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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Photo Gallery Three

More arty snapshots of life in Singapore, with the usual Fresh Brainz-style of quirkiness.

Archway to the sky
(2007) Sony DSC-S600

Big balloon
(2007) Sony DSC-S600

Hang on!
(2007) Sony DSC-S600

(2007) Sony DSC-S600

Lines & curves II
(2007) Sony DSC-S600

Moonrise over Orchard
(2007) Sony DSC-S600

Ribbons in the sky
(2007) Sony DSC-S600

Shadow of wealth and power
(2007) Sony DSC-S600

(2007) Sony DSC-S600

The big pour
(2007) Sony DSC-S600

Triangles in bloom
(2007) Sony DSC-S600

Would you like to know more?

VivoCity Photo Gallery
Photo Gallery One
Photo Gallery Two

Fresh Science 31 July 2007

We do the hard work of exploring the globe for the sweetest science articles - so you don't have to.

But can they heal my irony gland? /Fantastically bright bolide over Europe (Bad Astronomy - USA)

The controversial state of 'hands on' sex therapy (Mind Hacks - USA)

Anomalokarisu! (Pharyngula - USA)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fresh Science 30 July 2007

We do the hard work of staking out the globe for the sneakiest science articles - so you don't have to.

The discovery of XDR-TB (Aetiology - USA)

Reprogramming mammalian cell motility (Bayblab - Canada)

Academia is a cult (Bug Girl's Blog - USA)

Makes me feel tingly all over (Total Drek - USA)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fresh Science 27 July 2007

We do the hard work of nitpicking the globe for the most sizzling science articles - so you don't have to.

Sharks don't have webbed feet! (Laelaps - USA)

Couples faces grow more alike as they age (Mind Hacks - USA)

Advent of CG in movies (Orbital Teapot - USA)

Mental health simplified (Sporula - USA)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Shape Of My Heart

My web counter at the bottom of the page tells me that Fresh Brainz has served over 30,000 fresh waffles to our satisfied customers. Another milestone reached!

Thank you Fresh Brainz fanz!

So here's another hot, delicious waffle just for you (with strawberry toppings of course).

Click on the waffle to go to a cool mathematics blog:

And as a token of my appreciation, I shall show you the shape of my heart.

No, I mean literally.

Regular readers already know that I have irregular brainz, but guess what - I have irregular heartbeats too!

Don't worry, I'm not dying yet!

(Though Dr. Daneeka would say: "Of course you are. We all are.")

But it occurs so often that it's annoying and depressing, so I went to see a doctor about it.

She recommended a chest doppler echo.

In layman's terms it's called a "heart ultrasound scan".

Funny how the layman's version sounds more techie than the medical version.

So three weeks ago I went for my ultrasound.

As part of Fresh Brainz's public service - I will briefly describe the process!

1. The whole procedure takes about 45 min. So go to the loo first.

2. First they put electrode stickers on you and hook you up to an ECG.

3. Then you have to lie down. Unlike ultrasounds for pregnant mums, you have to lie on your side for the whole procedure.

4. The chief implement of torture is a handheld ultrasound probe that is pressed against three positions on your chest and abdomen. No, I'm kidding. It doesn't hurt at all.

Unless you can hear ultrasonic frequencies.

5. When the recording is complete, you just need to wipe that green gel off your chest and walk away like a real man.

And the result?

Heh, quite a clear picture.

I always thought that ultrasound images needed a fair bit of imagination to visualize, but this one is obvious enough for a layman.

The sonographer said that I have good lungs, which is why the image is relatively noise-free.

Gee thanks! I love a pair of good lungs.

I know that words are the swords of a lawyer

I know that bankers have billions in store

Administrators rule everything from the start

But that's not the shape of my heart

That's not the shape, the shape of my heart

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fresh Science 25 July 2007

We do the hard work of zipping around the globe for the tastiest science articles - so you don't have to.

Seven scientist-guinea pigs (Bayblab - Canada)

Homeopathic surgeon kills (Bug Girl's Blog - USA)

Journey to the heart of a cell* (Entertaining Research - India)

Autism, honesty and capacity to deceive (Mind Hacks - USA)

The ladies already knew about our lack, of course (Pharyngula - USA)

*The XVIVO animation displayed in the lecture has been previously featured on Fresh Brainz here:
Superb computer animation of a cell

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fresh Science 24 July 2007

We do the hard work of trekking the globe for the most delectable science articles - so you don't have to.

Superstitions are not the province of the uneducated or the foolish (Angry Doctor - Singapore)

What would Newton do? (Bad Astronomy - USA)

Stem cells and cancer, forget everything you know (Bayblab - Canada)

Peace loving, matriarchal, and sexually liberated? (Entertaining Research - India)

Spinning silhouette illusion (Mind Hacks - USA)

She appears to constantly spin in one direction, but if you concentrate hard enough... voila! She spins in the opposite direction!

Brainz are funny things.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fresh Science 23 July 2007

We do the hard work of hobnobbing the globe for the most gossipy science articles - so you don't have to.

Weekly World News abducted by aliens! (Bad Astronomy - USA)

Checkers deconstructed (Bayblab - Canada)

Biopunk (Computational Biology News - India)

The necessity of the brain: a slight return (Mind Hacks - USA)

Three Rivers Rock & Fossil Museum (The Flying Trilobite - Canada)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Stripper, Blogebrity or Systems Engineer?

This woman is now the hottest blogger in Hong Kong.

Her blog is read by over 100,000 people a day.

And she hasn't even updated it since January.

Of course you are asking: WHY?!!

She is Louis Vuitton Yumiko, who also goes by Coco (because she looks like popstar Coco Lee) - a buxomly 20-year-old nightclub hostess involved in a sex scandal three weeks ago.

Her real name is Liu Yao. She used to work in a karaoke club called "Must Kara" at Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, where she would don wigs and perform striptease dances for wealthy clients.

Then on the 5th of July, an embarrassing accident happened.

Chu Pui-Hing, Director of Broadcasting at Radio Television Hong Kong, visited the Must Kara club with his friends.

He is married with two kids.

At the club, Mr. Chu was so enamored of Coco that he

... repeated praisedly (sic) her beauty and kept his hands on her breast.

He paid thousands of dollars for Coco to perform an exotic dance with her brunette wig.

Impressed, he then paid thousands more to take her out.

As they were walking towards Coco's apartment, the media chief was suddenly spotted by a group of reporters who were covering Kenny Bee's concert nearby.

The photographers went into immediate action.

And this is the result.

Mr. Chu ducked for cover behind Coco, still hanging on to her wig. Meanwhile Coco appeared pleasantly surprised in all the photos, probably because she had no idea who Mr. Chu was.

He later ran away and hid in the toilet of a restaurant.

But it was too late.

He had been recognized and his photos splashed all over the tabloids.

Because of the media fallout from this debacle, Mr. Chu resigned from his post, ten months ahead of his planned retirement.

His career was over.

Coco, on the other hand, immediately shot to fame. Her blog, which includes some photos of her wearing tantalizingly little, is swarmed by a few hundred thousand readers within days.

She is currently lying low in her hometown of Sichuan, China to avoid unwanted attention. But she still hopes to return to Hong Kong and become a top Mama-san someday.

You are thinking: "Now just wait a minute... Why are you featuring this piece of schadenfreude trash news? Is it merely because Coco is now the top blogger in Hong Kong?"

Not quite.

Fresh Brainz is featuring Coco the stripper/blogebrity extraordinaire because of what she wrote in her blog:

任何一种选择都不可能结局完美,就比如选择了典雅的高根鞋便放弃了舒适的平底鞋. 当香烟爱上火柴..就注定被它伤害..点的是烟..伤的是心!



Oops, I forgot that 99% of Fresh Brainz readers don't read Chinese, so here is my (not very arty) translation:

There isn't any one choice that gives a perfect outcome, for instance by choosing elegant high heel shoes one has to give up comfortable flat shoes. When a cigarette falls in love with a match, it is destined to be hurt by it.. what lights up is smoke.. but what hurts is the heart!

Women.. there isn't any so-called decent woman.. she is decent only because she hasn't been tempted enough.

Men.. there isn't any so-called faithful man.. he is faithful only because he doesn't have enough bargaining chips for betrayal.

Her first line sounds strangely familiar!

Just check out this paragraph from a systems engineering website:

What is Systems Engineering?

The word optimal should not appear in the statement of the problem, because there is no single optimal solution to complex systems problems. Most system designs have several performance and cost criteria.

Systems Engineering creates a set of alternative designs that satisfy these performance and cost criteria to varying degrees. Moving from one alternative to another will usually improve at least one criterion and worsen at least one criterion, i.e. there will be trade-offs.

None of the feasible alternatives is likely to optimize all the criteria. Therefore, Systems Engineers must settle for less than optimality.

No complex system is likely to be optimal to all the people, all the time.

So Coco is a stripper/blogebrity/systems engineer?

Oh the humanity!


Would you like to know more?
RTHK chief quits amid media frenzy

Fresh Science 22 July 2007

We do the hard work of checking the globe for the most succulent science articles - so you don't have to.

The journal of irreproducible results (Bayblab - Canada)

Photos from the American Museum of Natural History (Laelaps - USA)

Understanding anaesthetics better (Pro-science - Denmark)

A quickie about dinosaurs not being... well quickie (Sporula - USA)

You can always trust an amphipod to survive the ice age (The Other 95% - USA)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fresh Science 20 July 2007

We do the hard work of nitpicking the globe for the naughtiest science articles - so you don't have to.

Cockapoos threatening kakapos (Bayblab - Canada)

Chikken Tikkas and Alzheimer's! (Microarray Blog - India)

Brain haemorrhage inspires creativity (Mind Hacks - USA)

Rearing a well-adjusted Superorganism (Orbital Teapot - USA)

Review of Tyrannosaur Canyon (The Ethical Palaeontologist - UK)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Need More Rain

The past month felt like a huge, island-wide sauna.

32 degrees Celsius.

At night.

Well, at least it rained quite a bit this morning, with a bonus cool breeze that I haven't felt for weeks.

And when it rains it doesn't rain enough,

I often think we get it too rough,

Get up and see the perspiration 'round my eyes.

Sounds like a song.

Would you like to know more?
- Weather and romance

Fresh Science 19 July 2007

We do the hard work of combing the globe for the nuttiest science articles - so you don't have to.

Chess on rollercoasters (Bayblab - Canada)

How to be in the snob-free zone (Entertaining Research - India)

An artistic impression of alcoholic delirium (Mind Hacks - USA)

We all seem to be in an arithmetic mood today (Pharyngula - USA)

The Last Question* (Scientifically Open Source - USA)

*Superb short story by Isaac Asimov. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fresh Science 18 July 2007

We do the hard work of rummaging the globe for the fluffiest science articles - so you don't have to.

Cracking a scientific nut (Bad Astronomy - USA)

Stretching myths (Bayblab - Canada)

Unconscious beauty primes positive emotions (Mind Hacks - USA)

Two negatives make one positive? (Scientifically Open Source - USA)

Total Drek tips for publishing journal articles (Total Drek - USA)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One Word - Many Evolutions

Evolution just means "change".

Just like amigos para siempre means "you'll always be my friend".

And amics per sempre means a love that cannot end.


As I was saying, evolution is a general term used to describe any process of change or formation.

Opponents of science, especially creationists, are so accustomed to their monolithic belief systems that they tend to lump all scientific fields together into a single, monolithic bloc.

Good for the ol' one-to-one dick fight.

Creation vs Evolution!

Faith vs Human Reason!

Great for selling tickets.

In reality, scientists construct our current understanding of the Universe piece by piece, from different disciplines, using different approaches and techniques.

It's not a house of cards, where finding a single weakness can bring the whole shebang down.

Each field has its own stacks of data to back up their main theory, and each one stands on its own merit.

In order to refute all evolutionary theories in science, no amount of rhetoric or politicking is enough. You'll need tonnes of evidence and brand new theories that have better explanatory power, clearer mechanisms and more superior predictive capabilities than all existing theories.

This means "many painful years of work".

We should be cautious of theories that cannot (or need not) be tested experimentally. Or "scientists" who don't do any original research.

So, when creationists attack evolution as if it is a monolithic theory, they are actually up against all these "evolutions" (and one non-evolution):

1. Evolution of the Universe

Scientific field: Physics
Techniques used: astronomical observations, cosmic background radiation, abundance of primordial elements...
Current theory: Big Bang

Doesn't it sound crazy? Our entire Universe just popped into existence billion of years ago from a singularity. Most physicists in the 1930s thought so too.

They were more comfortable with the idea of an eternal Universe until George Lemaitre snapped them out of their worldviews and expanded their minds.

Did I forget to mention the gobs of evidence needed to convince his colleagues? To rock the state of steadiness in his scientific rivals?

More than 70 years later, few scientists will bat an eyelid to the suggestion that our Universe is almost 14 billion years old. In addition, this theory fits quite well with many belief systems.

Unfortunately, there are people who will pick and choose what they believe from any idea.

Some people accept that the Universe has a beginning, but insist that the Universe is only 6000 years old.

Why, that's like ordering an egg bacon spam and sausage without the spam.

Lovely spam!

2. Evolution of the Solar System

Scientific field: Physics
Techniques used: astronomical observations, planetary/meteoroid chemical composition...
Current theory:
Solar Nebula

When you give yourself some spin - the entire Universe seems to revolve around you.

Which is why once the Earth was unseated as the centre of the Universe, the Sun immediately filled that role.

Although we now know that our Sun is just an average star in a remote corner of our galaxy (if spirals can have corners), its importance should not be underestimated.

Without the Sun, the planets wouldn't exist.

They wouldn't be orbiting the Sun in nearly circular, prograde (counter-clockwise from north pole) orbits.

There wouldn't be any atoms to make our bodies.

There wouldn't be any energy to keep us warm.

There wouldn't be any light for plants to make our food.

Without the Sun, we would not be here.

We would be somewhere else, making our Star the centre of the Universe.

Thank the Lords of Kobol!

3. Origin of Life on Earth

Scientific field: Chemistry/Biochemistry
Techniques used: Miller-Urey type experiments...
Current theory:

The origin of life does not require an evolutionary theory.

It may be statistically improbable, but it only had to happen once. Scientists are already able to create complex organic components in the lab. They may be able to artificially assemble a single-celled organism soon.

However, the origin of intelligent life is still a big mystery.

Hopefully we will be able to learn more about it, once it happens.

4. Biological evolution (molecular)

Scientific field: Biology/Biochemistry
Techniques used: sequence analysis, genetic experiments...
Current theory:
Neutral Drift

I think Darwin has been unfairly singled out for criticism by creationists.

After all, it's partly Wallace's fault too.

Besides, creationists overestimate the reverence that scientists feel for Darwin.

Real scientists don't worship Darwin (as much as they worship chocolate).

If they did, then why did they throw out his beautiful blended inheritance idea in favour of an Austrian monk who probably falsified his results?

If they really worshipped Darwin, then why didn't they throw out the neutral theory of molecular evolution and remove all traces of it from modern biology textbooks?

Instead, neutral drift became the foundation of the molecular clock technique and modern population genetics.

Scientists continue to bicker over the relative importance of selection vs neutral drift at the molecular level.

Why were anti-selectionists like Kimura and Ohta accorded the kind of respect in the scientific community that creationists never got?

There could only be one reason.

"What do you mean, Doc? All the best stuff's made in Japan."

5. Biological evolution (phenotypic features)

Scientific field: Biology
Techniques used: animal models, molecular genetics, comparative anatomy, fossil record...
Current theory:
Modern Synthesis/Neutral Drift

One of the first criticisms I've heard about Darwinian natural selection is that it employs circular reasoning.

For example, when trying to explain a feature of an animal, for example a wing on a flightless bird:

"The reason why it exists is because it is adaptive! We know it must be adaptive because it exists!"

That's rather unfair to Darwin too, because he predicted the existence of selectively neutral characteristics right from the start. Pan-selectionists are a rare breed nowadays.

Natural selection is effective at shaping phenotypic features that impact survival and reproductive fitness, but not so efficient at removing features that don't matter either way.

In fact the harder we look, the more neutral features we find.

Take an onion for example. Why would it need five times more non-coding DNA than human beings?

Onions have layers!

Ogres have layers!

Yes, and parfaits are indeed delicious.

6. Biological evolution (population level)

Scientific field: Biology
Techniques used: animal models, molecular genetics, comparative anatomy, fossil record...
Current theory:
Modern Synthesis

What creationists don't seem to understand is that evolutionary biology has moved on quite a bit since Darwin's time.

This is why the current evolutionary theory is called the Modern Synthesis.

Which also means that any future improvements will have to be called the Postmodern Synthesis - philosophers rejoice!


Modern evolutionary theory differ from Darwin's original idea in three ways (from TalkOrigins):

a. It recognizes several mechanisms of evolution in addition to natural selection. One of these, random genetic drift, may be as important as natural selection.

b. It recognizes that characteristics are inherited as discrete entities called genes. Variation within a population is due to the presence of multiple alleles of a gene.

c. It postulates that speciation is (usually) due to the gradual accumulation of small genetic changes. This is equivalent to saying that macroevolution is simply a lot of microevolution.

While the modern synthesis accounts for much of the experimental data, occasionally we can find some bizarre organisms that present some interesting challenges.

For instance the vole. How did the ancestor of these small rodents manage to diverge into 60 species in just 2 million years - with all the descendants looking virtually identical?

There is reproductive isolation without much phenotypic variation - quite a mystery indeed!

A splendid opportunity to slog for many years in a lab, discovering new improvements to the modern synthesis.

Luckily for most creationists, they don't care enough about science to find supporting evidence for what they already believe.

7. Social and cultural evolution

Scientific field: Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology
Techniques used: social animal models, observations of social behaviour, archaeological findings...
Current theory:

In addition to their direct contributions to biology, Darwin and Wallace raised our consciousness (Richard Dawkin's favoured phrase) on the applicability of evolutionary ideas to other fields.

Naturally, the mechanism of cultural evolution is different from biological evolution. Here, Darwin's "survival of the fittest" meets Lamarck's "use it or lose it" and together they help explain how certain cultural behaviours spread so quickly and so widely.

Evolutionary ideas have been used in computer science and engineering as well.

Indeed they have become so integral to many aspects of modern science and technology that creationists have a long road ahead if they wish to refute all of these evolutions.

I suggest starting on non-coding DNA.

In the meantime, they should avoid all new drugs and technologies that are produced by evolutionary ideas, just to be on the safe side.

Would you like to know more?

Top ten misunderstood terms in biology
Top five reasons why science is t3h l33t
Most abused catchphrases in science

Monday, July 16, 2007

Fresh Science 16 July 2007

We do the hard work of zig-zagging the globe for the weirdest articles - so you don't have to.

Human exploration of Phobos and Deimos? (Bad Astronomy - USA)

Snail toxin as pain killer (Computational Biology News - India)

Photographing delusions (Mind Hacks - USA)

The museum of scientifically accurate fabric brain art (Neurodudes - USA)

Horrendously antiquated illustrations (The Lord Geekington - USA)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

VivoCity Photo Gallery

The biggest shopping mall in Singapore, VivoCity, held a photo competition in June.

Photographers have to highlight unique aspects of its architecture, or capture the emotions and energy of the people who come to the mall to shop and play.

Oooh the combination of photography and shopping - it's almost intoxicating! (Just add chocolate and I'm drunk).

How can I let this opportunity pass? How can!??!

So I submitted a selection of my best photos.

This is a very popular competition - almost 1600 photos were submitted ...

... and two of my photos were selected for the semi-finals!


Who would've guessed?

A total of 60 photos entered the semi-finals, 20 each in three categories: professional, amateur and student. I'm in the student category, of course. Shortlisted entries are displayed at Level 1, near the main entrance, from 13 - 21 July 2007.

This is the first time that my photographs have been displayed in public as physical prints.

Boy am I excited! Let's take a quick walk through the exhibition.

Here is the panel of photos from the professional category. You immediately know that you are looking at professional photos because of the high quality of these prints. Photos are tack sharp, accurately exposed and very carefully composed.

Some of the photographs are taken from very obvious angles that any casual shooter can pick, for example the VivoCity facade. However the execution is impeccable; you can almost see the years of technique building that goes into each photo.

In contrast, photos from the amateur and student (above) categories have less consistent quality, with prints that range from not-so-sharp to those that looked over-processed.

What they lack in quality, they make up in unique angles and occasionally a quirky sense of humour. When looking through these photos I sense unpolished creativity and a spirit of adventure.

Me likes!

Which is why I'm so proud of this photo that shows two blokes chatting under a huge, arch-shaped shelter. I noticed this angle months ago, and I'm still amazed that no one else saw it.

Even if I don't win anything, my monumental contribution to VivoCity will be this shooting angle - guaranteed to be a hit amongst wedding photographers.


I don't think my other photo, which is a straightforward shot of the "collagen triple helix" is any special.

However, while chatting with two people there, they told me that they prefer this photo. I guess it looks more like abstract art with its weird curves and colours.

They thought that I digitally processed the colours, but I didn't - all I did was reduce its brightness.

When in doubt... under-expose!

Now that we've taken a look at the two accepted entries, Fresh Brainz is happy to bring you: the OTHER photos I didn't submit.

Those photos stuck in limbo between "not bad" and "fairly OK" that I deemed not spectacular enough (or too quirky) for the competition.

Now that I see them again, they are really not bad.


Blue curve

Overlooking Sentosa

Snowman and the Moon

Lines & curves

One blue tile

Green & silver

Fire, water & glass

Silhouette of a tree

If you are free sometime this week, why not pop over to VivoCity and take a look at the exhibition? You can predict the winners by SMS and stand a chance to win an Olympus camera for yourself.


Would you like to know more?

Viva la VivoCity
Photo Gallery One
Photo Gallery Two