Mess With Their Minds While You Still Can

This morning Kai charged into our bedroom all excited and proceeded to tell us in detail what his toy dinosaurs had been up to. He is now convinced the week’s incidents were not isolated. The toys who come alive in the middle of the night when no one’s looking, are organised and capable of complex operations.

Naomi and I are really digging Dinovember. It’s as therapeutic and fun for us as it is for Kai. At least we think he’s having fun. Reminds me of the time when I was his age and my Mom told me I was born on the same day as when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. I had selective hearing and told every one I was born on the moon. I lived that fabulous history until I was in primary school, when a stern teacher brought me back to earth with the truth.

T-Rex loves Kai’s bed
These are literate dinosaurs

What I Got For PSLE

The grading system was different then, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Primary Six, like it is now, was the most stressful time of my primary school years – for my parents.

I was in a SAP primary school, mainly because my parents thought it’d give me a grounding in my adopted mother tongue, and partly because my parents were influenced by the fact that the Prime Minister’s sons were educated there.

Mandarin as a first language was probably hard enough, but I made it a lot harder for myself by not being interested in whatever the teachers were handing down to us to rote learn.  I remember the tomes titled “Up Down 5,000 Years” which were given to us in Primary Four, and which was supposed to contain everything you needed to know about the fabulous history of China. I learned nothing except that cheap books from Bras Basah had pages made out of really porous paper which soaked up my doodling.

The only things I really enjoyed about my time in primary school were the calligraphy lessons, the sneaking out to MPH and Popular Book Store, and making rockets out of matchstick heads.

I did so badly in Mandarin tests and exams, often scoring 25% or thereabouts, that the school did something outrageous. They put me and maybe two or three other boys in a special group that was registered to take the PSLE Mandarin exam as a second language instead of first, so that they would maintain their 100% pass record. They were that sure I was going to fail. So was I.

It was a win-win situation. The SAP feeder school maintained their impeccable record and got rid of me because I didn’t qualify for their secondary school any more. I got into a secondary school where Mandarin was not a do or die subject. (It was more like a die also never mind subject).

More importantly, when the results of the PSLE for 1981 were announced, I did well enough that my mother said in relief, “Good, you’re not going to VITB”, because VITB, the precursor to ITE, was like a dreaded disease. Stupid kids went there, and came out stupider, able to do only things like carpentry and electricianism. Then for the first time in my life,  she took me shopping for any toy I wanted.

So I got myself a two track slot car set like this one:

Vintage Aurora Slot Cars, Corvette and Camaro, 1/87th Scale (H.O. Gauge), With the Fabulous "Pancake" Motors, Circa 1963

S.U.R.E. Or Not?

Last Thursday was S.U.R.E. Day, an event held at the NLB to highlight a campaign for information literacy.

The key speaker, Dr Carl Schoonover (author of ‘Portraits of the Mind’), gave an enlightening talk about neuroscience, perception and evaluation. There was also sambal fishball, mee goreng, curry puffs catered.

What mrbrown and myself were quite deathly afraid of was that we had been engaged by a campaign whose objective was to tell people what the correct sources of information were. Thankfully, that was not the case.

S.U.R.E. stands for Source, Understand, Research, Evaluate. And as much as I dislike the forced forging of acronyms, the elements listed in the name sum up quite well what anyone would have to do to get reasonably informed about whatever issue it is they come across.

This is timely because of the flux the media landscape is currently in, especially in Singapore. People are no longer captive to the hegemony of authorized print and online media, and are a lot more suspicious these days of whatever gahmen say.

But with all manner of monkeys (including mrbrown and myself) being able to publish anything we feel like, you need figure out what’s worth reading, what’s worth investigating further and what is merely Terribly Rubbishy S**t.

Take a look at the S.U.R.E. site to learn more. There is also a nice example I will now use to illustrate a point:


Well-loved meh?
Well-loved meh?


So, Steven Chia was one of the speakers on the panel at S.U.R.E. Day, and his byline reads “well-loved Channel NewsAsia producer and presenter”.

You need to question the content at this point: Who is Steven well-loved by?

I mean, he’s a nice guy, I like him a lot. But I can’t say I loooove  him. I’m S.U.R.E. they probably mean he’s well loved by his wife and kids, and I have nothing against that.

But how many of you can tell me right now, that you really love Steven Chia to the point where you can write a byline that says “well-loved Channel NewsAsia producer and presenter” and use it to mean that many members of the public love him?

I too, have been guilty of not practicing the elements of S.U.R.E. – do you know how hard it is to type capitalized and punctuated acronyms? – and I have on more than one occasion, clicked the share or retweet button without actually reading the linked article thoroughly.

Sometimes, a sensationalist headline can make one trigger/button-happy, and that’s not good if you end up disseminating false, inaccurate information. In much the same way traditional papers try to ramp up circulation with tantalizing headlines, online publishers try to do the same, knowing you’ll be more likely to take a look at what’s been produced.

I remember a New Paper front page headline (written by a friend of mine) from 20 years ago that read “Monster from Deep Beneath The Earth” with scant details except a blurry picture of dug up mud. It was only if you snuck a peek inside or if you bought a copy that you’d find out that it was a story about a farmer’s world record potato.

With the advent of “social” sharing – had it been an online article – you’d have been tempted to click “like” or click through, making the potato story more visible and passed through the timelines of your friends and perhaps the public who are your audience.

If you live by publishing content, like mrbrown and myself, there’s this thing called credibility that we’re always concerned with despite the fact that we also write a lot of nonsense for a living. The more inaccurate or biased information we disseminate, the less credible we’ll be, and the fewer followers we’ll end up having.

I think that’s a pretty good reason for having declining viewership/readership of mainstream media too.

One of the points Dr Schoonover raised was that as a scientist, you question everything, and over time you become good at figuring out what’s more right and less likely wrong. A bit like peeling off the layers of a kueh lapis to get at the truth, hor?

Find out more about information literacy and S.U.R.E. here: Facebook & S.U.R.E. Site


This Dinovember is the best thing!

If you’ve got young kids, do it. We’re feeling it now – that kids don’t stay young for long. Kai had a growth spurt recently and grew 7cm in just under a month. Just comparing videos we shot this week with those a couple of months back pains us.

We’re loving the time we get to spend with Kai while he’s still tearing about the house, making a mess, causing a ruckus like a kid should.

Purple Light

I do not remember rape being part of the song called Purple Light. (I never even knew the song was called Purple Light – it was always “My rifle, my buddy and me”).

Several of my peers think the words in question were added in the last 10 years or so. Shame on the commanders who thought it fit to add that in. And shame on those who think there’s nothing wrong with the lyrics.

As proud members of the Singapore Armed Forces, it is your duty and honour to defend everything this country stands for. We may be trying to figure out what it is that this country stands for, but condoning and belittling the use of rape as something you do out of spite is definitely not in our book of values. Can?