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Showing posts from November, 2005

A reef 10 years ago

This was Ligpo Reef 27 November 1995. In the last 10 years the reef has experienced 3 successive bleaching events and a Crown-of-Thorns seastar infestation. I'll be surveying the reef on the 27th. Sadly this reef has been severely damaged.

We are Terroans, Chewbacca is a Wookie, Yoda is... Yoda and Darth Vader is more machine than Terroan

It seems that NASA has accumulated a lot of indirect evidence for life outside Earth. Of course the prime candidate for extraterrestrial life is Mars. That Mars had lots of liquid water and has detectable methane in the atmosphere and these arguesfor the presence of life or past existence of life. The NASA Viking experiments in 1976, were designed to detect microbial life but the results were inconclusive. The robots landed on Mars but because of the strange soil chemistry, all the biochemistry experiments came out inconclusive.

So astro evolutionary biologist Peter Ward argues that we must accept as very probable that life is common at least in the solar system and even more probable in the cosmos. Much of this life is not complex. But if we accept that there is extraterrestrial life then we have to revise our understanding of what life is.

In biology class we are taught that living things have or can 1) DNA and RNA, 2) are made of cells, 3) reproduce, 4) develop and grow, 5) metaboli…

Thoughts at the end of Einstein's Year

In 1905, Albert Einstein produced scientific papers that have revolutionised our view of the universe. This was his annus mirabilis (in English, wonderful year). In this year, he published his papers on special relativity and his doctoral dissertation on Brownian motion. In the latter Einstein gives us an empirical way to statistically measure the size of the atom.

From the annus mirabilis, we have 1) cellphones and 2) microwave ovens Of course, Einsteinian science has given us more techno gadgetry (digital cameras and MP3 players), but the two I listed are something that many people can't survive the day without.

But even if Einstein is one of the two most recognised faces (icons) on the planet, (He ranks with Jesus Christ as the second of the two most recognised faces), there are things that we normally don't know about dear old Albert unless if we are diehard fans.

One thing is that Albert Einstein two attempts at a PhD were unsuccessful. He was however able to withdraw his re…

Reading CS Lewis: Mere Christianity

The first CS Lewis book I ever read wasn’t “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” but “Mere Christianity”. You may ask why “Mere” was the first Lewis book I read. This has something to do with my spiritual development. Like Lewis, there was a time in my life that I became agnostic.  While a majority of my family was Catholic, we were a multi-faith family and a diversity of  religious views and practices are tolerated.  I have an uncle who became an Orthodox Bishop, several Seventh Day Adventists relatives, Born Agains, Iglesia ni Cristo relations, Episcopalians and Independientes, Muslims and a Buddhist all in one family. A personal religious position such was always respected. The unspoken agreement was that there should be no proselytizing in the family, especially on the dinner table. In our society that has long become religious plural, what does Lewis’ experience tells us about conversion?

Just Merely. “Mere Christianity” should be read with “Surprised by Joy”. Lewis plainly and m…

Electric powered vehicles and other encounters with "alternative" modes of transport

Yesterday the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology got a product demo of a Chinese made electric scooter. The scooter needs only 4 hours of charging time with a fast charger, has no emissions but needs four storage batteries.

The scooter can manage to run for 10 hours with a maximum speed of 50 Kph and can carry a load of 200 kg. Not bad!

The high cost of petrol has made people to consider "alternate"modes of transport. I put the word alternate in quotation marks since these modes of transport are as old as the internal combustion engine but they tended to cost more. Now that petrol is costly, people have begun to take a more serious look into these technologies.

The market has already introduced 1) electric vehicles, 2) hybrid cars, 3) hydrogen powered cars and 4) biodiesel. There are other technologies that are still more experimental such as torque driven vehicles.

All of these modes have their own advantages and disadvantages. Electric cars still will have to d…

Registration blues at the University of the Philippines

UP was known as University of "Pila" or University of Queues ( as translated in English not UQ as University of Queensland). Under the term of Professor Nemenzo as President, the university emabarked on massive effort to computerise and wire the various colleges and departments. This was quite successful that UP has now on-line enrolment and registration. In theory, a student need not leave the dorm or home to enlist in courses that he/she needs to take. In theory there is no need to queue.

But there is a snake like queue outside my faculty office. Why? Upon closer inspection and chatting with those queueing, many students complain that the subjects they wanted had long been filled up. I thought that many students just had little chance to register on-line.

But that was not the end of the story. The real reason is that the three major colleges of the university, science, social science and arts and letters have priority in enlistment in Revised General Education Courses. So t…

Birds, biodiversity and bird flu

Many human diseases have their origins in birds. Some of these diseases include malaria, dengue and of course influenza. Some of the diseases use other species as vectors (e.g. malaria and dengue that need mosquitoes) and some have gone one step forward, use aerosols (from sneezing birds and people) to infect other hosts.

The feared bird flu pandemic (it is already a pandemic among birds!) has made us think about the evolutionary significance of disease. Much as we would want to eliminate disease, doctors and public health practitioners will never be able to eradicate disease, for diseases are part and parcel of the evolutionary process.

Diseases tend to select traits in populations and while a proportion of the population will succumb to the infection, the population over time will develop resistance to the pathogen. In short the population will be immune to the disease and the disease organism will live commensally with its host population. A possible example is the common cold. The …

A barbershop tale

I get my head shaved two times a month. Well since the harsh dry, hot, drier and cold Aussie outback climate accelarated the loss of my crowning glory, I decided to take it all off. This is a bow to male biology and an adaptation to the environment. I have shown how testosterone’s effects show itself.

Oh yes, testosterone! This is the hormone that causes the descent of my orchis when I was in my Mum’s womb. For a few weeks, I was sexless until the hormones kicked in. And from then on I was, I am and I will be a man.

Now testosterone in popular psychology and in some undergrad textbooks is linked with aggression. The aggression may be sexual or just plain competitive. And if we look into this competitiveness under the corollary of Darwin’s theory, it all boils down to sex once more to be more accurate, sexual selection.

There is evidence true. Testosterone binds to many receptors in muscles to the larynx, to the brain. The muscles bulge and enlarges, the laryngeal cells enlarge and thus o…