Sunday, October 21, 2012

Project 5 Speaking After Dinner

Project 5 Speaking After Dinner


1. Prepare an entertaining after-dinner talk on a specific theme
2. Deliver the talk using the skills developed in the preceding projects.

Time: 8 to 10 minutes

Sizzle with Masters of the Toast

Not so long ago, I was a struggling middle-aged office worker. My main work portfolio was to crunch numbers, flip through tons and tons of reports and hopefully hit the jackpot – with insightful trends and patterns. In short, it was the unglamorous backroom job. It was just like a restaurant, I was working in the hot and stuff kitchen and the waiter would bring the food to the customers in a posh and elegant dining room.

If you recall how mad scientists are being portrayed in movies. They have this dishevelled gray hair – often fizzled, and thick black rimmed glasses. I used to belong to that club. I paid very little attention to my appearance and way I presented myself, the way I talked. Between style and substance, I thought it was the substance that counted. I told myself. But who was I fooling?

First impression counts. I would not have befriended my husband some 20 years ago if I did not find his look appealing. After I knew him, he turned out to be a man of fine character.

My dear friends, we have to accept that looks and the way you carry matter. It will help you to open the door. And then, you will have to prove your worth.

Back to my work. The world is constantly changing. Expectations are different and standards are higher. For example, nowadays, we have restaurants embracing the open-concept kitchen, where customers can view the chefs at work or even choose to sit at the counter to get closer to the action as they enjoy the meal. Similarly, I found myself being thrust to the forefront at work.

Public speaking was never my forte. I remembered when I was young, I was being “volunteered” to participate in a story-telling contest. I went on stage. “Goo... good morn... ing,...” [Long Pause] I was being ushered out of the stage. Even then, I was trembling throughout. It was worst than death!!!

“Ring, ring...” My office phone rang. I dread to pick it up but I had to.

“Aileen, I need you to brief at a meeting next week.” At the other hand of the line was my boss.


After which, I would spend the next 7 days – worrying about how I would fare during my presentation, dreading each passing day, having nightmares from Monday to Sunday. Definitely, there would not be work-life balance if I allowed this fear to consume me.

So I went to the Internet to search for ways to improve. I typed “public speaking in Singapore”. Whoala, Kampong Ubi Toastmaster club came up among the top in the search list. Oh yes, I found the toastmasters. It was a pretty misleading name as I thought it meant being masters of toast bread. You know Yakun, the famous toast bread with kaya coffee shop.

Piqued by curiosity, I went to check it out. And like everyone here, I was once a guest. The rest is history. My speaking goal was simple. I wanted to be able to stand on my feet without falling on my face. And today, I have learnt to make a pretty mean toast – not the sliced bread but speeches – with the help of masters, toastmasters.

In short, the Toastmasters Movement deliver my goal with flying colours and many more. On a personal front, new challenges piled and they are still stacking up as high as Mount Everest, I thought of leaving. But I never left.

There is so much Toastmasters Movement can offer. I saw great speakers like Kwan Hong, Jun and Suhail, leaders like Antonius, James and Ramana emerge. At this point, I must qualify that the names are read out not in the order of their ranking, they are all superb in their own ways, but based on alphabetical order. Ordinary people like you and me are transformed into dynamic forces of oration and inspiration.

I am sold. Toastmasters programme works! Each assignment and contest which I have taken up allowed me to try something different. It stretches my potential like a rubber band. The big difference however is that this rubber band does not snap.

Every time, I jump at an opportunity. Wings are formed and I could soar to greater heights. At times when that did not happen, I am not going to bluff you. Failures do happen to Toastmasters. But there is always a safety net at the bottom of the cliff that helps us to bounce back.

There is so much camaraderie amongst fellow Toastmasters. Kampong Ubi TMC prides ourselves as being one of the friendliest club in Singapore. I always feel a sense of warmth and homecoming when I am here. We are amongst friends to lend each other a shoulder lean on and to cry on.

Today, I will like to thank my dear friends at Kampong Ubi for their support and kind encouragement. I will continue to sizzle with the masters of toast.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Things that Matter Most

Things that matter most, Aileen Chua
The suburbia vibe is in the air
It's hot and humid But memories are alive
Of how crisp, dry air smells

Cauldron boils and bubbles
With homemade goodness
Just like in the yesteryear
When the children were toddlers
Father was the main breadwinner
And mother took charge at home

Money was enough to go by
Patience in abundance
Taking time to smell the roses
Driving around to see the world
A thousand miles away from home
Yet it brought us close to things that matter most in life

Be kind, be thankful and be grateful
The virtues we remind our children
The values that help to make one's mark in life
And to always stand tall and proud
Not the As, the grades, the marks The yardsticks for ease of ranking
Lacking in so many ways
And short in the long haul

But before one condemns
What are we doing to change for the better?
Begin by taking baby step
To pause and think for a while And focus on doing what is right

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

AP 5, Speaking to Inform, The Abstract Concept

Below is the speech which I have done based on research from various sources. It is posted here is based on my limited understanding and purely for sharing purposes.

The Presidents’ Mountain

In the Black Hills of South Dakota stood the grand sculptures of 4 great presidents of the United States of America. Have you even wondered who they are and what do they represent? Or the significance that they have in the land of freedom?

It all started in the 1920s in the heydays before the Great Depression some 10 years later. State historian Doane Robinson believed that a big country demanded big art. Robinson wanted the sculptures to be on the Needles Mountain in South Dakota – so named because of the sky piercing granite spires on the mountain. Many people snuffed at the idea. Some proclaimed that “Man makes statues, but God made the Needles”.

The Presidents’ Mountain or Mount Rushmore National Memorial, started as a celebration of all things American. It meant patriotism and what America was all about. It represented the ideology of America. Today, I will like to share with you what I have researched and what this ideology is all about.

The 4 presidents chosen to be immortalized represented the ideals that Americans held dear to their heart – democracy. What does “democracy” embody?

George Washington was the commander of the Revolutionary army. After winning the war, many of Washington’s most senior officers believed that the natural order of events was to decide who would become the King of the new country. They consulted with civilian leaders and wanted to crown Washington as King. Washington declined and within a few months he and his officers retired from the army, ending the idea of a “King of the United States”.

What does this episode tell us? It tells that George Washington believed that all human beings possess natural rights. He believed the legitimate purpose of government is to protect the rights of individuals. And this is what George Washington, the first U.S. president said at his first Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789:

“The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

That is democracy.

Next was we had Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president. He was a man of great vision. He was the mastermind of the Louisiana Purchase. It was the greatest real estate deal in history. The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France at a price of $15 million, or about four cents an acre. The ratification of the Louisiana Purchase treaty by the Senate on October 20, 1803, doubled the size of the United States and opened up the continent to its westward expansion. And this far-sighted man too believed fervently that men are created equal and penned the Declaration of Independence.

He said this at the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776. July 4, is independence day or the national day of the U.S.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We also have the 16th U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, whose leadership restored the Union and ended slavery on U.S. soil.

“Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand.”

Abraham Lincoln, Address at Cooper Union, February 27, 1860

The 26th president Theodore Roosevelt promoted the construction of the Panama canal, a 82-km ship canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, opening up international maritime trade. He also ignited progressive causes such as conservation and economic reform.

At the address at Carnegie Hall, March 30, 1912, President Roosevelt proclaimed:

"We, here in America, hold in our hands the hope of the world, the fate of the coming years; and shame and disgrace will be ours if in our eyes the light of high resolve is dimmed, if we trail in the dust the golden hopes of men. If on this new continent we merely build another country of great but unjustly divided material prosperity, we shall have done nothing."

From this speech, we see that President Roosevelt strongly believed in the right of the people to rule.

In conclusion, Mount Rushmore stands as a shrine of democracy, a monument and memorial to the U.S. birth, growth and ideals. Of democracy, it is the belief that men are created equal, the right of the people to rule, the ideals of freedom and equality for all.

I will like to end my speech with the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, a stanza from the poem by Emma Lazarus.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
U.S. strongly believes that all men are equal. Its arms are wide-open to welcome the poor and oppressed can start afresh.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Smashing Humorous and Evaluation Contest

Last Saturday, I have attended Kampong Ubi CC Humorous Speech and Evaluation Contest. I have a smashing good time!
There were 7 engaging humorous speeches and 7 enriching evaluations all in one fun-packed afternoon meeting. As I was one of the 7 contestants, I had butterflies in my stomach. It persisted for a few days especially when my boys were so supportive of me taking part and hoped that I could bring in a trophy.
I woke up on 25 Aug 2012 morning. The gentle morning light shone through the window. It was the day which I was looking forward to. A day which I would learn and enjoy at the same time. But before which, I did some last minute rejigging of my script and rehearsed it again and again. I remembered a key lesson in public speaking - failure to prepare is to prepare to fail.
It was a fanastic event. The competition was keen. The speeches and evaluations were top-notched. While I did have jitters during the announcement of the contest results, I knew that I was already a winner by walking out of my comfort zone to take part in the contest. I was enthralled to be the 3rd winner in the speech contest.
I was an introvert. I joined Toastmasters to improve my public speaking skills so that I could sleep at ease when I needed to do a presentation at work. The Toastmasters did that and more. It transforms me into a better person learning from ordinary people with extraordinary stories to share. Thank you!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sharing an Inspirational Story

This MAN is a HERO !

It's a feat most able-bodied people would struggle to achieve - scaling one of the highest peaks on the planet.

Spencer West managed it using just his hands. The 31-year-old, from Toronto, Canada - who lost his legs when he was just five years old - reached the summit of the 19,341ft high Mt. Kilimanjaro on Monday after a slow, grueling and awe-inspiring trek.

Spencer West, celebrates at the peak of Kilimanjaro on Monday, after scaling the tallest mountain in Africa, on his hands.

Because of the rough terrain, Mr. West had to complete most of the seven-day trek on his hands, only using a wheelchair when the ground allowed. Mr. West was born with sacral agenesis, a genetic disorder that left his lower spine poorly developed and his legs permanently crossed.

He had his legs removed below the knees at the age of three and, two-years-later, had them amputated to below his pelvis. Medical experts told the courageous Canadian he would never be a functioning member of society but he has continued to defy doctors his entire life.

He trained for a year to scale the tallest peak in Africa without legs and set off on June 12 with best friends David Johnson and Alex Meers.
The trek to the top took seven days, hiking through Tanzania's jungles, snowfields and deserts - and Mr West was forced to make 80 per cent of the journey on his hands, only hopping in a custom-made wheelchair when the terrain allowed.

The trio made it to the final approach on Sunday and rose the following morning for the ascent to Uhuru Peak. They reached the top at 11.15am after a exhausting seven hour hike.

He was supported the whole way by best friend David Johnson and Alex Meers.

Mr West's hands were left bloodied and bruised after the trek, but insists the pain and discomfort were 'worth it'. Only 50 per cent of people who attempt to scale the mountain make it to the top.

Mr West described the moment he reached the summit as 'incredible'. He said: 'The summit sign seemed almost like a mirage.
'We looked around and realised that, after seven grueling days of relentless climbing, after 20,000 feet of our blood, sweat, tears and vomit we had actually made it. 'The bleeding fingers and blisters were all worth it.'

He added: 'I set out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro not only to redefine what's possible for me, but to inspire others to overcome obstacles and challenges of their own, and to give back to communities, that need our help.

'Reaching the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro was the most mentally and physically challenging thing I have ever done, but in doing so, it reinforced the powerful message behind believing in yourself, and believing in others.

'So many people made this journey possible for me and I am so humbled by everyone's support.'

His incredible feat has raised more than £300,000 for Free The Children, a charity which brings sustainable to thousands of Kenyans experiencing drought.

When he was a child doctors told Mr West he would struggle to play a role in society. Something he has remained determined to prove wrong.

Porters carry Spencer West's wheelchair up Kilimanjaro, so he can use it when the terrain allows him to give his battered hands a break.

Mr West slipped a pair of flip-flops on his hands to help him negotiate the rocky terrain during his hike up the mountain, which looms in the background.

The brave climber grins as he reaches the foot of Kilimanjaro - ahead of the final trek to the top.

Spencer West spent a year training for the Kilimanjaro trek at his home in Toronto, Canada.

He had to be sure he had enough strength in his arms to carry him up the 19,000 ft high mountain

Monday, August 20, 2012

Arizona Road Trip

We were driving to leave Grand Canyon, Arizona. Along the way, we travelled through the Painted Desert, Vermillion Cliffs and Navajo country.

The drive through this wilderness opened up a landscape of unmatched beauty. The Painted Desert offered tremendous view of with its multi-colored sand formations. At times, the sky joined the party glowing with pink and purple hues of desert. There was a feel of desertness as we passed through this section. Although there were makeshift shelters where the paints had faded. A number were disused while some had native Indians hawking their wares from these trading posts.

After the Navajo bridge, awe-inspiring Vermilion Cliffs surrounded us on both side of the highway in Arizona. We did not venture into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in the small town of Kanab, Utah. Otherwise, we would have to spend a day or two to see the Vermillion Cliffs. Notwithstanding, our drive through this segment gave us a glimpse of what to expect. The terrain was rugged and demanding. The temperature was scorching - into the 40s deg C.

All in all, it was an experience and we were rewarded with breathtaking sights.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My first language evaluation

A fellow toastmaster Ramana suggested that I took up the role of a language evaluator. I was hesitated at first as I had never been a language evaluator in my whole life. Ok, I exaggerated - in my years as a toastmaster.

At Ramana's encouragement, I decided to give it a shot. I did some research in the Internet and watched how others did theirs in Youtube. I prepared the script for the opening and carefully chose the word of the day. I had a rough idea of what I was supposed to listen intently for and the key areas which I should focus on.

In the arena of public speaking, preparation can only take me so far. The real test is the performance on the day itself. I must say my preparation served me well. However, there were still certain areas which I needed to brush up on. These showed up at the actual day performance. Or rather, I should term it as rehearsal. For the Toastmasters Movement is to provide a platform for us to practise.

Thank you Toastmasters Club. I know with you I will be better than what I was yesterday!

Friday, August 3, 2012


Today, I shall do a stock-take of my Toastmasters’ Journey.
I joined my club in 2008 as I wanted to improve my public speaking skills. Improved I did and with progress that amazed me. Having met my objective alongside with new and heavy responsibilities at work and family, Toastmaster took a backseat in my life sometime in 2010. There was a point in time when the thought of leaving the organisation crossed my mind. But something stopped me. Deep within me, I believe strongly in the Toastmasters’ programme. It works! More than that, it gives meaning to my life and it transforms me. It makes me into a better and happy person.
While I have some successes to deal with the responsibilities, new challenges seem to be always be on their way. I have decided to stop procrastination and to take an active role to put Toastmaster back in my life. I do this for myself because I know it will better prepare me to navigate the sharp bends in life safely and soundly.
My dear readers, wish me luck J

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Night in the Mountains

It was 8.20 pm, one summer day in Wyoming, The United States. My family had just had one of the most wondrous holiday driving experience. We went up to a snow-capped mountain unknowingly and it was summer! At several thousand feet above sea level, the weather up at the mountains in Wyoming was perpetually cold with snow always dominating the landscape.
That was only one to two hours ago. And we were still on the road on the lookout for a lodging place to put up for the night. Now as the curtains of the night were drawing down, we were stuck in the middle of nowhere! There was no town, no petrol kiosk, not a single soul. Instead, we were surrounded by an expanse of wilderness and the road sign read “Big Horn National Forest”. There was another not so helpful signboard that indicated one would have to U-turn back as the road ahead would be closed if the weather turned inclement. There was no reception for our hand-phones. There was no street lights. The saving grace were the light reflectors which bounced the light from our car, guiding us up the mountain road. And yes, our GPS which was cranky just now, was working fine. We were all praying that it would remain so.
The elements of nature could be highly unpredictable and anxiety was running high in me. I looked at my husband who was taking the driver seat. He replied with a reassuringly tone “I guess we would just press on.” Along the way, our car was crawling as my husband was unfamiliar with the terrain. He stopped once to avoid a mule deer dashing across the road. We also chanced upon a dead mule deer in the middle of the road. It was knocked down by a passing vehicle and we felt sad for a life lost.
“Mama, you see outside, you see, you see.” My elder boy shouted excitedly with his finger pointing towards the side window of the car. “It is snowing!”
My younger boy who was until now fast asleep, stirred and opened his bleary eyes. His eyes instantaneously widened and he was fully awaken to take in sight of the falling white snow draped the surrounding landscape.
“Daddy, can we go out and play.” He asked innocently.
“No, sweetheart.” My husband replied gently. “Look the temperature outside is subzero.” He pointed to the thermometer indicator in the car.
“We are not dressed for the occasion.” He smiled and stopped the car. “Let’s just take in the sight.”
It was then snowing intensely and my husband decided to stop and wait out for the storm to be over.
“Country road take me home, to the place I belong....” I began to sing and smiled encouraging at my two children to join me to keep our spirits high.
Snowstorm cleared shortly. Somehow up at mountains it was not as dark as I initially feared. There was still moonlight and it also lit up our moods somehow.
Just then, we saw a pair of red eyes staring at us straight in the face. It was the rear light of another car. Somehow, we were glad that to know that there was another human being in this place. We then tailed it as closely as possible and it led us out of the mountains before turning into a farm. We felt a strange swirl of relieved that we were out of the mountain but sad that while the driver in front was home, we were still in search of the next town, where the modern day comfort beckoned.
We passed by two small towns with a population of 500 to 800 before we reached the next bigger town and called it a day. For all that we have gone through, it has taught a very invaluable life lesson.
“While we can be prepared, unexpected events can still happen. Persevere and believe that good things will come.”
We went up the Big Horn Forest by accident. Yet, it gave us the unique opportunity to test our strength of our nerves and our ability to remain calm in adversity. This will help us through to face with the toughest challenge in our life. After all, we have done in when our lives were at stake.
It is the same thing for us toastmasters. We need to prepare for our speeches but sometimes the unexpected can still happen. Perseverance and belief is our ticket out of the situation.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

We can make a difference!

I got this beautiful article from Drs Philip and Jane Mountrose. Enjoy!

Most want to make a difference. But how do you actually do it?

First, feel good by acknowledging what you have already accomplished: goals you have reached, people you have helped.

Then remember that making a difference starts from within. To succeed, it's essential to develop and ongoing success mindset. As your vibration stays stronger longer,  it naturally translates into action. Then you manifest success.


So what gets in the way? It's not about comparing yourself to others, which is a common showstopper. Yes, learn and be inspired by others; just remember that you are unique. It's about pursuing your own self-actualizing path.

Also, it’s not about being perfect,  getting those imaginary ducks in a row. Waiting for the perfect time - another common obstacle - is just as self-defeating.  


1. Have a vision. Intend for your picture of how your individual talents and skills can help others make a better world to come into view. Then develop a mission to carry your own personal crusade to better yourself and others.

"I use my ______[talents/skills] to help people __________."

2.  Use strategies. These approaches will then actualize your dreams and goals that emerge from your vision. For example, develop your own business, or give 110% at your job to attract greater possibilities.

You can also help solve people's problems. If you want to make a living from helping others, choose those who are willing and able to pay for your products/services.

To succeed, find the best practices in your chosen area for success.

3. Have a daily success routine. Successful people regulate their lives so they are "fit for success."

Practices we and others use include:

eating and sleeping well
exercising regularly
reading positive books; listening to success audios
associating with upbeat, successful people
meditating and affirming expansive  ideas

As  a note, the above takes self-discipline, to which you want to dedicate yourself for your own success and self-actualization. 


One of our taglines is that "we help people step up and make a difference." You must be willing to "step up" to make a difference.

This may even include getting so frustrated  that you no longer can tolerate staying where you are.

Find a way to step up today (the best time to do it).

Stay with it. Never, ever give up; simply learn and grow from the challenges. Then you will be proud of your legacy: "I made a difference."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Yosemite National Park - Field or Meadow?

This is one of the series of blog posts whose intent is to document what we have seen and learnt in our vacation:

Long before Euro-Americans arrived in Yosemite (pronounces as "yoh-sem-i-tee) Valley, the Ahwahneechee kept the meadow open by periodicaly burning them, eradicating the undergrowth and most young seedlings. This encouraged the growth of desirable plants, such as deer greass, which was used in basketmaking.

Unlike the single-species sameness of a lawn or a planted field, a meadow is a place of amazing diversity, home to many species of plants and animals.

In the Sierra Nevada, meadows are low at lower elevations, like Yosemite Valley (elevation 4000 feet). Only a few places in the entire park have the right miz of soil, fire frequency and water to sustain a medow. Many of Yosemite's meadows have been gradually isappearing, lowsing ground to the encircling forest.

Some meadow residents: Coyote, Mule deer

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Undercover Economist

The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford brought a new light to economics - Some referred to as a dismal science. Harford thrashed such notion and brought the power of economics to life.

The 10 chapters in the book were like building blocks carefully laying down the foundation, brick by brick that is needed for the reader to pick up the nuts and bolts of an economist.

1. Who Pays for Your Coffee?: Harford introduced the concepts of scarcity and bargaining power. Premium price that we pay for coffee on our morning commute to work is all about location, location and location. Quality accounts but only for a tiny part.

2. What Supermarkets Don't Want You to Know: Price-targeting is the storyline and it is about your customers more than the goods you sell.

3. Perfect Markets and the ‘World of Truth’: What is a perfect market? While we hold market efficiency in high esteem, there are times we need to sacrifice it for the sake of fairness.

4. Crosstown Traffic: This chapter is about 'externalities' and how we can price them. Putting a dollar value on externalities can help us deal with some of the major blights on our society: pollution, congestion, and fights with neighbours.

5. The Inside Story: What are lemons? Lemons exist due to information asymmetric. George Akerlof's revolutionary 1970 paper reveals how inside information dramatically affects markets and why this means it’s virtually impossible to buy a decent second hand car.

6. Rotten Investments and Rotten Eggs: It is about the assumption made at the onset. If it is wrong, it will affect all the projection downstream.

7. The Men Who Knew the Value of Nothing: A brief look at game theory reveals how auctioning radio spectrum air space is like playing poker.

8. Why Poor Countries Are Poor: A case study on Cameroon pointed to corruption as the chief cause of poor countries remaining poor. Adding to the mix - no law, press or democratic opposition to restrain the actions of powerful people - a vicious cycle continues.

9. Beer, Chips and Globalisation : If you want to be rich, it is a good idea to forge links with the rest of the world. A discussion on globalising trends illustrates how foreign investment is good for economic growth and on what is comparative advantage.

10. How China Grew Rich: This final chapter discussed the rapid growth of China. Possible reasons included the right incentives, education, investment and some luck.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Scenic Switerland, by Aileen

Oh magical mighty mountains
With the sound of music as if they were alive.
They bring us joy as our feet tap along.

Ah amazing awesome alps
With bountiful fresh air for all to breathe
We are in awe of the grandeur of nature

They remind us of our insignificance
They open our hearts
To forgive and rjoice that we are alive!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Science Experiment - Children holding hands

P has another simple science experiment whereby he used a cloth and rubber band to cover up the lid of a half-filled plastic bottle. Then he inverted the plastic bottle and showed me that the water did not drip.

He explained that the water molecules were like children holding hands. On the other hand for the cloth, the spaces between the cloth molecules were tiny. So the children holding hands could not get out of the "doors".

I asked him if water would drip if he were to squeeze or shake the plastic bottle. He nodded his head. I added that it was the same as if we were to give the children holding hands a push, they would be able to get out of the door.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Science Experiment - Cornstarch

This is P's experiment to investigate the "cage" molecule structure of cornstarch.

First picture shows cornstarch powder mixed with water.

Second picture is P's fingers pinching a lump of cornstarch mixture. If you were to do it, the lump felt powdery like cornstarch in solid form.

Third picture shows a lump in solid form.

In terms of the explanation. The cornstarch has a "cage-like" molecule structure. So when one squeezes the cornstarch solution, the water molecules get squeezed in the cage. The resultant molecules line-up is similar to that of solid.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Seven Long Years Ago

Time really flies. It has been seven long years since I packed my bags to a foreign country to start life afresh. It is with much relish that I pack my bags again. This time for a shorter vacation to that land of change.

The stay was short, only a year. Yet the memories were long. Not all were happy but they were all life-changing. I often marvelled in awe of the change in attitude in me - for the better. From one who used to think why I was dealt with a bad hand, I learnt that it was attitude that counted. I used to think that successful ones were lucky. I realised it was how they took on each curve ball that life often threw at us. Perseverance was what I picked up alongside a smile. I would remind myself as what Mother Theresa, once said, God only gave us what we can surmount.

I overcome my fear of public speaking by holding on bull by its horns. I joined a Toastmasters' Club and honed my presentation skills. To improve my writing, I read voraciously and started this blog to share my experiences. My setback in work made me to decide that I needed to work on a secondary source of income. It made me invest my time in such pursue so that I am not held at ransom.

With each door that I open, one door leads to another. I have met many people. Some really successful ones, what struck me was the common thread that binded them - their genuine care for others. I am grateful for their concerns and pray for their well-being.

As I pack my bags to visit the land of change, I muse on the change in me. Life is not easy, I am still learning along the way. But I am grateful for all the obstacles that I have overcome thus far. They make me a better person.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Belief and Faith

Fight your fears with organised knowledge to eliminate ignorance. Have a clear definite goal. Work doggedly towards it with confidence and belief. Success will come with unvarying certainty as does the principle of multiplication. Believe in yourself. Have faith. If winter is here, can spring be far behind.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cost and Market pricing - A Light-Hearted Way of Explaining

This is a true story – the key characters are none other than my boys and yours truly. 

Below is a simplified version of what I have read a few months ago about cost and market pricing. 

Price Effects The most common argument about cost pricing is that with higher prices, firms will pass on to consumers in the form of higher prices. And conversely, lower cost price will mean lower selling price. However, this argument is not entirely correct in that firms will charge the prices that maximise their profits. These prices will be the maximum prices that the market can bear. Let us apply this on a more familiar example – housing prices. The price of new housing is no lower when the developer had the good fortune to obtain the land below its current market value (e.g. because it was bought before planning permission was available) than when the developer has paid the full market value. In either case, the price is determined by the housing market at the time the new housing is sold. 

This is how I explain to my primary 5 boy P about cost and market pricing, using his little brother R’s exploit: 

R looked around for his classmates who were willing to pay $1 for a green bean. He then asked around for other classmates to buy some green beans. He bought 5 green beans at $0.50. Thereafter, he sold one to his friend at $1 a bean. He kept the balance four for his science project. 

Question: Does R’s cost price of 5 green beans at $0.50 have any bearing on his selling price of $1 for 1 green bean? 

P’s answer: No. 

Mummy’s further comment: That’s right, R will sell based on what the market – his classmates -  is willing to pay and not the cost price. That is market pricing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Panda in a cave

Panda in a Cave, Aileen Chua

Panda in a cave
Thinking of the bamboo forest
Finding solace in being alone
Panda in the cave
Cutting a forlorn figure
For reticence is its way of life

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Setting Sun

Setting Sun, by Aileen
She turns into an orange ball
As she slowly descends
To the horizon of sky and sea
Before the deep slumber
In the depth of the ocean
She gives her best
Engulfing the sky with an orange hue
Embracing us in warmth
As she has always done.
Such dedication
Such pride
We should all emulate!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Driving holiday

Driving holiday has become the preferred holiday option for out family. But we did not endear to this option until more than a decade driving in Singapore. There was a psychological barrier when it came to driving long distances and across the border.

This barrier was torn down when we travelled by car in the United States. The longest distance we had done was the drive from Pennsylvannia (East) to California (West) and back again. The whole trip took us 15 days plus some sightseeing. But it was significant as we have proven to ourselves that we could do it with two brawling toddlers (one 4-year old and another 2-year old).

Nowadays we do not think twice about driving up north to Genting Highlands. The trip from Singapore to Genting Highlands took about 6-7 hours (breaks and lunch included). It was pretty mundane, nothing really exciting except if you would to count the nice, rustling scenery on the road. We would be at cloud nine in no time. We would be watching the clouds drifted by from the comfort of our hotel rooms. Hey, this place was not called "Clouds' Top" (the Chinese name) for nothing. If there was a bone to be picked about this place, I would say it is the casino. Because of the crowds it drew, I cannot help but think of the sleazy it brought. That's what parents are for. To protect and guide our offspring.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Speaking to Inform Advance Project 4

Is Reading in the Toilet a Concern? 

This is a familiar sight in the early morning rush hour of Singapore. We see people (pause) reading (pause) newspaper. They can be seated or in standing position, with their papers opened at 45 degrees due to the space constraint in the very crowded train. Try as they might as there is little elbow space and very often, we do get brushed when they flipped the newspaper. 

Have you ever wondered if the persons who are reading the newspaper next to you (gesturing left and right) do so in the loo? And if so, would you be sick because the same newspaper has touched you? And if you are one of those people who read in the toilet, is reading in the toilet good for you? 

A very good afternoon, Club President, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests, today, I shall share with you my findings from some medical reports on the public health consequences of reading in the toilet.

There are two which I have studied – one is by Dr Ron Shaoul published in 2009. He is a paediatric gastroenterologist, in layman term, he is a doctor for the children, hence the term paediatric, specializing in the digestive function. Dr Shaoul has drew up a questionnaire and together with his colleagues, they had about five hundreds of people from all shapes and sizes completing it. Another is by Ms Val Curtis, director of Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who has also in last year conducted a study in Britain on similar matter. Today, I shall share the salient findings from their reports by using a question-and-answer format.  

There are three questions which I will seek to answer. They are: 
1.     From a medical standpoint, do the reading materials become irreversibly infused with nasty contaminants when carried into the toilet?
2.     How long can unpleasant microbes live on glossy magazine covers or, for that matter, the pages of a newspaper?
3.     What does the straightforward act of reading on the toilet do for bowel movement? Is it good to read in the loo, or not? 

Answer to qn 1, does reading in loo put us at risk of being infected by the bugs in the poo. Ms Curtis summed it up all, in theory there was a risk. However, in practice, the risk was very slim. And in her own words, “there is no need to get anal about it.”The important thing is to wash your hands with soap after using the loo to get the bugs off. This way, even if you happen to be in contact with a shit-smeared newspaper, wash your eyes before eating should keep you quite safe.  Of course, if you refuse to do so, and later in your office, pick your nose when no one is watching, thereafter and rub your fingers in your eyes. You might well get an infection. For the determined, there is always a way. Don’t blame the person who read in the loo.

Q2, how long can microbes live on glossy magazines or pages of newspaper? Here is the good news. They don’t fare too well on non-absorbent surfaces. At best, they survive a few minutes. So by the time, the person reach the MRT station, all the microbes will have been long dead. How about smartphones, iPads? Unfortunately, such smart devices are not that smart when it comes to microbes. Their shiny and smooth surfaces are more accommodating and it is likely that bugs that live on those for hours. Curtis’ study suggested that one in six mobile phones is contaminated with faecal/excremental matter largely because people fail to wash their hands after going to the toilet. So don’t pick up smart devices lying around with your naked hands. Use a tissue instead. 

Let’s move on to Q3, is reading in the loo good for you, in particular your bowel movement? Dr Shaoul thought that sitting and reading while doing your business might be relaxing and make things go better. Maybe it could just be the cure for constipation. As it turns out, it is not true. Toilet readers spend more in the loo and think that they are less constipated than non-toilet readers. Other measures of their defecation habit show that the two groups hardly differ. Shaoul’s work hints that toilet readers suffer more haemorrhoid or piles. But before you get too paranoid about it, the effect is negligible. 

In conclusion, my dear friends, reading in the toilet while quite widespread, is a harmless habit. It alleviates boredom. Next time when your tummy hurts badly, you can use it as a distraction therapy. Back to you Toastmaster of the day. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thinking fast and slow

Today, I will like to share about a book I have just started to read last weekend. The title of the book was "Thinking fast and slow" by Nobel prize laureate, Daniel Kahneman. Basically, Dr Kahneman purported that there are two Types in our brain - Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is about our intuition - that's the fast thinking. Type 2 is about data processing - usually it takes effort to do so. Most (if not all) people rely on Type 1 of their brain most of the time.

E.g. When shown a picture of a person, we can read his emotions almost effortlessly. When we make such inferences, we are using Type 1 of our brain.

Another example: Person A is meek and shy. She is also highly structured. Do you think she is more likely to be a librarian or a farmer. When posed with such a question, many will unanimously say "librarian". That's the Type 1 of their brain working. But not many will think further about statistics. In America, for every librarian, there are 6 farmers. So Person A is 6 times more likely to be a farmer than a librarian.What Dr Kahneman shares is not something new. We know that logic tells but emotion sells.

What does it mean for us? There are three takeaways which I will like to share.

(1) Be careful when we make inference. More likely than not, we are using unsubstantiated intuition. It takes effort to use Type 2 of our brain.

(2) And of course, as what Malcolm Gladwell shared in 10,000 hours, when we practise hard enough it will make it to Type 1 of our brain. That's why top chess player could very quickly decide what is the best strategy. In the case of doctors, top doctors are able to make the right diagnosis in a split second, due to their vast experiences. (Yes, there is no free lunch in this world. If you want to be good, you have to work very, very, very hard).

(3) Last but not lest, is to tell stories not just convey data. Data by itself is meaningless. Information is data with meaning

Monday, April 16, 2012

Economics, Mathematics and I

My MBA got me into economics. I am grateful to the postgraduate programme. I am first and foremost a mathematician. But I found in economics powerful application of the rational thinking that I learned from mathematics.

Economists and mathematicians are really quite similar in the lens they look at the world. When I look at numbers, I am looking for the stories behind the numbers. The same is true for economists. We are like detectives using investigative tools to unravel the truth behind the statistics and stories. By using the logics, we could do pure armchair reasoning that enable us to do a fairly good analysis a situation. After which, like doctors, we order tests in the form of data collation to verify our hypothesis. This helps us to separate wheat from chaff.

We live in a world inundated with data. The complications of everyday life often hide the larger trends behind the scenes. It is fun and challenging to shine a spotlight on the underlying process. Yes, in a sense it simplifies an issue by only emphasizing one part of the underlying reality – but the emphasis is helpful in revealing something important.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Chess Players

Chess Players, by Aileen Chua
Oh, chess players.
The intellect gang.
They find friends.
First as foes.
A game of chess.
A match of wits.
Deep in thought.
Simulating all possible moves.
Oh, chess players.
The mighty strategists.
A worthy clan.

Monday, April 2, 2012

7 Lovely Logic

From a fellow toastmaster who is also my club president. I am also very impressed and inspired by him as he has brought our club to the top 5 clubs among the more than 150 clubs in Singapore and Thailand.

7 Lovely Logics

1) Make Peace with your Past so it doesn't spoil your Present.
2) What others Think of you is None of your Business.
3) Time Heals Almost Everything, Give Time, Some Time.
4) No one is the Reason of your Happiness Except You yourself.
5) Don't compare your Life with others, you have No idea what their journey is all about.
6) Stop Thinking too much, Its Alright not to know all the Answers.
7) Smile, you don't own all the Problems in the World.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Science of Being Great

I will to share with my readers on the need to remain calm in the face of adversity.

Read this "The calm and balanced mind is the strong and great mind; the hurried and agitated mind is the weak one. Hurry is a manifestation of fear. Fear turns strength to weakness."

My hubby is my idol. He has been telling to keep cool. When I also pick up this trait only a few years ago, I feel that I have better control of my life. That is also when I realise I too have good memory.

Deciding to be great is a habit. Greatness is only attained by constant thinking of great thoughts.

I cannot agree more with what Wallace Wattles had written hundred years ago. But then it is only when the disciple is ready that the teacher appears. With maturity of age, the meaning of life has also become so much clearer to me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What to look out for when buying a property

With so much hype about the Singapore property market, I will like to share with my readers on what to look out for in buying a property. I will like to add a logical dimension when one decides to sign the dotted line.

Why is property investment an attractive proposition?

Singapore is an attractive place for foreigners to buy property for investment. One key reason is that there is currently no capital gain tax (CGT)*. However, Singapore used to have CGT on gains which individuals made from selling properties within three years of purchase in 1996 as a measure to curb speculation in the property market then. The government lifted the rule in 2001.

Another reason that adds to the attractiveness of Singapore is the political stability and legal protection a buyer would enjoy when he purchases a property here.

From wikipedia: "CGT is a tax charged on capital gains, the profit realized on the sale of a non-inventory asset that was purchased at a lower price. The most common capital gains are realized from the sale of stocks, bonds, precious metals and property. Not all countries implement a capital gains tax and most have different rates of taxation for individuals and corporations."

In general, people are also drawn to property purchase as they could have passive income through rental. In addition, they could also leave behind the property as a legacy to their children.

In terms of the amount of money to fork out, it is typically around 20% of the purchase price for the downpayment. Buyers will have to take a loan from financial institution to finance up to 80% of the purchase price with effect from 17 Feb 2010 as the government limits the LTV ratio to 80% (i.e. Loan-to-value from 90% to 80%). They would need to cough out more if the bank decides to offer a lesser loan. As a rule of thumb, a buyer should ensure that his debt-to-service ratio (DSR) is 35% or lower.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Wonderful Team

My Wonderful Team, by Aileen Chua

Bright and beaming.
A bubbling cauldron of good spirits.
In diversity we thrive, teeming with synergy.
In unity we stand, scaling new heights.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Good Writing

I have written a number of posts on good writing. This is yet another. The posts share a common thread that is writer's thought must be coherent. I will usually demand myself to write clearly - meaning, my readers can understand my writing in a single rapid reading.

Of course, having a good command of English will ease the process. So step one is to have clarity in what you want to say. I cannot help you here, but I could share with you some tools to help your ideas flow together logically. These tools are words and phrases which will help you connect your ideas that establish the relationships from one sentence to another. They are also known as transitional markers.

To show:
- again, also, and then, besides, equally important, finally, first/second/third/etc, further, furthermore, in additin, last, likewise, moreover, next, too

Cause and Effect
- accordingly, consequently, hence, in short, then, therefore, thus, truly

- in a like manner, likewise, similarly

- after all, although this may be true, at the same time, even though, I admit, natually, of course

- after all, although true, and yet, at the same time, but, for all that, however, in contrast, in spite of , nevertheless, notwithstanding, on the contrary, on the other hand, still yet

Time relationships
- after a short time, at length, immediately, later, temporarily, afterwards, at that time, lately, presently, thereafter, as long as, before, meanwhile, shortly, thereupon, as soon as, at last, earlier, at the same time, of late, in the meantime, since, soon, until, when, while

Monday, March 12, 2012

Wide Expanse, by Aileen Chua

A wide expanse, opens my mind to new possibilities.
A book in hand, opens the door to new knowledge.
A coffee in hand, preps the mind to welcome a new perspective.
A loved one besides, brings a familiar warmth that goads one forward.
A wide expanse, unlimited possibilities if we just embrace and explore.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Toastmaster:What would men be without women

Advanced Communication Series: The Entertaining Speaker
Project 3: Make Them Laugh
Executive Summary
Humor is an ideal way to attract and hold an audience’s attention. You can also use humor to build rapport, emphasize points, convey a sensitive point, or deal with unexpected incidents that occur during your talk. Humor includes some kind of unexpected twist that pleasantly surprises the audience. Practice delivering the material until you can do so smoothly, pausing before the punch line to create tension.
-        Prepare a humorous speech drawn from your own experience.
-        Strengthen the speech by adopting and personalizing humorous material from outside sources.
-        Deliver the speech in a way that makes the humor effective.
Time: 5 to 7 minutes.

What would men be without women?
Last week, my husband and I went hiking to the Treetop Walk at MacRitchie. For the benefit of the uninitiated, the TreeTop Walk is the first of its kind in Singapore, in Johor Bahru and also in Batam.  Once there, you be at the top of the world, a bird’s eye view of the surrounding.
Before we all get carried away, that’s the marketing part, which is to get you high, at the top of the world. Now, we need to be real, with our feet firmly on the ground.  In order to enjoy the beautiful scenery, one has to trek 4.5 km from the MacRitchie Resevoir Park to the entrance of the TreeTop Walk. 4.5 km equates to 1.5 to 2 hour walk. That’s not all. Unless you live in TreeTop Walk, you will need to walk back to civilization. So add another 4.5 km for a round trip. In total, it is a hike of 9 km or about 4 hours.
So yes, it was a beautiful place but also yes, we had a tiring time. No thanks to my impatient husband who insisted to go faster and faster and even faster. Did he not know the phrase “more haste less speed”?
“Why can’t you go faster” He would hurry me.
Puff, puff [pause] “I can’t… erh, because I am a woman?” I ventured a guess.
“See, I have always told you that men are better than women.” He continued as he took my panting silence as an admission that he was right.
I retaliated by giving him a hard cold stare that must have sent chill right down his spine.
For from my eyes, he must have seen the list of all the unfulfilled promises when he was then my boyfriend. Equal responsibilities in our household expenditure. Equal responsibilities in doing our housework. Equal responsibility in raising our children.
His definition of “Equal” in raising our baby, for example. Our bundle of joy, was his. He would carry, cuddle the baby. Our burden of joy, unfortunately was mine. I would cajole, cater to the every need of the baby.
There was a recent report on fewer women than men in senior leadership position. The data mentioned that there were 3 women for every 8 men at the top.
I salute the few women who have reached the pinnacle of their career. For it is really a mammoth task. For a woman never, ever, really leave the kitchen behind, for each step on the corporate ladder that she advances, her man is pulling her the other leg to remain in the kitchen. Just imagine balancing one leg on the kitchen ladder and the other on the corporate ladder. The higher she limps up the corporate ladder, the more precarious the balance is.
“Ah!!!!” My train of thought was broken by my husband’s loud scream.
Before I knew it, a bunch of monkeys snatched his red plastic bag containing some snacks and water for our trip.
“Oh mine. Who in the right frame of mind will bring a red plastic bag to attract monkeys?” I took the opportunity to rub salt on his predicament.
”What would men be without women?” I sighed.
“Scare, madam, mighty scare." My husband promptly replied.
Back to you Toastmaster of the Day.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Recently, I am reading poems. The lean ones which packed a punch. Enjoy!

Die-you can't do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
In an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here
But nothing is the same.
Nothing's been moved
But there's more space.
And at night-time no lamps are lit.
Wislawa Szymborska

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Just for Fun

There are 2 schools of philosophies:

1. Deontic logic
2. Consequential logic

1st means that it is innate in you e.g. you should not kill another fellow human being. 2nd means that you have to evaluate the consequence - if you do not like the consequence, do not do it.

Consider 2 scenarios:

Scenario 1. A trolley holding 4 people in high speed. To save the 4 people, you can flip a switch to change the track of the trolley but then, there is another man on the other track.

Scenario 2. A trolley holding 4 people in high speed. To save the 4 people, you can choose to push one man to break the speed of the trolley.

Which one should you choose? (you have to choose one)

If you subscribe to deontic logic, you will choose scenario 1. To another who believes in consequential logic, it does not matter.

The analysis will become more complicated if say, your loved one(s) is in the trolley or the man that you are pushing is your significant half.

According to the Economist's Golden Rule (always think of the benefit of the society), you should not let your emotions get the better of you. But who are we kidding?

There was a Nobel prize winner who used the amnesia theory - if you can forget who you are, your decision will always be for the greater good :P

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Math is about clarity in thinking

There was a period of time where I was confused if I had studied the right discipline. Afterall, I had done well enough to be able to choose the popular courses such as accountancy, engineering and such.

Misconception about Mathematicians

After some internal struggles, I decided to follow my heart and did Mathematics. I enjoyed my 4-year study which was such a joy. However, when I graduated, many people thought that mathematicians were just good with numbers. Some even erroneously thought that we could process the computation of more than 10 strings of numbers at a snap of the finger.

Logic thinking is the building block of Math

I was stunned for an explanation. Now, I would say that such misconception is an insult. Math is a study of logic. Logic thinking is the basic building block of math. The more than 10 strings of numbers add up as they follow a set of axioms that are consistent and true. Otherwise, the most powerful supercomputers will have runtime error.

So what is logic thinking? It means rigorous thinking. This statement is an example careless thinking "Life begins at conception because the fertilised egg contains all the information necessary to create an adult human being."

We can represent the 2nd segment "all information necessary to create an adult human being" as the "A" and "B" is "life". Mathematically, the statement above is saying A implies B.

So all genetic information on the fertilised egg fits snugly in a DVD. If I burn that info into a disk, is the disk alive?

Another statement "do no harm". Taken literally, this means "never take any action" because any action runs the risk of doing harm.

Yet another "all dogs have 4 legs. My cat has 4 legs. So my cat is a dog."

Math is all around you

So you see, many situations in life could be converted into a math question and be thought through with logic and rigor. That's why, I love math for its logical clarity, ironclad truth and elegance. That said, it's important to read beyond math. And let your mind run free.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Lord of the far horizons.
Give us the eyes to see.
Tranquility descends.
Bring us the calm we seek.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Perfect Market and Non-Market System

This is a blogpost on the insights I gleaned from the book "The Undercover Economist" by Tim Harford. It is a captivating read and sheds new light on the Economics that I learnt.

Perfect Market is a the world of truth. It is a world where markets are complete, free and competitive. But it is an economist's fantasy. However, this fantasy will help us understand why economic problems arise and also helps us to move in the right direction. So when real-world economies malfunction, we know to look look for the marekt failures - and to do our best to patch them up. Market failures occur due to scarity power, missing information and externality (i.e. decisions that have side effects on bystanders).

Life without markets refer to goods provided outside the market system. An example will be the local police force, which is paid for by a non-market system of taxation. We do not need to pay for the service. It is provided by the government as the government is supposed to afford the same level of protection to the rich and poor.

However, the non-market system also has some disadvantages. You cannot shop around for another police force, if you are not happy with the current one. Neither can you spend more if you will like extra services.

Another example is Government-provided schooling. Due to the absence of pricing, parents line up, haggle and protest. They move to districts with better schools.

The non-market system has the cosy advantage of concealing the fact that the poor don't get the same quality education that the rich do. However, the non-market system suffers from a serious problem: the truth about values, costs and benefits. In a market system the truth will emerage about how much it costs to provide good schools and who would be willing to pay for them.

It seems that there is a willingness to pay for good schools, as we see it emerge because house prices are higher near good schools. So we see that the non-market system channels the money that parents are willing to pay for a good school into the hands of property owners near these schools instead of the schools themselves.

Prices perform two functions, not just one. In a market system, prices provide a way of deciding who gets to enjoy a limited supply of schools - those who are able to pay. This is an uncomfortable state of affairs, which the government-school system is designed to prevent. But prices also give the signal to build more schools, hire more teachers or raise their pay if they are in short supply, and better materials.

In a non-market system, the loss of pricing means a loss of important information. This loss is offset by gains in equality or stability.

Efficiency vs fairness
Let's define efficiency in the context of economics. When economists say the economy is inefficient, they mean that there is a way to make somebody better off without harming anybody else.

While the perfectly competitive market is perfectly efficient, efficiency is not enough to ensure a fair society, or even a society in which we would want to live. That is why, we have taxes and subsidies which are common causes of inefficiency.

This is a good example of why taxation is inefficient.
- Cost of a cuppa of coffee: $1.00
- Price of a cuppa of coffee in perfectly competitive market: $1.00
- Price after tax: $1.10
- Willing to pay for a cuppa of coffee: $1.05
- Coffee sold: none
- Tax raised: zero

There could have been a sale that created 5 cent of efficiency gains but did not happen due to tax. What is worse is that the tax wasn't even paid. If the government were able to waive the tax in such circumstances, they would be no worse off, but the coffee buyer would be better off: a clear efficiency gain.

But it is hard for tax officials to know when to charge the tax and when to waive. In general, taxes are often higher when price-sensitivity is low. E.g. fuel and cigarettes.

So a key question is whether there is a way to make our economies both efficient and fair?

According to eminent economist, Kenneth Arrow, the youngest man ever to win the Nobel Prize for Economics, there is a way. He has proved that all efficient outcomes can be achieved using a competitive market, by adjusting the starting position. We shall term it the "head-start theorem". In essence, the trick is to make lump-sum payments and levying one-time taxes. By so doing, we can give a "head-start" to those who need it so as to put everyone on the same footing. At the same time, it will not blunt the incentive for anyone to work hard as in the case of taxation thereby continuing the state of efficient economy.

However one will have to be judicious in the application of the "head-start theorem". A practical example could be used to prevent elderly people from getting cold in winter, without damaging the environment. This could be in the form of giving money to the pensioners. Some may use the money to insulate their homes. Those who did not feel the cold in the first place can spend the money on other things. Nobody will burn extra fuel unless they need to.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

On Writing

I am reading "The Big Question" by Steven E Landsburg. I will like to share what Landsburg has to say about writing as follows:

"The bane of a college professor's existence is that the student who has been taught a writing course that there is such a thing on good writing, independent of having something to say.


If your writing is murky, it is usually because your thinking is murky, too. The solution for that is not a series of writing exercises, it is to master your subject matter.


In my decades of writing for magazines and newspaper, I have written some pretty strong columns and some pretty weak ones. In nearly every case, the weak ones were weak because I hadn't nailed down the logical structure of my argument. A good column comes, almost always from translating a logical argument into mathematics, filling a pad of paper with calculations to ensure that the argument is solid, burning the mathematics and translating my understanding into prose, is the easy part. Prose flows easily when you understand what you are saying. If you are struggling to "craft" your prose, your are probably confused."

Do ponder on what Landsburg has said. In fact, I have that exact same question way back in the mid-1990s, but to share with you now, will be to rob you of the opportunity to think. And yes, no prize for guessing correctly that Landsburg is a mathematician.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Speech Writing Course

I was packing my bookshelves when I chanced upon the notes on speech writing course which I have attended in 2009. I thought it would be good to share with my toastmaster friends. Here are the tips.

Objectives of a Speech
First, consider the objectives of the speech. Usually, a speech falls into one or more of the four categories - 1) inspire thinking; 2) stir feelings; 3) motivate action; and/or 4) provide information.

So what are the qualities of a good speech?
1. Meet the objectives
2. Well-organised
3. Interesting
4. Passionate
5. Precise and concise
6. Persuasive

It will be good that the speech is also humorous, relevant, easily understood and memorable.

In a nutshell, a good speech is one that is 1) easy to follow and understand; 2) achieve its objectives; and 3) memorable.

When we are drafting a speech, we need to bear in mind tht the attention span of audience is short and getting shorter. There is an audience beyond the one in front of the speaker - such as the media (TV/ newspaper).

That sounds intimidating. Fret not, to navigate the thouroughfare of speech writing, we can follow the following process closely.
1. Determine the message (e.g. staff conference?)
2. Consider the audience
3. Think about the person delivering the speech (if the person is not you)
4. Collect informaton and organise it into about 5 points and rank them.
5. Start from point 1, then 5. Move on to 3, then 4 and finally point 2.
6. Link points with smooth transitions, e.g. meanwhile, 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc
7. Write the conclusion then introduction
8. Work on a sound bite (sound bite refers to the "boxed-up text" in the newspaper, usually it is a quotation, it's short 1 sentence or at most 2 sentences. They are important and expressed in a nice and stylised way.
9. Review conclusion and introduction
10. Have someone deliver it and assess how it flows.

Tips to consider
1. Alliteration (e.g. fast and furious)
2. Anedotes
3. Antithesis (e.g. "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." Martin Luther King, Jr., speech at St. Louis, 1964)
4. Call to action
5. Contrasts
6. Conversation English (read Bill Gates' speeches)
7. Definitions
8. Humor with care
9. Quotations
10. Repetition
11. Rhetorical questions
12. Rounded-off figures
13. Short sentences
14. Set of threes
15. Similies (same in some aspect usually 1 - he eats like a pig, life is like a journey) and metaphors (same in everywhere). E.g. Passion is like fuel in the rocket, it propels the rocket to greater heights.
16. Simple words
17. Sound bites
18. Statistics - to use sparringly
19. Transitions
20. Vivid imagery

- Cliches (expression that is no longer fresh. e.g. at this mount in time, without further ado, last but not least, we work 24/7, on that note. Instead use finally, let me end my speech...) and platitudes (sentences that say something that is true but people have heard it so many times. e.g. Change is the only constant).

Writing the introduction
- You have 15 seconds to capture the attention of audience (most important)
- You never get second chance to make a good first impression
- Write the intro towards the end
- Possible introductions include - a provocative quotation, a vivid anecdote, a thought provoding question or a startling statistics

Writing the conclusion
- Repeat your main point more emphatically (you want them to retain that one point. e.g. Let me end my speech by emphasizing/ repeating this very important point/ by leaving you with the thoughts of...)
- If appropriate, call for action
- Possible conclusions include a rhetorical question, or an appropriate quotation e.g. is that the kind of world you want to live in?

Remember there are two aspects - 1. what to say (contents) and 2. how to say (method)

Monday, January 23, 2012

How Long is a Piece of String

This blogpost is more on the book "How long is a piece of string?" by Rob Eastaway and Jeremy Wyndham.

About the book

The book is about the hidden mathematics of everyday life. This title is for anyone wanting to remind themselves - or discover for the first time - that maths is relevant to almost everything we do. Get-rich-quick scams, blind dates, taxi meters and many others have links with intriguing mathematical problems that are explained in this book.

How Long is a Piece of String

With my interest piqued by the title of book, I did some internet searches to find out the meaning of the phrase. "How long is a piece of string" is an idiom. The website provided the most straightforward answer as follows:

If someone has no idea of the answer to a question, they can ask 'How long is a piece of string?' as a way of indicating their ignorance.

However, it did not capture adequately the mathematical aspects of the phrase, which appears to have done well as follows:

Intrinsically a piece of string has length but that length is unknown hence the
: the phrase 'how long is a piece of string' means that the quantitative answer is not known and there is an implicate understanding that the answer will be difficult to find given the information available.

How Do Conmen Get Rich

Let's move on to the articles in the book. Today, I will like to share more about the second article, how do conmen get rich, which reminds me of the phrase "when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is".

In particular, the football con detailed the experience of George Tindle, a football fan who was being sent many free tips on which football team will win in the coming match. As it turned out, the scam was deceptively simple.

To start with 8,000 emails were sent out to people known to have some sort of interest in football. All possible outcomes were being sent to different recipents. For example in the first match between Team A and B, there would be 4,000 emails "predicting" Team A as the winner and the remaining 4,000 emails betting Team B. Of course, 4,000 would be "right", while the other half would delete the email and think no more about it. This is repeated for the next match. Due to the sheer size of emails in the start point, there would still be a few hundreds around 5 rounds. 250 to be exact (you could work out the math but that is not the point) and they would be immensely impressed so much so that some would be willing to hand over money to the organiser in exchange for a "good tip".

This concept reminded me of what Malcolm Gladwell shared in his article "Blowing Up". The relevant excerpt is reproduced as follows:

For Taleb, then, the question why someone was a success in the financial marketplace was vexing. Taleb could do the arithmetic in his head. Suppose that there were ten thousand investment managers out there, which is not an outlandish number, and that every year half of them, entirely by chance, made money and half of them, entirely by chance, lost money. And suppose that every year the losers were tossed out, and the game replayed with those who remained. At the end of five years, there would be three hundred and thirteen people who had made money in every one of those years, and after ten years there would be nine people who had made money every single year in a row, all out of pure luck. Niederhoffer, like Buffett and Soros, was a brilliant man. He had a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago. He had pioneered the idea that through close mathematical analysis of patterns in the market an investor could identify profitable anomalies. But who was to say that he wasn't one of those lucky nine? And who was to say that in the eleventh year Niederhoffer would be one of the unlucky ones, who suddenly lost it all, who suddenly, as they say on Wall Street, "blew up"?

I hope I have convinced you that mathematics is everywhere and we can apply it in our day-to-day life as long as we make an effort to do so. Do it, it's FUN!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


The dictionary definition of serendipity is "pure luck in discovering things you were not looking for". Scientifically, it is explained as the very short period of time whereby our brain neurons "go out of sync", most of the time however, our brain neurons are in the lock-in phase.

You may have times whereby you are stuck in a rut when you are trying very hard to solve a problem. Then you take a break, maybe have leisure walk in the park or in my case, hit out at the gym. Eureka moment strikes. That is serendipity! Hold it, is there such good luck in life?

Being a mathematician, I think one needs to be very, very lucky to have that and I will seek out the truth behind before agreeing to such statements. I found my answer yesterday while reading the book by Steven Johnson's "Where Good Ideas Come from".

What happens is the collision of existing ideas in our brain and making new connections that enable us to have the ah-ha moments. So if you have to increase the "hit-rate" of such ah-ha moments, you will have to absorb new ideas from the outside world.

As Johnson shared, reading remains as an unsurpassed vehicle for the transmission of interesting new ideas and perspective. We can block out time to read around the edges of our work schedule, listen to audio books during the morning commute hours. One problem with assimilating new ideas at the fringes of daily routine is that the potential combinations are limited by the reach of our memory. For example, if you take 2 weeks to finish a book, you may have forgotten much of it when you get to read the next book. Furthermore, if you immense in a single author's perspective, it is harder to create serendipity collision between ideas of multiple authors.

One suggestion is to read many books by different authors at the same time. I read that Bill Gates will carve out dedicated periods - in the form of annual reading vacation - where he would read a large and varied collections of books and essay, much of which are unrelated to the day-to-day operation of Microsoft.

For ordinary people like you and me, we could not afford such luxury, so my suggestion is to read many books/ magazines at one go. At the same time, train our memory. Yes, you can good memory! If you are interested to know how, you can read the following article on "Do you have good memory" by Nishant Kasibhatla. Thanks to my asociation with the Toastmasters' Club, I have the great fortune to meet and see Nishant in action. He is a Grand Master of Memory at The World Memory Championships and the CEO of Memory Vision - The Memory Training Company.

Do You have Good Memory, Nishant Kasibhatla

Can you remember any information fast? Can you recall information whenever you want?
If your answer for the above questions is "No" or "sometimes", then you need to know about the 3 stumbling blocks of memory improvement. Just the awareness of these blocks would also help you in a great way. So what are thee blocks?
1. Disbelief
Most people have an "amazing level" of disbelief on their memory capacity that they don't even try to memorise new information.
If I write a 50-digit number and ask anyone to memorize, I usually get some great answers like:
"You mean the whole 50 digit number? "I think I will never be able to do it" "Come again. Memorize what?" "It will take an year for me" etc
Well, I do not find fault with any of the above responses. But what is interesting to note is that no one wants even to try it. What causes such disbelief in people in their memory power? The simple answer is "lack of awareness".
Your brain is the most amazing machine on the planet. If you train your brain, nothing is impossible. Make sure you give your memory it's true value.
Many people brag about their memory, but don't do anything to make it good. You just can't wish to improve your memory. You need to act. You have to give your memory a good workout.
The next time you want to memorise anything, just make a committed effort to memorize it. Believe that you can do it. You will be surprised with the result.
2. Disinterest
You know that interest plays a vital role in the process of memory. If you have to memorise any information, YOU HAVE TO BE INTERESTED IN IT!
If you don't, then it will be difficult to memorize it. Trying to memorize information, without getting interested in it, is a great way to waste your precious time.
Try to find out ways and means of making the information fun to learn. Try to find an expert on that information and discuss the topic with him. The expert can explain the same information in a way you could never think of. Well, that's why he is an expert!
Remember this: If the information is not interesting enough, it's your duty to make sure it is interesting.
3. Disuse
The fastest way to forget information is to not use it in your day-to-day life. Research indicates that people forget about 80% of the new information they learn in as less as 24 hours. Unbelievable, isn't it? To stop this loss of information, you have use the information you learn as much as possible.
Some ideas are:
1. Teach the information to someone else.
2. Discuss the points with your peers.
3. Write a summary in your own words.
4. Write an article about it!
5. Think how can you teach it to any 5 years old kid.
Memory improvement is not possible unless you kick the three stumbling blocks out of your way. Eliminating these blocks early on in the process of memorizing can save you a mighty amount of time and mental energy.
Coming out of the traps of disbelief, disinterest and disuse is you first step to memory improvement. It's easy. If only you take action.Nishant Kasibhatla is a Grand Master of Memory at The World Memory Championships. He is the CEO of Memory Vision - The Memory Training Company.

Article Source:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Can I trust what I read in papers?

I am almost done with the book "How long is a piece of string" by Rob Eastaway and Jeremy Wyndham. However, the final chapter is so appealing that I zoomed head in to immerse myself in the magical word of mathematics.
Though sharing of the key points put forth by the authors, I hope to have also rubbed off some zest for maths on you. So much so that you would also pick up this wonderful book and read.
Maths is Magic
The final chapter is about magic. This is the magic of the spin doctor, and his props are numbers.
Spin doctors help all sorts of people to manipulate the truth, but most often they are associated with politicians. Recall what Mark Twain has once said "There are lies, damned lies and statistics."
The aim of such spin is usually to make information sound better than it actually is. Numbers play a crucial role in this, taking advantage of the public's general discomfort with maths and their consequent reluctance to challenge the figures. It turns out, too, that numbers can be surprisingly helpful as a flexible tool in helping you to say what you want to say.
Below are some of the tricks:
1) Making something out of nothing - E.g. last year's sales was $500K and this year's sale was $515K. Public relations department could easily declare an increase in revenue by 3%, which ignores inflation. As it turns out, ignoring inflation is probably one of the most common sleights of hand used by spin doctors, and passed on to the public without challenge.
2) Double-counting, or turning one into two - The book quoted the example of so-called double-counting escapade of the Labour government where the Education Secretary, then David Blunkett, announced a whopping $19 billion increase in spening on schools. Given that the total amount spent per year at the time was $38 billion, it was an impressive increase by 50%.
However, there was more than met the eye. As it turned out, it was the way the politician interpreted the figures over 3 years from 1998 to 2001. The total amount spent in 1998 was $38 billion and was to increase to $41 billion in 1999, $44.5 billion in 2000 and $47.5 billion in 2001. So the increase in 1999 was $3 billion (or $41 billion - $38 billion). As for the increase in 2000, it was with reference to Year 1998 i.e. $6.8 billion. Likewise for 2001 which worked out to be $9.5 billion. The total increase was obtained by adding up the increases each year - a whopping $19 billion. 
Sounds gibberish? You bet it is. 
3) Making something smaller and bigger at the same time. Here is another very useful prop for performing the spin doctor's magic - percentages.
First spin doctor - Last year, the price of coffee went up by only 2%. This year it has gone up by 3% - that's an increase of only 1%, which is quite reasonable given the poor crop this year.
Second spin doctor - Not at all. If it went up by 2% last year, and 3% this year, that means it has gone up by 50%.
4) Use averages to make everyone feel better - or worse. One can also pull off a lot of tricks with averages. The whole concept of what "average" means is a slippery one, bandied about by politicians with little respect for its subtleties. Just remember, average masks differences.
5) Missing the big picture.  Another ploy of a good conjuror is to make you concentrate on a small part of what is going on so that you completely miss something else. This is about graph plotting by magnifying small differences through selective presentation of figures.
6) Blind them with science. Finally, there is the mesmersing bit of chicanery that leaves the audience saying, "Wow, I have no idea how they do that!" One way to keep out prying eyes is to send out the message, "We are so clever, it's not even worth trying to understand what we do".
A standard way of doing this is to make simple things complicated, with the implication that complicated = sophisticated. The truth is, of course, that complicated often means no more than muddled thinking.
In Conclusion
A lot of maths is extremely difficult. That's what we do in the varsity. But most of the maths needed for everyday life is not. In fact, an understanding of maths can have all sorts of benefits: it can stimulate curiosity, it can answer those questions that bug us all the time, it can improve decision-making, and it can help to settle arguments.
I think this final chapter tells us that the most important role of maths in everyday life is it can help to prevent us from being conned, defrauded, misled and otherwise ripped off. There is nothing that spin doctors would like more than a generally innumerate society, so that can be fed exactly the numbers they want to feed us.
With maths, it is possible to fight back.