Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Little Green Glowing Men

For the past few decades New Zealand has been "Nuclear Free'. A bit of a misnomer really as there is nuclear material in the country in small research labs, but never the less a political position that had its genesis in the destructive nuclear testing in the Pacific, most notably by France and US.

While am not a rabid anti-nuclear campaigner, I think most New Zealanders are supportive of the stance. There have been& political repercussions, most notably the downgrading of our status with the USA from 'ally' to 'friend'. Only in recent times and administrations has there been a thaw in the relationship with the NZ Navy (what's left of it) rejoining strategic military exercises with the US. But nuclear-fueled& vessels are still not allowed in new Zealand ports.

This has not stopped the Americans putting their nuclear fuel rods to other forms of propulsion. The latest is nuclear-driven vehicle which has just been dropped on to the surface of Mars. If there is any life on the planet I hope it is staying well away from the batteries. Little Green Men might run the risk of becoming Little Green Glowing Men if they don't.

One of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars early Monday, August 6.  The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel. Photo: NASA.

Frivolity asides, this is a marvelous scientific and engineering accomplishment.. To travel for 9 months across billions of miles (without accruing any airpoints) and to land on the surface of the Red Planet takes some doing.

Given the form of propulsion for the Mars vehicle (nuclear rather than solar) the life expectancy of the craft could be several years, yielding a wealth of scientific results. One hopes that the fuel rods powering the vehicle are using the latest technological innovations. Traditionally a 'spent' nuclear rod has only used 5% of its potential power.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory now think they have found a way of utilising the remaining 95% of the uranium in the fuel rod. Their technique could produce hundreds to thousands of years worth of carbon free energy just by reusing the uranium that has already been mined, and is currently considered ‘spent’.

Mr Brown's Singapore version of the Mars Landing!
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Monday, 30 July 2012

A Bird In The Hand

Image from the Digital Nature Archive
When I worked at NUS on of my favourite lunch time activities was to eat at the Student Food Court on Lower Kent Ridge Road which was just across from the the then NUS Alumni office.

Walking in the other direction proved to be an equally enjoyable activity as it took me past the main administration block,en-route to the rather quirky Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, originally established in 1849 and relaunched in 1998. I wrote about this museum in an earlier article but in the intervening couple of years it has changed beyond all recognition.

The Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research will soon morph into something quite spectacular and bear little resemblance to what it was previously, apart from retaining some wonderful natural history collections.

In two years time there will be a new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum built at a cost of some S$46 million. 800,000 Southeast Asian specimens will be housed there and three giant dinosaurs fossils. The latter should certainly pull in the punters. The new museum will be adjacent University Cultural Centre and NUS Museum.
For those of use with an interest in the flora and fauna of Singapore and its tropical neighbours the wait will be considerably shorter as the RMBR has launched the The Digital Nature Archive of Singapore.

This is a truly wonderful resource made available to serious researchers and the browsing public alike.
A site visitor is able to browse through a variety of multimedia and reference source materials: slides and print images, digital images, historical photographs from retired university professors, natural historians, experienced photographers, old local books, etc. video clips and sound clips.

The database makes good use of online technology including YouTube to host its videos. Here is an example; a caged Oriental Magpie Robin singing.

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Saturday, 28 July 2012

Singapore Heritage Festival Promises A Rocking Good Time

I never tire of visiting the Singapore Museums when I visit there, or during the time that I lived in the country.  As this video from the National Heritage Board shows, they are both numerous and diverse.

Today the Museum is staging an outreach exhibition in Jurong; a a collage-based art workshop with the NHB also supporting Our Museum @ Taman Jurong with a curator’s talk and a display on the project.

Another favourite for history buffs is the YesterdaySG History Channel, which I regularly consult on YouTube and from which the above video is taken.

I note that my old haunt' Centrepoint is getting into Singapore HeritageFest 2012 'groove' by staging performances and displays.  A 'Rocking Good Times' stage has replaced the usual jewelry and domestic appliance promotions on the ground floor which should make for fun viewing from the upper levels surrounding the atrium.

Centrepoint Display
Photo NHB
The full programme of HeritageFest events can be downloaded as a PDF here. My only regret is that I am too far away to enjoy all that is on offer this year.  It makes a pleasant change from the incessant media coverage of the London Olympics.
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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Racial Harmony Day In Singapore

PM Lee: New citizens must embrace Singapore values

While new citizens may be of the same race as a Singaporean who was born here, PM Lee pointed out that they have different habits and attitudes. He emphasised the need to maintain harmony between new and old citizens on Racial Harmony Day.

Do I Smell A Plastic Rat?

Coming up for air?
I am not quite sure how I should react to the news that Caltech and Harvard University scientists in the US have bioengineered a "jellyfish" that can swim.

The 'creature' is made up of silicone polymers and rat heart cells.  That's a plastic ratus ratus to you and me. But unlike the often maligned Gunther Von Hagens variety, these plasticised animals actually have a life, but to paraphrase Star Trek, "Not as we know it".

The Medusoid, for that is its name, is designed to be a biological pump and to assist with heart surgery. 

The process according to my local newspaper, was to use a sheet of cultured rat heart muscle which contracts when electrically stimulated in a liquid environment.  It is the perfect raw material to create the jellyfish according to the researchers..

A silicone polymer was then used to fashion the sheet into a thin membrane that resembles a small jellyfish, with eight arm-like appendages.

Medusoid was then placed in container of salt water and shocked into swimming with synchronised muscle contractions that mimic those of real jellyfish

Kevin Kit Parker who was the project's bio-engineer has quipped that "The world needs less rats and more jellyfish, so I thought it would be cool to do a one-for-one swap".

Now he has his sights set on a different and larger animal to mimic using these processes -  perhaps a politician with a plastic brain or a banker with a plastic heart?  

Come to think of it, my banker already has one.

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Monday, 23 July 2012

Olympic Timing A Disadvantage For Some

For the last couple of weeks global media seems to have been solely focused on the Olympics, their security or lack thereof and the looming Heathrow strike.

This is never more so than in New Zealand where we have seen images and video of past glories, departing athletes and even the departing media themselves!

Singapore has pinned its hopes on the likes of weightlifter Helena Wong, the first woman to compete for the country in this Olympic event.  No doubt the table tennis team will be strong again but the real surprise might be a 17-year-old swimmer Joseph Schooling who was named Sportsman of the Year in May.

However it was another media report that captured my interest this week.

My Muslim friends in Asia and elsewhere are celebrating the most important religious festival of their year - Ramadan.  During this time strict fasting is observed during the day and I recall many of my Singaporean colleagues would practice this observance.

Unfortunately Olympics 2012 coincides with the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar this year, which as as the BBC reported, places athletes from Islamic countries at a serious disadvantage.  Fewer carbohydrates in means less energy out.  Not to mention the early morning / pre-dawn ritual and going without drink in the heat of a London summer.

Mind you in the latter case there hasn't been much of a summer; in the great British tradition there has been plenty of moisture and little sun.

Hopefully the next event in Rio will not clash with a major religious observance of any faith or creed.
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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Best Things Are Found In Stone Jars

Some of the best and most affordable lunches in Singapore can be found in the most surprising places.  One of the cafes that I frequented was at the British Council in Napier Road. It was convenient as I worked for the Council.

Called 6 Stone Jars it is run by the ebullient Peter Tan, a foodie and passionate golfer (when time allows).

Peter now has a twitter account which promotes South East Asian cuisine - SixStoneJars1.

6 Stone Jars twitter account - become a Follower
His cooking and that of his staff is very good indeed and the fare always varies; from European style to a scrumptious Indonesian style beef rendang.

Well worth a visit if you are in that part of Singapore around lunch time but a tip, get there early before the hungry students!
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Monday, 9 July 2012

The Season Of Slumber And Decay

The thrushes get bolder mid winter. Five them pointing to all points of the compass stood stock still as I passed and then resumed their desperate search for grubs amongst the leaf litter.  In the plentiful bounty of summer or spring they would have immediately taken flight, but not so mid-July.

The walking tracks in my neighbourhood are muddy with sections forever shaded from a weak sun that is low in the horizon.  It's been a cold winter with temperatures dropping to zero degrees and a solid frost glistening white on the roof tiles.

It's a season of slumber and decay. Old wood is cast aside and the bored holes make by huhu bugs are exposed.  There is evidence of foraging animals and the pavements adopt a mossy green camouflage.
Old borer holes and rotting logs
Photo: Roger Smith 2012
Amidst all of the dank grey-green and gloom there are some bright spots.  One species of manuka is resplendent with its canopy of white flowers and a fantail flits amongst the branches, accompanying me part of the way.
Flowering manuka
Photo: Roger Smith, 2012
The White Feather
Photo: Roger Smith, 2012

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