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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!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Photo Gallery Twelve

The photo gallery returns with a slight difference; rather than focusing on the artistic aspect, this week's selection is a quick survey of some bizarre sights around Singapore, with a touch of black humour.

It's difficult to find graffiti in Singapore, what with all the constant scrubbing and whitewashing of public areas.

But those few that remain are no less arty or profound than the ones found in any other large city.

It's hard to tell what this example here is trying to say; it may be an expression of personal frustration, or a biting social commentary.

But we do know for sure that the painter is a fan of Don Hertzfeldt.

Sometimes words can achieve what pictures will never do. Unlike the crass "Johnny loves Carmen" or "For a good time call XXX-XXXX" variety, this set of scribblings is appropriately composed upon a lamp post, a source of earthly light that serves as a metaphor for the heavenly light of God.

Within these words, we can feel the frustration of those who yearn to see by heavenly light what they are unable to see by earthly light.

The anguish of those tasked to convince others to see what they themselves cannot see.

But we do see many things around us, with exquisite clarity. A tiny glitch in the System reveals the Matrix that underlies everything.

As the great German philosopher Hans Oberlander once said: "We're all going to be computers soon you know. Thank goodness!"

After they are confronted by another tedious object hunt or the mythical "wall of air" for the nth time, do avid gamers start to question if they are playing the computer game, or is the game playing them?

Which is the Tool, and which the Master?

Here's another burning question. If there are so many "registered" soccer players in the great US of A, then why do they suck so bad at it?

Perhaps sheer numbers will impress... no, distract people from the searing reality that the best soccer players in the world never did spend their formative years spending top dollar to consume bottles of glorified sugary water.

Or perhaps the Gods of yesteryears have been replaced by the Gods of Red, White and Blue - the mother of all brand names.

It only takes a spark, to get the fire going. And soon all those around, may end up as charred corpses.

The first few foreign particles on the leaf may be attractive, even beneficial additions, but as more and more of them arrive, their behaviour changes and the leaf is severely compromised.

Not unlike how adding some carbon particles can strengthen iron into steel, but add too much and you will produce a fragile piece of cast iron that will shatter to pieces when hit with a hard knock.

The cost of diversity is vigilance, a perpetual awareness of the social boundaries that allow a people of various cultures to work together with some semblance of cooperativity.

This is heightened when a huge population is confined to a small geographical area, resulting in frictions that occur on a daily basis.

An appearance of nonchalance on the surface cannot fully mask the suspicions beneath.

Like the models above who look at the shoppers with disturbing stares, people are always watching.


Defining social progress by primarily economic terms, there are many who seek the use of Darwinian principles to justify their actions in what they perceive to be a dog-eat-dog, "survival of the fittest" world.

But Nature is a tinkerer, and much of biological evolution has proceeded via stochastic, neutral events.

Many things persist, not because they are superior to the competition, but because they are irrelevant to the competition.

Take a look at this rusty old weighing machine with creaky analogue levers and spinny wheels. Once a staple of shopping centres everywhere, this one sits alone in a corner that time forgot.

Who would spend 20 cents to receive her weight info stamped onto a card? What is the cost-benefit ratio of such a machine today?

Yet it lives on, oblivious to the rise and fall of digital technologies around it, maybe due to nostalgia, or more likely because nobody really cared enough to get rid of it.

An artifact of the past; now reborn as a metaphor in an obscure science blog.

A shining future of opportunities awaits you! No doubt decked out with flashy new gizmos and catchy new slogans.

But an astute outside observer will ask: "The train only has two sides. Why would you need a display to point out where the doors will open?"

The observer may have failed to appreciate the crushing mass of humanity during rush hour that would impede a person from reaching the other door, if she had inadvertently picked the wrong side of the train to stand at.

More importantly, the observer may have failed to realize that the future does not belong to the last person who is still standing, but to the last person who is still breathing.

Would you like to know more?
Photo Gallery Eleven