Shhh! Don’t disturb the natives!

S. Korea put to the test for high-pressure exam

South Korea fell silent for annual college entrance exams Thursday, rescheduling flights and restricting traffic as 650,000 students sat a test that will define their adult lives in an ultra-competitive society.

Preparation for the crucial exam starts from primary school, and so does the relentless pressure which has been blamed for everything from early burnout and teenage depression to suicide.

Success in the exam — meaning a secured place in one of South Korea’s elite universities — is seen as the key to everything from future careers to marriage prospects.

With so much riding on the outcome, the day of the test — simultaneously in 1,257 centres nationwide — sees the entire country go into “hush” mode.

The transportation ministry bans all airport landings and departures for a 40-minute period to coincide with the main language listening test.

The military also reschedules airforce drills and live-firing exercises and traffic is barred within a 200-meter radius of the test centres.

Public offices and major businesses, as well as the stock markets, opened an hour later than usual Thursday to help keep the roads relatively clear and ensure the students arrived on time.

Anyone who did get stuck could dial the emergency number 112, and request help from police cars and motorbikes on standby to rush them to the centres.

At Seoul’s Pungmoon Girls’ High School, junior students put up good-luck banners and lined up to shout encouragement as their seniors entered the exam room.

For the equally-stressed parents, for whom their child’s result will partly be seen as a mark of their parental aptitude and devotion, there was little left to do.

Mothers, one flicking through her Buddhist prayer beads, prayed outside the Pungmoon school gate, while others went directly to temples in search for some divine intervention.

The approach of the exam day tends to renew a perennial debate in South Korea about the country’s obsession with education and the pros and cons of the college entrance system.

The bottom line for many is that the examination itself is fair. Everyone takes the same paper, which relies on the multiple choice system to prevent subjective marking.

Security is absolute, with the hundreds of exam setters sequestered for more than a month in a secret location, which they are only allowed to leave once the test has been taken.

They are kept in total isolation, denied phone contact with their families and with everything down to their food waste subject to rigorous examination.

But if the exam treats everyone equally, critics say preparation favours the rich, and can be ruinous for poorer and middle-income families.

According to the Education Ministry, South Korean parents spent 19 trillion won ($17.5 billion) on extra tuition for their children last year — equivalent to about 1.5 percent of the national GDP.

Students average five hours sleep a night as the test nears — a level of physical fatigue that, coupled with the mental anxiety, leads to a discernible spike in suicides around the exam period.

Educational reformers also voice concern over the validity of the exam and the sort of students it produces, pointing to the lack of importance given to creativity or critical thinking.

An editorial in the New York Times on Thursday called the South Korean exam “brutal” and noted that the system goes into reverse after entering college, where graduation is almost guaranteed with even minimal study.

“The paradox is these ridiculous tests don’t necessarily lead to demanding college classes,” the editorial said.

“Rigorous thinking, reading and writing too often is simply not expected. Doing away with rigid entrance exams is just the first step. What needs to be debated is the quality of education once the students are admitted,” it added.


Republican Horrified to Discover that Christianity Is Not the Only Religion

We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.

POW, right in the self-righteousness!

Practical Advice if you want to teach English in Korea

I was browsing Youtube and came across some good videos that explain a lot about being here in general as well as teaching English specifically.

First here’s a cool video that gives excellent practical advice from Tom Gates.(YouTube Channel, Blog)

A smart man and someone who knows what’s it’s like being here and being a teacher.  I’m sure he has his own sets of challenges because one thing he did not touch on was the ethnicity of the teachers.  There is quite a bit of bias against teachers are not ‘white’ or ‘physically fit’.  That’s not to say that all teachers here are skinny Caucasians but there are actually recruiters who actively post with clauses like “if you are not Caucasian, please do not apply” (The one in particular I know of has a lot less tact than how I put it.).  You must understand that Korea has been sheltered for a very long time and even today, they don’t really know what other countries are like.  Their mindset is one of uniformity(reinforced by their rules of society) and my East Indian wife got asked once “Don’t you feel left out in Canada?”.  They really don’t understand diversity and mainly because it’s not really taught in any of their classes.  I suspect that it’s because it goes against their ruling beliefs and thus are surprised when they encounter such things.

Now, there is the whole ‘Asians are hot, I wanna date/have sex with them’ mentality as well.  The above video touches on this topic but Michael Aronson goes into details about dating Koreans.  This playlist of “Dating in Korea” will both give you some more in-depth insight to the dating culture here as well as more details about the culture itself.

Korean School Kids

The kids here really are pushed really hard but that is directly related to the location of population concentration.  Essentially the more parents there are, the higher the competition to have your kid be more educated than the other kid.  There is even a kind of ‘limit’ to how many kids someone could tutor.  I have a Korean friend who tutors some kids and occasionally asks me to help out.  I get to be the ‘guest foreigner’ for them and something to talk about.  I found out that it’s hard to get references to get more students because the parents kind of ‘hoard her’ as they like her and don’t want any other student to have her teaching them.  That way they feel they are getting special treatment and have a great tutor as well.

Still, while in regular class, they do vary in personality.  Anywhere from too tired to work to ‘I got more energy than you can think of’.’  Here is a picture from one of my wife’s classes.  You can see the range of personalities. :)

Yes, the one on the right is sleeping.


My brain hurts…and it’s because of Memory

This is because of 1 part headache brought on by two parts ‘staying up till 6am to get this weeks project done’.  Don’t worry, an Ibuprofen and a good mug of cold-brewed coffee will clear that up in about 30mins :)

The idea of programming is to learn something, then build some code, learn something more, add it to previous knowledge, build better/more elabourate code and so on.  This is something I think is a good process.  And a course that can coax it’s students along with the right methods is one you will never forget.  On the flip side, one that does this but kinda skips over various things with the idea of ‘you can find it online’ really irks me.  I really feel that the progression of learning is NOT linear with the Coursea/RICE University course.  There are major gaps in my understanding of what is happening within the code we are supposed to be writing.  I am getting lots of good help from some of the students who hang out in IRC, for which I am ever grateful.

I’d like to also point that their “Workload: 7-9 hours/week” claim is utter bullshit.  I mean seriously, where do they pull that number from?

This course is designed to help students with very little or no computing background learn the basics of building simple interactive applications.

Right, so here I am, a technician who has been playing with computers for 30 years, designed websites in the early HTML days (so I have a general idea of coding….very general), had fiddled with CSS and WordPress templates and I understand how computers/networks work and yet this course has been nothing but a struggle.  From the time I woke up yesterday till the time I went to sleep, I spent nearly 16 hours on the course.  This was just insane.

I am far from someone who has “very little or no computing background” and having this much hard time?  You think that their course needs a severe overhaul on how they progress their teaching?

Sure, I’m not expecting to be spoon-fed every little piece but when you are forced to program in an environment that is mostly non-standard(meaning most Google results for problem solutions will never apply because of  many restrictions in place.).  I do understand why they use CodeSkulptor, but I feel if you are going to create an artificial environment, you need to be much more involved in the students learning.  Notice I said learning and not helping.  Sure there are many avenues of help, the forums, IRC(sadly under utilized really, people are so missing out), the minimalistic docs they have, the ‘code clinic threads’ and such but that is all reactive.  In order to ask a question, we have to be knowledgeable enough to ask how to do something, not ‘what’ should we be doing.  Also, their assumption of ‘high school’ math requirement does NOT mean ANY high school math.  You have to have that knowledge and have it as recent in at least the last 5 years!  Anything beyond that and you will have a hard time because there is a lot of math in programming.  I highly recommend going through Khan Academy‘s math lessons.  They have an awesome way to track and incrementally increase the parts you are learning.

The instructors themselves have some cool character to them.  When they do their videos, they do them well, I find that they just don’t go far enough.  In my opinion, I think the course should be doubled in length and more time spent on each part.  I am quite fortunate to have as much time to spend on this course as I do.  If I was working a full-time job, I would have dropped out last week when I stayed up to 4am one day.

Do all students have such problems?  No.  One guy from IRC did this weeks memory game assignment in 4 hours.  He spent the rest of the week tweaking it to be pretty and fancy for the hell of it.  He is also one of the best people to help others and I can’t thank him enough.  This also means that since he did it in 4 hours, he is not a beginner to programming either.

After all this, I think that they should either change the course or change the description of the target market for students.  Easier to change the description and create a second course I think.

Now, from here on out, it will get interesting.  See, this week’s project I scrapped my first version of the code I was writing.  That was two days into writing it, getting up to 171 lines of code only to find out that the exact same thing, that works with no bugs, could be done in just 39 lines!  I saw this code and sat there….stunned.  I started over, took some cues and was able to focus on the mouse_handler function(which is the crux of this code) only to find out a day later that it was completely buggered as well.  That was when another kind individual on IRC so graciously spent 7hrs chatting with me to help me get it right and by 6am it was finally done.

Do you still think that 7 – 9hrs of workload is accurate?

Let me also point something else out.  If it takes you 4 hours to learn something, the next time you use it technically take you less time to construct the same code.  So let’s say you can do it again in half the time, 2hrs.  Let us then apply this to my taking 4 days to learn/write a program.  So now I might be able to do it in 2 days.  With the idea that the course is building upon the skills we have learned what do you think will happen in a few more weeks?

  • wk 4: 4 days to program
  • wk 5: 2 days(wk 4 code) + 4 days (wk 5 code) = 6 days
  • wk 6: 2 days(wk 4 code) + 2 days (wk 5 code) + 4 days (wk 6 code) = 8 days
  • wk 7 1 day (wk 4 code, getting better) + 1 days (wk 5 code, getting better) + 3 days (wk 6 code, slight improvement) + 4 days (wk 7 code) = 9 days

Well, ran out of days in the week it seems and missed the deadline.  I didn’t even count the time to watch the lecture and do the quizzes.  This course has so far consumed my nearly every waking moment each week and I am not even close to being a ‘slow learner’.  The way the material is presented simply isn’t enough for “students with very little or no computing background”



Learning completely new things

I am usually quite good at picking up new things.  Mostly because everything ‘new’ I see is usually related to something else I already know, thus I am merely extending something known with a method that is/was utilized by something else in my life and I am simply applying it in a new way.  When it comes to learning something that is absolutely foreign, this gets much harder to do.  Mind-state, level of difficulty, level of foreignness, previously relatable knowledge and enthusiasm all plays varying roles in how well something is accomplished.

Tonight I ran into some code learning that I just could not grasp (I’m sure this will happen frequently for about a year I suspect…).  I finally gave in just staring at the online exercises and asked on the IRC channel.  Those guys there are pretty damn awesome.  Most are well aware that I am learning and simple do not give me the answer.  They try to guide me to the right answers after checking the exercises.  Most have either gone through them or are well aware of the website that I use (

They tried to give me some directions, some prods, one guy asked if I had learned a certain function yet (I hadn’t) and another suggested a function that is in a newer version of Python which I couldn’t use.  One guy wrote out some code that mostly filled in the blanks, it was an almost complete answer (he was mildly chided for doing so and he will be more reserved next time and I am fine with that, so was he).  It helped me get thinking in the right direction but was not complete.

Another guy sent me a pm (private message) with the exact answer.  Once I saw it, then I completely understood.  I lean best by examples and following those examples.  I was close but needed to add in a bit of knowledge from a completely different exercise.  Sure I didn’t figure it out on my own but once I saw, I really understood the function.  To me, that is just as valid learning as figuring it out on my own.  If I just took it, did it and ignored, then sure…it would a form of cheating.  Yet since that did not happen and I ‘got it’, it’s completely valid :)

I can’t stress enough how awesome the #python channel users are and how helpful they have been so far.  I’m pretty sure it’ll be a new online home for me :)


Free education (Update)

We now live in an era where education is free…..for the privileged few.  According to  , a whole whopping 34% of the world has Internet Access.

June 30, 2012
World Regions

( 2012 Est.)

Internet Users
Dec. 31, 2000

Internet Users
Latest Data

(% Population)


Users %
of Table

Africa 1,073,380,925 4,514,400 167,335,676 15.6 % 3,606.7 % 7.0 %
Asia 3,922,066,987 114,304,000 1,076,681,059 27.5 % 841.9 % 44.8 %
Europe 820,918,446 105,096,093 518,512,109 63.2 % 393.4 % 21.5 %
Middle East 223,608,203 3,284,800 90,000,455 40.2 % 2,639.9 % 3.7 %
North America 348,280,154 108,096,800 273,785,413 78.6 % 153.3 % 11.4 %
Latin America / Caribbean 593,688,638 18,068,919 254,915,745 42.9 % 1,310.8 % 10.6 %
Oceania / Australia 35,903,569 7,620,480 24,287,919 67.6 % 218.7 % 1.0 %
WORLD TOTAL 7,017,846,922 360,985,492 2,405,518,376 34.3 % 566.4 % 100.0 %

NOTES: (1) Internet Usage and World Population Statistics are for June 30, 2012. (2) CLICK on each world region name for detailed regional usage information. (3) Demographic (Population) numbers are based on data from the US Census Bureau and local census agencies. (4) Internet usage information comes from data published by Nielsen Online, by the International Telecommunications Union, by GfK, local ICT Regulators and other reliable sources. (5) For definitions, disclaimers, navigation help and methodology, please refer to the Site Surfing Guide. (6) Information in this site may be cited, giving the due credit to Copyright © 2001 – 2013, Miniwatts Marketing Group. All rights reserved worldwide.

Sure, this will grow over time but I fear it will lead to a rather large gap in development in the countries that are already technically behind already.  I’m not saying that every country HAS to have it but the option should be there for those who wish to change their lives.

On the plus side, by the time those countries do get reasonable internet access, the amount of free education will be insane, if not complete.  Here are some of the most awesome sites I have found that have worked hard to bring free lessons, even University-grade level lessons, to be open and free.


This has to be one of the best places I know for the amount of work and free lessons here that start at the ground level lessons like “1 + 1” and work up to “The Convolution of Laplace Transform”(Whatever the hell that is!).  There is more than just mathematics here but math is a relative easy one to track linearly in complexity.  There are video lessons for each skill that provide excellent examples and guidance.  Please give the site a visit.

Cousera is one of the many places to get University-level programs for free.  Currently none-are accredited but this may change.  Still, how cool is it to learn anything from Guitar Lessons to Computational Neuroscience?  For free.  All taught by professors are varying universities.

I’m sure there are a lot more sites than these two, but these are the biggest ones I know and they are pretty good.  It’s a good starting point and there are more than enough lessons in these two sites alone, to keep someone busy for many, many years.


Heh, the funny thing about this post was that the reason I created it never actually made it into the post.  I saw this image and thought, wow, I should write something about that.  Well, here’s the image.


Confusing #Koreans and math

There is s an easy way to confuse Koreans and it has to do with math.

You might be tempted to fall back on the apparent stereotype that all Asians are good at math and you would be smart to keep that in mind when you understand how rigorous their education system is at forcing students to memorize way more than any western educational system has ever done.  How many kids did you know that went for extra private math tutoring lessons?  Me, I didn’t know a single person who did.  Yet here, nearly all of the kids do.  They also go to math lessons, English lessons, music lessons as well add taekwondo lessons.  Many do this every night and even on Saturdays.  So the stereotype really isn’t a stereotype when its true.  An episode of the Simpsons elabourated this point rather well.

Marge: One month? That’s a heavy workload for a fourth grader.
Homer: I say this boy needs more homework. (I don’t have to do it with him, do I?)
Principal Skinner: No.
Homer: Pile it on! I want him to be Korean by the time he’s done.

Ok, back to math.  When I was in highschool, I sucked at math.  I mean, I literally squeaked by in marks in the 50s.  Seriously, I just did not study it at all.  Yet, after working in retail for a bunch of years such a skill was just naturally developed for fairly basic stuff.  While I ain’t gonna say I’ll whiz any type of algebra course(shudders), I certainly do well for quick multiplication and division.  What stuns me is how confused the Koreans get while working in retail.  Here is a prime example.  If I go to a store and the price comes to 9,300 won, I will hand them a 10,000 bill plus 300 won in coin.  They are immediately confused why I would do this.  I have to explain to them what I want back.  Two days ago the girl handed me back the 300 won and then proceeded to hand me 700 more won in change.  I kinda stood there with this handful of change in front of her looking like “Umm, I didn’t want a pocketful of change like this.”

There is a problem here, that has happened everywhere else too….capitalism.  For the most part, people only use their bank cards so change is used less than a squiggle on a signing pad.  This process has lent to the disassociation from the cash in your hand to simply making a mark on a pad.  Meaning people don’t place any significance on the money they spend.    So when you actually deal with change/cash, they don’t think like that as much any more and you confuse them.  It’s a very odd disassociation to witness.