Our pale little blue dot


This is a photograph of Earth. Yes. If you look very carefully and closely, you will see it. Just below the center of the picture, on the right side, bathed in sunbeam. Yes, it’s that speck of dust.

“We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

This photo was taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 as it was returning from a space mission. The photo itself would not have been remarkable without the inspiring quote from Carl Sagan (an astronomer), that reminds us of how small we are, even though some times we think that we are the center of the universe, or even, the universe.

[via Big Sky Astronomy Club]

[For other interesting tidbits, check out the rest of the posts on this blog.

Graffiti through Cleaning


Paul Curtis is a graffiti artist who uses dust and dirt (or rather, the lack of) to his advantage. Dirty walls as canvas, he selectively cleans off parts of the wall to reveal his messages in tunnels, floors and walls. It is controversial in some ways – is this a crime? While you can easily charge someone for spraying paint onto public walls, can you really charge people for cleaning up public spaces? If you do, does that mean that you can technically be charged for picking up banana skins off the floor? And sometimes, it is uplifting to see some surprise in the daily life – where people like Curtis leave behind an “Aha” moment and inspiration.

However, public “feel good” graffiti messages like the one shown above (Go Gently) isn’t just the only genre that Colev engages in. He accepts corporate assignments as well – for example, creating images of “X”s on the floor for Microsoft’s Xbox. While generally people are much more accomodating with the public message graffiti, patience runs thin much faster when yet another corporate marketing gimmick invades the already-plastered public domain. It does not help when the first line in their website removes all benefits of the doubt by defining the activity as “innovative forms of advertising”.

Personally, I’m delighted to see a creative means of expression that deviates from the routine – the dreary urban landscape do need some freshening-up. But when it encroaches into commercial exploits, please just leave my space – or rather, our space – alone.

[via neatorama]

The Real Airline Safety Announcment


Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.

One of the typical experiences of being on board many commercial airlines is the announcement of the safety procedures. Usually casual air-stewardess would suddenly stiffen like perky lifeless Barbie dolls, and proceed to mechanically commence with the safety directions. This article from the Economist sheds some light on what could be announced if the airline was being a little more truthful.

Full article here.

Self-compensating Risk

This research by Dr. Ian Walker claims that the likelihood of an accident increases when you put on a helmet when you ride a bicycle.

“Either way, this study suggests wearing a helmet might make a collision more likely in the first place,” he added.

Dr Walker thinks the reason drivers give less room to cyclists wearing helmets is because they see them as “Lycra-clad street warriors” and believe they are more predictable than those without.

This is an interesting, but not entirely surprising finding. Other studies have found that humans have an inherent subconscious threshold of perceived risk. As risk is reduced by interventions such as safety mechanisms, we subconsciously become more daring/dangerous to bring the inherent risk back to the threshold level.

So if you’ve switched from normal brakes to ABS (anti-brake lock system) for your car, you are probably going to brake later and drive faster. In the research, wearing a helmet may have induced the biker to be faster or more daring unknowingly, while other motorists had also driven closer to the bicycle.

In some ways, the difference in the average distance where the cars overtake the bicycle can perhaps be conceived as an indicator of the perceived reduction in risk brought on by the bicycle helmet.

While we’re on the subject of biking, above is a video of very daring New York messenger-bikers weaving in and out of traffic through impossibly small margins. Based on the human behavior researches, it would perhaps even seem that they have to ride dangerously just because they’re skilled in bicycle-riding.

The Chemically Altered Life


This is Caffeinated Soap.
It is purportedly “infused with caffeine anhydrous, each bar of Shower shock contains approximately 12 servings/showers per 4 ounce bar with 200 milligrams of caffeine per serving. No, we’re not kidding and no you don’t eat it. The caffeine is absorbed through the skin”.

So the modern human wakes up to a double-shot espresso (with saccharine instead of sugar – reduced calories, you know), coupled with this mind-awakening shower, takes a Prozac with breakfast to feel charged up, head up to office, more lattes and coffees to remain perky, and finally comes back home, uses aroma-therapeutic bath lotions to wind down and relax, listens to slow jazz in ambient-controlled lighting and temperature, does yoga and meditate to give the mind a peaceful serenity, before popping a sleeping pill to slumber in magnetic mattresses that improves the body energy field. Next morning, the cycle repeats.

Hey, Chinese is hard!

Chinese does deserve its reputation for heartbreaking difficulty. Those who undertake to study the language for any other reason than the sheer joy of it will always be frustrated by the abysmal ratio of effort to effect. Those who are actually attracted to the language precisely because of its daunting complexity and difficulty will never be disappointed.

I came across this guy who wrote a long article on why learning Chinese is hard. At first I thought, “Bah, just another angmoh whining away”. But as I read on, I began to see that, hey, Chinese IS damn hard. It’s just perhaps that I didn’t notice it too much, since I am a Chinese, and my primary school was conducted in Chinese. But his article explained in detail how Chinese is more difficult than other languages, the barriers he faced.

So I’ve been through all that hurdles to mastering Chinese without even realizing that they are there! Count me blessed! =)

The full 7639 words here.