Busy learning parseltongue, and tying a ribbon

I’ve been so busy the last few days that I didn’t have time to blog. Yah… there have been things that have happened that have made me want to rant – Orlando shooting, the fact that some people think that it’s staged, what MDA did to Les Miserables, etc etc etc. But… no time.

What have I been busy with? Many things.

It’s like all of a sudden everything starts to pop up to fill my calendar. It all started when I decided that I should learn a new skill. I decided on language. And I thought it would be cool if I could be a parseltongue. For those of you who haven’t read or watched or heard anything about Harry Potter… where have you been?! I encourage you to read the books. Especially the first four.

I digress. In the Harry Potter books, parseltongue is the language of serpents. And the protagonist and antagonist of the books both speak parseltongue.

HarryParseltongue

Harry Potter talking to a snake using parseltongue. Image credits via Harry Potter Wikia

So I decided to learn it! Exactly which language of the serpents? Python!

python

Ok. I jest. I don’t aspire to speak to snakes. I decided to learn programming. And Python is as good a programming language to start as any other. So I started doing the online introduction to computing course on Udacity. I was quite skeptical at the start. But having gone through about 80% of the course now, I must say that it’s quite well structured. They don’t throw you in the deep end. While the tasks get progressively more challenging, the lessons are very well scaffolded. The discussion forum helps heaps too!

The problem with learning Python is that I can get addicted to it. I can keep going and going and going. It gets worse if the set task is challenging. Then I would just keep at it until I solve it. And if I get one of those tasks at night, I won’t be able to sleep until I get it done. Very disruptive. So now I try not to go to the website after 8pm.

Other than that, I think it’s really a good introduction to programming. The course doesn’t just tell you what to do. It also explains the computational thinking behind why certain things are done in certain ways. If you are interested to find out more about programming, I strongly recommend doing this introduction to computing course on Udacity.

Just as I started doing this course, I also started another… I suppose I can call it a project. You see… I am very critical of many things. That’s why I started this blog. To rant. But I have also always resolved not to just rant, not to just be an armchair critic. I am realistic about how much positive change ranting can bring. I don’t just want to talk and talk but not do. Or worse. Talk and talk and then act and do something completely differently.

Like… you know… what they found out in that survey. That Singaporeans support the idea of inclusion, but don’t actually walk the talk. Granted. That survey was about kids with special needs. But I’m pretty sure we would get the same results for surveys on other issues – senior citizens, ex-offenders, people with disability, whatever. We think it’s a good thing. That Singapore should be inclusive blah blah blah… But just not in my backyard.

nimby singapore

Remember the furore not too long ago about the location of a nursing home?

I think we should do our best to avoid such hypocrisy. So I have always tried to be involved in actually doing things that I believe would make a positive change. However small that positive change may be is besides the point. I do whatever I can. Thankfully, I have a group of really amazing friends who are amazingly public-spirited and give of themselves generously. So through them, it’s easy to get opportunities to contribute.

My good friend, Patrick, runs a very successful business. He has five employees. Four of them have spent many years in prison. Not too long ago, Patrick found out that one of his staff, AL, actually did quite well for PSLE. But things, for various reasons, went downhill in secondary school. AL didn’t finish his secondary school education. He ended checking in an out of prison numerous times for over a decade. But, at 30 now, AL has decided that he wants to turn his life around.

So Patrick came up with a crazy idea – help AL get into university. Patrick asked me if I can help teach AL Physics. Of course I agreed. There are other people who have been roped in to teach other subjects, and support in many ways. It’s not easy. AL’s foundation is very weak. His math is… hmm… A month ago, he had to be reminded how to solve this:

2x + 5 = 15

He had forgotten what standard form was. He had forgotten how to read graphs (let alone plot them…). So there’s much work that needs to be done.

The good thing is that AL’s really quite intelligent. He can see patterns quite fast. And the best part is that there’s a whole team of people involved. That’s really heartwarming. Good to know that not all Singaporeans are self-serving, self-centered, hypocrites who say one thing do another. And that there are Singaporeans who care enough to go out of their way to do things to help. At least restores some of my faith in humanity.

So. Have been busy. But happily so. Maybe this is the legendary flow that Mihály Csíkszentmihályi talks about.

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