The Mystery of Aircrafts

Ever since the MH370 incident, I think people all over the world are starting to take note of the many things they do not know about aircraft. Today, as I wait at the airport for an aeroplane to arrive, I once again came across a mystery — why does the same airplane bear different airline numbers?

You may not notice it, but the same flight can have different numbers — Qantas QF81, then MU to represent China Eastern, and a variety of other numbers, but all on the same flight, with the same plane. I can only assume the flight number is not strictly the aeroplane’s numberplate, but is rather a sign that the airplane’s entire route started perhaps from China, which is why it was sanctioned by the Chinese airline, then flew to Australia, and landed in Singapore. None of the civilians, as far as I know, have ever derived a satisfactory answer to this.

A second question is, well, just what is behind flight delays? When a plane is delayed, is it literally circling the airport tower, looking for a chance to land? How do airplanes coordinate their landing so they do not bump into each other? These are perhaps more of questions of curiosity and technical details, which we cannot hope to understand anyway, but it would be interesting just how these signals are communicated around among the airport and the many planes.

After all, the MH370 incident has shed light on some strange practices, such as sending position signals that aren’t equivalent to actual position, for one. We certainly hope our pilots know what they’re doing, but it’s quite interesting that the realm of aeroplanes has so much of its own technical knowledge. How do planes handle turbulence and storms? How does cabin pressure drop? What happens when a plane is travelling over ocean and encounters problems? What happens if it’s over land? Why do we always see the wings when we look out our windows?

Okay that last question is a bit troll, but it is true that pretty much the entire aircraft is a “wing seat”. There’s never a position, I find, where you don’t find some part of the wing blocking your view.

And of course the mystery behind airplane food. They say our appetites drop when we’re at high altitudes. They also say airplane meals are specially prepared and designed. What were the considerations? Is it that the food really tastes bad or is it attributed to our decreased appetite? So many many questions.

We will find answers on the internet, of course, as it is for everything, but the documentaries I’ve seen tended to put airplane food in a positive light (for Singapore Airlines, at any rate) so I’m inclined to take it with a pinch of salt.

What other things have you always been wondering about planes?

Expat Living in Singapore

The Thursday column is primarily about other countries that I’m interested in, but it would be remiss to overlook Singapore, which is also a travel destination, and is particularly popular for expatriates to live in. After all, most of us speak English as our first language, which already places us higher than other parts of Asia. The only other Asian country I can think of with a good command of English is Hong Kong, but they belong to China now (so I really must stop calling them a country) and I expect Chinese regulations are still a lot more stringent than Singaporean ones when it comes to business. Maybe.

I believe I never really knew what foreigners think of the Singaporean accent. We poke fun at the Hong Konger accent very often (at least, Singaporeans do) but what do they think of us? Are we so boring that our accent isn’t even noteworthy? I haven’t encountered a situation where a foreigner didn’t understand our accent yet, so all should be well on that front.

In any case, while I’m on the subject of Singapore and Hong Kong, I found a useful and beautiful website to guide expats on living in these 2 countries. Expat Living Singapore has articles on a variety of aspects of Singapore, organised into categories like “Kids”, “Homes”, “Wine & Dine” etcetera. In each category there are also sub-categories. Under Kids, there are things like “Mums & Babies”, “Tweens & Teens” etcetera. It’s quite comprehensive and useful to know. It lists the top infectious diseases to watch out for in Singapore, showcases the homes of some expats, and of course recipes for cooking with Singaporean ingredients. I envy expats reading this thing! I bet there’re loads of things in there that I don’t know myself.

The website is just http://www.expatliving.sg.

I think, though, that 1 big thing to note when in Singapore (which I’m unsure if the website really covers) is that it’s almost always a waste of time asking locals for directions — especially the younger ones. Older people are alright, but a youngster will just look back at you with glazed eyes even when your destination is right in front of him. Singaporeans just rely too much on Google Maps to bother remembering where anything is in the vicinity, and are pretty much also a bunch of not-alert and not-curious people. So if you want to go anywhere, always consult a map or Google Maps before asking people. Unless you want to ask them to help you check Google Maps, which they will gladly do.

Sometimes reading these articles reminds me of things I take for granted too. The medical article, for instance, says Singapore is packed and therefore colds and flus spread easily, and also that Singapore being a warm and humid country ensures viruses stay active and infectious for longer than colder climates. And I start wondering whether Singaporeans do fall sick more often than people in temperate climates in that case. I’ve heard many people mention such, that viruses survive better in our happy sunny climate (really, everything thrives in this kind of climate, even fruits) and indeed, there’re many diseases that occur only in tropical countries. However, there’re many Singaporeans who have never fallen ill for most of their lives, so maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds?

Either way, be sure to take care of your health when you’re coming to Singapore, and consider spending a year or 2 here. We’ve commonly been named one of the best countries to live in anyway, and especially so in Asia!

How To Make Your Trip Fun

So I’ve been slaving away today, almost without rest, researching on things to do and where to go around Tokyo, where I’ll be going in June. It’s a pretty tiring process, but it does save on time and money, and prevent some unpleasant shocks that do so often creep up on you. When planning your own trip abroad, you get to go to only the places you want to go, which makes all the hard work worth it.

For those planning your trip abroad, aside from ensuring accommodation and flight, you may want to note the following other features to make your visit cosier.

1. Internet!

The modern traveller cannot go without internet. Most hotels offer WiFi services, and so do many public places, assuming you’re visiting major cities like Tokyo. For internet on the go, it’s usually expensive to use roaming 3G. There’re prepaid SIM cards for your phones, and some costlier prepaid cards include some internet data too. Of course, most heavy-duty internet work should be done in WiFi spots.

2. Transport

Public transport in cities may be convenient, with virtually every corner of the city reachable by 1 or 2 train lines, but such convenience also comes at a cost — complexity, especially to tourists not used to the routes. Transport cards are usually bought at the stations, and you should be familiar with the train routes and major interchanges, to make the most efficient way to wherever you want to go.

Remember, when it comes to public transport, all roads lead to Rome, but some roads are longer than others.

3. Food

I always find that food is the single most troublesome part of a person’s life. Regardless of the person’s wishes, they have to eat thrice a day, and a substantial portion at that. When travelling, food is sometimes hard to come by at the right time. I would suggest bringing snacks with you as you walk, in case you storm recklessly into the nearest restaurant when your tummy starts rumbling. Also, only eat when you’re really hungry. It prevents food wastage and lets you get the most out of each dish. After all, foreign cuisine is something to be savoured with gusto!

4. Tax refunds

The most important thing that most tourists miss out on. The airport offers income tax refunds to tourists, as long as you produce the receipt. In countries where taxes are high — which are pretty much everywhere nowadays — you shouldn’t lose your money unnecessarily. Find the tax refund counter and make sure you get back whatever you’re owed; you’ll be surprised at the amount.

5. Sleep well

Tourists sometimes forget they need sleep. They wake up early to see locals in the midst of action and stay up past midnight to bask in the atmosphere of the nightlife. All this excitement is likely to cause illness if one keeps it up for too long. The first night is always going to be harder to sleep, but subsequently you should get used to the new environment. Try to get at least 6 or 7 hours of sleep, if not 8. Being unwell while travelling is one of the worst things that can happen.

So these are some simple reminders on what to note when travelling alone. Always plan for them so you don’t forget (yes, especially Point 5). Bon voyage!

Leave it to the Government

Sometime yesterday I was discussing politics. We were comparing how healthcare is handled in various countries — for instance, that hospitalisation in the USA is a mess, while in the United Kingdom healthcare is paid for by the government. So on one end, poor people won’t be able to afford healthcare at all, while on the other, people may wait up to months to be treated.

And why was that? This was apparently something to do with the hospitals and insurance companies. Hospitals are mega conglomerates that monopolise the healthcare industry (yes, I still can’t get over that healthcare is an industry now) and insurance companies have no choice but to accede to their every request to get recognised, and hospitals are then free to jack up their bills, causing patients to become bankrupt trying to foot those bills.

I laughed and said this was mainly the fault of a lack of government regulation then. If the government stepped in and decreed that medicine should have a maximum price, and that businesses weren’t allowed to get so much power that they could trample over everybody else, then we wouldn’t be seeing all these problems, would we? Of course, we see a different problem, something to do with the power of the government like Singapore is facing here, but at least people are not as worried about paying their medical bills.

I saw another example today of private corporations gone wrong. It is summarised in 1 simple picture.

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The abomination you see above is the complete map of all the train lines in Tokyo. There are interweaving lines of different colours and boldness, and some routes seem to go to all the same places. This is because Japan is run by several train companies, who don’t believe in merging. When you pay train fares, you pay separately for different lines unless you get some hyper-expensive all-in-1 card. But really, if the government had stepped in to standardise train routes, maybe some of these lines wouldn’t be as complex as they are now. No monopoly in this case, but just as much trouble in the form of the proverb “too many cooks spoil the broth”.

Capitalism brings with it its fair share of complexities. When you encourage competition, you obviously end up with many competitors, and it’s not always that one will emerge to trump all others. And even if that one does (usually after 2 or more groups join forces) it starts to get greedy and abuses its power to extort even more benefits from the helpless public. Capitalism is not just or fair. They pride themselves on that. Whoever has the most power wins. It would sound fair in theory, except that people are born with different competencies (and privileges), which are valued differently in society. So most of the time it has always been unjust on the outset.

Not that I’m really pushing for government intervention. Governments are also made up of people, who have their own theories and agendas. It is only slightly better than communism, which is made up of even more people also with theories and agendas. There’s no real way to run a country that is perfectly correct, and we cannot always please everyone.

Can we?

Weird News Around The World Again!

Everyone loves hearing about weird (but true) stuff happening. I’ll dive in again without further ado on what’s weird in the world!

1. A whale carcass set to explode

This piece of news was found on 2 different websites (Huffington Post and NBC) so I figured it must be important. And indeed, this is no laughing matter. A dead blue whale was washed up on the coast of a town in Canada, and is filling with toxic gases, causing it to swell. People are fearing it may burst, sending toxic substances everywhere. Right now it’s stinking, and people have asked the government for help, but they say affairs like this are the matter of the municipal or provincial authorities.

Affairs like this. As if an 81-foot-long corpse of an endangered animal is something that happens everyday. The town officials have no means to dispose of this swelling thing, and I don’t think it’s going to attract a lot of business hanging around there.

2. Woman Caught Stealing Toy Duck From A Toddler’s Grave

Kleptomaniacs tend to be the butt of jokes in many sitcoms, partly because some of them can be quite ludicrous in reality too (no offence to them, of course. I perfectly understand that this is a troubling condition). A woman was recently caught by police for stealing a toy duck that was left at the grave of a 14-month-old boy. This isn’t the first time she’s been stealing toys and lights from this boy’s grave, either.

She’s going to plead not guilty, claiming that she saw a dog in the area and feared the dog would take the toy away (so she got to it first). However, no dog was spotted by surveillance cameras.

3. Teacher Kisses Pig To Reward Students

The deputy head of a primary school in Hubei, China, kissed a 20 kg pig, as promised, to reward his students for not littering for a month.

The poor pig, however, made no such promise.

I have a lot to say about the kind of incentive you give children to do good deeds (will they continue not to litter, or must he kiss bovines every month for the rest of his life?), but he maintains that he is not the first teacher to be doing this. According to him, there was a similar case in the United States where a primary school teacher promised to kiss a pig if his pupils did well in their maths exams. Did that teacher actually fulfil the promise? We only have this guy’s word for it. Unfortunately, right now he still maintains the spot as the single most pathetic teacher.

4. Photographer Photoshops Himself Into His Girlfriend’s Childhood Photographs

I swear I have nothing against the Chinese, but they do have a knack for getting themselves into the news.

So this Chinese wedding photographer decided to do something special to mark his fourth anniversary with his girlfriend. He Photoshopped himself into his girlfriend’s childhood photographs. So imagine looking at a photo of you in kindergarten. And then right beside you is your boyfriend making some stupid pose. Your boyfriend as an adult, not kindergarten age.

This one deserves a link.

http://metro.co.uk/2014/04/29/chinese-guy-creeps-out-the-world-by-photoshopping-himself-into-his-girlfriends-childhood-photos-4712712/

I wish there were more snapshots to see, but I think these are enough to crack me up.

Videos of the other 3 news can also be found on the internet. I didn’t view them, though, with my disdain for videos. You can search them up if you like.

Alaska

When I think of Alaska, I think of Huskies. Or Alsatians. Or any of those big hairy dogs. I think of snow-capped hill slopes. That’s the limit of my imagination when it comes to that place, which is situated at the northwest of North America. Did you know that Alaska used to belong to Russia? The Americans bought it from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. Alaska is also the largest state in the United States by area, but the fourth least populous. It seems to be a place mostly consisting of nature, basically, untouched by human hands.

Despite the image we get from the movies about the place being snowy and a paradise for dogs, it actually does get warm sometimes, though by warm it means about 16 to 21 degrees Celsius. Not only that, it’s also a good place for travel. There’s something to be said about viewing scenery that comes about in places with cold weather. Tropical places do not usually have much scenery to speak of — no fjords or glaciers. We do have sparkling seas by the beach, of course, but so do temperate countries in summer. So when one goes to Alaska, one must appreciate the “misty fjords”, “ginormous pansies”, seaside towns and the popular Mendenhall Glacier. And the most awesome part is that you get to play with Alaskan Husky puppies at the Skagway Mushing Camp. Yes, those same faithful canines you see in movies like Snow Dogs!

Speaking of movies, there is an entire list of movies set in this special place, whether in part or in full, including things like The Simpsons Movie and Resident Evil: Afterlife. After seeing some of the pictures taken in this article, maybe you’ll come up with some inspiration for a film there too.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/24/summer-in-alaska_n_5191652.html?utm_hp_ref=travel

A New Wobbly World

This column has traditionally been used to talk about different parts of the world we live in (namely Earth), the features of different countries, and such. However, today, I take it a step further and talk about something interesting outside of our planet.

Astronomers have recently discovered that planets that wobble — meaning there is a tilt in their orbit — may be more conducive to supporting life than initially thought. For example, there are 2 planets around the star Upsilon Andromedae that are inclined at 30 degrees to each other. Such planets may spin around like a top, or lean one way and then another. How are these planets better than the stationary consistent ones that we are used to, though?

For one, because they tilt so much, their surfaces are exposed to even heating from the sun. The poles have a chance to point at the sun, thus melting their ice caps and ensuring liquid water on the planet’s surface. These planets can be distant from their suns but still contain liquid water and sufficient heating to support life. If we take such wobbling planets into account, we can double the number of potentially habitable planets in the galaxy.

Of course, these are just preliminary findings. For one, the study mentioned nothing about air, though air should not be affected by a planet’s revolution. In addition, even though there is sufficient heat to ensure liquid water, we don’t know just how much heat that is. After all, 0 degrees Celsius is enough to melt ice. Imagine a world constantly at about 0 degrees Celsius. Sure, we get water, but we will need a lot more than that to thrive. Coming from a part of the world that constantly gets the sun (at the expense of the polar regions), I don’t know how I would live in a place that might resemble Greenland.

But maybe I’m thinking too much. After all, it’s good that we theoretically have more choices to consider, if we ever do by any chance blow up our planet.

Imagine us teaching our children in the future that “love makes the world go wobbly”.

For the actual article, it can be found at http://www.forbes.com/sites/bridaineparnell/2014/04/16/drunkenly-wobbling-planets-could-make-good-homes-for-humans/

The Power of Photography

I just saw hundreds and hundreds of fireflies, forming shimmering streaks in the forest. It was like the entire forest was filled with these magical yellow bugs, lighting up the different corners to form a bright and merry procession.

And yet no such scene ever took place in any one instance of time.

This is an example of what is termed composite photography — the compiling of many many photographs over a time lapse, like a few hours. So in one shot you may have only 1 or 2 fireflies, then in the next shot another few at another corner, and you just superimpose them together to form the whole thing.

I was mentioning only a few weeks back (or was it only last week?) that travel photographs are the best way to experience travel. You can talk on and on about the beautiful sights you saw, but they aren’t real without pics to show it “happened”. And with such nifty camera tricks, photographs can tell more than just the tale.

I was also reading a review on the camera of the HTC One M8. No I’ve no intention of changing my phone, or buying something as expensive as this, but basically the review was all about great photographs. That phone has depth perception lenses that create a bokeh effect (bokeh means out-of-focus blurring of the background), and their snapshots have such high quality colour resolution and definition that my camera at home cannot even match up to. In the hands of competent (or even normal, average) photographers, you can make a scene look better than it really is. Technology is wondrously miraculous.

For a look at the fireflies, visit this site. You need a National Geographic account, though, but I believe the photograph can be seen for free on the NatGeo Facebook.

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/365-photos/fireflies-grand-ledge-michigan/

And if you’re considering a HTC One M8, the review and splashy images are here. http://www.cnet.com.au/htc-one-m8-the-camera-review-339347044.htm

Wild Mammals? What Wild Mammals?

People who know me may know that I was grumbling about making an infographic for a school assignment. I shudder to remember those dark days of news reports (though I’ve been plunged in yet another type of dark days currently), but I recently picked up an infographic that seems a lot more effective in conveying information than anything I’ve seen so far. And this information will, at risk of sounding clichéd, blow your mind. Or make you shit bricks.

This infographic basically very cleanly represents the proportion of Earth’s land mammals by weight, and you can tell at a glance that there are really very few wild mammals left on Earth. That’s not to say there are no wild animals — for instance, the article I found was quick to point out that bacteria still outweigh humans by a factor of thousands. But species like elephants, tigers, lions, nope. Those are pretty much squeezed out of the picture by our domesticated horses, goats and cattle.

Humans really have changed Earth, irreversibly so. We decided which animals should thrive and which should die, based on how useful they are to us. I wonder, though, if our captive elephants wished to be “chosen by us to live” or to just die out. Neither option sounds very palatable.

What I also find appealing, in accordance to the geeky side of me, is that the infographic looks like a pixelated map, something you might find in the Town Map of Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal. It’s really cool how infographics can be used to represent things in such myriad interesting ways. It really makes me wish I were a good designer. I think that the future of communications truly belongs to pictures, images as breathtaking and alive as these. These pictures have personality, which is why they seem to take on a life of their own.

Curious to see what it looks like already? Here goes!

http://matadornetwork.com/change/like-wild-mammals-left-anymore/

Greenland and Eric the Red

I love travelling. Or rather, I love the notion of it. The idea of casting aside your daily life, casting aside the things you see day in and day out, and entering an entirely different world, with different people, exploring everything new. I love new stuff, so it makes sense that I would love a new environment too.

However, when people think of their ideal place for travel, they always imagine exotic places. Places with breath-taking scenery, the kind depicted on postcards. Somewhere with nature, and smiling people (for God knows city-dwellers don’t smile anymore). Travel photographs are some of the most enrapturing type, and I chanced on a series just now from Fotopedia.com that exemplified just the kind I was talking about.

This photo series was about Qassiarsuk, which is in the south of Greenland. Greenland’s probably one of those countries faraway from everywhere, and eternally cold. I don’t think I can stand such countries, but cold weather seems to bring with it its fair share of beautiful landscapes. They have solitary houses by the sea, for one, which is an uncommon sight in land-cramped Singapore. I don’t think I can even imagine staying in a small 3-storey house, and walking out to metres and metres of pasture, with a lake behind me and a snow-capped mountain in the distance. It’s like a scene from Heidi!

I would run amidst the bed of flowers, barefoot, and touch the statue of Leif Ericsson (not likely related to the company Ericsson). And then I would meet the Captain of Qassiarsuk, who’s a guy who smokes a pipe.

And there’ll be sheep! Apparently sheep abound in Greenland (though I wonder if Australia still has more of them). I believe I’ve touched sheep before, maybe in Japan or somewhere, but feeding them and waking up to them everyday makes a big difference. Oh, and I also see a rock of runes over there. Just some rock jutting out of the grass, with runes inscribed on it. It’s all so adventurous and fantastic!

There are so many other awesome places and people depicted in this excellent photo series. I notice the photographer likes close-up shots a lot, especially of people, which makes them look a little too close. I wonder if the people are really like that, overly warm and imposing on you. Well, I’m sure it won’t be long to get used to that!

I don’t usually consider a travel photographer a photojournalist. They strictly belong in the leisure bent. That said, there’s no better place than abroad to test out your new professional camera, or your latent talents.

Travelling all over the world has been my dream since I was little, ignoring the fact that I mayn’t enjoy the weather or the rural conditions. But travel always has a dream-like quality, as if you’re living out an entirely new life, trying out what would have happened to you had you been born in a different place. And after seeing this photo gallery, travelling to Qassiarsuk is definitely going on my bucket list!

And for all those curious to see it for yourself, here’s the link.

http://www.fotopedia.com/reporter/stories/LrtSzShqfWX/view