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Teaching Math and Science – for Real May 14, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Education, Science, Society.

Incoming overly long sentence :- You know those ‘seizures’ you get when your mind is screaming, “OMG MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY” a little bit too loud in your own head when someone else is talking while you politely wait for them to finish talking so that you can agree with them vehemently? A US high school mathematics teacher gave me one of those today, via a TED X Talk.

It’s about a problem I’ve been trying to express for a while, especially to my fellow educators. I usually refer to it as “lexical analysis of examination questions without actual learning” (being the geek and programmer that I am). He calls it “lack of math reasoning and patient problem solving.” Both describe the “plug numbers into formula” teaching that we do in most of mathematics and science education today. He talks about the whole thing in a much more positive way though. I tend to ooze negativism and sarcasm whenever I discuss these things.

What we usually end up achieving is the conversion of our students into walking computers. Given carefully worded questions (not unlike a programming language) with strategically placed numbers, they will identify a pre-programmed formula (14 weeks of lectures and tutorials in university) and be able to spit out a solution and answer. We then conveniently ‘evaluate’ their math understanding based on that. Given real world problems however, the likelihood of them solving it is pretty low.

Video below:

English teachers never have to deal with their students only ‘theoretically’ being able to speak English. Why are math and science teachers settling for that? It … doesn’t compute – in any way or form for me. At university level, our usual excuse for continuing the numbers-into-formula-plugging-education is that the students are used to it, i.e. blaming it on the schools. I wonder who the schools blame it on. And when does this cycle change if not with every individual teacher/lecturer/department/faculty out there?

I think it is high time that society stopped settling for half-baked math and science education in schools and universities. Until there is consumer awareness of the crappy methodology we’re employing in formal education, there will be little push for things to move forward. For real.

P/S I give short talks (for free usually) on consumer empowerment in technical education. Sick and tired of lectures, but don’t know how to point out that it’s a crappy teaching method? Think of yourself as a holistic learner but being forced to learn sequentially? Or are you a teacher/lecturer or managing teachers/lecturers and would like to start finding better ways of reaching your students? Look me up.

A follow up video to that is of course Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on how formal education kills creativity. I can’t believe this video isn’t up on this blog yet.


Miri – 1 May 6, 2010

Posted by Siew in Uncategorized.
Tags: , ,
1 comment so far

Okay, let me first get some things straight. Miri is not a backwater town like some people would describe it to be. Before I left, I was told that there is one Starbucks in Sarawak, and that is in Kuching.

An hour into my arrival I saw one in Miri, somewhere in the shopping complex. The next day, I saw a Coffee Bean in my own office. And there is a Secret Recipe within walking distance to the hotel I’m living on now. Miri is not Mar Sara.

So far, life here has been everything I was expecting it to be. Miri is mostly quiet, with small pockets of happening-ness that caters to the oil and gas employees that come from all over. The drive to work is pleasant in the morning, but I can’t help but feel like I’m late for work everytime I step outside. By 6.30, the sun is out.

Integrating into Shell has so far been a very good experience. Somehow, the company has managed to make it so that everyone seems to be happy to see someone new come in. No sulky faces, no mono-syllabic grunts of acknowledgement when I was introduced to all the people in my department. I’ve already had a game of squash with some Shell fellows and some others have asked me to play tennis. Apparently, with the lack of a nightlife in Miri, most of the people here just turn to sports. I can definitely live with that.

When I got here, I found out that I will be doing procurement for IT services, which was a bit of a surprise. I’m working in Finance, and I didn’t even know that until I stepped into the office. Whats even weirder is the fact that there were 2 other engineers coming in at the same time as me going to reservoir and production engineering. Both of them got hired later than me. Can’t help but to feel that I should be in their office instead.

But then again, all things considered I am pretty happy with my current position. My supervisor is really nice, and more importantly, efficient. I got my smart tag (Shell calls it a GID card) on the first day, and by day 2, I was beeping myself in and out of the office. Plus, having been a graduate trainee before, I know what its like to constantly feel like a deadweight in the company because people are constantly training me, but during that time I’m practically useless to the company. Engineers in Shell tend to be in training for the first 2 years or so. If I got into engineering, I’ll feel the same way I did in MOX all over again. I’ve had enough of going from one place to another and having everyone there look at me like they can’t really give me anything substantial to do (which they can’t because of the limited time I have in the departments).

I’ve been asked to sign to about 6 different training sessions relevant to my department, but then that would have to await my entry to the Shell Open University.

Owh, and the best news I got was that Shell Sarawak observes the Gawai holidays, and so the office shuts down for 10 days at the end of May. I’m coming home at the end of the month!.(Flight bloody expensive though, but its 10 days. I’m not going to pass up a holiday like that. I’ll only be back for about 7 days though.)

So I guess I might be seeing you guys pretty soon then. Heh. I’ll blog again about Shell soon. It’s a very interesting company indeed.

The Incomplete Survey April 28, 2010

Posted by Will in Education, Fiction, History, Society, Uncategorized.

If life is a tapestry, Gezus was fairly sure that it is one of a million creatures copulating to the rays of as many stars. He was in a foul mood for certain, as was his mate earlier when last night’s effort proved to be fruitless yet again. Shina did the test three times and was last seen crying and on a tirade about his diet when he stepped out of the house to get to work. So the day that started off dismally continued its whimpering trajectory when the computer fed him the report of the latest survey.




It then rather painfully elucidate that the civilization on the planet is at least a couple of hundred years behind in sociological and mental development although technology is only lagging behind by a little shy of a century. Gezus tapped his temple, found the location of the survey fleet and started the procedures to beam his mind aboard their flagship, Are We There Yet.  He would be gone for at least a month and decided to let the computer inform Shina of that fact. Of course, being the honourable and sensitive male that he was, he hinted at the computer that it would not be too untoward if it made some insertions of URGENT, EXTREME, HELP and HERO at choice locations in the message.

Now it would usually be prudent to have described what Gezus looked like, or the general traits if his highly advanced species. Truth of the matter is, it would be an exercise in futility as they practically do not own bodies permanent in nature. In fact, their whole species is a complete amalgamation of different ones across the galaxy. What remains wholly “Gezus” is a brain which could be adapted into various bodies, although most would choose to stick to one for a reasonable period of time for the sake of procreation and as a matter of personal taste.  Members of Gezus’ society could also choose to be immortal as their neural imprints can be transferred into an artificial brain upon the deterioration of their natural ones.  Strangely, this was a practice not a widely embraced.


One peculiar thing about the space vessels operated by Gezus’ society is that not only do they run themselves but also they also name themselves, and often very inconveniently. For example, in the 4th Survey Fleet, the flagship was escorted by two larger ships Honourable Ideals and An Instrument of Peace. These two combat ships are somewhere between two to three kilometres in length and bristled with pointy ends like a Terran monarch caterpillar. Are We There Yet in comparison is a plain disc only a tenth long with observation ports all around the outside edge of the disc. Despite its diminutive size however, it boasted the biggest and most boisterous member of the fleet as its captain.

Captain Seeker Kitan was said to possess such a sensitive nose he could smell your mind (and indeed, the extremely sophisticated business end of his face was tuned to detect neural waves) so when Gezus stepped into the vast cabin at the bow of the flagship Kitan whirled around in a practiced fashion and boomed “Welcome, Operator to Are We There Yet-“

No we are not, Captain. I’d wish you would stop asking or we’ll never get there,” said the ceiling anxiously in a decidedly female voice. “Honestly, how hard is it to-.“ The voice continued but stopped abruptly when Kitan slapped a button on his chest.

“- and to my personal cabin. Don’t mind the ship’s computer, she’s bound to be a bit touchy after not getting anywhere for the better part of five hundred years, “ continued Kitan, apparently used to the interruption. Gezus had read about the ship’s tradition which originated far in the past where her navigators would plot courses a few parsecs more than required to avoid the chance that they would appear in the middle of a star, which was a tragic possibility back then. The practice then gained traction and has been continued ever since, driving the ship bonkers. “One of those spacefarers’ superstition no doubt.” He thought.

“Thank you for receiving me, Captain. Do you have my cover and vehicle ready?” Gezus asked as he glanced inquisitively at the ceiling.

“Yes you will find that all the navigational data has been provided and your human body is fresh from the factory. I’ve even taken the liberty to double check its backup organs and smooth every wrinkle, which seems to be quite a bad thing down there,” said Kitan gravely as he thumbed at the blue-green sphere off to the starboard bow.

“Thank you. I shall be back with a full report as soon as I can.” Gezus was about to turn away when Kitan approached and spoke softly, “there is something you should know.”

Gezus arched an eyebrow.

“Well, you see during the last survey we only managed to take samplings in a relatively small area. A complete survey was not possible due to-ah…us accidentally colliding with one of their probes,” whispered Kitan nervously.

“But that’s not possible! We would have caught the probe on our scans,” exclaimed Gezus.

“We would have, but for the fact that we were too busy shadowing one of their recently launched spacecrafts to notice. One which according to our calculations was heading to the fourth planet from the star,” chuckled Kitan, before continuing “Now that we’re needed at Alpha Centauri for some urgent pirate teasing mission, we will leave after you’ve landed and pick you up on the way back. I trust you would do a thorough job where we couldn’t.”

“I will try, but isn’t it puzzling how could these humans launch an even a primitive interplanetary mission with these low technological readings?” Gezus shook his head as he studied the report in his mind.

“Why did you think we brought you here? Now go prep for your launch, them pirates won’t be happy if I arrive late to the party.” Said Kitan with what you would call a wink as he guided Gezus out the door.

Two hours later Gezus landed as stealthily as he could in a small forest a short ways from a crossroad next to a field. His pod instantly buried itself into the soil as he made his way north quickly through the shrubs. His proxy body and clothes were closely tailored to match the inhabitants of the area where he landed, which was the only country surveyed by Kitan. As he approached the crossroad he attempted to work out the native script on the wooden sign by the roughly tarred road. There was nobody in sight but birds flying in the glare of the rising sun as he read:

“PYONGYANG – 25 Km.”


Author’s note:This was written rather quickly as a short story in reaction to North Korea’s most recent threat to nuke the US(for the umpteenth time) after a report about the South Korean navy ship was sunk by a torpedo launched by NK. And this is after all the aid by the US (among others) given to alleviate the famine which killed millions.

It’s just amazing how far removed a whole country can be in this day and age. It is also pretty telling how a biased education coupled with media blackouts is able to totally transform the perception of reality for these people. I’m pretty sure NK isn’t the first nor the last of these extreme forms of dictatorship where the head of state is still revered as The Saviour much akin to godhood while the citizens starve and never felt freedom nor WISH for it.

Is the onus on us more cultured and rational global citizens to liberate them? What would you do for a lost sibling who was raised by trolls and who threaten you repeatedly with a butcher knife every time you try to start a conversation?

On the flip side…perhaps these north koreans have an immense gratitude for their Supreme Leader, being how he saved them from certain death, never mind now that they’ll be thrown into a life of servitude and ignorance. Maybe the joke is on us and they’re all smoking something really awesome, which begs the question – where did they get it and can I have some?

A Tribute to the Hubble Space Telescope. April 25, 2010

Posted by Will in Astronomy, Science.
1 comment so far

Dear Hubble,

Congratulations for achieving two decades of operations. Here is a toast to you.

Thank you for being our eye in space these past many years. Because of you our celestial horizons are now wider and more beautiful. Because of you, this young and incorrigible species got to see further into the universe and allow the images to invoke feelings of both belonging and wonderment.

Thank you for having the perseverance to stay up after all these years tethered to our little planet of blue. Thank you for giving the much traveled lightwaves a home and a purpose. Thank you for all the new funky nebulae, the twinkling stars, the bashful planets, the bullying black holes and the flashing quasars. Thank you for populating our universe with billions of faraway objects, both on computer and in our minds.

More importantly, thank you for not turning your lenses earthwards, for the pictures down here are gritty,  not so complementary and a little out of  focus. Needless to say we’re not very photogenic as a whole. However, we promise that when you retire in 2014 your replacement the James Webb Space Telescope will be sent from a better world than it was when you were launched in 1990. So take no head of us down here slogging through conflicts and weathering knocks, for the work you do gives us proof of a more fantastical out of this world, which is neither supernatural nor metaphysical in nature.

Thank you, and this goes out to all the passionate people working so hard to keep you up and alive.  You all do Mr. Edwin proud.

P.S. – You may wish to keep a look out for orbiting teapots, it’s a pretty big deal down here.

Nasa HST site


Virgin Images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory April 22, 2010

Posted by Will in Astronomy, Science.
New solar images

A full on picture of our Sun, taken by the new SDO. Credit: Nasa/SDO

New images and video clips of our dear old Sun were obtained recently by NASA via the brand spanking new Solar Dynamics Observatory(SDO). SDO is a space telescope in geosynchronous orbit designed to capture massive amounts of data of the Sun and display them in enrapturing coloured videos.

Click on this link to view the breathtaking videos of solar flares, prominences and even magnetic fields of our very own ultimate ball of fire. Apologies in advance if you are here to see pictures of virgins but if you concentrate hard enough you might even see one or two on the surface of the glorious Sun.

I fucking hate fortune tellers March 18, 2010

Posted by Siew in Personal, Society.

Its amazing how people can believe that somehow the date of birth of a person will dictate how his life will be. Its even more amazing when this belief goes beyond just fun dabbling in mysticism and people start making life decisions based on these predictions. I mean, its one thing to avoid wearing a certain colour because some guru asks you too, but to decide who to marry and what job to take based on how the fucking stars align is just frustratingly dumb.

Apparently, my girlfriend is bad for me. She will control me and drive a wedge between my mum and I. She will cheat on me and sleep with her boss to get ahead in her career. All that apparently because we are both Tigers. Fucking genius isn’t it? Oh, and apparently, she will try to convert me. Never mind the fact that she has become increasingly disillusioned by the church over the years.

The fact of the matter is that I have never been the type to bow down to my mother when it comes to things that are important to me. I make concessions all the time just to keep the peace and to prevent her from exploding into a raging fit. But when it comes to something as important as who I marry, I’m not going to fold just because she believes some crack mystic who studied in China for a few years. Its my life. I am allowed to make my own mistakes.

The biggest problem now is that its likely to be a self fulfilling prophecy. My mum already made up her mind not to like her because she is a feisty character and a little darker than your average china doll. (Which is a fucking irony since she herself is one strong-headed woman. And she has Thai blood, making her dark-ish too). Now with some mystic telling her that the gods have dictated that our marriage will fail, she is going to be determined to see the relationship burn. And the best part is, when I try and reason with her about why the predictions are very unlikely to come true, she dismisses me with “Aiya, don’t want to talk about it la. You already made up your mind about it. I say what also you won’t listen. Blinded already, see what you want to see.” There is so much irony here I think even Oscar Wilde will cringe if he heard my story.

I’m also wearing a pendant that cost RM280 because I need protection. Argh!

I don’t think I will ever tire of saying it.


On JAKIM Cheating on Online Poll Results March 10, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Politics.

Tim wrote a post on his blog in which he claims to have found proof of JAKIM doctoring their own website’s poll on caning as a form of punishment. To translate, the poll asks “Is it proper for Muslim men and woman who commit the offences of drinking liquor and illicit sexual intercourse to receive the whipping sentence, in accordance to syariah criminal law?” The choices are “Proper” or “Not Proper.”

Tim was kind enough to furnish me the results of his script’s data (655 small HTML pages of the poll’s results page saved every 2 minutes) which I manually tabulated into 10 minute slices in Excel to obtain the number of votes every 10 minutes.

I immediately found that there are cheating on both sides of the poll, which shouldn’t surprise anyone really. Cookie deletion or IP anonymizers should be able to circumvent the poll’s one vote policy. Despite this, although I wouldn’t think of this as conclusive proof, I find Tim’s conclusions highly likely – 500 vote jumps on the “Proper” side happening three times is just a little too neat, even for people spamming votes.

It’s not hard to throw out the few slices of two minutes that contain obvious vote spamming on both sides of the poll. And the ‘real’ results of the poll, which is what I’m most interested in, is damning.

With spamming votes removed, between 11:30 a.m. on 9 March and 11:10 a.m. on 10 March, there are approximately:

  • 54 votes for “Proper”, vs
  • 604 votes for “Not Proper”
Cheating on Polls

Click to enlarge, full analysis in link below

Check out the analysis for yourself. The orange bits are the ones I decided are anomalous / cheated votes).

TMPoint – Enforce Your Own Queue System Please March 5, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Personal.

I just sat for 1 1/2 hours in TMPoint Cyberjaya waiting for my turn ticket number “4056” to be called out on the automatic turn ticket announcer. Two counters were open for services other than payment of bills. As I waited, I watched as three different people cut the queue at both counters.

As is common with turn ticketing systems, people will press the buttons, take a ticket and then leave without waiting for their turn. So sometimes the system calls out numbers for whom the person is no longer present. A couple of opportunistic bastards happily took their place without showing their ticket number.

The staff at the counter didn’t ask for it.

A group of foreigners next to me were bewildered – trying to figure out why their turn haven’t arrived when people who very obviously arrived after they did (as much as an hour later) had their turn before theirs. They were nice enough not to make a fuss when I explained to them that people were cheating and the staff wasn’t even aware of it.

And no, this isn’t the case of someone leaving and coming back later. I SAW these three people press the button for their tickets. And all three waited for a while to make sure that no one was going to respond to that turn number before happily walking up to the counter (one even pretended to only notice her ticket after the second time the number was called).

To add salt to injury, all three of the bastards were applying for Streamyx, which is like a half-hour long process. I only wanted to change my address – which took like 5 minutes. The foreigners whose turn was just before mine also only took about 10 minutes.

If you’re going to have a turn ticketing system USE IT. It’s both idiotic and naive to assume that no one would attempt to cut the queue.

Notes on Starting Teaching – Week 3 March 1, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Teaching.
1 comment so far

This week I got my first dose of the immense, crushing kind of feeling you get when you realize that your class have little to no idea of what you’re talking about – I gave them a quiz. I bet my students had the same kind of feeling as well – none of them managed to answer the fairly easy questions, poor things.

After two weeks of dealing with a fairly passive class, and having little to no feedback of their understanding of my classes, I decided to embark on some continuous assessment. I’m also trying finding out if students more willing to participate if there are marks at stake. I designed three activities, one individual, one small group and one whole class discussion. I ran out of time to do the small group activity, but we did the other two.

Individual Activity

Anyways here’s the sequence of events:

  1. Announced in class and in our online learning system that there’s going to be a quiz during the next class on sampling distribution.
  2. Generated 200 random 9-digit numbers (random.org) and counted the number of numbers with a digit recurring beside itself (976511234 has ‘1’ recurring beside itself) – there are 112 out of 200 of these. (56%) Got the basic idea for the recurring digit test from a book.
  3. In class, discussed briefly if computers and humans are capable of generating truly random numbers by themselves. (These are IT students at foundation level.)
  4. Asked each student to, as randomly as possible, write down a 9 digit number. Out of 74 students, 9 wrote numbers with a recurring digit. (12.2%)
  5. Explained how random.org uses atmospheric parameters to generate random data to affect its random number generation in order to be truly random, and showed them the numbers generated earlier.
  6. Asked them three questions as a quiz:

  • Propose which statistic we have discussed can most accurately be assumed to describe the proportion of all truly random numbers that have a digit appearing beside itself. Why?
  • Using your proposal above, what is the probability that in a sample of random numbers, you will find the class’ proportion of random numbers generated that have a digit appearing beside itself or less?
  • Based on the discussion and the result of your calculation above, can humans accurately ‘behave’ randomly? Why?

To help them:

  • I circled in bright red the only two statistics we discussed.
  • They were free to open their textbook (or anything else, for that matter).
  • I told them the page of the chapter (sampling distribution) that have samples of this question.
  • They were free to discuss it among themselves.

Two out of 74 students decided that 56% most closely describes the percentage of random numbers with a recurring digit. TWO. No one figured out that they could’ve just filled in p=56%, p(hat)=12.2% and n=74 into the equation in the suggested chapter to get the probability. Half of the students answered 12.2% as the answer to question 2, showing that although they get what proportions are for, they cannot yet extrapolate it to the concept of sampling distributions. And a lot of them reasoned at length for the third question without basing it on the results of their calculation.

I’m guessing the problem here is a combination of these:

  • I covered sampling distribution before a 1 1/2 weeks pause for CNY – they’ve forgotten it.
  • They’re waiting until the mid-trimester examinations to study the topic.
  • I’m not making enough sense in class.

I’m going to try switching it around a bit – doing a quiz-like activity immediately at the end of a topic to see if they improve any.

Class Activity

I got the whole class to discuss about gathering height and salary information from lecturers to do a local survey similar to the one found here. Purposely chose this topic since that they have to deal with how to obtain sensitive information, and naturally leads to discussions about anonymity, privacy and so on.

The idea is to give them an immensely easy way to score – the whole class gets the same score, if they cover the 8 things important to running surveys and gathering data in their discussion. I prompt them from the side of course. They picked up 5 out of the 8 matters. About 10 students participated actively, they rest stared into space. Yep – even when there’s marks at stake. Suffice to say, not going to do this again. Heh.


At the end of the day, I find that my wish to innovate my teaching methodology for the course is severely limited by the assessment method, which is out of my control – 70% mid-trimester and final examinations. The usual sit down, closed book affair. Even the 20% assignments are more exam-oriented questions that they are to do and submit. It seems to be common practice in math courses, from my own experience. The only purpose of giving an assignment of this kind, it seems to me, is to ensure that a few dedicated students actually do the questions, and that the rest copy it. Does copying solutions constitute learning? (Maybe it helps one memorize the format of specific math solutions?)

The overt pressure I feel as the lecturer for this subject seems to be to teach them how to solve these examination questions. In a way, their final examinations is both a test for them, as well as myself. Individually if they score well they get a good grade. Collectively if they score well, it is taken as an indication that I have taught them well. And at that point, what would I have taught them exactly?

The individual activity I did above is an example of an ‘unnecessary’ activity for the purpose of teaching them how to answer examination questions. That activity involved a little bit of analysis and even synthesis, whereas they only need knowledge, comprehension and application to answer examination questions. To teach the latter three, all I would’ve done is to present the question, “Given that 56% of all random numbers have a recurring digit, calculate the probability that a random sample of 74 numbers have only 9 numbers with recurring digits,” and given them the solution. It takes only 20 seconds to come up with, and the chances of them answering it correctly in a quiz with an open book is significantly higher.

The activity I conducted in class on the other hand took a few hours to prepare – finding the idea, generating the numbers, counting them, coming up with a good way to phrase the questions etc. Yet the easy one – examination questions – is what both I and they will be assessed on at the end of the semester. Why then, should I bother teaching them the former? Not that I didn’t realize all this before, but this is the first time I’m experiencing it for myself.

It is frustrating because statistics is such an interesting subject. Imagine if we harnessed the power of our statistics undergraduate students in mini studies and projects for the past ten years, we would have correlated thousands of pairs of statistics in the university by now!

In a limited-circulation piece I wrote some time ago, I said:

What our undergraduates are actually picking up in the vast majority of subjects is a form of lexical analysis and pattern recognition – they are studying the forms examination questions usually take, and they practice the solution to these questions in order to later answer their examination papers. Every chapter becomes the source of a few possible examination question types, instead of a slice of knowledge.

Even now as a lecturer, recognizing this, I feel that I am helpless to change it.

For now.

Blinfolded Reading (?) February 22, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Education, Science.

My dad is pretty excited about some of his friends’ children apparently learning to read anything – newspapers, notes you write and hold in front of them – while blindfolded. Some can, while blindfolded, ride a bicycle, find their parents in a crowd, fill in colors on a line graphic, etc. Apparently this have existed in Russia and Japan for years, Russia takes 1 year to master, Japan takes 3 months to learn it, but the new Malaysian technique takes only 2 days training. (Googling for it only returns Malaysian hits though. Someone Google this in Japanese/Russian for me?) It only mostly works for kids between 5-12.

The trainer have trained thousands of kids all over Malaysia, is apparently franchising overseas to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The training is marketed as ‘midbrain’ activation, or activation of the ‘mesencephalon’ (bridge between left and right brain), which is allegedly good for all kinds of things – memory, concentration, creativity, sports (i.e. you name it, we got it). The blindfolded reading is not the intention, but is just a ‘proof’ of successful midbrain activation, and is explained by using the brainwave to ‘scan’ stuff in substitution of reading.

[EDIT 2013: Their site no longer contains literature on the ‘mid brain’ or the ‘mesencephalon’. Everywhere the term ‘mid brain activation’ have been replaced with just ‘brain activation’ or the term ‘super sensory’. However, their customers still refer to it as ‘mid brain’ activation – as can be seen in many YouTube videos such as this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eHeECJPIqE or the YouTube search link below.]

Although I am still highly skeptical about the blinfolded reading itself, the trainer have successfully built up quite a strong public ‘first-hand witness’ support – googling ‘blindfold reading’ and ‘midbrain activation’ have brought up tons of links, even youtube videos, and apparently our Prime Minister Badawi himself have witnessed this and approved a project under Ling Liong Sik. I think it’ll be easier to challenge what this claims to be. [Paragraph edited in 2013 for clarity.]

Let’s get the links out of the way:

To his credit, the trainer isn’t trying to turn this into some kind of mystic, spiritual or religious mumbo-jumbo. To his money-making credit, that makes a lot of sense as well, since he does want religious parents to pay RM 600++ to send their kinds for this.

Some points:

  • I am willing to allow the first hand reports I’ve heard/read (including my father’s word) that these children are learning to see through a blindfold. There’s too many of them.
  • The training method is not 100% known – parents are not allowed in during the training, to protect the training method as an intellectual property, it is claimed.
  • I don’t believe that this guy knows for sure scientifically what he’s doing. Perhaps he figured out how to teach kids to see through a blindfold, and needs a better way to market his training. Seeing with your eyes closed is usually pretty useless to those with eyes after all. Maybe.
  • We need to get a scientist in here.

I initially thought this was hypnosis induced synaesthesia, i.e. switching of the senses. Seeing with sound, hearing with your sense of smell, tasting shapes, thinking of colors as numbers. The Borneo Post article seems to suggest that some kids ended up with this since some did smell or touch the cards. The guy’s website claims that what he teaches isn’t synaesthesia (in his website, he refers to this as third eye training, and differentiates himself).

[EDIT 2013: Thanks to my skeptic doctor friend Sen Wai (http://k0ks3nw4i.blogspot.com/) – I came to re-read the literature on synaesthesia and understood that this is not how it works. Synaesthesia is not a replacement of one sense with another sense, but more like cross talk between the senses in the brain. Seeing numbers in color, or hearing sounds when seeing certain patterns etc. It doesn’t ‘replace vision with hearing’ for example. I’ve edited references to it in this article.]

Apart from the science behind this, i.e. how it works, and whether it actually is the left-right brain bridge being ’empowered’ somehow, what I’d like to know is:

  • the success rate of the training (how many kids end up reading through a blindfold, apparently it’s 100% atm),
  • the actual rates of attaining the ‘real benefits’ of midbrain activation as claimed by the training (memory, improving at studies, sports, etc), and
  • the retention rate – how many retain or lose this ability as they grow up.

If the company is serious about maintaining this, then they should commission some research to obtain the above statistics. If of course they’re reluctant, we’ll know why.

Part of being a skeptic is keeping an open mind after all, and a major part of being a scientist (or science lover) is retaining your sense of amazement at the natural wonders of the world without having to give it a nonsense explanation. Having said all the above, WTF this is amazing! (If actually true.) I’d love to get some opinions/independent research bout this.

Someone get Michael Shermer in here!

(And someone get me one of those kids so I can interrogate him/her.)