Spot the monkey!

Three, young and good looking long-tailed macaques rummaged my student's bag (quite appropriately, I might add) that we had left behind in one of the boardwalk shelters while mapping nearby. They leapt up the roof and onto the nearby Avicennia alba tree nearby when I came by to collect the bags. 

They are still wary of people, a good thing, since enough people are terrified of approaching cats let alone monkeys. Heaven forbid they see a crab-eating macaque in the mangrove; a glance might have them scuttling for their cars.  

All I had was my handphone's miserable camera so I took a perfunctory few shots that I now inflict on you and then we all watched each other in the breeze as the tide raced in.

See and download the full gallery on posterous

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Tiger enjoying a snooze

Tiger has had me a little worried lately, he’s been a little less active, eating less and his fur has been reddish around the eyes.

However, the reddishness could be due to his sparring bouts with the others that take place at night. He can get feisty but usually pulls his shots, unlike Xylo and Mr Bats. So he is usually worse off where such marks are concerned. But the reddishness seems a little different this time.

He always feed much less than Mr Bats and Xylo but now it seems his dry food in take is reduced considerably; he is certainly unenthusiastic. But he’s always been a wet food enthusiast and waits for that night meal. Meanwhile, Mr Bats and Xylo have become more demanding about dry food – either our reduction plan has worked or they are in need of behavioural enrichment. We should repack one of the rooms since they love a messy place!

Has Tiger been slightly less active than usual? He’s not a senior cat as yet – he’s only about five years old and it takes roughly another three years for that classification. But Tiger has always been rather laid back – even going limp in a strangers hands – except for those occasional sparring bouts when he can surprisingly kick Xylo’s and Mr Bats’ butts.

All the symptoms are far from serious but enough to have me worried. Time for his vet to investigate.

First ride of 2009

I had been resting after the shingles and when I returned to campus I picked up the flu and a chest cold. I’ve just about recovered and with the 128km NTU Bike Rally (160km because I’ll ride to and fro ECP) only six weeks away, it was time to get back on the saddle.

After pumping tyres at the petrol station, we were late (6.40am), so we sprinted the 10km to 10th mile unction to meet up with a newbie rider. She has cycled all her life but just started riding a racer regularly with her collagues. She’s been clocking 15-18km per week on the average so we were supposed to stretch her legs a little.

For route details, see Bikely
Ride stats: Dst 52.77km, Tms 2:32:29, Avs 20.3km/h, Mxs 42km/h

Well, within minutes I realised from her form and control that she was good for much more than the 20km we had intended for her. So at the Kranji coffeshop stop, we suggested a slightly longer route that would take in the lovely wide stretch of Lim Chu Kang road in western Singapore. It’s great for racers and indeed after Kranji reservoir, she tore away and we struggled to keep up with her on our mountain bikes and knobbly tyres!

Kranji Reservoir – note the difference in posture for a rider of a mountain bike and a racer.
Amongst the tents in the distance on the Kranji shoreline is a police post; ever vigilant.

She found the 30m ride easy so its just a mental block and lack of opportunity that is restricting her. She definitely looks game to try the 128km NTU bike ride which would change her perception of distance, like it did mine. So to prepare for the bike rally, we invited her on a few more rides including the 70km+ Changi ride – preparation means having fun during the actual ride and time spent enjoying the companionship and scenery instead of suffering!

This route is Sunday/public holiday morning ride. Even on a Sunday morning, we start early and end by 10am. Bukit Timah can get dangerously busy and usually features a couple of impatient drivers, Sungei Tengah is a very narrow road with road dividers that buses have to squeeze through and you’d best stop or sprint to get out that situation. it gets extremely busy when servicemen are reporting/leaving the base. Meanwhile, Kranji is rife with heavy vehicles even on Saturdays.

So this route may be safe on a Sunday/public holiday morning, but I’d have to start two hours earlier to enjoy a similar sort of peace on a weekday or Saturday – I am not heroic enough to wake up and ride at 4am so I’ll use other routes.

A relatively peaceful Sungei Tengah early on the first day of Chinese New Year

My ride time was decent with no aches or strains (my mildly sprained ankle held out) – I am usually happy with a trip average speed of about 20km/h but gentle climbs peppered this route, so 19.0km/h would have sufficed. Climbs reduce the average speed mercilessly as I struggle up slopes which also means I’m traveling at lower speeds for a longer time! Then it takes forever to nudge that reading back up. So when I saw “avs 20.5km/h” on the speedometer outside the Hume Avenue ERP gantry (and amusedly thought of DM’s tomorrow-ed post), I huffed and puffed to protect that reading and was happy with the final 20.3km/h reading.

I was aided by the very cool morning and overcast sky – so much so the solar eclipse later might be a washout. I only needed about 300ml of water – if the sun was out it’d be a completely different story. Still, after the long lay off, it was good to be back and not to have completely lost it.

In other news, Lekowala, who will be riding with us during the NTU Bike Rally 2009, has a new racer! Fierce or not?

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Happy 25th anniversary Macintosh!

The Macintosh was introduced to the world on 24 January 1984 (see this Daily Telegraph story) and a quarter-century later, the excitement macusers like myself feel remains as fresh as ever. These few videos might give you an inkling:


The first computer I used was an Apple II that I learnt to use in my secondary school Apple Club and explored further at the Serangoon Gardens Community Centre's Computer Club in great. After emerging from the army a couple of years later in 1987, I found the field dominated by IBMs and the DOS OS system at the National University of Singapore (NUS).  

In 1988, physicist Bernard Tan was the Dean of Science. A musician and macintosh enthusiast, he opened the student-run Computer Based Learning Centre (a room opposite LT22) – a room full of macs and a few pcs. He roped in the undergraduates running student societies for support and to help popularise the idea. So we sat down to discuss the CBLC with our friends who were setting it up, but it was mainly about the management issues of a student-run computer room – we had no inkling about the mac. It was only months later when I went visited as a user that I was electrifed. I converted a Wordstar 4 document to MS Word and  it was an almost miraculous experience, a breath of fresh air, something I even feel today!

Thanks to the 'early adopter' embrace of fisheries biologist and physiologist Khoo Hong Woo, a few machines became available at the Zoology computer room and teaching museum (now the Marine Lab). Macs were extremely expensive then, and so the many machines these places both provided (Mac 128k, Mac SEs and the Mac IIcx) were a lifeline during my undergraduate years.

Happy 25th anniversary Macintosh!

“Shift Happens” ver 3 (2008)

Sony BMG did up version 3 of Karl Fisch and Scott Macleod’s “Shift Happens” presentation about globalisation and the information age last year. I heard about last week from AR so went looking for it in YouTube.

I first heard about it at Karl Fisch’s blog, through one of my RSS feeds in 2007, when I was still reading a lot of education blogs in preparation for my switch to full-time teaching. It is an important presentation to see, meant for his staff faculty meeting. It is a well researched presentation and an important one for educators to see. Some of the points have led to the introduce certain elements or ideas into my classes. The project is supported by a wiki and the links to the two earlier versions are: ver 2 (design by XPLANE) and the original ver 1 (the one with the exciting “Last of the Mohicans” soundtrack). The wiki with the supporting information, higher resolution video and discussion is at

The other video I like pointing students to is Michael Wesch’s “The Machine is Us/ing Us.” It is an illuminating explanation of web 2.0. Higher resolution videos are available in the info sidebar.

I’d rather be last than first!

Google Forms and its attendant spreadsheet conveniences, conditional formatting and webpage publishing at a click of a button has been a boon to project registration in one of my modules.

Some two hundred students are being (relatively) effortlessly registered into groups of four with the relevant data all accounted for. Individuals, pairs or trios in search of groups are also being fixed up and their needs have been identified by the colours of conditional formatting (or “change colours with rules” in Google’s plain speak). And email alerts ensure form submissions do not go unnoticed.

A subset of data has been updated live on a webpage for a sneak preview of group allocation, enough for them to get an early warning about presentation, peer-review and tutorial sessions they will attend as a group.

As the hours wear on, the prediction of the long-suffering TA who used to do this mannually is fleshed out. Everyone has edged away from the first week—it’s as taboo as the first row of seats in a lecture theatre.