Monday, June 30, 2008

Things that Smart People Don't Know

I was forwarded one of these silly trivia quizzes about things that smart people know but that most people are clueless about. After reading the questions and looking at the answers I decided that in many cases the "Smart people" are clueless as well.

The following questions were sent to me with the disclaimer that none of the questions had trick answers

1. Name the one sport in which neither the spectators nor the participants know the score or the leader until the contest ends.

Their answer: Boxing

Comment: What about Olympic and Sumo Wrestling? I guess the World Wrestling Federation would be excluded from this because the participants tend to know who the winner will be before the match but not in Olympic and Sumo Wrestling. The winner is unknown until the contest ends, it is also difficult to know who is ahead in these sports until the contest ends. So get a life Braniacs there isn't just ONE sport like this.

2. What famous North American landmark is constantly moving backward?

Their answer: Niagara Falls

Comments: What constitutes "Backwards" in this case? Couldn't these falls be just as easily moving West or North West? I realize this one is picky but still, why backwards?

3. Of all vegetables, only two can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons. All other vegetables must be replanted every year. What are the only two perennial vegetables?

Their Answer: Rhubarb and Asparagus

Comment: They missed some. (A) Prickly Pear Cactus is native to North America but is now grown commercially all over the world. It produces a very sweet and sticky fruit but the pads can also be eaten and quite commonly are. While the fruit is fruit the pads would qualify as a vegetable and it is a perennial plant. (B) Mesquite is a tree that grows in the US South West and Northern Mexico. It is, I believe the world's largest legume and produces bean pods that native American tribes ate all the time. I am not saying they are very good but they can be eaten. (C) Bamboo is also, I believe a perennial plant, it grows all over the world and many parts are edible. (D) Roses are perennial and a member of the apple family and the "rose hips" are commonly eaten as a fruit. But, the leaves can be picked, washed and eaten in a salad, and the leaves qualify as a vegetable. (E) The tops of the taro plant can be chopped up and eaten like spinach, if you cut only the top and leave the tastier tuber in the ground the top will grow back does that qualify as perennial plant? (F) There are several trees, I don't know which ones right off hand that have edible leaves. Those would qualify as vegetables though they are not commonly eaten, they could be and trees are perennial plants.

4. What fruit has its seeds on the outside?

Their Answer: Strawberries

Comment: I may have to give them this one though I find it hard to believe that there isn't another fruit like this.

5. In many liquor stores, you can buy pear brandy, with a real pear inside the bottle. The pear is whole and ripe, and the bottle is genuine; it hasn't been cut in any way. How did the pear get inside the bottle?

Answer: The bottle is placed over the pear when it is a pollinated bud and the pear then grows to maturity inside the bottle.

Comment: Kind of the only way to do this and a curious product but you don't have to be smart to be able to figure this out. I guess this just prove that these smart people are also heavy drinkers.

6. Only three words in standard English begin with the letters 'dw' and they are all common words. Name two of them.

Their Answer: Dwell, Dwarf, Dwindle

Comment: These people are not as smart as they think they are: Each of the words above have various forms that give the words shades of meaning. What about Dwelling, Dwelt, Dwells, Dwellings, Dwarven, Dwarfish, Dwindled, Dwindling, Dwindles are those words? Why do they not count the different tense as a separate word? After all a Dwarven Woman is not necessary the same thing as a woman who is a dwarf. What about first names like Dwight, Dwayne, and so forth, are those not English words?

7. There are 14 punctuation marks in English grammar. Can you name at least half of them?

Their Answer: period, comma, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphen, apostrophe, question mark, exclamation point, quotation marks, brackets, parenthesis, braces, and ellipses.

Comment: I thought a hyphen and a dash were the same thing. Please show me on a standard keyboard where a hyphen is versus a dash and what the difference is? This is a matter of usage not symbol. Two separate words are made into a hyphenated word by placing a "dash" between them. Also when was the last time anyone ever used "brackets" or "braces" in a sentence? You don't even use them in citations anymore. I am not sure they are punctuation for English so much as operators in mathematical equations.

8. Name the only vegetable or fruit that is never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked, or in any other form except fresh.

Their Answer: Lettuce

Comment: Wrong! You can buy pickled lettuce in any Asian grocery store and the Chinese cook it all the time. However I've never seen lettuce frozen, wait I have because I sometimes used to see frozen sandwiches in deli's at bait shops and those sandwiches had lettuce on them. But they were not very good sandwiches and the people who made up this quiz probably wouldn't buy anything from a bait shop anyway.

9. Name at least 6 things that you can wear on your feet beginning with the letter 'S.'

Their Answer: shoes, socks, sandals, sneakers, slippers, skis, skates, snowshoes, stockings, stilts

Comment: Inconsistent application of rules in a game is the mark of a cheater. In question 6 of this silly quiz it did not use variant forms of the words here they use four words that are near synonyms - sneakers, sandals and slippers are all types of shoes. If they list those then why not saddle shoes, surf shoes and sand shoes? Then they could have 9 thing that start with "S" that you can wear on your feet. It also seems to me that you do not wear stilts, skis or snowshoes on you feet, they are attached to your shoe which you wear on your feet. So you do not, in a technical sense wear skis, snowshoes or stilts on your feet unless you are barefoot beforehand. The same is often true of skates which are wheels or blades attached to a shoe or boot and are sometimes a separate device clamped to or over a shoe. But if those items are listed then why not spats? For that matter, if the people who put this silly quiz together had ever walked through a barnyard they'd know that there is at least one more thing that starts with "S" that you can wear on your feet and that is why you always wear boots instead of shoes in the barnyard!

There is a lot going on; riots in China, Bangkok and South Korea, high fuel prices, earthquake relief, shop signs falling off of building and killing pedestrians in Wan Chai and a horrible traffic accident in Central yesterday but I guess it is a measure of my jaded intellect that I chose to deal with this today.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who may be smarter than the Hoity Toity Set thinks he is

Friday, June 27, 2008

Vacations are good things

I am just at the beginning of my summer break. That means I ride the bike go for walks, shop, sleep late and stay up playing video games. Not much time for blogging until the 2nd week of July

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who doesn't blogg on vacation

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Do Ki So So (The sum total of my Vulcan)

Big story on TVB tonight about a VP and and two flunkies at Centaline Real estate going to jail for in one case a whopping three years - hey we're talking what they give murderers here- for taking "Tea Money" or under the table finders fees. Holy cow! There maybe there is hope for Hong Kong yet. But maybe I'm just an optimist.

We've been looking for a new flat and it is so hard because you cannot know what is a better value by looking at advertisements. One 1200 square foot flat may actually be about 1000 square feet and and another one about 800 square feet. If you look at village houses it is even worse because they do not show pictures of the actual dwelling! Every time I deal with the real estate agents here I feel like I need a shower, they just make me feel so dirty. To help solve this problem the real estate association has come up with a set of guidelines on how to figure the interior size of flats. These now tell developers that it is unethical to figure window sills as part of the square footage. Now of course they couldn't just measure the gross internal space excluding the obvious window sills, AC ledges and balconies that are not listed in places with governments that make a cursory effort to care about having honest weights and measures. No, even with these new voluntary rules if the flat is listed at 800 square feet you can expect about 600 or less actual space inside.

But I guess that all this just means that the HK Real Estate association is living up to it's motto: "We give lawyers a good name"

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger who isn't a real estate agent

Monday, June 16, 2008

That guy in Nigeria again

Does anyone still fall for this scam?

Holy Cow, I must get 12 of these a week.


Dear friend

I am Mr.Ukom Odogwu, the director in charge of auditing and accounting section of African Development Bank Ouagadougou Burkina-faso in West Africa with due respect and regard. I have decided to contact you on a business transaction that will be very beneficial to both of us at the end of the transaction.

During our investigation and auditing in this bank, my department came Across a very huge sum of money belonging to a deceased person who died on December 26, 2003 in a plane crash and the fund has been dormant in his account with this Bank without any claim of the fund in our custody either from his family or relation before our discovery to this development.For more information about the Air Crash you can visit the CNN web news for the tragedy.

Although personally, I keep this information secret within myself and partners to enable the whole plans and idea be Profitable and successful During the time of execution. The said amount was U.S $30.215M (thirty million Two hundred and fifteen thousand United States dollars). As it may interest you to know, I got Your impressive information through the Bukinabe chamber of commerce on foreign business relations here in Ouaga. Burkina-faso.

Meanwhile all the whole arrangement to put claim over this fund as the bonafide next of kin to the deceased, get the required approval and Transfer this money to a foreign account has been put in place and directives and needed information will be relayed to you as soon as you indicate your interest and willingness to assist us and also benefit your self to this great business opportunity.

In fact I could have done this deal alone but because of my position in this country as a civil servant(A Banker),we are not allowed to operate a Foreign account and would eventually raise an eye brow on my side during The time of transfer because I work in this bank.
This is the actual reason Why it will require a second party or fellow who will forward claims as the next of kin with affidavit of trust of oath to the Bank and also present a Foreign account where he will need the money to be re-transferred into on his request as it may be after due verification and clarification by the Correspondent branch of the bank where the whole money will be remitted from to your own designation bank account.

I will not fail to inform you that this transaction is 100% risk free. On smooth conclusion of this transaction, you will be entitled to 30% of the total sum as gratification, while 5% will be set aside to take care of expenses that may arise during the time of transfer and also telephone bills, while 65% will be for me. Please, you have been advised to keep "top secret" as I am still in service and intend to retire from service after we conclude this deal with you.

I will be monitoring the whole situation here in this bank until you Confirm the money in your account and ask me to come down to your country For subsequent sharing of the fund according to percentages previously indicated and further investment, either in your country or any country you Advice us to invest in. All other necessary vital information will be sent to you when I hear from you.
Yours faithfully,

Mr.Ukom Odogwu.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who doesn't have any Nigerian relatives

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Beating the Unbeatable Foe - An educationally (For Hong Kong) incorrect post

The past two week have been as the last two weeks of any school year always are, the busiest of my year. One of my hats at the school is that I am responsible for end of year textbook return for all secondary students. I have the textbooks cataloged into the library system and assign them by checking them out to students in the fall. This is a big job that makes me both mentally and physically tired. However, getting all the books back, assessing fines for damage and getting everything closed down and ready for next year is just part of the job and in a certain way I enjoy the hectic pace and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing so many task. The past two weeks are filled with heavy lifting as I stack and move the books into the summer storage area and assessing the condition and recording the return of the books. It is also fun to see the high school seniors, who were in grade 2 when I became the librarian happy about their graduation even if I know most of them are far to naive and immature to really be considered adults. But they are at least old enough to begin that real education that comes from actually living and I can be happy for them and appreciate how hard they have worked to graduate. I can also look forward to a vacation, and a general period of relaxation, and refreshment so that I can rest up for the coming year that begins in August. So this is in many ways my favorite time of the school year.

All is not bliss because there is something that pops up at the end of the academic year that as an educator in Hong Kong I do not like. I always have a number of parents approach me for textbooks. They want their child to have every book for every class in the coming year so that they can have the summer to "get ahead" for the fall. The school has a rule that we will only do this if the child has been recommended by the Special Needs teacher or if it is an AP class. That does not stop parents from asking.

Do not misunderstand. I am all for academic excellence. Kids need to know facts, there is a place for hard academic work. Subjects should be challenging and academically rigorous. But there is a place where academic enrichment becomes child abuse and many parents in Hong Kong have passed that point about 5 extra tutorial sessions ago. One of the parents asking for textbooks this week told me that she had already enrolled her child in a math camp in Illinois and still wanted him to go completely through the Algebra 2 book that takes all year in the 9th or 10th grade. Luckily for her son the teacher did not agree to this. She expects her son to make an absolute 100 on any math test he takes, nothing less is acceptable. If she were ever in a movie Dorothy would probably drop a house on her.

I believe that this type of excessive expectation being forced upon children is, at least in part, a result of the EVIL corporate environment here. Most of the parents have to work what amounts to two jobs here to get one pay check. 70 or 80 hours a week seems to be about the norm for a lot of jobs. Thus there is a very real belief by parents that this is not only what it takes to not get ahead but to simply stay economically afloat in Hong Kong. As a result kids here are often raised by maids who get them up, send them to school, and then drag them from tutor to tutor until midnight when they come home to do their homework and then put them to bed at 3:00AM for 3.5 to 4 hours sleep. It is amazing to me how sleepy the middle-school and high-school students are in Hong Kong.

You can make an argument, perhaps a good one that this is just Chinese culture. Not being a cultural relativist I still say it is EVIL. Children need time to be children. I could, if I wanted list reasons for this but it probably wouldn't do any good. The parents are doing this out of fear that they mistake for love. They are afraid their children will have to work as hard as they do and see the accumulation of academic trivia as the hedge against the kid next door who might know just one more fact. It doesn't matter that the child can only play the piano pieces required for the test. It doesn't matter that they can memorize mathematical formulas but have no understanding of how they relate to the real world. It doesn't matter if they have no social skills. I doesn't matter if they exhibit signs of mental illness caused by stress. It doesn't matter that after a certain point higher grades on standardized test cease to be predictive of success. Nothing matters except being able to get good grades so that they can one day work 70 to 80 hours a week in a prestigious job. My God! I think Prestige is over rated!

I have learned that I cannot argue with the parent's mindset. Illogical people actually have their own internal logic.That means that most of the time you cannot reason with irrationality. Historically the best way you oppose irrationality is not through reason but though force and I do not have the authority or desire dissuade them that way. What am I going to do; beat some sense into them? Unless you can show them that they are wrong which is very difficult they cannot be reasoned with. Thus, if I refuse they complain about me to the administration and threaten to take their child to another school. If I give into them I am aiding and abetting the abuse of their child. So the question is, do I want to lose my job or help them abuse their child? I am beaten either way. I've kind of defaulted in the past to giving the textbook if a teacher or principal will agree to it but some of those can be leaned on will give books out regardless of any actual academic need.

This is a question I've thought about at this time of year for several years. How can I get parents to see that often times their kids grades would improve, or at least not fall if they were allowed to take some time off and be kids in the summer? I've tried lots of approaches. I am ashamed to say that maladaptive ones have been the easiest and the most successful. "I'm sorry, that textbook is being replaced and the new one isn't in yet." will work in some cases. "Come back next week when everything is returned" is another ploy because sometimes they do not come back; and even if they do I've bought the child a week off from extra math. I've also had polite conversations about the limitations of standardized test and the need for developing the whole person not just math skills. Nothing has been very successful.

For some reason the parents here tend to focus on math and science and generally ask for math books. This is frustrating to me because most of our students need extra help in language not math. So I just absolutely fume at the inappropriateness of this. Not only are they working their children like dogs when they need a mental break they are giving them practice in skills they do not need at the expense of the skills they do need.

Next year I am going to ask the principals if I can try something different. I am going to play to the parents fears but in a different way. I am going to purchase three or four copies of various books, written at different levels that deal math topics. These could be titles like The Physics of Baseball, Flatland, The Mr. Tompkins books, Galileo's Daughter, Fermat's last Theorem, just to name a few but I'll have to find some at a lower reading level as well. Then before parents start pestering me for algebra books I make an announcement for an "Advanced Summer Math Program" that will prepare the students for next years math courses with an explanation that we are broadening the thinking process so that the students are able to understand the concepts easier.

I am going to suggest to parents that their psychotic little brats (That is after all what abused children become) read one of these instead of doing endless extra math problems and write a short reflective paper on what they learned. This is sound in a number of ways but the most important one is that it shows kids that the math we do in a book exist in the real world. Geometry, trigonometry, algebra and calculus all describe REAL things, events or situations and being able to see those in life makes math easier to learn because kids see it as a practical skill to know. Knowing why a curve ball curves and showing the mental calculations a striker makes when he kicks a soccer ball or the relationship between musical notes and fractions give children useful clues about not only math but life. More than that it gives the kids practice reading technical materials and in dealing with abstract concepts and in writing and thinking which is what they need help in. I believe that this will be more beneficial to the students as well as less onerous. Who knows, maybe reading about baseball will encourage them to actually grab a glove and bat and go outside and play some baseball. Stranger things have happened.

We will see if the parents buy the plan.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The proponent of a sneaky curriculum

Friday, June 06, 2008

Maybe these guys should have joined the Taliban

June 4th was the 19th anniversary of the night that PRC tanks made mush out of several hundred people that were agitating for greater democracy and freedom in China. However, it could probably be argued that the ones who died were the lucky ones. About 500 of them were arrested and have been in jail every since. 19 years in a labor camp for asking for a less repressive government.

If they'd joined the Taliban as terrorist they'd be in Guantanamo Bay receiving three squares, have religious services and chaplains, access to health care, not required to do hard labor and have the possibility albeit a small one, that they will have their case heard by a civilian court. Plus, when the US either wins or loses the WOT they might be released. By contrast, the people arrested in that government square were not terrorist, they didn't want to murder everyone who didn't hold their narrow and barbaric theology and they were not even armed. They were a threat only to the old men with shoe polish in their hair and not much of a threat to even them. Yet, they have been held without trial, forced to do hard labor, malnourished and abused for 19 years.

I don't go to the candle light vigils that commemorate what happened that night. My eyes are the wrong shape. I don't want any of the what amounts to Chinese holocaust deniers to be able to say: "See, it is just a plot but evil foreigners to discredit our great nation!" It doesn't mean I do not care.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who prays daily that China, his adopted country, can be free

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Home and Hearth

Thomas Jefferson once said "That everyman owes allegiance to that home and hearth into which he was born and beyond that, France!" So I guess the idea of dual citizenship has been with us a long time.

This issue of dual citizenship has been pretty embarrassing for the local Mandarins over the last week or so. THBT appointed a whole bevy of young (i.e. under 70) Yes men (or madams!) to fill positions in the government that were created just for them to occupy. I guess this is to start grooming the supply of Beijingophiles that can be trusted by the PRC to run for the Chief Executive office after Hong Kong gets universal suffrage in 3024.

As it turns out, everyone of these people had citizenship or permanent residency in another country. In normal circumstances that would be fine. If you are a lawyer or butcher, baker or candlestick maker here in Hong Kong it is OK if you someday plan to abandon us for retirement in Montana. But, governments should not be run by foreigners. That is what happens in a colony. Hong Kong is not a colony of Canada, the formerly great Britain which is now just the UK, Australia, the US or anywhere else. If you are going to be in the government be a citizen of the country that pays you and nowhere else. This is just basic patriotism.

Now to their credit, all of these people at once renounced their other passport as soon as it became know that they held them. However, they should have done this BEFORE a public outcry was raised. I would also question how much the renunciation really means? Did, for example the entire family of Greg So, who I have met and is fairly nice guy, renounce their Canadian citizenship? If not, what is the possibility of him regaining Canadian citizenship if his family moves there in the future? Given the insularity of the HK government from criticism I guess that this is about as good as we can expect.

The other part to this scandal is both more sinister and more repugnant to me. The government has not published and indeed refuses to publish the salary scale for these glorified paper-pushers and Donald Tsang want-to-be officials. The salaries of civil servants here are always somewhere above outrageous and generally just below what averagely corrupt third world dictators pay their mistresses to do the landry but at least we know what the salary is. How much are these people being paid if the government is embarrassed by their salary? The fact that we are not being told makes me believe that these salaries are the real reason that Henry what's-his-name the financial guy says that Hong Kong needs to broaden its tax base.

Hello corrupt mainland bureaucracy.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who believe that government officials should work for less than market value rather than 4 to 6 times the market value

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The End Of England?

Drool, Britannia, Britannia drools in waves,
Britons very very very soon will all be slaves.

Bow, Britannia, Britannia towards Mecca prays
Britons very very very soon will all be slaves

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who believes that all religions have a right to evangelize in a non-violent manner.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Some guys have all the luck!

I can't add much here.

Fai Mao