Saturday, 28 April 2012

engineering a past-time

for the past couple of weeks, on my way back from the chemistry department at university, i have been conducting a small observational experiment. well, experiment here is a poor choice of words, but i had a hypothesis and some interesting results, so let's call it that for the time being. in any case, let me not spoil the fun by stating said hypothesis, but jump straight into some methodology:

the engineering department is located along the way home, and the brand new engineering students' common room is constructed such that it is rectangular has a long side that spans about half a football field. the tables and chairs are aligned in a couple of rows along the wall that is made of glass (or some other translucent material - architects and engineers feel free to educate me), and as i walk along the wall it is easy to peer into the room and observe what the students are doing. most, if not all will be on their computers and it's interesting to see what they do:

bear in mind the context of this, that most of the students are first or second year students (apparently the third years hang out where the cool kids do, elsewhere), of a mixed background - mostly males, but ethnicity-wise, it's quite diverse, and most importantly, this observation was done a couple of weeks before their semester finals!

though some of the students were indeed studying, who can blame them when i saw the following as most activities done:

1) lurking (this would include 9-gagging, channing (no link for obvious reasons) and the various forms of imageboards and forums. approx 72 students.
2) facebook-ing. approx 42 students.
3) 'lightweight' games, like flash games and emulated games. i reckon i would separate this from the 'real' games because if you're studying and needed a break, this would be more justifiable. plus you won't end up looking at your watch and go 'wtf it's been 3 hours now?'. approx 40 students.
4) watching movies or series. approx 35 sudents.
5) youtube. approx 22 students.
6) 'real' games. these would include some of the 'cool'er games out right now. off the top of my head i remember world of warcraft, star wars, a couple of mmos i don't recognise, starcraft 2, and best of all, a group of 5 guys hitting up a lan game of defense of the ancients. just so you know, they were chinese. just saying. approx 15 students.

obviously, this is just a cross-section of what they were doing. they may have been taking a break, they may have been finished with exams. who knows; no judgement. just saying.

and for the amount of students doing work? i'll let you guess!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


i read my old poetry. it is less pretentious than my later ones. how counterintuitive.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

don't waste your time...

... on someone who won't waste their time on you. this is a quote from a good friend of mine, which, though at the time didn't mean much to me, now resonates with a long, dulcet tone in my mind. the theme of this saying, i reckon, is that attraction is not an objective thing. it doesn't matter how you view your 'significant other' (or more relevantly, potential significant other), but how you view each other. one may be truly, madly and deeply in love with another, but not have it reciprocated. and that is all that matters. how one treats another should be mirrored in the relationship, and if it is not, then (s)he should consider the relationship failing, or even non-existant.

now, i post this that seems so intuitive only because, like myself many years ago, we fail to see the obvious nature of the statements until we experience and well empathise with them. i always like a good 'i told you so' when the dawning of what all this means finally emerges in your mind (and heart). it makes me giggle with glee to know that those before me had told me so, and i was oblivious, and now i get to say the same to others! oh, what little joys this world has to offer in others' pains, though the less they are in quantity, the more they are in magnitude.

stop wasting your time!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

the sprite experiment

currently involving myself in research has been somewhat taxing. but, to be honest, that's only because i spend all my 'free' time doing unnecessary things like reading and playing games and watching movies and sleeping. in any case, i have had a significant amount of time, in between waiting for bacterial cultures to grow and ultracentrifuge machines to do their thing, to reflect on my career path so far (or, as with most things in my case, the lack thereof). one thing that came to me recently is an old experiment design that i had for a high school project. it was a chemistry project, with the intention of exposing us to experimental design and method, and i have to say, it was an enlightening experience at the time. where most of the experiments were handed down to us and 'science' was a mere following steps and instructions on a drab piece of photocopied paper, the actual opportunity to understand scientific approach was much welcome. to some of us.

anyway, here is the experiment that i conjured. i cannot say if i think back of it as a good or terrible one - i guess it would be an okay experiment. my teacher at the time thought it was terrible, though!

objective: to determine the amount of H2CO3 and H3PO4 in a bottle of sprite.

materials: bottle of sprite (i think it's the 375ml bottle. i can't really remember), run of the mill lab apparatus e.g. beakers and pipettes and retort stands, universal indicator and pH meter!

introduction: the 'fizzy' drink, sprite is listed to have carbonic and phosphoric acid as its two major components of acid (with some minor ones, unlisted), which are responsible for the 'fizzy' taste. texture? something like that. carbonic acid exists in a state of equilibrium between the dissolved acid and gaseous carbon dioxide:

H2CO3 <-> H+ + HCO3- <-> 2H+ + CO3(2-) <-> H2O + CO2

phosphoric acid is not so effervescent, and we assume that it remains dissolved (along with the minor acids).

as most kids will know (and attest to, having pranked their peers), shaking a bottle of carbonated drinks vigorously causes it to become somewhat volatile. the best condition to hand a can of coke to your friend, watch them open it and get drenched in sweet syrupy silliness. this is an effect of the vaporisation of carbonic acid to carbon dioxide. in the closed space of a can or bottle, the gas, which takes up more volume for the same number of moles (or molecules) of liquid, causes an increased pressure to build up (since PV = nRT, where P is pressure, V is volume, n is number of moles, R is the universal gas constant 8.314 J/K/mol and T is temperature; increasing n causes an increase in P, all other variables being constant).

- a sample of the sprite is tested for pH value using the universal indicator and calibrated pH meter.
- one 'shake' of the capped bottle is performed, and the pH reading is taken again.
- the process is repeated for 10 'shakes', after which the bottle is shaked vigorously for 5 mins (lies) and a pH reading taken.
- the data are plotted on a graph with each point corresponding to a pH of each number of subsequent shakes (1, 2, 3, ...) and the final point is extrapolated to a point of infinite shakes.

so i remember the results were amazingly consistent. multiple runs gave a linear graph that tapered off at 'infinity'. and from this, we could estimate the concentrations of carbonic and phosphoric acid (plus non-specific acids).

this was a major flaw: how quantifiable is 'a shake'.

ok and other flaws as well. anyway. that was high school experimental design. at its worst. man, times were funny back then.

Saturday, 7 April 2012


the concept of a life after death is an intriguing one. where does it stem from? much like the presence or absence of a higher being, deity, God or flying spaghetti monster; there is no real way of (dis)proving claims of an afterlife. while it may be more pertinent to address the larger scope of the question, that is the existence of a great creator - a maha, if you will, the existentialism brought forward by even asking that question far extends the scope of my simple penning here.

so, let us focus on the concept of afterlife - if we cannot answer where it comes from, and proceed to argue of its existence, we should instead focus more particularly on its intent. in most religions that support the idea of an afterlife, i would think that the intent is simple: provide an extra-terrestrial means of retribution and reward, that people may behave more amicably and adhere to the word of God in this life. but this simplistic reasoning seems flawed and counterintuitive. if the hand of divinity is such that it is concealed until a judgement day, and reckoning is not swift and furious, what human can bend to the wills of a holy being, or at least learn to, while in life? it may be true that such a thing does happen on a lesser scale, and that we are too blind to see, or it is concealed from us, but intrinsically, i would think that human nature is very fleeting and impressionable. the pavlovian model and simple conditioning are, in fact, how we function on a daily basis, and on a larger scale how we lead our lives. if God were to smite a heretic down with the rage of thunder and lightning every time someone did something 'bad', we would all see a correlation and model our behaviour to avoid punishment. just like how my father used to get his leather belt out when we did something stupid. and to further the pavlovian analogy, even the sight or sound of said belt (or in God's case, thunder) would be motivation enough to keep oneself in check.

could it be that the conditioning has, in fact, been placed, but the loss of primary stimulus (due to at some point, efficiency of the response) has caused us to regress to a point before its implementation? if the torah, bible, talmud or quran are to be believed, then possibly so. hinduism and buddhist text beg the opposite.

let's move on to a different point. why does it matter that there is a promise of just reciprocation for sin or saintliness on earth, if there pre-determination in action? this may sound familiar to some who have read my blog before (all two persons of you) and are privy to the ongoing debate on exitentialism and fatalism that i (or we, as humans) constantly engage in. can puppets in a play be accountable for their actions, and is it just that justice is meted according to how the story goes or ends? what of the puppets that play no role in the play in the first place? should the puppeteer be responsible for every outcome, be it according to script or not? and who would assign him authority to pass out judgement as he sees fit? there are all superficial questions that barely scratch the concept of a fatalistic relationship between man and maker, but already i am divided in extending judgement as to who holds the 'final accountability'. if nobody is, and our actions are products of a meshwork of intricate, individual events, that leads to further questions on the complexity of life itself, and how that would influence any kind of afterlife. but, let's not open that new bag of worms.

which leads us to another consideration: why do we really care if the intent of reward and punishment is justified, if there is no causality? in christianity, we are all born with original sin, inherited from adam and eve, and our goal in life is to redeem ourselves from the sins of our fathers. in islam, we are born pristine, but our actions on earth have little to no consequence on our placement in heaven or hell - any person's entry into heaven is by grace of God as opposed to his virtues on earth (though would / should there be a correlation between the two?). in judaism... well that's just kind of an up-for-grabs situation where olam ha-ba is ill defined, and individual interpretation plays a more significant role than in other religions. all of these scenarios suffer from 'logical' flaws: how accountable are we if our sins aren't our own? how motivated should we be if effort does not reflect in gains? how sure can we be if we... just aren't?

for lack of a better word, a conclusion is in order. surely i jest? for how can we conclude on such a broad subject after writing a mere five paragraphs worth of rabble? i will not presume to conclude on the idea of an afterlife, though, instead i would conclude on the significance of the idea. the very existence of it. i think it boils down to faith - what does religion do for you? what does God do for you? what does the belief in God do for you? all these questions share the same answer with, why should the afterlife exist for you? and if you don't believe in it? then that is something you have a choice over (apparently, unlike where you place in the afterlife). does the belief or disbelief make you a better person? how do you judge that? and who judges that? and what are the repercussions of that (dis)belief? well, it would be your eternal life in the hereafter, wouldn't it? unless there turns out to not be one, in which case it is inconsequential.