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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!

Monday, May 25, 2009

That's Not How You Play The Violin!

Here's a classically trained violinist, Alex Mitchell, playing the violin in a decidedly unclassical way...

Some people spend years and years learning from the establishment so that they can emulate them exactly and perpetuate the tradition forever.

Some other people spend years and years learning from the establishment so that they can evaluate them, transcend them, and sometimes even consign the useless bits of tradition into the giant trash heap of history.

As the great non-scientist/non-engineer Tay Ping Hui once said on TV:

"Scientists ask 'Why?'. Engineers ask 'Why not?'."

Actually, scientists MUST ask "Why not?" - at the minimum, to examine alternative explanations to their pet ideas to avoid getting shot down by their peers, to say nothing of scrutinizing established theories.

And did you think engineers have the luxury of asking "Why not" if scientists never asked "Why"?

Did you think that James Clerk Maxwell, Michael Faraday, Hendrik Lorentz and André-Marie Ampère were electrical engineers?

Did you think that Erwin Chargaff, Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick and Jimmy Watson were biomedical engineers?

If the science stuff doesn't exist, then what would engineers engineer on?

A magic voodoo chant?

Hugh Laurie knows that playing a doctor on TV doesn't make you a doctor. Maybe Tay Ping Hui doesn't.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nineteen Sixty-Six

Two astounding events occurred in 1966 that would forever change the face of broadcast television.

Nah, not really.

Observe the brutal transparency of the villian; not since the Talking Snake has there ever been a baddie of such epic honesty.

To paraphrase an old tag-line from the Space channel:

"It's funny how the future looks exactly like 1966."


Monday, May 18, 2009

Censoring Myself Into Silence

This is it folks, I've totally run out of steam. Essentially, I've politically-corrected myself into silence. Fresh Brainz was supposed to be about science, which is a reliable method for discovering the truth. Unfortunately, the truth can be very offensive to many people in this world. They would cling on to their beliefs even when strong evidence indicates the contrary.

For too long I have been tasked to do impossible things. I don't considering focusing all your energy into doing impossible things as some admirable sign of tenacity or resilience. Especially when the evidence is clearly there.

I think that ordering other people to do impossible things and forcing them to believe in impossible things is a sign of megalomania, maybe sadism or even madness.

There is only so much one can do to hint or use subtle words to somewhat nudge you to plausibly tangentially consider some sort of issue. It is very tiring to bend over backwards to respect the feelings of everyone all the time.

That is not my style.

And so I have nothing left to say.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Mas Selamat Captured In Malaysia!

Latest news - Mas Selamat has been caught in Johor and is now held by Malaysian authorities:

Mas Selamat captured (Straits Times)

Fugitive who escaped from Whitley detention centre last year is tracked down and captured in Johor after tip-off from Singapore; he is being held for interrogation by Malaysia

By Leslie Lopez, Senior Regional Correspondent

KUALA LUMPUR: Thirteen months after his audacious escape from detention in Singapore, Mas Selamat Kastari has been caught in Malaysia.

Singapore's most wanted terrorist was captured on April 1 while hiding in Johor, regional intelligence sources told The Straits Times.

It is believed that he was nabbed in the outskirts of Johor Baru and is now being held by the Malaysian authorities for interrogation.

It is not known how he slipped out of Singapore or when he entered Malaysia.

Although he was arrested six weeks ago, the Malaysian authorities have not yet announced the capture.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Mob Behaviour Of Social Groups

What a remarkable confluence of events today!

1. This morning I received an email from an old friend - unfortunately it was a chain mail with some pretty NASA photograph in it.

I prefer not to propagate chain mails, so I deleted it while asking myself: "Why do people fall for chain mails so easily?"

2. Next, I came across this YouTube video about chain letters on MySpace and other social networking sites:

Nykytyne2 sees a connection between Pascal's Wager and the mob behaviour of people who keep reposting chain letters.

He thinks that social networking and multiplayer game sites can potentially be a great tool for social psychologists to study mob behaviour.

3. And then, sociologist Jesse Fagan of Orbital Teapot posts a summary about this research study:

Effective leadership and decision-making in animal groups on the move (Couzin et al. 2005, Nature)

This paper has revealed a very interesting result. Jesse explains:

The powerful insight, I thought, was that groups that behave like swarms or flocks can find some resource if only a small proportion of the the individuals have the knowledge. Furthermore, the ratio between those who know and those who follow scales logarithmically with respect to the size of the total group. That means the larger the group, the group of knowledgeable individuals does not have to rise linearly.

When I say agents who behave like a swarm I mean they obey a small set of simple rules.

So here's a plausible explanation for why there are so many "sheeple" in the world today mindlessly following a tiny clique of powerful overlords.

Maybe it doesn't hurt society to have many stupid people who are only good at following orders - there could be a structural reason behind this.

Ain't that neat?

The question, the hypothesis-generation and the results all popped up within the space of a few hours.

Sometimes I wonder if I am trying to find systems science, or if systems science is trying to find me...

Paint Your Palette Blue And Grey

Thanks to everyone who turned up for the Sidewalk Astronomy Carnival, especially Angry Doc and Ed, as well as Richard of SingAstro.

Three drinks under the stars.

Contemplating the certitude that eludes them.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Update: Results Of The AWARE EGM

Latest news - the result of the no confidence vote in the new AWARE Exco has just been announced:

1414 vote yes (in favour of the old guard).

761 vote no (in favour of the new Exco).

The vote of no confidence has been passed.

At this point in time (8.25pm), the new Exco is still considering whether to resign or not.

*Update 03 May 2009:

Ms. Josie Lau's team has resigned.

The newest AWARE Exco is now led by president Dana Lam.

Would you like to know more?

Online media sources:
More than a thousand turn up for Aware EOGM (The Online Citizen)
LIVE from Suntec: AWARE EGM, 2 May 2009 (The Wayang Party)

Mainstream media sources:
New Exco of AWARE given vote of no confidence (Channelnewsasia)