how to loosen up the soil in front of her house could possibly have rice to cook porridge - our guessing in the 10th year of 21st century about the economic landscape of the 22nd, 23rd ...centuries, might just be as inaccurate.

Hang on, maybe we as human have become more intelligent over time and therefore can predict better? 

Read this book if you're the kind of person who question what your economics lecturers are/were telling you. (It is a bit thick, though, almost 400 pages, still less than your one-semester lecture notes?). Economists  loves to draw "frontiers" -  a cool name for really just an ugly line on a paper- to represent the process of economic growth. And I remember there was this line drawn by Alex Blair that intersects some curve so that the magic model gives you "equilibrium" level of output. The possible questions in exam about economic growth are either "change in labour force" or "increase in capital resources" or "technological advancements".

If everything about mankind stays unchanged, growth would of course continue --> a pretty lame assumption, since when human are static? E.g. I won't even know what I would eat tomorrow as lunch, but maybe not porridge. Resources on earth are limited - which is the reason why some economists in the past predicted growth to be "stunned" at some point in the 20th century (and those people were so good at justifying why their predictions didn't come true, retrospectively). If so, how could countries grow forever? Where can we find the extra GDP when the amount of soil and oxygen is essentially fixed? More babies? More financial contracts (which aren't natural resources)? More land exploration?

Or, perhaps, conquer other planets and make them our second home?

P/S: Joel Huan, your book is next.

Friday, 25 June 2010

DISGRACE - no, it's not about me.

I am still pretty honourable. It's about the nobel-prize-winning novel that I read on a novelist's recommendation.

The moment I got it off the shelf I was thinking: Such a tiny book, is it that easy to win a Nobel Prize in Literature? Writing a tiny story which only has 220 pages - many times less than JK Rowling's dictionaries called Harry Potter 5 and Harry Potter 6.

So I went and checked out the definition for this prize, and found:

“The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- - -/ one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency ...”

(Excerpt from the will of Alfred Nobel)

Idealistic tendency is the key. If you want to be famous one day, write a little story, it doesn't have to be dramatic, touching, entertaining (I am not being sarcastic), but it has to be real and reflect the cultural tendencies of the plot settings.

On this criterion, JM Coetzee succeeded. He's brought out the issues of white-black conflicts, in a subtle way: there is no unpredictable plot twists - but somehow the story ends in a way unexpected by me, because I'd read too many novels with happy/sad endings and tended to think the end has to be one of the two.

I'm pretty sure that if one looks into details of every single page there are heaps of cultural elements to be identified, but my idea of reading a book, in particular, a novel, is to enjoy it. That means reading it on my bed, reading it while eating chicken drumstick and noodles, reading it while watching Julia Gillard showing her public speaking skills after being "elected" as the new Australian PM (I swear that before this I never know a PM can be ditched and replaced like that, overnight, through the intentions fermented over a couple of months). Back to my point, I mean, reading a novel should not be like reading Jiwook's notes where I have to strain and force my brain to absorb everything in there.

If there is anything you, the author, want me to absorb, it has to be embedded, and natural, so that it enters my head without forcing them to me.

After spending a day reading, what I remember from the book are the following: (I don't care whether this might become a spoiler or not, if you're worried and planned to read the book, I suggest that you close this window now)

* David Lurie is such a WOMANISER!! Well, I usually get really annoyed when guys in real life say to me that girls are there for men's pleasure. But if it's just a novel, be it, it's fake, so I don't mind. LOL~~~Is womaniser the right word, or pedophile?

* And he is such an idiot for being a hard nut to crack - refusing to issue a proper apology to save his job. Hard nuts like that tend to suffer in this world, they deserve some respect for standing by their principles (good or bad), but not sympathy.

* Animal euthanasia - I don't have a side on this, human beings have been doing that for ages, in various forms. The best justifying reason ever come out with is to sacrifice for the greater good of the mankind, in animal testing laboratories.

* Abort or not to abort - no qualms on that, its ultimate decision should be the carrier's. Men should respect that, always, no matter the reasons.

*** Submission and acceptance of life:

This is probably the most important message thoughout the book. Should we accept fate as it is, and not try to change it? Or do we have power to change? Should we embrace the culture in the surroundings we live it, or should we strive for our own good, and try to protect ourselves from the harm?

Well...again it depends on circumstances. In this day and age I tend to go with the side that says fate is changeable (I hesitated, and deleted the word "destiny" - because by implicit definition destiny is fixed, if the dialogues of "Heroes" is anothing to go by), and there are many successful people in this world who would agree with me.

But when I put myself in the shoes of people who prefer to submit, to tolerate, to accept fate as facts in life, I can see where they are coming from: they basically want peace and stability in life. Dream pursuers would unavoidably need to go (or sail) through the ups and downs, the waves, the weather, just like Jessica Watson (who is not going to hold her record for very long, because more young chicks nowadays want to be famous); yet all peace pursuers want is to live amicably, to minimise changes to the stable lifestyle. They do have a point, what's the point of chasing dreams when I am contented with what I have now. And ultimately, the place that you and I will take are the same: the hole in the ground.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Economics is all about making educated guesses

Australian PM Kevin Rudd absolutely loves writing essays!

That shouldn't come as a surprise cos you know he has first class honours in Bachelor of Arts. What is surprising is he actually wrote 6100 words, and the article took up two full pages of yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald.

I only read it this morning, and it did take me a while because of its length.

Putting aside all the sophistication of words and long elaborations, there are really only a few points that can be said in much fewer words:

(From my memory)

1. Australian economy is doing better than most of the other rich countries, due to aggressive fiscal and monetary expansionary policies. It is not in technical recession yet.

2. There are signs of recovery, but the recovery process is going to be painful for households as the government gradually withdraw the stimulus packages to undo its budget deficit.

3. Unemployment is expected to soar higher as it is a lagging economic indicator. Even if growth levels rebounce in the second half of 2009 unemployment might well increase further to around 8-9%.

4. The recovery is expected to be slow and full recovery might take up to 6 years. The 14-year economic boom before the crisis was based on 'spending beyond our means' and 'debt growth', the recovery ahead will be based on 'capacity and productivity building'.

5. As the economy recovers, inflation and interest rates are going to rise. Households may experience strains in purchasing power as unemployment continues to increase.

Kevin Rudd made a smart political move. He wrote a long essay justifying what his government will do in future: reduce government spending, increase tax, increase cash rate etc. That means when the opposition criticises his government's move in future he can always reply by saying, "Please read the 6100-word essay I wrote."

If you think about it economics is such a unique field. It doesn't have right or wrong answers, but only valid arguments. Economic projections are more likely to be wrong than right but somehow the world take all these forecast very seriously. And (lol) there are usually ways for economists to explain why the past forecasts are inaccurate (wisedom in hindsight?).

It may seem simple, that in bad times you should increase budget spending and reduce interest rate. But the question is WHEN is the best time to carry out an action. Also consumer sentiment is such a tricky issue that it seems to me the economists speaking on TV are making nothing more than educated guesses.

When I was first introduced to economics (in college) I was wondering why can't we AVOID the economic cycle. Back then all I know is that there are four phases and that the cycle repeats itself over and over again. I thought if everyone were to stay optimistic all the time everything will be fine, there will not be recesssion.

It's human nature to never be satisfied and want more and more of everything we have. Eventually resources will be so strained and some people will start to lose confidence, and thus the downturn begins.

So the essence is unless we turn ourselves into robots economic ups and downs will continue.

P/S: If you aspire to become a Prime Minister one day you might wish to start learning Economics.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Lessons from Australian Master Chef Season 1

Lesson #1: Sometimes champion is made by not being the best (but not the worst) all along except for the last race.

Lesson #2: The most common way to screw up something is to have BAD time-management. Remember how Julie screwed up many of her dishes?e.g. the puddle pie

Lesson #3: Stress-management is usually what separates the best from the good.

Lesson #4: If you want to do well in something, you've gotta LOVE it~

Lesson #5: Don't take unnecessary risk i.e. risk that has no potential upside but with a downside possibility. Poh, you should have followed the recipe!

Lesson #6: Luck can sometimes change the way things go. Had Julie been not so lucky about onions being in that Garry-beef-something dish she could have got only 3 points from the taste test.

Lesson #7: Sometimes obvious answers are right in front of us, so don't search around for complicated solution before thinking over the easier possibilities. E.g. the carrots and tomatoes should really be quite obvious in the first challenge. Even I can spot that hint of tomato skin! And oh Poh, how can you forget about oil??

Lesson #8: Impression does matter. No matter how much you hate to admit it, humans being humans are bound to be led by emotions to some extent. What made Julie stayed for the finale instead of Chris? Her idea of the cook book which to me was very touching, and I have to say she knows how to engage her audience when she talks.

Lesson #9: Never think you are the best when the competition is not over. Chris thought he was the best in the competition, but see what happened?

Lesson #10: Most importantly, success is not determined by fragmented pieces of life chapters. It should be on-going. Julie won, but is that it? Nope, the real contest has only just begun! Poh lost today, but is she forever a loser to Julie? Nope, she could be the real winner if she works hard and prove to the world that her dishes sell better, or her restaurant gets more business than Julie's. One thing Julie has to justify for the rest of her life is that she is a worthy winner of the first season of Australian Master Chef.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

All in the name of corporate social responsibility

If you ask me which item on McDonald's appeals to me the most, at least in Australia, my answer will be Granny Smith Apple Pie!

As I was happily munching my superbly hot apple pies around 10-ish this morning, I saw this on the paper bag.

Then I went oh~

Indeed I kept the bag because my curiosity told me to do so.

And I did check out the website. It is kinda cool!

I once heard about how a burger that is sold to us for $5 actually only costs McD $1. At least McD cares to channel a bit of its profit back to the community. *clap clap clap*

Monday, 13 July 2009



信手沾來的幾個例子就有已故張世明,在Malaysia紅一陣子,5嵗就會做form 5 add math 的Adi Putra, 為Macquarie uni 創下後人可能沒辦法破的紀錄的無敵Actuarial student Weihao Choo, 再來Luke Nichols也算其中一個,還有那個不知道叫什麽名年級小小就被Malaysian government送去UK的馬來女生 etc

他們都有一個很明顯的共同點,就是他們年級小數學造詣卻希伯高。我常常在想這些人的腦到底是怎樣的?是不是一聼完課,或者看數學課本看一遍就*燈泡亮一下*懂了?不用教, 給一兩個example他們就奇跡般地。。。會了!是不是這樣告訴我!

很奇怪的是學術界的genius幹嗎都一定(或者99%)是數學希伯厲害?爲什麽不會有e.g. 語言掌控得很好的小孩被封為天才?就算那些spelling很厲害,厲害到去參加spelling bee competition的人好像也沒被封為天才?爲什麽榮獲國際各類常識比賽冠軍的小孩不被說成天才?

可能數學在人類發展的腳步中的地位是其他領域 如語言、人文地理無法匹敵的。

除了Academic genius另外三种人也有機會被封天才:
1。年紀輕輕運動造詣卻很高的人。這種人通常5,6嵗就被送去運動學校,企圖把他們訓練成未來的olympic gold medalist. 由於花太多時間在訓練上這些人通常學業不太好。e.g. England football squad的Wayne Rooney。

2。童星, aka有機會在娛樂圈大紅大紫的小孩。經典例子:Michael Jackson.

3。音樂細胞很多的小孩。這種人也跟1一樣,年紀輕輕可能就被送到有名的音樂學校e.g.英國的Royal School of Music,從小就接受很嚴格的音樂訓練。經典音樂才子:Mozart。

不過奇怪的是以上這三种“天才,1 和3的知名度往往比不上學術界的數學天才。運動天才最多在重大賽事 e.g.Olympic games, World Cup時才會受到關注,音樂天才更不用說了,只有懂音樂的人才會為之驚艷。只有童星才能跟math prodigy 拼。

童星會紅是因爲他/她的表演、影片、唱片人人都聼人人都看,而math prodigy的名聲一般都是這樣建立的:x嵗完成小學,y年内念完高中,在高中大考考或z個A (或者A1, 或者某某top score), w嵗考進世界排名第k的p大學的h科 系(注意! h 通常都跟數學有關係,絕對不會是Bachelor of Arts, 也絕對不可能是商業成分太高的如Accounting,更不會是阿貓阿狗都念得起的科系),m年内完成學士, n 年内完成碩士and/or博士。


如果你在想爲什麽我會打這篇文。。。本小姐在等oven 裏的雞肉烤熟,自娛娛人罷了。

Sunday, 12 July 2009

吃飽太空閒之My attempt to understand the science behind "Stress"

A casual conversation with a friend stirred up my interest to read up on yet another random topic through google search.

Well it isn't that random aye? University students say they are under 'pressure' to keep up with their lecture materials; working adults say they are constantly rushing for deadlines; even full-time mothers complain about how 'stressful' it is to take care of young children, send them to school and return home only be greeted by housework that never seem to end.

I hated Biology in high school, that's why I didn't take up my dad's suggestion to pursue a medical degree. Yet, I surprised myself by my renewed interest in reading stuff about Biology, though I suspect the main reason being its relevance to me (and so many other university students).

It seems strange to me at first how stress can kill. It is untouchable, and its existence is sometimes difficult to define. Unlike a bullet which can go through a person's head and condemn him/her to instant death, stress does not have any physical sense of existence, yet depression is the number 1 cause of 'disability' in the population of Victoria.

My amateurish attempt at understanding some medical journals I found online led to a simplistic explanation. What we termed as 'stress' is actually a natural reaction to "dangerous" or "potentially life-threatening" situations, in the context of simple animal survival. Such reaction isn't supposed to be prolonged ie animals either escape from danger or die, in either case the body response to heightened level of anxiety will not last for a long time.

However, human extended existence beyond what nature lays down for us as well as our sophisticated brain structure which makes us 'aware' of our environment make us, I believe, more prone to stress than the wild animals whose only concern is 'survival'. Human invented responsibilities, commitments, love, care, duty - all contribute to different, and in some ways, more intense, level of 'stress' compared with the natural sources which are limited to predators, change in living environment and climate.

My poor grasp of Biology terms did not allow me to comprehend exactly the workings of our body's response to stress. I believe it is some sort of hormonal reaction, in that under stressful situations our body release some hormones to help us cope with the 'external danger'; however if the level of such hormones stays high for too long our immune system will start to deteriorate and this makes us more prone to illnesses.

So it is like alcohol. If it stays in your blood stream ALL THE TIME, you die of toxic.
It is akin to AIDS, which weakens your immunity and let other viruses kill you.
It is like some cancer. You can only try to manage it but not get rid of it completely.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

吃飽沒事做時看的:偉大的JF 原來有做這種Research。。。。。。


Completion Rates of International Students Entering the Actuarial Program
Jim Farmer

“Students successfully completing the New South Wales (NSW) Higher School Certificate (HSC) are awarded a Universities Admission Index (UAI). The UAI is a number from 0 to 100 which ranks the student’s performance relative to all students in their year 10 cohort. Since not all year 10 students complete high school studies to the year 12 level, and those who don’t tend to be the less able students, the average UAI awarded is well above 50.”

哦。。。原來UAI是這麽一回事啊!Australians 怎麽那麽有創意會想到拿Year12來和Year10比?這種ranking方式我還是第一次聽到,不過也是有道理啦。

“To gain entry to an undergraduate degree program at Macquarie University a student must attain a UAI – or interstate equivalent – not less than the relevant “UAI cut-off” for that degree. Many degrees have two different UAI cut-offs: one for domestic (Australian) students who are predominantly funded by the government and a usually lower cut-off for international (non-Australian) students who are charged tuition fees.”

簡單來説所有的澳洲大學很寬待international students因爲他們繳付的學費比local students高非常非常多!現實一點吧,世界上有幾個人會和$鬥氣?人家也是要吃飯的。

“There has been discussion as to whether having a lower UAI cut-off for international students than for domestic students is appropriate. Some arguments on this issue assume that the international students who only satisfy the lower international student UAI cut-off are less likely to satisfactorily complete their degree than are the international students who also satisfy the higher domestic student cut-off. ”


總之result 就是有UAI 的international students,無論是達到domestic students cut-off (大約97分)抑或只是達到比較低的international students cut-off (大約93分),成功順利念完精算係的只有40-46%。

我怎麽覺得我這一年的international students 好像都很強叻?

這個research用的data 是1999-2001系列,可能當時學生也沒有現在多吧。

也有可能international students一年比一年聰明LOL.

Report中有提到的一點就是local Australians通常只有考或UAI 99以上才會報讀精算,而international students (可以先入爲主地當作都是亞洲人吧?)拿到96,97就已經一窩蜂地喊“我要念精算!!!” ----〉其實很對,亞洲人想賺大$的比較多吧!


Friday, 10 July 2009

Negaraku Malaysia I love thee~~~

A culture you won't find elsewhere.
For those who can't read Malay, it says "No hawkers are allowed in this area. Fine RM3000".

PS: Malaysians have a lot of humour don't we? Imagine you are driving past after a tiring day at work a good laugh is all you need and this kind stall owner provides just that!

Source: Forwarded email from Choy Yin

Monday, 29 June 2009

On Michael Jackson's passing

It surprised me when I stumbled on the news on Michael Jackson's death at age 50 (actuarial students would probably say: to be precise, it is age 50 last birthday...) when I was routinely searching for the latest EPL updates.

I wrote this on facebook just minutes ago:

I have to admit the Michael Jackson I knew before he died was a freak; an eccentric middle age man who was constantly unhappy with how he looked and tried relentlessly to look like a person he wasn't; a re*arded father who dangled his baby son over the balcony. It is only after some (toilet) reading of newspaper review of his life and some youtube search of his old videos that I realise he is a legend (on stage)!

and one of my online friends immediately replied he loved the old Jackson, the one who was his original self and not the man who was troubled and constantly caught the media's eyes for the wrong reason.

Celine Dion talked about Michael Jackson on the breaking news right after his death. I thought what she said on how Jackson fell from his stardom was spot on:

"I thought it was so unfortunate, Larry(the news broadcaster), because ... he was under pressure. I think we all live under pressure differently. We live under pressure because we want to give the audience and the fans what they look forward, what they expect. We wanna do a better album, we wanna do a better show. I think Michael Jackson lived under pressure all the time, since he was five years old, wanting to please his family, his fan, and putting the bar so high... that even like, he needed to be surpassing his own belt. And I think it's so unfortunate that the pressure was so tremendous, I am so sure that if you only live under pressure and you don't have something, your family, your husband, your wife, your children, I mean, he probably had so much but he didn't have the balance."

Michael Jackson said he was used to being beaten by his father when he was a young boy on Oprah Winfrey's show. Michael Jackon began his journey to stardom back when he was a five-year-old boy, performing with his brothers. To me, the sentiments he showed when singing those hits were not expected from a pre-puberscent boy. They were not lullabys, not songs like Old Macdonald Had A Farm...the songs were about heartbreaks, about anger, about love. These are undoubtedly emotions of an adult. He had outgrown his age. He was adult singer notwithstanding his age.

What came after his peak were a series of events which put him under constant criticism from the mainstream media. He seemed unhappy to be a black and changed his physical appearance through plastic surgeries (he looked like crap after that, to me at least), he was accused of paedophilia, and child abuse when he notoriously held his baby son over the balcony etc. Sadly, these are what definine Michael Jackson to me. I see Michael Jackson as a freak, a weirdo, an outdated celebrity, a mentally retarded monster. It is until his death when I read all the news review and listened to his music on youtube that I see the reason behind the huge population of fans of his worldwide - you've got to admit that he is a star, no matter you like him or otherwise.

I strongly believe that his early rise to the limelight is what took his life, not just "life" in the sense of the ability to breathe, but also the normalcy that you and I take for granted all the time. From what I can see from the omnipresent reviews on Michael Jackson's life journey, he was not normal. He didn't have a normal childhood, teenage years, marriage, adult life ... Just like how Celine Dion puts it, he didn't have the BALANCE to everything he had: fame, celebrity status, admiration, expectation from his fan ...

Coincidentally I was having this conversation with a friend on how people have different intelligence level and whether this is 'fair' as intelligent people tend to work less hard and score better academically. Michael Jackson's life story tells me something: God gives all of us different gifts. Some people may have more gifts than the others. However it is up to us to use what we have to sketch our life journey, whether that means an exceptional roller-coaster ride with highs and lows or an ordinary track with simple happiness, or a delicate balance between the two extreme end of the continuum. It is never a question of 'fairness'. There is always a trade-off to everything.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The damage done by spotlights - The Susan Boyle drama

It's strange that I'm blogging about Susan Boyle on my birthday instead of exclaiming my excitement at joining the '21 club'. Yea of course I am happy, and guess what it's the last day of uni for this semester! (but that means exams are scarily near!)

I knew right after the finale of Brittain's got talent that Susan Boyle lost. I am not a fan of her. I think she's good but not good enough for me to become a die-hard fan for. I prefer listening to Celine Dion instead. (Recently I started on Jason Mraz too, thanks to all my frens who continuously praise his great-ness at his recent concert in Sydney.

I feel sorry for Susan. Before the reality show she is a nobody - an unemployed, 'a virgin that is never been kissed before' (I'm just quoting Susan), suffered from some health complication when she was an infant, live only with her cat etc. And out of the sudden, everyone is watching her first performance at Brittan's got talent on Youtube. >50 million hits for heaven's sake! If that's not called sudden fame, I wonder what is?!

When the first wave of Susan craze greets the world I secretly wish she will put it all through. The pressure from the millions of her fans, the scrutiny of worldwide mass media, the unrealistic expectation from her audience. People seem to forget that she is only just a HUMAN, like you, me, all of us! She is bound to react what a normal human will to things like...unceasing disruption and pressure from the media. Come on human beings on earth, we err, we make mistakes, and we constantly improve ourselves, NONE OF US IS PERFECT! But the expectation put on Susan Boyle is that she is akin to a God, her voice is from "heaven" and she HAS to win the competition to justify her instant fame.

I'm quite sure when she decided to join the competition she was just wanting to be heard, to be noticed, to be recognised that she is not a nobody, and her life is not worthless. She succeeded in touching the heart of millions of people in the world, people who are labeled a 'failure' start to see hope after Susan's rise to the limelight. I am touched by her courage - a plain looking middle age woman working hard to pursue her dream - though I'm not that much into her singing (coz I prefer Celine Dion lol!). But I want to see her put through all the hurdles, I want to see her succeed in life, not just in the competition. I want to see her becoming a more confident person than she was before and realising she can do something with her life, as the world recognises her voice.

Weeks later, I read the news on her falling popularity in Britian due to her 'strange behaviour', which I am pretty sure is due to pressure from the media and her fans. And after that, the news on her 'disappointing' performance that make her on runners-up instead of the Champion in the show is on almost every daily paper, celebrity magazines on earth. Hey isn't that already a great achievement? Why MUST she be crowned champion to be appreciated? Is taking the runners-up a shame? a disgust?

See that's the toll of unrealistic expectation. That's exactly the reason behind all the stories on 'falling stars', 'falling genius' that I have seen and read so often in the past. Had they been given the time like everyone else, had they been allowed to progress in a healthy pace, had they been given the right to live a normal childhood, had they been given a normal brought-up, they will do well.

But......the damage has been done. She swore in the public (actually many of us do, but we often get away with it coz we are nobody, and Susan is somebody) and that event condemned her to rapidly declining popularity and criticism from the WORLD. Can you just imagine what sort of pressure that would be? Can you imagine yourself being finger-pointed by strangers, being called silly names because of how you look and how disappointed they are at mistaken you as a admirable person?

Was her second singing of "I Dreamed a Dream" better than her first? I would definitely say YES! But many of her fans just won't feel it anymore, because her image is tainted by her outburst before the finale. For many, Susan is no longer their idol because of the swearing that shock the world who once saw her as an innocent middle-age woman who was strong, cheerful and adorable.

She must be really miserable now. Her fame doesn't do her any good, apart from the short-lived popularity. But still, I believe that her heart is as pure as gold and the outburst was totally unintentional. She just happened to be irritated and acted irrationally, without knowing the extent of the public pressure she would face later on.

Be strong Susan, and the storm will be over soon.

Monday, 25 May 2009

GLP Cross-cultural Colloquium

It wasn't the best time, at all. I had an assignment to hand in before 4.00pm today, a quiz to submit before 5pm, gloomy sky which suggested carrying an encumbrance human call umbrella as the chance of raining is real. The great me signed up for a colloquium which started at 2pm few weeks ago thanks to two occurrences of canceled colloquium due to the convenor "feeling unwell".

But surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the three hours instead, despite receiving tonnes of negative feedbacks from friends who had done the colloquium before and obviously weren't happy with the way it was conducted.

The convenor did a great job at engaging us, stirring up numerous discussions that were very very relevant to cultural complexities that arise when we become more 'global'. Should we have the right to offend people? When we have two people with conflicting cultures who should adapt and which culture should dominate?

The problems that arise from different cultural values are far from obvious. A question that leaves myself wondering is how willing I am to let my (future) children to adopt the Australian culture (some of which I could not find myself accepting), if I were to stay on and live here? It's easy to take a stance in principle, either to enforce my own cultural values from my home country, or to just completely let go and let them do whatever the environment dictates, but in reality both are just too extreme and a balance ought to be taken. The million dollar question is, where is the delicate balance here?

Observing the people around me tells me they are different from myself, even if they are ethnically the same as I am (i.e. Chinese) or even if they are originally from my home country (ie. Malaysia). The way ABC's behave and carry themselves around are just not like us, who are born and raised in another country. I've got to admit at least theoretically that immigrants should adapt to the culture of whichever country they chose to live in, after all that's the choice they have made. But how easy is that?

80% of Australians speaks English and only English. Some knew a tad bit about their mother tongue but they are far from being fluent in it. It's been an emotional issue, in particular when we put ourselves in the shoes of their parents who may (secretly or openly) wish that their children grow up to be just like them, with the religion and values they themselves hold to. In the colloquium there were quite a number of people with immigrant parents saying that they have conflicts with their parents, often over issues which stem from a cultural intolerance. I guess one common scenario is that Asian parents sometimes don't want their kids to date with people from another cultural background (in particular, the Caucasian) but their kids just fall in love with someone who don't fit the definition of their parents' ideal future son/daughter-in law.

Oh well, there is no right or wrong answer or one-size-fit-all solution to this problem, and this problem won't go away as long as there is still a constant flow of immigrants into Australia seeking a 'better' life. The refugee problem is quite an issue now, though what concerns me the most is the Commonwealth government policy to cut the number of skilled-immigrants LOL.

I have to admit that the temptation of staying on in Australia after our tertiary education is strong, for almost every international student. It's a good place to live and work after all. But immigration is getting hard these days.

Who knows what will happen next.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

So I break my self-set spending rules for 2 days

Hey hey!

I know, it is like ages since I last blogged. Pretty lazy these days to actually start writing despite being in the much-needed mid-sem break of my first semester. Uni was hectic for the first half so I think it's good timing to pause and rest for two weeks before the much crazier second half comes by(I have utmost confidence it will be a lot crazier--> statisticians would say there is no 100% confidence in this world but I'm very very sure about it).

Harvin came down to Sydney all the way from her "kampung place of working" for her graduation. Bravo I would say coz she actually planned out her trip so nicely despite the hurdles in the public sector, oh you know how those people can sometimes be extremely annoying in granting approvals for what is seen as 'reasonable causes' for a leave. It was really nice spending time being a 'shopping advicer' for two days, catching up on the recent events in M'sia, gossips among the Cohort 2 TESL people (LOL), see how she is now being an official cikgu, and also practise my skill in converting everything in dollars into ringgit hahaha. I guess that pretty much makes up for it as I won't be able to attend the graduation ceremony due to my up-coming Hunter Valley trip.

I wonder how am I gonna cope with working in M'sian public sector one day when I need to go back to serve out my contract? Sometimes I just wish I were a self-sponsored with everything in my hand, choices of career path, companies I want to work in, the task that I am passionate with etc etc. But the reality is my family can never ever afford an overseas education (not even if they take out a loan, honestly) without any subsidy, thus I really should count myself lucky for making it to Australia for my tertiary education.

If it weren't for the likes of Ng Yi Liang etc who scored well in SPM 2004 and appealed very hard to JPA on their rejected JPA scholarship application, and Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting who fought hard to obtain additional places for us (I don't care if he did it out of political considerations or not, the fact is he DID it), I would probably end up completing my A-levels under ASEAN scholarship and be stuck in S'pore for uni and career. I do like S'pore very much, but I was more keen at that time to take up an opportunity in Australia coz it's a western country.

For now I honestly don't feel like leaving university yet! Life being a uni student is just oh so good --> most important realisation from my 2-month internship at CIMB last year. There are many out there who can't wait to leave uni and start earning $$$. Different people I guess, but not me.

In a strange way, I love Macquarie University despite the crazy workload every semester. Stressing over an up-coming test, struggling to catch up with the pace of lecture & tutes, 'admiring in awe' the different styles and personalities in the Department of Actuarial Studies and insane students who are so not like human (e.g. W.h.Choo, L. Nichols, J. Poon etc). On a lighter note, the GLP program has so much fun, sadly I don't always have the time and $$$ to join their exciting program and meet more people. I wish I could have gone on a volunteer program, or join their overseas symposium or go on a short-term exchange, but only manage to go for a Canberra one which is much less expensive than the others :( Ultimately, $$$ still matters. Sigh.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Post-entry: GLP Symposium to Canberra

March 2009 GLP Symposium to Canberra

I'm back to Sydney from the trip on Sunday, but only manage to make an entry today, thanks to:

1. ACST300 and ACST 356 quiz which I hadn't done any before the trip and was obviously freaking out on Sunday night.

2. My frantic attempt of catching up with the the task I would've done should I not be in Canberra over the weekends e.g. reading lecture materials etc

3. My totally packed university schedule !

Many people gave me that kinda surprised look when I told them I was gonna visit Canberra for a second time in two years. Whether it qualifies as a 'boring' place really does depend on the attitude you carry there.

The fact that I skipped a day of class and had to forgo my weekends for this Symposium itself will set it different from all my other trips to other places. There are hell lots of stuff to catch up on since I am back, million of thanks to my taking third year actuarial studies. So the sacrifice is big, how stupid I would've be if I hadn't made the best out of this symposium.

I guess the most valuable thing I gained is the experience of getting along with people from all sorts of background. This may sound simple, in fact I'd come across with many people who claim themselves as a 'people person' who can talk and socialize with anyone. But the thing is, are these people REALLY wanna get to know the others? Or are they doing so merely to prove the fact that they are sociable? I think it's human nature to find it hard to genuinely love talking to another person from a very different background e.g. non-domestic Chinese talking to Caucasian, when the two possess possibly conflicting values on life. It takes lots of effort, and lots of positive attitude to actually engage and sustain a good conversation --> by saying this I mean conversations that stretch beyond the standard courteous lines like "How have you been?","What course are you doing?""Do you like your course?How do you find it?" etc etc. Of course these are what we'll usually start off with but to me a successful interaction with another person is to share on something more, such as cultural values, family values, career/life goals etc. I guess that is the main point of organizing on GLP's side of organising this event.

It was a great pleasure getting to know the other participants of the trip. I've kinda amazed with some of the way of thinking and attitude carried by people not from a commerce background. They are such a fun bunch of people to be honest. I sat next to Daniel, an 18- year-old Art student during dinner on the last night, and he was absolutely amazing at talking about himself. He is so passionate about politics and globalisation that he just couldn't stop talking about it, and most importantly, he actually started to make me see the interesting part of this area which I previously consider as 'dead and boring'.

One interesting conversation I had was with two exchange girls from Canada. They obviously have Malaysian housemate(s) who told them "Malaysian Government won't actually let the nons choose their universit degree" and were keen to find out the statement's truthfulness from me. It took me sometime to explain to them what 'Affirmative Action' means and why it is happening to Malaysia. These two girls have been on exchange shortly after they started their degree and the places they had travelled so far will make you go like 'Wow! I wish I had that chance'. Interestingly, they became vegetarian after reading some books, and hate clubbing (they told me that at Pancake Parlour after I admitted that I am not a clubbing person). One girl went like "I just don't understand why people like that. You're just making a fool of yourself!"-->I give 5 stars to this line.

On the third night I went out for a failed attempt of finding 7-eleven with 3 girls from China. Two of them are master students who did well in their previous job and are seeking more knowledge and opportunities in Australia. Another girl is doing her final year of Finance. They are not the typical mainlander who are shy and would not talk to people from another nationality. We hang out at one of the girl's unit and chatted on pretty much everything under the sun, from Chinese cultures, how difficult to make friends with some local people who are not open-minded enough to accept differences between people, gossips, what we plan to progress to after our degree etc etc. It was so much more fun than going to a club!

Some people just love drinking. I'm curious as to whether they really like alchohol and dance etc or are they liking it just to be accepted by their peers. I personally don't see the fun of excessive drinking. You get drunk and get into trouble and spend heaps of money on unnecessary things that wouldn't add any values to you as a person. Moderate drinking is fine (wine is the best!) but I just don't appreciate some guys asking the whole group to get drunk together --> as if we know you people enough to do that?!

I am not gonna talk at length on the places I went on this trip (coz it's not too much different from my previous visit!), it is not the most important thing I gain from this trip anyway.

The only three things worth mentioning are the Parliament House, the War Memorial and Glenloch Farm. The Parliament is what I thought I have not had enough last time. The greatest event of this symposium was sitting in the Chamber of House Representatives. It was so much fun watchin a Parliament live! I got to see Kevin Rudd! He was awesome with his speech and great at debates. No wonder he is the Prime Minister of Australia.

This is real democracy!

War Memorial was amazing as well, but sadly we didn't get enough time to complete the tour. Oh how much I love the tour guide. He is a volunteer at War Memorial and has a father who worked in Australian army in the 60s and 70s. I like the way he introduced us to all the past wars that Australian had engaged in and managed to make it not sound like a boring history lesson.

No wonder Australian tourism is one of the best in the world. They really have good tour guides.

Lastly about Glenloch Farm, I'll let the pirctures tell the story.
"Ladies, we're gonna strip you off one day!"

"I told you...." She is naked!

Not the forget: Special thanks to Jason, Kaixun and Suyin for arranging a meet-up at Pancake Parlour. The pancakes suck to the tiniest bit BUT it was great to see you guys remaining the fastastic bunch I know from our SAM days!

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

GLP Symposium - Canberra

During summer holiday, I posted one or two entries a month and thought it was reasonable, coz the internet connection at my home is simply toooooo slow. But somehow the laziness builds up and right now in Sydney where I have fairly quick internet speed I am still posting an entry a month. 懶人就是懶人。

Tomorrow I am going on a trip with GLP to Canberra. It's gonna be my second visit there (and I haven't thought that would actually happen after my first trip there two years ago). But hey, here I am heading to the capital city of Australia, this time not as a visitor but a DELEGATE. Sounds cool? Yea, that is how Bec, Anneke and Chloe (GLP team) called us. Jim Farmer must be like 'wow!' when we showed him the letter from Bec Forrester which refers to us as delegates....damn important you know!

Paid $470 for the trip of 4 days 3 nights. It has increased by $90 from last year due to reduced government subsidy on Macquarie University I s'pose. But overall I am still pretty happy with the itinerary and would look forward to seeing Canberra again, this time not just from the tourism side. We are going to watch a Parliament siting, LIVE! Wow, isn't that cool? (I was darn envious that time when KaiXun told us how many times he has sat in for n times, I finally got to do it myself).

Besides, would be keen to catch up with some of the old mates from my college days. KaiXun, Jason, SuYin (did I miss out anyone? sorry my memory is bad). Fellow Taiping ppl Yeam is there too, as well as some of those that I got to know when they visited Sydney.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Summer holiday is over =(

I'm back in Sydney since yesterday morning, local time 0745. Had the most pleasant flight ever. No delay. No unnecassary waiting. No boredom at the airport and on the aircraft. No sucky aircraft food. And lots of pretty sexy cabin crew members.

Though I'd stayed in S'pore for 6 months before, it was my first time inside Changi Airport, and it amazes me to bits. Everything is so good. Excellent surroundings with lots of real trees and flowers around the airport and the fake ones inside the buildings. Lots of colourful, comfortable sofas for the tired passengers like myself. And oh not to forget the fast and most importantly free wifi, no wonder I was not bored at all waiting for about 4 hours before my connecting flight. The new Terminal 3 is so canggih. Everywhere in the airport, water bottle filler is sensor-based.

I was lucky to get a huge, new airbus aircraft. Everything is new. The seat, the gadgets, the entertainment set (that small TV in front of each seat). There are lots of good movies, TV series, games, documentaries, tourist info programmes, music albums etc. Even the remote control is new.

Thanks to the entertainment kit I only slept for 3 hours on the plane. I collapsed on my bed the moment I arrived at MUV. Slept for another 2 hours. Woke up to do some laundry as my bed sheets, pillow case etc were hell dusty after 3 months untouched. Slept again before going shopping for some food to keep myself alive.

This morning: Tried to readjust my bio clock back to aussie time. Didn’t quite succeed, only woke up at 9am (or 6am in Malaysia). I slept till 10am each morning after ending my internship. So 9am is not bad really. Wash-up abit, ate my brunch which is a cincai-lly made gonlou-min.

Then off I went to spend my money, huge sum, $150 for first Gandarsil vaccination. It is to prevent cervical cancer and I will have to fork out that money for two more times later on. Heart pain for the money, but health is priceless!

Well, after that it’s history. I’m sitting in front of my desk, cursing the unstable internet connection, typing this in word document before copying and pasting it on blogger when the line comes back.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

I'll do with a little update (boss is not around)

Met a new intern from Equity Investment & Trading during lunch time. Pretty happy to chat with ppl in a similar position as myself. She looked quite raw, well, just like myself in my first and second week. Funny thing is, she saw me talking to Sze Huey on facebook and asked me if I know her lol.

I realise how much I've settled in this new environment of working with people who are constantly rushing to finish their job. Investment banking ppl are all like that, so said my mentor. They work like dogs (not in a negative way, just means they work like crazy).

Assistant director in my department asked me during lunch what specialisation I'm looking at for my actuarial degree, and I couldn't give a specific answer. To be honest I don't have a clear idea yet. What I know is I'm liking my course much, though occasionally I still grumble about how much work, tests and exams we face each and every semester.

Never really believe that student life is way more stress-free as compared to working routine in a big city, until recently I am starting to re-consider the truthfullness of the statement.

Yesterday Tho Kin (my buddy aka mentor) asked me to help with a spreadsheet, which proves to be the most annoying spreadsheet I had seen so far in my life! Guess it's coz I'm not the person who developed it and thus unclear with how all the links work in the spreadsheet,.a simple task of aggregating the monthly totals make me feel like ripping off the computer screen. I duno why every time I tried to insert a column in seemingly unrelated parts some numbers in other places change. Very pek-cek I tell you. And yet this is probably miniscule as compared to the stress level they are facing everyday.

Being intern is fun in that you're shielded from the 'harsh reality' of the level of stress and workload you will be exposed to in real enployment. What I do are just bits and pieces of a much larger project, while my poor colleagues have to put up with never-ending pressure from their superiors.

They told me their work are never finished, they stayed back in the office to as late as 5am (note, it's am), they sleep every working night without having dinner, they rarely have enough sleep ("sleeping is a luxury", so said), they have to face mountains and mountains of work each day, and never know when their superiors will pop up and ask: "Have you finished xxx that I gave you that day?".

I asked them don't they want a life. They told me to work in investment banking is to marry to your work, and you should only enter a job if you feel you could stand it without going crazy. So true.