Distressed Chrysalis

December 31, 2012 0 Comments

White, yellow and black,
it wriggles.
Scarlet silk.
A blood butterfly.
Hurt scatters
from its wings, falling,
crimson snow.


Reasons for the Smell of the Sea

December 27, 2012 0 Comments

Ever heard of the 'ozone' or 'iodine' smell of the sea? Well, the smell of the sea is characteristic but it has got nothing to do with ozone or iodine. It's more likely to be dicytopterene, a family of volatile cyclopropanes used by female brown algae to attract male gametes.

In order to reproduce, these female gametes of marine brown algae must attract the mobile male gametes. This they do by releasing a pheromone, long thought to be an ectocarphene. In 1995, results were published that suggested that, in fact, the pheromone was a cyclopropane and the ectocarphene was ineffective as a pheromone.

Scientists were confused. How was it that the experiments suggest that the pheromone was one compound but that compound was not biologically active?

Well, the remarkable thing is that the cyclopropyl pheromone inactivates itself, with a half life of several minutes at ambient temperature, by a [3,3] sigmatropic rearrangement to the ectocarphene, driven by the release of the strain energy from the three-membered ring. In everyday parlance, this means that cyclopropane is produced as the pheromone and degrades quickly to the ectocarphene at room temperature.

This not only confused the earlier pheromone chemists, but also provides a marvellously precise way for the algae to signal their presence and readiness for reproduction without saturating the sea with meaningless pheromones.

What a smart move by these algae! They create compounds that can be automatically deactivated when not needed.

The next time you feel the gentle sea breeze caressing your cheeks and smell its earthy scent, do take note that the smell's just some sex pheromones by brown marine algae.

Source credit: Dr Time Wallace
Information from: Organic Chemistry, pages 949 and 1066


Upfront! With Chew, Comic Artist Of ‘Demon-Cratic Singapore’

December 23, 2012 , 0 Comments

This article is concurrently posted on The Kent Ridge Common.

Demon-Cratic Singapore is a growing archive of comic strips that reflect on current socio-political issues. According to its description on Facebook, it is “a totally fictional comic with entirely fictional characters based on wholly fictional events in a fictional country.”

In its litany of disclaimers, the comic strip artist says that “in no way should this imaginary country be confused or mistaken with a real-life country (or some said city-state) on Planet Earth, also known as Republic of Singapore, which is a place [that] its leaders (but not necessarily its people) claimed to be a paradise.”

In short, these comics draw its themes from the imagination and not from everyday happenings on Singapore. With this in mind, we can now turn our attention to some of these comic strips:

The above comic strips are not related to the 26 November 2012 strike by some 171 SMRT bus drivers. To understand what the comics aren’t about, here’s a quick summary of events:

26th November: Some 171 bus drivers from China had refused to go to work on Monday to signal their dissatisfaction with their wages (which were lower compared to the Malaysian drivers) and dismal living conditions.

27th November: 88 drivers did not turn up for work.

28th November: All the drivers returned to work.

29th November: 4 SMRT drivers were charged with inciting an illegal strike.

2nd December: 29 Chinese bus drivers were deported.

Within a span of 7 days, the strike started and ended. This incident marks Singapore’s first labor protest since the 1980s.

Curious about the striking similarities between the Demon-cratic Singapore comics and the strike which actually took place in Singapore, I approached the comic strip artist for an interview and he graciously agreed.
Sir, may I know how I should address you?

You can just refer to me as Chew.

Okay, Chew, so may we know how your creative journey began?

Me? Creative? Hahahahaha!!!

Have you ever felt frustrated by a lack of breakthroughs in your art?

Err… mine is not art. It is just some random rubbish I put together for my own amusement.

Your comic strips seem to be criticisms of Singapore.

It depends on which Singapore you are referring to. Criticisms of the fictional Demon-cratic Singapore that only exists in my mind, definitely! After all, the imaginary ruling party in there is full of evil people. The other one? I don’t really pay much attention to what is going on there. But isn’t that said to be a paradise, at least according to the people who voted for it and the Mainstream Medias? People criticise paradise? Really? Do they have an evil ruling party there too?

Do you ever feel a fear of repercussions from putting your comic strips out in the public?

I have always maintained that Demon-cratic Singapore has nothing to do with the Republic of Singapore, as it is a totally imaginary country that only exists in my twisted mind. So why would there be a fear of repercussions for something fictional?

It is not really my problem if someone fantasized themselves as being portrayed as some fictional characters in my comic right? If they do, they probably should get their head checked. I mean, god knows how many out there people fantasized themselves as Superman or Ironman all the time.

Thanks, Mr Chew, for your candid and concise responses. So, erm, let us look at one more comic that does not bear any relation to the foreigner-local tensions in Singapore.

The characters in the Demon-cratic Singapore comics are drawn with stiff limbs, wide eyes and whimsical expressions. They remind me of a quote by Mary Hirsch: “Humour is a rubber sword – it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” Despite how imaginary these comics are, they certainly offer interesting alternative perspectives.

More Demon-Cratic Singapore comics are available on the Facebook page.

If you find these comics thought-provoking and well, comical, do consider contributing to its maintenance. Mr Chew is currently raising funds to pay for his wife’s medical fees. Read his request here.

Thanks, Mr Chew, your comics are much appreciated. We hope that your family is well and that you’d continue with Demon-Cratic Singapore, “a totally fictional comic with entirely fictional characters based on wholly fictional events in a fictional country”.


Definition of a LONG-KANG noun

December 21, 2012 0 Comments

I slipped on that knot of
mucous algae, and crimson flared.
An iron grin twisted my lips,
even as blood mixed with
the long-kang waters.

We were scooping
guppies that shimmered
rainbow fires.
The stinging faded
as I scooped, scooped
those glimmering fishes
squished beneath our rubber
soles as we splashed in the
soapy waters. Those flattened bodies
were cartoons with their
burst umber eyes.
We giggled, guileless, brutish,
tossing, tossing
our green nylon nets.

Index fingers swirled
the waters and the silver
strokes swam against
the currents. Here
was the gift to us, flickers
in clear glass jars.
“Long-kangs are
dangerous,” my mother warned.
Her words swirled across my mind
like the effluent over
the scabbing wound.

Now, pitiless cement
covers and ensconces
my long-kang.


Cubane: An Elegant Hydrocarbon

December 16, 2012 0 Comments

Cubane is a beautiful man-made compound. On paper, it is represented by a cube. It has such an austere structure. Neat and angular with straight architectural features.

A model of cubane.
All images for this article come from Wikipedia.
It is formed from carbon and hydrogen - elements that are also present in our human bodies. Its creators call it 'cubane' because it's a cubic alkane.

Each vertex of the above cube holds a carbon atom.
What's interesting about this structure is that it isn't supposed to exist. It is supposed to be extremely unstable, with atoms forced closer that they'd have preferred to be.

These atoms don't want to be so close. They don't want to be near each other. They want to be living in the same HDB flat, but not in the same room. They want to be close enough to have a stable relationship yet far enough to be comfortably companionable. 

They crave company but, at times, are afraid of the very company that they crave.
An interesting ball-and-stick model of cubane. 
To produce this cubic compound is not easy by any means. It requires a series of befuddling steps and results in a very low yield.
Synthesis of Cubane is a complex affair.
The synthesis of cubane is difficult. This process is a scientific marvel and an engineering feat.


Top 10 Words for Interesting and Intriguing Concepts (from Merriam-Webster)

December 11, 2012 0 Comments

Have you ever thought of a witty comment too late, perhaps on the way home? A snappy retort that you wished you had said?

It turns out that there is a term to describe this phenomenon of unsaid words. It's called 'esprit de l'escalier'.

Have you ever felt a secret joy when your nemesis experienced a bitter failure? Well, this joy can be described as 'schadenfreude'.

I came across a list of interesting words for intriguing concepts on Merriam-Webster and felt like sharing. Here're the words:

#1: Zeitgeist


the spirit of the time; the general moral, intellectual, and cultural climate of an era


"Twitter provides an insight into the minute-by-minute zeitgeist of the internet." – Nicholas Pell, GoBankingrates.com, September 29, 2011

About the Word:

This German word (Zeit means "time"; Geist means "spirit") is usually associated with the philosopher who popularized it, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

#2: Esprit de l'escalier


A witty remark thought of too late, on the way home; the clever comment you wish you had delivered


"When he bragged about sleeping like a baby, I should have added the bit about waking up crying every two hours, but that's just esprit de l'escalier. At the time I just nodded and said nothing."

About the Word:

From the French for "staircase wit," this phrase was coined by 18th century encyclopedist Denis Diderot. As a simpler alternative to esprit de l'escalier, English speakers sometimes use escalator wit.

#3: Schadenfreude


enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others


"Although I know the schadenfreude of reading a lottery winner's tale of woe, I want to share a more positive perspective." – post on GetRichSlowly.org, September 4, 2011

About the Word:

The German Schaden means "damage"; Freude means "joy." As the Schadenfreude song from Avenue Q puts it: "And when I see how sad you are / It sort of makes me... / Happy!"

#4: Apophasis


the raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it


"We won't discuss my opponent's past crimes."

About the Word:

Roman orator Cicero discussed this term, but apophasis has ancestry in Greek, where apophanimeans "to deny." This rhetorical device is a favorite of politicians and debaters.

#5: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc


the logical mistake that one thing caused another just because it happened first


"Jen blamed the onset of her headache on the arrival of her in-laws, but that might just have been post hoc, ergo propter hoc."

About the Word:

This Latin phrase literally means "after this, therefore because of it." This error in logic is sometimes summed up as "correlation doesn't equal causation."
#6: Sisyphean


requiring continual and often ineffective effort


"Analysis: Greece's Sisyphean task to replace debt with growth" – Reuter's headline, October 3, 2011

About the Word:

According to Greco-Roman mythology, after King Sisyphus died he was condemned to an eternity in Hades straining to roll a heavy stone up a hill only to watch it roll back down again each time.
#7: Sockdolager


something that ends or settles a matter; a decisive blow or answer


"Bobby Thompson's pennant-winning homer in 1951 is one of baseball's great sockdolagers."

About the Word:

It's unclear where sockdologercomes from, but it may be an alteration of doxology ("a short, often final hymn chanted in praise of God") influenced by the sock that means "punch."

#8: Zeugma


the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one


  • "She lost her ticket and her temper."
  • [My cousin] roars around on a shocking old motor bike – mustache and dignity flying in the morning breeze..." – Sinclair Lewis, Dodsworth

About the Word:

Zeugma comes from a Greek word meaning "to join." In ancient times, the city of Zeugma, which spanned the two sides of the Euphrates river in what is now part of southern Turkey, was a key trading link between the western Mediterranean and eastern Mesopotamia.
The Greek word zeugma was also applied to semantic structures that, like a physical bridge, connect two disparate words.
#9: Beckmesser


a critic or teacher of music characterized by timid and excessive reliance on rules; more broadly, a pedant


"That beckmesser can't hear the genius because he's too busy criticizing."

About the Word:

The operatic character Sixtus Beckmesser made his stage (and linguistic) debut in Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Wagner's Beckmesser was a nervous and narrow-minded clerk whose devotion to the rules made him both a pedant and a musical philistine.
#10: Katzenjammer


distress, depression, or confusion resembling that caused by a hangover; or, a discordant clamor


"Tired and hungry, he found the frenzy of the carnival less thrill than katzenjammer."

About the Word:

The German Katzen means "cats" and Jammer means "distress"; the early German sense of katzenjammer referred to a hangover.
The "discordant clamor" sense of Katzenjammer became popular thanks to the cartoon strip The Katzenjammer Kids, which first appeared in 1897 and featured two mischievous boys and the victims of their antics.


To My Tortoise

December 06, 2012 , 0 Comments

Source credit: Hub Bub
I was clipping my tortoise nails when it happened. The first three clipping went okay. Then, after I clipped one nail on its right foot, a bead of crimson blood swelled, growing. It was a reddish grain that condemned. I knew that there were veins in a tortoise nail. I wasn't supposed to cut off too much nail at one go.

Poor tortoise, poor tortoise. I kept apologising to it but it ignored me. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have been so careless. I shouldn't have been greedy and lazy. I shouldn't have thought that it I cut off more nail, I wouldn't have to trim the nails for a longer period of time. Great gods, I'm so sorry.

But the tortoise ignored my mortified mumblings. It didn't even hide in its shell. It simply walked about in its tank. To express my apology in the only way I could, I threw in two succulent pieces of cucumber. Food. That was my inadequate way of saying sorry. A food-sorry. The tortoise seemed okay. He even smacked his friend on the head with the injured leg four times when they were fighting over a slice of cucumber.

Maybe that injury wasn't that serious. Perhaps my tortoise didn't even feel the pain. Maybe it was like the little cuts across my leg that somehow happened. The kind that I'd accummulate unknowingly throughout the day and only notice during the peaceful hours before sleep. Maybe little pains just don't matter.

Yes, maybe little pains just don't matter.


The Wonders of a Temperature-Controlled Pericyclic Reaction

December 04, 2012 0 Comments

The molecules look similar. The mechanisms look similar. The electrons flow everywhere, alive with a purpose that only they understand.

Chemistry, sometimes, is a maze. It confuses. It holds on to its secrets, unyielding. Yet, when it decides to be honest and philosophical, it can be quite stunning. It's an ugly duckling with the potential to be a dazzling swan.

Take, for example, the reaction below:
Observe how the change of temperature can cause a reagent to alter its form, its very physical being. Just by regulating one factor, the structure of a compound fluxes.

The molecules understand. They know that they must move on with life. Be adaptable. That they must change or decompose. That all they have to do is to survive. In their way, they are resilient.

They don't yearn to be rich or good-looking or famous. They don't care even if they happen to be. They don't hold on to the past, always longing for what could have been. They don't look to the future, fearful of what could be. They don't, they just don't.

They are strong, stronger than what we imagine them to be. They are resilient, perhaps more resilient than we could ever be. And in their strength, in their resilience, there is beauty.

When the temperature changes, they change.