Singapore: Feel the Heat

The humidity, the food, the culture. Singapore is ground zero for the greatest success stories of south east Asia. The talkative cab drivers have their opinions as well:

Unless you work here. You will die.” Aden told me. “There are strict laws and the high cost of living keeps the poor people out. I am second generation Singaporean, my father came here from China. I will drive a cab till I die, but I earn enough to send my son to a good school.”

I gave Aden a nice tip upon stepping out while thinking that is the way of most developed country’s attitudes towards the less fortunate. They give you just enough to get by, but never enough to escape.

Singapore is like ‘Naboo’ from the Star Wars franchise – modern, beautiful buildings intertwined with gardens everywhere you look. Even as we left the airport, we noticed the guardrails on the highway into the city were covered with flowering bushes, to give even the drab roads a splash of color and give drivers some eye candy. It’s not without it’s tradeoffs though. This island country has stiff fines for littering and some of the strongest laws in the world against drug trafficking, resulting in crippling fines and in even modest cases of possession, death.

Family highlights from Singapore

We started by spending the first few nights with our friends Dick and Ollie and their little girl McKinley in their opulent apartment. I remember when I got my first apartment in college and thinking the $135 dollars per month was a bit high. Fast forward to our rent 4 years ago in Vietnam ($1,100), and my shock when Dick told me their current monthly rent.

“$5,500 US dollars” He said. “But, between Molly and I, we still have some money left over as we pool both of our rental stipends.” In international education, Singapore is the ‘white unicorn’ of teaching posts with high compensation, tons to do, and a great standard of living. Most friends that we visited while there, have a live-in nanny to help with childcare and they enjoy one of the best epicenters for Asian travel. With a two hour flight, you can be in Bali, 5 hours; the Maldives. The 11,000 islands of Indonesia are also at your fingertips which are a scuba divers wet dream. No pun intended.

Despite the high costs, there a lot of cheap things to do and public transportation is an app away. It’s best to do excursions starting mid-morning and go till 1 or 2 in the afternoon to kick back in the swimming pool for a siesta, nap or enjoy the air conditioner inside while the afternoon rain storms roll in around 3:00 pm.

‘Must see’ areas of Singapore

1.) Gardens by the Bay The Super tree grove, cloud forest, ‘Satay by the Bay’ and the views of the Marina Bay Sands are more than worth it and a ‘must do’ if you only have a weekend to spare.

2.) Arab Street Come down here to haggle for carpets, window shop, and have dinner at trendy upscale restaurants as the nightlife heats up.

3.) Sentosa Island Plan to spend a full Saturday or Sunday here as the city flocks to the beach for sand and play. Splurge on upmarket experiences such as zip-lining, the luge, or even the indoor skydiving center.

4.) The Singapore Zoo and/or Night Safari This was Ava’s first time to Singapore and for this trip, we had time only for the amazing ‘daytime’ zoo. The night safari can be done as an early evening activity for the kids and get them home for a reasonable bed time.

5.) Orchard Road The heart and soul of Singapore. High end boutiques, restaurants but with hawker stalls tucked away for the more budget conscience traveller.

Satay by the Bay: Great dinner spot!

Our Trick for Coming Home Refreshed

For the last couple of nights, we decided to treat ourselves at the Conrad Centennial near the Esplanade which has become somewhat of a favorite travel routine of ours. We started this a few years ago when we capped off an exhausting 3 week trip in India with the final night’s stay at the Radisson in New Delhi which sent us home feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. Since then, we’ve made it a habit for spending the last night or two of a holiday at a 4 or 5 star hotel.

High end hotels have always been out of reach for us financially, but since my wife and I opened Hilton branded AMEX cards, we’ve scored free anniversary nights, and racked up thousands of points just through everyday purchases that are redeemable for free night stays. During our stay, we relished 2 full days of complete bliss with a free room upgrade, complimentary breakfast, pool side service and staff falling over themselves to our obnoxious beck and calls. We were a middle class family, hamming it up around the pool and shouting scream-induced tickle tortures from our room while the well-behaved children of the southeast Asian glitterati looked on with jealousy and their parents with contempt.

It was legendary, treading water while the sharks looked on, wondering how people like us were allowed in such a fine establishment and if we’d be leaving soon.

Related Posts

Tips for Working with Drones on Your Holiday

Our Favorite Hotel Booking Sites

Use ‘Hotwire’ to Save on Hotels

Google Tour Builder: 5 Tips for a Successful Tour

Google Tour Creator: 5 Tips for a Successful Tour

The world of AR and VR is exploding in education, and everyday life.

More and more, we’re seeing VR and AR exhibitions in museum experiences, trade expos and even school field trips. I’ve done workshops on ‘Google Expeditions’ for general classroom teachers and interest is booming. Since expeditions are run on student’s own mobile devices, costs are minimal and with 1000 + expeditions and counting, they allow teachers to take their students anywhere in the world with the push of a few buttons.

Enter Tour Creator

Expeditions (Seen above) is usually the first step in which educators and people experience these trips, but Google’s Tour Creator allows students and teachers to create their own trip which can be shared with the world. After buying a 360 degree theta camera for Christmas, I did this trial project while in Singapore which works with expeditions and can be used to build a trip of a recently visited destination or could also be used with existing free to use photospheres to research an upcoming excursion with your class as a alternate project to Tour Builder, JS timelines or Google Lit trips.

You can drag 360 spheres into your project, or upload from street view.
Editing descriptions, points of interest

Tips for Building your Tour:

1.) Make sure to have good image quality. After transferring the image from the camera to my mobile device, I did color corrections and lightened before I transferred them to my computer. If you’re shooting at night, adjust the brightness before shooting or your sphere will appear grainy.

2.) Use a Tripod. If you have your camera close to the ground, it will take up the majority of your shot. (Which may of interest if you’re shooting an insect colony) I have a small travel tripod with a phone clamp which I mounted on posts and fences which gives a propped up perspective.

3.) Avoid Parralax The seam where the two spheres merge together is the parralax, and if there is a lot of quick movements along this seam, the scene can be distorted. Try to have the two camera lenses squarely focused on your primary subjects.

4.) Be Patient and Watchful Not always wanting to be in the shot, I’ll set up my camera and post up a few meters away, ready to pull the trigger. Waiting for for 3-5 minutes will ensure that I can get a shot full or devoid of people or full of them. Sometimes you’ll get a surprise subject!

5.) Leave Your Ego Out Unless you’re making this for your parents or extended family, try to take most spheres without you in them. In the case of the Singapore video, we did incorporate ourselves into the Singapore Zoo sphere, but if you’re in too many, viewers will be critiquing you and questioning you as subjects rather than the overall contextual scene you wanted to share.

Related Posts

Tips for Working with Drones on Your Holiday

Part 3-The Travel Gear Diaries: Hardware

Ava’s Educational App Toolkit

Tips for Working with Drones on your Holiday

My after school ‘Techsperts’ club has been learning about drones.

It’s inescapable that we are in the early stages of living with drones in our everyday lives. From packages being delivered from Amazon, modern warfare, and recreational use, the public has adapted to that familiar ‘bee-hive’ like buzz at sporting events, beaches, and popular tourist sites. The wide shots that they provide at 4K are exceptional and I’ve used them for marketing footage at my school for a variety of projects. It’s inevitable that we’ll look up the skies in the coming years and see a denser and denser swarm of autonomous bots delivering and returning items, and even monitoring crops as an extension of our workflow to enhance productivity on the ground.

This opening tracking shot I did with the drone is ‘almost’ Nat Geo worthy.

Others don’t share that sentiment. More and more, drones are being denied flight time at monuments, airports (for obvious interference) and even have been shot out of the sky or billy-clubbed to death by law enforcement upon landing. There are concerns that they could be misused for ‘spying’ overhead in people’s backyards as they sunbathe or people who are unsuspectedly filmed outside of their window while getting out of the shower. I’ve read and seen videos of film crews using them to document conditions at inhumane livestock ranches, and Paul Scharre’s book ‘Army of None‘ highlights the terrifying uses of drone armies to modernize warfare with lethal packages and AI to coordinate autonomous robots on the battlefield.

6 Tips for Successful Drone Operation and Filming

1.) Don’t neglect the orientation. DJI now has new users go through a multiple choice test in initialization involving a formative assessment to acquaint them with FAA guidelines, proximity to public areas and maximum heights.

2.) Familiarize yourself with country laws. Some countries have banned personal drones. Some game parks in Africa don’t allow you to fly in parks without a permit (which could be exploited by poachers) but youtube’s creator studio has a lot of creative commons 4K footage in national parks.

3.) Start conservative and get more daring. There are user settings which can be customized based on experience and user needs. Typically, it’s best to start with more conservative settings which result in slower maximum speed and a lower flight ceiling. Use this for your first 20+ hours to get experience and then raise your flight ceiling.

4.) Don’t fly blind. Once a friend and I were doing some guerrilla drone filming in an area that was off limits and we didn’t have eyes on the machine. While doing a beautiful side pan, he flew right into a skyscraper.

5.) Get creative and practice. Pull aways, tracking shots, sweeps, fly overs all can give a unique perspective. In the case of the the Mongolia video opening above, I practiced about 4-5 times before the actual shot to get the feeling of the fine motor skills needed for the tracking than pull away wide angle.

6.) Avoid Buildings. This might go without saying, but the more you shoot in urban environments, you’ll start getting closer and closer to buildings. A sudden gust of wind may sweep the drone into a wall. Once, I had a metal column suck the electromagnets of the motors into it from 10 feet away.

Mavic Pro Platinum Up To USD $100 Off

If Your Drone Flying is Denied

I’m in Singapore right now working on a video while on spring break, and despite research telling me that drone operation here was legal, I got the kibosh on my flying time shot down by local law enforcement and was told I needed a permit that was difficult to secure given my narrow window of time here. An easy work around is to search for drone footage on youtube and filter for ‘creative commons’ which is free for the public to download and use. I found a user ‘Timberland Pham’ and his site “Phamtastic Productions” had some good footage so I sent him a letter asking for permission and he was more than happy to oblige.

Filtering for free to use ‘Drone Footage’.

What Will the Future Hold for Drones in Education?

One of the members of my PLN, David Navis, shared that he started a drone club at his school in Guangzhou that has swelled to 50 members that has started racing competitions, and even offered some of his students internships with companies that are developing this technology. Some of his students have been sponsored by companies specialized in competitive racing. One student even developed this racing frame which is being sold (How’s that for entrepreneurism?) and even toured the company making the Ehang 184. At the rate private international schools are innovating with tools such as Raspberry Pis, 3D printers, and robotics, I think we’ll see ‘Drone Maintenance and Repair‘ as a course listing 10 years from now.

Related Posts

Part 3-The Travel Gear Diaries: Hardware

Mongolia Part 1: Among Nomads

Building a Better Connected World

Humans are social creatures.

It’s these social interactions that build our identify and sense of purpose. If we identify and spend time with good people, we’ll tilt towards honorable behavior. Likewise, spending time in a toxic work environment will drag you down into the cess pool. As we celebrate the 30 year anniversary of the world wide web, it was curious that its creator, Tim Berners-Lee, is dismayed at how his creation which was intended to share information freely has had the unintended consequences of hate speech enabling, fake news sites, public monitoring and a strange focus on the private lives of our celebrities. Well, he is not dismayed at that last one, but I certainly am.

Connectivism is the educational learning theory that stresses social relationships and that learning is a group construct of beliefs and opinions of many people across a number of networks- face to face and digital alike. Since people around you result in your success (or failure) it’s within our interests to spend more time with people that inspire and motivate you, rather than belittle and alienate. Since the FCC fairness doctrine was revoked in 1987, there has been a surge in conservative new outlets in the late 80’s and early 90’s with some left wing outlets rising to the fight propaganda fire. Confirmation bias keeps users entrenched to media outlets that share their own thoughts and opinions and brainwash them to be dismissive of beliefs that differ from their own. It’s this that forces me to watch media that I don’t agree with and to spend time with people that have views that differ from mine in the hopes that we might educate one another to our point of view.

PubPDAsia at ‘Truck” in Dongcheondong

Experiments in ‘Edchats’

Our latest iteration of connectivism was a ‘Pub PD’ twitter event that I facilitated for staff at a local pub last week. Pub PD is a monthly get together where dozens of schools around east Asia join via twitter hashtags where educators chime in on topics and learn how to improve their twitter skills by leveraging tweetdeck and modeling good digital etiquette on variety of topics. The topic this time was the importance of play in education.

People started the twitter chat by reaffirming their beliefs with likes and retweets, (typical for coaxing people out from the lurker to contributor tier on social media), but after comfort and safeness was established, the conversation shifted to some more interesting prompts:

1.) Think of a belief that runs contrary to your values as an educator. How can you find common ground?

2.) Which tools help you the most with workflow efficiency? Are there people that dislike them? Why?

3.) Imagine professional development at your school. Why are some people resistant to it?

The event trended so quickly, we had strangers adding their tweets to #PubPDAsia on a variety of topics unrelated to education, just to get more viewers.

These dissenting views have always interested me as an teacher and how to constructively build this discourse should be the ultimate goal of education towards creating a democratic society and helping us find common ground on thorny issues. After all, if there is anything that I learned in graduate school, it’s that if you’re looking for research to support your thesis, there is always research that disproves it as well.

Immediately afterward, I started forward thinking to our trip. What if classrooms wanted to connect with us next year when we were in the field? Could we share our location to classrooms as virtual field trips through connectivist culture? Tools like periscope and youtube live might be nice for teachers and students to visit places along with cultural and environmental issues that we see and give the viewers an opportunity to interact through us. Would our good intentions and appearance be sullied by internet trolls? Probably.

Google +’s Connected Classrooms Workshop

Poking around my social media feed found a ‘Connected Classroom’ project through Google + wherein users can sign up for meets with correspondents who report from around the world. With so many outlets for us to share our story, there might be opportunities for us to share our story. Could we use this opportunity to build a better connected world? Could that be quantified in some small way?

Related Posts

Mongolia Part 3-Among the Holy

The New Normal

Living with Air Pollution

School was cancelled last week on Tuesday due to an unprecedented reason- air pollution.

I relished in the shiny luck of mother nature dispensing snow days back home while growing up in Minnesota. We’d watch as the snowfall slowly floated down in the evening and then wake up anxiously to see if it was enough for a ‘day off’ from schoolwork and a full day of building forts, sledding down the hill in the backyard, and as I got older, shoveling the driveway for my father.

We started our day back then by shooting out of bed and running down the stairs with the furor usually reserved for Christmas morning. We huddled around the radio as they announced school closures one district at a time.

Stillwater: closed. Forrest Lake: closed. Minnetonka Falls: closed.” The radio solemnly rolled out.

“I haven’t heard anything yet.” my mother would say wearily because that green light would inevitably impact her workflow at the college and require some amount of child care back on the home front.

“Green lake: closed. Minnehaha falls: closed”

The tension was palpable and we shook with the giddiness of a prospective lottery winner or Vegas gambler before the cards flop.

“Little Canada: closed. Gem lake: closed. Vadnais Heights…….closed.”

“YEESSSS!” We’d shout while scarfing down breakfast to layer up and rush outside with our adventures getting more brazen, elaborate and farther from home as we aged.

Why hello Clarice.

My First Air Pollution Day

I didn’t share the same enthusiasm last week when I did as a kid. Our day last week was spent indoors with an Air Quality Index of over 300. The kids at school cheered when they heard the news, but how can you get excited about the sudden realization that air pollution is really ‘a thing’ and has crept up to levels that make breathing hazardous? Will occasional school and work closures be the new normal for us as a species? Many of our friends have left Beijing, Doha and New Dehli for such reasons. Add Seoul to the list.

Lisa and I have seen this in the underwater world through depleted shark populations, and coral bleaching in the most remote of places. I wanted Ava to have an adventure on this year abroad, but part of me knows that this is an opportunity to see the bounties of planet earth: before they’re gone.

Related Posts

Pushing the Grit Envelope

The Last Sleepovers

Ava’s Educational App Toolkit

The End of a Ski Season

There are moments that divide our lives.

Milestones of your child’s development. A promotion. Moving across the country. The loss of a family member or addition of a new one by birth or marriage. When we look back at these moments, they divide our memories into segments of our time before it happened and how much your life changed after it did. I had such a moment yesterday while up atPhoenix Park ski resort celebrating our last ski trip of the year.

“Daddy, can June and I ride the lift together….without you?”

“Without me?” I replied.

“Well you can ride the next chairlift behind us.”

Up till then, skiing had been a slog with Ava. The beginning of the season would revisit basics of snowplowing and after 1 or 2 runs, she would be done- happy to retreat back to the lodge with mommy to warm up with hot chocolate so daddy can cruise some double blacks. I’ve always wanted her to build her skills as a skier and I hoped that after enough trips up, it would eventually ‘click’ and become a life time passion. Still, I imagined her and I sashaying down runs together, a father and daughter duo enjoying the efforts of the other as equal peers like a modern day Rory and Lorelai from ‘The Gilmore Girls‘.

Ava and Jun Seo riding the gondola

‘We’re big kids and very confident skiers’ Ava tried to reason with me.

We went up to Phoenix park to spend it with our friend Seok Jin who was leading a trip there for his travel company and his son Jun tagged along for the ride. An injury Seok Jin sustained earlier meant he could not take his son out himself and resorted to paying for overpriced lessons on Friday. I was happy to take the kids out and give him a break.

The first few runs as a trio kept me behind the 9 year old dynamic duo, pulling up to help only if they wiped out and needed help reaching their skis or getting to their feet. However, after the sixth run, something happened. They started doing runs without crashing. They wanted to go again, and again. Then, it came:

“Daddy, can June and I ride the lift together….without you?”

Reveling in her newly minted confidence was equally the painful realization that my daughter was growing up, and away from me, albeit one run at a time. I flash forwarded to her wedding day when I would one day ‘give’ her to another man (or woman), whom she was spend the rest of her life with which I imagine is both the best and worst day that I father experiences for her baby girl, and in some small way, riding the chairlift with Jun was a harbinger of things to come. I thought that would be the end of it.

“Uh daddy, can Jun and I ride down a hill..without you?”

“What if one of you falls and needs help up?”

“We can help each other! We’ll be fine.”

I decided to test this theory by riding behind them for a few runs only to watch one of them fall and sure enough, be helped up by the other. It’s touching to see elementary boys and girls help one another, not yet fazed by the awkwardness that teenagers feel when they hit puberty and the middle school years. Soon after, I went to go check on mommy with them content to explore the mountain on their own.

“Let me get this straight.” I said upon their return. “You guys went through the terrain park?”

“Yes! It was so fun and they have big jumps.”

Aren’t you guys a little young to be going through the terrain park by yourselves?” I suppose this is what I get after showing Ava Chloe Kim’s latest halfpipe run in Vail (my alma mater) from my instagram feed.

That night, the three of us set out again to do some night skiing after Korean barbecue and copious amounts of soju for the adults on Seok Jin’s 46th birthday. By then, the temperature dropped and the slush gave way to freshly groomed runs with less crowds and floodlights.

The night belonged to the kids and they grabbed their moment like a baton that had been passed from an older to a younger generation, emboldened by illusions of immortality buoyed by Chloe Kim’s snowboarding abilities. They could do no wrong and would ski as fast as they possibly could, all the while staying together while a 42 year old snowboarder shouts frantically for them to slow down, tries to keep up, and recedes farther and farther from view.

Related Posts

Empty Rooms

The Last Sleepovers