Image from Wikipedia

How to drink to lose weight and save money

There is one common thing that I’ve frequently observed among people who find it difficult to lose weight and those who wonder why they don’t seem to be able to save much money – they’re simply not very self-aware of their own habits, and they often complain that it’s hard to lose weight or save money.

This post is more on our drinking habits, so I won’t talk much about how to save money because it’s different for everyone. Some people have big necessary bills to pay, some have big unnecessary bills, and some people find it tough to get a good job. (What I do each month is to simply carve out my forced savings the minute my pay cheque gets deposited into my bank and transfer it into another account.)

Now to jump to my conclusion about healthy, economical drinking – just drink plain water all the time (duh).

People know that plain water is beneficial to the body, but you need to look at the economics of commercialized water – you may not be aware of how much money you are literally pissing into into the urinal and helping to fund the huge advertising campaigns of beverage makers to get you to drink even more sugared water. Continue reading

The Fitbit Zip activity tracker

Thoughts on Fitbit and activity trackers

I recently started using a Fitbit Zip activity tracker because I was intrigued by this whole idea of doing 10,000 steps a day to keep fit. At S$78 (before the Challenger member 10% discount), it’s not cheap but it’s not expensive either for a tiny pedometer that comes with Bluetooth wireless capabilities and built-in user account.

To be clear, it’s not like I need a pedometer, because I already jog regularly two to three times a week and I watch what I eat most of the time. I weigh myself daily now with a Fitbit Aria scale that logs my weight to my personal account and I can always study my weight variations anytime on my phone or PC.

But once you pique my curiosity and it involves tech and fitness, I just have to try it out to gain an understanding of what other people are raving about. Continue reading

Upper Peirce 4 Jan 2013

Gorgeous Skies at Upper Peirce Reservoir

Upper Peirce 4 Jan 2013

I often wake up early about 6am to go for jogs or to wait for the sunrise, and today I decided to go to Upper Peirce for the first time at such an hour to check out the sunrise. I was stunned by what I saw, and here are some photos all taken within a few minutes of each other. God truly creates beautiful things we cannot fathom.

Please feel free to download these images for your own desktop and smartphone wallpapers, and I’m not going to spoil them with watermarks because my ego isn’t that big. But if you’re going to share them or use it on your own site, please remember to credit me and the date with location (Ian Tan, Upper Peirce Reservoir, Singapore, 4 Jan 2014).

Upper Peirce 4 Jan 2013 B

Upper Peirce 4 Jan 2013 C

Upper Peirce 4 Jan 2013 D

Monster at Upper Peirce 4 Jan 2013
And of course, I won’t forget to have a shot of my Ducati Monster 1100 Evo when the sky is so beautiful. This is the only photo where I had to use the HDR mode on my camera so I could bring out some details of the bike’s form.
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Garmin Forerunner 620 review

I recently wrote my first article for Geek Culture, a fantastic blog site for us tech pseudo-nerds and gaming fans. It’s a review of Garmin’s latest flagship running watch, the Forerunner 620.

If you’re serious about running, you’re probably already using a GPS running watch to track your weekly progress. And if you’re a geek, I would wager you are also wondering if somebody has fixed the various technical shortcomings of your current watch.

Issues like heavy weight, ugly looks, bulky size, inconvenient battery charging, short battery life, limited data displays, slow GPS lock-on to poorly designed websites, I’ve experienced all of them in the past four years since I started using different wrist devices to record my runs.

That’s why when Garmin first announced its latest flagship running watch – the Forerunner 620 – the geek in me sat up and noticed. From paper specifications alone, the watch appears to have been designed to fix most of these niggling issues. Even with its high price (USD449 with the improved and advanced Heart Rate Monitor, more on that later), it seemed too good to be true.

Check out the rest of the review here. Since I bought the watch, it had better be good, and hence my review is going to be pretty obvious.

The Tuition Problem nobody wants to solve

Dear Voices Editor

I refer to the Today report “MPs call for closer look at private tuition industry” (Today 17 Sep 2013)

It was a disheartening story for parents of primary school children to read.

While the original question posed by MPs in Parliament was focused on whether teachers are leaving the Education Service for more lucrative careers in the tuition sector, the replies from Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah was a disturbing indication that the Ministry of Education doesn’t consider the tuition industry to be a critical issue.

Like it or not, it’s time for policymakers to stop ignoring the Tuition Problem if we are to improve the education system in Singapore. Continue reading

cakes cakes

Guide To Dieting in Singapore

cakes cakes
Dieting in Singapore – you can have your cake and eat it you know. Just know how many calories are in each slice. (About 100kcal)

When I first started counting my calories, I got quite a few responses from my friends. Some feigned mock horror, others said they couldn’t be bothered as it was a chore. To amuse myself and to annoy my Facebook friends, I posted regularly on the horrors of high calorie content in our local foods, and what do you know, some of them started calorie counting too. Sadly, most gave up after a while.

Anyway, in the past four months, I’ve dropped about 5.5kg from the time I swore to change my diet. On the bright side, I can see my jawline again, most of the spare tyres around the tummy and chest has disappeared and my waistline has contracted by over an inch, reversing a 15-year trend.

The bad part is now most of my usual work and casual clothes are now baggy and I have to buy new clothes.

To some people that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Anyway, some friends have asked me to share my diet plan and other tips, so you read this earlier post (My Mid-Life Food Crisis) first on the science behind dieting, and my new learnings as follows: Continue reading

Attitude Determines Destiny

destiny

Last weekend, I was swimming with the family at Bishan pool when I heard a China-born swim coach remind his young students “态度决定命运!”. It means “Attitude Determines Destiny”.

It was such a fascinating statement that I stopped swimming to listen further and I kept brooding on it. I went home and did online research, finding out that it was the title to the following saying (I’m not sure who the author is)

态度改变, 行为就会改变

行为改变, 习惯就会改变

习惯改变, 性格就会改变

性格改变, 命运就会改变

Change your attitude, and your behavior will change.

Change your behavior, and your habits will change.

Change your habits, and your character will change.

Change your character, and your destiny will change.

How true! All these, many of us know in one form or another, but it had never been laid out to me in such a clear, logical manner. I spent the rest of the weekend discussing this with Isaac, stressing to him how every step (attitude, behavior, habits and character) are essential to building one’s future. Of course, I don’t know how much he will remember of this conversation, since he is still young and inexperienced in the ways of the world.

I’ve always wondered if being a journalist was a good thing, because there was so much unhappiness during my SPH bond. But one thing that was beneficial was that it led me to meet so many different types of people in a very short time, and sometimes I got the opportunity to tell their unique stories.

As I looked back at people I’ve met over the years, the four steps manifested themselves in different ways, but always had similar roots in habitual behavior.

There was this army major, who spent his time blaming young NSFs for his mistakes of poor judgement.

There was this girl, who couldn’t help but keep making the wrong decisions in love, breaking up other lives along the way.

There was this person, who kept lying and covering up in almost everything at work, until it became chronic and known to everyone else.

There was this person who spent his time plotting against others, but never actually doing any real work. As far as I could tell, he didn’t really have any real skills either.

There was a writer who was addicted to plagiarism, but somehow was always let off the hook.

The pattern continues, and you get the idea. People who do the things they shouldn’t do, keep doing it until it becomes a fixed habit. Then they get stuck, because they really can’t stop.

What was the attitude that led to the behavior in the first place? The idea that they can get away with it? That it was an acceptable thing to do to survive in this cruel, unforgiving world?

Some will scoff, saying that you can’t be a goody-two-shoes if you want to rise to the top, because the bad guys always get ahead. The question needs to be asked – do you want to rise to the top, and where is the “top” anyway?

The peak of a corporate firm? Or the peak of your technical skills?

The peak of being a multitasker? Or the peak of being able to live with contentment?

The peak of being able to fool everyone (eg. cheating pastor of a big church)? Or the peak of self-awareness and humility?

How then, did such attitudes get planted? Through upbringing? Through peer influence? Through multiple failures or successes in life?

I don’t know, and I worry for my children as I seek to put them on the right path God instructed parents to. I keep making mistakes in parenting and I keep asking myself if I am doing right by my kids. I look back at my own life, and I wonder what did my mum do right so that I didn’t grow up with the wrong values.

Or was it that I was blessed with righteous and caring bosses in SAF, SPH and Microsoft that led to my current outlook on life? I’m not saying that I’m great at what I do, but my bosses all taught me the unshakeable values of doing my best no matter the size of the assignment, and being brutally critical of my own work and behavior because there is always someone better…..You know, there are few greater blessings than having wise mentors.

Or is it genetic? Are chronic liars and competitive people born that way?

Again, I don’t know, but all I know is that shaping my future, and hopefully my children’s values, all starts with my attitude, and for that, I thank the nameless coach for such precious wisdom. I’m not saying that man is in full control of his life – God is. But we have been given free will to decide what kind of life we want to lead, and what is our attitude that will please God and men?

The root issues of our education system

Hard truths screenshot

This post has been edited and published in Today, 26 Mar 2013, under the headline “Hard truths of our education system”. Screenshot above.

Recently, a young mother asked me how one should prepare their children for the tough problem sums found in primary school mathematics.

Her father, a successful businessman, chimed in: “Why do parents have to go for classes to learn how to teach their children? That’s the teacher’s job! The job of parents is to go out and earn money to feed the family!”

The Education Minister recently expounded on the myriad of issues surrounding education during the Committee of Supply debate in Parliament. He mentioned a need to go back to basics, and it couldn’t be truer.

However, going back to basics requires an honest assessment of what’s truly broken, instead of asking parents to manage their expectations and to strive for school-work-life balance.

The situation isn’t as complex as the Ministry believes, because the many issues raised all lead back to a few root causes that are not being given enough emphasis by policymakers.

Roles need to be clear

Let’s ignore the unreasonable demands from “kiasu” parents and be explicitly clear about the roles we play : Parents are not teachers. Teachers are not supermen. Tutors are meant to help weak students, not raise the benchmark of top students to silly levels.

While parents should be considered “partners in education”, it is alarming when the time students spend in school is deemed insufficient for them to master the curriculum, hence the need for parents and tuition teachers to be constantly coaching them late into the night.

If you ask why everyone has to play an educator’s role today, it’s really because of the unrealistic curriculum.

Teach less, learn less, grow more.

The primary school curriculum is a topic that the Education Ministry has yet to publicly acknowledge as a a critical problem, despite much public outcry for reform. While the Ministry wants to encourage creativity, it is impossible when children are drowned with a huge range of topics.

The question educators need to ask themselves is – “How much does a child really need to learn to be a well-rounded individual?”

The Minister recently said that parents should not compare our curriculum today with that of the past. So how is it that we had less topics to study in the 1980s and 1990s, and that had no adverse effect on our lives today? Many of us have adapted to today’s technologies and business landscape without a hiccup.

Meanwhile, I see today’s kids lacking sleep because they simply cannot catch up with the sheer volume of things they have to remember. They learn more, but remember little.

Teachers keep saying “teach less, learn more” and some end up leaving the bulk of the teaching to parents and tutors. Perhaps let’s change it to “teach less, learn less, grow more”.

Also, if we truly believe in meritocracy, then any hardworking child armed with an MOE-approved textbook should be able to excel at the school exam without needing tuition or a stack of assessments books with questions of exceptional difficulty.

Celebrate achievements, not diminish them

While we need to reduce the sheer volume of tested topics, we also need to stop barking up the wrong trees in the same spirit of meritocracy.

The recent move to stop publishing the names of PSLE top scorers may do more harm than good in the long run.

Whether education is a “marathon” or a “sprint”, we should celebrate those who are able to excel, without letting schools obsess with the school ranking exercise.

Ask yourself, which athlete pushes himself to the maximum only to have his achievements disappear in a sea of political correctness? Who wants to take the marathon seriously then?

We desperately need to give more breathing space to the average student, but we should not diminish the achievements of the truly gifted or those who have overcome the odds to do their best.

Let’s speak English well. Please.

MPs recently debated about the falling popularity of literature, but nobody ever mentioned that students may actually fear the subject because of their poor grasp of the English language.

Yes, our top students do well in global tests and in Ivy League universities, but let’s also recognize that the average standard of English communication in Singapore leaves much to be desired.

Many young graduates are unable to switch out of Singlish into proper English at will, and good grammar is often lacking at the workplace.

The root causes are the continued emphasis on bilingualism and the poor understanding of how to teach English in our schools. For English exams, the key tenets of fluency, brevity and impact have been replaced by flowery words and much hubris. Children memorize colorful phrases to insert into every possible sentence.

The result is that many citizens don’t speak English or their mother tongue well, and that is a national tragedy.

If we are serious about improving the education system, then let’s not shy away from tackling the hard truths of our situation today.

Thoughts, Technology & Tales