Archive for September, 2005

Of University Snobbishness: What class are you in?

There are good schools deemed inferior cos they are ‘cheap on tuition’; and then there are the super elite ones which are supposedly head and shoulders above the rest.

Choice quote:

After all, whether you like it or not, a university is a brand name, and while a Lamborghini and a Lexus may both be great cars, the Lamborghini is the one that turns heads.

Reminds me of a joke circulating amongst students of a JC (in Singapore) in the mid 90s regarding MIT. Reproduced here thanks to google.

Letter from MIT

The following is an exact transcription of a letter John
Mongan received from MIT, and the reply that he sent them.
Unfortunately, they chose to discontinue their correspondence
at that point. I have heard, however, that their recruitment
letter has been revised and is far less snotty than it once

April 18, 1994

Mr. John T. Mongan
123 Main Street
Smalltown, California 94123-4567

Dear John:

You’ve got the grades. You’ve certainly got the PSAT scores.
And now you’ve got a letter from MIT. Maybe you’re surprised.
Most students would be.

But you’re not most students. And that’s exactly why I urge
you to consider carefully one of the most selective
universities in America.

The level of potential reflected in your performance is a
powerful indicator that you might well be an excellent
candidate for MIT. It certainly got my attention!

Engineering’s not for you? No problem. It may surprise you
to learn we offer more than 40 major fields of study, from
architecture to brain and
cognitive sciences, from economics (perhaps the best program
in the country) to writing.

What? Of course, you don’t want to be bored. Who does? Life
here is tough and demanding, but it’s also fun. MIT students
are imaginative and creative – inside and outside the

You’re interested in athletics? Great! MIT has more varsity
teams – 39 – than almost any other university, and a
tremendous intramural program so
everybody can participate.

You think we’re too expensive? Don’t be too sure. We’ve got
surprises for you there, too.

Why not send the enclosed Information Request to find out
more about this unique institution? Why not do it right now?


Michael C. Benhke
Director of Admissions

P.S. If you’d like a copy of a fun-filled, fact-filled
brochure, “Insight,” just check the appropriate box on the

May 5, 1994

Michael C. Behnke
MIT Director of Admissions
Office of Admissions, Room 3-108
Cambridge MA 02139-4307

Dear Michael:

You’ve got the reputation. You’ve certainly got the
pomposity. And now you’ve got a letter from John Mongan.
Maybe you’re surprised. Most
universities would be.

But you’re not most universities. And that’s exactly why I
urge you to carefully consider one of the most selective
students in America, so
selective that he will choose only one of the thousands of
accredited universities in the country.

The level of pomposity and lack of tact reflected in your
letter is a powerful indicator that your august institution
might well be a possibility
for John Mongan’s future education. It certainly got my

Don’t want Bio-Chem students? No problem. It may surprise
you to learn that my interests cover over 400 fields of
study, from semantics to
limnology, from object-oriented programming (perhaps one of
the youngest professionals
in the country) to classical piano.

What? Of course you don’t want egotistical jerks. Who does?
I am self indulgent and over confident, but I’m also amusing.
John Mongan is funny
and amusing – whether you’re laughing with him or at him.

You’re interested in athletes? Great! John Mongan has played
more sports – 47 – than almost any other student, including
oddball favorites such as

You think I can pay for your school? Don’t be too sure. I’ve
got surprises for you there, too.

Why not send a guaranteed admission and full scholarship to
increase your chance of being selected by John Mongan? Why
not do it right now?


John Mongan

P.S. If you’d like a copy of a fun-filled, fact-filled
brochure, “John Mongan: What a Guy!” just ask.

John never got a reply.

mit generic acceptance
“Getting an Education from MIT is like taking a drink from a Fire Hose.” – Jerome Weisner, MIT President (’71-’80)

Edit (12 Oct): MIT’s International Students’ Undergraduate Admissions process, and the numbers for the class of 2009. The competition gets worse with each passing year.


September 24, 2005 at 12:30 am 4 comments

Standing at the Feet of Giants; or sitting on their Shoulders?

Been almost 3 weeks, and I still feel sad about the exit of Howard Lovy on nanobot. Quite a comprehensive independent blogger on nanotechnology issues, he was even featured in “Nanotechnology for Dummies”.

Anyway, I digress. This entry is inspired by his opening sentences:

Did you ever get the feeling you’re not exactly the most brilliant LED in the display? Nevertheless, here I am at Caltech, attempting to learn from the learned.

A giant of 20th Century Science and very likely, 21st too.

As a student in your younger days, have you ever stood outside your school gates, gaze in and wonder/marvel at the alumni who passed through them? Of ordinary folks who had gone on to greater things in life and had made a positive impact on society. Would you have felt overwhelmed or inspired? Or is there no school spirit at all?

The former would probably be “standing at the feet of the Giants”, to be crushed by the pressure and end up performing mediocrely; while the latter would most likely make full use of opportunities (if they exist) in school to better their predecessors. In the case of Singapore, I still remember (as a young teenager then) walking through the hallways of my alma maters, looking up and seeing the honor rolls of ex-students who had gone on to be awarded [insert your list of prestigious PSC scholarships]. They did somehow ignite a spark in me, and made me want to join their ranks. For Country! For Honor! For Glory! Of course, now being older (and hopefully wiser) I know that bonded scholarships aren’t necessarily good for one’s career and aspirations in life. But anyway, I am sure you get my drift.

New Campus 3
Prime Ministers had once walked past, will you be next?

Just as I thought JC would be the last time I would see honor rolls (or plaques), I was wrong. Universities the world over are always quick to stress out to both their students and visitors alike, ranging from the giants who have/had once strolled their grounds to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Some examples:
boyle plaque
17th century bio-nanomicrotechnology

Chicago nuclear rxn
20th Century atomic science

WWI Honor Roll
They fought and died in a war that was supposed to end all wars.

Then there is the existence of Academic Genealogy Trees, of which most academics and grad students are in at least one.

I will stop here with a quote from John of Salisbury (1159):

“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.”

September 17, 2005 at 11:26 pm 2 comments

Wandering Scholar(s)

Two months ago, Mr Wang blogged about a PSC scholar wannabe, and how his thoughts (and most likely that also of his peers in the premier junior college in the Bishan-AMK area) is a slap in the face for the local universities’ aspirations to become world-class institutions.

Today I read in a Technology magazine about an ex-President’s cum Lee Kuan Yew Scholar being selected by a distinguished panel of judges as one of the top technology innovators under age 35 (as of October 1, 2005). Now, don’t get me wrong. She definitely did Singapore proud, although I was surprised at her in taking up a faculty position at Caltech. I was expecting her to return to NUS or NTU as a member of the teaching/research staff.

It was only last week that the Economist had published a slew of articles on the state of global higher education. Competition for talent is now global; if you are one, the world will be your oyster, PSC scholar or not.

“Better brain drain than brain in the drain.” – Rajiv Gandhi (1944 – 1991), late Prime Minister of India

I have provided a copy of the Economist article (in pdf format) in case anyone had missed last week’s issue.

Tracey Ho
Good job, Tracey!

September 16, 2005 at 12:30 am 2 comments

Day of Remembrance; Mid Autumn

Today America remembers its heroes and the fallen, with memorial services in New York City, Washington DC and southwestern Pennsylvania.

We shall not forget.

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Image from wikipedia


In Singapore, mid-autumn is another week away but the festivities have already started with light-ups in Chinatown. I never really thought much about the festival except for the mooncakes – how I love the yolk-less lotus paste ones, as well as the celebrations (and performances) put up in my secondary school.

The most memorable one was perhaps receiving a box of 4 mooncakes from an ex five years ago, delivered by regular mail across 13 time zones. Yeap, they were still edible. 🙂 The weather then had turned cold, but my heart felt warm. True to the spirit of the Festival, I shared them with my German and Spanish roommates.

Night scene near the Fuji Five Lakes




苏轼(1037-1101) (Song poet, Su Shi)

This poem was made famous through a song by Teresa Teng.

On a side note, this perhaps explains why I suck in love.

The SAP education stuns the romance gene in males. Or let’s not even go there. It’s as simple as they really don’t know how to treat girls right, or have the sensibility and maturity to be gentle in a manly way. It doesn’t matter that the guy went to RJC or HCJC thereafter, and even enjoyed an overseas education in UK or US. The SAP past is deeply embedded, such that each of him tenses up in front of you, gets painfully shy, childishly torments you in a bid to get your attention (and hence, win the affections, he thinks), or is just unusually slick (to mask his embarrassment), or all of the above.

I miss home too. Gets especially bad during the major holidays and class/close relatives gatherings/weddings.

September 11, 2005 at 7:20 pm 5 comments

Sex bot for IRC – Not even Human

A fitting entry to this. You will be amazed to see how seemingly disconnected topics can be linked one way or another. Not sure if wowbagger knows about that particular Tomorrow entry.

The logs are simply hilarious, and some mirror what you see here.

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Futurama – I dated a Robot.

September 6, 2005 at 1:00 pm Leave a comment

Angels at Home; Havoc Overseas

Check out the Electric New Paper, Sept 5 edition on the comparison between local and overseas Singapore undergraduates. I wonder why it even appeared as a newsworthy article. Such activities have been going on for so many years in the overseas campuses that they can be considered non-events.

Is it such a shock really? Or is it that the ‘scholars, top-scorers, prefects and councillors’ are supposed to maintain some kind of moralistic behavior?

No wild parties here, just a beautiful sunrise. 江山美人

September 4, 2005 at 6:30 pm 4 comments

Katrina and Rising Oil Prices

I watched this docudrama about 3 months before Katrina slammed onto the Gulf States. It’s quite eerie, really, to see fiction turned somewhat into fact.

Perhaps it’s time to consider switching gasoline cars for modified high fuel efficiency grease-powered diesel engined ones. Hey, at least the fuel will be free (if you get them from McDonalds and Wendy’s). Not to mention recycling the waste oils.

However, it won’t be a panacea for the oil problem. Such biodiesel production is probably very low (and uneconomical) compared to their fossil-based cousins for mass consumption. But a switch in technology to more renewable sources is long due.

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Less dependence on the evil cartel

September 1, 2005 at 8:30 pm 4 comments

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