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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, December 05, 2011

Structure In A Structure In A Structure...

I'll briefly interrupt the usual whooshy wind and tumbleweed here at Fresh Brainz with this video you just HAVE to see.

Check it out in 720p for all the astounding detail.

At first, it seems like a well made, Transformer-esque CG virtualscape...

... but when it zooms in, you start to see recursive patterns of Lego-like metallic plates, and it zooms further in and...


It's a fractal!

Yes my friends, now solids can also be fractals.

Apparently, such 3D fractal sets have only been developed a couple of years ago, and mathematicians are still considering if it is a "true" 3D Mandelbrot set.

But mathematical rigour aside - just think of the artistic potential!

The ability to generate visually spectacular landscapes with both sweeping scale AND detail - simply by plugging numbers into a formula.

Incredible, bizarre environments that goes to the limit (or beyond?) of human imagination.

Filmmakers and gamemakers, get a crackin'.

Would you like to know more?

Other epic 3D fractal videos:
- Mandelbox trip (YouTube)
- Trip to center of hybrid fractal (YouTube)

About the mathematics of 3D fractals:
- The Mandelbulb: first 'true' 3D image of famous fractal (New Scientist)
- Mandelbulb: The Unravelling of the Real 3D Mandelbrot Fractal (by Daniel White)
- Mandelbox (by Tom Lowe)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tech Review: Garmin eTrex 20 Handheld GPS

I just purchased a Garmin eTrex 20 handheld GPS (released in late September 2011) and I decided to do a quick user review of it.

Here, check out my video:

This is my first GPS device, which means I can't do a relative comparison with other units.

So, based on its own merits, here are my comments on the eTrex 20:

1. Build quality is solid, and when loaded with batteries it has a nice, reassuring heft to it. Dark grey areas are rubberized for wear resistance. USB connection is hidden under a rubber weather-resistant flap, and the micro-SD slot is protected inside the battery compartment, which are thoughtful design features.

2. The glassy LCD screen is tad reflective when viewed under direct sunlight.

3. Ability to decode both GPS and GLONASS satellite signals is a very useful feature. In the field, it takes less than a minute to get a position fix, and the precision is quite good, around 4 metres at best.

4. It works well inside vehicles too, I've tried it in buses and get practically instantaneous position and speed readings. It will definitely work as a car GPS, though that is not its intended function.

Would you like to know more?
- GPS (Wikipedia)
- GLONASS (Wikipedia)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Space Launch System: The "Shutturn V" ?

NASA has announced their latest plan for a heavy launch vehicle - capable of manned missions into space - called the "Space Launch System (SLS)".

That isn't a particularly imaginative name.

YouTube commenter linghun dubbed it the "Shutturn V", which is actually quite appropriate, since the SLS is both technological and visually a hybrid of the Space Shuttle and Saturn V vehicles.

Here, check out NASA's video...

The SLS is a multistage, non-reusable vehicle that can launch both cargo-only and human-rated missions, much like the Saturn V.

The core stage uses an arrangement of five engines (Saturn V), which will consist of five RS-25 engines (Space Shuttle), while the upper stage uses a modernized version of the J-2 engine (Saturn V).

The first stage fuel tank will have the same diameter as the external tank of the Space Shuttle, and likely manufactured using similar methods. Two solid-fuel rocket boosters are attached, one on each side (Space Shuttle).

Visually, it either looks like a short Saturn V flanked with extra boosters, or a tall Space Shuttle external tank but without the Shuttle orbiter itself.

Appearances aside, expert observers seem to be unimpressed with the SLS programme and are already predicting its demise, calling it more of a job-creation exercise that may cost more than a completely new launch system, due to the re-hiring of the expensive legacy workforce.

To me, the SLS appears to have a much safer layout than the recently cancelled Ares I which perched human passengers on top of a solid-fuel first stage that cannot be throttled down or even shut down after ignition.

Of course the longevity of this new initiative is difficult to predict in this gloomy economic climate, and in light of less costly alternatives such as the SpaceX Falcon Heavy system, which is further along in development and has better scalability by using essentially the same engines and fuel tank components throughout.

Nevertheless, the SLS vehicle can initially lift 70 tonnes of payload into low-Earth orbit, up to a maximum of 129 tonnes in later configurations (more than Saturn V's 118 tonnes!). Even at 70 tonnes it would already be the heaviest lift launch vehicle in the world, compared to other launch systems currently in service.

Maximum lift capacity to LEO:
Delta IV-H (USA) ~ 23 tonnes
Proton M (Russia) ~ 21.6 tonnes
Ariane 5 (EU) ~ 21 tonnes
H-IIB (Japan) ~ 19 tonnes
Atlas V (USA) ~ 18.5 tonnes

If all goes according to plan, the first flight (unmanned) of the SLS is slated to be in December 2017.

Would you like to know more?
- NASA’s Space Launch System Unveiled: Analysis (Popular Mechanics)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Space Shuttle Rolls Into History

A quiet night landing of the space shuttle Atlantis, returning from the STS-135 mission, marked the end of the US space shuttle programme.

NASA's Constellation Program, which was projected to develop a replacement rocket for the space shuttle, was cancelled last year.

While the government is not currently working on a shuttle replacement, potential private sector candidates include the Falcon 9-Dragon vehicle from SpaceX, which has been successful in test launches so far, but is still in early development.

Thus for the foreseeable future the USA will no longer have any human-rated launch vehicle.

Without manned spacecraft, US astronauts will now have to rely solely on the Russian Soyuz to access the International Space Station.

Would you like to know more?

About the past future of spaceship design:
- Counterintuitive Science: Fast Speed, Fat Shape

Friday, July 01, 2011

Goodbye To Tanjong Pagar!

Here's my video of the last train service to leave Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, taken from a pedestrian bridge.

Apparently there was an additional 11:00pm train driven by the Sultan of Johor himself.

I didn't catch that but somebody else did; please check out his video.

So... I only managed to film the penultimate train.

I love that word.

Would you like to know more?
- Video of last train out of Tanjong Pagar, driven by the Sultan of Johor
- Video of last afternoon train

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Snapshots of Malaysia

Here is a video and some photos I took on my travels in Malaysia over the past year.

For this video, I took fairly short clips because my previous computer had less than 10 Gb free space to store all my media files, but this is no longer a limitation. In future videos, longer segments will be more common.

As for the photos, I picked those with striking colours and patterns... plus some with a touch of curious.

I try not to feature photos of regular touristy attractions - because, as you know, they have been photographed millions of times.

Public hand wash (May 2010) - Johor Bahru

Motorcycle park (May 2010) - Johor Bahru

Sculpture (May 2010) - Johor Bahru

Bus number 666 (Jun 2010) - Larkin

Gazebo (Jun 2010) - Kota Tinggi

Raw latex (Jun 2010) - Kota Tinggi

Street football (Jun 2010) - Kota Tinggi

Melaka Sentral (Jun 2010) - Melaka

V formation (Jun 2010) - Melaka

Viaduct (Jun 2010) - Melaka

Menara Taming Sari (Jun 2010) - Melaka

Colourful trishaws (Jun 2010) - Melaka

Old propeller (Jun 2010) - Melaka

Rusty musket (Jun 2010) - Melaka

Ornate bridge (Jun 2010) - Melaka

Jonker Walk (Jun 2010) - Melaka

Use Malaysian rubber (Jun 2010) - Melaka

Berjaya Times Square (Jul 2010) - Kuala Lumpur

Maybank (Jul 2010) - Kuala Lumpur

Muzium Negara (Jul 2010) - Kuala Lumpur

Sultanate of Malacca (Jul 2010) - Kuala Lumpur

Communist hat (Jul 2010) - Kuala Lumpur

Demolishing Pudu Prison (Jul 2010) - Kuala Lumpur

Petaling Street (Jul 2010) - Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Twin Towers (Jul 2010) - Kuala Lumpur

Parit Waterfall (Aug 2010) - Cameron Highlands

Giant vegetables (Aug 2010) - Cameron Highlands

Double helix (Aug 2010) - Cameron Highlands

Strawberry (Aug 2010) - Cameron Highlands

Unlike in my previous photo galleries, I've decided not to mention the brand and model of the cameras used for these pictures, since it doesn't really matter.

Suffice to say that they were not SLRs and no tripods were used for any of the above shots. That's right, they were all handheld.

Please tune in next time for a media-rich, day-by-day account of my recent journey to Japan!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Planes And Trains

I've been travelling a bit in the past year, and thus I have accumulated so many hundreds of photos and videos that I'm not sure where to start.

Stay tuned for a more substantial series of blog entries soon, but for now, here are some videos about the transportation I took during a short trip to Kuala Lumpur a couple of months ago.


Flying from Singapore to KL

Taking the KLIA Ekspres

Taking the Aerotrain at KLIA

Return flight to Singapore

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Steamshovel Harry

Everything is better with Auto-Tune.

You won't get it unless you play the game first...

Steamshovel Harry Song
by Brad Sucks


Watch out for that gravity, watch out, watch out.
Gravity, watch out... watch out for that gravity.

Science times mass equals gravity.

Gravity is gonna kill you, Harry.
Gravity is gonna kill you... gravity.

It's time to learn about astronomy.
It's time to learn about astronomy.
It's time to learn about astronomy. Hey...

Steamshovel Harry, Steamshovel Harry.
Steamshovel Harry, Steamshovel Harry.

Asteroids are smaller than planets.
Asteroids are smaller, wo oh wo oh.

Asteroids are larger than meteorites.
I meant to say meteroids then, wo oh wo oh wo oh wo oh.

Steamshovel Harry, Steamshovel Harry.
Steamshovel Harry, Steamshovel Harry.

That meteor is gonna kill you, Harry.

Physics are gonna kill you, Harry.

Physics are gonna kill you, Harry!
Physics are gonna kill you, Harry!

It's gonna kill you and make you dead.

Physics gonna pull out a gun.
Shoot you right in the head.
BLAM oh no, look out now! Hey...


Oh yeah. Oh...


I can't wait to make love... to physics.

Gonna love her all night long.
Making physics love, singing the physics song.
Throw another downwards to double jump.
Or throw it up to not jump as high.

Do it Harry, do it to win.

Punch that missile right in the face.
Punch that missile all over the place.
One two three four, punch that missile!

When we open the door...

Steamshovel Harry, Steamshovel Harry.
Steamshovel Harry, Steamshovel Harry.
Steamshovel Harry, Steamshovel Harry.
Steamshovel Harry, Steamshovel Harry.

Physics are gonna hunt you down and kill you in the middle of the night.
Physics are gonna hunt you down and make everything all right.

Would you like to know more?

About the Steamshovel Harry game:
- Steamshovel Harry flash game
- Steamshovel Harry music

What the hell is going on!?!!:
- Metagames: Games About Games

Friday, March 18, 2011

Explanation Of Millisievert

With the international media spotlight on the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant emergency, radiological terms such as "millisievert" have entered the public consciousness.

Here is a video that clearly explains what the sievert is, plus a demonstration of two instruments that are used for measuring radioactivity:

It is understandable that the international media is more focused on Fukushima than the devastation caused by the tsunami, since they reflect the concerns of foreign nationals living in Japan.

However, some of their headlines seem sensationalistic and have the potential to cause unnecessary worry among Japanese residents.

Take for example this headline - "Tokyo radiation levels 23 times normal: officials". This brief article states that radiation levels in Tokyo "surged to 23 times normal on Tuesday" and reported a measurement of 0.809 microsieverts, presumably over the hour (10am local time) mentioned.

Without explaining the significance of this reading, a 23-fold increase in radiation levels sounds very serious indeed.

However, if we take into account the average annual background radiation dose per person, which is around 2000 microsieverts, we can see that the reported radiation level spike is actually about 1/2470 of the average annual dose.

Further, by doing this form of comparison, we can find out that 0.809 microsieverts is about:

- the dose received during 6 hours of flying time in a jet airliner.
- 1/120 of the dose of a chest X-ray.
- 1/12400 of the dose of a CT scan.
- 1/24700 of the annual limit of a radiation worker (20mSv).
- 1/124000 of the lowest level that can cause a measurable increase in cancer rates.
- 1/309000 of the lower limit for acute radiation sickness.

Just for comparison, a news report about more recent readings in Tokyo has this headline - "Tokyo Area Radiation Around Typical Background Levels - City Government", which I think is a more responsible headline.

The article states a measurement of 0.05 microsieverts per hour, slightly higher than the background level of 0.035 microsieverts per hour - which could have led to a headline like "Tokyo radiation levels 143% of normal!", but their editors didn't do that.

Would you like to know more?

About units used for measuring radiation dose:
- Sievert (SI unit)
- Roentgen
- Rem
- Gray
- Rad

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan Hit By Severe Earthquake And Tsunami

A severe earthquake hit Japan today at 2.46pm local time (0546h GMT).

The epicentre of the quake was about 100km off the east coast of main island Honshu, at a depth of about 20km.

The Japan Meteorological Agency reported it to be 8.8 on the Richter scale, which makes it the most intense earthquake ever recorded in Japan.

In addition, the northeastern coast of Honshu was hit by tsunamis as high as 10m. Boats, cars and even houses were swept away in the flood caused by a series of tsunamis. The worst hit areas appear to be in the region around the city of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture.

Earlier today I watched some of the live TV coverage of the earthquake on NHK World; for those of you without cable TV, here are a couple of videos:

Severe Tremors at NHK Sendai Newsroom (from NHK World)

CCTV Footage of Tsunami Wave at Sendai Airport (from Russia Today)

I think this footage of the wave front sweeping into the airport - almost at a walking pace but gradually covering the entire tarmac - is especially chilling.

It is disturbing to see how unstoppable and how much damage the visually unspectacular flood flow was causing, if you compare these scenes to the hyped-up special effects in Hollywood disaster movies.

Videos taken by the NHK helicopter also show the wave front moving gradually and relentlessly, engulfing everything in its path. As it moved inland over farmlands and residential areas, the wave front picked up so much mud and debris that it became dark in colour and had a chunky appearance.

Live video from the air also helped to convey the huge scale of the tsunami waves as they approached the coast. The photo below is a screen capture from NHK video that shows several such waves, each of them hundreds of metres long, about to reach the coast of Sendai (treeline at the lower left):

Based on latest reports, at least 300 people are dead.

Please click here for a compilation of the latest reports on casualties and damage.

Would you like to know more?

Latest warnings:
- Japan Meteorological Agency: Tsunami Warnings/Advisories

Latest news:
- NHK World English
- LIVE: Japan earthquake (BBC News)

Latest casualty and damage reports:
- Massive earthquake brings a destructive tsunami in Japan (Earthquake-Report)

Friday, January 07, 2011

How To Avoid The Featured Video On YouTube

For quite a while now, the main page has been showing a "Featured Video" section on the top right part of the page.

This feature appears every time you visit, whether you are logged in or not, and often displays videos that are completely irrelevant to your interests.

Unfortunately, it cannot be removed like the customizable modules on the left side of the page. It also cannot be minimized or even shifted downwards.

Apparently there are many YouTube users who dislike this "Featured Video" section on their YouTube homepage.

If you google "how to remove featured videos on youtube", you'll get a whopping 777,000,000 results!

Just to get an idea of why some users are unhappy, here are some of their comments on the YouTube help forum:

"I agree completely. I used to love watching featured videos when they were good, but now, all they feature now is stupid makeup and gossip videos I don't even want to see"

"I know , i hate those Featured Videos , they got nothing interesting on it, not only that, i have blocked some of the users on my account and still they keep showing up on the feature list, i don't want to see them at all, i don't like their videos , i don't want to know about them , and i wish i could remove them from my list forever and never see them again. but they keep showing up. Youtube pls ."

"I hate the featured videos. But what I hate more is the fact that youtube does not give us the option of disabling them. Who cares if they pay to have them on there? Some of these featured videos are just garbage that equate to visual polution. Let us turn it off!!! Well I guess there's always Vimeo; hmmm, maybe I'll give them a try."

As mentioned by some other commenters, one method of preventing the Featured Video from appearing is to use the Mozilla Firefox browser and install ad blocker addons.

However, there is a simpler method to avoid seeing Featured Videos - by avoiding the page altogether!

Here at Fresh Brainz we have worked out how to do this:

First, you'll need to delete the "" autocomplete entry from your Web browser.

Eg. For IE8, just type "youtube" in the address bar and a dropdown box will appear below with the "" suggestion. Use arrow keys to highlight this line and press delete (or click the red "X") to remove the entry.


1. If you have a YouTube account

Enter "" in the address bar.

If you are logged in to your YouTube account, you will reach your Subscriptions page, which is full of videos that you like.

If you are not yet logged in, you will get a login page to key in your username and password, before you get directed to your Subscriptions page.

Either way, you will not encounter any Featured Videos.

Once you are in your Subscriptions page, you can use the top search bar to navigate throughout YouTube.

"" is now your new YouTube homepage.

2. If you don't have a YouTube account

Enter "" in the address bar.

You will reach an empty search page that says "No video results for “”".

There are no videos on this page and certainly no Featured Videos.

Just use the top search bar to navigate throughout YouTube.

"" is now your new YouTube homepage.

Of course, this method also works if you have a YouTube account.

Easy, isn't it?