Sunday, April 30, 2006

Another addictive flash game

Don't click on this link unless you're prepared to spend a few hours on this game.

Flow

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Friday, April 28, 2006

C for Cookie



This has probably been linked a million times, but it's so hilarious I had to put it up.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

High-rise hieroglyphs

hieroglyphs 3
larger version here

They're doing some repair work on the apartment blocks where I live, and the workers have spraypainted markings all over the walls. Irregular rectangles and blocks, with numbers next to them presumably indicating dimensions, "800x600", "2200x500", etc.

hieroglyphs
larger version here

I wonder if some future archaeologist, examining these walls, would think of them as hieroglyphs or perhaps some form of secret message.

hieroglyphs 2
larger version here

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Rainy thoughts

stormy skies 1

It's been raining, and I've been sick, and I realised this morning looking at the rain pouring down that I wished I were young again, so I could go and play in the rain, and not get sick, or get sick and not care.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pulau Dayang

the beach at dayang

To respond to the kind comments left by readers of the previous post:
Avalon: I look forward to seeing the paintings;
tscd: Yes, I wish the rest of me was that happy;
and Tym: Not a chance. = )

Instead of pictures of my gone-native, flakingburnedbrown tan, you get a nice photograph of the beach at Dayang. I mean, just look at that photograph: says it all doesn't it? White sand, green water, lush vegetation, mysterious rocks. Two random tourists included free of charge for a sense of scale, and you have the perfect beach scene.

Here's a few others.

This is how clear and beautiful the water was ...
clear water

... and this shows, no matter how clear and beautiful the water, someone will always mess things up by throwing rubbish into it. An empty cardboard carton that once contained beer. Bah.
beer floats

Finally, an IR shot of the sea around Dayang. Dive boat in the foreground, Pulau Lang in the left background.
boat and sea

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Back, and browned

slow boat back home

Took this shot on the long and langourous boat ride home from Dayang. We drove through patches of rainy squalls, alternating with patches of blazing sun, occasionally startling a school of flying fish which would skip out of our way skimming over the waves, iridescent blue and green, quite unreal.

No sun, or flying fish in this shot: just the horizon, the prow of the bow, and my hairy legs pointing the way to Mersing. The boat ride back (rather than the snorkelling and swimming I did in Dayang) was responsible for the roasted brown tan that was received on Monday back at work with universal amazement/awe/shock. Something along the lines of "Where did you go?!?" was the stock greeting: it must have been quite rainy and dreary in Singapore over the weekend.

More pictures of the Dayang trip will follow another time.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ant midden


Ant midden, originally uploaded by Wahj.

mid·den
(noun)
1. A dunghill or refuse heap.
2. (Archaeology) A mound or deposit containing shells, animal bones, and other refuse that indicates the site of a human settlement. Also called kitchen midden.
(courtesy of the Free Dictionary)

I found this on the grass walking to work. It's the pile of excavated soil, rubbish, and trash ejected from an ants nest. The consistency is soft - like kapok, or shredded silk - and the structure is sinuous and organic, like the folds of a brain.

It's fascinating how the collective actions of a colony of ants - each one of which acts only on simple instincts - produces such a complex structure. In effect, this is an example of how the interaction of a set of simple rules produces complexity that seems to indicate a larger intelligence.

Someone looking at this could come to the conclusion that surely a higher intelligence directed the ants - that ant architects planned this, and ant overseers driected this contruction. They could assume that ants (or at least one ant among them) have higher order intelligence capable of conceiving this, and language that enables them to express and communicate this.

But there isn't. It's the collective actions of many ants, each relating and reacting to the actions of neighbouring ants, that has generated this. We're talking about simple creatures, obeying simple rules, producing a complex result. The words "simple-minded" come to mind, but that's unfair - to judge an ant by human standards of intelligence is to impose a standard on them that really makes no sense: ants are as smart as they need to be for what they do, and, in their context, "smarter" than us. Intelligence is not raw cognitive ability, but is the expression of that ability in a particular context.

We use the word "intelligent" too loosely. Living in an age of computers, we retroactively apply the metaphor and equate intelligence to CPU speeds. We talk of "intelligent design". We assume that intelligence is processing speed, when in reality it's the expression and use of that ability. We might also be tempted to talk about the ant colony having a "collective intelligence", although it's not quite the same as when we use the word to refer to in an individual human being.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

After hours

So what do people at a Critical Thinking conference do after hours?

Why, get together and sing the blues, of course.



(video taken with the trusty SE K750i at the informal blues singalong in the college bar, last night of the conference)

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

So what was I doing?

Avalon asked in a comment what the heck I was doing so far away from home ... well, I asked myself that question more than once in the 5 days I was Cambridge.

It's not that the conference was bad (and it's not that it was all that great either - frequent conference-goers will recognize what I'm talking about when I talk about conference fatigue, and how sessions at these conferences seem to either ask you to do too little, in which case you feel your time is being wasted, or too much, in which case you gripe about it being too much too fast - there's no pleasing conference particpants, really), but that I was really depressed about having to leave home after just barely getting back from reservists.

Anyway, more about What I Did in this past week.

thinking that grasps

As you may have gathered by now, it's a conference on Critical Thinking. Organised by a foundation that hails from California, it was hosted in St Johns College, Cambridge ... a distinctly un-Californian locale.

Conference session

Conference sessions mostly consisted of us sitting in the upper croft at the School of Pythagoras, working through how best to teach critical thinking in our various schools.

School of Pythagoras

In a campus where every building is old, the Pythagoras building has the distinction of being the oldest in Cambridge - built in the 1200s as a residence. It certainly feels old - the stonework is rough, the stones are irregular, and there are only two rooms - one above, one below.

View from the Backs panorama

The location, as I've said before, couldn't be more beautiful. All St John's College (view above of New Court, from the Backs: I stayed in a room on the bottom right) needed was an actual ivory tower somewhere to give substance to the atmosphere of one that loomed over all of us.

graffiti 1

Not that there weren't any more prosaic moments to ground us: I was amused by the juxtaposition of the graffiti scratched into the wall by the window, and the view of a different kind of marking on the wall of the library opposite (the inscription stands for Iohannes Lincolneisis Custos Sigilii - John of Lincoln, Keeper of the Seal, the man who paid for the building of the library in 1624. I can only guess at the provenance of the scratchings on the left, from 1984).

capuccino of mushroom soup

The food, as I've mentioned before, was interesting, but made me wish for some thing plainer and simpler. Pictured above is the cappucino of mushroom soup. Pictured below are the incredibly small cups of coffee, which really meant that everybody had to have 2 or 3 to get the required caffeine intake for the kind of heavy thinking that goes on at these conferences - critical thinking being fuelled primarily by caffeine, and thinking about critical thinking doubly so.

Very small cups of coffee

I don't have any good photos of the library, which was really incredible, and which defeats my ability to praise it enough: here's one of the life mask of Wordsworth that is on display there. Apparently he had to have his face covered in wax for a few hours to get this done, which to me seems to guarantee that any life masks produced by this method would show people at their grumpiest.

Life mask of Wordsworth

I'll leave the next post to describe the impromptu blues karaoke session on the last night of the conference.

Big Brother is Watching You

big brother is watching you

We've finally made it to London. While the train ride from Cambridge was ok, the Underground was crowded, and confusing: at Kings Cross station, the queues at the ticket machines were so long that station staff were telling us to just get on the trains, and to pay at the point of exit. At the point of exit, they let us out without a ticket, so I guess that's a free ride courtesy of the City of London.

London, of course, is supposed to be the most surveilled city on this earth, with more cctv cameras than any other. I certainly felt their gaze on me as I was waited with all the luggage as my colleague went off on one errand or another.

Wrapping and packing

The one thing I wish they could've done for us here was to get us internet access in our rooms. As it is, the current arrangement sees us walking to Fisher building (where I'm sitting now) to get wireless access, which is fairly inconvenient.

We leave tomorrow before lunch. This conference has gone by quite quickly. I've gone from being grumpy about being here so soon after reservists to the current state of being antsy to go home to wife and family, with a brief middle phase where I thought "It's not too bad after all".

It really isn't too bad. Conference aside (of which the usual gripes pertain), the venue could not have been more beautiful. St John's College is a lovely location to hold any event - it's funny to be going to seminars and workshop sessions while tourists are walking around you taking photographs. Every day I cross the Bridge of Sighs to get to and from the lecture venues, and look down to see people punting on the river (though until the weather took a turn for the better today, I thought them all mad to be punting in such cold and rain).

I've decided that the food is, on the whole, weird. The catering service here seems to using us as experimental subjects for some truly bizarre dishes. I like fish. I'm ok with fish. But 3 kinds of fish stuffed into a pastry and baked is just ... odd. Breakfast is the best meal for the simple reason that you can pick whatever you want - which in my case is prosaic old eggs and bacon. Lunch and dinner are at the mercy of the menu - some of my friends here have already retreated from dinner to instant noodles in their rooms, which gives you some idea of how the dinner is like. Me, I'm soldiering on, partly out of a sense of moral obligation linked to the cost of this conference which has been paid for me, and partly out of a morbid curiousity to see what they'll throw at us next. Tonight's dinner is the last, so logic dictates that the chef will pull out all stops and surprise us with something even more out of the box. I will find out in half an hour's time.

The best part of dinner is the conversations with the people who are here with us. Topics have included, but not been limited to:
- fruitarianism, as a logical extension of the ethics of non-harm (eating only fruits, so that not even a vegetable has to die to feed you - though there was an argument raised that if fruits were analagous to embryos, then ... )
- a universal declaration of community rights (in addition to and in contrast to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which focuses on individual rights)
- why China never developed dairy foods, and whether any of us had ever (knowingly or not) consumed horse's milk
- conspicuous waste, and conspicuous consumption, vis a vis traditional Chinese dinners
- environmentalism and sustainable energy sources
- Wing Chun kung-fu

The other great highlight was a tour of the library at St Johns. If you love the smell of old books, creased leather and crinkled paper, imagine 20,000 of them in a space that is architecturally like a chapel (appropriate for a place dedicated to books). The librarian gave a fantastic tour, full of information, anecdote and good humour, and most of us were just content to wander through the shelves and pick up old tomes (and I would use the word tomes to describe them) and thumb through them reverentially.

I've done more shopping than I intended, which has entailed buying a bag to hold all the stuff. It's the books that take up the most space, but they're good buys, and well worth it. I've had to do some serious wrapping and packing to get things to fit, but on the whole, should manage to carry all the stuff back.

We go to London tomorrow, where we'll have another day before we make the journey back, and hopefully I'll be able to post more of the photos I've taken - for some reason, the connection here is just not agreeing with flickr.