elb's hovel of thoughts

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Freedom within rules?

This is a part where plenty of people love to pick on Christianity; the bold statement that Christ has set us free from our chains of bondage, but that Christians have 'rules', i.e. must not sin.

What a paradox that is. Is it really possible that within rules, we can experience freedom? Isn't that... contradictory? How could one have freedom when rules are imposed?

Let me present a real situation which had happened some time back to an individual. A middle aged man was attending his son's football match at an unmarked pitch; he was the only father there whereas the referee was missing. Being the only man there, all the children were asking him to be the makeshift referee, which he had to consent.

Only one problem. The man didn't know nuts about soccer (just like me :P). He didn't know how to distinguish a tackle from a foul, he had no whistle, he didn't know the boundaries of the pitch, offsides, etc. As you could imagine, chaos ensued as kids were tackled and cried foul but he just had no choice but to order them to carry on playing. There were no rules, and everyone was not having a fun time at all.

Eventually the referee came (he had gotten the time mixed up), and halted play while he set up the flags and marked the pitch. With someone in control and able to halt play when fouls had occured, someone to blow the whistle when appropriate, the game flowed smoothly for the remainder of the time.

Re-examine the question. Do we have freedom within rules, looking at our above scenario? Without rules, everything was in disorder. But when there was somebody there to point out the mistakes, the game flowed smoothly. But then again it depends on our definition of 'freedom' - are we talking about the wrong kind of freedom (i.e. to be able to instigate violence), or the freedom to enjoy and express one's abilities to the maximum without needing to worry about negative effects because everyone understands where they should not go?

Note: Description of soccer match a personal experience of Rev. Nicky Gumbel

Friday, February 25, 2005

Dry rain

British weather is truly miserable. For the past three days, it has been snowing over here. Wow, you might say, what is so miserable about snow? Well, the problem is that it is not proper snow. Yet it is not quite sleet either. Its clumps of snow and rain; if you were to look up, you'd see snow dancing and pirouetting around in the air in the middle of lancing arrows of rain.

All jolly well and good, if the damn snow actually stays on the ground. But no, it hits the ground and melts almost instantaneously. Its just as if its dry rain (damn, what an oxymoron). On the other hand, there's always the opportunity to freeze your whole body off when walking a hundred metres in the dry rain from a building to another with nothing more than a thin first layer and a laboratory coat.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Leaking radiator

Joy oh joy, I have been noticing for the past few days that the carpet immediately around one of the radiators has been slightly soggy. I paid no heed initially, because I just assumed that it was caused by water running down as some of my clothes were drying on the radiator (plus, I had just shifted my bed from adjacent to that particular radiator to another part of my room, so I was not sure if the dripping was supposed to happen)

It got bad earlier today as I discovered that the radiator was leaking, hence the first thing I did was to turn it off. Over 12 hours later, it still is dripping water; unfortunately the leak appears to be below the valve :( I have rigged a crude collection system where the water leaked is directed into a pail via a cloth tied to where the leak is. However, parts of the carpeting are still soggy and the floorboards have contorted themselves, and a fraction of the water is still seeping into the carpet.

To remove the damn water, I have to use another cloth to soak up the water, and wring it dry at my sink. It would have been nice and easy (well damnit, I shouldn't even have this happening!) if not for one thing - the water is a disgusting brown-grey colour. The normal beige of my sink is turning gray because of whatever disgusting contaminants that is present.

And to top it off, the pail needs emptying every 3-4 hours otherwise it overflows. There goes my sleep. Where is my landlord argh!

Friday, February 11, 2005

Halal bacon

There is a small fast food franchise in town called Southern Fried Chicken (people in Malacca should recognize that!). The franchise here was taken over by Arabs sometime early last year, and serves halal fare.

But wait a minute! The menu states
'Chicken fillet burger
........ with cheese
........ with bacon (!)'

How could a place be halal and still serve bacon at the same time?!

Hence I asked the guy serving me one day:

'Excuse me, I was just curious, how do you manage to be halal and yet serve bacon?'

The Arabic guy: 'Oh, we don't use bacon'
'Wait, I show you'

He opened the fridge, and took out a plastic container with.... processed turkey slices
'The people here, they like bacon, so we change it'

Interesting, I wonder if grilled processed turkey slices taste similar to grilled real bacon.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Fractal geometry

Allow to introduce a brance of science which may or may not be familiar to most - fractal geometry; where patterns present on a small scale are also found replicated on a large scale.

Is this possible, that what is observable on a scale of a few millimetres can be found present on a scale of centimetres, metres, decametres, even kilometres and megametres? Yes.

This sense of scale is present to us in nature, and can also be replicated via simple geometric progession, which many of you would have learnt doing mathematics at a grade 10 or 11 level.

Let us begin with a basic geometric progression (here called a Cantor set) involving a single dimension - a straight line

Step 1: We have a line -------------------------------
Step 2: We now remove the line in between the 1/3 rd and 2/3 rd marks.
This leaves us ----------- --------- -------- ---------
Step 3: We now remove the 'open middle third' of each remaining set
This leaves us --------------- ----- -------- --- -- ---
Step 4: Repeat, giving ----- - -- - - -------- - - -- - -

Get the idea?

The same can be done with two dimensions; i.e. Koch curves and Sierpinski triangle; in fact, a full blown Koch island has similarities with a snowflake! The most famous of them all though, is probably the Mandelbrot Set (notice how the very miniature patterns still look like the parent shape!)

Mandelbrot set

This also can be done with three dimensional objects; i.e. Menger sponge, and even objects with higher dimensions (don't ask how!).

In nature, probably a good example is the fern leaf

Image taken from http://www.stenslandsystems.com/

Notice how the individual leaves take on the same pattern as the overall shape of the leaf!

Other good examples include a river. Why a river? Because, overall, a real river is really in the shape of a gigantic fan! That's right, a river isn't just a solo meandering body of water, when you take into account its tributaries and the tributaries' tributaries and the tributaries' tributaries' tributaries, it becomes the shape of a delta. That's right, a river's delta near the sea can be scaled up to reflect the true overall shape of the river. And it can be scaled down to show deltas forming within the delta, and even more and more sub-deltas being formed.

Another good example is the human lung, the delta scale applies just as well for this case. And so it is for lightning, for volcanoes, clouds, snowflakes, and so on.

If you still cannot follow me, let me present to you a question: How long is the coastline of say, the Malaysian Peninsula. Looking up a map would not give you the correct answer. Why? If say, we are to take a straight ruler that is ten kilometres long, then we will receive an accuracy limited to that ruler; i.e. only huge geographical changes in coastline would get accounted for. Smaller peninsulas and bays and cracks than 10km would NOT get recorded! If we change to a ruler that is a kilometer long, then geographical changes smaller than a kilometre would not be recorded! And so on. Thus; the TRUE coastline would be needed to be measured using a ruler that is probably several molecules across!

This concept of course, can also mutate itself into questions such as: how small can an iceberg get? If the concept of fractals were to be applied, then theoretically the smallest iceberg is undefinable while the largest occurs very rarely.

Anyway, I hope I haven't managed to get any of you too confused just yet :)

-Copyright Patrick 2005

Saturday, February 05, 2005

The final hurdle

After so many (roughly 16) years, I have completed the second last hurdle: my last ever written exams before I graduate!!! Its not, however, going to be the last; I still plan to do at least two more degrees within the next 10 years or so. But we'll see how things go, especially cash flow wise :P

In the meantime, only one final hurdle lies before me: my projects (research and design). After that, I'll be graduating come July! Its not everyday that you get a 21 year old with a full honours degree :P

If my research supervisor and lecturer-in-charge permits, I might put up some stuff about my research project. However it might be unlikely though, because anything I come up with could potentially be patented. Sorry!