Sunday, November 21, 2010

Reflection on Project Work

2010 has been an amazing year for me. It has provided me with many great opportunities to grow as a human being. One of these great opportunities was Project Work or PW in short. PW is an A level subject where students are required to work in groups to achieve a certain specified aim. I just completed 9 months of this PW and my project was on initiating an anti fast-food movement. My group chose this project primarily because over consumption of fast-food is a major problem in the world and leads to many health issues and also encourages unethical practices in the food industry. In the course of our project, my teammates and I had many arguments and disputes. But ultimately, we still worked together and successfully completed our project. The entire experience taught me many invaluable life lessons and showed me that, contrary to popular belief, PW is a useful and fun subject. I want to dedicate this post to the lessons I learnt from PW.     

Firstly, I learnt just how disgusting fast-food really is. It has almost no nutritional value and is full of fats and carbs. My group even did an experiment on French fries and discovered that it contains lots of preservatives. In fact, this experiment was covered in an earlier post. I also learnt that by consuming fast-food, we are retaining or even increasing its demand, thereby encouraging the fast-food firms to practice a greater degree of cost cutting. This means that they will have an incentive to produce shittier food through unethical practices, such as hiring illegal workers or even ignoring animal rights. Because of this project, I did not consume fast-food for 9 months. This was quite an achievement for me for I used to be a regular fast-food eater. I even experimented with vegetarianism for a period of time when I realized how badly animals were treated by meat producers.

I also learnt how to work well with a group of complete strangers. When we students first started lessons in 2010, we were simply told who was in our PW groups. We had no voice in choosing our teammates! The teachers probably randomly assigned them to us. I was put into a group of 5, out of which 4 were girls. It was an alien environment for me and it was initially really difficult to work on such a big project with complete strangers. Plus, all 5 of us held very strong opinions towards certain topics and thus could not come to an agreement on many issues. Because of the strong opinions we held, I learnt the skill and spirit of compromise. I learnt that when you work in a team, you can’t always have what you think is the best. You have to give up and sacrifice some of your own views to keep the group happy. You have to be prepared to compromise you own theories and ideas. The entire group’s satisfaction, instead of that of a single person, leads to a smooth and fruitful project.

In the process of executing our project, I took an initiative in the designing process. I designed a brochure and created an online video. Both of these tested and enhanced my creativity and opened my eyes to the beauty and power of advertising. This initiative carved out another facet in my personality. I have stopped fearing creativity.  Now I cheerfully undertake tasks that require me to be creative. I also took an initiative in designing a Facebook page for our anti fast-food movement. I finally learnt how to use Facebook properly! I also realized just how difficult it is to maintain a movement and to reach out to people successfully. I now admire and respect leaders of major movements. It really requires a lot of dedication, courage and self-confidence.  

Ultimately, I had loads of fun doing PW. I think it is a wonderful subject because it gives students a break from the strict academic focus of disciplines such as the Sciences and allows them to develop invaluable life skills such as peaceful co-operation, compromise and creativity. PW can be a really fun and fruitful subject if it is done with a correct attitude and mindset. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Are you serious?

Throughout the past 2 years or so, I’ve been getting a lot of comments from people, especially girls, saying that I’m way too serious and that I should “take it easy and chill”.  I must have been very awkward and boring around them! And recently I did realise the importance of being “chilled out”. It really helps in breaking the ice between people and in taking a break from the struggle of life. It is also important for humour.

However, this realisation has not reduced my high regard for seriousness.  I still thoroughly believe that one needs to be very serious in all circumstances other than those that I stated in the previous paragraph.
So, I want to dedicate this post to explaining why the hell I am so serious and why being serious is important, at least to the boring me! I hope I don’t sound too pompous by dedicating this post to myself. But I really think this explanation is worth sharing because I thought very hard and meticulously about it.

All of us have done good and bad in our lives. For those who are currently teenagers or those who have been through their teenager years, you know that we teenagers do wild things sometimes or even all the time. Being a teenager myself, I have done crazy things. But after doing these things, I felt very guilty and ashamed. I knew that I did something wrong by losing control of myself. Through reflection, I realised that this was not the type of life I wanted to live. I did not want to be a slave to my raging hormones and irrational feelings. I wanted to live a life where my body is a slave to my mind; where I am in control of myself. I wanted to search for a way of life that is universally valid; a way of life that does not harm life through my words, thoughts and actions, but only creates value through them. The search for such a way of life is not an easy one. Great people like Buddha spent their entire lives thinking of and developing such life frameworks. The search for such a life requires one to be very serious and determined about his mission. So that is one reason why I am so serious. It is because I am constantly searching for ways to improve my life so that I can stop harming life and instead, do my best to create value.  
              
When one is serious, he is controlling himself. When one controls himself, he is calming himself down and opening his mind to his environment. When you open your mind to the environment, you open your mind to yourself. When you become sensitive to your environment, you become sensitive to yourself. You and your environment are ultimately manifestations of the truth or the nature of life. So if you become sensitive to your life and environment, you become sensitive to the truth of life. You allow yourself to experience the truth manifesting itself infinitely frequently across the smallest intervals of time. Thus, by being serious and hence sensitive to life, you increase the chances of yourself grasping the truth of your own life. This is also one of the important reasons why I am serious. I am seeking to understand the nature of my own life, and being serious is a side step that is necessary to grasp this end product. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Deep Connections

Hello Readers!

It’s been quite a while since I updated my blog.  Now that my exams are over I’ll be updating it much more often.

Recently, I observed something about myself. I observed that I have always been prejudiced towards certain religions. My views towards them were predominantly negative and I was very intolerant. I reflected on this intolerance recently and it occurred to me that I was simply being absurd. I was freely judging these religions but I had never visited their places of worship or experienced their practices. I was being untruthful to myself. I was boosting my own ego behind a curtain of ignorance. I was claiming superiority of knowledge and wisdom over these religions. I was like a blind man claiming he can see. But I realised that this was not the wise or true way to deal with any situation. It was a naive approach that only limited my own capacity.

This reflection led me to an idea. I decided that I should visit different places of worship to get a glimpse of what goes on in there.  This would expand my perception of the religions and would allow me to experience the truth behind them instead of creating some pseudo-truth that has no meaning or value. 

I wanted to start off by experiencing Christianity. I contacted a very close friend of mine, who is a Christian, and arranged to visit his church on a Sunday afternoon. I told myself that I would not go there with a closed mind. I told myself that I would go with an open mind and I would not judge the practices of Christianity. I would only appreciate them and grow in a spiritual sense.

When I met up with this friend, he gave me a brief and interesting history of Christianity. He told me about the Christian perception of life and its intricacies. He even told me about Jesus and God. I had a very poor prior knowledge of these topics and I was quite intrigued by the description he gave. I also asked him several questions to which I received mind-opening answers.

As we walked up to a hall, I started hearing beautiful singing. I never knew that it was a common practice in Christianity to sing and to honour God through the songs. I sang along with the people in the hall and listened attentively to the sermon afterwards. It was a solemn and sublime experience for me.

My perception of Christianity was definitely changed after the experience. I regarded the religion with much higher value because it was helping the people in that hall. It helped them appreciate their lives and it was providing them with a deep spiritual experience, which I believe is necessary for living a fulfilling life. I definitely did not understand Christianity completely after the experience, but at least I got a glimpse of its practices and understood its value to the Singaporean society.

After the entire session, my friend and I were looking for a place to grab lunch. While we were scouting, I asked him several more questions about his religion. I accepted his answers and tried to comprehend them, but it was really beyond me. It was at that point that he, for the first time, asked me about Buddhism. I told him about the origins or Buddhism and some of the basic principles of Mahayana Buddhism, such as the law of cause and effect.

While I was talking about Buddhism, I noticed the expressions on his face. He was not uncomfortable or unhappy. He was not angry or bored. He seemed to be at peace and accepted what I was saying. He even seemed to comprehend what I was saying. In any ordinary circumstance, such a conversation would have sparked anger and intolerance in the communicating parties. I mean who would want to hear somebody else preach about his or her religion right? But we ended up having an amazing conversation about our own religions.  Mystically, the barriers between us were dissolved. We connected as human beings and there was a free flow of beautiful information between us. This connection somehow transcended all the religious, ethnic and societal boundaries that distinguished the both of us. In that conversation, I didn’t perceive my friend as a Chinese or a Christian or a student or whatsoever. I didn’t care about his skin colour or his looks. I only perceived him as a fellow brother and human being. Despite his intrinsic flaws, I saw only the light in him. That experience moved me. I believe that experience formed a much stronger bond between us. It formed, if I may, a Human Bond; a human connection beyond just physical attainment or any other distinguishing borders.

This experience with my friend taught me that if one puts in hard work towards listening to and understanding somebody else, true friendship and strong bonds can be formed between the people. These bonds transcend man-made boundaries and connect people together as fellow human beings. This experience has also motivated me to visit and learn about more places of worship in Singapore.

Lastly and most importantly, I want to share about the application of my experience. I live in Singapore, which is a multi-religious society. There are Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and many others. One of the hot topics of discussion is how we can achieve a long-lasting harmony between various religious groups. Well, from my experience, I think we must break the locks of our conservative cultures and we must start independently visiting different places of worship.  Of course, we must visit them with an open mind and we must be polite. The key point is to learn and understand something about all the religions. Another key point is to connect with the people from various religious groups, as I did with my friend, and to share relevant experiences, if possible. Human Bonds must be formed, or attempts need to be made for its formation. This would reduce uncertainty and suspicion among religious groups in times of trial. It would forge social cohesion.

I imagine every person in Singapore forming Human Bonds with others from various religious groups. I imagine an amazing Singaporean society which is strongly interconnected and adopts non-violent approaches towards solving problems. In such a society, humanism would only flourish and the positive fruits attained would spread like wildfire to the rest of the world, inspiring similar peace movements. What a world that would be!

Monday, October 18, 2010

A map of healthy restaurants along Singapore's vibrant city


View Healthy food restaurants along Singapore City in a larger map

Our anti fast-food group has located healthy restaurants along Singapore's vibrant city. The yellow pins represent shopping malls. When you click on one, it will provide a list of healthy restaurants inside that specific shopping mall. Do take a look! If you happen to be near the city anytime soon, at least you'll know where the nearby healthy eating place is. 

Thanks!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Experimenting with French fries


Hey everybody!

A few weeks back, my anti fast-food group performed an experiment to find out just how trashy fast-food is. We planned to do this by comparing the rotting periods between McDonald's fries and home cooked fries.

We basically purchased one large McDonald's fries and placed it in a glass jar. The same was done with the home cooked fries, which were made by deep frying some sliced potato in oil. Both jars were placed in the same environment. The results of this experiment were shocking!

This is what the home-cooked fries looked like in just 5 days!


The home cooked fries turned black! There was fungus and mould all over. Brown fluid was oozing out of the fries. This is a sure sign of rotting.  
This is what the McDonald's fries looked like after 3 weeks!


There was no sign of rotting at all! The fries were perfectly in-tact and looked good enough to eat. 

These results are scary. I mean what the hell does McDonald’s put in these fries?

There probably must be a lot of concentrated preservatives and chemicals in these fries. That’s the only way one can prevent the natural process of rotting. To think that some of us eat these fries quite often... Just imagine these “Freak of Nature” chemicals lingering inside your body...

Do check out our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=123610044356907 for more updates. 

Thanks!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Poetry

I found these really interesting poems on Physics! 
Schroedinger's cat 
I have been reading of Schroedinger's cat
But none of my cats are at all like that.
This unusual animal (so it is said)
Is simultaneously live and dead!
What I don't understand is just why he
Can't be one or other, unquestionably.
My future now hangs in between eigenstates.
In one I'm enlightened, the other I ain't.
If you understand, then show me the way
And rescue my psyche from quantum decay.
But if this queer thing has perplexed even you,
Then I will and won't see you in Schroedinger's zoo.
Relativity    
There once was a fellow named Blight
Whose speed was much faster than light.
He sat off one day
In a relative way
and returned on the previous night. 
We've heard of that fellow named Blight,
And his trip on that fabulous night,
But his increasing mass
Would have soon proved so vast
He'd have been a most *singular* sight!
More here 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Do you have small change?


Hello Readers!

In this post, I want to share about an experience that changed my view of life. Don't worry, it won't be very mathematical :)

However cheesy this may sound, ever since I turned 15, I've always wanted to do something to change the world. I wanted to change the mindset of a large number of people through the use of science and religion. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I created this blog. So, I always thought that the only way I could be useful for the world is by striving for big goals that were external to me.

But, recently I realised something that changed the purpose of my life. 

I was having a particularly bad and unproductive day. I was quiet and unhappy for pretty much the entire day. On the bus home, I was continuously staring at the surroundings, preoccupied with my misery. The bus stopped near a mall and I noticed one of my school mates sitting at the bus-stop. I didn't know him particularly well, but I talked to him once or twice before. He seemed engrossed in some book and had this subtle look on his face. One of purity and clarity.

Here I was, having a miserable day and hating myself for my condition and not being able to do anything about it. And here was this guy, doing something so small and simple to improve his life, and enjoying it. The simplicity of his action hit me. Just by watching him, something resonated deep inside me. A sense of calmess and clarity descended on me. It was like seeing a patch of warm azure sky coming out of dull clouds. I never thought I'd experience such a feeling. It was so powerful. It made me want to get my life out of it's miserable and animalistic state. His simple action inspired me to make a change in my life!

I learnt a valuable lesson from this experience. My initial view on life was to do something on a huge and external scale. I wanted to change the external world. However, this guy at the bus stop changed me and my state of life by improving himself. How then could he have helped me if he was intending to help himself?

The answer to this comes from a Buddhist philosophy. The entire universe, from animals to protons to neutrons to electrons, is inter-connected. Every being is mystically connected to the entire universe. By improving and polishing yourself, by becoming a first-class individual, you improve yourself and the connections between you and the universe. In such a process, you also improve the universe. That's how the guy improved me. This also explains that we do not necessarily have to "dream big" to help the world. We can change the world by changing ourselves.

In other words, internal change is a more powerful and practical approach towards improving the world.

Just imagine if every person in the world were to perform this form of Human revolution, what a beautiful place the world would be.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tetraheadache!

Hello Readers!

I haven't written for a really long time and that's mainly because I've been busy trying to adapt to my "new life". Yeah, it's been about 6 months since I entered Junior College (JC) and it's really been a blast! I've met many new and amazing people and learnt many new things. The past 6 months practically flew past.

I have noticed a few odd things about the local education system as well. Students are not taught to understand concepts but are taught to memorize concepts instead and apply them in examinations. This totally obscures the beauty behind the subjects and it encourages indifference towards understanding the world.

Let me share an experience where I tried to overcome this barrier created by the education system. I learnt a lot from this experience and it strengthened my love for knowledge and understanding of principles.

In chemistry, we were learning a chapter called chemical bonding. We were shown some images on how molecules would look like when the central atoms of the molecules had different number of electron pairs around them. According to my notes, a molecule with 4 bond pairs around it's central atom only should spread out in 3 dimensions to form a tetrahedral shape. It should have a bond angle of 109.5 degrees and should look like this:
We were not provided with any explanations whatsoever as to why this phenomenon occurred. We were just expected to memorize it... But, I was wondering why this happens. I imagined that the molecule would spread out in 2 dimensions and that it would have a bond angle of 90 degrees. The picture below provides an illustration of my perception. The T represents the terminal atoms while the C represents the central atom. I also assumed that the bond lengths are of the same value, X.









By the end of the day, there were three questions perplexing me. 

1. Why and how is it that a tetrahedral molecular geometry can form? 

2. If the tetrahedral geometry does exist, how does one determine the specific bond angle of 109.5 degrees? 

3. How can one claim that one form of molecular geometry exists and not another?

I did some research and found intriguing results that solved all of my problems. Basically, there is a theory known as the Valence shell electron pair repulsion (VSEPR) theory that states that the electron pairs around atoms in a molecule will arrange themselves as far apart as possible in space so as to minimise their mutual repulsion.

1. 

To solve my first problem, I had to make use of a molecule whose central atom had three bond pairs of electrons only. It would acquire a trigonal planar shape. It is basically a 2 dimensional molecule and it would like this:
I think this is quite logical as it is the only orientation in which the electron pairs can spread out to achieve minimal repulsion. So imagine the molecule above is lying on a flat piece of paper. The molecule will lie flat on the paper since it has a planar geometry. Then, imagine attaching another terminal atom vertically above A. This terminal atom will be sticking out of your screen. There will be some vertical repulsion by the newly attached terminal atom on the other 3 terminal atoms. This will cause them to bend downwards slightly, until all of the mutual repulsions cancel off. So, if you think about it, a tetrahedral structure will form. This answered my first question as to why does a tetrahedral structure form.

I was really happy when I thought of this. I did some more research and found an amazing derivation that solved my second problem.

2.

Firstly, imagine I have a cube and each of it's sides has a length of 1 cm. Imagine I place a tetrahedral pyramid inside it. It should look like this:
P and Q are two vertices's of tetrahedral pyramid while O is the centre. O is equidistant from all the vertices's of the tetrahedral pyramid and it represents the central atom. Now if we isolate the triangle OPQ, it should look like this:
The length PQ can be found using Pythagoras Theorem. 



The length from O to PQ must be half of the vertical length of the cube, since O is the centre. Thus, it is 0.5cm.

To find the bond angle, I need to find the value of 2A. I can find the value of A using trigonometry.



An amazing result! This solved my second problem as to why the bond angle was 109.5 degrees.

3. 

Now, to solve the third problem. As proposed by the VSEPR theory, the terminal atoms in a molecule will spread apart as far as possible to achieve minimum mutual repulsion. So, the molecular geometry that will exist must have the greatest inter-terminal atomic distance, K. I had to check which form of geometry had a greater value of K; the tetrahedral geometry or my predicted square planar geometry.

The distance, K2, between the terminal atoms in the tetrahedral geometry can be found using the cosine rule.




This value of K2 is greater than the value of K1. This mathematical proof shows why the molecule would spread out in 3 dimensions to form a tetrahedral structure rather than forming the square planar structure that I predicted. This solved my third problem!

I was amazed at the beauty and intricacy of the model. I felt uplifted to a greater state of life after solving this problem. It made me appreciate and love my studies a lot more. It showed me the hard work scientists and mathematicians had to put in to create the models that we take for granted in daily life. I learnt that all problems can be solved by looking deep inside yourself and through thinking very logically and patiently.

Because of this experience, I'm even more determined never to give in the to the intellectual and emotional indifference encouraged by the education system.

References:
http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/55023.html

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Who really are the aliens?

Whenever I watch Discovery channel or browse through science websites, there is always something being discussed about outer space and aliens. Everyone seems to be asking questions like "What would aliens look like?" and "Are they dangerous?" It seems that we have an obsession with aliens. The thought of aliens fascinates people for an unusually long time. I saw a cartoon about aliens with their huge green heads, black oblong eyes and fast UFOs when I was 7 years old and I can still vividly remember it. However, I can't remember my favourite toy at that time. This peculiar obsession got me thinking and led me to an interesting thought- Who really are the aliens?

Animals are intelligent. We know that. But if we compare their intelligence with that of humans, my first statement begins to sound like a politically correct one! The fact is that animals are no where as intelligent as humans. Our intelligence is anomalous in the biological system because no other animal, not even the smartest, possesses intelligence anywhere near ours.

Image from http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/Mathematics.html

This graph above is called a predator-prey curve. It is a generalized model which illustrates the changes of predator and prey populations with time. In this case, the predator is the fox while the prey is the hare. Initially, the hare population increases in number, as shown by point A. This could be due to an increase in the consumption of food, allowing more of the hares to live longer and reproduce. This larger population of hare provides more food for the fox population. The foxes then begin to prey on the increased hare population. With more food available, more of the foxes live longer and reproduce. This results in an increase in the fox population, as shown by point B. However, due to increased predation, the hare population drops till point C. With very little hare available for food, the fox population also begins to decrease in number till point D. The cycle then repeats itself and results in a sine curve for both the hare and fox population. It illustrates the biological continuity in an ecosystem without human beings.

Now, if one inserts intelligent human beings into the picture, something else happens. The human population increases exponentially while the animal population decreases exponentially. This is happening in today's world. The human race is expanding at an increasing rate. We are using up the Earth's resources rapidly and in the process, directly and indirectly, killing off animals at an increasing rate. Graphically, this result is very different from the previous predator-prey curve. It shows that in an ecosystem with animals alone, there is evident biological continuity. However, with humans and animals in an ecosystem together, the biological continuity get's disrupted. This shows that there is an anomaly in human nature relative to animal nature.

Another anomalous trait of humans is our fascination with the cosmos. Centuries of research and study has been done just to understand outer-space. I was reading the Feb 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine and one of the opening articles described a plan on how humans could relocate to Mars. It vividly illustrated how Mars could be made hospitable for a human colony to live in. I was fascinated by the idea but then a thought struck me. Why do we want to leave? Why can't we be happy on Earth? How come other animals don't think about leaving? Is it due to their intelligence or their nature? I came up with a speculative, but possible, answer to explain this phenomenon.

Let me share a personal example. I was born in India and came to live in Singapore when I was 7 years old. India is my native country and I have a natural affinity for her; I always have a yearning to go back and stay in India. Similarly, I believe we humans also have a natural affinity for outer-space. I mean if we are ready to abandon Earth and settle somewhere else in outer-space, we must have a deep connection with outer-space. This connection could be a possible explanation of our fascination with the cosmos and our obsession with aliens.

Now for the big picture. We have many anomalous characteristics relative to animals. As I mentioned earlier, some examples are that we disrupt biological continuity, we are intelligent and we have a natural affinity with outer-space. We are also ready to leave Earth for another planet and are obsessed with alien life-forms. This evidently shows that our nature is very different from that of animals. Thus, we cannot be indigenous to Earth.

Regarding our curiosity/obsession with aliens, perhaps we should take a closer look at ourselves instead of continuing to look outside. Could the man in the mirror be the real alien?