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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!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Solar Eclipse Over The Pacific

From my blog statistics I noticed that there has been a large spike of visitors to Fresh Brainz looking for information on the 22nd July solar eclipse.

Well, it has been rainy and overcast in Singapore so we can't see the Sun, but even if the sky was clear only about 6% of the solar disk is covered by the Moon from our location, so there isn't much to see.

Good thing that the Japanese TV company NHK has just uploaded this video of the eclipse relayed from a ship in the Pacific Ocean that is smack in the middle of the lunar shadow, providing a few minutes of totality.


I like the fact that you can see planets in the daytime, for example Mercury as shown in this video. I for one have never seen Mercury directly before.

It is also interesting to see that while at totality, the surrounding horizon is still lit by the Sun, so it's sort of like a weird sunset all around them - except that the Sun is still straight up in the sky!

Pity that in the middle of the sea there aren't birds to sing their mis-timed evening song, which often occurs when totality happens over land.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Militant Secularism" In The Netherlands

"Aggressive secularization" in the Netherlands leads to polygamy, euthanasia, infanticide and a suicide pill.

Oh noes, the Netherlands is DOOMED!

Wait a sec, this news report came from Fox News, which is the most "Fair and Balanced" news network in the USA.

Better go check some actual data...


Divorce Demography
(crude divorce rate per 1,000 total population)

USA = 3.8 (2003)
Netherlands = 1.91 (2004)
Singapore = 0.78 (2004)

Prison Population
(per 100,000 total population)

USA = 701 (2002)
Singapore = 388 (2002)
Netherlands = 100 (2002)

Intentional Homicide
(per 100,000 total population)

USA = 5.8 (2008)
Netherlands = 0.97 (2002)
Singapore = 0.48 (2005)

Infant Mortality
(death per 1,000 live births)

USA = 6.3 (2005)
Netherlands = 4.7 (2005)
Singapore = 3.0 (2005)

(per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years)

USA = 20.8 (2003)
Singapore = 12.6 (2004)
Netherlands = 10.4 (2004)

(death per 100,000 total population)

USA = 11.1 (2005)
Singapore = 10.3 (2006)
Netherlands = 9.4 (2004)


Wow, the USA is truly a world "leader" in all these areas!

Let's hope that the Netherlands (and Singapore too) will never follow its "lead" here.

Indeed, Fox News should be proud of their country and their own special style of reporting where the truth is always optional.

Pipette tip to Sandwalk.

Would you like to know more?
Is Polygamy Really Legal in the Netherlands?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Third Year

It's been three years down the road, and I would like to thank fellow Clearthought Singapore veterans and all my regular readers for staying on this channel.

I'll probably write a more substantial post a little later, because I went to the Darwin and Wallace talk in late June and took extensive notes, but right now my situation is not conducive to serious blogging.

So, to mark this third blogiversary I'll leave you with this little piece of Socratic dialogue, inspired by the post "don't need doctors anymore" at Angry Doc's site.

I hope you'll find it funny and interesting.


Geordie: "Did you know that Steve McCurry, the photographer who took the famous 'Afghan Girl' photo came to Singapore and gave a talk at SMU?

Freddie: "Dang, I missed that. I went to John van Wyhe's talk at NUS instead. So, anything interesting?"

Geordie: "Somebody asked him what brand of camera he used. Ha ha, can you believe it?"

Freddie: "Heh, don't tell me it's the Nikon vs Canon dickfight again. Or is it Leica vs Zeiss?"

Geordie: "It's the Nikon vs Canon. I think that marketing hype is making people stupid. Nobody would ask a famous painter what brand of paintbrushes he used, so why should people care about the brand of camera that a famous photographer used? As long as the picture is focused and well-exposed would it have mattered if he used a disposable camera?"

Freddie: "I think that tool worship is common to people who don't understand or are not interested in the process. Perhaps the professionals themselves are contributing to this misunderstanding by making the process look too easy. The tool IS the profession. I can totally see it from that point of view."

Geordie: "What are you talking about? Are you saying that a camera can walk by itself to Afghanistan, endure the hardships of a wartorn environment, seek out interesting people, interact with them and produce a well-composed and expertly-timed shot?

Freddie: "Look, a camera is what takes the photos, right? If Steve McCurry didn't have a camera with him when he saw the Afghan Girl, the photo could never happen. You can consider him merely as a vehicle to bring the camera to the Afghan Girl and then press the shutter button. All he did was to travel to a remote place, turn some dials and push some buttons - the camera did all of the 'real' work."

Geordie: "Ha ha, that's a pretty twisted way to see it. The facts are the same but the emphasis is backwards. From such a view you can dismiss the photographer as an incidental, or even an irrelevant aspect of the photographic process!"

Freddie: "You don't need photographers any more, you just need an expensive brand name camera. The photographer only pushed a button! Anyone can push a button."

Geordie: "From that perspective you can pretty much dismiss the work of any professional. Teachers? Anyone can talk and write something on the whiteboard. The textbook IS education. Scientists? Anyone can push buttons and transfer liquids from one tube to another. The PCR machine IS research. Oh man..."

Freddie: "There you go."

Geordie: "Who could see it that way? Apart from a few strange people? I mean, that can't be a prevalent view, right?"

Freddie: "I suspect that it is more common than you think. To a society that is obsessed with results and performance indicators, most people can't be bothered about the process behind anything. What they want are results, now now now! Don't care how you do it. Just tell me what I want to hear."

Geordie: "But without the process you cannot have results."

Freddie: "But even with the process, you may not have results. So why care about the process? As long it produces a result that you like, it must be a 'good' process, whatever it is."

Geordie: "Ha ha, this must be a personality-dependent thing, because I don't understand how anyone can think that way. I suppose it is some kind of superduper mental shortcut. Good photo = expensive branded camera. Expensive = good. Cheap = lousy. Quick and easy."

Freddie: "Easy on the brain, but difficult on the wallet!"

Geordie: "Yeah, which reminds me of that neverending treadmill of earning and spending. If the price is the primary gauge of what is 'good' then people must keep buying more and more expensive stuff in order to feel a sense of improvement in their lives."

Freddie: "That's good news for the marketing people."

Geordie: "For the Nikon marketing people, Canon marketing people, or the disposable camera marketing people?"

Freddie: "Ha ha... suffice to say that happiness is not free, but it is surprisingly inexpensive.

Geordie: "It is meaningless to talk about the 'expense' of happiness. It's a process. You can't just stuff happiness into a bottle and slap a brand label on it."

Freddie: "Actually I think you can. And someone will pay real money for it."

Geordie: "Someone?"

Freddie: "Everyone."