Wednesday, December 26, 2012

lazy lazy lazy

Feeling so lazy. That's the main reason why I haven't been updating. Do you know, when school holidays first began, I made a resolution? I said to myself, Okay guy, you got to get up at the break of dawn every day. If you want to play video games, that's your moment to play: only the first hour before the sun rises. Once the sky is bright, do a bit of Bible-reading and devotion before starting the day. Then spend the afternoon reading your classic novels. Well, so much for that resolution. On the first few days, I did pretty well. Woke up on time, didn't play too much Facebook and etc., did my morning devotion, and read David Copperfield throughout the whole afternoon. I finished up the last 200 pages in two days. After that, I was so exhausted of reading that it was about a week before I started my next book. Today, I got up at 10:00 a.m. Hardly the break of dawn at all. I still did my morning devotion and all, but it turns out that, the human brain is only capable of so much reading before it gets tired out, like a muscle. The resolution was a task that required superhuman power from the start. Subsequently, I have been very lazy of late, and the only exercise I've done in the passt month is half an hour of Wii Sport. On top of that, the lack of school next year means that I am even less stimulated than normal at the end of the year.

Oh well. Remember the Bible camp Jeremiah School that my sister went for last year? Dumb question, of course not. Anyway, that's where I'm going for six weeks, starting January 2nd next year. It is highly unlikely that I'll be able to blog during that time, so I guess this is goodbye, for now. Of course, there's plenty of time to squeeze in one more post between now and next year, but hey, bloggers need breaks too.

Oh hey, by the way, the world didn't end. Isn't that great? But sometimes those sarcastic "Hey, where's your end of the world now?" posts on Facebook are so annoying that I wish there had been at least some small occurence, like a minor earthquake or an asteroid spotting or something, just to keep those guys quiet.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Counter Strike: Operation NOOBFAIL. Mission: Don't get into trouble

My family bought a new desktop recently, and the computer guy was nice enough to load a few games into it to start us off. One of them happened to be Counter Strike. You know Counter Strike? As in the popular first-person shooting game that has been around for I-don't-know-how-many years, and has been bringing friends together all these years about as effectively as DotA? That Counter Strike is the one that I found in the new computer a few nights ago. I thought to myself, "Hey, this is a decent game, and I think some of my friends still play it. Might as well try it out. Maybe if I can get some practice in the offline game, I can play online with them, instead of playing that lonely MUD game that they all think is nerdy." So I started myself a profile, and you know what I discovered? I'M BAD AT IT.

Several reasons: 1. When I play games from a first-person point of view, I have no sense of direction and keep getting lost on the battlefield. 2. It takes me several seconds to assess a situation, by which time the enemies have usually started firing. 3. I don't know nuts or bolts about guns at all. 4. When I'm nervous I tend to swing the mouse around all over the place so that enemies can't sneak up on me. This usually makes me dizzy.

After my first 3 hours into the game, I already had enough amusing stories about how I messed up on the battlefield to put up my rifle on the wall and sit back in my armchair while I tell the young'uns about my experience in the terrorist lands. Of course, I probably won't be instilling awe and patriotisme into any of them, due to my repeated dying in most cases. But, the game is still kind of cool, and I think that some of my escapades are worth recounting, although most of them end in failure.

Although the new desktop with the game in it only arrived a few days ago, my first encounter with Counter Strike was actually several years ago, right around this time of year. Every December or so, all our relatives come back to our hometown from wherever they may be to celebrate Christmas. My grandma has fourteen grandchildren, and all of them come to stay under her roof for a few weeks up to Christmas. During such a time of year, a number of years ago, the house's internet was cut off. I can't remember what the problem was, but of course we were all hysterical about it. We needed our internet, apparently. So what else could we do but get up and go to a cyber cafe and use our internet there. There must have been eight of us fourteen going there together. I was about 12 years old, and that was where I first played Counter Strike.

All the computer there had Counter Strike in them, so my some of cousins started up a game among themselves, and invited me into it too. I was siding with one of them, and we were up against another two cousins. So my cousin helped me join the game, and thought me how to move around and fire stuff. I don't remember much of the mission of the round or anything like that, but I do remember what happened when the game first started.


Me: Okay... so this is my character's first-person point of view. There sure are a lot of guns on the ground here.
Cousin: Just pick one up. Walk to it and press G.
Me: But which one?
Cousin: Uh, I don't know. Whichever one you like.
Me: Okay... *randomly picks up gun.*
Countdown timer runs out. Game begins.
Me: *watches cousin run off into the battlefield.* Hey! What should I do?
Cousin: Just walk around and shoot enemies. *runs off into battlefield.*
Me: Uh... okay... *walks into battlefield.* Okay... so I can walk around with the arrow keys. I use the mouse to aim around. *turns mouse around and around, and ends up walking in circles.* There are all these high walls all over the place. I guess these are used to hide from enemy fire. Hey, I can jump with the space bar! *jumps around all over the place while waving gun around and dodging behind walls pretending to be a ninja.* Hum de dee, hum dee doo, this isn't so bad, it's actually kind of easy...
An unidentified figure with a gun passes in front of me.
The person slumps to the ground and drops his gun, dead.
Me: Gasp... gasp... gasp... I did it!
(Back in the real world, my cousin gets up from his seat and walks over to where I'm sitting. He looks at my screen and points at the dead guy on the ground.)
Cousin: Uh, that's me. You just shot me dead. You're not really supposed to do that.
Suddenly, someone shoots me dead. I slump to the ground and drop my gun.
Me: Wait, where'd that gunfire come from?


Me: Okay, okay, I can try this again. Pick up a gun, walk around, dodge behind walls...
Once again, an unidentified figure with a gun passes in front of me.
Me: *points gun at person and stares.* Cousin, is that you?
Cousin: Yes, that's me. Try not to shoot me dead this time, please. *runs off into battlefield.*
Me: Haha, that was a close one. *walks off into battlefield.*
After much random walking around and getting lost...
An unidentified figure with a gun passes in front of me.
Me: *still unable to recognise, points gun and stares.* Cousin, is that you?
Terrorist: *stares at me, then shoots me dead.*
I get knocked clear off my feet and my gun goes flying. Headshot!
Cousin: *turns around in his seat and looks at my screen.* Oh, that wasn't me, that was a terrorist. You were supposed to shoot him dead.
Suddenly, gunfire comes from an unknown direction. My cousin slumps to the ground and drops his gun, dead.
Me: ...Oh.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, SPOCK!

Hey, let's play Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock! The rules are simple:

Scissors cuts paper...
... paper covers rock...
... rock crushes lizard...
... lizard poisons Spock...
... Spock smashes scissors...
... scissors decapitates lizard...
... lizard eats paper...
... paper disproves Spock...
... Spock vaporizes rock...
... and finally...
... rock crushes scissors.

This version of the traditional hand-sign game was invented by Sam Kass, with Karen Bryla. It has been used several times in the sitcom TV series, The Big Bang Theory. In case you didn't know, Spock is an iconic character from the Sci-fi TV series Star Trek, and the hand-sign that is used to represent Spock (fingers held in a V-shape with thumb extended) is actually the "Vulcan salute", an intergalactical gesture of peace often used by Spock. I've never tried the game myself, but apparently the variety of "weapons" reduces the chances of getting a tie with friends you have played with often.

One more time now, starting from the lower-right corner.
Scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes
lizard, lizard poisons spock, spock smashes scissors,
scissors decapitates lizard, lzard eats paper, paper
disproves Spock, Spock vaporizes rock,
and finally, rock crushes scissors.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reduce, reuse, reminiscence, recycle.

That big exam, the climax of a student's student life, the final examination which a student's entire life in school has been building up to all these years, the SPM examination, has finally come to a peaceful close. For most of us, anyway. Some of the gang still have Accounts and Literature tomorrow, but they just end one day late. Anyway, cue the confetti!


Now that we've got all those colorful bits of paper out of our system, time for me to tell you about my day. No, I won't tell you about the examination, that stuff's boring. I'll tell you about what I did when I got home. School holidays, of course, actually started several weeks ago - for most students. But not us Form Five students, ho no. We still had our big exam to sit for. But not anymore. For the Form Five, our school holidays have officially started! Unfortunately, I've already used up all my confetti.

Anyway, now that the school holidays have "begun", it's time to go through the same old year-end clean-up procedure that we go through every year.

All the backpacks are turned upside down, their contents are picked up, and sent to be recycled. Of course, first we have to do a little reusing as well. Here's how it goes: All of the half-used notebooks are placed in a pile. One by one, we take a notebook off the top and open it up. If the book is more than half-filled with writing, then the clean pages at the back are neatly chopped off with the paper cutter and placed into the "scrap paper drawer". We've never had a shortage of scrap paper all my life. On the other hand, if the book is less than half-filled, then the pages in front with writing are chopped off, and now we have a clean and perfectly reusable more-than-half-left book, which can be used next year, or passed down to future generations. Everything else goes for recycling.

However, it occurs to me that now that I'm leaving school, this will likely be the last time I ever do this fun little activity again. I'm starting to wonder whether it's really all right to just decapitate and toss out all those papers. Hence, the title of today's blog post. When I think about it, we've spent countless years (okay, it's actually 10 years) going to school, filling books with writing, and tossing it all out at the end of the year. But the last year is different. This is the year that actually counts. Our teachers put in so much effort, and we put in a lot of effort as well, to fill these books wise words, invaluable information, and world-changing formulas, and now is it alright to just throw it all out? (Of course, I have no doubt that equal amounts of effort were put in by the teacher and the students in all the other years as well, but this is the year that actually counts.)  I wondered to myself, how would my teachers feel if they knew that all their hard work was going to be recycled into a receipt at Tesco or a paper napkin at Kopitiam.

But I thought about it for a while, and in the end I came to the decision that recycling these papers is the best thing to do. After all, in Biology, they teach us the importance of recycling. In Moral, they teach us how to recycle, and the importance of recycling. In English and Malay, they ask us to write essays on how to encourage the society to recycle more. When I think about it like that, the only logical thing to do now with all these papers is to recycle them. After all, our teachers put in all that hard work to drive those lessons into our heads. The best course of action that displays the best respect towards our teachers would be to recycle all these papers. Do not worry, teachers, your teachings shall not be forsaken!

That's why this whole box is going to the recycling center.

Also, the English Chairman part of me says that I should mention that Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle are all verbs, whereas Reminiscence is a noun, thus being inaccurate and not quite fitting there. Oh well.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Difference between Mass and Weight (a rough analysis of)

I feel like blogging today, so you, my kind readers, get two posts today, whether you like it or not. After all, the first post was kind of cheating. Mostly cut and paste work.
So! What is the difference between mass and weight? This question was thrown to me by Google Instant. Try typing typing "The difference between" in the Google Search Bar, and you'll see what I mean. Coincidentally, I'm also studying Physics right now, so this doubles as a kind of revision for me. Although, all of my friends who study Physics already know, when answering quesiton, what the difference between mass and weight is. If you want to find the weight of an object, multiply the mass of the object by 10. So simple. And yet, so very inaccurate. We'll get to that in a moment.
First, to get a definition of "mass" and "weight", we turn to our old friend Wiktionary. According to Wiktionary, "mass" is "The quantity of matter which a body contains, irrespective of its bulk or volume." In other words, "mass" measures how much there is in your body. Fair enough, right? On the other hand, Wiktionary cites "weight" as meaning "The force on an object due to the gravitational attraction between it and the Earth." In short, how much you feel gravity.
Let's keep things nice and simple, now. "Mass" refers to how much "flesh" you have in your body, for want of a better term. "Weight" on the other hand refers to how much gravity affects you. All nice and clear now, right? In Physics, we can say that "mass" is a measurement of matter, and "weight" is a measurement of force. But that's just Physics, of course.
Before I start boring you with a lot of Physics, let me get right down to the main point: The difference between mass and weight. Mass will never change wherever you are, since it measure your "flesh". Your mass only changes if you put on some fat, or have some of it removed. Your weight, on the other hand, depends on gravity. If gravity were to suddenly become weaker, your weight would be less. But your mass, or "fleshiness", would still be the same. You haven't burned any carbs yet, after all. In short, if you were to go to the Moon where gravity is weaker, your weight would decrease. You've still got all your flesh on you though, so your mass does not decrease.
It would be great if you would keep on reading, but if you feel like you've learned enough, now would be an okay time to exit the blog. However, if you decide to leave here, please scroll down to the "important note" before you do.
Then what is the relationship between mass and weight? For that, let's take a quick look at the law of gravity. Wikipedia: "Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract each other with a force proportional to their masses." In the layman's terms, big objects attract bigger objects better. The Law of Gravity hence states that the greater your mass, or "fleshiness", the bigger the effect of gravity on your body.
So how do we arrive at calculating weight out of mass? Well, Earth's gravity is fixed at a certain strength, and all objects on earth experience a "gravitational accelaration" of approximately 10 meters per second per second - or m/s^2. In other words, if you were standing still in a helicopter in the air (not falling at all), and you were to step out onto thin air, you would accelarate at approximately 10 m/s^2. In short, if you were to walk out of a helicopter, 1 second later you would be falling at about 10 m/s, and another second after that you would be falling at about 20 m/s, and another second after that you would be falling at about 30  m/s... and so on, until you reach a maximum speed (or terminal velocity) of about 195 km/h, or 54 m/s. That's gravity for you. It's one of the few laws that cannot be broken.
But I'm dawdling, aren't I? Let's get back to getting weight out of mass. The formula for finding force is: Force is equal to mass multiplied by acceleration, or F=ma. Also discovered by Newton. Now, take a close look at that equation, and compare it to what we have learned so far. Force = mass x acceleation? Hey! Weight is gravitational force, isn't it? And that's what we want to find! As for mass... well, that depends on the object we're looking at, right? Let's take me as a sample. My mass is around 60kg. Not that you should tell that to the whole world or anything. Now, our equation says my gravitational force, or Weight = 60kg x accelaration. But wait! Weight is about gravity, and gravitational acceleration on Earth is 10 m/s^-2, isn't it? Well, let's put that in there! Now, my Weight is equal to my Mass multiplied by gravitational acceleration, or Weight = 60kg x 10m/s^-2. That means I weigh 600! But 600 what? Force is measured in Newtons (what? him again?), or N. So my mass is 60 kg, and my weight is 600 N.
For all practical purposes, acceleration due to gravity is always 10 m/s^-2 anywhere on earth. So when finding the weight of an object, you only need to determine it's mass, and multiply it by 10, or the gravitational acceleration. Now, what if you were to go to the Moon, where the force of gravity is weaker? The acceleration due to gravity on the Moon is only 1.6 m/s^-2. But remember what I said about you still having all your fleshiness on you? On the Moon, my mass would still be 60 kg. But when you multiply it by the gravity, 1.6, you find that I only weigh 96 N, less than a sixth of my weight on Earth. My mass has not changed, because mass is not affected by gravity. But my weight has decreased to a mere fraction of its previous reading. But I'm still as fleshy as ever as 60 kg, so even though I can say my weight has decreased, it doesn't mean I can quit my diet yet.
Important Note:
According to Physics, if the question asks "What is the weight of Ali?", your answer should be in Newtons, and if it asks for his mass instead, then you give your answer in kilograms. However, in modern everyday usage, people will ask you for your weight, and yes, they are referring to your "fleshiness", not your gravitational force. This slight inaccuracy of terminology is allowed because it has become the norm over many years, and when people ask you "How much do you weigh?" You are expected to give your answer in kilograms. Feel free to say "I weigh 60 kilograms", because even though it is technically inaccurate, it is expected in most social circles. Please do not say "Oh, you want my weight? Well, while I'm on Earth, I weigh 600N." That will just make you socially awkward. Of course, it still makes a good joke to tell your Physics teacher.
That's the end of the important note. Now, since you already know the difference between mass and weight, here's something for you to think about: When I stand on a weighing scale in an elevator, it gives a reading of 60 kg. The elevator then moves downwards with an acceleration. The reading of the weighing scale decreases. I do not need to tell you that my mass has not changed a hair. But the question is, has my weight actually decreased?
Well, the answer to that can be both yes and no. For instance, consider that after jogging, your legs feel tired, and that's when you really feel the weight of your body stressing on your legs. But you're not actually feeling the gravity on your legs. What you're feeling is the "reaction force" of the ground on your legs. This is what weighing scales measure. Consider the scenario of falling out of a helicopter, and that of standing still on the ground. In falling, gravitational force acts freely on you, and you're legs won't feel so tired. But when you're on the ground, the floor supports you with an upwards "reaction force" that prevents you from going any lower. It is this reaction force that you actually feel as weight. Meaning that when you are falling out of a helicopter, you don't feel any reaction force, and hence, you don't really feel weight. This is where the term "experience weightlessness" comes from. If you were to jump out of a plane with a weighing scale under your feet, you will find that you weigh 0 kg. A perfect dream.
But that's if we look at weight as the reaction force. The weighing scale actually measure reaction force, which is why it reads 0 in a free-fall, when there is no reaction force. In the scenario of the moving elevator, the downwards force of the accelerating elevator acts against and decreases the upward reaction force, thus creating an illusion of decreased weight. But in point of actual fact, the force of gravity acting on your body hasn't really decreased, has it? When you're falling from the sky, you don't actually feel any weight. But you're still falling aren't you? Because of gravity. Gravity very much still has power over you and is exerting downwards force on you, towards Earth. In that sense, you still weigh the same as you did when you were standing still. This become especially evident when you hit the ground travelling at 195 km/h. So much for experiencing weightlessness.
In conclusion, to recap: Mass measures fleshiness. It does not change on the Moon. It is represented in kilograms. Weight measure how much gravity you feel. It decreases on the Moon. It is represented in Newtons. But when people ask you for your weight, you tell them your fleshiness, in kilograms. Don't tell them your gravity. Unless you really want to.

P.S. I almost forgot to mention something very important. Weighing scales do not exactly measure your mass. They measure your weight, and then divide by Earth's gravity to get an accurate measurement of your mass, in kg. I don't know if there is any elaborate scientific apparatus that lets you actually measure your mass at a sub-atomic level, but hey, science can do anything.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reminiscences of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya (1941 - 1945) by Madam Wong Mei Lan

Reminiscences of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya (1941 – 1945)

written by Madam Polly Wong Mei Lan
reposted with permission from the same.

When I first heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbour, 8th December, 1941, I was nine years old soon to be ten next January. In my young mind it did not seem to matter very much as the affected place seemed so far away but when I heard that the Japanese were going to be at our very doorstep I began to feel excited mixed with feelings of fear. If we were conquered, though the adults said that the island of Singapore was “invincible”, what would the Japanese be like as masters? I had heard very little about the Japanese except that they made and sold very cheap toys and at that age and being in a small town like Malacca I did not remember having seen any Japanese. Well, I was soon to see and know quite a lot about them.

To avoid any bombing of Malacca town we evacuated to Nibong Tebal, eighteen miles away, and which seemed a long, long way from home. I remember feeling very excited, and took with me my favourite things which I found did give me a sense of comfort every time I missed home. At that time to me it was great that when school was supposed to reopen I would still be on holiday, a holiday that I eventually found to be far too long, that I could feel myself panicking in case the British never came back to rescue us.

Life in the rubber estate where we had gone to stay with some very distant relatives of my paternal grandmother was a totally new world of opposites. We had not servants now and communication with our kind hosts was reduced to only nods and smiles as we spoke only English and Nonya Malay. Chinese was a foreign language to us then! However, we survived life in the countryside, running into the forest whenever news of the Japanese reaching us came. That was when I learnt of the atrocities of the Japanese soldiers, how cruel they were. Then, I really started to have feelings of fear, of what they could do to us.

Being able to return home in Tranquerah Road was indeed a great blessing for us. Never had I loved my home more than when I could finally sleep in my very own bed with a proper mattress and clean pillows. Also, we could now begin our “social” life again with people we could really talk to. By now my mother was very keen that both my sister, Lily, and I should learn to speak our own language, Chinese, and though the school selected was easily 2 miles away in town I found myself walking to Yoke Bin Chinese school every morning. Lily was still too young then to walk all that way. My three Chinese friends who could only speak Chinese found me strange and would laugh at the way I struggled at my Chinese, but I did learn then and could even scold the boys who tried to bully me in Chinese. There again I was in a totally different environment from what I was used to in an “English” school. However, it was my gain being sent there because I had learnt how to mix with those I tended to “look down” on previously. Before the war we always tended to think that those educated in the Chinese school were “inferior” to those of us who were English educated. I learnt early enough that that way of thinking was certainly wrong.

Because we had no servants we all had to do the necessary and till today I hate having to do housework for at that what we consider “tender” age I can say that I had done it all, cooking, washing, ironing, scrubbing. I even had the humiliating job of selling my cousin’s cakes. Imagine me carrying a basket of cakes and going around not only my but other areas. I was supposed to call out my wares and yell as loudly as I could to attract customers but must have done a poor job because after that I was never called again to sell cakes. What a big relief it was.

Time went by and one day the much dreaded thing happened. My father was detained by the Japanese soldiers for what they considered an offence, selling some merchandise without notifying the authorities. After all the horror stories of what they could do to you in their custody, like being given the “water treatment”, a form of horrible torture, I certainly prayed as I never did before, that my father would not be detained long, especially since he had a wound on his knee which needed cleaning everyday. To our great joy he was released after a few days and looked none the worse for it. We were grateful that he was spared from what we thought could have happened to him. At that time I felt that God was indeed great and was certainly looking after us.

Another incident that left an indelible imprint on my mind regarding the war was when my grown-up girl cousin and I were at our neighbour’s house, a bakery. We had gone there at night to look up some friends who were working there when there was a shout that some drunken Japanese soldiers were there. They must have gotten wind that there were some girls at the bakery. I, young as I was, could feel the fear as the girls all ran to the back of the building, helter-skelter, and started climbing onto the roof of the bakery. That was surely done in record time, and no sooner were they safe there when the Japanese soon came. As I did not join the others, I was with a young mother with her newborn baby in a room, hoping the Japanese would not find us. It was a miracle to me, that when I was expecting the worst, word came that some high-ranking Japanese officers had turned up and taken the drunken Japanese away. These two occasions (the other, my father’s detention under the Japanese), made me feel that war was indeed both horrible and sad. How I wished for the “good old days” to come again.

We were getting to be impatient for relief from our “masters” and it was strange that I was just yearning to get back to my old school. Then, without prior warning, we were given the news that the atomic bomb had hit Hiroshima and that quite instantly the Japanese war was over. How happy and relieved everybody felt in our beloved country cannot be adequately described. Of course, at that time who could have imagined the horrors of the aftermath of the bomb on the Japanese. Served them jolly well right? No, no human being should ever have that thought in his mind. We did suffer during the Occupation, some little and others more, but I think I learnt a lot from it and I always feel that I am a better person than what I would have been if not for the experiences I went through.

(Note from the blogger: Today, Madam Wong Mei Lan's current age is not for me to disclose, but she leads a very mild life in Taiping, Perak. She is surrounded by family and friends, and also has a servant of her own now, so she will never have to do the housework she hates again. She goes to church every Sunday, and on most afternoons she has a nice game of Mah Jong with some friends - a number of which also went through the Japanese Occupation. Occasionally, when she experiences problems with her computer [such as, for example, being unable to print out a certain story that she wrote about her personal experience during a certain historic event], she calls her young grandnephew, who lives next door, to come over and help her out with all this newfangled technology. Whether or not the Occupation left her as a better person, is for the judgement of those who know her personally. However, she has welcomed Japanese guests into her home before, so I am inclined to think that the Occupation brought her more benefit than harm, as she has clearly put the past behind her. As the saying goes, "let bygones be bygones.")

Saturday, November 3, 2012


I was hoping to come up with a more interesting title for this post than "SPM", but right now that's the thing that's occupying most of my brain space right now. I'm having trouble thinking of much else. The SPM (or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) examination starts on Monday, and it's affecting me a little...

First of all, I am aware that I completely forgot to do an English section this week - I think I was super-saturating myself with Sejarah that day - and right now I really don't think I can focus enough to do one. However, I'll share a little bit of English at the end of the post.

Second, I won't have any time to do any more blog posts for the whole of next week. Yay. Well, actually, I probably will have some time, since there are several days of rest in between exams, but right around that time I will be, yes, super-saturated with all sorts of subjects, so chances are anything I write at that time will be, well, garbage.

Thirdly, I wish the best of luck to everyone sitting for any kind of important exam around this time of year.

What is the difference between "imitate", "simulate", and "emulate"? According to Wiktionary, "imitate" means "to make a copy, counterpart or semblance of", or, in short, "to copy." For example, you can imitate Michael Jackson by learning to moonwalk. On the other hand, "simulate" means "to model, replicate, duplicate the behavior, appearance or properties of". For example, you can simulate fog by using a fog machine. Lastly, "emulate" means "to attempt to equal or be the same as". Wikipedia says "emulation" means "An ambition and effort to equal, excel or surpass another... especially through imitation". For example, you can emulate a cartoonist by learning and enhancing his style of drawing and humor.

In short, "imitate" is to copy a thing, "simulate" is to recreate a particular situation, and "emulate" is to imitate a person to try to be better than them - in a context of rivalry.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Short story: The deer's antlers.

One day, the deer was walking in the forest and he met the peacock. The peacock was sitting on the branches of and old tree. He had a lot of colorful feathers, which he showed to the deer. He laughed at the deer because the deer did not have any colors.
The next day, the peacock was sitting at the same place. Again he showed off his feathers laughed at the deer who did not have any colors. The peacock made fun of the deer for many days.
Finally, the deer had a clever idea. He stood up on his two legs, and kicked the branches off the old tree. The peacock fell to the ground. Then the deer chose two of the nicest branches and wore them on his head.
Now the deer still did not have colors, but he had beautiful antlers instead. He showed his antlers to the peacock, and laughed at the peacock because the peacock did not have any antlers.
Also, now the peacock did not have any tree to sit on.
This is how the deer got his antlers.
This is also the reason why the peacock makes its nest on the ground instead of in the trees. The peacock's nest is on the ground because he is afraid the deer might kick down more branches when he needs new antlers. 

Alamak, English! week 5, the non-essay.

Although my strongest point in the English exams have always been the essay-writing part, I thought it best to mention the second part of the paper as well. Frankly, my English lessons wouldn't be complete if I didn't include the second English paper. The importance of English Paper 2 really struck me after the recent Trial exams. I almost let my A+ slip out of my hands because of carelessness and overconfidence. Let's go over this paper a little, shall we?

Paper 2 is divided into 4 "sections": Section A, B, C, and D.

Section A consists of 15 multiple-choice questions, each worth 1 mark.
Section B involves "information transfer", based on a given poster or advertisement.
Section C is where you "comprehend" a passage and summarise it at the end.
Section D would be your Literature, where you have to answer questions based on a poem we have studied and write an essay on a novel.

Each of these sections are equally important, and should all be answered with care. Here are a few tips which I have gathered from various sources which may be helpful when answering the paper:

For Section A questions 1-8, you will have to choose the right answer based on given information. Make sure you read every part of the question carefully. If the question gives you a news report, make sure you choose the answer that fills the requirement of the question. Do not just circle correct facts. Take some time to fully understand the question.
For questions 9-15, we have Rational Close, namely, filling in the blank spaces in a passage based on the given choices. When answering these questions, make sure that your answer corresponds with A) the past tense or present tense of the whole passage, as well as the individual sentence, and B) the subject being refered to in the sentence.
For example:
"This problem needs to managed if we _____ to have a brighter, greener future."
Choices: A. is, B. are, C. was, D. were.

The answer is B. are, because the sentence is in present tense ("needs to be managed") and the subject of the sentence is what we (plural) have to do.

For Section B (questions 16-25), you have to read an advertisement or something similar and then complete a chart or a table given. You only have to copy the information exactly as it is given in the advertisement. Make sure that when you copy it, everything is exactly the same as it is given in the advertisment, including capital letters and spacings. Be careful not to leave out important information, and only include the information that is asked for. Do not change anything, but instead just copy everything straight out of the advertisement. That is the safest way.
For example:
Launching Ceremony by YAB Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, PRIME MINISTER at Dataran 1Malaysia, Putrajaya Heights
Question: 16. Name of event: __________ 17. Officiated by: _____________

---For question 16, the name of the event, do not add a space between the "1" and the "MALAYSIA", and leave everything in capitals. Even though it looks like it should be changed, you do not have to change anything. Just copy everything exactly from the advertisement: 1MALAYSIA CARNIVAL.
For question 17, "Launching Ceremony" is actually the same as "Officiated by". You do not need to write "Launching Ceremony by" in your answer. Likewise, you should not include the venue of the event in your answer. Also, don't change the name or add fullstops in the YAB since it is not given, and do not change "Mohd" to "Mohammad". Just copy the advertisement: YAB Dato' Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, PRIME MINISTER.

For Section C questions 26-30, you have to read a passage, usually an extract from a newspaper or magazine article, and answer questions based on it. Each question will tell you which paragraph to find the answer from. When answering questions, take care to only choose your answer from the given paragraph. For example: From paragraph 3, find a word that can be substituted with 'upset'. Now, maybe paragraph 2 has the word 'disappointed', and paragraph 3 has the word 'depressed'. Both can be reasonably substituted with 'upset'. However, you have to take the answer from paragraph 3. The same goes for any questions asking for details from the passage.
Question 31 is a summary question. You have to write a summary based on the passage. Here, I beg you to do three things: 1) Understand what the summary is supposed to be about, 2) Take note of where the range of your material should be on the passage, and 3) Underline or bracket the points that you have identified. If you are unsure of whether or not a particular point is valid, you can leave it out if you have enough points and can reach 130 words. When writing the summary, paraphrasing, or "making long phrases shorter", is a must. Do not let your summary go even one word above 130, because this might determine whether or not your last point is valid.

Finally, Section D. Question 32 usually asks questions based on a poem we have learnt, although rumors say that they could ask short stories instead. In any case, be prepared and rely on what your teachers have taught you. Read through all your notes, particularly the "Meaning of Stanzas", and make sure you fully understand the question before you answer.
Question 33 required you to write about a novel you have studied; For this year's SPM, that would be The Curse, Step by Wicked Step, or Catch Us If You Can. No matter which of the three novels you've studied, the fundamentals are the same: Understand what the question wants, and use detailed evidence from the text to answer the question. It is important to link the evidence from the text to the requirement of the question.

For example: The question asks me to write about an interesting character in a novel I have studied. I studied the novel Catch Us If You Can. I could choose to write about Granda. What makes him interesting: Granda has many skills. Evidence from the text: Granda teaches Rory how to catch fish, Granda teachers Rory about birds in the wild, Granda hotwires a car. Why I find this interesting: This shows that Granda is a very experienced person in many areas and will have a lot of knowledge to impart. I would love to talk to him and learn much from him.

Three simple steps. Add a bit more flowery language, go into more detail in the evidence from the text, and you'll be home safe. A common mistake is that students fail to link the evidence in the text to the requirement of the question. This can be very costly, so the student should try to stick as close to the ROQ as possible throughout the whole thing.

That's all I have to share about English Paper 2. Summary-writing in Section C has always been my weak spot, and it shows too. I tend to write things a bit long-winded. To avoid this problem, I'll try not to write a long conclusion to today's lesson. Good night, and as usual, I hope I helped.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Alamak, English! week 4, beginnings and ends.

It was a dark and stormy night. As the rain poured down and gusts of wind whipped the branches off the dead and gnarly trees, periodic flashes of lightning illuminated a shadowy and gloomy castle at the top of a lone hill. During the brief seconds when the building was made visible by the flashes, one noticed several things about the castle. First, that it seemed to be very ancient and ill-kept - there was not a brick in the building that was clean of clefts and cracks - and second, that there was someone in there, in an upper room, where a dim candlelight darkened his silhouette against the window...

I'm afraid I'm a bit dishevelled right now - if you are wondering why, then check the post before this one - and in any case I'm sure my lessons have ceased to be of benefit to anyone but myself, as I rapidly run out of interesting things to write, but I'll try my best anyway.

You may ask yourself now, what was the whole point of that first paragraph up there. Well, today's lesson is on writing the first and last paragraphs of an essay - that is, the introduction and the conclusion. That whole "dark and stormy night" business was my feeble attempt at writing an interesting and attention-gripping introduction.

Of course, you introduction should be connected to the paragraph after. That is to say, you shouldn't use the dark and stormy line for every kind of story you write.

How to explain the fundamental difference and respective importance of an introduction and a conclusion? We start by understanding what they are important for.

The introduction of any essay should be interesting and attention-gripping. It should make your reader want to read the rest of your essay. In the case the examiner, the intro must leave a good first impression on him, so that he is in a good mood when he reads the rest of your essay. Remember, the examiner has never met you before. To him, the introduction for your essay is like a first smile or handshake, through which he evaluates you decides what kind of work he can expect out of you.

The conclusion, on the other hand, is quite the reverse. Aside from being on the other end of the essay, it should be conclusive and final. It should leave your readers satisfied and thinking to themselves, "Wow, what a great essay that was!" The conclusion should also leave a good final impression on the examiner. Remember, and this is very important, your conclusion is the last thing that he reads before he decides how many marks you get. You must leave him feeling like you deserve the marks.

I would like to introduce two analogies in relevance to the role of introductions and conclusions. The first is that of a conversation.

Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you say "hi" to someone or call out their name, but they don't hear you? Instead they walk right past you without realising you said anything, or they just keep doing what they were doing without hearing you. That is the kind of introduction you want to avoid. You want to walk up to him, pat him on the shoulder from behind, greet him with a laugh, and begin chatting with him. Write it in such a way that when the examiner reads it, there can remain no doubt that "This is your intro." You don't want him to read the whole first paragraph and think, "What? That was an intro?" Make yourself bold and write your introduction with confidence, as if to say, "Yes, this is my intro, and I'm proud of it."
Likewise, partings are also important. What you want to avoid is one of those partings where neither person really knows what to say, and the whole thing turns awkward. What you want to do his shake him by the hand and say "Well, I had a great time talking with you, but I'm afraid I really must go now. I hope we can have another little chat some other time." That is the kind of conclusion you want. Firm, decisive, and leaving the other fellow thinking "Yes, that was a rather nice chat, wasn't it?" Try not to leave the last thread of the conversation dangling, as it were.

The second analogy is that of a magic show.

Magicians often begin their tricks with something fancy. They come up on stage and bow to the audience. They show that they have nothing hidden in their sleeves or their hat. Then they take off their hat, whisk out a magic wand, wake it around in the air above the hat for a while - maybe recite a few magic words - and hey presto! A rabbit jumps out of the hat! How fabulous! The audience laughs a cheers and applauds.
His bold declarations as to the emptiness of his sleeves and headpiece mainly serve one purpose: To establish interest and credibility. Not only do they establish a connection between the magician and the audience, these formalities also show the audience that "Hey, I'm a real magician! No funny tricks here!" The introduction of the essay should make the examiner interested in the essay ahead, it should also give him the impression that this student is really good at writing.
Now what would happen if the magician stepped briskly on stage, took of his hat, tapped the hat with his stick once, and voila! rabbit? That would not be much of a show now would it?
Or what if he went through all that bowing and sleeve-pulling and magic incantations, just to produce a puff of colorful smoke from his hat? The finale is certainly lacking something there. The conclusion should leave the examiner applauding and saying "That was truly impressive. I'm glad I sat through the whole thing."

Now, how to write a good introduction? As always, it depends on the type of essay. For Argumentative and Factual essays, a standard "In this globalised era..." introduction should work fine, but it must link to the last sentence in the paragraph in which you emphasise on the main focus of the essay; for Factual, whether you're writing on the causes or effects of the topic, and for Argumentative, which side you support. For Descriptive and Narrative essays, a description of the scene works well, such as "Darkness covered the entire land as the clock struck midnight," or "The sun was shining brightly in the sky." Also for Narrative essays about yourself, you can introduce yourself a bit in the introduction, such as "I have always been a very forgetful person, but I can never forget the day when..." or "As an ordinary teenager leading an ordinary life, I could never have expected anything extraordinary to happen on that day...". For some Narrative essays, these first lines will be given. As for the introduction for Reflective and Open essays, well... use your imagination a little.

As for the writing of conclusions, now that can be a tricky one. For Argumentative, you should continue to assert your opinion, and end with hope. For instance, "In light of all this evidence, I remain convinced that smoking is bad for your health. Therefore, I hope that students will learn to avoid it and lead healthy lives." Factual essays can also go something along those lines. Come on, you guys are great at writing Malay essays, aren't you? The general style is the same. Attention should be paid towards the endings for Narrative and Descriptive essays. You should always try to have a happy ending, although... a dramatic, tragic ending can be good too, if you know how to do it properly. But since ending on a high note is easier, I'll focus on that. If you describe a person, you can end with hopes that the person will continue to be an inspiration to those who know him. If you describe an event or experience, write about how much you learned from it, and what it left you with. In a Narrative, the story should come to a nice close, and leave the reader glad with each character's fate (except when the reverse is required). For some Narratives when the last line is provided, it provides you with an idea of how the story should end, so you should build up to it appropriately.

That is all I can say on this topic for now. However, I feel as if I have not covered all the corners, and some questions may not have been answered. This is because of lack of time. If I were to explain every single bit of intro-and-ending writing in minute detail, the post would be too long and boring. If you need help writing an intro or an ending for a particular kind of essay which I have not explained sufficiently, I would be honoured if you would ask me about it.

...As all of those joyful moments returned to his memories, and as he remembered all his old friends and experiences, he could not suppress a minute smile that formed on his dry and cracked lips. He stroked his grandson's hair as the little boy lay on his lap, sound asleep. It was strange, he thought, but when he had looked into his grandson's innocent blue eyes, he saw reflected in them the kindness and purity of heart that had once belonged to his late wife. "Oh well," he thought to himself, "That's genetics for you." Although he was an old man with nothing left for him in the world, he was glad to be able to meet his grandson at least once while he was still alive. At that very moment, he decided that he would spend the rest of his life making sure that the boy received everything he needed to grow into a fine young man. With these comforting thoughts in his mind, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

100th post...?


This is, like, the 100th post of my blog, so I thought I would, you know, put a break in the English lessons to say a few words.

So, um...

Now that the blog has reached a hundred posts, my next goal is typically two hunderd posts. Thank you everyone for continuing to read, and I hope I'll learn not to be a bore.

...I received a freakishly large number of pageviews yesterday. I mean, like, record-breakingly high. Even more than the time when my sister linked my blog on her Facebook. Except this time, I don't know where all these pageviews are coming from. It's just an unexplainable 24-hour spike in activity, but it's sort of settled down by today. To be honest, it's really making me nervous... Did I somehow finally manage to do something exactly right? ...or wrong?

Oh dear... Well, happy 100th post and everything. I'll get started on the English lesson now.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Alamak, English! week 3, choosing the right question.

Alright, it is the age-old question which arises every single time we sit for an English Paper: Which of the five questions for continuous writing should I choose? For some people or during some exams, this question can consume up to 10 minutes of pondering time if the student is indecisive. For others, they choose the question too hastily, and end up writing an essay that is way off the mark and completely neglects the ROQ - Requirement of Question.

There was a friend of mine in class - I know he won't mind me mentioning his story, since he's a cool guy; and it's not like he's likely to ever read this anyway - but during the recent SPM trials, he chose the one-word-topic quetion 5: Choices. He turned it into a story. Written from a first-person point of view, it went like this: He had embarassed himself at school by entering the girls' bathroom in his haste. After that, whenever his friends mentioned it and made fun of him for it, he handled it by laughing it off and joking about the incident. Soon, people stopped making fun of him for entering the girls' bathroom.

Not much about "Choices" there, and teacher said so in class.

However, there is something to be commended in how spontaneous his writing came about. Don't think about it too much, just pick a question and tackle it to the best of your ability.

It helps a lot if you enter the Exam Hall with a rough idea of which kinds of questions you would like to choose, i.e., which writing style you prefer. There are generally six kinds of essays that can be asked for in Continuous Writing: Factual, Descriptive, Reflective, Argumentative, Narrative, and Open.

Factual essays ask for facts or suggestions on a topic. An easy essay for people with a lot of information and ideas on how to make changes. Note: Since 2004, there have only been four descriptive essays in SPM: in 2004 and the following two years and then in 2010. Examples: How to stay healthy, How is television beneficial, How can we save the environment.

Descriptive essays require the student to describe scenes, people, places, or events. It is easier to write descriptive essays if you have someone or something real to relate your essay to, although making something up can work just as well for those with imagination. These essays should give the reader a clear impression of the object described, and adjectives should be used well.Examples: Describe the biggest challenge you've faced, Describe an enjoyable weekend you've experienced, Describe an incident you saw on the way home from school.

Reflective essays ask for the student's personal thoughts and opinions. Essays that are written with more expressions of the student's own opinions and feelings will be more on the mark of the reflective style of writing that is expected from them. Anything that the student writes should clearly be from the student's own point of view. Examples: Who would you like to be if you were given the chance, What changes do you want to see in your life in ten years, What is your favourite day of the week.

Argumentative essays will give the student a statement, and the student will have to agree or disagree with it. There is no side that is in the right. Students can choose to write in any direction they want, and they will be marked based on the maturity and accuracy of their ideas and statements. It works like a debate, and debators or students familiar with debates will easily warm up to the writing style of argumentative essays. Note: The student must clearly state at the beginning which side they support, and it is important not to give any ideas that support the opposite side. Examples: Are examinations good or bad, Is the internet a more of a good thing than a bad thing, Should school students have part time jobs.

Narrative essays will give the student the title, first line, or last line of a story, and the rest is in your hands. Narrative stories require a plot that mantains interest and follows the "rule of mountain" as I call it - an interesting start, a build-up to the climax, and a gentle resolution of the story down to the finish. Narrative essays require a mixture of descriptive language, figures of speech, and proper planning. Note: The last line is important in a Narrative and its importance should be stressed upon in cases where it is not given. Examples: Write a story starting with: "It had been raining all day...", Write a story ending with: "...We had never laughed so much in our lives.", Write a story entitled: "An Unexpected Visitor."

Open essays are fun. They give the student one word - usually a general object, concept, or virtue - and the student has to expand on that word in any way they find fitting. From one word that the question gives, the student can write about their reflections on that object, the pros and cons of that object, a description of that object that they have encountered before, or even a story that revolves around that object. This kind of essay opens up the student's imagination and let's them decide which angle they want to tackle the topic from. Note: The student's writing style in an Open essay is dependant on what kind of essay he decides to turn it into. Examples: Music, Foods, Tomorrow, Peace.

During the exam, after you have read the five questions in Continuous Writing, it should not take you more than a minute to decide which one of the five you want to choose. That way you have more time to plan out and write your essay.

For most students, there will be certain kinds of essays that they feel comfortable with, and others which they cannot write easily. For myself, I find that Factual essays are boring, Argumentative essays require too much thought when it come to picking sides, and Reflective essays are too risky. This narrows down my choices to Narrative, Descriptive, and Open essays. My scope is now smaller, and instead of choosing from five questions, I only have to choose from two or three. From this smaller range of questions, I just have to identify which topic will be easier to write smoothly.

The best way for a student to find out which kinds of essays is best for them, is to write more essays and follow their gut. If you have ever experienced a time when you wrote an essay for the examination, and then later feeling that you wrote it badly, you were probably right. If you felt uncomfortable writing it, then your readers will probably feel uncomfortable reading it, in a sense. Therefore, through trial and error, you can find out which styles of essay writing suit you the best. Then during an exam, you can eliminate all the questions which you are least likely to be able to answer well, until you're left with one question remaining.

All the examples of essay questions that I listed above are legitimate, past-year questions - paraphrased, of course. If you have time for it, try looking through all the questions on the different types of essays above, write the first paragraph of a few of them - only the first paragraph, just to get the feel of the general essay, and to see if you will be able to proceed well into the main points for the essay you have chosen.

It would be even better if you could write one or two full essays. You can always ask your teacher to grade them, but in general, if you enjoyed writing the essay and felt proud of it at the end,  then you're probably right on the money. I can't say anything about how that would work out for your grammar though, so it's best to hand in any essays you've written to your teacher.

Before we close for today, let's take a look at a choice of five questions, and see how we would go about choosing one of them.

Peperiksaan Percubaan SPM 2012 SBP

1. A pleasant dream.

2. Desribe a scene after a disaster.

3. Success comes to those who work hard. Do you agree?

4. Write a story ending with: "...he left and closed the door quietly behind him."

5. Strength.

Now, I know that I am not good at writing Argumentative essays, so 3 is automatically out. 1 sounds like descriptive, but also like a reflective. Seems a bit risky, so I'll put it out for now. That leaves me with 2, 4, and 5. 5 says "Strength", and I don't think I'll be able to write about that well, so that's out. Between the Descriptive essay in 2 and the Narrative essay in 4, the story seems a bit difficult to write, because I cannot imagine many scenarios that match the given ending, whereas question 2 does not specify what kind of disaster it was, so my options are not as limited. Therefore, I choose question 2, the description of the scene after a disaster. Now that I have decided on a quesion, I can start planning what kind of disaster it should be, and how I should start my essay.

By using the same reasoning and elimination process, based on your own preferences, you can try to identify which one of the five questions you feel most comfortable with and would have chosen; and then, if you have the time, by all means write out the whole essay. It should take no longer than an hour, which is not too much time. All you have to do is perhaps sacrifice a bit of your free time during the weekends to write your essay. Practice is always vital for any subject.

While I may have spoken for too much too long on a very small part of the essay, I would think that the proper technique for choosing the right question is important. One should never be overly hesitant in choosing an essay to write, as time is precious is the exams. On the other hand, one should not be too hasty in choosing an essay, as the student might end up writing completely off-topic. Too many of my friends have written essays in the past that simply have nothing to do with the topic provided - most of them Narrative and Open essays. That is why practice is important as well: to identify one's strengths and weaknesses, and to know mistakes to avoid in the future. And yet, I feel apologetic for writing such a long lesson on such a nominal topic. My only hope for compensation is that readers will be able to use the example questions I have provided to get some practice writing. Once again, sorry for being a boring eyesore, and goodnight.

For many, many more sets of five questions to practice your decisive powers with, visit and go to the English papers.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Alamak, English! week 2, quotes.

This is the second Thursday since I started my new studying timetable, so it's time to study English again with all my kind blog readers! Now, what to talk about today? I shouldn't over-think this kind of thing, because that would make it too tedious. Writing is supposed to be fun, as the author Terry Pratchett once said, "Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself." Hey, that's a great subject to talk about! Not about fun writing, but about quotes.

In Bahasa Melayu and English essays alike, we are often advised to include idioms, proverbs, and figures of speech in our writing. The main reason why we need these things in our essay, is because of the "impressive" factor. We need to leave a good impression on the examiner, so that he will decide to give us good marks when he finishes reading the essay.

Idioms and proverbs have a high "impressive" factor, and when an examiner seems them in an essay, he thinks "This student is a very mature writer and is able to link idioms to relevant situations." Thus, the marks increase. However, the art of integrating proverbs into an essay is one that does not come naturally to me. That is why I tend to use quotes instead. In theory, quotes should also impress the examiner, as they show that the student is able to make sense of a quote and apply it in a way that is relevant to the essay. Of course, idioms and proverbs should not be left out, because they are one of the requirements in the marking scheme for an 'A' rank essay. But quotes still make an essay more interesting.

One of my favourite quotes is a famous line from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name, would smell as sweet." This quote, while universally recognised, is not very easy to use in an essay. The quote generally means that the reputation of a name is not as important as the virtues possessed by a person; hence, even if we were to call a rose by another name, it would still smell as sweet as it always did. Basically, it's a souped-up version of "Don't judge a book by it's cover," but can only be applied to names. It can be used to say that we should not judge people by status and namesake, but by their virtues; although it might find more practical use in a narrative composition.

One quote that is both well-known and flexible in usage is "The only thing stopping you is you." This quote has many variations, such as "The only thing stopping you is yourself," and "The only thing stopping your from fulfilling your dreams is you." All variations of the quote carry the same meaning, namely, that hard work will help you achieve anything. However, the quote does not really have a real source, as so many people have said it. No Winston Churchill or Mark Twain here, just the general hope of humankind. When you use it in an essay, you could just say something like "Many knowledgeable and wise people have said that 'The only thing stopping you is you.' " This quote has many applications as it touches a common topic.

Because of my work on the school magazine last year, I had done some searching for miscellaneous motivational quotes to put on the section pages. Here are a few that can come in handy. "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm," by Winston Churchill. This quote tells us not to give up when we are trying to reach a goal, and can be used together with the previous quote about working hard. "Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders," by Tom Peters. This quote can be used as an introduction in an essay about leadership. A few others that are not in the school magazine are "A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be," by Douglas Pagels,

If you are able, you can choose to memorise a few lines of some of the poems in your text book. In our Form 4 & Form Five Poems and Short Stories text book, a few lines from some of the poems can come in handy when writing your essays. "They were born amidst hardship, and grew up without a sigh or a complaint," by Latiff Mohidin. These lines can be linked to the lesson that we should be grateful for what we have, a useful quote in narrative and other kinds of essays. As for He Had Such Quiet Eyes, by Bibsy Soenharjo, memorising the whole thing is not a difficult task, and many different parts of the poem can be put to good use.

William Shakespeare's Brief Candle can be used too, by some feat of imagination. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.". This quote reminds us that life is temporary. Therefore...? We shouldn't be caught up piling riches for ourselves on earth. Or something. Like I said, this quote may require some imagination to use.

There are many ways to squeeze a quote into an essay. Some quotes can be used in the introduction for the essay. For example, you could write like this:

"Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders." The famous writer Tom Peters spoke these words on leadership, and he tells us a lot about what it means to be a reader.
And so on...

You could also use quotes to reinforce a point:

We must not let failure deter us from success. As the famous politician Winston Churchill once said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." Therefore, we must always try our best to succeed, no matter how many times we fail.

Note that in all cases, it is advisable to include the speaker's authority, such as "famous writer" and "famous politician". This makes the quote sound better, and that way we know that this person is actually an important guy, and not some old nobody.

And now for the dirty tricks: It probably does not matter if you do not get the spelling of the speaker's name right. The examiners, unlike me, do not have the time to look up quotes on Google, since they will be marking hundreds of students' essays. On top of that, they will probably be lenient on the matter. Just make sure to get the really famous people's names right, like Winston Churchill and William Shakespeare.

It can be a good idea to have a few quotes in your pocket at all times, ready to be pulled out and used in any essay, whether in homework or the actual examination. You do not need to force yourself to memorise a large number of quotes. Just find a few quotes that are meaningful and easy to remember, and keep those away in your mind for a rainy day. Target quotes which speak on general topics, such as hard work, family togetherness, and friendship, if you plan to write argumentative essays or factual essays. For narrative essays, you can have one of your characters quote to someone as advice, or you yourself as the narrator can write a quote, as if speaking to yourself, or to your readers, to drive home a lesson.

That's about all I have to say today. Quotes may not be for everyone, and some people may be better off sticking to idioms and proverbs. Many quotes can be found on any topic at

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Alamak, English! week 1, spelling.

According to my new pre-examination time table, Thursday is the day to revise my English. But I really have no idea how to do that, since my house is strangely lacking of English revision books... and reading story books might not work out so well. So I thought, I'll practice writing, so that I'll hopefully be at my peak come the exam date. But sitting down with a blank piece of paper and scribbling on it is not very likely to help me out much. So maybe I thought, if I share a bit of English Lesson with my blog readers, theoretically it would give me practice writing, and at the same time it would (hopefully) help my readers as well. I would normally shy away from doing this, because my low-level English might embarass me in the eyes of international readers, but then I realised, a) what international readers? 'doh. b) my low-level English has already been embarassing me for the past one year, and c) There has been a significant increase in local readers of my blog recently, so I don't mind doing this.

By the way, for any non-local readers who are reading this, "Alamak" is the Malay equivalent of what we would say in English as "Oh, snap," or in Old English, "Alas!" or in British English, "Well, this is a bit of a rum do, isn't it?" This is meant to be ironic, because in Malaysia we have this educational show called "Oh My English (link translated)" which mainly corrects many English errors that are caused by the intermingling of the language with local slang.

Anyway, today I thought I would focus on Common Spelling Errors, and also some instances of when student mix up two words with similar spelling. Any paragraph with an asterisk (*) at the start is a summarisation of the above paragraphs, meaning to say that its a little important.

Lesson: "ie" and "ei".
A Facebook post I saw recently listed some of the top mispelled words. At number one on the list is "received", often mispelled as "recieved".

Did you have to read that line twice to spot the difference? The positions of the "i" and the "e" are changed. It's a very common mistake that can be hard to spot, but I have very little doubt that those cunning English teachers at school will pause and squint for a while whenever they see the word "received", to try to catch a student doing it wrong. While an ordinary reader might easily overlook such a mistake, we should try to perfect our writing, especially at SPM level.

Many people can become unsure when writing this word. They are well aware that they have to be careful to get the spelling right on this particular word, but they can't quite remember now, is it the "i" that comes first, or the "e"?

This is why people invented "Spelling Rules". If I recall correctly, some countries will teach their children all of the spelling rules, and believe me, these rules are very effective. Notice, for one, the spelling of the word "believe" in the previous sentence. The "i" came before the "e". But in the word "received", the "e" comes before the "i". In both cases, the letter directly after the "i" and the "e" is a "v". But the letter before the "i" and the "e" in the word "believe" is an "L", and in the word "received", it is a "c". Other words with the "ie" combination, like "friend" and "tie", have one thing in common: the letter before the "ie" is not a "c". From this, we deduce the following spelling rule:

Spelling rule: "i" before "e" except after "c".

*This rule works for any word that has the letters "i" and "e" adjacent to each other in a word. Words that have the letter "c" directly before the "i" and the "e" are spelled with "ei", such as "receipt", "deceive", and "conceive". All other words are spelled "ie", like "believe", "friend", "tie", and "fiend".

HOWEVER, there are a FEW exceptions to this rule. Of course there have to be exceptions, did you think it would be so easy? The following words do not have so much as a single "c" in them, but are stilled spelled with "ei": height, weigh (-ed, -ing -s, weight), seize, heifer, weird, feign, and surfeit. I don't know what the last one is, really, but the internet says it is an existing word, so it must be. There may be other exceptions, but I guess these are the common ones.

Lesson: "affect" and "effect".
I don't really know if very many people make this mistake, since unlike the previous one, I have no form of real statistic or data to prove that it is a common mistake; of course I could just use Google to see if it is, but I'm lazy. To be perfectly frank. Anyway.

I'm sure I must have made this mistake, at one time or another in my life. "Smoking has many negative affects on our health." Now, if I had written that, it would have been completely and undoubtedly WRONG.

The correct way to write that sentence would have been "Smoking has many negative effects on our health."

This is how it goes: The word "affect" is a verb, meaning that it is used when something happens to someone. The word "effect" is a noun, meaning that it is the thing that has happened.

In other words, we would say that a person is affected by the noisy environment, or maybe his bad behaviour affects the focus of other students in the class. The word "affect" here means that a bad thing is happpening or has happened to these people.

On the other hand, we say that these people have felt the bad effects of the polluted water supply. The word "effect" here is referring to the bad thing that has happened to these people.

*But I may be rambling. I hope all of this is sticking. To go back to our old sentence about the smoking, we would say that "Smoking has many bad effects on our health," or, "Our health is affected by cigarette-smoking." That's it. I've explained it to the best of my ability. So, in the words of my Additional Mathematics tuition teacher, "If you still don't get it, repeat it a hundred times until you do." Or, in my case, I guess you could just look for a better English teacher than me...

Lesson: "your" and "you're".
This is an error that I used to make all the time. But ever since I found out about it - and I did so quite late in life I might add - I have been very taboo about making that mistake.

You're probably getting tired of the English lesson by now, and so am I, so I'll cut our last lesson short.

The difference is: "your" is the possesive of "you", whereas "you're" is an abbreviation of "you are".

***If you do not care about all these English grammar terms, as you have every right not to, then please skip to the next paragraph***
Now you're probably wondering, what is a "possessive" and what is an "abbreviation"? Well, a possesive is used when you want to show that something belong to someone, like "He owns that book, so it is his book."
As for the abbreviation, that would be all those shortened words with the apostrophes in them, such as the word "isn't", which is the abbreviation for "is not". Don't use these in formal essays, because they can be considered informal.

Now, "your" should never be mixed up with "you're". "Your" is used as "The book belongs to you, therefore it is your book." You can never say "you're book", because "you're" is an abbreviation of "you are". This means that "you're book" would actually mean "you are book", which is of course completely wrong.

We use "you're" in speech, when we want to shorten the words "you are". For example, "You are very dedicated when it comes to learning English," or in plain speech, "You're very dedicated when it comes to learning English." You can never say "Your very dedicated", because then you would be saying that the "very dedicated" belongs to you, therefore, it is "your very dedicated", which does not make any sense at all.

*In short, whenever you want to use the "your" or "you're", you can try to visualise what role the word plays in the sentence. If you are using it to say that an object belongs to a person, then use "your". If you are using it in the place of "you are", which I believe is allowed in a dialogue in narrative writing, then use "you are".

Advanced lesson: The same applies to "its" and "it's". "Its" is used the same as "your", and "it's" is used the same as "you're".

There will be considerable confusion here, since the possessives of many objects like "the woman's glove" use an apostrophe followed by an "s", but in the case of "its" we just use the "s", as in "The door creaks because its hinges are rusty". In other words, "it" is similar to "he", "she", and "you". He, she, you, it; his, hers, yours, its.

On the other hand, "it's" is used in the place of "it is". Like, instead of saying "It is a monster!", you can just say "It's a monster!", which is a much easier thing to say when you're busy running away in terror.


That would be it for our lesson tonight. Of course, as any teacher would, I hope that everything I've said will be meaningful to someone, and that people will be able to learn from the words that are formed by my lips, or in this case, my fingertips. Well, helpful or no, tonight's English lesson certainly benefited me, if not anyone else, so I am not discouraged from trying again next Thursday, in accordance with the timetable. If you like my English lesson (which would be a dream come true), then you'll know to come back next Thursday night, although Friday might be a better day, since my updates may be quite late at night. Or if you absolutely hated this lecture, which I anxiously expect and am well prepared for, then you'll know not to bother visiting next Thursday. Either way, thank you for reading, and I'm terribly sorry if I made any English errors while trying to teach English - talk about the crab that teaches its child to walk straight - and I hope you'll point them out to me. Thanks for reading, and good night.