zaelle: (Nekotalia Iggycat)
My friend in London recently finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the time of Cholera" and has asked me to read it so we can discuss it. It's actually been on my reading list for a while (darn that ever growing list), but I haven't gotten to it yet, so I've been trying to convince her to read "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

Our conversation reminded me of the last time I was in a big bookstore in Singapore. Imagine walking through the entrance and on the first shelf facing you, there's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" as a greeting.

A group of 4 teenagers stand in front of that shelf and their conversation goes something like this:

Boy 1: One Hundred Years of Solitude?
Boy 2: From that guy who wrote 'Love in the time of Cholera'
Boy 1: Oh...
Boy 2: Yeah...damn emo man.

As a group, all four turn away from that truly beautiful book and I suppose, head off to find something less 'damn emo'.

I don't know why, but that greatly amused me.
zaelle: Kiwis are descended from T-Rex (Default)
Yesterday I finally made it to the Art Science Museum at Marina Bay Sands to check out the special Dinosaur Exhibit.

The thing about the Art Science Museum is that it doesn't really have any special permanent exhibit, but it rotates through the more expensive/valuable ones in collaboration with other international museums. Sometimes they get the exhibits right and they are amazing to experience. Sometimes (most times) the display is a real dud. The last one that disappointed me was 'Secrets of the Mummy' that they did in collaboration with the British Museum. I suspect that they got almost nothing from the British Museum (some mummy from storage), but seeing as how the Art Science Museum is one of the expensive ones on the island (the others are free for me), it felt like wasted money. So there's always a bit of a risk to check out one of their shows.

This was not the case with their Dinosaur exhibition. I enjoyed this one.

Put together in collaboration with the Museum of Natural History in New York, The San Juan Natural Science Museum (Argentina), PrimeSCI out of Australia and a Chinese University (sorry I'm blanking on the name), 'From Dawn to Extinction' tells the story of how life began on earth - early days to the evolution of eyes and shells, to the multiple extinction events that brought us Dinosaurs and eventually their end. Also showcased were lesser known giants from pre-historic times, the large reptiles or mammal-like reptiles that competed with the Dinosaur's ancestors for dominion.

The story of the earlier non-dino giants come mostly from South America, and i got to see fossils, skeleton reconstructions and depictions of creatures I never suspected existed. I mean, mammal-like reptiles? They're a class all on their own, giants who dominated before the dinosaurs who were reptiles (or at least related) but had fur. I also enjoyed the first exhibit about the origin of life and little things like burrowing under the sea bed brought more oxygen under that soil and released minerals into the water, leading to another wave in evolution.

When we pass the extinction phases to the Cretaceous and the age of the dinosaurs, we see the earlier dinosaurs. The key lesson of survival from each extinction phase is that size really does matter, and it sucks to be big. Large creatures have more difficulty surviving because of the sheer amount of fuel they require to sustain themselves. Small rodent like creatures, like early dinosaurs, or our tiny mammal ancestor who survived the age of dinosaurs, are able to more easily hide and survive off much less. I suppose that is a lesson still relevant in the present day.

When we reach the Jurassic, New York's Museum of Natural History gives us a marvellous interactive exhibit about the body mechanics behind large dinosaurs. One of the interesting take aways was how they determined T-Rex's speed (or lack of it). They did a few tests, using the mobility of a modern day chicken to determine how best that old monster moved (birds are T-Rex's surviving descendants). They also shared a tidbit from the animators who worked on Jurassic Park. That scene where T-Rex is chasing the car? At first to create this high-speed chase, they made their T-Rex match the speed of the car. The result was hilarious because his legs were moving so fast they looked like 2 pinwheels. They had to slow him down by 25km, and recreate the action paced feel of this scene by adding more foliage that passed by quickly. From this and many other experiments, they determined that T-Rex was a slow bugger. This didn't matter ultimately as his prey was slower. There were also some cool displays that allowed us to see the difference between a baby, adolescent and adult Triceratops.

The interesting part from the Australian contribution covered dinosaurs that lived in cold weather temperatures. These are rarer for us to hear about, and they're not very well known (I suspect they were small).

China contributed the dinosaur fossil that is the missing link between the giants we know of in our imagination and modern day birds - large feathered birds who resemble the mythical phoenix. Honestly, looking at the fossils of these birds, with their long feathered tails, longish skulls and beak outline with sharp feathered crests on their head? Also with how they look burned into the rock...I wouldn't be surprised if this was one of the places where the legend of the phoenix comes from (similar to how I'm convinced that someone came across dinosaur bones and that's where the legend of dragons came from).

I bought the souvenir book that was written by the palaeontologists who helped put this exhibit together. I'm very happy with this visit, money well spent!

I should have taken pictures. I'm so out of the habit now of taking pictures in Museums (or in general) that I must take special care to start doing so, because I wish I could share some of this experience with you guys. Next time I promise!

I think Dinosaurs and really, any of the giants who walked this earth before us will always be fascinating. Trying to imagine the world they came from also leads to trying to imagine what the world will be - what will come after us? Something smaller perhaps, that seems to be a trend we're following. Also, what lessons can we learn? There's something about changing climates causing mass extinction events for one, that we're doing to ourselves, there's something about being able to survive on very little, filling niches, etc. I wonder if whatever major stage of life that comes next will be curious about us and the world that we will leave behind.
zaelle: Kiwis are descended from T-Rex (Default)
See subject. Enough said.

See video (mute it, the girl on the video is a tad over-excited but who can blame her?):



Hail. That is...ICE falling from the sky, copiously in the TROPICS!

I'm waiting for the island to discover an indigenous flying pigs that have managed to hide themselves from the encroaching urban area for decades.

This is probably some odd side-effect from cloud seeding, but still...it's pretty darned strange.
zaelle: Kiwis are descended from T-Rex (Default)
I suppose I should also update about the haze/smog situation in Singapore and Malaysia since it's so famous now.

To give some reference -

Singapore on a normal day:

C
Credit: http://www.earthcheck.org

Singapore on a normal day starting 2 weeks ago (PSI in the 100-200+ range):


And finally, this is Singapore 2 days ago (PSI 401):


Air filters and masks are sold out and by the way, the government didn't issue a work-stop order, including for construction workers. They left it at the discretion of the companies, so basically if you work outdoors, you've been screwed lately.

Some background - Indonesia is the region's most mature gold mine. Not literally for gold but suffice to say it's a huge country with loads of natural resources and labour/cost of business there is freakishly cheap. It has a huge population, of which a very small minority is freakishly rich based on the business that the rest of the region (and the world) likes to do there.

In context, Singapore as a small island state doesn't have much by way of resources except its people. It sells itself as a highly trained, intellectual work-force and as the safest/only developed country in the region. It's a hub for people to stay if they want to do business in Asia, without the nitty gritty issues like oh a high crime rate, corruption, etc. My expat friends like to call Singapore 'Asia 101'.

Anyway, many major companies do business in Indonesia, and palm oil is one of the most valued resources in the region. It's grown in Malaysia as well but in comparison, Indonesia has loads more land. Cue Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean and other international companies making big money in Indonesia, and primary industry. The cheapest way to get fertilizer and clear land for the new planting season is to slash and burn the crops. Palm oil smokes like a bitch, and anyway whenever a land that big decides to simultaneously burn entire fields of plantations, the smoke from that is going to be insane. Until a cheaper and eco friendly alternative can be found for field clearing, it's not going to stop.

The other possible action is for the region, the world, especially Malaysia and Singapore to boycott Indonesia. This is never going to happen because of what I said above - cheap gold mine - and the simple geographic reality that Malaysia and Singapore don't have the resources to continue making so much money on their own. Also the rest of the world doesn't care, and won't care until they're all choking as well. (Apparently, Indonesia can't be charged for transboundary environmental damage because this isn't a warzone. When Saddam Hussein decided to burn all the oil fields in Kuwait, he was charged for the environmental damage made to the middle eastern region from the oil smoke - it was considered Environmental Terrorism. http://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1426&context=auilr )

So what can be done? Suppose Malaysia and Singapore can start simply by...not using maids (shocker what a concept! :P). Seriously, most cheap maids that are used in Malaysian and Singaporean households are from Indonesia, it's a major industry. But I think that Malaysian and Singaporean culture has evolved to a point where its way too spoilt for that option to go through either. There are other options though for those who absolutely NEED a maid - Cambodia and the Philippines mainly (though the latter is more expensive).

Anyway this is a yearly issue, it's just gotten on the news because it's especially bad this year. In 1997 the PSI was in the 200 range (second picture) and that was the highest. This year, Singapore got twice that - 401. Today, Johor (Malaysia's southern state) registered 530. That's worse than Beijing's record last winter. UPDATE - The Malaysian state of Johor in the city of Muar hit a whopping 750+ score today!

In 1997 the spread of the haze was wider - it reached the southern tip of China, and the world responded. This year, thanks to wind directions, it's really Malaysian and Singapore's problem, and it's concentrated here.

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zaelle: Kiwis are descended from T-Rex (Default)
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