What's up Blog?

I always find it interesting when news about Malaysia makes it onto Slashdot. Today, something did make it: an article from CNN about politics and blogging. It’s not about how blogs have affected the political climate in Malaysia, but about the problem endemic with the establishment, i.e. short-sighted stoopidity. From the article:

Abdul Rahman Dahlan, secretary general of the United Malays National Organization party’s youth wing, said all those vying for national youth posts must have blogs to introduce themselves and their programs ahead of party elections in December. All candidates must have blogs. If not, they are not qualified to be leaders.

This kind of talk from the leader of a major political party, goes to show the kind of detachment from reality that these people suffer. Turning a blog into a pre-requisite for candidates contending for a position seems rather arbitrary to me. Instead of insisting on integrity, education, or leadership qualities, they are now turning a blog into a license for political leadership.

The trouble with this kind of arbitrary criterion is that it’s difficult to enforce. Having a blog or not, is not a objective selection. Like I had mentioned in my previous entry, trying to define a blog itself is not an easy task to do. It’s a subjective decision on whether or not something is a blog. So, in the end, the selection process will be a thoroughly arbitrary one.

I know that I’ve previously asked for more pro-establishment bloggers in order to counter the claims of the anti-establishment ones. However, this is not the way to do it. A person should not blog as a license to political office. It takes the whole spirit away from blogging. Yes, they should be encouraged to blog, but making it into a box to tick, is not the right way to do it. But this is just the way that they do things back home, checking boxes.

So, these people don’t really want to have blogs and they will only do it to get a sticker on their report card. So, they’ll just end up hiring somebody to do it for them. Then they will end up just uploading officially licensed press releases from the party. In the end, these ‘blogs’ will just turn into another regular news website like TheStar. Then, are these blogs still blogs?

The biggest danger in this move is that they risk diluting the whole blog space. Where once blogs were the cool anti-establishment tool, if everyone has a blog, then it becomes something very blase. The fact of the matter is that we already have too many Malaysian bloggers, as mentioned in an earlier article, which claims that there are about 500,000 active bloggers in Malaysia. That’s almost 5% of the whole Internet population of Malaysia.

If they want these leaders to connect to the younger generation of Malaysians, they shouldn’t stop at blogs. They should encourage them to get Facebook and Youtube accounts too, so that everyone can pry into their private lives.

PS: The best quote from the article is: But now, even youth deputy Khairy Jamaluddin — who once compared bloggers to monkeys living by the law of the jungle — has a blog.

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SPM Chinese and Islam

I’ve recently read a blog (here and here) about the problems facing students who take the Chinese language paper for SPM examinations. The blog discussed the perceived problems with the difficulties in scoring a 1A in the exam, which leads to students losing opportunities for scholarships. So, I did a little bit of haphazard research and I found that there are bigger problems in the issue than just the question of results.

I looked up the Education Ministry’s latest guidelines for exam registrations and found that the Chinese language paper was a totally optional one. The only compulsory languages are Bahasa Melayu (isn’t it supposed to be Bahasa Malaysia?) and English. Every other language is optional. I’m actually happy to find that French is still offered as a language paper, alongside Mandarin, Tamil, Arabic and Iban. I personally know someone who did French in secondary school. While I was digging around the document, I also found that Pendidikan Islam is wajib (compulsory) for Muslims while non-Muslims were wajib to take Moral instead. Plus, it is stated in the official guidelines that a student can only take either one of the two.

Firstly, it surprised me to learn that in vernacular Chinese schools, the students are forcibly coerced into taking the Chinese language. In fact, a common excuse used is that if the student does not want to take the language, the student should just go to a national school. When I heard that, it brought about images of certain parties waving the keris and telling everyone else who doesn’t respect Malay rights to keluar (get out) of the country. School principals who behave so irresponsibly little Napolean and abuse their powers, should be stripped of their positions and never be allowed anywhere near an educational institution again. If a student is not interested in taking the subject as an exam paper, he/she should not be coerced to do so, by any means. A school should be a place for learning and allowing students to explore different areas of interest.

Secondly, it surprised me to learn that non-Muslims were essentially barred from taking Islamic studies. I know for a fact, that this was not the case in the past. I personally know someone who got an A1 in Islamic studies and whose parents were both Chinese school teachers. If it was possible in the past, there is no logical reason for it not being so today. In many parts of the world, people are beginning to realise the importance of having different points of view. So, learning how Islam sees the world will help us understand each other better especially since the Islamic countries are beginning to feature more prominently in world affairs. Furthermore, nobody should be denied the right to learn anything in school. It is against the whole idea of education, if someone is not allowed to take any subject due to his religion.

So, I wondered what could be a way to solve some of these problems.

Obviously, the very first thing would be to allow anyone who wants to, to take Islamic studies as a paper. Nobody should be denied the right to learn anything in school. This artificial and arbitrary restriction should just be gotten rid of. It cannot possibly be healthy for the nation as a whole, when students are segregated in such an arbitrary manner. It might even be unconstitutional, to deny someone their right to an education in school. Maybe some brave soul could challenge this decision in the courts.

Next, would be to do away with vernacular schools entirely. A common reason why students are forced to take the language paper is because the schools wish to retain their cultural identities. I am surprised by the fact that an inanimate object has the right to assert any form of identity. We already have an existing system in place to teach vernacular languages in national schools. I would think that this should be improved upon instead of just being like detention classes that force you to stay back in school for.

Instead, have the languages offered as an officially time-tabled subject in all schools, alongside every other non-national language and allow anyone to take it regardless of race. We could have a period for international languages and have all the students file off to different classes for their language lessons. There is already precedent for this, our Islam/Moral classes. So, the system is already in place to allocate time-tables and classrooms for such a thing.

Finally, just get rid of the Moral paper because I have a personal beef with it. It is such an idiotic assumption that there is such a thing as a universal moral standard that can be preached in a classroom. The only way that anyone can score for that paper is to blatantly lie and/or just memorise the answers. A common quip during my time in school was that when you accidentally killed a chicken in a village, the morally correct course of action is to run away (something about not being berani membuta tuli).

But as usual, the solutions sound very simple here but are almost impossible to implement on the ground. There are just too many entrenched interests in the problem to come to a lasting solution. The extremists on both sides of the fence would not be willing to let go of their outmoded ideas on identity. But in the mean time, let us start moving in the right direction.

PS: It should be blatantly obvious from this post which side I am on.

Hail BigDog

May I be the first to say: All hail our new robotic quadruped overlords!. It’s name is BigDog.

Well, it’s only a matter of time now, before our machines develop enough capabilities to wipe us off the planet. As this video patently illustrates, it is not longer impossible for them to mimic real life physical movement and reflexes. The only thing that this robot lacks is an autonomous thinking capability.

The engineer in me can see and appreciate the amount of engineering elegance that must have gone into the design of such a marvel. Walking on four legs isn’t so much of an issue but being able to quickly recover from being suddenly thrown off balance, is a great accomplishment. At the very least, this will see such a robot being useful for ferrying things around. The present robot can already carry a few hundred pounds in weight, which brings to mind a very useful application.

The project is currently being funded by DARPA. So, it is being designed for military applications. Now, we can all imagine how this could easily be turned into a AT-AT walker from Star Wars. All it needs is the ability to ferry around a few tonnes of weight. Then, we just need to plant a big set of guns and some seats on it. I’m curious to know if it’s reflexes can scale well with it’s size.

Besides the obvious military advantages of having a robotic pet that can ferry huge equipment and supplies along, there are also very practical civil applications for such a robot. It could be tasked to carry disabled people around a hospital, for example. It would clearly be able to navigate the various “terrain” present within a suitable medical establishment and have enough reflexes to keep it’s balance when it is knocked around. It could also carry some obese individuals around town if we just add some seats onto it.

Well, that’s enough from me. Just watch the video and tell me that it doesn’t send creepy chills down your spine at some point.