A mangrove episode

Adrian Loo was digging through his 2006 albums earlier when he chanced upon this photo and video and just emailed me. A bunch of us had gone to Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve to assist/watch the BBC crew film mangrove tree-climbing crabs (Episesarma spp.) at high tide. The clip was part of the crab-eating mangrove snake story for ‘Life in Cold Blood’, which would air some two years later in Singapore.

Whilst setting up, the BBC crew whom we had worked with months earlier muttered to themselves and finally came over and said they needed a guy in the water. Since I was dressed in my usual bermudas, belt and polo-T, I happily jumped in as we all knew I would.

Krish from NParks SBWR later gave me his extra change of clothes for the journey home.

Adrian, careful not to disrupt filming, took this film as we manouevered to an alcove below a now very famous Rhizophora tree at the SBWR VC boardwalk. Hearing that familiar voice waft through our tiny mangrove was certainly lovely. And there was a special mood amongst the BBC, NParks and NUS people there on the boardwalk. The final footage may have only lasted seconds on the documentary but we still remember the cooperative and genteel atmosphere of the session year later.

I guess you can’t go wrong when a bunch of people who love the mangrove come together.

The Singapore crew at the mangrove that day loved David and remember him fondly. Ladybug says, “I love David Attenborough’s excited grin – looks like a kid taken on an exciting amusement ride. :)” Adrian says the complete photo is his desktop picture now. “Just cant erase the mama pulling the sampan..”

Link to Adrian’s post.

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Southern Ridges Walk with nature and heritage kakis

In May 2008, NParks first opened the Southern Ridges trail to crowds. At the time, Kenneth & Winnie walked the longest interpretation of the trail, an entire 15km route from West Coast Park. They are still the only people I know who have walked that long version.

I walked the ~5km route version from Kent Ridge Park last May and found it too short to work up a sweat. So this morning, Ladybug dropped Kevin and me off at NUS’ University Cultural Centre and headed to Vivocity for brunch. This route is 9km according to Kenneth Pinto’s Runkeeper’s iPhone app:

Walking Activity 9.16 km - RunKeeper

I had decided not to offer the July Heritage Fest walk which would have taken place today so the previous two weeks were free of the publicity and registration effort that precedes such a walk. Instead, after Yu-Mei initiated this walk, I simply extended the open invitation to friends and a group of nine turned up from amongst my mac, heritage and naturalist kakis, almost all of whom are on twitter: @acroamatic @bubblevicious @budak @brainopera @nokoso @sivasothi @spoonrabbit @steelwool and Anand.

It was overcast and the distant sky was hazy, so it was not a great day for photos or birdlife. But the weather kept us cool and the rains held off as suggested by the 4am weather report twittered helpfully by @neasg. The group walked at a comfortable pace and took a couple of breaks where we chatted, took in the sights and the photographers experimented with angles.

I’m at a far cry from my fitness of the regular briskwalking Sundays which pretty much ended for me in 2007, when I switched to full-time teaching at the uni. So this relatively mild walk was a good way to break back into shape in the hope of eventually resuming the Mac Ritchie-Bukit Timah walks.

The Southern Ridges walk is a pleasant walk that I hope to encourage the first year life sciences student to enjoy. Previous graduates might not be aware Kent Ride Park even exists, so from last year, I have the semester 1 LSM1103 Biodiversity cohort walk from the department to Bukit Chandu [google map link]. I encourage them to explore the rest of the trail [pdf map link] subsequently and it’s a lovely morning or evening walk with friends. Animal and plant life can be rewarding when the weather’s cooperative too.

We had begun at 7.15am and were done by 10.30am. Vivocity was all abuzzz with Hair for Hope and the regular weekenders at 10.45am. Still feeling alert after brunch and a coffee session, I headed to Queensway Shopping Centre to finally get a replacement backpack. By the time I got back home, the crew had posted their photos to facebook and several had already woken up from an afternoon snooze.

Yu-Mei blogged and Facebook photo albums were posted up by Marcus Ng, Liana Tang and Kevin Lim. All the photos below from the three of them and a paserby :-).

20100725-Kai Scene appears
Kai Scene appears like the Flash on the dot at 7.15am and we head off.

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Kent Ridge Park by 8.00am – no need for guiding, only inane chatter.
20100725-interiew at KRPark
‘Interview’ by celebrated author at Kent Ridge Park. Marcus’ funny lens effect.

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Canopy walk at Kent Ridge Park heading to Reflections at Bukit Chandu

20100725-Elevated Walkway to Telok Blagah Hill
Elevated Walkway from Alexandra Arch to Telok Blangah Hill.

20100725-yakked alomng the way
Telok Blangah Hill Park – we yakked and munched along the way.

20100725-Henderson Waves
20100725-class photo! Henderson Waves
Henderson Waves ‘Class Photo’.

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My knees are bushed at Mt Faber Park as we take another break.

20100725-end point at Mt Faber Park
Happy crew at endpoint – end of Marang Trail, Mt Faber Park, at approximately at 10.30am.

Singapore Science Centre – budget constraints, so no shift until 2014

“New Science Centre: Plans delayed for 4 years,” by Victoria Vaughan. The Straits Times, 24 Jul 2010. Centre head cites lack of funds; still under discussion, says MOE

PLANS for the new Singapore Science Centre have been put on hold for four years due to budget constraints, according to the centre’s new head.

This year was supposed to see the launch of a design competition for the centre, with its construction beginning next year. However, its chief executive, Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, 50, has been told by the Ministry of Education (MOE), which funds the centre, that it will now be delayed until 2014.

‘The Science Centre has been postponed, as there is no money, until 2014. We are ready to put out a design brief but the Ministry of Education has the final say on when that will be,’ he said.

One of Prof Lim’s main roles in taking up the post seven months ago was to oversee the development of the new Science Centre. But the delay has left him ‘neither here nor there’ as he intends to stay in the post for only seven years, and doubts he will be able to implement any educational programmes at the new centre.

He added that the reason for staying for only seven years is to allow new talent to come through.

When contacted, an MOE spokesman said: ‘The plans for Science Centre Singapore are still under discussion. More details will be provided in due course.’

The Straits Times understands that the new centre, tentatively set to be built near the Chinese Garden and Lakeside MRT stations, will cost around $500 million.

It will replace the current building at Jurong, which was built in 1977 at a cost of $12 million. The omnitheatre was built at a cost of $17 million a decade later.

Prof Lim says the new Science Centre will be a green building and will require a doubling of its current staff strength of 150.

As well as overseeing the new centre, Prof Lim was appointed to raise the Science Centre’s profile and develop a learning initiative with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and the MOE called Cradle, which has also been put on hold due to a lack of funding.

With money being the barrier, Prof Lim is planning to push for commercialisation at the centre.

‘I want to get the Science Centre staff to be more entrepreneurial and not to rely on government funding, but to be innovative.

‘We are non-profit, but that shouldn’t stop us from being entrepreneurial,’ he said, adding that such plans are in line with the Government’s Public-Private Partnership model.

With this, he hopes to see Science Centre inventions on store shelves soon – such commercial enterprise would be a first for the centre.

One such invention is a table-top replica of the flame tornado, developed by the centre’s resident inventor, Dr Tsai Her Mann.

The original 6m-high flame vortex will be the centrepiece of the upcoming fire exhibition. A replica will be ignited at the Youth Olympic Games next month as a final torch.

Once it is built, the new centre will be part of the 360ha redevelopment of the Jurong area, called the Jurong Lake District.

The area is set to be completed in eight to 13 years, and was announced by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan in April 2008.

The Science Centre, which saw more than a million visitors last year, is Singapore’s third-most visited attraction, behind the Singapore Zoological Gardens and the Night Safari.

It was built following the advice of the former Science Council of Singapore for the Government to convert the National Museum into an art and history museum and to build a new centre for science and technology education.

The current centre, which sits on a 6ha site in Jurong, was designed by Mr Raymond Woo, the architect of the building. It was officially opened on Dec 10, 1977 by Dr Toh Chin Chye, the then Minister-in-charge of the Science Centre Board.

vvaughan@sph.com.sg

My first floppy diskette – a single-sided, double density 5.25″ Verbatim

The brand name Verbatim invokes a magical feeling within me, even until today. 

My first floppy disks for the 6502, 1Mhz Apple ][ running Apple DOS 3.3 were a pair of two black-sleeve encased floppy diskettes in their hard cardboard pink-holders. Each one cost $12 at the time, a minor fortune for a school kid in 1981. And yes, I still have them. They contained so many delights in the forms of games and utilities as well as programmes I wrote using BASIC and the 6502 machine code (hmm that had us 'poking' before facebook). 

I think it was my classmate Colin Nah who persuaded me to join the St. Andrew's Secondary School Apple ][ computer club. Later it was the Serangoon Gardens Community Centre gave me space and time to explore programming and world of Apple ][ in the company of neighbourhood kids – a couple of whom were geeks and information exchange was a lovely thing. By 1983,  I had  conducted my first course at the CC for younger kids from the neighbourhood with the help of my friends. Although we were course instructors, we had not been formally taught but had read, experimented and learnt from peers, teaching each other quite a bit. Until the night guard chased us out after 10pm.

I remember slotting these diskettes in to box-like external floppy drives called Disk II. Although single-sided, these Verbatim 5-1/4 disks were double density and thus error-free even when you forced their use as double-sided disks. this as accomplished by cutting out a copy-protection slot in the side with a penknife, like I had done with this first diskette. Later I learnt from some older kid that simply using a paper puncher would do. Well that doubled the value of the resource. 

Of course, the price of 5.25" disks would eventually plummet, well and when I reached my 10th diskette, they were cheaper. 

I think there were ?40 tracks in each diskette which contained data. Vaguely memories depict a programme reading data sectors on a flickering green screen  I think it was called Locksmith. It helped you examine the actual content of each track –  while the first one or two? were used for system software which made a disk bootable, you could write over these in a non-bootable data disk and recover the space. I have hazy memories of the kid who introduced me to Locksmith.

The Apple 16 sticker was meant for 16kb RAM cards which could be slotted in to the flexible Apple ][ motherboard (a Wozniak classic of elegance and possibilities) – someone had handed these out to us eager school kids like candy. I still have unused stickers which I paste on my current macs every now and then to remind me of the good  times of exploration and discovery. Otherwise,merely spotting the brand name Verbatim in its distinctive font is enough to trigger some good vibrations.

A pretty, new Google Forms template for The Wallace Talk: Blue Birds

Amongst the many things Linda Goh from NParks talked to me about on Wednesday was the opportunity to feature an old friend of the lab, Paul Spencer Sochaczewski in a public talk about Wallace. Paul had come by the Systematics & Ecology lab during his hunt to trace Wallace’s footprints in the 90’s and wrote an article about Singapore’s endemic freshwater crabs and Peter Ng in the process. I had read a lovely book he had written with Jeffrey McNeely called “Soul of the Tiger” – I relished this as an undergrad for Paul is an effective communicator.

NParks was in contact with him and apparently he would be passing through Singapore late next week and was game to give a public talk. Linda said they did not have a suitable venue and asked if we could provide one. Certainly Paul would be well received by staff and students and I procured an LT yesterday, on cold turkey day – our department’s admin and support staff were all away at a retreat, leaving most of the academic staff curled up in a foeatal position.

I decided not to be adventurous and once I secured LT22 for next Friday at 6pm, I did not try to think of a better venue.

While preparing the registration form, I found a lovely form design called Blue Birds. Suitable for this talk which is entitled “An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles,” it was lovely enough for me to ignore the general rule of sticking to san serif fonts for registration forms.

It will be an entertaining and informative talk from what I remember about Paul. The registration form is at wallacetalk.rafflesmuseum.net and you can see talk details on The Biodiversity Crew blog. Two of the Raffles Museum Toddycats have already registered, boy are they quick!

Unfortunately most of the honours class will miss this public talk but they will be having fun in Pulau Tioman.