Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

It's 2011! Another year has begun.

I have a long and busy year ahead. I have both my Cambridge AS and A Level exams in front of me.

2011 has been declared the International Year of Chemistry by the United Nations. So let's celebrate the achievements of Chemistry and of Science in general this year(I've always felt that we should always celebrate Science)!

I extend my wishes to the entire world. Let us spend another year working towards a more peaceful, more harmonious, more tolerant, more rational and open minded world.

Let's work together to make 2011 the best year the World has ever had!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Another Christmas Has Come and Just Gone

It's Christmas again! It's not exactly a festival I celebrate.Nowadays all festivals are characterized by holiday promotions and discounts on the price of clothes.

As do all holidays Christmas too has an interesting (By interesting I just mean that the story is not known by many people. History is never interesting (Hint: It's always boring.)) long winded and convoluted back story that describes how it evolved. It's a thrilling tale; starting with some pagan festival that was celebrated on the Winter Solstice which fell on 25 December in the Julian Calendar (We now use the Gregorian Calendar). There are interesting side-stories that describes how traditions evolved (For example the tradition of bringing home Christmas Trees was adapted from the Roman Festival of Saturnalia). But apart from this half-hearted and rather sketchy account I will not bother to recount the story in its entirety.

On a more interesting note Google apparently wanted to end the year with a huge, big bang. They have certainly outdone themselves with their latest doodle which, according to news reports took a team of five 250 hours to create. It's quite impressive and interactive. You should go check it out. It's only going up on display till 25 December. I f you miss it, don't worry you can still view it here
However, impressive as it may be,  my personal favorite is still the Scooby Doo Doodle (Or should I say Scooby Doodle!).

Here's doodle in all it's glory.

Amidst all this festive cheer there is a small part of me that is slightly alarmed. The Christmas of 2009 it seems, happened just days ago. Where did the year go? Time seems to be galloping by at breakneck speed. Yet another Christmas has inevitably come and just as inevitably, gone.

Imagine all the possibilities!

I have always felt that imagination is the most wonderful quality that a human can possess. It is our unique capacity to think of that which is not is in my opinion the single greatest driving force that has fueled human innovation and invention ever since we first started knocking stones together. 

I have always been obsessed with the concept of mental visualization, that particular skill which affords us the capacity to just close our eyes forget the world around us and delve into the depths of our mind. All children possess this capacity, but I feel that we lose this wonderful ability as we get older unless we constantly exercise it. I was not consciously aware of doing this until I was about 11 and since then I have been constantly trying to develop it further, to push the limit of my ability to visualize.

I would always look for ways to exercise my mind in this way. From trying to do geometry in my head to recalling snippets from the latest episode of Pokemon complete with sound. I had never felt I was making much progress.

It realized a few days ago however that this was a misconception on my part. I felt real excitement a few days ago when I solved a problem on 3D geometry without ever writing a single equation down. My progress had been too gradual to be noticeable. The problem was relatively simple. I was trying to find the shortest distance between two skew (i.e non-parallel, non-intersecting) lines in 3D space. I was able to derive the whole concept without any previous knowledge within about 15 minutes of intensive visualization.
I do not know if this particular approach at solving problems have any mental health benefits, but even if it doesn't I will keep at it just because it feels wonderful.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Once in a Red Moon

It seems that the December 21 of 2010 was quite saturated with important events. A very total and spectacular lunar eclipse took place last Tuesday. A lunar eclipse as we all know occurs when the Earth comes directly between the Sun and the Moon. The Earth casts it's shadow on the moon and the full moon disappears from the night sky for a while. Well, not quite. This is what actually happens.

As you can see the moon is never completely in the Earth's shadow. Instead at the peak of a lunar eclipse, the moon appears blood red. All of you will have seen a sunset, at least in pictures. The sun appears red because it has to pass through much more of the atmosphere that when it is directly overhead. In this case the sun's light passes through a similar amount of atmosphere before it falls on the moon. Radiation of shorter wavelengths are scattered in the atmosphere leaving wavelengths we perceive as red to go through and fall on the lunar surface. This causes the moon to glow in a most enchanting red colour. Certainly one of the more beautiful celestial events.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winter Solstice

Today, 21 December 2010 is a day of great importance. Today is the day the Earth's axial tilt is at it's maximum of 23° 26' away from the sun. If measure the angle of elevation of the sun from the horizon at twelve noon today you will measure an angle of 69° 34'. It certainly brings back memories. If you were a reader of my blog exactly a year ago you might remember my creative technique of measuring the Earth's axial tilt. For those who weren't there, you should know that I managed to calculate the axial tilt of the Earth by measuring the angle of elevation of the sun on the day of the winter solstice. While this in itself is not very impressive, the method I used to calculate the angle of elevation of the sun is very interesting. I did not measure the angle directly. I used a more long winded but safer method of using shadows and similar triangles. If you are curious read this post: then this post say my method was safer because looking directly at the sun is never a good idea unless you are hell bent on inflicting permanent damage on your eyes. The most impressive thing is that my measurement was very accurate. My answer was very close to the original value.

Historically, the winter solstice is a very important date. There are several festivals celebrated by almost all of the ancient cultures of the world that depend on the winter solstice. A very famous example is the Jewish festival Hanukkah. There are several magical tales and legends associated with this date. It is apparent that humans felt that solstice was a very mystic event.

Recently the date December 21 has gained quite some fame after the sudden surge in the interest the public has shown towards Nostradamus's predictions. Apparently he said that the world as we know it would end on December 21, 2012 due to the Earth, the moon, the sun and the centre of the galaxy lining up. Some people also believe that a fictional Planet Nibiru will come zooming into the solar system and knock Earth off it's orbit.

As someone strongly believes that  good science must be promoted and bad science must be debunked,  let me make an announcement. The world WILL NOT end on December 21, 2012. Period. It is a fantastic work of fiction. If you check the star charts you  will see that this alignment of the Earth, Moon, Sun and the centre of the galaxy happens EVERY YEAR. I thank my favourite astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for making me aware of this and for showing a contagious enthusiasm in science that has made the world a better place. So for those who are waiting for the end just take a step back and think for yourself. Do not be misled by pseudoscience.

On a different note today is also the birthday of my good friend Evelyn Chua. I wish you a very Happy Birthday!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Unfashionable to be Intelligent?

A news feature about a certain Gail Trimble, a student from the Corpus Christi College really left me flabbergasted. What was the reason? Simply because she displayed her cleverness by amassing an unusually large amount of points on the BBC Quiz Program, University Challenge. Here is the news story.

For those who can't be bothered to read the story, here is the summary:
A 26 year old girl called Gail Trimble participated in the University Challenge Quiz show as part of a team of 4. She dazzled the audience with her astoundingly large bank of general knowledge and thoroughly impressed the quizmaster, Jeremy Paxman. Don't take my word for it. Watch her mindblowing performance here:

Although she received a lot of praise, within a few days unbelievebly cruel comments were being circulated about her in social networking sites and all over the internet. I quote from the article:
However, despite Miss Trimble's success, many viewers have subjected her to vicious abuse. Some experts say this behaviour exposes the sinister hostility to brainpower in our dumbed-down, celebrity-obsessed age.
While some have praised the 26-year-old as 'very sexy with a gorgeous smile', others call her 'a hateful know-it-all' and an ' annoying bitch'.
They have taken particular exception to her saying 'Oh, well done', 'Of course' and 'Quite' to her teammates.
One said she was a 'horse-toothed snob' who 'ruins University Challenge every time she is on it with her "better than thou" attitude'.
Another said Miss Trimble was 'so brain-rupturingly irritating and smug' that they hoped science would come up with 'a screen that you can reach through and punch those inside'.
'She could easily win University Challenge on her own, but I get the feeling she may well celebrate alone as well.'

She is qite well educated. 
Miss Trimble achieved 11 GCSEs - including 10 A*s and one A at the fee-paying Lady Eleanor Holles school in Hampton, South-West London.(HA HA HA Kian Seng!!!)
She then took four grade As in Latin, Greek, English literature and maths at A level, followed by a first in Latin at Corpus Christi in 2004. She is now studying for a doctorate in Latin literature.

I bet I got you interested. I encourage you to read the article.

There are two things that this response shows about the world in general.

Firstly, the obvious discrimination against women. It seems that society still struggles with the concept of intelligent women. In fact the Youtube video I linked above discusses the issue. I completely agree that as a species that has reached such a level of technological development we should be moving towards a society where everybody has equal opportunities. We're in the 21st Century for God's Sake!! Gender discrimination is for the Dark Ages.

Secondly, the "uncool" nature of intelligence. In many places intelligence is being viewed with distaste. In fact there is an increasing amount of brilliant children being forced to "slow down" and disguise their intelligence for the sake of avoiding ridicule and teasing from peers. I can connect with this because I experienced this kind of ridicule when I moved to my new school in Year 9. To put it in the words of my self proclaimed "cool" classmates, Trying hard in school makes you "gay". Books are also "gay".Getting good grades makes you a nerd. Trying new things and cultures makes you a freak. New well-founded ideas are "radical" and "un-cool".

 Why are we moving towards a society where we celebrate intellectual mediocrity? Why is it wrong for a woman to be intelligent? Why is it unfashionable to be intelligent? 

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A Mathematical Curiosity

I stumbled upon yet another mathematical curiosity on the web. This was something discovered by the Mathematician Hermann Minkowski. If you recall my blogpost about Space and Time you'll realize that this is the same person who reformulated Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity in 4 dimensional spacetime.

Consider the following situation:

A person wishes to travel from the first black spot at the bottom left corner of the diagram to that on the top right. He can only do it by following the grey borders. Assume that one of the square compartments have a length of one unit. If the person travels 6 units east and 6 units north he travels a total of 12 units.

If the person travels along the blue line he again travels 12 units. The figure below is a bit stretched. But with a little bit of imagination you can see that the distance travelled by the person remains 12 units even if the height of on step is reduced so much that it looks like a sawtooth. You can take my word for it but feel free to draw it out and confirm this.

Now Minkowski asked a very interesting question. What if the height of each stair became closer and closer to zero? The path taken by the person become closer and closer to the straight green line. So even when the height of the stair is only 10^-8 units the distance of the path is 12 units. Now's the time a keen mathematician's spider sense starts tingling. What is the length of the green line? According to the Pythagoras theorem it is (6^2 + 6^2)^0.5 = (72)^0.5 which is the same as 6(2)^0.5. But according to the reasoning we just followed it's 12!! So what happened to all that extra length that disappeared when we used the Pythagorean Theorem?

I'll try to give a solution in the next blogpost.


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep

First of all, let me tell you: I'm not a big fan of video games, especially those excessively popularized and advertised games like Warcraft, Halo or Devil May Cry. I used to play a lot of video games, but those were in the same league as Pokemon Emerald, Fire Red, Leaf Green and such. In fact I prefer such peaceful games to those involving violence and carnage.

There is however one game which deserves special mention. There is one game which should belong to my detested list but somehow managed to capture my attention. I am referring to Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. I can only conclude that the generous dose of Disney characters (For I just love Disney Films) attracted my attention enough for me to give the game a try.

So there it is. The one and only action role playing game that captured my attention: 

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A Very Ubiquitous Emoticon

In this post I shall talk about a very ubiquitous emoticon. It is an emoticon that is casually added to the end of sentences to announce amusement. Sometimes it appears to stand alone powerful enough to play the role of a reply to a question. I am of course talking about the famous "XD"

The Urban dictionary gives the following definitions.
XD :
1. A phrase which genrally expresses the randomness, hilarity, embarrasment, etc. Often used in chatrooms of various kinds.

PERSON 1: Two hamburgers walked into a bar and the barman said, 'Sorry, we don't serve food.'

A: We squashed oranges in the canteen at lunch.

2.An text-smilie with a usage somewhere between 'lol' and ':D'. Visually similar to the clenched eyes of South Park characters.
"Hey, wanna cyber???"


3. A symbol with X being the eyes and D being the mouth, to make a seeming of the person having squinched eyes and a mouth wide open laughing. This is usually used to replace rofl, as the X for eyes indicates that they are laughing so hard they may have fallen off their chair. Usually used in mmorpgs and chat lines.

Example 1:
Person 1: Hah i hacked some n00b's account then went and spammed lots of people and got it reported!!1!

Person 2: Omg XD haha he must be so pissed!
And finally, the most hilarious definition of all:
1. An internet expression that will hopefully replace LOL as the laughing symbol.

2. An internet expression that gets annoying if overused.
1. (the right way to use it)
Person 1: *tells a dumb joke*
Person 2: You try so hard that's it's funny. XD

2. (the wrong way to use it)
Person 1: I walked my dog ealier.
Person 2: XD
Person 1: Then I fed the cat
Person 2: XD
Person 2: XD
Person 1: Die.
Person 2: XD
A very fitting definition I think. XD!