25 December 2006

Science of Santa

North Carolina State University has published a news release that argues the scientific viability of Santa Claus, backed by the university's professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

From the article, Santa and his elves have

advanced knowledge of electromagnetic waves, the space/time continuum, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and computer science easily trumps the know-how of contemporary scientists

and how they used scientifically fantastic innovations to carry out his duties.

Naturally, this post is written somewhat in a casual manner, ignoring the technological viability of some of methods used. It is pretty interesting to see imagination and science explain what appears to be impossible phenomena.

However, impressive explanations like

a sophisticated signal processing system filters the data, giving Santa clues on who wants what, where children live, and even who’s been bad or good

sounds pretty Nineteen Eighty-Four to me...

21 December 2006

Singapore's Stand on Antipersonnel Landmines

In the Nobel Exhibition, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), an organisation that won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, was featured extensively. Two sets of displays in the artefacts section as well as a short film in the Creative Milieus theatre are related to them, making them one of the most highlighted organisation in the entire exhibition.

Founded in 1992, their primary objective is to completely ban the use of antipersonnel mines in the world. Their success was phenomenal. From a coalition of a handful of NGOs, it has grown into a network of more than a thousand groups. One of the major successes was their win of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, but the greatest achievement of their work was the Ottawa Treaty.

However, many of the powerful countries in the world refused to sign the treaty. They include the United States, China and Russia. Many have their own reasons for not doing so (such as the US, who needs landmines to protect South Korea from North Korea). That was what I found and prepared for my duty as an exhibition guide. However, curiosity nudged me to find out more, especially with regards to Singapore's status.

It turns out that, expectedly, Singapore has not signed the Ottawa Treaty. More than that, Singapore is a producer of landmines (see this ICBL newsletter, third paragraph). This is kept a low profile in Singapore, which is not surprising since this is something not to be proud of. Even Indonesia has recently signed and ratified the treaty. As a matter of fact, most guys who have been through the army would be able to attest that there is at least basic landmine deployment training.

This led me further to ponder on the question: would Singapore ever deploy landmines? My personal opinion is no. The Singapore Army's main purpose is to defend Singapore, and its greatest strength lies in deterrence. Even if we take into consideration the unlikely possibility of Singapore entering a conflict, it is unlikely that we are on the offensive. I doubt Singapore will start planting landmines along Woodlands. However, there is the possibility of pre-emptive strikes, which Singapore occupies a foreign land to act as a buffer against foreign attacks. Would landmines be a possibility then? Probably, but then the chances of this happening is very low.

In that case, why doesn't Singapore sign and ratify the treaty, since we're probably not going to use landmines anyway? My guess is that there are two reasons. First, remember that the army's strength lie in deterrence. And the knowledge that we possess and may deploy landmines contributes to this deterrence. For all we know, we may not even use landmines in times of conflict. The situation is similar to the serial numbers on polling cards.

My second guess is that, it does not benefit Singapore to sign the treaty. Let's face it: Singapore is a pragmatic country. Our government is pragmatic. A larger part of the population is pragmatic. What would signing the treaty give Singapore? Putting it another way, what harm will it cause Singapore if it doesn't sign the treaty? In addition, with countries like the US and China not signing it, Singapore is safe from international ridicule.

Personally, I support ICBL's goals and agrees with their principles. I would be most delighted if Singapore signs and ratifies the Ottawa Treaty. But frankly, I don't expect that to happen soon. That's life. Life sucks. Get used to it.

25 November 2006

Ubuntu - Linux for Human Beings

ubuntu desktop

One of the major hurdles one finds when attempting to install Linux on his/her computer is the installation itself. Not only do you need to partition your hard disk if you have not done so (unless you have a physically second hard disk), you also need to know your computer specifications (like what ethernet card it is using). And some Linux distribution installers are not able to recognise SATA hard disks which most laptops (including mine - IBM Thinkpad T43) use. This is the case when I tried to install the powerful Debian which all SPS computer uses.

Fortunately, Ubuntu cuts out most of that job. Okay, partitioning of hard disk still remains but that's not really a screwy job as it may sound, though it may be daunting if it's your first time tweaking with the foundations of your computer. I recommend using the Disk Management in Windows to partition the hard drive itself; it is easy to use, comes along with Windows XP, and since it is running on that partition itself, there's little risk of destroying your Windows partition. (Note that two partitions are needed, a "\root" where the Linux will run and a small "\temp" with the memory size same as your RAM.) Apart from partitioning, Ubuntu's graphical installer really makes it friendlier than other distributions' text based installer.

The default interface is Gnome, one of the most popular interfaces for Linux (if you want KDE, go for Kubuntu). Slick and clean and not too different from the Windows interface, the only dissatisfaction I have with it is the huge icon sizes. As compared to Windows, these Linux interfaces' greatest advantage is the multiple desktops, which is most wonderful (but not limited to) situations when you're running programs that uses a copious amount of windows (like Adobe Photoshop or its open-source equivalent, The GIMP; I was tempted to say Internet Explorer for its poor popup blocking abilities, but since IE7 is out, I shall forgive it).

Most programs in Windows have an equivalent in Linux. OpenOffice.org is Linux's equivalent of Microsoft Office (OpenOffice.org is also available in Windows, for those who are too poor to own an original copy or too lofty to have a pirated one). There's of course Firefox in Linux that's equivalent to , well, Firefox in Windows! Thunderbird also works in Linux, or you can also have Evolution Mail which comes pre-installed in Gnome. Ubuntu also has music/video/CD players, as well as instant messaging client Gaim, or if you want an MSN clone, aMSN.

For programs like Thunderbird and aMSN that don't come installed, all you need is a working Internet connection. Then, under the Applications menu (the Start menu equivalent of Windows), choose "Add/Remove...". It works something like the "Add/Remove Programs" in Windows' Control Panel, but unlike the latter which only searches for programs installed in your computer, it goes onto the Internet and search for lists of programs available (from the Ubuntu repositories, which can be modified if you wish). Installing and uninstalling involves just a few clicks. However, installing programs that are not on the repositories can be a headache; fortunately, that situation seldom surfaces.

The best thing about these programs, other than, to a computer programmer, being open source, is that it is free! No more having to fork out hundreds of dollars for programs; no more having to resort to piracy! Of course, that alone means that many Windows-only program like ABAQUS and AutoCAD are not available, which is why I recommend keeping your Windows system alongside with Linux (i.e. dual boot). Alternatively, you can use Wine, a Windows emulator that runs well for quite a handful of Windows-only programs. In fact, according to Wine's official database, games like Diablo 2, Counter-Strike, Warcraft III and World of Warcraft works pretty satisfactorily. But if it is your work computer you should not even have such abominations in it in the first place...

Another advantage I find in Linux is that it takes much shorter for the system to start up. For my laptop to boot Windows completely, I gotta wait for about half a minute before the login dialog drags itself onto screen, then another two or three minutes for Windows to stop spinning my hard disk. For Ubuntu, it takes less than half a minute for the login dialog box to appear, and less than ten seconds after logging in for the system to be ready. Talking about speed!

Other minor plus points about Linux is that it naturally comes with a C compiler (GNU Compiler Collection, or "gcc"), as anyone with formal education in C programming would know (however, it doesn't come pre-installed in Ubuntu, though a "apt-get install build-essential" in the Terminal will resolve that. Gnome also has an amazing amount of screensavers. Also, you can fetch files from any account in your Windows system (which goes to show the security, or lack thereof, of Windows systems).

Personally, I strongly urge one to try out Ubuntu. If anything, take it as an exploration into the various dimensions of computers. For once, don't be a bluepill. Live no longer in the Blue Screen of Death. Free your (computer's) mind.

24 November 2006

Wee Shu Min Wikipedia-ed

This morning in my dish of daily websites, I came across something familiar:

Her name is really becoming an icon... except in a bad way, that is. Poor thing...

21 November 2006

Fastest Spinning Black Hole on Record

Just had my SP2172 presentation on Monday at 1600. And then, an article closely related to our project appeared just less than 24 hours later.

This is especially related since during the Q & A session, people asked on the existence of a theoretical limit on how fast a black hole can spin.

As usual, I emphasized the more relevant parts.

Spinning black hole is fastest on record
15:39 20 November 2006
NewScientist.com news service
David Shiga

A black hole has been found to be spinning faster than ever seen before, a new analysis suggests. The finding supports the idea that only fast-spinning stars can collapse to create powerful explosions called long gamma-ray bursts.

To measure the spin of black holes, astronomers measure the size of the discs of matter that orbit them. A spinning black hole drags space-time around with it as it spins, boosting the speed of matter in orbit around it. That allows the matter to orbit closer in without getting sucked into the black hole itself – so the faster a black hole spins, the closer matter can stably orbit around it. [Pandemonium: technically, this means that the radius of the event horizon (or the point of no return), becomes smaller as the black hole spins faster; this agrees with our theoretical analysis and computer simulation.]

Watch an animation showing the difference between spinning and non-spinning black holes.

But the innermost edge of this disc is too small to see directly. So previous measurements of black hole spins have had to make assumptions about properties such as the tilt of the disc to Earth's line of sight.

Now, astronomers have measured the spin of a black hole with a new method that requires fewer assumptions. The team was led by Jeffrey McClintock of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.

Hot gas

McClintock's team examined a black hole in our galaxy called GRS 1915+105, which lies about 36,000 light years away. Matter gets hotter as it gets closer to the black hole, so the team used X-ray observations from NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer to measure the temperature of the gas in the disc.

They found the innermost stable orbit around GRS 1915 is so close that the black hole must be spinning at nearly 1000 times per second – the fastest ever recorded.

"The application of this to understanding black holes and black hole physics are really quite important," McClintock told New Scientist. "It’s the most exciting thing I've worked on."

But a second study of GRS 1915 suggests that the spin could be lower, according to an analysis of the same RXTE data by Matthew Middleton of the University of Durham, UK, and his colleagues.

Stellar collapse

Chris Done, a member of Middleton’s team, says their analysis suggests the spin is “substantial but not extreme”. They argue that X-rays scattering off of electrons in the disc make the temperatures appear higher than they really are. This gives the illusion of a closer-in disc, and therefore a faster spin for the black hole, they say.

But if McClintock's team is right, the black hole is spinning at 98% of the theoretical maximum rate, which is calculated by how fast stars can spin before they collapse to form black holes.

The observation provides support for the idea that gamma-ray bursts – fleeting but powerful explosions – are produced by fast-spinning stars.

In this scenario, a black hole forms at the centre of such a fast-spinning star and some of the remaining stellar material forms a disc that spirals into the black hole.

High spin

The interaction of the black hole and the disc produces jets, which emit copious amounts of gamma rays. But the star has to be spinning very quickly when it collapses for this disc to form, and some astronomers have expressed doubt that stars would be spinning fast enough at this stage in their lives.

The new research may quell some of those doubts. "It says sometimes stars do find some path for dying with a huge amount of rotation in their middle," says Stanford Woosley of the University of California in Santa Cruz, US, who is not a member of the team.

Christopher Fryer of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, US, who is also not on the team, agrees. He says it is "strong evidence that nature can get the high spin rates in stars to produce gamma-ray bursts".

McClintock says he hopes that analysing similar observations for other systems will allow them get spin rates for half a dozen more black holes within the next two years. "We're going to apply it as widely as we can," he says.

Journal references: The Astrophysical Journal (vol 652, p 518)

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2966.2006.11077.x)

Sometimes you just wonder why such related articles cannot be published a day earlier.

17 November 2006

Machine Gun Sentry

Samsung has developed a machine gun-equipped sentry that will be planted along the demilitarised zone border in South Korea (outside of it, of course). They have even produced a commercial for it, and frankly I found it pretty funny, in particular the way the "enemies" move "in stealth". Says a lot about South Korean's (or at least Samsung's) impression of North Korea military.

You can read the news and watch the video clip on this news site, which I got to via Slashdot.

14 November 2006

GST: Reshuffling the Cards of Wealth?

Okay, the bomb is out, and the blogosphere is, expectedly, buzzing like a disturbed hive. The primary reason outlined for the hike is

to finance the enhanced social safety nets, needed to help the lower income group

That sounds great, huh? Why then is the blogosphere so angry? Is it an instinctive response to blast any penalising policies of the hegemonic government, or are they seeing something I cannot? Seriously, if we raise taxes to help the poor and bridge the rich-poor divide which is dangerously becoming a threatening social issue, what's wrong with that?

Unless you're in financial difficulties, the rise in GST won't pose much problems for you. Certainly with my stingy lifestyle, it will be the least of my worries. Of course, the poor still has to buy stuff and hence the increase will affect them, but as mentioned, there are social nets that'll help them overcome this barrier. Furthermore, it is usually the more affluent that makes more purchases, so they will be the one who pay more. And if this money they pay gets channeled back to the poor, then isn't that a good idea?

Of course, there are better ways to fund this purpose, specifically a rise in income tax instead of GST. However, income tax hikes will pinch the richer citizens much harder than a rise in GST, and since most (if not all) of the MPs and ministers earn five digit salaries every month, they naturally won't support such a motion. (This assumes that our MPs and ministers are selfish, which I see no reason why not to, given our fanatically meritocratic and elitist system. It's no use challenging this assumption; it is a fact of reality.) So that leaves GST as the second best option available (enlighten me, anyone, of better plans that I've missed).

That is not to say I support the hike, however, at least not yet. The principle of the hike is good, but I must wait for the details first before deciding if I really agree with the hike. It is no use if the "safety nets" mentioned is just an appeasing farce, an empty gesture. It is redundant if these nets have holes big enough for the likes of Tan Jee Suan to fall through. In another words, my official stand is: I'm neutral with the hike; I need to see the details before making my decision.

04 November 2006

A Scientific Reason Why We Should Emigrate

(...or why we should air-con the island.)

Sorry if this is turning into a news aggregator, but these few days I've really been lacking in time, thanks to an upcoming report deadline for my SP2172 project as well as three term tests. So, again, no more comments on this articles except for some highlighting of interesting details.

(From New Scientist via Slashdot)

Cool down – you may live longer
11:20 03 November 2006
Roxanne Khamsi

The refrigerator is used to lengthen the life of your food, and a new study suggests a similar principle could prolong your life, too.

Researchers have found that lowering the body temperature of mice by just 0.5°C extends their lifespan by around 15%. In the future, people might be able to take a drug to achieve a similar effect on body temperature and enjoy a longer life, they say.

The only previously proven method of significantly increasing the lifespan of an animal has been through a restricted calorie diet.

Bruno Conti at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, US, and colleagues designed genetically engineered mice with a specific brain-cell defect in a region called the lateral hypothalamus. The defect forces brain cells into "overdrive", causing the region to heat up and become warmer than in a normal mouse.

Female benefit

Since, in mice, the lateral hypothalamus sits just 0.8 millimetres away from the brain’s body-temperature-controlling thermostat – called the preoptic area – it was tricked into thinking its body temperature was too high, causing the mouse to cool down.

The average body temperature of the genetically engineered mice was about 0.6°C lower than that of their control counterparts.

Even this small decrease in body temperature appeared to have a noticeable effect on lifespan, extending their lives by 12% to 20%. And the decrease in body temperature extended the lifespan of female mice more than male mice, the team found, although they are unsure why.

Free radicals

Caloric restriction, another method shown to extend animals’ lives, also causes a decrease in body temperature, Conti notes. In his study, both groups of mice ate about the same amount. In fact, the genetically engineered male mice ended up about 10% heavier than the normal male mice.

Conti says the findings show it is the lowering of body temperature – and not necessarily the consumption of fewer calories – that plays the most important role in extending lifespan.

This may be because the body burns less fuel when it is at a lower temperature, which results in the production of fewer free-radical compounds that damage cells and promote the wear and tear of ageing. Previous studies have shown that worms and fish that have decreased body temperatures live longer.

Conti says that in the future people might be able to take a drug that specifically targets the preoptic “thermostat” area in their brains to trick the body into cooling down slightly. Coming up with such a drug “will be very challenging”, but he hopes it would allow people to live longer without cutting back on the calories.

Journal reference: Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1132191)

31 October 2006

3 Best Stalls in NUS Canteens

Okay, here's a meme I'm starting off. I'm hoping that, through this meme, I, as well as others, can know which stalls in NUS canteen are more popular and thus perhaps more worth eating there.

1) List three stalls (in no particular order) in NUS canteens that you like the most.
2) Explain briefly your choice for each.
3) Tag three people (NUS students and staff... duh!).
4) Link back to the person who tagged you so that backlinks/trackbacks will appear.

1st Choice: Char Kway Teow stall in Arts Canteen
Tucked at the quiet corner of the canteen, there are very few reasons why I would like this stall. Firstly, the food is slow. Also, the selection is extremely minimal. Yet, manned by a friendly couple, their Char Kway Teow is amazing, though it may be considered unhealthy by some. The orders are even flexible; you can ask for a $2.50 plate (despite the listed standard $2.00 and $1.50), or request for more egg, for example.

2nd Choice: Chinese Food stall in Science Canteen
Except for the sotong which I felt was a bit substandard, the food there in general is pretty satisfying. The price is reasonable, the food is great; the only thing I can complain about is the length of the queue. Not surprised though... Try to go there after 2: the queue will be short by then. Most of the time it's not opened for dinner though.

3rd Choice: Yong Tau Foo stall in Science Canteen
To begin with, the stall has some pretty neat selection of food (unless you're eating dinner). The stuff there tastes pretty nice, and what's more, their fried bee hoon or fried noodles make a good breakfast (together with an egg and a slice of luncheon meat).


27 October 2006

The "Erotic" NTU Lecturer: A Discourse on Morality

By now I presume every single (online) soul in Singapore has watched the antic video clip of the NTU lecturer showing some ludicrous feedback about him. No doubt all found it hilarious, so does Yao when I first showed her, but she had reservations about the lecturer's actions.

She felt that the lecturer's behaviour is unbecoming of the supposed way he is expected to carry himself, because by screening such crass comments, he is simply encouraging his students to become cruder. He is, in a way, consciously or unknowingly, influencing them to think this way. This, to her, is inappropriate, be it for pure entertainment or scoring popularity among students.

She raised an example. Suppose in a lecture the students all like pornography. Is it then okay, on moral grounds, for the lecturer to screen pornographic materials to entertain the students? If the lecturer forbids that because of his own moral standings, then can we say that the lecturer is upholding his/her code of conduct, that this is an absolute moral expectation from people of his/her stature? If the lecturer allows, does it then mean that there is no absoluteness in morality? That morality is defined by the majority, or more appropriately, the society at large?

(At this point I think it'll do good to apologise to Yao and everyone reading this, in case of any mistakes I might've made in representing her stand above. After all, I'm writing this from my memory, which is mired by my own arguments.)

Naturally, from her comments on the NTU lecturer, it is clear that, in the hypothetical example above, she believes that the lecturer should choose the first option, because this conduct is demanded of him/her, and that despite morals changing over generations, there are some morals which are completely absolute, such as this, and the wrong in murder, for example.

She further expounded that in the past, after the age of mankind's amoralism, people did not stick so closely to these absolute morals because they are not easily known and understood. In addition, akin to technology, morals have been changing, and mostly for the better, and we get closer and closer to these absolute morals. Where this source of absolute morality comes from or by what it is driven, she is not so sure, but she believes there is some factors that forms this basis.

However, I beg to differ. I believe that morals are everchanging, never absolute. This does not mean that I expect the lecturer in the hypothetical example above to choose the latter option, mainly because morals are not defined by those inside the lecture theatre at that instant of time. It is formed, shaped and influenced by history, politics and society of the entire civilisation over a period of time. But the fundamental idea remains: morals are never absolute. Never fixed. Shifting with time. Changing always.

Slavery is largely seen as a barbaric act today, but it is quite widely accepted in many societies in the past. Then okay, now not. Suppose in the future because of overpopulation, governments have begun selective killing of genetically inferior human beings. And they have been doing it for, say fifty years, such that it has developed into a social norm. Universally accepted. Agreed by all. Is that bad?

Morals change. We cannot use today's moral standards to judge yesterday's actions. In fact, it we were to use our morals to look at times other than ours, we will probably be repulsed by what the humans were/are doing. We are stuck in today's morals; what we see in the past and in the future will not appeal to our moral tastes. It's just like asking someone from the ecclesiastical past to judge the role of today's institutionalised church.

Expectedly, our arguments glanced off each other as we assume differing bases. She assumed that there is some unyielding force driving morality; to me, morality is everchanging. Of course, we did not come to a consensus, but it was a good philosophical exercise nonetheless.

25 October 2006

The Trollish Online Community

Unless you have been living in a time capsule (or in Tekong) for the past week, you should've been aware of the ugly saga unravelling around Wee Shu Min. Her stinging reply, together with the apology of her MP father, has smashed open a sluice gate of criticism that ranges from chiding to outright insulting. Even Technorati, at the current moment, has "Wee Shu Min" crowning the top search.

I'm not going to comment on my opinions, since they're largely similar to other bloggers' like Kitana's. What I'm more concerned with is the insults, down to the personal level, of many blog entries and comments, as well as the Sammyboy forum where it all began. The criticism of her physical appearances... nasty words that has no relevance to her reply... in essence, the trollish behaviour of a significant group of the online community, is as disturbing to me as Wee Shu Min's original reply.

Previously I have always thought that when one resorts to insults, it means that he/she has lost the argument on the level of reasoning. This is exactly the character of a sore loser, refusing to step down when he/she has clearly been defeated. But given other blog entries with more rationality, I doubt this applies to the trollish conduct of these people.

Another situation whereby insults will be hurled is when an highly emotional incident is freshly out of the oven, where many people are still hot-headed and beyond the point of reasoning. But this incident has been out for quite a while. Insults are still ongoing, from what I observe, though it is now at a lesser intensity, but I wonder if it is the case of people gaining control of their head or just that the news is getting old. But the bottomline is, insults are still flying all over.

Thinking about it, I have arrived at the conclusion that this is perhaps the nature of the Internet: free and anonymous. Lack of the need for accountability or reply. That is when people find and do thrill in dishing out such insults. Or perhaps satisfaction. Or perhaps it is just some revenge for her strong words to the working class, or a vendetta against someone associated with the government.

Yet, this does not justify their actions. Such personal criticisms are uncalled for. They do not advance anything; in fact they widen the rift between the two sides. And it is sad that many of the online community subscribe to this behaviour. Yes, I know such comments deserve to be ignored, just as I've told myself many times, but the fact that they exist tells something.

19 October 2006

Maths Skills Inversely Proportional to Confidence?

This article is pretty interesting to note, considering my aptitude and gratification in mathematics (primary/secondary level), as well as Singapore's excellent performance in the subject itself. Perhaps this explains the general misery of our school students?

I'm not in the mood to comment on it at the moment, but I've highlighed several parts worth noting.

(From CNN, 181006)

Confident students do worse in math; bad news for U.S.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Kids who are turned off by math often say they don't enjoy it, they aren't good at it and they see little point in it. Who knew that could be a formula for success?

The nations with the best scores have the least happy, least confident math students, says a study by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

Countries reporting higher levels of enjoyment and confidence among math students don't do as well in the subject, the study suggests.
The results for the United States hover around the middle of the pack, both in terms of enjoyment and in test scores.

In essence, happiness is overrated, says study author Tom Loveless.

"We might want to focus on the math that kids are learning and just be a little less obsessed with the fact that they have to enjoy every minute of it," said Loveless, who directs the Brown Center and serves on a presidential advisory panel on math.

"The implication is not 'Let's go make kids unhappy,"' he said. "It's 'Let's give kids better signals as to how they're performing, relative to the rest of the world."'

Other countries do better than the United States because they seem to expect more from students, he said. That could also explain why high performers in other nations express less confidence and enjoyment in math. They consider their peer group to be star achievers.

Even efforts to make math relevant may be irrelevant, says the study, released Wednesday.

Nations that try to teach math in terms of daily life have the lowest test scores.

All this is not easy to compute. Math teachers typically don't avoid enjoyment, confidence and relevance in their math lessons. They strive for those things.

Speaking on behalf of those teachers, one educator took exception to the study's conclusions.

"If I'm a math student and I don't perceive myself as confident, you think I'm going to major in it? The answer is no," said Francis "Skip" Fennell, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and another member of the federal math panel.

"Is enjoyment important? You bet it is. Is confidence important? You bet it is," Fennell said. "If we don't have those variables, we can't compete."

Yet Loveless says pleasing kids has come at the expense of mastering skills.

His findings come from the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a test of fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the globe. Along with answering math questions, students were asked whether they enjoyed math and whether they usually did well in it.

The eighth-grade results reflected a common pattern: The 10 nations whose students enjoyed math the most all scored below average. The bottom 10 nations on the enjoyment scale all excelled.

Japan, Hong Kong and the Netherlands were among those with high scores and lower enjoyment or confidence among students.

Within a given nation, the high-confidence kids did better than their peers. But that changed when students were compared with a different peer group. Even the least confident students in Singapore outscored the most confident Americans.

Loveless is not suggesting it makes sense to undermine kids' confidence or make math revolting. But he says the U.S. should rethink "the happiness factor," as he puts it.

Math textbooks in the United States, for example, tend to have colorful photos, charts and stories to please kids, he noted. In other nations, the texts strictly have math.

Fennell said engaging, relevant lessons are important. But he agreed with Loveless that every lesson should be about teaching math, not simply providing a fun class activity.

14 October 2006

Movie Review: Rob-B-Hood

Rob-B-Hood is Jackie Chan's latest gongfu flick that revolves around a comedic theme of an adorable baby. Packed with glowing stars that appeal to all generations - the internationally renowned Jackie Chan, the heartthrob Louis Koo and the established comedian Michael Hui - this movie is somewhat similar to those Hong Kong movies of the 80s and 90s, but it deviates slightly from the normal Jackie Chan movies one would associate with.

For once, Jackie Chan plays the bad guy - a gambling addict and a thief - which is quite different from the roles in his previous movies. This is rather queer given that he once said the characters he play are always upright so as to impart the appropriate moral values to the children watching his movies. Perhaps that will explain why, so as to stick to this rule, he ended up being a good thief and repented his actions eventually.

Given this interesting twist, it could've been a fresh perspective to Jackie Chan's line of movies, but this is totally crushed by a confusing storyline combined with unrealistic turns of events. Added into this terrible mixture are the stereotypical movie elements like a fanatic triad boss, resulting in a concoction of plot that smelled like melted plastic.

In addition, the movie was full of cheap laughs with toilet jokes (the typical jokes of a comedy involving a baby), and with gays and effimate men. Perhaps it's these ruthless jokes on and making fun of the latter that turns me off. One can argue that this is not the director's and scriptwriters' intentions, but it is a very weak case from the way the situation is cast.

But apart from the storyline, the other aspects like sound effects and music are pretty average. The gongfu stunts are something to watch for, as always with Jackie Chan movies. Together with thrilling stunts (though, understandably, at a lesser intensity and frequency) and comical moves, I can easily associate it with the older Hong Kong movies Jackie Chan produced.

Nonetheless, overall, it leaves a pretty bad taste in the mouth. I think one advice Jackie Chan has to take is that the storyline of a movie is very vital, which probably explains why his recent productions has not been as popular or classic as his old ones. To those reading this, I advise you not to watch the movie unless you have spare time to throw and spare cash to burn.

13 October 2006

Hip-Hopping MPs

There has been a big hoo-hah over the recent news that some twelve, post-65 MPs are going to dance hip-hop at next year's Chingay Parade. In general, many see it as a lame attempt by PAP to "open up" to the younger generation, and some were pretty cynical about this move.

Personally, I cannot figure out why people are getting so worked up over this issue. I mean, yeah, if they're trying to connect to the younger generation, I won't deny it is a lame attempt. There are certainly better ways to connect to us, and those who are at least somewhat concerned with politics will be more interested in seeing greater engagement than rabbitt-ing about. And what's more, I doubt all youths like hip-hopping; I for one dislike it.

But still, this outcry begs the question: why create a big fuss about it? They are, just like they said, having fun. I'm not sure how tough the training is gonna get - whether it is back-breaking or not - but as long as they think it is worth it, it is worth it. If it doesn't affect us the slightest, so be it. Let them do it. Why the noise? Is it another instinctive reflex of a typical online Singaporean to criticise every move of PAP that appears to try and get in touch with the people?

The only worry I have is that the MPs use time that they're supposed to do their parliamentary or constituency work to prepare for the event. I doubt that is likely, given the intense eyes on them. That leaves them with using their personal time and/or time to do PAP work. That's pretty fine with me. Oh, and as long as they don't get too excited and injure themselves, I think there's no harm to that too.

In any case, I probably, just like in previous years, won't watch the parade. To be frank, I won't give a hoot about it even if Lee Kuan Yew decides to breakdance, just as long as he doesn't break his neck. No, it's not because I fear for his life. I worry more for the image of Singapore, if the foreign media starts putting headlines like "Singapore's Founder Dies While Breakdancing".

12 October 2006

The Ig Nobel Prize 2006

I'm a bit late in announcing this, but still it's better than never. The winners for the Ig Nobel Prize for 2006 has been released last week. The winner for the physics prize goes to Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch for their painstaking study on why dry spaghetti breaks into more than two pieces when bent.

I particularly like the work that earned its author the prize for mathematics: Blink-Free Photos, Guaranteed, which in short calculates the number of times you have to take for a group photograph to ensure that no one is blinking.

In case you think that these are just some fancy fabrication of a highly imaginative mind, it should be clarified that these are real works done by real people and (for academic research) published in real journals/books. The rule of thumb of the Ig Nobel Prize is "research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK". Take for example the 2005 prize for fluid dynamics awarded for the study of the pressure build-up inside a penguin when they defaecate.

Sometimes the awards are given as parodical criticism, such as the 1996 prize for peace to Jacques Chirac for "commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Hiroshima with atomic bomb tests in the Pacific", and the 1994 prize for mathematics to The Southern Baptist Church of Alabama for their statistical estimate of "how many Alabama citizens will go to Hell if they don't repent".

This year's ceremony included some pretty interesting events, such as the 24/7 Lectures, in which some of the top researchers in the world (real ones) are invited to give on, their field of research:

FIRST: a complete technical description in TWENTY-FOUR (24) SECONDS

AND THEN: a clear summary that anyone can understand, in SEVEN (7) WORDS.

I am really interested in how Frank Wilczek gave his 24/7 Lecture on Dark Matter. I'll watch the webcast when I'm free.

Oh, did you know that a Singaporean was awarded an Ig Nobel prize before? It was the 1994 prize for psychology to a "practitioner of the psychology of negative reinforcement, for his thirty-year study of the effects of punishing three million citizens of Singapore whenever they spat, chewed gum, or fed pigeons."

03 October 2006

Cultures of Creativity

NUS will be hosting the world tour of the Nobel exhibition, Cultures of Creativity. It will be held from October to January at the University Hall. Admission is at a modest $2 ($1 if you're a student, senior citizen, or NSF; free if you can convince the ticketing office that you're a child) and will go towards the bursary fund to held needy students.

I've signed up to be a guide for this exhibition and have just attended the briefing. The exhibits are already here, but I've not gotten to see them yet. Still, from what the Vice Dean described, this exhibition looks set to be amazingly entertaining and informative, full of enticing displays and original artefacts, all brought together in sleek technological beauty.

Do pass the word around and let everyone know about this rare event. From what I understand, it is not easy nor cheap for NUS to organise such an event! They'll be getting the Minster for Education, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, to inaugurate the exhibition - if they can get a minister to do such a thing, it's bound to be big!

News Flash: Nobel Prize in Physics 2006

Fresh from the Nobel Foundation, the Nobel Prize in Physics 2006 has been awared to John Mather and George Smoot. Their works in cosmology - the discovery of the blackbody nature of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the radiation of wavelength 1.9 mm which is a remnant of the Big Bang, as well as its non-uniformity at different directions - are responsible for fetching them this honour.

Seldom has an award been given to an astrophysics or cosmology field. This discovery of the blackbody nature of the CMB is one of the five main observations that supports the Big Bang theory. And their discovery of its anisotropy (non-directional) is one that hinted at the incompleteness of the Big Bang theory, resulting in the birth of the cosmological inflation theory, which is the topic of my SP2171 project last semester. You can read some general information of this story in the outline of my project.

28 September 2006

Smoking Ban on NUS Grounds

As most NUS students and visitors will know, there is and has always been a campus-wide ban on smoking. There are signs that declare NUS as a no-smoking zone, especially at strategic locations such as the entrances to the school. I'm not certain what exactly the punishment is, though I've read that warning letters are frequently issued to first time offenders. (And what about subsequent offenders?)

According to the Code of Student Conduct issued by the Office of Student Affairs,

The University believes in providing an environment of clean air for everyone on campus
and so has made our premises generally a "smoke free" zone. In consideration for our non-smoking colleagues and fellow students, we ask that all smokers respect this non-
smoking policy, which is applicable in all campus buildings, eating places and areas with regular human traffic such as bus stops and sports grounds.

While I see where this argument is coming from, I certainly do question if this rule is practical or even reasonable. Firstly, one must emphasize that "campus-wide" really means campus-wide, including the halls and residential areas. Yes, so that means that for students who smoke, he or she will have to, in principle, head out of the school grounds before doing so.

This kind of sweeping rule is not fair to smokers, especially those who already have the habit before matriculation. Smoking cannot be quit within a short time, and certainly not everyone is capable of doing so. Most smokers are willing to quit if they could (who wouldn't, given the absurd prices of cigarettes), but the fact is that cigarettes are just addictive. Preventing them from smoking may be an encouragement, but it is an aggressive one, and it may backfire, ending up with people breaking the rules which often appears to be the case.

Last year when I stayed in PGP, there are quite some students who smoke during the late hours in the kitchen, resulting in a rather stinging air everytime I enter the kitchen. Sure, I would prefer it there had not been any smoke, but I do not blame them for doing what they did. Asking them to walk all the way out of school to light a cigarette is utterly ridiculous. And smoking in any open area is an invitation to getting caught. And there aren't any "yellow boxes" (for those not in the army, yellow boxes are areas in a camp demarcated for smoking) marked out for them.

If the administration really has the intention of protecting the interests of non-smokers, a better move will be to draw out smoking zones within the school grounds at locations such as balconies or rooftops where the smoke can dissipate. The current policy exposes non-smokers to some smoke if the smokers decide to break the rule, defeating the purpose in the first place. In addition, it is fairer to the smokers as well. Of course, a complete ban is one damn bloody strong incentive (or disincentive, depending on your point of view) to quit. But is it effective?

23 September 2006

Singapore Dreaming: Facts & Trivia

Yesterday, I went with Yao to SINGAPORE DREAMING: Big Dreams, Small Island, a seminar with Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh, makers of Singapore Dreaming. The seminar was organised by USP, and I came to know about it through an email by my GEK2003 Government and Politics of Singapore tutor, Dr Kenneth Paul Tan. Attended by about sixty people, Yen Yen and Colin spoke on many issues with regards to the making of Singapore Dreaming, its performance at the local box office, and the local filmmaking industry.

It was an enlightening and thought-provoking exchange. It told me a lot of things I never knew... about filmmaking and the local movie audience, the richness of Singapore society and culture, as well as several interesting trivia. Here's some bits of information I found important or shocking, or both.

  • Singapore Dreaming made more than Perth, Be With Me, and 4:30 all combined, but still cannot break even. So far for all local movies, only Jack Neo can make a profit in the local box office.

  • The censorship board initially requested that the filmmakers dub all the Hokkien in the movie with Mandarin. To add insult to injury, it also said that the Hokkien can stay for foreign release.

  • Almost all the events in the movie are taken from real life stories the directors have heard. Perhaps I was a bit too quick in labelling the ending artificial.

  • Singapore, despite what some people may think, is one of the most expensive places in the world to make a movie. It's even higher than in New York.

  • For some reason, Singaporeans look down on local films. Little Man, for example, despite its universal poor reviews, earned many times more in its opening weekend than Singapore Dreaming, and was still in the top 10 local box office results last week. I'm not surprised though; after all, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo topped the local box office when it was released. So much for the Singapore identity.

    Please, please, please, if you haven't, go watch the movie. It's almost certain it won't last past this week in the cinemas.

    21 September 2006

    The Bifurcation

    As raised in an earlier post, I was considering bifurcating my blog into two, one for my boring, personal encounters and one for my nonsensical commentaries. I've decided to conduct a trial for that idea. If I like things that way, it'll become permanent. Also, let me know if you find that more desirable, although I doubt your input will affect my decision much, if at all.

    This blog, The Feynman Boson, will be the one which I'll use to enunciate my ideas on current affairs. The main reason is due to the greater exposure of this blog to the crazy world. Certainly, I want the blog with the smart ideas to get more attention than the one about my personal failures, so since The Feynman Boson has been sitting around in the blogosphere for quite a while, it should naturally assume this role.

    My personal stuff will be posted in The Feynman Fermion. More than ramblings about my personal life, any updates in The Feynman Boson will be reflected in The Feynman Fermion, so for those who like to dwell on my rubbish and laugh at my personal disasters at the same time won't be disappointed.

    Boson will be updated about once a week, though that is subjected to my busyness and thoughts. Fermion, on the other hand, should see weekly updates, though most will really be mundane twitters of the mood of the day.

    On a side note, as opposed to the name The Feynman Boson, which can have a meaning behind it, the Feynman Fermion, on the other hand, is absurdly meaningless. But then, isn't it apt, for my personal life is quite meaningless too?

    20 September 2006

    Movie Review: Singapore Dreaming

    This is a highly anticipated film for me, given my respect for its directors, Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh, and the article that formed the basis for the film, Paved with Good Intentions. In addition, given the raving reviews it received and the comments the reviewers left behind, I think I'd be doing a disservice to myself if I give this movie a miss.

    After watching the movie, I find myself having mixed opinions about it, though in my mind, of all local feature films, it ranks third behind I Not Stupid and Money Not Enough (this goes to show my opinion of local movies). It does have some amazing acting, mind-blowing when compared to typical MediaCorp artistes, and pretty much acceptable editing and sound effects, especially taking into consideration its budget. Moreover, given this sort of movie, it is the storyline that's the most important.

    However, that's where the problem comes in. Firstly, the plot has several parts hanging in the air... some hand-waving parts that doesn't really answers the situation, leaving behind a bumpy flow. Also, the pace was pretty slow at the start, and the cutting between various scenes and characters leave me tad confused. And what's more, the ending seems a bit too artificial. By this, I mean that for most parts of the story, it is entirely plausible to happen in a typical family, but the ending is an unlikely turn of events that would destroy this otherwise "perfect reality".

    One other major problem I had with the storyline is the message it is trying to get across. From its marketing and background, I understand that the directors are trying to tell us about what we're seeking in our lives, about the Singapore Dream and the Singapore Plan (the tagline of the movie is "What are you dreaming of?"). However, that is hardly visible in the storyline. Most of the time, I see a realistic depiction of a typical family struggling against certain odds, instead of some reflection or enlightenment of the characters. Sometimes, certain events in the storyline go against the original message. Take for example one scene in which, in an interview, the interviewer said that the degree is important, which kind of defeats the message of the Dream more important than the Plan.

    However, when I said that this is a realistic story, it is indeed a realistic story. It is like taking an interesting slice of a Singaporean family's life and putting it onto the screen. Close to the heart and thought-provoking, I can identify very well with it, and even discover elements of the story in my family and myself. It's like a Jack Neo film without the humour and perfect ending, because life is seldom packaged with these two.

    This is a high recommendation from me to anyone who's a Singaporean or lived in Singapore long enough, for despite its flaws, it is one story that touches the heart, one story that we may one day find ourselves in.

    What are you dreaming of?

    P.S.: if you're intending to watch the movie, you'd better do it soon. I'm not sure if it'll still be running in the cinemas next week.

    19 September 2006


    As promised, here are some snapshots of spherical orbits from my SP2172 project. Note that they all are spherical orbits (i.e. constant radius), so if they're not round, it is due to the unequal scales of the orthogonal axes.

    The generic "twine" orbit:

    Another "twine" orbit. Note the larger "hole" at the poles:

    Here's one rare orbit that hit the poles. A strict condition must be imposed to achieve this:

    This is an interesting orbit:

    This one is exactly the same as the previous but simulated for much longer:

    There's also equatorial orbits, but they're hardly impressive, being little more than a line (or actually many lines superimposed upon each other) running along the equator.

    The interactive 3D plots will probably not be up, at least not so soon, since none of us know how to create a Java applet yet.

    18 September 2006

    Don't Work Too Hard

    With the mid-term break revving towards us (which, truth be told, is not so much a break than a week-long intense studying for the mid-term tests ambushing behind it) and the exponentially multiplying workload as we move deeper into the semester, it is, perhaps, a good advice that we should, at times, not work too hard.

    Okay, show's over. Don't work so hard? Dream on... Get back to mugging!

    17 September 2006


    From Wikipedia,

    Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is a grammatically valid sentence used as an example of how homophones can be used to create complicated constructs.

    What the...

    I wonder how many people can figure out what 'Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo' means without looking up the Wikipedia entry or any other references.

    16 September 2006

    15 September 2006

    SP2172 Project Progress Report

    Finally! My SP2172 project, Spherical Orbits of Massive Particles Around a Kerr Black Hole, has shifted into a new phase. For the past few weeks, what we've been doing was reading up and learning what we could lay our hands on regarding Kerr black holes (black holes that rotate). But over the past few days, after putting the equations in a form that we want and verifying its results with other papers, we've finally moved on to generating data of our own.

    General relativity, which replaces Newton's theory of gravity, predicts several peculiar features, one of which is a black hole. A black hole is essentially a lot of mass squeezed into an infinitesimal point, such that, according to general relativity, the gravitational potential is infinity at that point. More than predicting this strange feature, it has also given rise to counter-intuitive orbits, such as a particle that revolves around a Kerr black hole and yet has zero angular momentum.

    Armed with the equations, we modified a C programme our staff mentor, Prof Edward Teo, provided us with. He used it to simulate spherical (i.e. constant radius) orbits of non-massive particles (i.e. photons), which had quite simpler equations (the equations for massive particles can span three lines across the page!).

    The programme gives a chain of coordinates, with which we will use MatLab to plot into a 3D graph. Currently, most of the orbits fall into the expected types, which has the general shape of a ball of twine. I shall post snapshots of some of the orbits here once I get my hands onto them, or if possible, upload interactive Java applets of the 3D orbits (if we figure out how to do that).

    Naturally, it is not these "twine" orbits that interests us. We'd be looking out for orbits that are not expected, and from there understand more about orbits around a Kerr Black Hole.

    Best of all, this week is my most productive week of this semester so far. Those nights of working down to 3 a.m. has paid off.

    13 September 2006

    Escape from Life


    But if there's really such an option in life, I'd settle for Ctrl-C.

    10 September 2006


    I dunno whether to love or hate this week. It was a monstrous emotional roller-coaster ride for me... the hurricane in which I was standing right in its eye seem to have shifted and scooped me off my feet.

    Sometimes, I really wish life weren't so complex and mired with complications I cannot see. Sometimes, I really wish life were logical, rational, and could be broken down into orderly relations like mathematics. Sometimes, I really wish I had no trouble understanding other people's feelings. Sometimes, I really wish things would go my way, ideally, smoothly, trouble-free.


    Human beings are really too perplexing for me to comprehend. Sometimes, it's not the crass jokes or clever puns or witty satire that humours me; it's the innocence of animals when projected onto a human perspective that makes me laugh.

    Please, enjoy these as I have.

    09 September 2006

    A Lost Bet: The IMF/World Bank Meeting

    The IMF/World Bank has issued a strong statement, requesting Singapore to allow protests during the IMF/WB meeting. More than that, it has also implied in that press release that by banning protests, Singapore has broken the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between both parties. This comes after the police released a statement saying that they will shoot to kill anyone who threatens someone else.

    Originally, the IMF/World Bank meeting is highly beneficial to Singapore as it serves to highlight Singapore's potential in hosting such international conferences and events. More than the immediate revenue from the event itself, if the meeting goes on smoothly, Singapore will gain by attracting the attention of other global organisations. Thus, this meeting has became a super-advertisement for Singapore.

    However, it is appearing to morph into a liability. Assuming that Singapore maintains its no-protests stand, the accusation that Singapore is breaching the MOU may have negative repercussions. Already suffering somewhat a bad name internationally for banning protests, this additional fact will smudge Singapore's reputation to host such an event. Why should another international conference be held here when Singapore will not keep its end of the bargain?

    If the government finally relents and allows protests, this will possibly result in a worse consequence, which has manifested in online discussions before the ban was announced: why are foreigners allowed to protest when locals are not? Why is it that foreigners have a voice while Singaporeans have their mouths zipped shut? How then can the government justify that Singaporeans are not allowed to protest on the basis of possible violence?

    Either way, it seems that the government gotten itself entangled in a Catch-22 situation, a lost bet.

    08 September 2006

    The Post of Mystery and Unknown

    Applied the litmus test. It turned out negative for now, but I'm definitely not giving up hope.

    05 September 2006

    "Political" Crisis in CHS?

    I seem to be standing in the eye of a hurricane the past few days.

    Surreal and stunning incidents seem to be unravelling around me. First there was the rejection for a hostel room, though that was kinda expected. Then there was the abrupt news of Steve Irwin's death just yesterday, but that is somewhat distant from my personal life. And then today, while I was browsing The Intelligent Singaporean, it appears that my alma mater, Catholic High School, is undergoing some sort of administrative/leadership crisis. (This incident was also Tomorrow-ed.)

    This came as quite a surprise to me, since two months back when I visited the school, there didn't seem to be much tension going on at the surface. Even when I chatted with some of the teachers, there didn't seem to be any gripe about the principle. Of course, they, as teachers, are forbidden to speak bad about their superiors, but there didn't seem to be any underlying disdain for the man in their words.

    Quite frankly, many of the allegations in the petition are rather startling, and they certainly demand some investigations (such as the public humiliation of students and forced donations). Others, though not so urgent, still needs to be looked into, for they are, to a certain extent, inappropriate actions and demands (e.g. the call for perfect punctuality). However, this is only one side of the story; I'd need at least the principal's side before I can make a fair judgement. Even so, my judgement assumes that both words are of the truth; an inquiry should be conducted to verify or refute these statements.

    To me, one of the most shocking facts in the whole situation was the transfer of the nine teachers. More than half of them were around when I was in the school. In particular, Mrs Alice Long was my teacher for maths in secondary 4. And here I give you my word that Mrs Long is one of the best teachers in the school. For one, she is extremely capable in teaching (I've got A for both my maths), and two, she cares about the welfare of her students and goes beyond what is necessary to help them. What's more, she has been around in the school for more than a decade, so if there's any question about her capability, she would not have stayed till now. In fact, the first four names on the list are long-time teachers in Catholic High School.

    I hope that the school can sort these things out, preferably out of public eyes, and more importantly without any casualties to office politicking. Such incidents are not encouraging to students who are taking their O levels this year, and certainly to the teachers whose only dream is to see their students soar above the clouds.

    Oh my... what a week... what a week.

    A Farewell to a Great Man

    Usually, Steve Irwin's actions are often seen to be crazy by many others, particularly his daring brushes with danger. Nonetheless, he was certainly an entertaining character, and his activism is very much worth praising.

    Yet sometimes, life is often a strange swirl of irony. Certainly, his death is absolutely sudden and unexpected, what more by a creature that one would've never come to think of.

    And the most surreal thing is, while he is seldom a subject of my conversation, it just so happened that I talked about him with a friend today. In fact, my friend wanted to go to Australia to see his performance...

    The Crocodile Hunter will be missed, but his legacy and legend will live on.

    03 September 2006

    My New Hostel Room

    After what seems like an unbearable long wait, the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) Residential Services has finally sent me an email on Friday with regards to my application to the waiting list for hostel.

    The waiting list is a list for students who failed to obtain a hostel room in the first round of application, which is allocated on the basis of CCA points. As demand for hostel rooms is fantastically high, the CCA points required naturally hit the heavens, and most, like me with fewer CCA points, get thrashed by the rest.

    There is, however, a second chance: the waiting list. It is a list of those who still want a hostel room, and priority is given on a first-come-first-serve (which they put innocently as "availability") basis. The rooms for this waiting list are mainly from those who got it in the first round but rejected the allocation. The application for waiting list typically opens in the first week of the term, and that's probably the last chance for one to get a hostel room for the semester.

    This year the application opened 21st August (Monday) at midnight. Knowing how hot the fight was, I set my alarm clock at 2345 - 15 minutes before the application opens - the rational being giving myself sufficient time to turn on the computer and log on to the site.

    The good news is that I did wake up and turned on my computer at 2345. However, because I had a camp the night before, and was in a friend's house for the subsequent day, reaching home only by about 2100 on Sunday night, I effectively had only one hour of sleep for the past thirty-six hours. And the poor estimation meant that by 2350 I was waiting in front of the application webpage and staring like a zombie at the screen.

    That was when I decided to lie down for a while and then it was 0530, when my handphone's alarm clock woke me up for school. I made a mad scramble to submit the application, half my brain trying to figure out what to fill into the online form while the other half trying to shake off the feeling that it has just came out of cryogenic storage.

    It is thus not really unexpected when the email from OSA informing me that there were no more vacancies. And as if to soften the blow, the email also mentioned that 700 other people got also rejected. That number is, in my opinion, quite substantial, which leads me to wonder why they just don't simply build the residences thirty storeys high, but that's not what I'm discussing now.

    OSA suggested off-campus accommodations, basically referring to renting flats from nearby HDB estates, but I'm not going for that, simply because I already have a backup. In fact, I've already been exercising that option since school started.

    For the past few weeks, I've been sleeping in SPS room. Basically, SPS room is a standard seminar room converted to an activity room for SPS students, with its own computer cluster (mainly Linux systems), study tables (which lines the wall), discussion areas (a few chairs in a circle) and a lecture area, as well as a mini library.

    Since I have one place for myself on the study table where I put all my stuff (books, teabags, clothes etc.), it's not really a ridiculous idea to sleep there at all. Of course, I do not stayover everyday, but only on days when I have 0800 lectures on the next (which, sadly, is four out of five). In addition, there are people who sleep there every single night (most are foreign students, SPS room being their hostel), so I'm certainly not the one and only. What's more, it's free, and in a convenient location (water cooler nearby, just above the canteen and central to most of my lesson locations). If that's not enough, the atmosphere in SPS room essentially yells "STUDY! STUDY! STUDY!", which is some rather good motivation for a student.

    The only drawback is the lack of privacy, as well as slight inconveniences (I mean, I cannot, for example, start hanging my clothes in the room, or walk around half-naked). Nonetheless, I do not see any reason why I should not sleep there. Some can slouch on chairs and switch off, but I need and have a sleeping bag, which of course essentially makes it as good as a bed when on the carpeted floor.

    So if you find my wandering sleepily late at night or early in the morning in the S16 block, do not be alarmed. And if you need to find me, don't head for PGP; you know where my hostel room is.

    On a side note, I believe the demand for hostel accommodations will continue to skyrocket, and the CCA points required to secure one will get obscenely high. Blame it on the ever-increasing intake of students, if you wish.

    On a side side note, this is my 200th post. Yay!

    02 September 2006

    Amazing Performance

    Here's another utterly mind-blowing performance by The Umbilical Brothers, a performance group in Australia. This is as wonderful as the performance by Tripod at Comedy Festival.


    30 August 2006

    Three Lessons in Life

    Here are a few advice on thing you should not do, with substantiations from Google Video.

    You should never add insult to injury. You should even more never add injury to injury:

    Never mess around with old people:

    Don't try to act smart:

    29 August 2006

    Photochromic Spectacles

    A few weeks ago, I noticed that even with my spectacles on, my right eye vision could not close in on distant objects. A visit to the optician has, fortunately, indicated that my right eye has decide to make a 25% leap from 200 degrees to 250 degrees instead of my worst fear that my eyeball is mutating into a button mushroom.

    As I was browsing through the different spectacle frames, the friendly optician suggested to me on considering photochromic lenses, also known as Transition lenses due to the intense advertisement by the company of the same name. It costs about two times the price of a pair of normal lenses, which is the primary reason for the prolonged battle between the stingy and the inquisitive parts of me. Eventually, the latter won, so I ordered a pair.

    Quite frankly, the tint of the lenses is pretty unnoticeable by the wearer. In fact, it is quite hard to visually discern if it is the lenses or the sky that has darkened, unless I take my spectacles off and look at the lenses, or compare the spectacles view with the non-spectacles view.

    In addition, the degree to which the lens darken is pretty minimal. This is a consequence, I believe, of Singapore's hot weather, since, in short, photochromism is less effective in warmer surroundings due to the fact that the "deactivation" of the tint is a process fuelled by heat (ultraviolet, on the other hand, activates the tint).

    But looking at it from another angle, my spectacles is my new portable UV detector. If my vision turns blacker while indoors (such as in a lab), I should perhaps take caution. Maybe one day I should even use it to test out Wien's displacement law on blackbody radiation.

    Yay! I can finally see my favourite colour!

    27 August 2006

    How Many Planets Are There in the Solar System?

    In increasing distance from the Sun: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. In total, eight.

    Yep, if you're not aware of recent astronomy news, it appears that Pluto, our eccentric fringe member in the Solar System, has been voted out of the Planetary Club, as a result of a re-definition of the term "planet".

    Of course, the status of Pluto as a planet has been in question for a long time, mainly due to its small size, highly eccentric orbit and tilted plane of orbit. The reason why it was labelled as a planet is a long story, which can be simply summarised into two points. One, theoretical calculations based on Neptune's orbit inferred a presence of massive objects beyond, which was assumed to be a planet (though it turned out later to be more than a "planet"). Two, telescopes weren't that accurate in the 1930s when Pluto was discovered, so its size and orbit could not be determined accurately.

    So, how will that change things? It won't. Pluto, as a planet or a dwarf planet (its new label), will continue to orbit eccentrically in an inclined plane no matter what we call it. Celestial objects couldn't be bothered with those mundane labellings that morons on the third planet from the Sun are so fascinated with.

    26 August 2006

    Any Opportunist Mee Siam Seller Out There?

    Just had this sudden thought: if some mee siam seller has some opportunist blood running in his veins, he'd be quick to introduce the new version of mee siam - Mee Siam with Hum.

    It is not only a fresh idea; it will also draw quite an amount of curiosity due to PM's rally blunder as well as the buzz in the blogosphere. I predict that the stall will experience a sharp spike in business for the days to come. Why, one can even ask for "mee siam mai hum", making it a novel order in the hawker centre.

    There is already some free publicity from mr brown's recent podcast. And I believe such a dish, if introduced, will spread like wildfire by bloggers.

    Of course, it has to be some kind of promotional special, lasting maybe a fortnight or so. I doubt anyone likes hum in their mee siam, or else it would've been in there long ago. It's more like those kind of bubble tea craze, only that it has a shorter duration.

    So, anyone here sells mee siam?

    The Post of Mystery and Unknown

    Perhaps I have been a bit impatient... is it too early to take the next step, to make what is probably an unambiguous confirmation?

    24 August 2006

    Mee Siam Mai Hum

    If you, like me, has been busy of late or does not have a habit of checking the mr brown show website, it is high time you listen to their recent podcast entitled with the innocent title of a harmless podcast.

    Between this and the Bak Chor Mee podcast, I can't decide which is better.

    Somehow I feel this will be better if it was dubbed as a full song... *hint* *hint*!

    The Itinerant

    (This entry is quite overdue... I blame it on my over-packed schedule.)

    The Itinerant is a book written by one of my army friends. It is a gentle blend of fantasy, mystery, as well as science fiction (which renders it immune to whatever scientific errors I might have issues with). Its style, for good or bad, deviates from much of the sci-fi books in the market, though, admittedly, I have not read enough of them to be certain how much this book differs.

    However, what is certain is that grammatical or spelling errors are bound to surface to the reader. This is a result of the author self-publishing the book in an online publishing firm, Lulu. While this does away with the additional costs of professional editing and removes possible clouding as the book makes its way from the author to the readers, the price he has to pay is the existence of some typographical errors, as well as the loss of perhaps better ways of phrasing certain words or sentences.

    In any case, it should not bother me or any other casual readers too much, since it is the storyline in the story that is important. This is how the synopsis goes:

    Byrne has been wandering the globe since the day he can remember. Driven by an inexplicable restlessness that prevents him from settling down in one place for any significant period of time, he wanders aimlessly from town to town without knowing why. It seems like this is going to be the norm for the rest of his life until one day things take a turn for the surreal. His most recent landlord winds up dead, subject to a mysterious ailment known as the Dry Death. He meets an enigmatic man who offers him a job – a job that seems too good to be true. His body starts exhibiting some rather unusual changes. He comes across a strange and elusive lady who seems to be avoiding not just him but his employers as well. As the strangeness starts escalating day by day, Byrne will discover that there are more links to all these events than he initially thought, and in his quest for the truth, he will find not only his fair share of secrets and hidden agendas but the very reason for his itinerancy...

    It is a brave attempt for the author to break out of the standard mold of sci-fi books. In my opinion, not only is it brave, but the story is also fairly good for a first attempt. In general, the flow of the story runs pretty smoothly just like all conventionally-published books, though at certain points the flow turns a bit bumpy and dry. Nonetheless, as with most mystery books, once the reader reaches the I-should-stop-at-the-next-page-*flip*-or-maybe-the-next... point, the following pages will become a quicksand.

    Another plus point about this story is that it is not overbearing on any particular genre. Though I do consider it somewhat a sci-fi, it does not have spaceships, hyperspace travel, ion cannons and stuff like these as its skeleton. Its elements of mystery may be stronger, but the focus is not on solving riddles and cracking codes. These different genres are mixed together to complement each other.

    However, one area which I thought improvements can be made in is its action scenes. While it may be fine to some, my opinion is that these parts could been written in a quicker and more powerful style. Of course, I could be biased since I always favoured gongfu-styled fighting, partly a result of Louis Cha's wuxia novels and partly my preferred way of describing an action scene.

    I do recommend this book for the above reasons as well as another: it is cheap: S$1. This book can be purchased online, either by digital form (PDF format) or printed version (which is much more expensive even before including shipping costs). Details can be found here.

    22 August 2006

    Funny Commercials

    Activities one after another has been driving me breathless these few days... Fortunately, after today, there should be more time for me to take a rest. I apologise for the lack of articles; I've got a number of thoughts in my mind, but had not the time to pen them down.

    Meanwhile, do enjoy these hilarious commercials.

    18 August 2006

    Science and Religion

    "This freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences and, I believe, in other fields."
    - Richard Feynman

    Science is erected upon the idea of fallibility. Uncertainty and doubt is always a key in science: a key to further developments, a key to greater knowledge and a key to a more precise theory. Although this was not apparent in the long history of science that was mired with philosophy and bogged down by authority, it became clear in the 20th century where old, firm, well established theories get overthrown by new, bizarre, radical ones, insofar as it becoming one of the tenets of the scientific method. In fact, science is, in a way, about overthrowing theories.

    For example, Newton's laws formed the pillars of physics, but if there had been no doubt about it being the "truth", then the laws of relativity and electromagnetism would not have emerged, and we would have little of the knowledge and technological advances we enjoy today. Similarly, the geocentric model of the Universe would not have been replaced by the heliocentric model if Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler had not challenged the authorities.

    On the other hand, religion is founded on faith. There lies this basis which you have to believe, no matter how you question it. To begin with, there is always the presence of a god that one has to accept without physical proof. Usually, if not always, this basis is held as a Universal truth, defended vigourously and seldom challenged from within, falling apart only when it is thoroughly inconsistent with other better established field of knowledge (a title only which science is worthy of claim).

    This is the crucial difference between science and religion. Science allows for corrections, allows itself to be wrong, to be challenge, to fall so as to rise up stronger. However, it is worth mentioning that it is, perhaps, due to this uncertainty and shaky footing that some prefers a religious (or alternative) explanation over a scientific one.

    And on that note, I shall now proceed on to some hypothetical situations.

    Suppose one day a time machine is built. I should say that a time machine is not theoretically impossible, but at the current stage practically unachieveable because of technological limits. (For more information, read How to Build a Time Machine by Paul Davis. It is an excellent book targetted at the general audience.) Now observations of history are conducted with this time machine, such that they do not alter the past (so that we can avoid that irritating grandfather paradox and the likes of it).

    Now, in this thought situation, some scientists, carrying detectors and video cameras and whatever equipment they have at their disposal, zoom back thousands of years into the past. When these scientists emerged from the time machine, they found themselves in totally nothing. Nothing. Then, as they are wondering if something had gone wrong with their apparatus, suddenly the sky began to glow. A blinding white light descended from above, so much so that they had to close their eyes.

    A while later, the light faded, and the scientists open their eyes. To their shock, everything appeared: land, water, trees, animals, air, sun, stars, sky... and all appear as if they had been around for a long time. All these, recorded with the equipment, were brought back for analysis. Repeated tests were done, difference scientists went, more detectors were brought along, and the same thing happened at that very same time. And before that time, it was the same Nothing that surrounds them.

    The scientists have no idea on how to explain this phenomenon. So they called for a convention in which the top brains and oddballs got together and debated at great lengths. Finally, they stepped out to the public and concluded that, for the lack of an alternative explanation, the general consensus is: a phenomenon similar to divine intervention has occurred. It appears that the Universe was created by a "higher" entity.

    This is what I believe will happen in such an event due to the nature of science. Even though it may be hard to swallow, science will probably accept the reasoning of its age-old opponent.

    Let's suppose another situation. Let's say that these scientists go back in time to around Jesus's supposed existence era. They went around searching in secret, listening to conversations of people. To their shock, they found that Jesus never existed, and that events such as the Crucifixion never occurred. They, just like in the hypothetical situation above, ran repeated tests, with more elaborate equipment as well as different people (with religious figures tagging along this time). But no matter how they probe, how they observe, how they searched, how they checked their equipment, it seems to appear that Jesus never existed.

    (I must say that such a situation is highly unlikely, given the numerous independent accounts describing the same person and event, albeit each differing slightly. However, no matter how improbably an event is, it is not impossible.)

    Now, being a non-believer of religion, such an event probably won't affect me at all. However, for those Christians who follow the Bible piously, will they be willing to accept the fact? That there is a major flaw in the book in which they place their basis on? In fact, broadening and generalising the argument, if one day science is able to produce evidence that contradicts any religion or major events in that religion, what will its followers do?

    I do welcome one who has opinions to comment, since it is difficult for me to comprehend the thoughts of a religious person in such a situation. There is of course no right or wrong answer, and I must admit the situation I've set up is suffocating, but nonetheless I sincerely hope for opinions if you can afford it.

    15 August 2006

    TalkingCock Does It Again

    I know this is a bit late, but for those who don't read Talkingcock.com, they've apparently pulled off another good joke. Rare has it been that Talkingcock.com came up with brilliant stuff, and this is one smart one. It is not the satire that blows me off, but rather, it is the way the joke pops out into your face that's funny.

    Malaysian Police Stumped by Pepper Attack on Dr. M


    A Sleeping Second Day

    This morning's lecture, set in the small cosy seminar room of S9A-02-01, was attended by thirteen students, not too far from the fourteen in the class roster. Techniques in Advanced Calculus is one module that maths majors cannot take, which leaves it open to other majors like me from physics and others from computing.

    A general glance told me that this module is more like a build up from the calculus part of MA1505, but, perhaps due to the long day yesterday and the early morning hours together with the drone of the lecturer, I couldn't really quite focus on what he had to L'Hopital's Rule and Infinite Series. Nonetheless, I'm pretty certain I've studied it at one point of my life.

    Well, the morning of the second day into the term, I've already had all the first lectures for my modules. Kinda weird...

    14 August 2006

    First Day, Mad Rush

    Hey, guess what? For some amazingly unknown reason, the lecture for three of the four level 2000 physics core modules (the fourth has no lecture) are lined up back to back, spanning from 0800 in the morning to 1400 in the afternoon, every Monday and Thursday. Since I'm taking them all this semester (which is not necessary, though I find it desirable if not for the mad schedule), this means that I have a stupendous stretch of lectures with negligible break in between.

    On top of that, I had a political science module which just sits in neatly behind this chain of lectures on Monday, which essentially means a lecture marathon of eight hours straight. And it seems that my physics professors do not obey the general rule of ending lectures half an hour before the official ending time (the rational being that students can travel to their next lesson), it means my lunch essentially has to be bought and consumed in five minutes.

    However, other than the rushed timing and the accursed sardine buses, I do find it quite manageable... at least for now. The first lecture, Electricity and Magnetism I by Dagomir, was rather mundane, but that's partly because he's going through what I've already known. Nonetheless, he has the tendency to add some jokes unexpectedly into his lectures, which sort of liven up the horribly chilling LT (made worse by the morning rain). At least I learnt that Spinelli is the Italian word for marijuana.

    The second lecture is more of the standard NUS lecture that I've come to know of. It was Mathematical Methods in Physics I by Lim Hock Siah. It appears to be more on the difficult side, but given its importance, this means that the extra effort I may have to put in is worth it.

    Following that comes Quantum Mechanics I by Oh Choo Hiap, who was also the Head of Department until he stepped down two months ago. One of the queer descriptions I've heard about him is that he is cute. And my, sure that word couldn't be more apt! How comical it was of him to stride into the LT and ask if school has started (and in case you're thinking that he's cracking a joke, I'm certainly getting the impression that he was serious). And since he's prepared almost nothing yet, he went on to give a brief description of the history of physics, quoting from memory the important dates like the year Newton's Principia was published. And of course, he has a couple of jokes up his sleeves that he weaves into his lecture to spice things up.

    After a mad rush to Arts, I arrived at the Government and Politics in Singapore lecture slightly late, but missed nothing important. And I must say I really love this module, since it raises thought-provoking questions that I've never even pondered upon in my life. Never mind that the reading material is thick as Young & Freedman's University Physics, I sincerely believe the time I spent is damn worth it!

    Well, that's a lot for the first day of school. There's still another mathematics module tomorrow, but I do not expect much to report on it.