Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Sir, with Love

Whoever said, "Those who can do, those who can't, teach." ought to be shot and mounted on a wall with a plaque declaiming "Judgmental Idiot". As someone who have been involved in the teaching industry for nearly eight years, let me tell you: teaching is not for the faint hearted.

It takes a lot of hard work, courage, determination, ingenuity and patience to be a good teacher; whether you teach pre-schoolers or university students, science or arts. You think it's easy to face 20-odd students and try to impart knowledge to them with your heart in your throat and cold sweat running down your back? It's facing stage fright every single day. Not just surviving it, but flourishing through it.

You gotta have passion for it. Respect and real appreciation for the students; be it the class sloth who sleeps everyday in your class, the slow one who doesn't seem to grasp the concept after you explained it for the dozenth time and the star who outpaced everyone including you. In my experience, the best part of teaching is when you see the lightbulb go off in their head and you know that they will carry whatever it was you showed them when they walk out. How long it stays in their head, doesn't matter, even if they lose it right after the exam result comes out.

The Schulich School of Engineering of the University of Calgary came up with Iron Science, a challenge celebrating science teachers, which is loosely based on Iron Chef, the Japanese cooking television series. I don't know how well this helps to improve science education in Canada, but it sure is a fantastic way to acknowledge science teachers and their creativity.

There is a reason why people keep making movies about teachers. Think about it.

Take a chance on me ...

I love this offer by the University College London that they would fund researchers without the peer review process. As someone who had experienced rejection when requesting for research grant, this made me dance around with joy for the lucky UCL researcher who could convince the Vice Provost that their idea has merit.

I remember reading a character in a Jayne Ann Krentz book wondering if Charles Babbage had the money to build his super calculator, how advanced would our computer technology be right now. Would the technology be what it would be, in say, 100 years from now? Who knows. Maybe Babbage couldn't make it work. May be he could.

But still, what a wonderful concept!

Good deeds done dirt cheap ...

Microfluidic technology has a variety of application in health diagnostic, environment monitoring and quality control. For the most part, the preparation of the chips are not cheap, making the technology relatively inaccessible. But this may change, thanks to a group from Harvard, who created a microfluidic device using little more than paper and sticky tape.

Talk about awesome. How far is this from the market is still unknown but the group promised that profits from the product be channeled to help developing countries manufacture and utilise said product.

Somehow, I'm rather skeptical of that. But hey, didn't someone told me to be less cynical? I'm waiting to be proven wrong here.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Friends will be friends ....

Human beings are a hostile lot. Just ask anyone who survived playground politics. Or boardroom politics. Any sort of backstabbing behaviour perpetrated by another upon oneself. Abuse. Murder. What-have-you.

It made me wonder, what a terrible spot this orca must be in that it sought human contact for companionship.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Doping your way to higher grades/pay scale

When looking at a student's grade, do we ever think about the effort it takes to achieve it? Swotting, sure. Some all-nighter perhaps. So what if the kid knocks back a couple of Red Bull to keep his/her red rimmed eyes open to cram as much as possible for tomorrow's paper. No biggie. But taking and (most likely) abusing a controlled drug? Would that be considered extreme?

This commentary in Nature deserves some examination. According to some, as human beings, we owe it to ourselves to go further than ever with the aid of such enhancement. For others, it is "unnatural" and therefore abhorrent.

Whatever your take on this, you can betcha if I could line me some Ritalin, I would not hesitate to take it for my all-nighters, warranted or not.

Does that make me a bad person?


Wanted: Another lonely gene

Everyone has known loneliness to a certain extend. Sometimes you can shake it off easily, sometimes it takes you a while to bounce back. Is our loneliness due to our personal choices, contact avoidance and simple inadequacy? According to this CNN report, maybe not. I have not read the reports from which this story was sourced, so cannot determine whether the numbers speak the truth.

But what struck me most was the last quote by John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago's Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. "It's really having one good relationship is all that it takes," Cacioppo said. "Spending all your time online getting 4,000 friends on Facebook is not useful. The number is not where connection occurs."

In a world where everyone is frantic to be famous, do they actually want to hear this?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Don't go gently into the good night ...

Or something like that. Yeah, quote abuse abounds in this blog.

Anyway, to my point. Euthanasia is something that is hotly debated the world over. Some countries legislate it and allow people; commonly the terminally ill or massively disabled, to end their lives. Belgium allows assisted suicide, so does Switzerland and some states in the USA, notably Oregon.

Why do these group in the population request for assisted suicide? Well, primarily because they can't do it themselves. They are seriously ill with limited physical ability or was injured severely that they can no longer perform daily tasks such as feeding themselves, walking etc. Why do they want to die? Is their physical condition or deterioration reason enough to snuff out their life? Well, judge not lest ye be judged, is all I can say.

I do not want to judge people who opt for this decision. No one wants to live out the rest of their life infirm and dependent on others for their physical needs. The loss of dignity and being a burden is something that is feared by many, with good cause. To lose control over one's body, to not be able to care for oneself the way one has always done so, whether due to physical or mental deterioration, is something that no one wants to contemplate. But millions of people the world over have to live (and slowly die) with this reality.

It is easy to say, when you are whole and hearty, that you'd rather die than become paralysed. But if that is your reality, can you actually make a firm decision to choose to die? Or for someone whose physical condition slowly diminishes, taking away their dignity and quality of life, does it take more strength to die or to live? I think that no one who have to live with such reality, or have someone they love live with that reality, should make any kind of judgment.

Most religion forbids the taking of life, with suicide one of the greatest insult of all. If you are a person of faith, it is perhaps, not so difficult a decision to make. But for many without the comfort of faith and devotion to The Divine Being, the lines can be as blurred as the tidelines come monsoon.

But to broadcast this choice in the name of education, documentary, what-have-you, is that acceptable? I wonder if the station actually warns viewers of possible disturbing content that they may see from the film. But even if they do so, it is human nature to gawk at horrid circumstances.

Just ask any faithful rubberneckers at the highway accident.