Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Likelihood of Waterspouts in the Straits of Singapore

You have heard of how, by measuring the time gap between the lightning flash and the thunder clap, you can estimate the distance of the lightning bolt, even while supposing that the light traveling time is instantaneous (which is wrong but works) and the speed of sound in air is around 300 m/s (which is close enough)

Notice how the thunderclap does not happen in a point in time, but lasts for a length of time. This afternoon, most of the thunderclaps were long-drawn rumbles instead of one instantaneous clap. This is explained by modelling the lightning bolt as a number of explosions strewn across its path. As such, sound originates from all points on the lightning bolt instead of just at its point of contact with the ground (Figure 1). We can assume also, for the moment, that the lightning goes straight up (Figure 2). This is justified by the fact that many of the thunder rumbles generally appear to the listener to travel upwards from the horizon.

Figure 1. The sound comes from the entire length of the lightning bolt.

 Figure 2. Straight-bolt lightning model

By this set up and by nailing down the start and end time of a thunder rumble, it would be possible to determine the height of the thunderbolt as well as its point of contact with the ground. Given knowledge of the bearings and a map, it would be possible to pinpoint where exactly the thunderbolt has touched ground. And given a good grasp of trigonometric tables, it would be possible to determine, with a quick mental calculation, the maximum ascent of the thunderbolt. (Figure 3)

Figure 3. Measuring the ascent of the straight bolt using rumble time; sound amplitude-time graph included for reference

Now, as we all know, the same clouds that produce thunderstorms, the cumulonimbi, also produces tornadoes. Tornadoes on land are unheard-of in Singapore, but we have had one or two waterspouts (tornadoes on water) off the south coast in my lifetime. Now suppose there is a correlation between cumulonimbus size (measured by height) and the likelihood of tornadoes produced from its bottom face, and then suppose also that the maximum ascent of a thunderbolt is correlated to the height of the cumulonimbus. (Figure 4) Then, by listening to the rumbles originating from the azimuthal angles covering Singapore's southern waters and mapping the data according to their geographical positions (see point 3), a listener would be able to produce a three-dimensional image of a cumulonimbus complex hovering over the Straits of Singapore during a thunderstorm (Figure 5).

 Figure 4. Correlation of cloud height to maximum ascent of thunderbolt
 Figure 5. Thunderbolt mapping procedures

Then, by knowing the correlation between tornado likelihood and cloud height and also whatever qualitative details we might have gathered, we can set up an automated waterspout forecast service by using light sensors for lightning, two sound sensors (a sound interferometer) for recording and pinpointing the location of the thunderclap, and a running software analysing and mapping every thunderclap, feeding every one of the recordings into a metric so that, when it exceeds a value, the system can alert all the waterspout junkies in the country and lure them to the seasides for a probable feast for the eyes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


An alternative spelling for the Irish language making way for phonological clarity in writing.
Characteristics: One letter per sound. Consonant mutations and broad/narrow consonant distinction marked by diacritics. Inflections change the appearance of a word minimally. Words are written with less letters than in standard Irish spelling.
The name Shelta is stolen from the name of the language spoken among Irish Tinkers (nomadic people), to suggest its nature as something akin to but not exactly Irish-y. Sorry, tinker people.

I. Consonant mutations

Table 1. Basic consonant rewriting rules

II. Broadness
A broad consonant is adjacent to one, or flanked between two broad vowels: a, o or u
A narrow consonant is adjacent to or flanked between two narrow vowels: i or e.
At times a flanking vowel is written not to be pronounced, but to indicate whether the consonant is pronounced in its broad (velarised) or narrow (palatalised) form. Since in Shelta narrow consonants are indicated with a dot below, these flanking vowels are no longer necessary and are not written.

Figure 1. Eliminating silent flanking vowels

To determine whether a vowel is pronounced, it would be necessary to use an audio guide or to have a native speaker read out a passage (which is why all my experiment passages are song lyrics).

The vowel "ao", which is pronounced something like a vague "eh", is rewritten as "y" in Shelta. It is a broad vowel.

Figure 1a. The vowel ao

III. The letter F
The letter F in Irish is only occasionally pronounced. It is usually absorbed into a preceding consonant in the middle of a word. When this happens, the preceding consonant is written with a circumflex and the f is dropped. An exception is with the cluster "bhF", which is an eclipsed F (see Table 1).

Figure 2. Dropping the silent f

IV. Diphthongs
There are places where a lenited consonant (bh, dh, gh, or mh) serve as an approximant or only to lengthen a vowel. Consequently, they lose their consonant status in Shelta spelling and is absorbed into the vowel as a diacritic indicating the identity of the absorbed consonant:

Figure 3. Contracting diphthongs

a. The Lord's Prayer in Shelta Irish 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mud Bricks and Straw

Long before the folks put glass in plastic to make fibreglass, before we reinforced concrete with steel bars... we were baking mud bricks with straw, centuries and centuries into the past, ceaselessly chanting the slogan by Aristotle: The Whole Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts! Incan masons hew ashlar that stack perfectly on top of each other, while others make cement instead to improve adhesion between the bricks. Elsewhere on earth in Kalevala, the blacksmith Ilmarinen is forging a wife out of gold, but will find her cold and unfeeling. On his way northwards to battle, the war advisor Zhuge Liang bickers with his swordmaker, who asked for water to be fetched from a specific river, many miles away, to have his swords quenched in. In the new world at the age of discovery, the Spainards are pitting steel against Aztec obsidian, and naturally the brittle volcanic glass is no match to stainless steel, thanks to its cavities, strongly unidirectional bonds and extremely large Burgers vectors. For the year and a half preceding, we have been unearthing an ancient science and breathed into it new life. We have flogged a dead horse up and kicking. We have awakened the ancients, who are bursting out in song and storytelling; millenia of folklore are being freed from their strata and are engulfing the libraries in a fine mist.

Tiocfaidh an Samhradh

Left: Original lyrics in Irish
Right: Rewritten in Shelta spelling

Translation (FYI): 
Summer will come and the grass will spring
And the trees will bring forth their foliage green
My true love will come at the dawn of day
And in sorrow I'll play for her a mournful lay

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

La pluie vient et la pluie s'en va comme toujours ce Novembre

Une bonne nouvelle y est arrivé: il s'agit d'une réponse de ma prière que j'ai priée tas de semaines. Des journées et des soirées se passent encore; la pluie vient et la pluie s'en va comme toujours ce Novembre, mais cet annoncement a tout rafraichi, en faisant perdu tous inquiètudes. Rassemblons-nous mes amis, les forgerons et les potiers. Je voudrais vous joindre ces trois semaines prochaines ! Et puis ensemble, nous ferons la magique parmi les livres si poussiéreux

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Notes on Opacity

Silica xerogel from the exploding gel lab
(disclaimer: this is not the sample that was blown up)

Before school started, a friend asked me what makes a material transparent. And despite me being from Materials, the question got me stumped. To understand why, here's a summary of what stories people have come up with to explain it.

Prof Li, NUS Materials: A material is transparent if it is amorphous. For example, in glass, the molecules form a network structure, allowing light to pass through the holes.

Prof Moriarty, Nottingham Physics: No, no, that's rubbish! A material is transparent if it is a semiconductor, with a bandgap energy well higher than the range of visible light.

Prof He, NUS Materials: A polymeric material is opaque because of the electron density differences between crystalline and amorphous regions. (At this point I wished my Finland bosses were around so that they could feel my excitement)

Prof Kasap, Univ. of Saskatchewan: Attenuation of light in a dielectric medium is explained through the complex permittivity of the dielectric material.

The Perfect Isolating Language - Part 2

E. Grammatical Moods
Moods are indicated by the order of words in the sentence as well as markers.
The indicative mood is the default, narative mood that we have been dealing with. The word order in use is subject-verb-object (SVO) or subject-object-verb (SOV).
An hir a kom do i baile - They will come to town

The conditional mood, similar in role with the English "if", uses the word order VSO:
Kom an hir do i baile - if they come to town
Het an tu do i baile, an tu a kan ir hi - If you go in to town, you will see him

The imperative mood uses the word order VOS, emphasising the addressee at the end.
Het do i ta baile, an tu! - Go (in)to the town! (Addressing one person)
Het do i ta baile, an uri! - Let's go to the town!
Het do i ta baile, an u! - I shall go to the town!
Ni het do i ta baile an uri. - Let's not go to town.

In the subjunctive mood, the particle go is used at the beginning of the phrase in indicative. The subjunctive mood is also used for subordinate clauses:
Go an ta hun het - (I hope that) the dog goes away.
An hi ana u i so, go an hi a kom - He told me that he will come.

The interrogative mood uses the particle kad at the beginning of the sentence, indicating that a question is being asked.
Kad an thju? - Who is eating? (Question on subject)
Kad ir an tu thju? - What are you eating? (Question on object)
Kad ana an tu thju? - Where/when are you eating? (Question on locative nouns)
Kad vit ir hi thju? - How do you eat it? (lit. What-with is it eaten? Question on instructive noun)
Kad son ir hi kan? - How does it look? (lit. What-like is it seen? Question on essive noun)
Kad go an tu thju? - Are you eating? (Questioning validity of a subordinate clause)

F. Basic verbs
fin - to be, to be at a place or state of
kan - to see
het - to go, to walk: An tur i het - You went
kom - to come: An hir kom - They are coming
thju - to eat
buair - to drink
slaf - to sleep
singje - to awake, to become sober
so - to say
soad - to ask
soan - to answer, to reply
nai - to bear (child)
macka - to make, to do

The Perfect Isolating Language - Part 1

Objective: To visualise a language which is grammatically perfect, i.e. has no exceptions to the rule, no redundancy, and needs nothing to be implied.

Constraint: The stylistic constraint in this project is that it is an isolating language (no affixes or barreling of words), with all cases and tenses indicated by markers rather than built into the word. Uniquely for this project, my language will have a marker for the nominative and accusative cases as well as the locative and other cases.

Method: The project will start from the use of nominative and accusative markers. Thence additional rules will be introduced to express things already expressible in English. Vocabulary will be conjured out of thin air or with reference to some existing language, so that the reader is not confused by broken English.

A. The Nominative and Accusative Markers
The particle an accompanies a subject i.e. a noun in the nominative case:
An hun - dog
The particle ir accompanies an object i.e. a noun in the accusative case:
Ir pesk - fish
For a simple sentence that says: A dog is eating a fish, we can say:
An hun thju ir pesk.

The beauty of this rule is that it eliminates the need for a passive voice, like the Finnish language infamously possesses. So if you want to say that a fish is being eaten, you can say
Ir pesk thju.

B. The Definite Marker
A noun is indefinite by default. For a definite noun, the particle ta is inserted, similar in role as "the" for English.
An ta hun - the dog
Ir ta pesk - the fish
An ta hun thju ir ta pesk - the dog is eating the fish
Ir ta pesk thju - the fish is being eaten

C. Verb Conjugation and Pronouns
In order to make the language extremely isolating, no verbs are conjugated. However, there are markers for tense. Using the word fin to mean "to be":
An ta pesk fin - the fish is
An ta pesk i fin - the fish was (past tense)
An ta pesk a fin - the fish will be (future tense)

The personal pronouns are listed thus:
U / Uri - 1st person (singular/plural)
Tu / Tur - 2nd person (singular/plural)
Hi / Hir - 3rd person (singular/plural)

Relative pronouns are simply the case marker of the noun of reference:
An foda na uri, an fin in heofon - Our Father, who art in heaven

D. The Other Case Markers and Negation
The particle na indicates possession and attribution, accompanying a noun in the genitive case:
An hun na u - My dog
An foda na uri - Our Father
An na tu, an na hir - Yours, theirs

The particle in accompanies a noun in the inessive case.
The particle ana accompanies a noun in the adessive case.
The particle fra, placed before in or ana, changes that particle into an elative or ablative marker.
The particle do, placed before in or ana, changes that particle into an illative or allative marker.
An hun na uri i het do in talo - Our dog went into a house
An hun na uri fin in ta talo - Our dog is in the house
An foda na u het do ana hi - My father is going to him (lit. going to-at him)
An foda na u fin ana hun na hi - My father is with (lit. at) his dog
An hir a kom fra in ta talo - They will come out of (lit. from-in) the house

The particle vit accompanies a noun in the commitative or instructive case, seen in English as "with".
An hi i thju ir pesk vit hand na hi - He ate the fish with his hand (instructive)
An hi a kom vit ta hun - He will come with the dog (commitative)

The particle son accompanies a noun in the essive case, like the word "like" or "as" in English.
An tu a kom son kung na uri - You will come as our king
An hi i fin son kung - He was like a king

The particle ni before the case marker negates the case, and also a verb
ni in ta talo - not in the house
An hi ni kom - He is not coming.

a1. The Lord's Prayer
An foda na uri, an fin in heofon
Helje ir nimi na tu, an land na tu kom, ir vil na tu macka, ana jurt son fin in heofon
[To be continued]

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Les réfugiés des mafiosi chope-sièges

En échappant la tempête, les marins se débarquèrent à la bibliothèque centrale, où il n'y avait plus aucun de mafiosi chope-sièges d'Uville. -Il rétourne- exclamèrent-ils -notre repos; nous bûcherons sans souci !- Et puis aussitôt quelqu'un déterra un gisement de riz vietnamien, si doucement cuisiné et si forcement délicieux. Ils y resteraient quatre semaines.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to Travel with a Salmon

The Finnish national bookstore (Suomalainen Kirjakauppa) sold copies of Umberto Eco's 2010 novel The Prague Cemetery, despite him having told his interviewers that Queen Loana was to be his last one. Yesterday in central library I found the version in English. I put the book down after a couple of chapters. His novels were such fun to read! but by now the atheism has become pretty grating. I borrowed home a compilation of his short essays.

Eco's stories are long and soaked through in the pages with entertaining medieval miscellany, though the endings are let-downs. To understand why, here's a spoiler list (WARNING) of every Eco novel ever except for Prague Cemetery:

The Name of the Rose (1980): The abbey burns down.
Foucault's Pendulum (1988): The secret templar code which everyone was trying so hard to crack turns out to be a laundry list.
The Island of the Day Before (1994): Roberto della Griva never gets to the island. Instead, he drowns himself.
Baudolino (2000): Everything in Baudolino's story turns out to be made-up. Niketas declines to put it down to writing.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2005): Giambattista Bodoni dies after spending the whole book in a coma.

Eco's books sit on a shelf near the stairwell, in the same space as Dante and just neighbouring Borges and Neruda, writers from Argentina and Chile whose works I have heard good things of but never read until yesterday. They are just one shelf away from the French authors. ~10 shelves down in the study room direction would be the Russian novels, where Lukyanenko's series are placed side by side with Dostoyevsky and Pushkin and what have you. The German novels are at the far end, some untranslated. I have tried to read some of them, but LAG1201 does not equip you enough for doing that. Laxness' works are in closed stacks, except for this one:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Warmth of Rainy Days

On the rainy Thursday afternoon, I picked up someone's wallet. On Friday my identity was exposed and I got thanked half to death by the fella who had dropped it. Let me be thick-skinned for awhile and say that this warmed my cold rainy day as much as it warmed his: for once, after all the cactus-thieves I dodged, all the bullies that I did not stand up to, and all the times I could have showed some kindness but did not, I know for sure I have done something right! I made someone's day better, and he made sure that I knew. O Gratitude, how profusely you melt the hearts of people.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Sense of Humour

The article circulating around the Singaporean Facebook today reads: Are too many Singaporeans expecting an easy life?

I'm linking this to humanity's celebrated capacity for humourous thought and banter. To make the link clearer, then we should ask: What is a Sense of Humour? A capacity to make jokes? Also, why do we joke?

My guess:
The sense of humour comes hand in hand with a hard life
To have a sense of humour is to be prepared for every eventuality.
To have a sense of humour is to be conscious of the fact that things can suddenly go very absurdly wrong.
To have a sense of humour is to probe the uncomfortable realities of pain and death.
To have a sense of humour is to stay strong and optimistic in the face of great odds.

My unorganised sources:
- Jamie & co. from the MythBusters has confirmed that, by swearing loudly while immersing one's hand into ice water, the pain is lessened. (Swearing is arguably a truncated stunted form of humour)
- Daniel Wong writes in the abovementioned article that by rejecting challenges, Singaporeans do themselves little favour by rejecting the opportunities that come with it.
- People from Finland are famously stereotypically taciturn and no-nonsense people, but nurture a discreet level of eccentricity which keeps the stress under control. I don't know about you; I think Finnish people and Singaporeans are very similar, except only that Singaporeans tend to release stress through ostentatious displays of negativity.
- Fr Alex of CSS speaks in his homily that the same thing that brings great joy to us also brings great sorrow. (which sounds contradictory, and so do many of the things we joke about)
- Fr Joe of Opus Dei reflects on Saturday: let us meditate today on the reality of death, heaven, hell and purgatory.
- In the army days, the darkest toughest hours (when the most random things were happening) were when that strange sense of humour grew on us and we actually began to enjoy, or at least accept, what we were doing.
- There's this thing called dark humour and it totally works.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

A Short Route to the Faculty of Science

For people coming in from Engineering, Arts, or Nussuland and going to Faculty of Science in NUS.

1. The bridge links Engineering and the libraries. Go to the east (libraries') end. There you will find LT4. LT4 has a back door. Go to the right of the back door. You find a place called CDTL, the Centre for Development for Teaching and Learning, but as far as I have asked no one really knows what the hell the place is supposed to be for. Upper Kent Ridge road starts here.

2. Pass by the Acoustic Labs and the Centre for Protective Studies, namely the place where they explode all the things. Pass the Y-junction.

3. To the left and right, there are steps that lead down, paved by bricks. Take the left one to S1. At the time of writing, much of S1/S2/S3 are under renovation. Turn right into S2. Pass by the Biological Sciences offices, some of which are staying in the building.

4. Pass by the Chemistry tutors' offices. Enter the Pharmacy labs. Today I could see some of the undergrads at work and minding their own business. I felt a bit strange because I have always enjoyed doing my own labs undisturbed by outsiders (E3A is very isolated corridors-wise). From time to time one of them would look up at me with a puzzled expression. I left that place quickly.

5. Take the stairs 1 floor down to Science Library entrance.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

On Opus Dei and other things

1. Opus Dei is hidden in plain sight along Heng Kui Meng Terrace. Business School students and people along West Coast / Pasir Panjang Road pass by that place every day without ever knowing that one of these buildings would be housing a chapel so infused with fragrant oil smells and portraits of St. Josemaría Escrivá. The meditation sessions on Saturday housed ~20 attendees, from students to postgrads and professors of Physics. It stretched 2 hours from when service started and when dinner was finished. Opus Dei is gender-segregated, so this session had only guys attendees, and there is always enough beer for everyone.

2. A few weeks ago, while I explored the Faculty of Science, I realised that, against all reason and common modesty, the Department of Biological Sciences has been moved to S14, right by the road with the purer sciences.

3. The flowers at my house at the first floor are feeding ground for hummingbirds, and egrets and kingfishers and those fellas I call the bananabirds roam the sapling nursery nearby. I am reminded of Andreas, my groupmate in Aalto, who loves watching birds; surely, he will find his heaven on earth here! Even among the mynahs, some of the common variety (Acridotheres tristis) can now be found among the dominant Javan variety (A. javanicus), bringing up the invasive species diversity by 1.

4. Apparently Nordea has a branch in Singapore. I don't have to go back to Helsinki to close my account after all! Yayy! But noooooo