Sunday, January 10, 2010

Shuffle Again!


Yes I can't believe it. Once again, like last year, I return back to a frozen wasteland. With snow everywhere, the transport system has been paralysed by the dwindling supplies of salt and grit. They say this is the coldest spell in the UK on record for the last 60 years. Just a few days ago, I was in a tropical paradise.

In fact, on Christmast day, I went diving in the Sulawesi Islands. There is a marine reserve near Manado, capital of North Sulawesi, and I saw plenty of fantastic aquatic animals which I cannot name due to my limited knowledge of marine life. I saw plenty of turtles, octopuses, cuttlefishes, crabs, and shrimps. I also went wreck diving, which was really eerie. There is a 1945 cargo wreck lying a the bottom of one of the dive spots, and I half expected to see the ghosts of the crewmen still manning the bridge as I swam around it.

Manado Tua (Old Manado), a volcano shrouded in timeless mystery!

Manado has several volcanoes, some of them extinct while most of them are dormant. This contributes to the rich nutrients in the soil and water, leading to a wide diversity of life on the land and in the sea. Unfortunately I could not take any pictures underwater as I did not have an underwater camera, so you'll just have to be content with the pictures I took on land!

The dive resort

Loading up our dive boats

Off we go!

One of the dive beaches

Friendly dolphins

Friendly views!

Anyway, now that my holiday is over and I'm back in Bristol, I feel very nervous about returning back to work. As I've not been in the office for 1 month, I must have thousands of emails waiting for me in my inbox. I hope I don't have a whole stack of reports or drawings on my desk waiting for me when I get back. And I'll have to practice my shuffle to work so as to avoid getting spit off the icy pavements. I am soo not looking forward to Monday....


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Relentless March Of Progress

I took this picture while strolling down a promenade. This is Singapore's latest mega project, the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort. The design consists of three large shells containing conference halls, shopping areas, restaurants (including three celebrity chef eateries), and a casino. There will also be three large 55 storey hotel towers linked on their top floors by a sweeping sky garden, and a centerpiece museum which juts out onto the bay. It will also be one of the largest and most expensive casinos in the world. Current costs stands at US$5.5 billion. The project has already been hit by construction woes and spiraling costs. The deadline for completion has been pushed back to April next year and workers are now working round the clock. And guess what? There are two of these projects being constructed at the same time.

This wasn't built when I was here this time last year. Such is the pace of progress that in the space of 1 year, two huge mega contruction projects have sprung up from thin air. This place that I know is changing so fast that I sometimes feel like a stranger in my own home. Places that I used to hang out when I was a kid have now been demolished to make way for new train stations and shopping malls.

Another shopping mall. This wasn't here last year...

Perhaps I shouldn't keep harping back to the good ol' times. Isn't this how we should make progress? At the cost of losing our past. On a brighter note, I took the opportunity to walk along Orchard Road (Singapore's prime shopping belt) and was pleasantly surprised to see all the nice Christmas lights. It would have been better if it was snowing like in Europe, just to create the chrismasy atmosphere, but then we would have all froze to death.

Pretty lights

Even more pretty lights you know how much carbon we're producing?

Anyway, how do we make progress without loosing our past? Sustainable progress? Maybe we should just close our eyes and become another faceless shiny bright utopian city? I don't know. I think there is no easy answer. What I do know is that I'm going ignore everything else and concentrate on the simpler pleasures of life, as so aptly demonstrated by my fellow citizen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Balmy Nights

It's warm, humid, and the noise of crickets is keeping me awake. Yup, I'm home for the holiday season. Home to me is Singapore, a tropical island somewhere near the equator. It has been a while since I've written anything here. Due to time and work constraints, I've had to prioritise my habits. Unfortunately, that means maintaining this blog has fallen to the sidelines. I'll try to make up for it as I've now got plenty of time during my holiday to write about anything under the sun.

I'll be spending Christmas and New Year here in Singapore. It'll be a nice change from staying in Bristol. A nice warm holiday does wonders for the soul when you know you've friends who will be spending this festive period freezing and shivering under the duvet :-) Moi jealous? No quite the opposite. I've not taken a major holiday since this time last year. And that was to go home too.

I did spend a week in Barcelona this August though. And that was to attend a friend's wedding. Looking back, I've had incredibly good fortune to travel all around the world to attend weddings. I've been to Alicante, Barcelona, Sicily, Montana (almost a wedding), and Calcutta just to name a few. This excludes all the weddings I've been to in Singapore and the UK.

Although I do enjoy spending time at home during this period, a part of me wants to be back in Bristol at the same time. A dear friend is just about to give birth to a baby girl within the next couple of weeks. I would very much like to be there when the baby pops out. Another good friend celebrates her big 3-0 birthday. An amazing girl I met shortly before leaving has an attractive combination of warmth, honesty and beauty..... all these and more tug at my heartstrings, often turning my thoughts to wintery Bristol.

I'm currently sipping my chilled tea as I type this. The ice cubes melt and clink together before settling down in my drink. There is no wind. The clouds look pinkish in the night sky and I hear a rumbling of thunder in a distance. It looks like it is going to rain tonight.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Map of India

Down and up my pencil goes
Drawing a great big elephant's nose.
Across the top a mountain range,
And up above, Tibet so strange.
Below it is the Ganges Plain
Where grow so many kinds of grain.
There's Delhi where lived the Viceroys,
Calcutta with it's pride and noise;
And in between, Benares old
Where stories of the gods are told.
Quite near to where the Krishna
and the Gadavari flow,
Is the Deccan Plateau
Which all the schoolboys know.
With Bombay on the left of us
Madras is on the right,
And Hyderabad in middle
Where ruled the Nizam's might.
Down further still is Tamiland
Which ends at Comorin.
With Ceylon like a pendant
Off India's pointed chin.

It's good to be back.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I found myself in a funny / unfortunate situation a couple of days ago. I had to get a set of fingerprints made and submitted as part of a security clearance procedure on one of the projects I was working on. The only place that I could get a set of fingerprints done (legally) was the local police station. Hence I made an appointment and they told me to come to the station at 2pm.

On the day itself, I arrived 15mins earlier hoping that I would be able to get them done quickly. Unfortunately I was directed into the waiting room and told to join a queue. The queue consisted of 4 women in front of me. I noticed that these 4 women were in various states of distress. One was slightly intoxicated and was quietly mumbling to herself. Another was sniffling and looked like she was on the verge of bursting into tears. She was comforted by the third woman, who's face was covered in bruises. The fourth woman glared at me when I entered the room.

As we waited for our turns, the ladies started chatting.

"My boyfriend has dumped me and taken my baby with him!" wailed the lady who was about to cry.

" least you're not hurt. Look at me! I was hit in the face and whacked by golf clubs by my *censored* of a *censored* husband," comforted the bruised woman.

"Mine stole my money!" blurted the fourth woman.

"All men are bastards....all men are bastards....all men are BASTARDS!" screamed the drunk woman.

Suddenly all four heads turned to look at me as I was the only male in the waiting room. I shifted worriedly in my seat. An uncomfortable silence then ensured for the next 5 mins. Those were probably the longest 5 mins for my life.

The door eventuallly opened and an officer came out. I was surprised when he called my name as I was the last to join the queue. I breathed a sigh of relief and shuffled past the 4 women.

"Bastard," muttered the drunk lady.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Only 10%?

Here's something I came across the other day from Dr Eric Chudler:

Do we only use 10% of our brains?

There is no scientific evidence to suggest we only use 10% of our brains. It's all a myth. We use all our brains.

Where did that 10% myth begin?

The 10% statement may have been started with a misquote of Albert Einstein or the misinterpretation of the work of Pierre Flourens in the 1800s. Perhaps it was the work of Karl Lashley in the 1920s and 1930s that started it. Lashley removed large areas of the cerebral cortex in rats and found that these animals could still relearn specific tasks. We now know that destruction of even small areas of the human brain can have devastating effects on behavior. That is one reason why neurosurgeons must carefully map the brain before removing brain tissue during operations for epilepsy or brain tumors: they want to make sure that essential areas of the brain are not damaged.

Why Does the Myth Continue?

Somehow, somewhere, someone started this myth and the popular media keep on repeating this false statement (see the figures). Soon, everyone believes the statement regardless of the evidence. I have not been able to track down the exact source of this myth, and I have never seen any scientific data to support it. According to the believers of this myth, if we used more of our brain, then we could perform super memory feats and have other fantastic mental abilities - maybe we could even move objects with a single thought. Again, I do not know of any data that would support any of this.

What Does it Mean to Use Only 10% of Your Brain?

What data were used to come up with the number - 10%? Does this mean that you would be just fine if 90% of your brain was removed? If the average human brain weighs 1,400 grams (about 3 lb) and 90% of it was removed, that would leave 140 grams (about 0.3 lb) of brain tissue. That's about the size of a sheep's brain. It is well known that damage to a relatively small area of the brain, such as that caused by a stroke, may cause devastating disabilities. Certain neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's Disease, also affect only specific areas of the brain. The damage caused by these conditions is far less than damage to 90% of the brain.

The Evidence (or lack of it)

Perhaps when people use the 10% brain statement, they mean that only one out of every ten nerve cells is essential or used at any one time? How would such a measurement be made? Even if neurons are not firing action potentials, they may still be receiving signals from other neurons.
Furthermore, from an evolutionary point of view, it is unlikely that larger brains would have developed if there was not an advantage. Certainly there are several pathways that serve similar functions. For example, there are several central pathways that are used for vision. This concept is called "redundancy" and is found throughout the nervous system. Multiple pathways for the same function may be a type of safety mechanism should one of the pathways fail. Still, functional brain imaging studies show that all parts of the brain function. Even during sleep, the brain is active. The brain is still being "used," it is just in a different active state.

Finally, the saying "Use it or Lose It" seems to apply to the nervous system. During development many new synapses are formed. In fact, some synapses are eliminated later on in development. This period of synaptic development and elimination goes on to "fine tune" the wiring of the nervous system. Many studies have shown that if the input to a particular neural system is eliminated, then neurons in this system will not function properly. This has been shown quite dramatically in the visual system: complete loss of vision will occur if visual information is prevented from stimulating the eyes (and brain) early in development. It seems reasonable to suggest that if 90% of the brain was not used, then many neural pathways would degenerate.

However, this does not seem to be the case. On the other hand, the brains of young children are quite adaptable. The function of a damaged brain area in a young brain can be taken over by remaining brain tissue. There are incredible examples of such recovery in young children who have had large portions of their brains removed to control seizures. Such miraculous recovery after extensive brain surgery is very unusual in adults.

So next time you hear someone say that they only use 10% of their brain, you can set them straight. Tell them: "NOT TRUE; We use 100% of our brains."

Sunday, March 22, 2009


It's been quite a while since my last post. Due to work and other issues, time was always lacking when it came to update this site. A breather this weekend has allowed me some time to take some pics and write something here. Unfortunately this stop-start-stop habit looks set to continue as the situation at work looks set to get tougher over the next few months.

Anyway, on to lighter and brighter (literally) topics. This weekend was really sunny. It wasn't hot by any means but it was cetainly a lot more warmer compared to the same time last year. All I can say is that spring is finally here, with the freezing temperatures and snow of last month only a distant memory. With the nice sunny weather today, I went for a bike ride to a nearby lake.

My mechanical horse
And it looks like others had the same idea as well. Ducks, swans and other birds were also out in force to enjoy the nice weather.

Penguins and not really

I know swans are graceful. But have you ever noticed how they hold their wings up? Like some sort of posturing? This is the first time I've actually notice their wing posture. An educated guess would be to show their dominance to other swans / birds.

Swan Posture No. 1

Swan Posture No. 2

Two Swans (Yes yes I know you can count.....)

A great day out gave me the chance to have fun on the bike and recharge my batteries, ready for the next onslaught at work. seems like this cycle is never endless. Well....catch you next time when I'm on here.