serendipitopia / posted on 19 April 2014

It is very depressing to hear how a few Singaporeans reacted to the local Filipino community’s decisions regarding their Independence Day. Needed somewhere to rant. / posted on 18 April 2014

40 Funny Graphs That Depict Everyday Life Struggles In The Most Accurate Way Possible

I’d wanna post a couple dozen of these here but that would clog up my dashboard. 1, 4, 9, 10, 20, 25, 38, 39, 40.

serendipitopia / posted on 17 April 2014

Journey To Discover World Religions

Since a couple of my respectable friends have decided that atheism is for them, I have decided to embark on intellectual journey #2! I think that perhaps 20 odd years makes one too close with his faith. Whatever we accept in our early, naive years becomes so set in stone that we seldom fathom that there can be any other possible valid fact or line of reasoning.

I want to get exposure to as many religions as possible and hear their stories. Ideally, I’d like to participate - although I know that is something I will never do, always being afraid to commit. 

At the end of this, I hope to publish a little guide (or article), partly to convince myself that it is time well-spent, but also to be sure that whatever I choose to believe in can stand its ground.

I do hope to come back to where I am starting from (i.e. Christianity), because then 20 years would not have been wasted. Although, I suppose, if I take another path, then I can take comfort in the fact that only 20 years was wasted.


  1. Write sales pitches for belief systems.
  2. List and describe fundamentals.
  3. Summarise origins and historical development.
  4. Speak to believers/advocates, understand their conviction.
  5. Understand practices.
  6. Understand lines of argument/counterargument for each.

serendipitopia / posted on 17 April 2014

Just Tell Him To Give Up His Seat

I never understand Singaporeans, and because that includes me, I have to say I sometimes don’t understand myself. It’s a little bit about what Socrates was trying to prove, that people don’t rationalise what we do, but let’s not get into that. This isn’t philosophy. In fact, ‘philosophy’ is a stupid put-off. Here, ‘common sense’ is preferable. There is little reason to use common sense to justify the things we do so habitually.

From the title, you’ve probably guessed the back-story by now, all you smart people. I’m talking about how STOMP has been used as an outlet for catching people in SAF green (and blue/grey) and ratting them out (Hokkien: bao toh). Just as I typed that a Third Sergeant (3SG) walked onto my train. If he sits down, someone might snap a photo (worth $50 - still?) and send it to STOMP. Apparently the act is ‘illegal’, and as the image, armed with a nasty headline and accusatory text, slips through STOMP’s editorial discretion, a lengthy debate ensues. Some rush to the aid of the defendant (or, since he is hardly aware, the accused), others chide his inconsiderate actions.

Let’s get to my point here - why ‘STOMP’ him. Why not just tell him off? Or actually, just gently ask if he would like to give up his seat for that gentle old lady. If you’re so concerned about that someone losing their balance, would this not be the only effective way to do it? And hey, while you’re at it, might as well lambast the school kids in uniform and any other young enough, relatively-fit looking person as well. 

But oh wait. Did I offend anyone? I forgot that some of us are the de facto moral guardians of society, and that foolish, single-minded me just suggested a mere stop-gap. Why help one elderly lady when you can help every one there is? Now I’m starting to get things. Of course, ‘STOMPing’ the scene will send this stern message out to all NS men (technically NSFs, NSmen and regulars, but never mind): give up your seat, or face public humiliation. Nice one, moral guardians! (I’ve just finished my 2 years of NS, and despite having sat down occasionally on empty trains, once the train started to fill up (i.e. travel out of the obscure areas where our camps are located) we would automatically get out of our seats.) Only problem - isn’t that all a little bit obnoxious?

STOMP calls itself ‘Asia’s leading citizen-journalism website’. In a country where the media is not uncensored - that’s quite ideal, isn’t it? ‘Citizen-journalism’ sounds like a little indulgence in Western liberalism (think Fox News, The Sun, etc.) and all its sensationalism. Finally, we have access to juicy articles whose headlines newsstands can holler to draw in the crowds. We will debate the moral obligations of sitting in trains later in this piece, but for now I admit that the influence of STOMP journalism can be potent. Ironically, the whole controversy and opposition to ‘STOMPing’ the NS men puts the spotlight on such articles. As much as many people reject the action outright, it inevitably occurs to the sub-conscience of NS men that that is (and will be) their own consequence of not giving up their seat. It is a consequence that carries utter humiliation and possibly disciplinary action.

Thus, we have an interesting ‘trilemma’ that is redolent of general principles in Singaporean decision making. The first and easiest solution is to act in ignorance, which clearly most of us have been doing. We leave the situation untouched, because - i) who are we to intervene? ii) what good has getting into trouble done for anyone? and iii) if we only wait, surely someone else will solve the problem! Resorting to STOMP is the heavy-handed choice, insomuch that while effective, it is malicious. Then, to approach the person directly is, in a way that perhaps some might not see it, more polite. There is a fourth, to do both of the latter two, but maybe that is slightly overkill.

There is a fine line between what elicits action versus inaction. Oftentimes, everyone is happy (‘Uncle’ is getting off in just 2 stops). Otherwise, it should naturally follow that we ought to act upon the situation, and this is never for our own merit. Think of it as doing good for Singapore society. This whole issue raises a moral debate. It is minuscule compared to what judges and doctors (and their ethics committees) have to deal with, but Singaporeans are genuinely a considerate bunch (and I say that with absolute sincerity). We don’t act upon something, especially in public view, without being strongly convicted to do so (the other explanation is that we’re just really lazy and selfish). I understand thus that lots of people will have difficulty accepting my brainchild (oops, I mean idea). I, as someone quite reserved, imagine the awkwardness of approaching someone in the train - who gave you the moral high ground, after all? But aha! That’s precisely what I’m getting at. Who gave you the moral authority to judge someone worthy of a page on STOMP? From a purely ethical viewpoint, the two options are equal. The difference is that STOMPing shields you behind your computer screen.

I have doubts that anyone will take my advice, at best merely agreeing with me (in a terribly ironic way that parallels this very debate). It is too much trouble and risk to go out to approach someone personally. We have perhaps seen the hysterical screams of agonised aunties (agony aunts, heh). If not, they’re here, here, and the last one here is in argument over a seat (at least this is someone who thinks like me, although not exactly the same). We are afraid that the people we tell off will respond in a similar way. (I also want to add that the videos raise questions of why the videographers didn’t do anything, which is exactly the same premise we’re talking about. But I admit I’d be scared to tell any of these aunties off.) However, I can assure everyone that no NS man will respond outlandishly - he will at worst be slightly ticked off. I am also quite certain that even if Singaporeans oppose the response of STOMPing the NS man, they also oppose the action of NS men not giving up their seats appropriately.

As you can probably tell, also by my mention of the passive videographers in the last paragraph, this way of action can be extended to practically anything. I hope more people will be willing to correct poor behaviour (cutting queues, fare evasion, petty theft, etc.), but this is mainly aimed at those who STOMP. I guess by now, STOMPers have got their much-desired publicity, and I would imagine that a gentler approach is preferably. After all, if we could spread this culture, we would end up with a similar effect, except a much more pleasant community, without the unnecessary bad rep and punishment.

So this is my little appeal to everyone out there: just tell him to give up his seat.

P.s. since we’re on this topic, there’s currently a petition to shut down STOMP. I personally haven’t signed it, because I believe the water’s deep where ‘citizen-journalism’ is concerned. Maybe what they really need is a dose of reality, and some serious editorial overhauling.

serendipitopia via gifs-himym / posted on 16 April 2014

serendipitopia / posted on 16 April 2014

Random note about Spanish:
There are some verbs whose construction is just beautiful when you know English as well

Reconoce - recognise; conoce in Spanish is know

Contiene - contains; con in Spanish is with, tiene is (it) has 

serendipitopia via / posted on 13 April 2014


30 Cities From 200 Years Ago…And Where They Are Now

by NYU Stern Urbanization Project

(via thisbigcity)

serendipitopia / posted on 11 April 2014

Chicken Nuggets


My absolute favourite food, but maybe not anymore.

serendipitopia / posted on 10 April 2014

My Literary Journey to Make Up For a Lifetime Worth of Books Unread

Taking a quiz on Buzzfeed, the inevitable happened and I realised I had read nothing on the list - absolutely nothing, not the kids fiction (LOTR, Harry Potter), even the Shakespeare and Steinbeck I read in lit class don’t appear. The most I’ve read is a (really) tiny excerpt from Edgar Allan Poe’s collection.

So I’ve decided that now, with the most time I’ll ever have till I retire, I’ll try and make up for twenty very uninspired years.

  1. The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway  
  2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (had this read to me when I was 8, so in great need of a re-read) 
  3. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini 
  5. Walden by Henry David Thoreau 
  6. A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  7. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  8. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  10. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller 
  11. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

and the list goes on.

★ means re-read

serendipitopia / posted on 9 April 2014

Life Lessons From 2048

2048 is an addictive game (for me at least); I’ll give it that. I played it for at least a good 4 hours the first day I started taking it seriously. Somehow, only getting to the 512 tile makes you seem like such a failure. I have since won a couple times, only with the help of a certain strategy, and now it seems pretty boring.

But for what it’s worth, I’ll say go play it a couple of times, so when you read what I’m about to write it actually makes a little sense.

Basically, the game leverages on simple addition, and you slide tiles around a 4x4 grid to merge tiles of the same value into each other. You start with ‘2’ and ‘4’ tiles, so as you can imagine, you begin by producing ‘8’ tiles, then ‘16’ and so on. People who mastered it will realise that the key here is to focus on one big tile (the one and only ‘128’, ‘256’, etc.) and perhaps a couple of other slightly smaller ones (‘32’, ‘64’) in the same area of the grid. The whole point is really to minimise pockets of unused ‘8’ and ‘16’ tiles, which will just stay stuck until you make an effort to (or serendipitously) set them free. If that does happens, it obviously wastes a lot of space and mobility. Okay. Enough technical nonsense about the game.

The reality is that life is all about that one big tile. There may be no (one) tangible 2048 (or 4096 etc. etc.) that we long for, but there certainly is an aspect of our life that is at the core of what we do. It could be our public identity, this image that we project for others. It could also be our achievements. But anyhow, it is a holistic combination of all the tiny ‘2’ and ‘4’ tiles that have actually achieved something great (if you think about, 2048 is actually anything from 512 to 1024 tiny tiles, which really is a lot of tiles). Somehow, there will always be pockets of unfinished work or useless skills that we pick up along the way. Occasionally, they eventually fit in somewhere and contribute to the big result, but mostly they just sit there and do nothing. They’re probably all forgotten, and may even impede whatever else goes on.

We may have many hobs, but certainly don’t discount the number of pots you have on the boil. It helps to throw away the stale ones sometimes, or find a way they can be incorporated into the bigger scheme of things.

serendipitopia via / posted on 6 April 2014 mstrkrftz:

 Marek Dunajský | There, where moon goes sleep

serendipitopia via s-h-e-e-r / posted on 5 April 2014 s-h-e-e-r:

Natural History Museum by martinturner on Flickr.

serendipitopia / posted on 5 April 2014

Post-Golden Age Research

I say post-golden age because if I had been born some years earlier, I would have invented bits and pieces of economic theory (price elasticity and localised oligopolies, which I swear I discovered while studying for A Levels). We are in an age where you can think of practically any idea, only to have your hopes crushed when Googling it reveals everyone who thought of it before you.

I’ve read a couple of books on Medical history and it’s more disheartening than anything. You can’t help but realise that the sheer quality of the 20th century breakthroughs cloud any recently revelations we’ve had. Bar the Human Genome Project, many discoveries actually lack the punch of something like penicillin or Bradford Hill’s criteria, which, though not all at once, have immediate practical implication, widespread impact and elegant basic science as backing. Something like growing organs in a lab is really great, yet in the 1900s, science was churning out and opening whole new  chapters of study every now and then. But I have a feeling that’s not the only thing that is making research so challenging today. We shouldn’t discount the quality of researchers, because if anything our scientists are more highly educated. Perhaps it was more the method than anything else. Earlier institutions had the legal go-ahead (or more the absence of legal red tape) that allowed for the powerful establishment of clinician-scientists.

Take early radiation therapy as a benchmark. It seemed as if physicians were merely ‘playing around’ with their patients, figuring out what worked and what didn’t. It wasn’t until Henri Coutard elucidated in the 1930s that fractionation was more effective that doctors stopped prescribing huge, single doses of radiation. Imagine all the harm that was caused to the patients who were wrongly treated, and yet all the benefit that has been derived from this insight. Similarly, Sidney Farber’s work on antifolates for ALL (a type of leukaemia) and Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine were very likely based on hunches, which they tried out on willing (I hope) patients. Imagine the bureaucratic repercussions today! Even more chilling were the countless vivisections and tales of body snatchers in pursuit of anatomical study.

Sydney Brenner has argued that the modern lab hierarchy is killing off creativity and precious avenues for groundbreaking research. I had the opportunity to look at how a lab functions, and have to say that I agree with Prof. Brenner, more than just because he is somewhat a celebrity/heavyweight in biomedical research (Prof. Brenner discovered RNA). There now exist several parallels between research and many professional careers, among them law, medicine and accountancy. It is interesting, sadly, that research is not structured more closely to something like authoring or art. It seems the institutions demand guarantees that their money is well spent. But like anything else, nothing is gained without a little risk. Without risk, academics we consider ‘heroes of science’ like Fred Sanger (who discovered DNA) and Madam Curie (whose radium cost many many fortunes to procure) might have packed their bags and spent their lives lecturing Chemistry 101. High-value science can take time, and copious amounts of resources. Prof. Brenner recently opened a lab (the Molecular Engineering Lab at A*STAR) in Singapore (ironically enough). He wants to get young post-docs involved in the whole creative process, away from the hierarchies and stifling demands. It is certainly refreshing. But we are far from making progress, if it remains that only those of us with that much clout can achieve significant feats.

Before I end off, we should briefly talk about the mavericks of science - or lack thereof today - the careless Alexander Fleming whose leaving cultures out just happened to grow fungi. Consider also that those who thought up novel ideas were often mocked for being quacks. Richard Doll, proposing the hypothesis that smoking causes lung cancer, was not taken seriously, for how could something so commonplace cause a disease so awful? Our systems have become engineered to weed out those who detract from established scientific boundaries.

One day I will, if everything goes well, enter research a little higher up, with a lab to my name. It is a rather undeserved privilege of having the post nominal ‘MBBS’ that excuses holders of the ‘graduate student’ phase. That research is less liberal today is hardly a turn-off for many young people. Passion is their engine that affords them energy to deal with many impediments, pushing until they earn the title of ‘Principal Investigator’. But I highly doubt passion makes for adequate sustenance. Maybe, just maybe, we now make up for what we lack in all those aforementioned areas in the sheer number of fields of research we have. Discoveries ought to open up more possibilities, rather than close them. I would love to hear a professional stance, but I believe the only way we can move forward, is by, in some sense of the word, moving backwards.