Monday, February 23, 2009

Ylon Schwartz!

If you're wondering what's with the title of this post, no, I have not gone crazy and anagrammed some other weird name for myself (or anyone, for the matter).

Here's the lowdown on Ylon Schwartz from Wikipedia:

Ylon Schwartz (born c. 1970) is a chess master and professional poker player from Brooklyn, New York, and a fourth place finisher in the $10,000 World Championship No Limit Hold'em Main Event of the 2008 World Series of Poker (WSOP), played on November 9, 2008. Prior to the Main Event, Schwartz had 11 career WSOP cashes and plays poker professionally online under the screen name "TenthPlanet"

As a teenager, Schwartz saw streetside chess games in Manhattan's Times Square, and won two dollars playing his first game. He was soon a regular, hustling $100 per day playing chess against passersby. Schwartz reached a peak rating of 2408 United States Chess Federation, and as of 2008 his rankings stood at 2304 from the USCF and 2259 from FIDE. He has attained the title of FIDE Master with a ranking above 2300.

Schwartz grew up as an only child in the New York City borough of Manhattan. A self-described uninspired student, he left the Borough of Manhattan Community College, having failed out of the school after a year. He took a number of jobs after flunking out of college. It was as a public school special education assistant that he started playing chess for a few dollars on the side. He soon devoted full-time to gambling on backgammon, chess, darts and horses.

An inveterate gambler, Schwartz made $340 from passersby on wagers that he would be able to throw a lemon across a street onto the top of a Burger King restaurant on the other side. Schwartz had practiced the throw the previous night and knew he could win the bets.

Schwartz was introduced to Texas hold 'em by Fat Nick, a fellow backgammon player. Schwartz entered a pair of poker tournaments at a club run by Fat Nick in 2000, winning both and walking away with $12,000 and a new passion.

Schwartz has drawn comparisons between his tournament experience as a ranked chess master, noting that many of the skills he needed to succeed in chess are useful in poker and that the memory skills needed in chess transfer to retaining details on betting patterns of opponents needed to win in poker. He also pointed out that chess strategy provides excellent preparation for knowing when to time bets to prevent other players from folding when he has a good hand. Schwartz observed that the two games share the geometric relationships between the pieces on the chessboard and those connecting the cards and chip stacks of fellow poker players, while recognizing that chess is a game of complete information, in contrast to poker.

Schwartz's mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he spent much of his time in his twenties caring for her and taking her to doctor appointments until her death in 2003. Ylon Schwartz's father, Neil, had left the family when Ylon was two years old. Neil made a number of attempts to contact Ylon over the years but it never worked out. The last time Ylon heard from his father was in the making the 2008 WSOP final table and Ylon refused to speak to him. His father remarried and now lives in New Mexico.

As of 2008, his total lifetime live poker tournament winnings exceed $4,000,000. Prior to Schwartz making it to the main table at the 2008 World Series of Poker, his biggest WSOP win was three years earlier at the 2005 World Poker Finals in the No-Limit Hold'em $500 buy-in event, in which his third place finish brought him a payout of $49,960.

On November 10, 2008, Schwartz was eliminated after going all in against Peter Eastgate and ending the tournament in fourth place, earning $3,774,974.

Why am I blogging about a gambler? Is it because of the IR? Is it because I encourage gambling? Is it because he has a weird first name?

No, it's because this guy illustrates my point of how flawed education can be, how a dropout and a seeming failure in life can actually be this really smart guy.

I mean, look at him. On top of being a chess master and world poker finalist, he somehow managed to correlate playing chess and gambling make it sound complex yet understandable at the same time.

And I assure you it takes more than any jack-on-the-street to do what he did.

Ylon isn't only just an ace on the poker table or on the chess board, he's also street-smart too. How else would he be able to make $340 by simply throwing a lemon onto the roof of a Burger King? It would take a bit more than normal sweet-talking to convince white-collared intellectual New-Yorkers to wager with him on simply throwing a lemon onto a BK roof. Pretty amazing, eh.

Plus, he's probably more human than all those people with high IQ slaving their lives away in university. I doubt any high-flyer will give up the prime of their lives taking care of a parent. But Ylon did, spending most of his 20s taking care of his mother.

Of course I don't mean that all hobos out there are really smart, and all the collegiate bookworms are heartless people.

It just proves that degree-holders may be the cleverest people out there, but there's always a college dropout who is smart enough to sucker the money off them.

Who's the sucker now?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Elitism: A Myth?

“If you don’t include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society. So what happens?"

“There will be fewer bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That’s a problem.”

-From National Day Rally 1983

“We must encourage those who earn less than $200 per month and cannot afford to nurture and educate many children never to have more than two (children),”

“We will regret the time lost if we do not now take the first tentative steps towards correcting a trend which can leave our society with a large number of the physically, intellectually and culturally anaemic.”

-From National Day Rally 1967


The above quotes are the best I could find. Apparently transcripts from such old National Day Rallies don't exist, since it was behind closed doors, not broadcasted, like how it is currently.

Obviously, the issue of the 'stop-at-two' policy is secondary here. The major point is that our MM Lee meant the birth control policies only for the non-graduates, which he so gracefully termed 'dumb people'. It's grossly reminiscent of something that fits into George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Such courses of actions are an anathema to what Singapore really is about: Meritocracy.

Our leeders have always insisted that Singapore rewards the best of the best, cream of the crop, top of the line. In a way, what MM Lee proposed is to distort the values of meritocracy.

By insisting that the best are offsprings of the best, meritocracy becomes a twisted version of monarchy and nepotism, since the best will inherit the best.

However, a perfect slap to MM Lee's face was when his grandson was born a slightly autistic albino. The child's mother, Wong Ming Yang, allegedly died of heart attack, and the husband, current PM Lee, remarried to current Temasek Holdings CEO Ho Ching. That's the official version.

The word on the street (however untrue it may be) is that Wong Ming Yang committed suicide because MM Lee was unhappy that she gave birth to a son that was obviously not going to be 'the best', and made PM Lee remarry a fast-rising civil servant for power.

Obviously that was a bit of a far-fetched theory, but had it been in a media circus of a place like Taiwan or Hollywood, the investigative journalism may reveal more than meets the eye.

But what is definitely the factual is the elitism that still exists today.

A few good examples would be from a couple of Ang Mo Kio GRC representatives that are strangely similiar.

Comparing both the Wee Shu Min and Li Hongyi public fracas, we can find lots of eery likeness.

Both are children of big shot politicians (one Wee Siew Kim, one PM Lee Hsien Loong)

Both went to the supposedly 'elite' RJC.

One condemned a 'commoner' for crying out about how tough life is, the other bypassed all chains of command, even emailing the Minister of Defence (thanks to Dad's conatcts) just to complain about a CO.

Both got away with a slap on the wrist. Wee Shu Min's father only reprimanded her. Her only loss was to close down her blog. Li Hongyi was "formally charged and administered a reprimand after a summary trial", even though in other states what he did tantamounted to a court-martial case that would have gotten him fired.

Both parents kept decidedly mum about the entire business. Wee Siew Kim later released a statement condoning his daughter's actions and even praised her, saying "As a parent, I may not have inculcated the appropriate level of sensitivity, but she has learnt a lesson, and it's good that she has learnt it at such an early stage in life.'"

And lastly, both Wee Siew Kim & PM Lee's political career won't be affected by their children's action.

Imagine if Sarah Palin's son in Iraq emailed US Defense Secretary Robert Gates over an officer only getting 10 extra duties for punishment. Palin's political career would be as dead as Achmed.

Another issue is the usage of the term 'graduates' as an equivalent to 'bright people' (see quotes from National Day Rally 1983, where female graduates were used as an equivalent to bright people).

This is a stereotype that has gone on until today, where degree almost equates you with cleverness, which is certainly not true. Granted, a lot of them really are clever, but they aren't smart.

They're just servants entrapped into the system, capable of rote learning, but unable to think for themselves or be creative. Much like a human robot.

Personally, I feel that this is nonsensical. A person's future career can only be justified through a degree. Just this slip of paper can give a much higher pay. What if someone who's really smart, but didn't want to waste his money and years of his life getting buried in books in university?

Would that person be less talented than a degree holder? Certainly so, in the current society, where I've seen and heard many such similiar cases when the smarter, more capable person was not accepted, with a degree holder chosen in favour.

Well, having society filled with the results of non-graduates (stupid people, as MM Lee put it) will only be detrimental to our future generations, as there'll be "fewer bright people to support dumb people".

Is it elitism? I rest my case.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Public Transport Prices Increase AGAIN

The costs of living has yet gone up another notch. What else would prompt me to return to my writing sojourn?

From October onwards, electrical costs will be up by 21%, public transport costs increase, and all these amid an economy that may fall flat on its face. These policies are rather ridiculous, in my not-so-very-humble opinion.

Take for example, the fare hike (or fare adjustment, as they nicely put it) for public transports, the second hike in a year. Adults have to pay 4 cents more for each ride, but will get 15 cents more transfer rebate (for those of you who don't know, rebate=discount).

A person who transfers a public transport once will get a 7 cents discount, they say, and a person that transfers transport twice will get an 18 cents discount, they say, and the calcuation goes on, getting cheaper for an extra transfer. Supposedly, the costs are cheaper now because of the increase in rebate.

Really confusing, isn't it? I suppose this is a point they use to confund the public so that they can suck more money from us.

They don't give statistics showing whether there are more people taking a direct route or more people transferring, much less giving details on the demographics of each category.

What if an impoverished families take more direct routes because they find jobs that are near their places in the first place, to save money?

And those who transfer are high-income executives forced to turn to public transport because of ERP & oil price increase?

Wouldn't they be taxing the poor and rebating the rich?

The lack of such concrete evidence is the crux of the matter. If SBS is able to come out and prove that they have the correct motives for such ridiculous fare adjustments, I'm sure the public will feel more assured that they can trust further adjustments in the future.

However, the price increase does not seem to stem from the need to improve their services.

Everyone I know seems to have a gripe against SBS. Be it from rude bus captains, buses that drive off without waiting at the stop, or buses that arrive once in 60 minutes (80 minutes, in my case), SBS's service is doing a disservice to their reputation.

Despite adding the IRIS service, which is useful, it does not help when the reply coming back says "Next Bus: 75 minutes, Subsequent Bus: 80". (Yes, I received that message before. I would have taken it down with my camera phone, but the message was in my phone) When the bus arrived 8 minutes later, I was so relieved that I could have relieved myself on the spot.

Obviously, the public transport sector has to account for a lot more now that the nation is turning to them for many reasons. ERP costs, fuel prices, pollution, license revoked, etc. etc.

Without improving to meet the further demands, they might just be the ones to take a hike.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

O levels?

The O level results were released today

It can't help but stir up memories of 2 years ago, when I was in their situation. I can't say I was full of confidence and all when I took my results, because I hardly slept the previous night (although that might be due to the football match I watched at 3am) and I was a bit nervy. Well, more than a bit actually.

After all, it was the culmination of hard work (or non-hard work) I have been toiling through for four years of my life. It was all for this darn slip of paper that ironically might slip me up in my life. Four years of my life, wasted in learning stuff that are now obsolete to me.

If wasn't for the great friends back in secondary school, I would have considered sueing the Ministry of Education for sheer wastage four prime, glorious years of my life.

The means of teaching and evaluating the students in Singapore are just way too myopic, nobody seems to see the big picture. Allow me to paint it so that it's more visible.

All these subjects that are being stuffed down students' throats are just... Disturbing. Honestly, one can do without half of these things taught and live on in a better life.

Students are taught a wide spectrum of subjects, and the way the system evaluates the students expects them to be good at every subject. Anyone who has heard of the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none" will get what I am trying to say.

Another form of expressing it is saying that the knowledge of the matter itself is secondary, as it can be forced down by rote learning, but what is important is the method by which they learn: through the notion that there is a cast-iron way to get the correct answer.

For instance, a supposedly flexible subject such as English has a standardised method that teachers gives to students to study. No wonder all the flair and creativity has gone missing.

This turns students into supposed 'computers', where a program is installed, and it is ready for use. But Singapore has gone past the age of industrial worksmanship, we need to advance, not only in the industrial-like way, but also in the cultural aspect.

What I propose is that instead of only having logic-based learning in school, where the subjects are like Mathematics, Additional Mathematics, Principle of Accounts, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Geography and such, other subjects that focus on the more creative side of life.

Schools can offer a more language-based education, like for example, studying etymology, learning the Germanic or Latin origins of words in different languages, and learning more languages like French, Spanish, Malay. Although some of these are offered now, but they are limited and not encouraged, whereas, in my opinion, they should be promoted and encouraged.

This may seem useless to some, who feel that subjects like chemistry, math and biology will better equip a person for life. For others, who are not inclined towards logic-based subjects as mentioned above, and are thus being deemed as 'failures', such linguistic abilities will be more useful.

Linguistically-inclined people are now being neglected by the education system, with only two languages being encouraged to be taken for O levels. They should be given a chance to learn more on languages than 'useless' subjects such as accounts, as it is more useful for their future careers prospects.

In other words, it's like saying pythogras' theorum is as useful to a journalist as shorthand writing is as useful to a mathematician, and we should offer not only pythogras' theorum in school, but also shorthand writing, so as to take care of everyone, as well as benefiting the community at large.

For Singapore to improve, and as the Prime Minister said during the National Day Rally '07, "we are leaving no one behind", the education system needs to improve to make sure it really does as promised, to advance as a nation.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I can't help but be amazed at the Government's ability to keep everything calm as if nothing is wrong despite all the disapprovements by the public.

Of course, there's the easy excuse that Singaporeans are exponents in complaining and ignore the fact that there is a basis for the complaints.

Yes, the previous couple of paragraphs were fabricated out of thin air to validate my right to complain too.

There has been a subtle yet continual increase in price of public transports (this despite the Government encouraging people to take public transport rather than private ones). The explanation given by Transport Minister Raymond Low has always been that better service will be provided and that the oil prices are at an all time high.

I agree on that part on oil prices skyrocketing (which has also driven the price of Char Kway Teows up too. pfft), but the service part? Ye got ter be kiddin' me.

After I left school today, which was at the peak hour of 7 pm, I headed to Yio Chu Kang bus interhange to, well, duh, take a bus to band practise.

It is inevitable and understandable that some buses are delayed at peak hours because of the overwhelming amount of passengers at each stop, causing the buses to be as late as half an hour, or when it is non-peak hours, when buses are sent out a lot less frequently.

But it is ridiculous and incomprehensible that a passenger can be waiting for TWO buses at the bus INTERCHANGE at PEAK hour for 45 minutes for the first bus to come!!

No wonder bus captains are assaulted so much. Passengers were made to wait so long for a bus in the sweltering, stuffy, stifling Singaporean weather, any sane person is apt to become crabby and irritable.

The point is, I was late for band practise by half a frickin' hour, which would not have happened if BOTH buses deigned to leave the interchange in a more understandable time.

THIS is definitely not the kind of service that justifies the price hikes, and I'm sure that almost everybody common enough to take public transport in a daily basis would have some past transgressions with the service.

SBS, buck up can?!