Saturday, October 01, 2011

Weddings and Prudence... Oxymoron?

Some people seem to think that weddings and prudence cannot go together.  A wedding has to be BIG ... even if there's no money to pay the bills for the froth and flash.

I've heard tales of young couples maximising their credit cards just to pay for one reception at a hotel because they wanted to impress people.  But will their financial troubles later on impress those same people?  I've even heard of grooms borrowing money from Ah Longs (moneylenders who charge extortionate rates in exchange for no-questions-asked loans).  What on earth happened to the common sense normally found in every human being?

What is the point in looking impressive for one night and suffering for countless years later?

What is the point in borrowing money you cannot pay back from moneylenders (and risk broken limbs) or money from relatives (and risk broken relationships) or money from colleagues (and risk losing support at work)?

For a Christian, the most important part of the wedding should be the MASS.  Where the couple promises their troth to each other in front of God.  That is where the emphasis should be.  Then afterwards, guests can be invited to a small brunch or a big dinner (depending on available budget in your own pocket, not someone else's!).

If a relative complains, saying that one should throw a big bash to uphold the pride of the clan, then ask that relative to sponsor the big bash that is so important for the pride of the clan.  If one is lucky, he may fork out a few thousand.

Then the couple can focus time, energy and resources to the creation and maintenance of a strong family.

But I understand, what may seem to be a simple Math problem is actually a complicated emotional issue.  It may take a strong personality to withstand the perceived expectations of society.  Well, one will need a strong personality to face enraged Ah Longs and upset relatives, won't one?  So would it really matter in the end?

I suppose it's a matter of 'Choose Your Poison'.  Die by 'Conservative Wedding Memories' or by 'Exciting Financial Ruin' :P

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Homework : So Basic and So Important

One big hassle for teachers is homework.  They have to plan it, hand it out, chase after it and in some cases, get really worked up over it.  Well, they don't HAVE to get worked up over it but then that would mean that they just don't care about it.  Tough choices.

However, the fact remains that homework is one of the most important tools for a student to master a topic.  For an English teacher, homework is about the only way for her to get students to finish an essay or a project involving more than 300 words.  For a Math teacher, homework is the only way she can get students to acquire skills in solving math problems. As a student, I used to have to do around ten to twenty sums for every sub-topic before I could reach that oh-so-sweet level of 'looking at a problem and instantly knowing the solution'.  I was definitely a product of constant slogging. 

I have a few colleagues who religiously keep a log of their students' homework.  It is no coincidence that their students consistently perform well in their subjects and in the govt exams. 

Here are a few tips on homework from author Nancy Paulu.  The sentences in green are her words but the elaborations are all mine.

* Lay out homework expectations early in the school year.
I would normally do this in the first lesson itself.  Lay down the rules and stick to your own words.  Once you are lenient or don't keep to your word, your students will lose their trust in you.

* Create assignments with a purpose, and make sure students understand that purpose.
This is BASIC teacher smarts.  Are you 'smart'?

* Make assignments clear and focused.
Duh.  Won't say more.

* Create assignments that challenge students to think and integrate.
The key to getting students to like your class and to grow as thinkers.

* Vary assignments. (Students get bored with the "same-old-same-old.")
Yep.  A teacher should ask herself how she'd feel if HER teacher gave her such an assignment.

* Give homework that makes learning personal (for example, assignments that allow students to draw upon their family, cultural, and community experiences).  Relevant learning is effective learning.

* Tie assignments to the present. (Students often complain that they can't relate to assignments involving events that took place in the distant past.)  Such an easy thing to do to catch students' interest and encourage their involvement.

* Match assignments to the skills, interests, and needs of students.
Another basic consideration that should be implemented more.

* Use school and community resources.
This is being smart.

* Match assignments to your style of teaching.
This is another way of making things easy for yourself as a teacher.  I like to hear lots of opinions, I like technology and I like music.  So I try to get my students to do homework using technology (blogging, powerpoint etc).  For those with no access to a computer, I schedule time for them in the computer lab and also size down the work according to the limited time they have in the lab.  Once I asked a student to write a debate speech.  He didn't do it but offered to deliver the speech instead.  Since I considered delivery of a speech to be at a higher level than just writing one, I agreed.  To my surprise, he did a great job (and was immediately conscripted into the debate team.)

* Assign an appropriate amount of homework, and keep alert to how long students take to complete assignments.
Keep track.  Be considerate.

* Encourage and teach good study habits.
Something that needs to be looked into in our school system.  Some schools (with far thinking principals) always conduct seminars on study habits for every student at the start of school.

* Provide constructive feedback.
A tick or an X is NOT constructive feedback.  Neither is a question mark.

* Give praise, and motivate.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR A TEACHER TO DO.  And it doesn't cost a single sen.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

CNN Money's Top 10 Money Wasters

Read the CNN article on Top 10 Money Wasters today.  It's always good to be reminded of things like this.

These are the culprits, according to CNN Money.

1. ATM fees
    I'd have to be careful of these.  Time to check my bank account rules.

2. Lottery tickets 
    Luckily I don't buy any!

3. Gourmet coffee
    I totally agree!  Fortunately I am now allergic to coffee and nescafe :)

4. Cigarettes
    So glad that I don't smoke. 

5. Infomercial impulse buys
    Not a problem for me.

6. Brand name groceries
    Guilty!

7. Eating Out
    Yes, this IS expensive.

8. Unused Gym Memberships
    Phew!  I don't have any :D because I believe in running around my house.. ha ha ha

9. Daily Internet Deals
    GROUPON!!!  Well, so far I've only bought one and that's for photobooks (for the many photos I have in my hard drive which never  
    see the light of day.  I have to watch my book buying though.

10. Bundled cable or phone services
      I do think sometimes of the Astro packages I pay for but hardly ever have the time to watch.  Time to downgrade, I think.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Facebook : To Add Students Or Not?

FFacebook poses a special problem for teachers... from my point of view.  The advantages are many and multifarious but so are the diadvantages.

As usual, the most nagging headache would be TMI or in full, Too Much Information.  Especially information about personal things.  Information is always good unless interpreted in a way not expected or not wanted.  As a teacher, I most especially do NOT want this, when it comes to students.

Allow me to illustrate.  And I shall use the example best known to myself : Me.

By default, I tend to be relaxed, sometimes flippant, almost jolly most times :).  But I knew I couldn't be 'relaxed, flippant, jolly' at work.  It was practically an imperative at my first posting : SM La Salle.  The boys in La Salle were a motley bunch; mostly rambunctious, mostly interested in earning some certification but mostly in need of rigid supervision and monitoring.  You can't monitor boys very effectively with only smiles and sugar.  I'd like to meet anyone who has tried and succeeded. 

So, over the years, I learned to 'compartmentalize'.  In class, I was more strict and, according to my cousin Wesley, I had a 'scary face'.  Outside, I would be more friendly but still kept a distance.  But outside school, I would be myself.  And this worked very well for me.  The students who were related to me found it a bit weird at first but, after a while, adjusted.  Wesley used to play with me a game of 'I jump off the stairs and you catch me' but at school, he ran away from me. 

Facebook, however, blurs all the demarcation lines.  My Facebook wall used to reflect the default me more than the professional me.  But, when students started adding me (it took a year or two before I added them), I began to censor my comments.  But I couldn't censor friends and cousins' comments, could I?  So I restricted the students' access.  Why add them in the first place, one might ask?  Well, at first I only added them after they left school.  But some came back for Form Six.  After a while, I got muddled up as to who was still in school and who had left.  And those who left had brothers and sisters in school anyway.  So I gave up and added them, but restricted their views and access.

But now I'm not quite sure what access they have.  This Mark Zuckerberg keeps messing with the settings.  Sigh. 

My dilemma is : I don't want to 'unfriend' all my ex students and students.  Some of them have become good friends and some still keep in touch with me.  But some I hardly know and some I know a bit of...

Again, what are the criteria for unfriending students and keeping them?

The problem for me is this.  I like things to be clearcut in my dealings with my students.  And in the classroom, I mean BUSINESS.  With caps.  But some kids don't seem to be able to handle the difference between the Teacher Roslyn and the Facebook person Roslyn.  Some try to interact with me as the person they see on Facebook.  But when I'm on school grounds, I am unable to switch out of Teacher mode and into Friend mode.  It sounds funny, doesn't it?  But don't get me wrong, I am not a total martinet in the classroom.  Just ask my ex students :)

Maybe it's a non-issue.  Sigh, I don't know.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Malaysian Immigration Black List

Last year, I heard about the case of a lady who was stopped at KLIA and not allowed to board a plane for Europe.  Despite having a valid passport and visas galore, she was not allowed to leave Malaysia because she was on the Immigration blacklist for not paying a student loan!

I'd never heard of such a case before.  Well, maybe people don't talk about it... not exactly something you'd want others to know, right?  I thought Immigration blacklists were only for terrorists and bombmakers.  Obviously I don't travel much out of Malaysia.. heh heh.

I wondered if I were on this black list... coming from Sabah with rampant identity theft, it's a legitimate concern!  So I went to the Immigration Dept (Counter 16) to ask.  Lucky for me, I am 'safe'!

But just to make sure, I checked online as well at http://sspi2.imi.gov.my/.  Yep, I'm still 'safe'.  I also checked at the PTPTN website http://eform.ptptn.gov.my:8080/blacklist/login.cfm.  Yep, nobody stole my identity to get a loan.

I wonder if this blacklist gives the reasons for listing anyone.  Blacklist sounds so fascinating, you know... I sound like I don't have any work to do.. in actual fact, I'm under extreme stress.  More stress, more blog posts!

SSPN So Far... A Mighty Good Deal!

After saving money in Skim Simpanan Pendidikan Nasional (SSPN) accounts for a few years, I can say that it was a good decision to begin.

First of all, the RM3000 income tax relief has been very useful.  And on top of that, I got dividends too! Here's a table I got from another blog.


They don't look like much but if you add that on to the income tax relief, the numbers look pretty good.

Second, the tax incentive has helped me to keep saving the money in SSPN and the account terms has discouraged any withdrawals.  Well, since withdrawals can only be done one year after the account is opened and only ONE withdrawal (maximum 10% of total amount), any thoughts of withdrawing will be effectively squelched.

Third, I am able to use this opportunity to teach my nephews about savings and university.  Plus, the possible uses of PTPTN loan.  Of course I also stressed the fact that a PTPTN loan is still a LOAN.  The way some students talk about PTPTN loans... it's as if the money is theirs free and clear.  I was also able to show the young boys the meaning of 'matching grants' by promising them a matching grant for whatever they could save.  I was floored when they brandished their Chinese New Year angpows at me ... and had to overcome a feeling of faintness.  But luckily that was the only time they did that to me.  And I suppose it was a good thing they saved their money as they normally finished off their angpows at toy shops. 

And seeing their expressions when they viewed their account balances online was priceless.  And now and again, they'd check their accounts..'to make sure the money was still there'.  Ha ha... no embezzling allowed!

I think the best thing about SSPN was the chance to teach the kids some financial knowledge.

To check accounts online, go tohttp://epay.ptptn.gov.my/saving/
To print out SSPN account statements for income tax, go to http://epay.ptptn.gov.my/saving/hasillogin.jsp

The latest info from the website, beginning January 2012, it will be compulsory for all PTPTN loan applicants to have a minimum of RM20 in their SSPN account.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Credit Cards Deadline Coming Up In Six

One of my friends got two shocks recently.

Shock Number One
She found out that by end of December 2011, she would only be allowed to hold two credit cards. The extras have to be cancelled. She would only be given two years to settle the outstanding debts from the cancelled credit cards.

Shock Number Two
She was informed that her maximum credit limit for her remaining two credit cards could only be 2x her monthly income.

In her particular case, she has six credit cards.  When she cancels four of them, she has a combined debt of RM20,000.  But her remaining two credit cards have high credit limits... and she has to settle RM4000 to comply with the new credit limit.

So now she is dizzy thinking of those debts... yes, she is given two years to settle them... but RM24,000 on top of her other debts is a very very heavy burden to pay.  While I pity her, I also think that this is something that Bank Negara Malaysia should have done earlier.

These rules apply to those who earn RM36,000 a year or less.  But personally I think we shouldn't hold more than two cards.  Why two cards?  Just in case one doesn't function.

I once tried life without credit cards.  Hoo boy!  The deal breaker came when I checked into a hotel.  I only meant to stay in Hotel Fairlane for a night but they demanded a deposit of RM600!  It was as if someone without a credit card was immediately under suspicion.  Maybe they thought I gave fake details and was getting ready to run away with their carpet and kettle.

The info is at http://www.bnm.gov.my/index.php?ch=8&pg=14&ac=2226.  This is not NEW info but I think for people like my friend, she didn't realise how bad her financial situation had become until she sat down to do the numbers.

Friday, June 24, 2011

All A-Kindle About My Kindle!

One day, I flipped open my PDA and tried to read one of the ebooks in it.  After ten minutes, I gave up.  Age had taken a toll on my eyes.  I used to smile indulgently at those people who used big-screen e-readers and pat myself on the back for using a small PDA to read books.  Well, Time has a way of getting back at people like me.  Sigh.

I tried increasing the font size on my PDA.  Have you ever tried to read a book on a screen that displayed only ten words a a time?  Go, go give it a try.  If only to laugh at me. 

So I began my search for a big-screen replacement. The Amazon Kindle kept coming up in the course of my quest.  I didn't want an LCD screen with a backlight because they tire my eyes out pretty fast.  'Pretty fast' means four or five hours of reading.  Sometimes I like to go on ebook reading marathons.  People kept telling me that Amazon doesn't ship Kindles to Malaysia.  Amazon doesn't sell Kindle ebooks to Malaysians.  But from my previous experience with Malaysians and IT equipment, there is never a 'doesn't', 'cannot', 'doesn't have' and other similar auxiliary verbs.  And when I went to one of my favourite forums LowYat.net, lo and behold! Kindles were doing brisk trade!  As for the ebooks I wanted, most of them tended to be classics which were freely available on Project Gutenberg and other similar sites.  All I needed was Mobipocket Creator or Calibre to convert the ebooks to the .mobi format and I'd be in ebook heaven!

After lurking for a while and following the tradeslists, I chose a trader and purchased a Kindle from him.  Incidentally, I found out that Shirogawa was a teacher in training :D Got the Kindle within a week and I began downloading books into it.

It was the best purchase I ever made!  I am not going to talk about why it's so good... just google and find out for yourself. 

And I found out that Kindle ebooks are doing brisk trade on the net.  Anyone interested in publishing and selling a book could just upload his ebook to Amazon in the html format and begin selling within minutes!  But obviously it's not that simple.  You'd have to pick a title and cover that would catch people's interest... and you'd have to begin selling at a low price.  But that would be a topic for another blog post.  And I'd like to experience the process for myself before I say anything about it.  Unbelievably, many people are buying many many books priced under two US dollars.  Well, maybe not so unbelievably.  But if you don't have the budget to get a book out there in bookstores, this would be a very good option for you.

So what have I done with my Kindle so far?

I've loaded 33 books into it.
I've installed Kindle for PC into my notebook.
I'm now looking into loading Scrabble into my Kindle.

And according to Amazon, these are the things I can do with it.
I can loan a friend an ebook bought from Amazon.  That friend wouldn't need a Kindle, just Kindle for PC.
I can sync all my ebooks in up to five devices (all with Kindle software loaded in the devices) using my Amazon account.  There are limitations for non-US residents though.
I can download the free ebooks from Amazon into my Kindle, although they apparently charge USD2 for purchases by non-US residents.

How-evah... I would like to report that YES! It is true I am unable to buy ebooks from www.amazon.com because I am on a computer with a Malaysian IP address.   One of my acquaintances who works for a company that uses a VPN has no problems with Amazon because his computer has a US IP address.  So, the solution to a Kindle owner would be to make sure he surfs online with a US IP.  Bah, paham-paham saja lah.

 The Kindle 3 Oh-So-Thin-And-Light

My Kindle Now Sits Safely In a Flipcase

Thursday, March 31, 2011

PDFCreator the Lifesaver!

The work I do involves sending documents of various formats and extensions (.doc, .xls, .ppt, .pps, .txt, just to name a few).  Within upgrades of the same software, there may also be multiple formats not compatible with each other.  Sometimes I waste a whole morning just saving documents in different formats to be sent a second or a third time.  Naturally, I searched for a solution.  And it was a no-brainer.  PDF was the answer to my problem.  With documents in PDF, everyone would be able to view them.

For those less in the know, PDF stands for Portable Document Format.  However, the ubiquitous (and free!) Adobe Acrobat Reader only reads docs.  I needed to be able to create them.

At first I used a pirate version of Adobe Acrobat but through multiple upgrades and through the hassle of dealing with cancelling requests for connections to the Adobe website, I gave up on it.  Besides, I was busy teaching others about the evils of piracy.  How could I use pirate software myself?  Sigh.

So I searched through the net forums for discussions on a reliable PDF creator tool.  After trolling through lines and paragraphs of text, I found my way to PDFCreator.  Why did I pick this one?  Easy.

One, it's open source software. It's free and the product of many people's input and sweat. One of my favourite websites is Sourceforge :) 

Two, it's always being updated.  As of today (31 March 2011, 9.28 a.m.), the latest update was four hours ago.  How's that for being with the times??

Three, as of now, 9667 users have recommended it.  That's good enough for me.

So now I'm using it.  Pretty good piece of software, by the way.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Joy and The Pain of Windows 7 64-bit

Last year, I began having problems with my old notebook (Dell 700m Inspiron).  The old Faithful has served me for about six years and is STILL serving me but it just won't display pictures anymore.  I blame this on the gazillion-MB pictures produced by the new cameras.  HOWEVER, as I was expected to deal with pictures in the course of my work, this posed a huge problem for me.  At first, it was only the screen that refused to show me the pictures (they would print out fine).  But after a while, the pictures wouldn't even print out. 

So I decided to walk through the shiny electronics-awash halls of Karamunsing Complex Third Floor.  The specs of notebooks and desktops flabbergasted me.  320GB hard disks, 4GB RAM etc etc.  I checked old Faithful's specs... 60GB hard disk memory... 256MB RAM... ohhh, no wonder the poor thing couldn't cope.  I upgraded the RAM to 1GB.  Pictures still refused to show themselves.  So I bit the bullet and bought myself an Acer.

At first, I was overjoyed by the ease of use.... Windows 7 was so wonderful, all I had to do was connect a device to the laptop and Windows Update would automatically download drivers and software from manufacturers' sites.  Wow, my days of digging out installation CDs were over!  PDA, handphone, externals... all were installed and recognised with a minimum of fuss.

THEN began the true pain... an odyssey of learning.  Windows 7 downloaded drivers for both scanner and printer in my office.  BUT it didn't recognise them.  I thought, fine... I'll just have to find the solutions on forums on the net.  Forums and me...we're best buddies.  So I cracked my agile fingers and started googling and forum-ing.  Days went by... multiple downloads of myriad drivers took place.

ARGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH... Windows 7 64-bit isn't compatible with MANY devices!!!!  Especially my Canon LIDE 25 scanner and Canon Laser Shot LBP 1120 printer!  After years of having access to printer and scanner, I was now HOBBLED! 

Then a friend suggested I downgrade to Windows 7 32-bit.  He said he'd help.   With the hope of being able to use my printer and scanner, I turned my Acer over to him.  But then, I found out he installed a pirate copy of the software into my Acer!  I DON'T WANT UNLICENSED SOFTWARE!  I want to be able to download updates from Microsoft.  Updates, patches, fixes, whatevers!  Who knows, Bill might feel generous and download a million USD into my hard disk.  One never knows.... but one MUST be ready!

Of course that was also the time my friend fell ill and was unable to help me restore my system.  So I took the laptop back, tried to restore my system but couldn't (don't ask me why... grrrrr).  In the end, I formatted my C Drive, reinstalled Windows 7 64-bit and began the whole process of reinstalling drivers and software.

What did I learn from this?  If the device isn't compatible, it isn't compatible.  It wasn't compatible yesterday, it isn't compatible today and it probably wouldnt' be compatible tomorrow.  So now I will make sure I will check out Microsoft's list of compatible devices... although it isn't very accurate.  It listed my scanner as being compatible (BILL GATES, CANON LIDE 25 SCANNERS AREN'T COMPATIBLE WITH YOUR WINDOWS 7 64-BIT!).

Well, anyway.  I like Windows 7.

Friday, February 25, 2011

An Epiphany Of Sorts

A few days ago, I had a sudden realization... sometimes a good thing isn't always a good thing.

Let me elaborate.  About two years ago, I applied for a post.  I'd already given up on it when 'something' happened.  To summarize, I was given the opportunity to have the opportunity of joining a certain organization.  LOL... that sounds complicated, doesn't it? 

The catch would be that I'd probably have to pack my bags and move someplace far.  If you ask me how far, then I'd say, a bit beyond Labuan.

Perhaps in younger days, I would've started planning what I'd want to pack the very same day.  But now, I've gone through quite a number of experiences that has taught me that money and promotions aren't everything.  If I could, I would and all that jazz.  But in this case, I 'couldn't'.  And that was my epiphany.  I weighed my career prospects against family and family won hands down big time.  A decade ago, things would've been different.  But then, a decade ago, I was a different person.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Busy Busy Busy

This blog sure has been neglected... but that is due to other more pressing demands on my time.  Beginning October, the preparations and courses and briefings for the new Primary 1 curriculum kept me hopping from meeting to course to report.  I was supposed to organise Maths and Science courses at the end of November but from past experience with the PPSMI programmes, I didn't want to take the risk of not meeting my target participants. 

I knew very well that many teachers had already booked their tickets home and for Sabah, many teachers are from other districts.  What many people in Malaysia just don't get, distances in Sabah aren't as easily navigated as distances in Peninsular Malaysia.  First, Sabah can easily fit in seven of the smaller states in Peninsular Malaysia.  Second, the rainy weather we'd been experiencing (and still are!) created so many problems, such as landslides, floods and high tide.  Third, in Kota Kinabalu, we have schools on islands and in places inaccessible when it rains.  What more, other districts.  Anyway, I have digressed.

So in November, I had multiple courses going on... luckily, I had colleagues who could help out. 

Plus I was busy with a personal project close to my heart.  That concluded last month.  Soooo blogging wasn't really high on my list of priorities.

Well, no matter.  2011 is looking like a good year... lots of projects coming up.  Hoping for an overall better experience this year :)

And why are people landing on my blog, searching for information about debate or debaters???  Is debate on this year??