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I am the "IBM Collaboration & Productivity Advisor" for IBM Asia Pacific. I'm based in Singapore.
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Uncle Pitt promised us a robot, but what is this?

Escaped from snowy Europe my old friend and partner Peter de Waard visited us for XMas in Singapore. To get the boys exited we announced that Pitt will bring them a real robot. In disbelieve they looked at the box after ripping it open:
CT Robot assembly kit
Luckily curiosity isn't in short supply when you are 10 years old and the world is your cupcake. After seeing where it might end they started bogging their grandfather to teach them how to solder (luckily he is a retired electrician) and are looking forward to bring that CT Bot to live. They even might pick-up some German along the way.


Teaching - Singapore style

As an "engaged parent" I spend some time with the teachers from CHS to understand how teaching in Singapore works and what's in store for their eLearning initiative. Last year Singapore's Ministry of Education (MOE) decided to roll out Google Apps for Education for the teachers. When I see my gentlemen working they log into Google docs too. However task assignement and full utilization seems to lack. So I got the, very approchable CHS teachers to explain how learning in Singapore works:
Cascading learning in Singapore
The MOE defines the curriculum to be covered by the schools for Primary and Secondary Education and so on. It also breaks that curriculum down into the years (nicely referenced in this booklet) and also publishes (AFAIK only for teacher consumption) a break down into 40 module recommendations how to structure a learning year. I really like their syllabus section for the richness of content, but would love if that information would be available in machine consumable formats (DocBook, DITA, XML etc.) so individual learning items could be cross referenced.
Armed with the 40 module recommendations and the list of approved text books the teachers of each school coordinated by their respective head of department devise the various learning units and how to deliver them (duration, teaching and interaction methods). The individual teacher then breaks out assignments that might be eLearning modules, delivered in class, teamwork or classical homework. It is then up to the student to deliver while the teacher tracks and grades the results.
An learning solution that improves the learning delivery needs to tie back into this flow. Ultimately MOE will need to go ahead and turn the curriculum into something that can be deep linked. Currently MOE is working with Jotterlab to provide eLearning for the schools. They plan to start with the new school year with a pilot. You can follow them on Twitter or keep updated on their blog. I'm curious how they will incorporate modern learning sources like the Khan Academy, The Open Textbook Repository, cK12 Flexbooks or COSTP (There are many more, I'll cover them in due time). Also interesting will be how they include the Singapore Tuition Industry and stack up against their competitors like Grokit.


Visualize using Mindmaps

Mindmaps are an incredible tool to collect and share thoughts on any topic in a very compact and comprehensive format. Just look at the sample Ernest did for Water (his current topic in science):
Mindmap about water, click for a larger version
He used iMindmap which has the most natural look from all mindmap software offerings I've seen so far (and is available on Win, Linux, Mac and iPad). It is the commercial offering of Tony Buzan who claims the invention of mindmapping. If you like eProductivity, you might want to look at MindManager, which is primarily Windows (there's a Mac version that's usually behind and there's no Linux version) and can be imported into eProductiviy. Notes user will find MindPlan intriguing. It is available on all Notes client platforms, can show data in MindMaps and Gannt charts and uses NSF as its storage engine. Sharing and collaborating on MindPlan is a breeze. For fans of OpenSource there is FreeMind also available on many platforms. A very different approach is used by The Brain, which allows to dynamically navigate the map and put any topic into the center. Once you are ready to get frequent updates on what's up in the mindmapping software scene, subscribe to the Mindmapping software blog.


Happy Birthday Anthony and Ernest

10 years ago the biggest adventure of my life started. It is still on and I'm still learning.
Anthony and Ernest on their 10th birthday
Happy birthday Anthony and Ernest!
Being a geek dad we celebrate with the appropriate present and stuff to chill out afterwards.


Change of Schedule

Today is the first day in Primary 3 for Anthony and Ernest. The past two years they had the luxury to have school in the afternoon. This has changed. They have to get up at 6am to be ready for the bus picking them up at 6:45 (SWMBO insists on sending them by bus, I would put them on their bikes). So from now on I'll get up at 6am too. I'll see how that will change my daily schedule.


40 students in the class room

The school year in Singapore is over. Anthony and Ernest are home until January. Their results were good, so they will go to the two top classes. Our school admits the top 80 students into two classes with a wider and deeper curriculum. So there will be forty students in a class. 40 is a good solid number. Jesus went to the dessert for 40 days, Ali Baba had to deal with 40 robbers and it is just two short of the answer to all question of the universe.
But 40 nine year old kids in one room deems me a little high. So I did a little research. Dr. Ng Eng Hen (Minister for Education) quoted a study published by McKinsey in September 2007 entitled "How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top". According to his quote there seems to be no significant relation between class sizes and results (only 9 out of 112 studies found a positive effect). The key supposed to be the quality of the teachers. While I fully agree with the importance of teacher quality, I do have some doubt on the class size findings. The result could be a victim of a lack of ceteris paribus: When the size of a class is reduced, more teachers are needed. Since more teachers are needed, less qualified teachers are hired. Less qualified teachers lower the results. It would be interesting to take 3 equally qualified and experienced teachers and let them teach 3 classes: one with 40 and two with 20 students each and then compare. I would want to make a bet here <g>. Of course that doesn't solve the "where are all the highly qualified teachers for all that many (small) classes" question. A studyfocusing on 3rd grade entitled "Teachers’ Training, Class Size and Students’ Outcomes" and published in 2008 comes to a radical different conclusion:"the effect of class size is substantial and significant, a smaller class size improves similarly all students’ reading test scores within a class". The study confirms that the teachers' training is equally significant.
There are quite some opinions out there: 19, 24, 25 (With a legal maximum of 33) or 35 . A very promising sounding study by Neville Bennettwas behind $$$. Bennett seems to be quite an authority on the topic of learning. The question is widely debated and I can't fend of that nagging feeling that most of the studies' results are subject to the Experimenter's bias effect. I found evidence that two studies both quoted an earlier, third, study as evidence for their respective opposite conclusion. I've taught classes of different ages (12-70) and different sizes (3-30) myself and I don't think 40 is good for learning. So maybe Singapore's outstanding results are the result of world class tuition rather than than the school system.


Bedtime stories

One of the parential duties I take quite serious is bed time story reading. Serious because it is so much fun. Unfortunately traveling all over Asia Pacific makes progress sometimes slow. We started with picture books, small stories that fit onto a few pages and on to whole books that took quite a while to digest. We digested a few classics like "fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm" and "The Thousand Nights and One Night" as well as some more special stuff. In no particular order this is what we read until today: We are now considering: Jules Verne, Pratchett/Gaiman: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch or Diana Wynne Jones: Howl's Moving Castle.

What do you read to your kids?


Explaining the human condition to an eight year old

Anthony told me: "Ernest has a girl friend now". Both have visited the Singapore Science Center multiple times to mavel at the sequence how new babies grow in a mother womb. So I felt it is time to sort a few things out with them along the lines: daddy explains how the world works. Before diving into the biological details (which I think would be a bit early) I felt explaining the confusion of feelings and finding a vocabulary would be important. I found a good starting point in the book Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different - And How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men which talks about the difference between, Like, Lust and Love. So it put that into a picture.
We agreed that Like and Love is easy and that the grown-ups make a big huh-hah around everything remotely connected to Lust and that each of these three feelings has a place in the body. We also agreed that since the grown-ups make all this huh-hah it can't be that big a deal and that we will do more research into that topic when they are older. Also the three feelings are very different in nature. Like can exist on it's own, while Love mostly builds on Like (unless you got a broken heart). I didn't emphasis on "Lust can stand alone" that would be subject to later research. And once you find someone where you feel all three strongly, you want to be with that person for a very long time. "Is this why you stay with Momy?" Ernest asked. "Yes my son, this is why" I answered and with a smile Ernest went to sleep.


Boxing Day - Chinese Edition

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of you!

Our boxing day will start of as "Chinese Boxing" day, commonly also known as Wushu. About a year ago I signed Anthony and Ernest up for a Wushu class at our community center. When filling in the form Ernest challenged me: "Daddy what is it about that role model thing?". He got me there. So I asked the lady attending to us what the age limit for the lessons would be. "Seven and above" was her answer. I smiled: "OK, sign me up". She was puzzled: "But sir, they are all children!". I replied: "I'm a child at heart, so I'll be fine". So I ended up with 15 short ones and a teacher half my age. With a big smile I greeted him: "Lao she hao". Lao in Chinese means "old". The course turned out to be great fun and after a while more parents and finally unrelated adults joined in, so we are a fully mixed troupe now.
So far our training was limited to once a week on Sunday evening 7:30-9:30pm (yep, I don't travel on Sundays anymore). Today we are leaving for our first training camp. Two and a half days end to end training in technique, strength, endurance and fun. The goalpost is set.


There is no lesson in victory

Ernest is following his late grandfather Ernst in his passion for chess. So today he participates a chess tournament organized by our Nee Soon South community club. When walking to the venue I encouraged him to battle well and also reassured him, that participating is more important than winning. He looked at me and said: "Dad, there is no lesson in victory but a thousand in defeat". That before 8am
And 8am is so not his time.


But I want to play Linux, Daddy!


One thing, besides the action and tranquility of the Loola Resort I specifically like is their inclusion of their social environment. While the resort initially was incepted by an European, it is run and progressed by local people. Furthermore the resort serves as an anchor point for charitable work. They take in computers and refurbish and distribute them to local schools to improve computer literacy. Since we have the Mac mini and the ThinkPad I decided to donate the two Ubuntu boxes. I moved all the data to our NAS and off the boxes went. (Of course the harddisks had a little treatment before installing the latest and greatest.
Today Ernest realized that the desktops were gone. I explained what happened, which seemed to please him. However he then stated: "But I want to play Linux Daddy, you better put Linux on the Mac!". Parallels anyone?


Story reading time

Trying to be a good dad I read to Anthony and Ernest when I'm not traveling. We did the Narnia Chronicles, The Time Apprentice, The series of Unfortunate Events, Neil Gaiman's Stardust (which was a challenge, since there are quite some adult passages in the book) and some smaller titles. Since daddy had to buy Harry Potter #7 I suggested to read all the volumes to them. When we pick a book to read, I usually pick 2 or three and let Anthony and Ernest choose which one they like better. This time I offered Harry Potter #1 and The Celestine Prophecy. After flipping a few pages Anthony insisted to read the prophecy which made me smile, since the book was part of the reading and discussion material for my counsellor training. It means quite a bit to me.
Actually I was quite sceptical if they boys would enjoy the story. However they could recall very well what happened and insisted to continue despite my offer to switch to Harry. So the experiment goes on. I'm curious how much of the book will be comprehended by two 7 year old minds.


C-Jump replies

I've dropped Igor from C-Jump a short message pointing to my blog entry about the game. Today came his reply:

Dear Stephan, Anthony, and Ernest!

To Anthony and Ernest:
For many years I was working as a computer programmer. I did like my job and even told my Boss one day that programming was fun and a little bit like playing a game. My Boss smiled back at me and asked to never tell something like that to our customers, who were paying big bucks for programs which we wrote. I hope he can now see the picture of two six year old guys from Singapore and know that there is nothing to be afraid of to say "programming is like playing a game"!

To Stephan the Geekiest Dad in the World:
At this point Anthony + Ernest = 12 years old! If you've waited till BOTH of them are 11+ to play c-jump that would be too late! Right move!

Our entire team sends our greetings, smiles and HUGE THANK YOU for being such a great customers!

Truly yours,


Igor Kholodov

C-jump Factory
346 Washington St. PMB# 224
Braintree, MA 02184

Certainly made our day! Can't wait until he comes up with a board game about object oriented programming!


Fracture take one

We have a few danger points in our household: a bunk bed, jumping exercises with daddy, newly found cycling skills, a curiosity about skate boards. However a fall from a 35cm sofabed opened the fracture season for Ernest. A visit to the local hospital (setting us back SGD 65, including the X-rays) brought him his first plaster cast on the right arm.
Ernest with his first cast
His biggest concern now is that mummy would not let him go onto the one day camping trip with the kindergarten.


Take a C-Jump

Being a proper Geek-Dad I want my kids to be initiated to the dark side of computers (a.k.a. making software instead of just using it) if possible. They are now 6 years and it is time to get them started. From my own teaching experience I know the biggest stumbling block for novice programmers are basics like variables and flow of control. If one would know about if, else, while, switch, continue and break before you start coding things would be much easier.
Researching on that matter I came across the board game C-Jump. The game resembles a ski race where you move your figures down the hill throwing a dice to figure out the distance. The special effect are the instructions printed on every field. After throwing your dice you have a look and find things like x++; 6-x; if (x==4). You replace x with the number just thrown and off you go.
The game is classified as 11+ years, so trying it on Anthony and Ernest seemed a bit ambitious. So I took refuge in building up suspense. The game isn't available in Singapore, so I had to order it from the US. I showed Anthony and Ernest the website (they love to surf with me) and explained, that this is a fun game we will buy. They helped me to fill in the online order form and watched the mailbox for the big packet from America every day.

Daddy we c-Jump

Finally it arrived and I had to explain the rules. We played two rounds. After that Anthony and Ernest were eagerly explaining to Mummy how the game goes and that ++ actually stands for +1 and that switch works together with case and that nevermind if you don't have a case number because there is default.

All in all we had good fun and the board game C-Jump made it straight into my favourite games list. For seasoned programmers you can use it too, you just need to introduce a handicap in the form of sufficient beers <g>.


Got a bike - want to travel!

My new bike

Over the weekend Anthony figured out how to ride a bicycle. Ernest needs to play a little catch up and is well on his way. Since the old bikes were quite small we got "shiny new" bikes for them (less then 45 EUR a pair). In the evening Anthony stated, much to his mothers horror: "Now that I know how to ride a bicycle, I want to ride everywhere!". Well at his age I used to ride to school with the bicycle nearly every day. Then the traffic was much less and I wasn't a overprotected (?) Singapore kid.


Three Generations

3 generations
Anthony - Stephan - Ernst
Cheek, eyes, smile


Lederhosen Singapore Style

Ernest and Anthony in Lederhosen

The Kindergarden had it's Song and Dance event. Coincidential Anthony and Ernest had to dress up in "Lederhosen".


TV cutback

I'm not a TV fan despite working there before. I sometimes spend mindless hours trying to relax. So I try to limit access (... and lead us not into temptation style..). However we have had Cable TV. Hallmark, Disney, Discovery, National Geographics, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and others came in the family package. Until Sunday. Then Ida had the sudden insight, that the kids spent too much time in front of the TV and that Ernest's eyesight seems worsening. So since Monday, gone is the decoder, we are a cable pay-TV free household. Some basic channels remain, so its not close to last time, but a good start.


Daddy, bored I am - home I want go

Anthony and Ernest like to watch the Starwars cartoon series, so we thought treating them to Episode III. Being just 5 it would be a bit borderline. Their verdicts were clear: half way (the popcorn just ran out), when the dialogues were meaning.... (fill in your own blanks) unfolding Ernest stated: "I'm bored I want to go". Anthony fully agreed. Luckily Ida didn't care that much, so I could sit until the end.
Combat was great, special effects stunning, story plot so so and the dialogues --- well Padme was cute as ever.


It is "make your own caption" time!



Beyblade for beginners

Japanese and Korean toy makers follow an unique (or would be uniform the right word?) approach to push their toys to the market: create the TV comic series together with the toy and let kids pressure parents after adopting one of the comic characters as (luckily temporary) role model: Pokemon, Gundam Seed, Beyblade, Grand Seizures, Ultraman, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers -- you name it.
Yesterday I had to give in <g> on a year long pressure to buy beyblades. When they came out here (1-2 years ago) entry level pricing was at 30 dollars, which is now down to three, so the damage was controllable (Make your pick: Ice-cream or Beyblade). The fun thing: beyblades need assembly. As you see in the instructions above, this was well described for a non Kanji reading person <g>.


The NO-TV experiment.

I have to plead guilty as charged when it comes to the question: Are your kids watching too much TV? Anthony and Ernest have their daily dose of Playhouse Disney, Kids Central and Discovery channel. Last week Ernest was diagnosed with Myopia (short sightedness). Myopia is epidemic here in Singapore (too much books too little play outside?).This was a wake-up call to follow my own ideas about too much TV.
Tonight, when the twins return from school, the TV will be gone and we will test for about two weeks the impact of the TV free environment. I know I'll miss my Startreck rerun <g>. If it works out both our local cable operator as well as the TV shop will loose a customer.


10 Simple Rules for Dating my Sons

Eric did publish rules to date his daughter. Since I'm blessed (or was the word cursed?) with sons only, I had to put up the rules for dating them. While it is still a bit early for them to enter the mating-and-dating game, I think knowing the rules well in advance helps a lot.

We are a modern family. We live in the 21st century. We like self-confident people. We like people who's every day face shows a radiant smile. We pity people who think they need to follow certain patterns instead of being themselves. We like the open minded, cheerful, passionate and authentic being. Human or extra-terrestrial doesn't matter to us.

So if you like one of my boys, make the first move!

Rule 1
It is totally OK if you come and pick up one of my boys. You earn bonus points if you do so in your mom's (or dad's) Ferrari. Don't drive an SUV, unless you invite him to a true off-road adventure.

Rule 2
They are twins. So make sure you try them both and provide an adequate friend for the other one. It doesn't harm to bring your older sister (or young mom) to entertain me.

Rule 3
We are a very cosy family. If you want to hug and kiss they boys in front of me, feel free to do so. However the house rules require that you hug and kiss me too.

Rule 4
If you want to stay over night, that is OK with us. Make sure you stick with the house rules: only very light dresses. Silk Spaghetti tops are en vogue right now. If you are not sure what to wear, you can ask me for a lingerie allowance and I'll go shopping with you.

Rule 5
The current belly free fashion requires, that you have something to show. So make sure that you spend sufficient time in the gym to have a well toned body.

Rule 6
If your only "asset" is a beautiful shape: stay away from my boys! We only accept bright girls with excellent career opportunities. You eventually will be required to finance my son's adventure-seeker and artist lifestyle. In return they would accept to become stay-home-dads (as long as you are easy on the definition of "home" which includes the Tamaraset dessert, all the beautiful beaches and various night spots).

Rule 7
We will test your literacy and education: Being able to recite the verses of the Kamasutra and Casanova's adventures will increase your chance for a date. If you are into Yoga, please update your skills to include the Tantric positions. We also will test your capabilities as entertainer: Are you able to invent new activities and are you up-to-date with exhibitions and performing arts? We will conduct a naked-body-paint contest with you.
When you book cinema tickets make sure, that you get the double seats without the armrest in-between.

Rule 8
Make sure that you keep his attention with little presents and deep devotion. Be knowledgeable in the art of seduction and show off your skills in preparing love meals. If you are older than him, teach him the art of Tantric love. If you are substantially older, bigger presents are appropriate. A breakfast at Tiffanies (1st class flight please) or a trip to the Himalayas would be appropriate.

Rule 9
Before getting physical, get a check-up. I will review the doctors verdict. As long as you date my boys you stick to them. You are free to include some of your female friends, if they pass the medical exam. You will take care of contraception. So keep a stock of condoms and practise how to apply them.

Rule 10
My boys are sensitive and proud. When you chitchat with your friends about them (we know that you do that!) anything but praise is strictly forbidden. Show that they are like gods to you.

They will treat you like a goddess in return!  


Happy family


Mental note to self: Get a better camera.


Merry Xmas

< img src="/blog/images/SHWL-5UK5P5/$FILE/XMas2003Wissel640.jpg" alt="Merry XMas" />
Taken away the shopping frenzy Christmas is only an one day blib on Singapore's calendar. Nevertheless I whish all of you a merry Christmas and a happy new year. May all of you be blessed (by whom/what ever you believe in).


PC rulez

PC rulez
It is time that dad upgrades that lousy machine!


Monday Morning...

Monday Morning ... what do you expect?


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© 2003 - 2017 Stephan H. Wissel - some rights reserved as listed here: Creative Commons License
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