Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Percy Jackson Series ... by Rick Riordan

I did 4 books in 3 days. Picked up the book cos my girl had been asking me when I was going to read them. Ancient Greek mythology given a modern twist. Enters Percy Jacksom, I supposed in the 21st century. Olympus has now moved to New York. The Greek go where the western world goes. Greek gods are western.... ang mohs. Lol!

Percy has his sidekicks too, of course. Stories with heroes will never be complete without their sidekicks. They change a little with every book but the main ones remain Annabeth and Glover. They travel in style too, with the help of magic... the three sisters with one eye.

I refreshed a lot of my rusty knowledgw about the ancient Greek Gods. Am reminded of words like Titan, Kronos... a nudge that etymology of words can actually be very fun. The Big Three... Zeus, Poseidon and Hades versus Kronos, the Titan.

And so as the wars are waged between the supposedly good and evil, I was transported into a fantasy world where Percy Jackson, a half-blood inherits his father's power in the water. No story is complete without greed for power, treachery and a little love. A story which reflects life .... well, I guess that will always be the selling point.

I read in between weeding. I read while waiting for people. I read before I went to sleep..... when I woke up. I read during toilet breaks, and while waiting at the supermarket.... The smartphone made it very easy to start, continue and resume. It's with me most of the time....

At the end of every book, Percy emerges triumphant. However, triumph was never total... can't win all. Life doesn't work that way in real life too. I did not finish books 5 and 6 yet. Might or might not complete them... Will see.

It was fun reading the books. A little magic always makes reading fun. We are all in a quest for that little magic in our lives too. If one wants to learn about the Greek gods, this series is a sure winner. It's fun. It's gripping....

Ah... I did read some books after all, this year. 8)


Monday, December 8, 2014

Sabai Dee Cafe

Sabai Dee Cafe... Of late there have been a mushrooming of eating places. This is one of the newer places and it is hidden from plain sight. It is located along one of the bund roads in the middle of the party fields in Jitra. Easiest way to get there... Get off the North-South Expressway at Darulaman Exit. Turn right and go a short distance. Make sure to watch out for a small road on your right, soon after you drive down the flyover. Turn into that road and the cafe is around a kilometre down the narrow dirt road. Bear in mind that the road leading to the cafe is a very tight squeeze for two cars.
We were not sure of going as it had been raining. However the sky cleared up somewhat and we decided to give it a go. It was a 2 kids and 3 adults affair. However, the sky darkened soon after we arrived and it started pouring.

This was just before the 'cats and dog's decided to make their entrance! Ambience is nice...setting is idyllic. It's a quaint little place! After the waiter took our orders we had a little time to snap these...

All around, little pockets of dining places were created for diners. They're quiet and peaceful. But I'm quite sure the mozzies will be hovering around, little vampires waiting to fill up. I like the plants though. They really make the place very beautiful.

We had no chance to sit out as the evening was totally washed out by the torrential rain which came. The cafe operators had put up bamboo blinds for an eventuality like this but we still had to bear with rain splattering into the dining area. And that sort of tropical rain made many tables unusable....

We didn't order any of the traditional spicy Thai food because of the kids. So, no tomyam for us. Instead we had the waiter's recommendations. They were okay. Portions were generous enough.

We left by 7.30 pm but the sky was quite dark by then. It was still raining when we left. And oh yes... The narrow road was rather dark. I guess it is okay to say that an occasional worry about the canal running beside the road did cross our minds too as we made our way out.

Overall, I think this is a nice place to have dinner... For the food, ambience and experience.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Gulai Tujuh Kawah

Passed by this place many times over the years. Was always taken up by the name plus the restaurant looks inviting. Kawah in the Malay Language means crater. A wok is like a crater. So Gulai Tujuh Kawah means Seven Big Woks of curries. This restaurant is situated along the road to Gunung...the same road where you will find Pantai Johor. But there is no beach anywhere nearby. Nor is there a gunung unless you count this solitary limestone crop.... Of course in the olden days, this crop must have looked really high...
That's Gunung.. You'll find the Science Centre, Paddy Museum and the Aquatic Centre all in the viccinity. It is also quite a scenic place, green and golden paddy fields, depending on the time of the year. And not forgetting occasional floodings which turn the whole area into a sea of sorts.
Think this is why the restaurant is called Gulai Tujuh Kawah... Seven 'craters' of soups and gulai, including 'kari itik'. You will be spoilt for choice. Thought this was quite quaint. If one is looking for good and nice traditional Malay food, I think this place deserves a second look.... well, maybe even third. You get all kinds of food here; ulam, ikan bendang, all kinds of grilled stuff (meat and veg) and even pulut. I tried the mango pulut taken with santan, simply rich. During the durian season, you get (yup) durians with the glutinuous rice, sinfully rich with santan.
The place was quite empty when we arrived but packed when we finished our meal. Noticed too that the owner had put in this windows of light in the attap roof. I think it's a cool idea. Not only does it save electricity cost but it provides a nice ambience.

It was a Wednesday when I went and there was the 'kenduri bubur' which was green bean soup. I tried a bowl of that too and it was nice. It had enough of everything and the corn added to it gave it a nice taste. It is quite a nice feeling to experience the genorisity of a restaurant which seem to put in the same effort into food that they serve as kenduri. This one gets a big thumbs up from me. I also had an interesting conversation with the proprietor who was nice and affable. We talked about how the quest of knowledge should cross different cultures and also education.
I like Malay food, especially the kampung cooking. Here, the food is not bad. I like the kambing bakar which is cooked in the tandoor oven. I have been there twice and will probably go back there again. The price is reasonable, the decor has a rustic feel which is quite nice. The place is also cool. Definitely one of the makan places to consider if you don't mind the drive since the place is quite out of the way from town.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Volleyball 2014

I supposed volleyball is a game which can be considered a game I picked up seriously in adulthood. I have always enjoyed games. Over the years, I actually became quite good in the game. Being a badminton player and also endowed with good arm strength gave me an advantage of powerful serves. It used to be the only thing I could contribute to the team. I would go in for the service and be promptly replaced after that. But even then, service was more of brute strength without the finesse of control.

But over the years too, due to the encouragement and support of friends I improved. My friends put up with my very basic skills and tolerated the mistakes I made in the game. Not wanting to disappoint them, I bought a ball and dug against the wall. And there was one year when guidance from a young friend honed my digging skills. I continued to improve.

The teachers have their own sporting event and that became my bench mark. I took part as and when I could. There were some years when we participated and other years when we would just not. One thing though, coming together was always nice. Over the years too, I learned many lessons of life from there. Some of us have been playing together for a long time. Friendships grew.

I think it is probable that many find it hard to imagine why a bunch of ladies, ranging from 24 to 50 plus; in this age where we seem to do everything we can to keep our skin blemish free, go under the hot 3.30 afternoon sun, disregarding the tan which will definitely occur to play an outdoor game of volleyball. The same group too would brave the evening thunderstorm and resume play after the rain had stopped. Or dealing with the bruises, cuts and muscular pains during and after the game. Many of our spouses just cannot understand why we 'torture' ourselves too.

Yet for the many of us who are reaching our 50s, we have been pleasantly surprised by what we still find ourselves able to do. And that is why I believe sports is good. It builds resilience. It teaches a thing or two about life. It enables us to allow the kid in us to come out and play. In a game like volleyball, it is about being a team player too. No one player should be jaded. We cover and bear each other's mistakes. We encourage and pick each other up. We play the roles assigned to our best ability. And learn to grit our teeth and plod on when the going gets tough.... together. And we learn to take the mistakes one member makes as a team.

I think many of us, as we grow older, we tend to have a mindset how we should 'behave', that we should behave our age.... We should not. Mindsets should not be static. Retesting old limits, setting new ones and testing them... All these are good for us, regardless of our age. It keeps us young in the mind and heart. It teaches us a thing or two about being flexible and malleable. It is actually lifelong learning at its best.

One week being out of school has its merits too. I think schools should encourage teachers to continue to be involved in 'co-curricular' activities too. It makes us better teachers cos staying just within the walls of a classroom sometimes is sterile too. Academic prowess is mainly theory with no practice. It puts ideas into our heads with no practice. And sometimes it makes us behave as though as we know everything. We don't.

I am glad I still can play. I am playing my best volleyball. I am learning new skills which I never imagined possible. My friend says the same too. Ageing is no excuse for not learning.... There will no doubt be physical limitations which only the young can break but there are always new things for each of us too.

We won but the highlights of this season... I met up with a young lady I used to carry when she was a toddler. Her mother was one of the people who watched out for me as a rookie teacher. She is my equal now. Leya, as she is fondly known to us.... Without volleyball, it would not have been possible to reconnect. Another highlight... I can still pack power in my serve. I served a couple of aces which made a difference to the outcome. Plus, I can finally feel the game. My team mates no longer need to cover my mistakes. I can hold my own.... and cover my team mates too. But the best of it all remain this... the people I met. The stories and struggles that some have gone through, of grit and resilience, they remain the most priceless.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Google Drive vs Apps from Apple in the Classroom

This is probably long overdue, two months overdue, as I have been meaning to blog about my experience of using Google Drive as a teaching tool... mainly for writing.

I have tried using Google Drive in all my language classes, mainly for writing purposes. I went in without anyone to guide me and it has been a journey of sorts for me.

Week 1. In my first attempt I merely asked my students to share their files with me, meaning they were owners of their documents and I was given the right to edit their documents. But it soon became clear to me that it was no way to do things as it was very difficult to keep track of all the essays which were coming in. I blogged about my first week's experience here...

Week 2... in my reading, I came across an add-on, Doctopus which was actually a script written as an add-on for Google Sheet (Google's twin to Microsoft's Excel). What Doctopus does is it enables the students to work on their assignments on my drive. This means I am the owner of their assignments until a time when I relinquish ownership into their respective Drives. Doctopus is rather like an automated assignment mailer. Everyone gets the same assignment and I can embargo the whole class's assignments for grading. Embargo is like locking their files so that no editing can be done by the students. This is great for me to set deadlines.

What I like about Google Sheet with Doctopus as an add-on is Goobric. Goobric is an Chrome Extension which adds rubric functionality to Doctopus. It is a great tool because it enables the rubric to appear as you grade the essay. I have taken a new interest in rubrics lately because of that too. You can type the marks on each section of the rubric. And with a little work added to Sheet like formulas to calculate the total and grading it, it gives a very good feedback to students (once they understand how it helps them) and me as a teacher. My only grouse is the waiting time for the rubric to appear as if you click other tabs, the rubric will disappear. That wastes quite a bit of time for me.

If I continue using Google Drive as part of my teaching tools, I will definitely be looking into making class work (essays) as part of the overall grades. There are other add-ons like autoCrat and Flubaroo which I have tried on my own but not with the class yet because I am also trying out other apps.

Now the snags... For this to work, the teacher has to be rather competent on the computer. A good understanding of how the filing system works is very important. I think for many teachers at the moment, this issue alone would probably be deterrent enough. The next thing is typing skills. Speed typing not just helps but makes a world of difference. If you are one of those two-finger typists, it is going to an uphill task to clear 40 essays on Drive.....

....which brings me to the note taking apps on the iPad. As you can see from the picture, I have quite a few of those apps. My current favourites are Notability and Inkflow. The latest addition is Notes Plus which I just bought because they had a one day sale which knocked off 90% of the price. I could't resist it and I have just spend the whole weekend trying it out.

And of course, my girl as usual became my first 'student'. The fact that the iPad is based on finger gestures is alone to make it 'superior' over Google Sheet/Doc, I feel. Hand gesture means most people should be able to use it minus the requirements like the ability to type fast or of having a good understanding of how the filing system in a drive should be organised or even the inner workings of all these mumbo-jumbo techie terms. The add-ons require more understanding too as locating certain files can be quite a challenge.

Notes Plus... I am very pleased with this app. It is a note taking app. And it does precisely that. With either your finger or stylus, you can type, write, doodle, draw... basically, you can do just about anything you can do with a paper/pencil and a pen and more. And you can keep all your work in neat little digital notebooks which you can carry with you or store them in the Cloud. Notes Plus has a built-in browser, which means you can directly capture or import PDF files into your notebooks. It also is capable of this little neat trick of transforming your handwriting into typewritten words. This is a good feature to make your work searchable. And you can always print your work of art out too if you feel the need to touch paper or hear the scratching, scribbling, swishing or rustling paper sounds.

These apps also serve as a teaching board... much better than the traditional boards. You can draw, annotate, highlight and switch among materials with great ease. And for me who run a class with two projectors, I am beginning to learn that the possibilities are actually quite endless.

The only thing I wish for now if I can have something like Doctopus/Goobric functionalities with these note taking apps. Because somehow I feel, Google Drive is still basically doing things the old way with a new twist... We are still stuck in that MSOffice way of doing work. It's an efficient way of doing things but feels a bit sterile very often.

On the iPad, the experience is dynamic. You can be more creative. You can see more colours, curvy lines... stuff which don't make your work feels like a mechanical piece. There is order but there is chaos too, which I think can be a good thing in a learning process. Cos your work has this machine feel yet at the same time, the human touch.

Gesture as opposed to the keyboard. We have the Android tablets too now... and they are catching up with the iPad... but for now, though I like what I can do with Google Doc/Sheet, I still feel apps developed for iPad (or Android based tablets) are more versatile, dynamic which allows creativity to flow more.

And how I wish our classrooms can be equipped with iPads. That will be a beginning to a paperless school.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In The Name of Progress

The water pressure to my house was so low that water cannot go up to the tank upstairs during the day and the it comes out in a trickle from the garden tap at any given time of the day. The problem started about 4 years back, if memory serves me right... I wrote about it here. Back then we refused to install a pump because we felt it was not right.... And those old pipes... their diameter becomes smaller over time. Ours is more than 10 years old and the quality of water which we have been getting of late has deteriorated even more. These days, my garden water container always have sediments at the bottom. I supposed that too contribute to the pipe getting smaller.... faster. My own home's pipes only was change after 30 years!

Well, we have had to do a rethink. A couple of days back,  the water treatment plant in Bukit Pinang experienced a breakdown. After one particular heavy use on Monday, my house ran out of water. It was after I called the Helpline the next day that I realised water had not been going up for a while due to the problem at the water treatment plant. SADA has a website. While they do put up water disruption notices there, how many people make it a point to check SADA websites everyday... Schools, town halls, kopitiams... I think they have to be more resourceful in getting information to the consumers.

Anyway, after that 'dry spell', we decided it was enough and time to fix a pump to draw from the mains like everyone else. Much to my chagrin, water was still not coming in after that. Bear in mind that 4 years ago, SADA officials came to my house after I complained about low pressure. They told us to fix a pump. They didn't send anyone to check the pipe from the mains to our house this time around. This time around, toilets without water.... I finally caved in and fixed the pump.

After the pump was fixed, the problem persisted. This time around, due to my insistence and repeated calls, somebody from SADA called up. And this was what I was told... that I had to get a licensed plumber to lay a new pipe from the main to my house. And I have to pay for the laying of the new pipe. The plumber we called has yet to come. I think including online complaints, I made a total of probably 5-6 complaints over a period of 5 days, thereabout. 

This morning when I called their Helpline again, I was told that they deal with 60-70 complaints a day. And that they could not be sure when they will look into my complaints. I think back in those old days when JKR was in charge, the response time was way faster. So much for privatisation. Can't say we have better service. Can't say I am getting better advice too. 

As for licensed plumber.... I think most people don't even know where to find one. There is no online list on SADA's website. I think most of us just have to depend on the SADA people to recommend or point us to someone. There is always room for abuse when not everything is efficient or transparent.

Water is a basic necessity. And we have privatised that. Question is, when the water company does not deliver the service that is expected, who do we bring the matter to? Privatisation is supposed to mean better everything. But it feels like we are paying more .... for less?? Water metres get stolen and the onus is on the owners to pay for the replacements... for something not totally their fault. Metal water metres are an attraction as they fetch some value.

Progress ... it's subject to interpretation like everything else. In my line of work, better sets of results equals to progress. Winning more competitions means progress too... Owning a big car, living in an even bigger house... we call it progress. Progress is when we have things to show... the more, the more progress.

Progress for water delivery?? Well, I guess inside, outside... we have to pay to ensure delivery. That is the price for progress. We need to pay more for everything...

That water crisis cost me more than just $$$. The eventual cleanup that I had to do after the 'renovation' caused my old injury to revisit with a small vengeance. Sigh.... 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

My Brief History ...by Stephen Hawking

This was a short read.  All the hype about the Ice Bucket Challenge reminded me of Stephen Hawking. FaceBook was full of articles about ALS and of course its most famous victim, Stephen Hawking. And who wouldn't know him.

I had read about Stephen Hawking as young girl, in a Reader's Digest article about 3 decades ago. I learned it was called Lou Gehrig's Disease. That name got stuck in my head somehow over the years and I always remembered. I remembered too flipping through my Encyclopaedia Britannica to read more about Lou Gehrig and that info about him being a famous baseball player got etched into my mind too.

And that struck me as funny cos I have discovered that many of my students don't seem to share that sort of penchant or interest to learn something which sometimes may not seem related to our lives at that moment.

Anyway, coming back to the book. The first part was easy enough to read as it mainly detailed Hawking's early life. There wasn't much difference from the biography that I had read about Hawking. The last chapter however, took a little more effort as he went into the discussion about the black hole and the cosmos. But the brevity of his narrative made the reading a very pleasurable activity.

I started reading the book at around 10 p.m. and got up at 4.00 ++ a.m. the next morning to continue reading. I finished before 6 and got ready to go to work.

It's been a while since I read any books. Most of my reading these days are mainly articles and magazines. It is quite nice to 'hold' a book and read one for a change.