Showing posts from 2007

Coming soon to the Travel Channel

When you switch on the TV next, and see the screenshot of the famous LA hotdog stand Pink's in the background, don't be surprised to hear Wai exclaiming,"This chili tastes BEANY!!" That's what you get for eating at a famous institution in Hollywood Land.

Just landed this morning, and changed the initial plan of going to Joshua Tree National Park immediately cos 1) I'm still recovering from this damned cold that Steve passed to me (it has noe progressed to the coughing stage), and 2) we were damn exhausted from the fieldwork, illness, 12 hour car ride, trying to finish homework madly and pack the night before, plus the flight was a little delayed due to fog in Wilmington. By the time we picked up the rental car (another story there, and it's a PT Cruiser!! That's so funny...), it was close to noon.

Slumming it out at the cheapest hostel in LA which provides all sorts of free food. For one night, I'm willing to overlook the fact that I have to flush t…

Cold in Key Largo

I was enjoying the Key Largo weather last week, it was sunny and the water was a manageable 26degC. Suddenly this week evening temperatures dipped such that people around here started wearing their fleeces, and the water temp is now a frikking 24degC. Have resorted to wearing 2 wetsuits to keep warm underwater, but the wind on the surface is...brrrr..... The whole dive rack area smells strongly of pee and I've started bringing a towel on board as a wrap between dives. Hopefully would be able to keep my immune system up and stave off an impending chill as we finish up our last 2 days here!

Notes from Key Largo

Today we had our first break day for this mission, after 5 straight days of diving. For a putative (my new word of the week...) break day, we sure did a lot. Woke up at 5.30am to accompany Wai as she sent Joe to the Miami airport, then went around Miami Beach a little. Came back feeling a little hammered, since I spent 3 hours the night before plugging away for my Stats final, and had a beer at Sharkey's to unwind afterwards. The rest wanted to go to Key West so grabbed my camera and headed out again, except for Tim who wanted to stay back and write. Felt a smidgen of guilt thinking about my climate change paper...but hey, it's Key West. So it's 10.35pm, and I feel like going to bed already. So much for a productive Sunday.

It's going to be a big day tomorrow! Pulling in my Mycale fragments to see if any of them have been eaten. Fed a persistent Grey Angelfish some cut Mycale during the last dive so feeling vaguely optimistic about things. Rather miraculously, with the …
My candle burns at both ends It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends - It gives a lovely light.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "A Few Figs from Thistles", 1920US poet (1892 - 1950) Have been speed-reading a couple of books by James Lovelock on the Gaia hypothesis the past 2 weeks to prepare for a book review presentation in Oceanography class, and the second book ended with this lovely poem. Lots of thoughts bounce around in my head right now, which I'll try to write down after my review session on Monday. Suffice to say that despite a slow start in which I thought I would flounder through the whole semester drowning in modelling jargon and shiploads of data, it has been a really interesting exploration through climate change and planetary systems and I found myself gradually looking forward to class each week. In the meantime, keep your candles burning bright!!

Upcoming developments on the UNCW campus

Just received this info sheet in the email today:

5 November 2007


This information sheet is being provided for all those who are concerned about UNCW’s plans to develop most of the remaining natural habitats on campus and want to help. UNCW is about to begin the Phase III student housing project in forested habitat across the road from the Watson School of Education. However, this area has been a recognized conservation zone since the early 1990s and developing it will impact numerous species of birds, reptiles, and plants, many of which that have been designated as ‘Species of Concern’ by the state Wildlife Resources Commission and, in some cases, also by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Phase III housing also will remove approximately 30 acres of habitat currently being used by ecology and ornithology students at UNCW for labs and classes. This ‘natural laboratory’ is a valuable asset at UNCW that helps make thi…

Mooncup now available in Singapore!

Also known under other brand names as the Divacup or the Keeper, it's a way to free yourself from the tyranny of disposable, non-biodegradable sanitary napkins and tampons that add to the landfill every month! Takes a while to get used to, but once you're comfortable with it, you'd wish you had it since Day 1! Check out for more details!

Review of an article on climate change

I remember being introduced to the term 'global warming' way back when, probably sometime in the Eighties. Back then, it wasn't kosher to say that anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide were exacerbating the 'greenhouse effect', just as cigarette smoking may not definitely cause lung cancer. It was with some degree of interest that I started going through the various chapters of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report in class, aided by my lecturer and classmates in sifting through the dense scientific language and physical concepts of climate research.

The class assignment seemed interesting enough: review a paper by a team of climate change skeptics. On first impression, the paper seemed decent enough- it survived a peer-review process after all, even if it was published in some medical journal. I set aside my doubts about what physicians and surgeons know regarding climate change and delved deeper. Red flags started popping out when I found out that the journal

Where does the time go?

Yesterday was my really big Saturday. For some reason, I had it jam-packed with activities, and could barely snatch a breather in between. It started on Friday night, with a visit to Club Vida after an absence of a few weeks. I had planned to leave at midnight, but we only started getting into the whole dance-y vibe around 11.30pm, and met Silvestre, Gilberto and Evan too, so it seemed a little premature to leave so early. And so yes, we finally left when the lights came on at 2.30am. Argh. I had Iaido practice on Wrightsville Beach at sunrise... With supreme effort, I crawled out of bed 3 hours later to drive down and did 1.5h of intense sword practice while trying not to fall down in the soft sand.

Got persuaded to go have breakfast at Saltworks II, before heading home to take a 30min power nap. The alarm went off after what felt like 2min, and I was up and heading out with my bike to meet Wendy for kayaking. Sure, I had a total of 3.5h of sleep, but it was awesome- the sun was out i…

I finally understand RCBD!

But sadly, it's 2.42pm here, which is 2.42am in Singapore, and the BlueTempeh is offline, so there's no-one I can share my nerdy joy with...

So some reason, the textbook and various explanations on the web all assume that you can automatically see what the big advantage of blocking is (RCBD is randomised complete block design for you non-stats heads out there), and it was so frustrating to do the analyses without seeing the big picture. Had to revisit the model equation, the SS equations and the math again and again before I finally worked it out...pooooh!

So okay, I can see why one might want to block treatments, but the assumption of no interactions is a little niggling. Hm. Will have to ponder some more.

Would you drive 4 hours to watch the Police?

After what seems like a few months of living in the musical and cultural wastelands, we are now besieged by a surfeit of acts and performances. Probably will go up to Durham for the They Might be Giants concert, over a flamenco performance at UNCW...and for that, they had better perform 'Why does the sun shine?'!

Wondering about the Police reunion tour concert in Charlotte on Nov 15. Yeah, I've been listening to them for what seems like 20 years (oops...just gave my age away), but man, Charlotte is a 4 hour drive away! And TDB flatly refuses to drive that distance or pay that money to watch a bunch of old fogeys in action. Imagine coming home at 3-4am. But then...there's 'Every Breath You Take'... Hmmmm...Is it worth it??

Oyster reef monitoring with the NCCF

Finally, after being on the mailing list for months and not attending a single event, went out with the North Carolina Coastal Federation today to monitor the fauna of artificially created oyster reefs at Dick's Bay, Masonboro Island.

The volunteers met at the NC Wildlife Resource Commission's boat ramp at the intersection of Snow's Cut and the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) at the perky hour of 9am, where we were met by Tracy Skrabal and Ted Wilgis, staff members with NCCF. We started with the obligatory doughnuts and introduction session, before Tracy and Ted gave a brief spiel of the oyster reef ecosystem in the area and what we'll be doing this morning.

Ted expounding on the oyster's life cycle

Oysters used to be the main protein source for communities along US East Coast! (Quite sure I would be vegetarian if I lived during those times...) And trawlers used to haul millions of bushels annually for the oyster fisheries. Note the term 'used to', for the oyster …

Pass me a light, for I'm going over to the dark side

After years of ribbing Zee about how she needs to squint in sunlight, I finally got approval from my advisor to start a population genetics analysis of my research sponge. Egads, does this mean next semester I'll be confined in windowless dark labs and never see the sun again? I just did (and enjoyed greatly), a course on sponge taxonomy as well... All my old nemeses... I wonder what's coming up next? Biochemical synthesis pathways of sponge metabolites?? Eeeks!

I won my court case

So another chapter in the cursed car saga unfolds...My small claims court date was scheduled for this morning. Went half an hour early as advised, and sat nervously outside the courtroom wondering if the defendants would show up and argue with me. Well, worries went unfounded as the defendants just didn't show up! My trial was over in ... I dunno... 3min?

Went in, swore to tell the truth on the Bible (I'm not sure if I should respond,"Yup", instead of a more solemn "yes" though, keke), told the judge what happened, he asked,"She backed into your car?", I said,"Yes", and he decided the case in my favour! So, yay, I guess!

Not over though. She has 10 days to pay me, and if she doesn't, I'll still have to file a claim(?) with the Sheriff's office to hound her for payment. Oh gosh...I really hope she just pays up...

Banana Bread part II

Had some leftover bananas from the BBQ last Sunday, and didn't think we'll get to eat all of them before they spoiled, so made banana bread again! Changed the recipe a little though, as I thought the last time I made it, it wasn't banana-y enough, so used 4 bananas in total. Still turned out fully cooked all the way through, heng ah! Isn't the colour bee-ooo-tee-fooo?

International Coastal Clean-up - Carolina Beach

After much internal wrestling with my sleep deprived self, decided to forgo salsa last night and wake up at 7.40am this (Saturday) morning to attend a clean-up at Carolina Beach! I haven't volunteered for such a long time that I was starting to feel a little weird and out of sorts. Was looking forward to getting down and dirty again for the sake of nature!

We were a little worried when we first arrived at Carolina Beach, as it was awfully quiet and lacking in people. But we finally chanced upon the registration booth further along the boardwalk, yay!

Signed up on the spot and free breakfast (pretty good donuts) provided too! Instructions were pretty sparse- just pick up our supplies, fill in the datacard and come back when we're done.

Pre-clean-up beach- doesn't it look absolutely polluted? :)

This event is quite well-supported, and more than 100 people showed up. Look at the advancing horde!

Frankly though, this is the cleanest clean-up I've ever been to. That's Wai an…

How to fritter away a weekend...

It's turning out to be a rather unproductive weekend...Queued up at the university Surplus Sale yesterday morning, and scored a nice dining table for $6! Wahahaha...We can now eat like civilised people, instead of off a cardboard Singpost parcel box. Decided to work from home in the afternoon, and made a split pea soup for dinner, which took 2 hours of simmering on the stove! For something that look like it yielded 3.5 servings...hmmm...would be a while before I do that again...

thedivinebovine decided that she didn't want to go to the ChocQuibTown concert after all, and since it was too late to ask someone else to go, dragged my sorry single loser ass to Kenan Auditorium to attend a hip-hop concert on my own. Um. After dashing to the counter just in time, saw posters stating that the concert was sold out plastered everywhere! Augh, did I just make a wasted trip? Fortunately, some people had released their tickets, and I could go in after all! It was a pretty good concert, sin…

Fall season...

It's my favourite time of the year...when there's a slight nip in the air, it's breezy but not chilly, and the grass is warm and dry. I can sit and read outdoors without getting a sunburn on the back of my neck, or feeling rivulets of sweat running down the side of my face.

It's seems to be shopping season too! Bought myself a secondhand Schwinn Mesa yesterday! I was so excited about finally finding a decent MTB in my size that I didn't even take it for a test ride! did have new front disc brakes, new tires, and looked reasonably well taken care of. Al frame too, and I've been scanning ads on craigslist and other sites for months, finding only cromoly or steel frames for my price range. I can't wait to adjust the bike to my specs and ride it to work! Yay bike!

Dazed after a morning of struggling to understand the IPCC Chapter 2 on Radiative Forcing (all 88 pages), and the derivation of Fisher's Least Significant Difference multiple comparisons t…

KL environment ministry loses appetite for shark's fin soup
text at

Wow. I'm astounded by this article. This is great news! Given how shark's fins are such a status symbol, it's incredible that a government agency would take this step, especially since we're taught in class that political groups tend to favour short-term policies over long-term gains. I'm glad to see that some messages have gone through in some way, and really, kudos to the ministry for taking such a bold step.

I wonder when we'll see this happen in S'pore too? ;)

The wonders of Google Earth

I can even see the individual buildings at STRI Bocas! The long one is the laboratory complex, where I spent many 'happy' hours extracting sponge metabolites with ether, and many actual happy hours studying about sponge taxonomy and ecology. A little cayman lives in the pond in front of the lab, and I know it's not a fake because it scooted into the pond from the bank before I could creep up to it at night and take a photo. The mangroves to the left across from the dock were an amazing place to snorkel, both in the day and night...though the first time I went at night, I bumped my head numerous times on the mangrove roots, and struggled to stay above the fire corals in 50cm of water...

Grabbed a bunch of GPS readings from Google Earth itself. That's just fantastic! Can even download satellite images of my study sites and mark them out if I want...hmmm

Bocas recap

Looks like blogging about my entire experience in Bocas would be some massive effort...and from experience it means that it's probably not going to happen! (Look at my non-existent Kilimanjaro blog entry...). In the meantime, I've uploaded photos here, and decided to spare you the albums of sponge ID shots!

Maybe sometime this year I would have uploaded the Kili album too ;)

Going home

Sitting at the Tocumen airport in Panama waiting for my flight to take off. Woke up at 5am this morning, bleary-eyed, with a slight sangria headache, probably because I forgot to buy water (or local beer as a souvenir, damn!) to drink last night, meaning, earlier this morning. Uff...after the lazy sun dappled last few days at Bocas, Panama City in one night was a frenzied affair involving angry taxi drivers swerving crazily through the streets, and a whirlwind tour of the old city, Casco Viejo. The buildings were muy nice, but the sun had set more than an hour ago and my teeny flash wasn't going to cut it. So we just walked and talked, and looked out for muggers hiding in the small dark alleys.

Since I was in Latin America, really wanted to check out the local nightlife. After all, have been listening to lots of salsa, bachata, etc over the radio, in taxicabs, spilling out of hard could it be to find a place with live salsa band and great dancing to watch huh? As it tur…

Time flies when...

Yesterday was the last day of the sponge course here at Bocas, and half the course participants went off today, leaving the station strangely empty and quiet. The days were packed with projects and things to do, but the learning was inspiring and the company was nothing short of great. Spongers are really cool people :). We're already making plans to meet up at a conference somewhere in the near future.

Will blog about the course soon, haven't had many free nights since I landed here, and diving again tomorrow!

Pulau Hantu 6 March 2006

In case you think I might have converted to the 'other side (of the world's oceans)' and gone completely Caribbean, I still rather miss diving in good ole Singapore! So I haven't ever seen a hammerhead or 30m vis, but there're sea slugs! allied cowries! sea whip shrimps! and so much more...such as the little critters below!

And yes, the photos were taken a year ago...yes, I know I'm very slow when it comes to editing and posting photos. I'm working on it, 'kay?

See how clear the water was!

I miss seeing corals...

...and branching Acropora too...

Allied cowries were everywhere on the seabed!

In pretty colours matching their sea whip hosts

Except, erm, for this one. We surmised that it could be colour-blind...

Colourful flatworms were commonly seen too

Black hole...

Looks like I'm spending the weekend in Wilmington after all! Short of a miracle happening in the next two hours...but...nah, I don't think so...I have a better chance of striking 4-D with the licence plate number of the driver who struck my car and then refused to pay for the damages.

So much for my visa being approved this week...I found out yesterday that visas have to be approved by the Security Council in Panama, and they only meet once a week. If my application wasn't considered this week, it's shifted to the next. Why only tell me now? Why can't they just tell me when the meeting date was? I was expecting my visa to maybe come in today, and paid %#$%#$@^ $280 to change my flight to tomorrow. And I have to change it again? How much more must I pour down this black hole? Plus I don't even know if and when my ^$#^$%^#@$%^$ visa will be approved. Felt like smashing a multitude of breakable crockery last night, I'm so frustrated!

Looks like I'm just not …

Bo pian...

After a morning of extreme confusion (and trauma...for I was thoroughly roasted for my oral exam), finally worked out a possible avenue for the whole Panama visa issue. Called the consulate in Washington, and it turns out that I'm not supposed to be able to enter Panama without a visa. So much for the 'leave the visa at the Panama airport' idea. The moderately better news is, that my visa is supposed to be approved by the end of this week, latest latest. So say I get the approval on Friday, if I can persuade the consulate to return my passport through express delivery, I'll get it on Saturday, be able to fly on Sunday, and catch the early morning internal flight to Bocas on Monday, thus only effectively missing 2 days of the course. Phew. Now if only things were a little more confirmed...for e.g., at least tell me what date you can give the approval! Each ticket change with Delta would cost me at least $200, sigh....

I feel like beating my head against the wall...

So I've been emailing the Smithsonian External Affairs i/c in an effort to see if my visa could get approved and my passport returned before I'm due to leave on Thursday. Now it seems like I have to request for an overnight delivery of my passport from D.C., without the visa in it, and for my visa to be sent to the airport in Panama (if it gets approved by then...else, I guess I might be deported...). The story doesn't end there. Even though the visa is approved, I can't get it attached at the airport immigration. They have to confiscate my passport, and I have to go to the Immigration office to pick it up after 2 working days. My connecting flight is supposed to be on Friday, 3pm, and the course starts on Saturday morning. Apparently I can't fly without my passport too. If I wait till Monday, I'll miss 3 days of lessons. And it's the intro to sponge taxonomy and morphology too! Sighs... All these madness, while I'm trying to study for the oral exam on …

A rather cheena dinner

昨晚终于煮了三菜一汤的晚餐. It was something that always seemed a little overly sumptuous for one person, so that's one of the advantages of having a roommate! There was chai-poh omelette, stir-fried mustard greens (tasted like old chye sim) with garlic and mushrooms, steamed tofu with radish pickled in chili oil, and some egg drop soup leftover from 2 days ago. Really a lot of 'cheena' taste in there :). No photos, cos we were both too famished!

Blood pressure rising again

Had a very tiring weekend shifting bulky and heavy items to my new domicile, trying to hook up the washer and dryer, and just crashed last night surrounded by boxes and piles of my stuff. Just when I thought the stressful part is more or less over and I can start studying for my oral exam, I called the Panamanian consulate this morning to ask when I can get my passport back. Horrors of horrors- the lady on the line said that it's in Panama now and not to expect it for 1 1/2 months! The course would be over by then!! ARRGAHAGHHGHGHG.... GAAAAHHHHH.... My only recourse is to ask the Smithsonian to call the immigration department in Panama and see if they could speed things up, plus somehow pass my passport back to me by next Wednesday...gaaaaaakkkkk.......

Sailing to Byzantium

Poetry is my solace, and my refuge...

(WB Yeats)
THAT is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.


I've just submitted my ISRS/TOC fellowship application, mailed off the prospectus to the department, and it's just a relief to know that I'm done with paperwork, at least for the moment. It's hard to believe that in a little more than 2 weeks, I'll be off to Panama for my sponge field course, apparently also fully prepared to carry out all the experiments I'm supposed to do there. It's crazy how unprepared I feel for the whole thing- never been to Central or South America, can't speak Spanish to save my life, no clue as to the layout of where things and places are. And reams of papers on sponges to read in preparation for the course. It's definitely a new experience for someone who's so anal about doing exhaustive research on whatever locale she visits. But I suppose things will fall into place as the time approaches. I hope.

What's next? My oral qualifying exam looms! August 13th, 9am, is the date and time. I've done the rounds, got my s…

A delay in the process

Had a meeting with the boss today, and since I didn't have that much of success this field season (i.e. can't publish anything with the data I've obtained), my application for PhD has been pushed to the next semester, with the hope that I enter the programme in Fall 2008. Was a little down the last few weeks thinking about the delay in my plans, and how I can't finish up my degree as fast as I wanted, or how I still have to go through my Masters oral examination, but... actually, after confirming it with Boss, it's not so bad after all. Sure, it'll be nice to have a higher salary (no TKK scholarship this year, sniffs), but after all, I chose a field project, and these are the risks associated with a field intensive project. So it's really my 'fault' after all, and I can't complain too much. I'm just glad Boss didn't can my project or ask me to work on something more realistic. Time to work harder this semester and get more grant applicat…

Cars and me...

...just don't go together... I'm cursed, cursed! I tell you. Got involved in a minor collision while scoping out an apartment complex near Monkey Junction. Some dunderhead reversed out of the lot without looking and smacked right into my car's passenger door. Eric tried to sound the horn but hit the center of the steering wheel was which just plastic not linked to any sound making device. My poor car. What did it do to deserve such abuse? So I got this huge dent, and when we got out of the car, the other driver asked whether I wanted to call in the cops, and I said 'yes', and he apparently made the call on his cell. Half an hour of impatiently waiting for the cops to arrive later, he asked if he could go and pick up his wife, who was waiting at work, and that he'll be right back. Seeing his young boy in the car, I relented. After all, I got his particulars and the cops coming right?

....One and a half hours cops or errant driver in sight!!! ARGRHGHRGH…

No TKK for me too...

Didn't get the TKK Scholarship this Oh wells, I'm just glad that I was even selected last year, given how unbillingual I am. Win some, lose some I guess!


Isn't it cool? The hammerhead that Wai and I saw on our first dive at San Salvador. It actually wheeled around and swam right by us again! Couldn't resist getting a little closer, it's so hard to get a good shot of a shark! Tim thought I breached the 100ft limit for dives, but I was exactly at 100ft, haha! I'm good, huh?

Anyway, I do have photos of other stuff from the Bahamas. The first 20 up online make up my portfolio for the little photo competition we had on the cruise (Wai came in 2nd!). And here it is...more photos to come later!

The worst club in the world

Tim and I and the only ones left in the 100% club, so termed because we are the last two standing who have gone for every single pre-dawn dive to measure the photosynthetic efficiency of corals in response to sponge extracts. Today marks the 5th time this cruise that I've woken up at 4am (for the first week 4x in a row), and I've not been blogging much as all this lack of sleep have left me pretty much *$^%#^#* tired. Today the sting is felt hardest of all, as the rest of the cruise participants are going for a wonderful dive at the Pinnacles, while Tim and I have to sit out to avoid reverse point hovering at 60ft either, cos thats where the Pinnacles actually start...Ahs, the sacrifices one makes in for the sake of science. Well, to console myself, the dive this morning was actually rather nice. The water was warm and clear, the corals were pretty, fishes darted about, and we finished the dive witthout Tim stabbing me in the forehead with a pair of s…

Off to the Bahamas!

Well, we've packed stuff away in totes (we call them tubs :)) and loaded the trailer today, and planned the meeting times and places for tomorrow. So crossing our fingers for good weather, and speedy work processes, and not to forget anything too important. Looking forward to the diving :) ...

Writing is hard...

After a long and painful two days, I finally revised my literature review for my thesis prospectus, and hopefully this time it is worthy enough to greet the hallowed eyes of my graduate thesis committee. One more proposal to go this weekend, for a scholarship application, and then another mega-application for a big fellowship, due July. Faugh!

I definitely need to get some ice-cream now...

Joys and frustrations

I'm pretty upbeat today, despite the fact that my thesis project is going down the toilet. Why, you ask? Well, although, I've already scrapped Plans A and B, and have to come up with Cs and Ds as we go along, at least I know what's not working out, and can do something about it. Definitely better than plotting and planning all semester, and pinning all my hopes on a piece of paper.

As those in the know would realise, you have to be a little insane to do research on ecology. Sure, there are perks, such as the very obvious one of diving for work (no-one tells you of the seasickness and the long long hours), and getting paid (albeit peanuts) to dive on coral reefs in exotic locations (sometimes). For me, one of the major thrills is the challenge of unravelling the mysteries behind each organism that make up an ecosystem. Each time I dive, I'm just amused and amazed at the wonderful complexity that can arise from a driver as simple as natural selection, something akin to fr…