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That time is NOW! September 14, 2012

Posted by Wilz in Astronomy, Education, Science.
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The “Pale Blue Dot” are probably the paragraphs of words which had the greatest impact on my life and creed, but last week, I found this:

“The arrow of time creates a bright window in the universe’s adolescence, during which life is possible. But it’s a window that doesn’t stay open for long. As a fraction of the life span of the universe, as measured from its beginning to the evaporation of the last black hole, life as we know it is only possible, for one thousandth of a billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth, billion billion billionth of a percent.

And that’s why for me, the most astonishing wonder of the universe isn’t a star, or a planet, or a galaxy. It isn’t a thing at all. It’s an instant in time. And that time is NOW.

Humans have walked the Earth for just the smallest fraction of that briefest of moments in deep time. But in our 200,000 years on this planet, we’ve made remarkable progress. It was only two and a half thousand years ago that we believed that the Sun was a god, and measured its orbit with stone towers built on the top of a hill. Today the language of curiosity is not sun gods but science.

And I believe it’s only by continuing our exploration of the cosmos and the laws of nature that govern it, that we can truly understand ourselves and our place in this universe of wonders. And that’s what we’ve done in our brief moment on planet Earth.

Just as we, and all life on Earth, stand on this tiny speck adrift in infinite space, so life in the universe will only exist for a fleeting, bright instant in time. But that doesn’t make us insignificant, because we are the cosmos made concious. Life is the means by which the universe understands itself.

And for me, our true significance lies in our ability, and our desire to understand and explore this beautiful universe.”
– Brian Cox, Wonders of the Universe (BBC 2012)

Now if only there was ‘an image’ that can represent these paragraphs, it might hold people’s attention for a bit longer.

From Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot paragraphs to what we have today from Neil DeGrasse Tyson and this from Brian Cox – you can see how science and our understanding of the universe is changing humanity’s perspective – it’s widening.

Whereas the Pale Blue Dot forces you to think about yourself as an individual on a precious small world, born out of our understanding of our place in space, this forces you to think about yourself as a sentient conciousness, alive in a preciously brief epoch, born out of our understanding of our place in time.

The profound beauty and privilege of being alive, here and now is staggering to me. To me, the message is clear as day – “Do something meaningful and awesome with it you idiot!”

And also staggering to me is the profound tragedy of the fact that the vast majority of mankind is completely blind to this awesome view right before their eyes, lacking the perspective to understand what they are seeing.

More people need to watch this documentary. But more importantly perhaps, more people need to be able to understand why it is so immensely awesome. And that is why I work in education.


50th Anniversary of Human Space Travel April 12, 2011

Posted by Wilz in Astronomy, Society.
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Today is the 50th anniversary of mankind’s travel into space.

Today, we honor the brave men and women who strapped themselves to millions of kilograms of explosives to be blown into a merciless, radiation filled vacuum to show us that the stars are within reach. We remember those who have given their lives for it.


Through your eyes, we have seen our home, our place in the universe, and the vastness beyond. We understand the fragility of our existence, the reason for our humility and (for some of us) the urgency to @#$% get with the bloody programme and stop being ignorant glorified monkeys.


Thank you.

Teaching Math and Science – for Real May 14, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Education, Science, Society.

Incoming overly long sentence :- You know those ‘seizures’ you get when your mind is screaming, “OMG MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY” a little bit too loud in your own head when someone else is talking while you politely wait for them to finish talking so that you can agree with them vehemently? A US high school mathematics teacher gave me one of those today, via a TED X Talk.

It’s about a problem I’ve been trying to express for a while, especially to my fellow educators. I usually refer to it as “lexical analysis of examination questions without actual learning” (being the geek and programmer that I am). He calls it “lack of math reasoning and patient problem solving.” Both describe the “plug numbers into formula” teaching that we do in most of mathematics and science education today. He talks about the whole thing in a much more positive way though. I tend to ooze negativism and sarcasm whenever I discuss these things.

What we usually end up achieving is the conversion of our students into walking computers. Given carefully worded questions (not unlike a programming language) with strategically placed numbers, they will identify a pre-programmed formula (14 weeks of lectures and tutorials in university) and be able to spit out a solution and answer. We then conveniently ‘evaluate’ their math understanding based on that. Given real world problems however, the likelihood of them solving it is pretty low.

Video below:

English teachers never have to deal with their students only ‘theoretically’ being able to speak English. Why are math and science teachers settling for that? It … doesn’t compute – in any way or form for me. At university level, our usual excuse for continuing the numbers-into-formula-plugging-education is that the students are used to it, i.e. blaming it on the schools. I wonder who the schools blame it on. And when does this cycle change if not with every individual teacher/lecturer/department/faculty out there?

I think it is high time that society stopped settling for half-baked math and science education in schools and universities. Until there is consumer awareness of the crappy methodology we’re employing in formal education, there will be little push for things to move forward. For real.

P/S I give short talks (for free usually) on consumer empowerment in technical education. Sick and tired of lectures, but don’t know how to point out that it’s a crappy teaching method? Think of yourself as a holistic learner but being forced to learn sequentially? Or are you a teacher/lecturer or managing teachers/lecturers and would like to start finding better ways of reaching your students? Look me up.

A follow up video to that is of course Ken Robinson’s TED Talk on how formal education kills creativity. I can’t believe this video isn’t up on this blog yet.

A Tribute to the Hubble Space Telescope. April 25, 2010

Posted by Will in Astronomy, Science.
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Dear Hubble,

Congratulations for achieving two decades of operations. Here is a toast to you.

Thank you for being our eye in space these past many years. Because of you our celestial horizons are now wider and more beautiful. Because of you, this young and incorrigible species got to see further into the universe and allow the images to invoke feelings of both belonging and wonderment.

Thank you for having the perseverance to stay up after all these years tethered to our little planet of blue. Thank you for giving the much traveled lightwaves a home and a purpose. Thank you for all the new funky nebulae, the twinkling stars, the bashful planets, the bullying black holes and the flashing quasars. Thank you for populating our universe with billions of faraway objects, both on computer and in our minds.

More importantly, thank you for not turning your lenses earthwards, for the pictures down here are gritty,  not so complementary and a little out of  focus. Needless to say we’re not very photogenic as a whole. However, we promise that when you retire in 2014 your replacement the James Webb Space Telescope will be sent from a better world than it was when you were launched in 1990. So take no head of us down here slogging through conflicts and weathering knocks, for the work you do gives us proof of a more fantastical out of this world, which is neither supernatural nor metaphysical in nature.

Thank you, and this goes out to all the passionate people working so hard to keep you up and alive.  You all do Mr. Edwin proud.

P.S. – You may wish to keep a look out for orbiting teapots, it’s a pretty big deal down here.

Nasa HST site


Virgin Images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory April 22, 2010

Posted by Will in Astronomy, Science.
New solar images

A full on picture of our Sun, taken by the new SDO. Credit: Nasa/SDO

New images and video clips of our dear old Sun were obtained recently by NASA via the brand spanking new Solar Dynamics Observatory(SDO). SDO is a space telescope in geosynchronous orbit designed to capture massive amounts of data of the Sun and display them in enrapturing coloured videos.

Click on this link to view the breathtaking videos of solar flares, prominences and even magnetic fields of our very own ultimate ball of fire. Apologies in advance if you are here to see pictures of virgins but if you concentrate hard enough you might even see one or two on the surface of the glorious Sun.

Blinfolded Reading (?) February 22, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Education, Science.

My dad is pretty excited about some of his friends’ children apparently learning to read anything – newspapers, notes you write and hold in front of them – while blindfolded. Some can, while blindfolded, ride a bicycle, find their parents in a crowd, fill in colors on a line graphic, etc. Apparently this have existed in Russia and Japan for years, Russia takes 1 year to master, Japan takes 3 months to learn it, but the new Malaysian technique takes only 2 days training. (Googling for it only returns Malaysian hits though. Someone Google this in Japanese/Russian for me?) It only mostly works for kids between 5-12.

The trainer have trained thousands of kids all over Malaysia, is apparently franchising overseas to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The training is marketed as ‘midbrain’ activation, or activation of the ‘mesencephalon’ (bridge between left and right brain), which is allegedly good for all kinds of things – memory, concentration, creativity, sports (i.e. you name it, we got it). The blindfolded reading is not the intention, but is just a ‘proof’ of successful midbrain activation, and is explained by using the brainwave to ‘scan’ stuff in substitution of reading.

[EDIT 2013: Their site no longer contains literature on the ‘mid brain’ or the ‘mesencephalon’. Everywhere the term ‘mid brain activation’ have been replaced with just ‘brain activation’ or the term ‘super sensory’. However, their customers still refer to it as ‘mid brain’ activation – as can be seen in many YouTube videos such as this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eHeECJPIqE or the YouTube search link below.]

Although I am still highly skeptical about the blinfolded reading itself, the trainer have successfully built up quite a strong public ‘first-hand witness’ support – googling ‘blindfold reading’ and ‘midbrain activation’ have brought up tons of links, even youtube videos, and apparently our Prime Minister Badawi himself have witnessed this and approved a project under Ling Liong Sik. I think it’ll be easier to challenge what this claims to be. [Paragraph edited in 2013 for clarity.]

Let’s get the links out of the way:

To his credit, the trainer isn’t trying to turn this into some kind of mystic, spiritual or religious mumbo-jumbo. To his money-making credit, that makes a lot of sense as well, since he does want religious parents to pay RM 600++ to send their kinds for this.

Some points:

  • I am willing to allow the first hand reports I’ve heard/read (including my father’s word) that these children are learning to see through a blindfold. There’s too many of them.
  • The training method is not 100% known – parents are not allowed in during the training, to protect the training method as an intellectual property, it is claimed.
  • I don’t believe that this guy knows for sure scientifically what he’s doing. Perhaps he figured out how to teach kids to see through a blindfold, and needs a better way to market his training. Seeing with your eyes closed is usually pretty useless to those with eyes after all. Maybe.
  • We need to get a scientist in here.

I initially thought this was hypnosis induced synaesthesia, i.e. switching of the senses. Seeing with sound, hearing with your sense of smell, tasting shapes, thinking of colors as numbers. The Borneo Post article seems to suggest that some kids ended up with this since some did smell or touch the cards. The guy’s website claims that what he teaches isn’t synaesthesia (in his website, he refers to this as third eye training, and differentiates himself).

[EDIT 2013: Thanks to my skeptic doctor friend Sen Wai (http://k0ks3nw4i.blogspot.com/) – I came to re-read the literature on synaesthesia and understood that this is not how it works. Synaesthesia is not a replacement of one sense with another sense, but more like cross talk between the senses in the brain. Seeing numbers in color, or hearing sounds when seeing certain patterns etc. It doesn’t ‘replace vision with hearing’ for example. I’ve edited references to it in this article.]

Apart from the science behind this, i.e. how it works, and whether it actually is the left-right brain bridge being ’empowered’ somehow, what I’d like to know is:

  • the success rate of the training (how many kids end up reading through a blindfold, apparently it’s 100% atm),
  • the actual rates of attaining the ‘real benefits’ of midbrain activation as claimed by the training (memory, improving at studies, sports, etc), and
  • the retention rate – how many retain or lose this ability as they grow up.

If the company is serious about maintaining this, then they should commission some research to obtain the above statistics. If of course they’re reluctant, we’ll know why.

Part of being a skeptic is keeping an open mind after all, and a major part of being a scientist (or science lover) is retaining your sense of amazement at the natural wonders of the world without having to give it a nonsense explanation. Having said all the above, WTF this is amazing! (If actually true.) I’d love to get some opinions/independent research bout this.

Someone get Michael Shermer in here!

(And someone get me one of those kids so I can interrogate him/her.)

If Bill Gates could have just ONE wish… February 20, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Environment, Society, Technology.

… it would be for zero emissions energy.

Nicholas and Calvin and I were just chatting on Thursday about how the world may be doomed and shit (for a Chinese New Year meet up lol). I mentioned that the one thing that can probably put a lot of problems in the world to rest is finding a solution to the energy problem, with a focus on replacing current fossil fuel based energy with cleaner energy. Added that fusion is still a far away dream, and massive optimizations on nuclear fission is probably the most immediate way to go.

This video came out on TED the very next day, and it’s great to know that Bill Gates agrees. :)

Guaranteed Method of Stopping Stupid-But-Well-Meaning-Friend/Family-Forwarded Spam January 22, 2010

Posted by Wilz in Technology.

I just picked up an idea to stop forwarded spam… from a piece of spam my aunt just forwarded to me…

Subject: Inti College Xxxxx Needs Help

Hi, my name is Xxxxx. I am 19 years old, and I have testicle cancer. I also have a large penile fracture, from repeated beatings. Doctors say I will die soon if this isn’t fixed, and my family can’t pay the bills.

The Make A Wish Foundation, has agreed to donate 50 cents for every time this message is sent on.

For those of you who send this along, I thank you so much, but for those who don’t send it, what goes around comes around. Have a Heart, please send this.

Please, if you are a kind person, send this on. PLEASE HIT FORWARD BUTTON NOT REPLY BUTTON.


He is a real person. Both Facebook and Friendster confirms he’s an Inti College student, and he has many animated ‘GONG XI FA CAI’ testimonials from friends up until recently – you know, the usual Friendster spam.

I was composing an email to him to let him know that whatever prank that was played on him is still being forwarded when it occurred to me that maybe someone did this to him for a reason. And I realized… that… the next time someone forwards some rubbish like this to me… I could… <evil glimmer> just change the names/email address in this email… <stares at shoulder devil> <thinks about registering anonymous email address> <feels a tap on other shoulder, turns head and looks at shoulder angel> Sigh.

ARGH. Not heartless enough.

P/S Yes, my aunt can’t tell that an email from someone needing help who at the same time admits to getting a penile fracture from jacking off too much is probably fake.

PP/S I tried to “anonymize” this to protect poor Mr. Xxxxx but any Googler worth his salt will find the full contents of this email on two idiots’ blogs who posted the full email AND picture while claiming they don’t want to make it worse for the guy. ROFLMAO.

SPORE: Intelligent Design or Evolution September 5, 2008

Posted by Wilz in Astronomy, Environment, Gaming, Society.

I’m getting my copy of Spore on Tuesday next week! Woot! One of the ironies behind this game has been what it is trying to promote. In a lot of his presentations, Will Wright (the creator) have referred to the game as an excellent method through which one can explore and be familiar with the scientific concepts such as evolution, planetary properties and their balance, and the science of deep space exploration/travel. Spore’s logo by itself does a good job of making the spiral galaxy a ‘familiar’ image.

However, the ironic part (which is pointed out happily by many a religious nut) is that although the cell gene collection thing represents evolution, the actions of the cell (and later the creature and creatures) are controlled by an intelligent being, which is the player. In other words, even if it was evolution doing the work, it was still guided by intelligent design.

What a load of bull. Anyways, I made some quick lists to support the idea that;

the game is pro-science / evolution:

  • The game portrays the evolution of a single celled organism into a complex creature.
  • The game portrays how the creature grows into intelligence and civilization (much like our history).
  • The game respects many scientific principles (injecting CO2 into the atmosphere raises a planet’s atmosphere, etc).
  • The creator of the game says he loves science and wants to use Spore as a means of promoting it.

the game is pro-intelligent design (no, it’s not a science no matter how many papers you write) :

  • There is a ‘guiding intelligence’ that is controlling the being/beings (The player is God).
  • There is a trailer which sounds very much like it’s promoting intelligent design.

the game is just a bloody game:

  • Well if the game supports any kind of intelligent design, it probably supports polytheism/milliontheism more than  monotheism. The creatures/civilizations in the game were created by millions of different players, whose creations are seamlessly downloaded into your client as you’re playing. So many Gods om-G!

Therefore the conclusion is, what Spore truly represents is, are you ready for it – an alien conspiracy theory. Yep. A bunch of aliens powerful enough to affect things without actually being noticed by the creatures, manipulating everything for some sick purpose. They’re only as powerful as demigods, coz they can’t change the laws of space-time. They have only one power, to directly control the actions of their own species.

Oh wait that would make our CPU the proper God since it is creating and maintaining the universe, and running the AI of all the other creatures. But then again it connects to a server to donwload creatures so that would make the server some kind of God nexus… and since Maxis runs the server, they would be a multiple-staffed Godhead? Will Wright would be the equal but supreme member of the Godhead? OMG is model accurate for real life? Maybe a gaming company runs our universe! Nvm.

Can’t wait to play the game!

10 ways the world could end October 23, 2007

Posted by Wilz in Astronomy, Environment, Personal, Science, Society, Technology.
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It is scary how many of the things on this list I have read about since childhood. They’ve been spoken of by scientists for nearly three decades now, and in most cases more. It is scary how practically no major advance has been made in most of these areas (in terms of policy and public awareness). And it gets scarier every time we are reminded how real these problems are.

We are long overdue (by magnitude of several hundred years) for at least two things – the reversal of the earth’s magnetic field, and a “Deep Impact” or “Armageddon” (the latter being one of the dumbest movies ever) style asteroid hitting the earth. Note what he says, “It is not a question of IF, it is a question of WHEN and HOW BIG.”

And we’re rapidly and still actively destroying our ecosystem, strengthening the resistance of bacteria and other harmful micro organisms, and spreading powerful uncontrollable experimental genes that defy natural processes into the wild.

All the effort and money put into stupid, pointless, dick-inspired wars and posturing and political campaigning… If nothing else, it would be a huge irony and lesson for the survivors on the day that 90% of the world population is suddenly wiped out. Perhaps, letting nature take its course is the only way to actually save mankind from itself. And perhaps, long from now, ASS (alien space ship) Anterprise would explore our world, and study with some degree of sadness the lost civilization of the Earth.