Combating Climate Change

The ground trembles and cracks appear on the ground. Rain stops falling from the sky. Volcanoes belch out huge amounts of lava and putrid smoke.

These natural disasters are happening more and more often, and people attribute this to global warming and climate change. Nowadays, it seems inevitable that we see a new warning or the horrendous damages done due to climate change. Farmers have less crop yields, water supplies are down, and the frequency of natural disasters is increasing.

Everyone is familiar with the topic- the factories give out greenhouse gases, which mainly consists of carbon dioxide. The gas traps some of the Sun's heat, but the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are so much that the average temperature is increasing, which is global warming in other words. This has changed the climate and weather. In the 1930's the scientists had noticed that the temperatures in North America and Europe had been rising, but they had then thought that it was only happening there and was not happening elsewhere. However, English engineer Guy Steward Callendar, believes that rises in the world's temperature were due to human's burning fossil fuels and so releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Thirty years down the road, scientists had proved that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was increasing, but it took another 30 years before the world started to take notice and the United Nations Earth Summit met at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Many governments took part in this meeting, and people started to make a commitment to reducing greenhouse gases for the first time.

The meeting did not do much and they gathered again in Kyoto, Japan, and in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was introduced. The EU and Members of State ratified the protocol in May 2002. The developed countries commit themselves to reducing their collective emissions of six key greenhouse gases by at least 5%. This group target will be achieved through major cuts of 8% by Switzerland, most Central and East European States, and the EU, 7% by the US, 6% by Canada, Hungary, Japan, and Poland. New Zealand, Russia and Ukraine are to stabilise their emissions, while Norway may increase emissions by up to 1%, Australia by up to 8% and Iceland 10%. These targets are to be achievable by the period 2008-2012. Demonstrable progress towards meeting their targets must be made by the year 2005. However, the protocol is about to expire soon, and they are not aiming to renew the protocol. Also, the director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University thinks that the world would take another 30 more Kyoto's before the climate change problem is cut down to size.

The countries gather for meetings yearly. Last year, they met at Copenhagen, Denmark, but their commitments were too difficult to achieve and nothing much was done. This, year, however, the meeting in Cancun this year bore more fruits. They recognised that current emission pledges need to rise, and setting a target of limiting a rise in average world temperature to below 2 deg C over pre-industrial times. They also created a fund to channel money from the West to developing nations by establishing a US$100 billion annual green fund that will pay countries to protect their forests and help them with new technology in areas such as weather forecasting and risk management.

Another problem of climate change is that it will allow more insects to survive in more places. Mosquitoes have recently been found in places where they have never been seen before and people are catching malaria in places where people living there 20 years ago have not seen a mosquito.

The main culprit of climate change is the carbon dioxide released by us, so scientists are scrambling to find renewable sources of energy which are clean and green. Currently, wind power, tidal power, solar power and nuclear power can be harnessed. Wind energy is clean and all you need is a turbine, a generator, and wires leading to power stations, but wind energy is unreliable and can only be harnessed when there is wind around. Wind turbines also spoil the landscape according to some people. Tidal power is also clean, and large amounts of energy can be harvested through tidal power, but they require large areas of land for dams to be built, and have a devastating effect on local habitats and wildlife. Solar power is probably the most common form of energy harvested, but it is inefficient, expensive and can only be used in the day. Nuclear power can harness a great amount of energy and can meet 6% of the world's energy requirements. However, they are dangerous to build and explosions like the Chernobyl incident in 1986 can cause huge amounts of damage. The Chernobyl incident released 30-40 times the nuclear fallout than in the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Harvesting nuclear power also produces nuclear waste which can stay toxic for up to 100 years.

We have reached a point when humans have to make a choice. Scientists that study global warming say that we have little time to do anything. However, if we take action fast enough, temperatures will not continue to climb and the dark future looming ahead of us can be avoided. To stop the worst effects of global warming from happening, everyone has to do their part. There are two possible futures ahead of us and I am sure that we all want the better one. We should do all we can to save our Earth and stop global warming before its ugly effects reach their peak.


Problem Gambling and the Casinos

About a year has passed since the casinos in Singapore have opened. Both casinos, the Marina Bay Sands resort, MBS, and the Resorts World Sentosa, RWS have indisputably brought more money and tourists to this tiny red dot. In the first nine months of 2010, tourists have spent $13.7 billion, resulting in the 47% increase in the amount of money spent in the same time period last year. Singapore Tourism Board expresses that there are six categories of spending- sightseeing and entertainment, which includes spending at the two IRs, shopping, accommodation, at food and beverage outlets and medical expenditure. The increase in the amount of spending in the sightseeing and entertainment category increased the most, surging by more than 13 times over the same period last year. They attributed this increase to the spending in the two IRs.

Before the casinos were set up, the Minister of Health was strongly against this plan, and each time the Singapore Tourism board pushed forward the proposal, he would object to it and requested them not to go for "easy options", but to think hard about how they could be special and still attract the tourists without building a casino. STB tried- they tried using the Haw Par Villa, Volcano Land, remaking Sentosa many times. Meanwhile, Singapore's market share in tourism continued to shrink. However, when all other attempts did not work, Mr Khaw finally changed his mind when he saw the economical benefit was huge and the y could not ignore the many and much needed jobs that it would bring to Singaporeans. He had noted then that the prospective investors that were willing to put in astronomical amounts of money were prepared for more than one casino and they were confident that the rising Asian market was large enough for more than one casino. They were all ready for the foreign gamblers' arrival and were also confident that the amount of gamblers could support the casinos.

The casinos have many good points. Firstly, they bring in jobs for the public, and those working there do not need many skills. Hence, the casinos reduce the unemployment rate significantly in Singapore. Secondly, they bring more money to the country, thus improving the economy, and giving the government more money to spend on other important things like healthcare for the elderly, youth education, and infrastructure. Thirdly, they will attract more tourists to Singapore, who will contribute to the spending too, like in the report on the spending in the first nine months of this year. Fourthly, the IRs will introduce MICE tourism. MICE stands for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibition. MICE is a very lucrative business and will attract many tourist to Singapore for meetings. In addition, they will be brought to the casinos on the incentive-based trips, where they will spend money. Also, these tourists may be businessmen here to set up exhibitions centres to advertise their products to the general public. There will also be performances in the IRs, including the newly set up Crane Dance, where ten-storey tall metallic birds dance in front of an estimated 1,000 audience.

However, the IRs is a double-edged sword. They have their disadvantages too. Gambling brings many social illnesses, such as pathological gambling, which is, in other words, gambling addiction. Pathological gambling is a serious mental disorder. It can cause huge damages to the person's health as well as that of his loved ones. They tend to bet more frequently and with higher stakes. They become restless and irritable easily when other attempt to stop them from gambling, and possess serious withdrawal symptoms. Some former addicts share their fearful experiences with gambling addiction. "I feel as though I am hypnotised when playing jackpot. It helps me to relieve stress. Also, I have friends at the gaming room and we are very supportive of each other." "I can't understand why I keep gambling. I always lose. Once I pay my creditors back, I return to gambling… I can't understand it."

I am sure everyone knows the Chia Teck Leng case. On 2 April 2004, Chia Teck Leng was sentenced to 42 years in jail, the longest jail term meted out for the largest case in commercial fraud in Singapore to date. He was a finance manager at Asia Pacific Breweries and he forged documents to cheat banks out of S$117 million over four years to feed his gambling addiction. Previously, the worst commercial fraud case was only held by Singapore Airlines' employee Teo Cheng Kiat, who embezzled S$35 million from the airline for over 13 years. He was convicted in 2000 and jailed for 24 years for the crime. It is scary even just to think of the astronomical amount Mr Chia cheated the banks of.

The amount of cases of gambling addictions has tripled, according to statistics released by the National Addictions Management Service, NAMS. Mr Thomas Lee, the acting chief of NAMS, has said that the number of gambling addicts has jumped from 5 per cent in 2007 to 17 per cent last year. He also expresses that most gamblers are 40 year old males that bet on soccer matches, lotteries and casino-related games. One patient says that he had a constant urge to gamble and he would lose all rationality when he had the cash to gamble. He had spent his over 1,000 dollar salary in a matter of days countless times and had even stolen his wife's money and valuables. Luckily, he went for treatment and is looking forward to the next chapter of his life.

In my opinion, gambling seems very addictive and it is easy to lose track of time when gambling. One's hard earned life savings can be gambled away in just a matter of days. In this aspect, gambling is scary, and addiction is even more so. Some casinos say that "The House always wins", and gamblers or would-be gamblers have to take note of that. Remember Mr Chia Teck Leng's experience. Although that is an extreme case, it will serve as a good deterrent. I am sure that no one wants to be jailed for 42 years. Some people get addicted more easily than others, and if your friends gamble twice a week and not be addicted, you can do so too. . However, it will be better not to gamble at all and not risk being addicted.

The Copyright Wars

    Many people have copyrights, including writers, singers, and companies. These people have copyrights that give themselves exclusive rights over the reproduction, distribution and adaptation of their work. However, in recent years, the anti-copyright movement has been on the rise, and the Internet provides quick interconnectivity between the users all over the world, making the cost-free reproduction and distribution of music files, books and movies possible. Activists that support the anti-copyright laws often argue that the Internet itself has already made current laws for copyright extinct. They think that many creators believe in giving others the right to copy and modify their work in order to achieve more exposure to the outside world in the modern times. Others argue that copyright represents a smart monopoly and giving such exclusive copyright to their work discourages further creativity.

    So far, the most infamous display of the anti-copyright movement is the suing of the four founders of The Pirate Bay. They are reportedly the biggest company that provides free files for the public to download and is based in Sweden. In the 2009 European Party elections, another unrelated organisation that developed in almost the same way in Sweden, it is the third largest political party outside the national parliament. In the end, they garnered 7.13% of the total votes, earning them a seat out of the eighteen that was allocated for Sweden. Its aim is to reconstruct and reform copyright and patent laws, as well as to protect the rights to privacy of the individuals, arguing against the right of the government to look at the email messages, SMS' and the phone calls of the public.

    In June last year, Swedish Software company Global Gaming Factory X AB said that it would buy over The Pirate Bay and turn it into a paid site that would operate on a "give-and-take" model that paid users to share files and would compensate content owners. According to other sources, it is in the process of buying it over, since they have estimated that it could be turned into a legitimate business. The latest survey done by The Leading Question, which is a specialist media and technology research agency reveals that as far as British teenagers are concerned, they are participating significantly less in file-sharing. In 2008, UK teenagers were downloading 842 illegal tracks per iPod, but this number decreased by 5% in half a year. The 14-18 year olds made the biggest drop, decreasing 16% from 42% from 2007-2009. Tim Walker, the CEO of The Leading Question, said that he believes that the best way to beat piracy is to create big, new, licensed services that are easier and more fun to use, and provides unlimited MP3 downloads as well as unlimited streams.

I strongly think that there should be a law to protect the exclusive rights of companies over their work. Those who share files in public should be caught and charged. If the public is allowed to share files freely across the Internet, then those who sang the songs, wrote the books, and acted in the movies will not be able to earn enough money to feed them, because they can only earn money when they sell copies of their CDs or books. I think that, like the case in US, record companies that have been suing college students have a right to do so. The Recording Industry Association of America, the RIAA, estimates that illegal music-sharing worldwide costs 12.5 billion each year and causes 71,000 job losses in America. This has been going on for long enough, and in my opinion, those who share files should be charged accordingly. Judges should be strict with perpetrators, as in the case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, where the jury decided to fine 80,000 for each of the 24 songs she posted online for the public to download for free. I support the 13 Hollywood studios which are calling for The Pirate Bay to be closed. I also agree that with what Tim Walker suggested. The more user-friendly websites will definitely attract much more people to go to them. I think that people should respect companies more and not download illegal downloads- think of all the people who worked hard to create the tracks. Shouldn't we acknowledge these people?

    In conclusion, I think we should respect the law and download only from websites with licenses. Musicians, actors and writers are all professions and they need to earn money for their families. They need money to survive too. Organisations like The Pirate Bay prevent them from earning money. On top of that, those businessmen who sell CDs, movies and books, will have no business and they too, will suffer. We should respect the law, not only for the sake of these people, but for you. If you are found guilty of downloading illegal tracks, won't you just be creating more trouble for yourself? You may even risk getting charged by the law. Stop using illegal websites and help not only yourself, but also others!

A Day to Remember

    The 21th of December was important day for me. Schools have model students, and I have a "model day" too. Yesterday was a fruitful day for me, and I have set it as a model to follow in the holidays. I opened my eyes at 7.45 a.m. and read the newspapers until 8.30, and my mother brought me out for a delicious breakfast at Holland Village. After my meal at Ah Koon Kaya Toast, we headed to my primary school, where I collected the 2010 year book and my PSLE certificate. We then drove home and started doing some work. My mother went through the Sec 1 Higher Chinese Textbook with me, and we easily read a quarter of it by 11.00 a.m. I was surprised that the textbook was so easy, and was thinking that the Chinese next year would be easy, until my mother reminded me that, through my brother's experience, the Chinese would be easy.

    After a short water break, I proceeded to do a blog post on an important milestone I made on the 20th, and I finished the essay in 30 minutes. Then, my parents and I went to a gym in my neighbourhood and we spent the next hour there. I did a variety of things there- sit-ups, running on the treadmill and using the cross-trainer. I found the cross-trainer the most tiring. I had been doing this for some time already, and I did it to keep myself fit. I enjoy my workouts there even though I will be exhausted by the time I finish, and there is even a television there to watch. After reaching home, exhausted, I took a break for lunch and started on my research for my second blog post on the current events happening on the Korean peninsula. Halfway through my typing, I thought about how much I had improved in generating my own ideas about a topic. I relived the time when I first started my blog and took hours to write an essay, and I had troubles even writing a 400 word event that happened recently. Now, I have improved much more and can write on more complicated topics now. I smiled to myself, happy that I have made significant progress in one and a half years.

    It was already three in the afternoon when I finally finished my post, and I practised my daily piano to relax. After I practised for 40 minutes, I rested for another 20 and I started on my mathematics at 4p.m, finishing after two hours. I then squeezed out 40 minutes for a current events discussion and headed for my tuition after dinner. We did a few questions on a video during the tuition and I went to bed directly after I came home. That night, as I gazed at the stars, I thought of the interesting day I had. I had done many things that taught me a lot that day, and I felt happy. If I had all my days like these, I would improve a lot in both studies and sports. I would also feel very cheerful. Before I fell into a blissful slumber, I thought the stars winked at me…

The Rival Koreas

    On the Korean peninsula, things are not good. Tensions between the two rival Koreas are strained since the North shelled the South Korean island, Yeonpyeong Island. The drill which the South carried out on Yeonpyeong Island agitated the North and the North retaliated, shooting over 50 artillery shells at South Korea, killing two civilians and two Korean Marines. This attack has been the worst on the South Korean territory since the Korean War ended in 1953.

    Despite this, South Korea was set on carrying out another drill on the border island yesterday. The North had threatened to retaliate, this time even more badly than the last time. However, South Korea ignored this warning and one of the Defence ministers said that there was no plan to cancel the drills. They added that the only factor they were looking at was the weather. They still carried out their drill yesterday. According to reports, marines fired 1,500 artillery shells into the water, pointing in the direction of the South, like the last time. However, the mercurial North Korea did not retaliate and when asked why, they replied that they felt that it was not worth reacting one-by-one to military provocations. The U.S. State Department said that the South's exercise was defensive in nature and the North had been warned beforehand, so there is no reason for the North to retaliate to South Korea's drill, which lasted only about 90 minutes.

    Beijing is considered North Korea's most important ally and has been urged to use its influence to change the North's decision to attack the South, but it was unclear if the changed decision by the North had to do anything to do with China. However, China and Russia have been asking the two Koreas to avoid any actions that could inflame tensions on the divided peninsula. These two countries are part of the UN Security Council, together with the United States, France and Britain.

    Interestingly, not only did the North not retaliate to the drills by South Korea, they even offered to allow United Nations inspectors back to the nuclear site, and also started selling fuels rods again, potentially to the South. Last month, they also showed a US scientist a new, highly advanced uranium facility and a plutonium plan, which can provide a new way for them to build atomic bombs. This shows that they are prepared to give up their plutonium programmes, which is the source of the fuel rods. Pyongyang, the city where the government is, has even agreed to consider the New Mexican's governor's (Mr Richardson) proposal for a military commission between the US, the two Koreas, and a separate hotline for the Korea's militaries. Mr Richardson hopes that these actions from the North will signal a new chapter and a round of dialogue to lessen tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

    I hope that the two Koreas can come to a consensus through peaceful talks, and bring safety to both sides. I think discussions would be a better way to improve relationships between the Koreas, instead of repeated retaliations, which may result in the needless loss of lives. I hope this tension between the Koreas will resolve soon, before war breaks out, to allow the presence of peace again.

An Important Milestone

I froze, not knowing what to say- my mind was blank. I did not know what to say. I had just written down some points on an article discussing on whether teenagers should be held liable for their own online comments. However, I just could not recall a single thing to say in front of my mother, who was listening. This is one of my biggest problems- to stand up in front of someone and speak naturally about a topic. However, to get into my dream CCA, debates, I knew that I had to work hard to overcome it. In the allocated time that I set to overcome this problem, I was unable to do much and I decided to do more the next day, the 20th of December.

Yesterday, I finally had a breakthrough. First, my parents asked me to repeat simple sentences like "My name is Alex Cheong" and "This is wrong. If everyone does that, the world will be in trouble" in as many different tones as possible- angry, sad, timid, arrogant etc. Then, I said out a topic on "My Dream House", one of the blog posts I had recently written. My mother used a video camera to record it down and it took me quite a long time before I had finally gathered every ounce of my courage to stand up in front of the camera and say out the words. It was not very natural at first, but I managed to get the hang of saying it, and before I knew it, I had finished speaking for four whole minutes. It was difficult task, but I did it in the end.

Both my parents and I were over the moon, and I was proud that I had broken this speaking barrier and could speak up. I think that this is a big milestone for me. With this improvement, I can continue to practise more until I have built a strong foundation in this aspect and can continue to build on this to improve further. I am sure that with constant improvement, I will be able to get into the debate CCA in my secondary school!

The Fight against Secrecy

Discussion has been ongoing on the topic. Many big and important companies have to do with it. It even involves the U.S. It is the WikiLeaks incident.

Once Private First Class Bradley Manning downloaded tens of thousands of cables to a CD-RW disc at the Iraq U.S. Army outpost, he immediately broke 18 U.S. laws which criminalises unauthorised computer downloads. He then allegedly sent all these files to the self-described freedom-of-information activist Julian Assange and his revolutionary website, WikiLeaks. But these were not just any cables. They were secret U.S. files that contained 76,607 U.S. military files on the Afghanistan war effort and close to 400,000 war logs from Iraq. Both of these files contained unreported civilian deaths and many incidences of abuse. To make matters worse, a batch of U.S. State Department cables that exposed diplomatic cables of all sorts were released, and WikiLeaks claims the number of these files released will eventually number to 251,287. Out of these, 11,000 documents were marked secret, and the release of just one of them, as classified by the government's definition, would cause serious damage to national security.

Following the U.S. government's call, many companies have stopped serving WikiLeaks- the Bank of America, MasterCard, PayPal and Visa Europe has closed down the accounts that provided funds for WikiLeaks, and has removed WikiLeaks from its server. However, many hackers, also known sometimes as hacktivists, in support of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, have gone as far as hacking some of these companies' websites and shutting them down. However, the Bank of America is confident about its website's security. Security experts have said that their website provides access to the customers' accounts through its home page, but it would be a hard nut to crack for hackers, and the bank has a lot of experience warding off hackers already. In response to this, WikiLeaks has called for its supporters to boycott the bank urging that "all people who love freedom close out their accounts in the Bank of America".

On the other hand, naturally there would be others that are against WikiLeaks. Hackers on this side carried out denial-of-service attacks on the WikiLeaks website, preventing the public from accessing the website. Both sides of hackers keep launching attacks at each other, making it seem like a reality war game.

The repercussions of the Wiki Dump are only beginning to play out. In North Korean government which is in Pyongyang, the nuclear-armed regime of Kim Jong Il learned that its long time protector, China, may be turning on it and is willing to contemplate unification of the peninsula under the leadership of Seoul, in which lies the South Korean government. In Iran, the president discovered through the leak that while Afghanistan is publicly nice to them, they are actually pleading with the U.S. to launch an attack against Tehran's nuclear program. Soon, many secrets about many countries will start to show. Countries will both gain and lose, and the secrets between countries will lessen. However, things are not looking good for the founder too. Mr. Assange is being accused of sexual assault, but his lawyers have heatedly argued that these allegations are trumped up just to put him behind bars.

In my opinion, there are advantages and disadvantages in this leak. For the advantages, I feel that this leak will allow some countries to understand other countries better, and know the things that are happening around the world. Take the instance of Iran knowing Afghanistan better as an example. However, the leak will release confidential information that the U.S. does not want to release, and this is not favourable for the country. I feel that those that hack the opposite's website is wrong to do so. Although those that are against WikiLeaks say that the hackers that support Mr. Assange started it, they should set a good example and not start using denial-of-service attacks to retaliate. If they do so, then they are also in the wrong.

The Home of My Dreams

A spacious house planted in the city, facing a large forest, in a country with the four seasons, but as accessable and safe as Singapore. The perimeters are filled with a wide variety of plants forming a myriad of colours, and my school within walking range. This is my dream house.

My ideal home is one where things are neat and spacious, and gives me a sense of security. I would also like to call a place where everything is within reach "home". The distance from my school plays a big role in the location of my house. If my school is near home, I can go home easily to pick up things that I forget to bring, or can go home for a bath after an arduous day at school before my school's CCA begins. The large forest and plants, which are soothing to the eyes, will help me relax after my work. According to some, the fresh air from plants will help to rouse your mind and cause you to be more awake in the sleep and dreary mornings, before a long day begins.

Out of all the rooms, my study and my living room are my biggest rooms. Once I poke my head into my soundproof living room, I see a fireplace with a chimney in the shape of a horn, two fabric sofas, a touch-screen television, a furry carpet and a grand piano will be present. The fireplace will keep me warm and cosy on the cold and chilly nights, the sofas will allow me to sit and watch my touch-screen television, and my furry carpet will serve as a floor covering, and the grand piano will allow me to practice my daily piano to relax.

Strolling into my study room, I will see two bookshelves, one with books for relaxation and the other for academic related books. I will make my bookshelves remote controlled such that the book I want to take appear right in front of my face, with a view window to allow me to gaze at the deep green home for many wild animals opposite me. The view will let me calm down to relax after a long time of study. I feel that my white study room will give me a sense of calm and neatness, as my parents sometimes say, "A cluttered table is a cluttered mind."

Wandering into a room with chartreuse walls that is quite bare, I suddenly recall that it is my dream dining room in my ideal house. There is a retractable dining table that can extend to different lengths depending on the number of people eating. This table is unique. Since my dining room is beside the kitchen, food would be laid on the table that is in the kitchen and extend it out into the diners outside with a press of a button. This is much more convenient as food is brought out in one go, and does not need any people to move in and out of the kitchen.

When I feel the urge of nature calling me, I enter the long restroom, which is assessable from every single room, through an automatic door. The soap box is a large tank, where tubes lead to all the different sinks. To me, this is more convenient than most other toilets, especially public ones, where the two boxes are only located at the side, and are hogged by others.

Stumbling into another of my rooms, I find that is my air-conditioned exercise room, where the walls haematic and has a television installed, but this time, it is controlled by buttons on the gym equipment and in the swimming pool there. This place will allow me to exercise or wind down a little after my work. The pool can "change" shape- when a button is pressed on the small machine at the side, the bricks will move into different shapes, a random maze, a normal pool, or maybe even the shape of a magnificent lion, if you wish.

Yawning, I head to a place with slate walls, which is my bedroom. Installed with blackout blinds that has alarm clocks on them, and will zip up at seven every morning to let in the sunlight. The bed has shelves for me to put things that are interesting to me, like a crab's claw and gleaming souvenirs that I have bought overseas. The black walls help to enforce the dark colours of the night and allow me to sleep faster. A small but comfortable mattress would suffice as a bed for me, and beside it is a couch for me to sit and read my books or relax before going to sleep.

This house of mine will be fully powered by black cells that harness the sun's inexhaustible solar energy. Speakers are located in every room and can call the room another person is in. This helps me to find and talk to others in the house easily. Together, the mass of solar panels will gather enough energy to power the house. The multi-coloured rooms are to reflect the lively life I have, and the other objects act as a multi-faceted chandelier, reflecting characteristics like rays of light. When these rays shine into a prism, they form a person- me. I created this impression of an ideal home using my personalities, so this dream house will suit me well if I live here.

Together, the rooms, equipment, decorations, and everything under the roof of this house, form me and my ideal home- and one I would love to possess.

Traces of Life

In current researches, a few new discoveries have made it more possible for life to exist somewhere else in the universe. One of the discoveries is that a group of scientists have discovered that there are three times more stars than they thought. Another group discovers that a microbe can live on arsenic, expanding our understanding of how life can thrive in even the most extreme of conditions. What's, more, astronomers, for the first time, have discovered a new potentially habitable planet.

These pieces of evidence have pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle, making it more possible that life exists somewhere else. However, these life forms are microscopic, and are not green, slimy slugs that you may be thinking of. They will only have a chance of growing bigger when they evolve in the future. Scientists have devised simple equation to calculate the odds of life forms on other planets. The calculation depends on two basic factors: How many places are able to support life? And how hard is it for life to form?

Other studies also have new findings. For example, one study found a scorching hot planet much bigger than the biggest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. It seems to be full of carbon in its atmosphere. In another study, astronomers found a star with at least four large young planets, challenging past assumptions on the fact that there is a limit on the number of large planets a star could have. In the past, scientists were dismissed as working on the fringes of science, if they researched on the existence of life elsewhere. Now, it is the other way round. Believing that there is only life on earth is like believing in miracles. In the past, astronomers thought that life could only exist on or around planets circling a star, like our solar system. However, a recent meeting of the world' top astronomers broke new ground. They crunched some numbers and discovered that life could also exist on planets circling the universe's most common stars- the red dwarfs, which are smaller and dimmer than our Sun. They found that the conditions there would not be similar to Earth's but there would still be life there.

Just last week, an astronomer in Yale University said that he estimated that there are 300 sextillion (which is 3 with 23 zeroes behind!)stars in the universe, three times the previous number. Scientists now believe that at least half the stars have planets two to ten times the size of our Earth- super Earths. Out of these, Goldilocks zones- planets which are not too hot and not too cold have to be sifted out. One had been reportedly found in April, but some are still challenging that. The other part of the equation remains- how likely is life? Over the past 15 years, Earth life has been found growing in acids, in Antarctica, and in other extreme environments.

This is nothing compared to the discovery that a bacterium found in Mono Lake in California that scientists could train to thrive ion arsenic instead of phosphorus. Six major elements have been long considered essential for life- carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulphur. News of this bacterium living on arsenic changed that definition of life.

BY making life more likely in such extreme conditions, it increases the number of planets that are potential homes for life. Mr Donald Brownlee, an astronomer at the university of Washington, is less optimistic that the others because of his belief that what is likely to be on other planets is not going to be that easy to find, -or that meaningful. IF life is going to be found, Mars, the red planet, is the most likely candidate. Any life forms there will probably be on underground, where there is water.

Beware: Fakes Ahead!

If the price of that new Nokia phone you are staring at is too good to be true, it would be better to put your urges on hold. For all you know, it might be a fake, or made using fake components. Experts have even said that the fake components may even pose a health risk if they are of low quality. In November, a fifty year old man sentenced to nine months in jail for selling fake Nintendo game consoles and high-end Nokia handsets, shedding some light on Singapore's high-tech counterfeit scene.

According to some court documents, Mister Tan Kim Chia kept a workshop in his Rochor Centre store stocked with thousands of spare parts for Nokia and Nintendo products. The spare parts, which ranged from batteries to circuit boards allowed his malevolent technician to put together phones that Mister Tan would sell as originals. Counterfeiters now buy old or faulty parts and cannibalise the working parts, slap on a new cover and voila! A "new" product is made and is ready to be sold.

While there are no estimates of how common such counterfeiters are in Singapore, police raided 20 stores last year. In China, the counterfeiting industry is even more shocking. AT Shenzhen's famed Shanzai tech marketplace last year, some visitors said that there were dozens of booths selling batteries and at each one, there would be a girl with raw lithium-ion batteries and Nokia stickers beside her, literally building fake batteries before their eyes.

Many may think that the parts used by counterfeiters are all bogus. Sometimes, the Sony digital camera parts and computer chips may come from US technology giants such as Intel and Broadcom. Even more shockingly, manuals for making such handsets were sold at Shanzai! You may ask, so what if the materials used are fakes? If they are still functional, wouldn't it be much cheaper to just buy the fake version? Actually, the non-originals will possess more bugs and might hang the device. Also, the fake batteries may leak if the internal temperatures are too high, causing hazardous materials to spill out, posing a huge danger. The batteries can also spoil when the capacity is wrong and are overcharged.

You may think that these problems can all be avoided if choose to buy the genuine version of the product. However, this is easier said than done. The difference between the genuine and the fakes are very small- they come with the manuals and the packaging, and counterfeiters sell their products at a lower or discounted price, luring us like a moth to a light bulb. To make matters worse, the counterfeiters have changed the large discounts to smaller ones, making it even more difficult to identify the fakes.

Luckily, the counterfeiting industry is not very big- it is more like a cottage industry where only 100 units are made in a day at most. Those found to be making counterfeits could be fined by up to S$100,000 and jailed for up to 5 years.

A warning to readers- or the sake of your health and money, do not buy fakes! It will be more worth it to spend that little bit more money to get a better quality product!

The Noxious Rollies

"I'm going downstairs to buy more "ang hoon" (or more commonly, loose tobacco leaves) to make rollies!" You may have heard this sentence years ago, and now it may be coming back. Roll-your-own-cigarettes are also known as rollies and were favoured by the older generation. Now, these are gaining popularity among the young.

Users typically put a wad of tobacco leaves on a rectangular piece of paper, which is then rolled into a tube and smoked from one end. Tobacco leaves are easily obtained from supermarkets and convenience stores and one bag, which is enough to fill fifty rollies, are sold for as meagre an amount as five dollars! This is one of the reasons why rollies are getting popular. Normally, one pack of twenty cigarettes are sold for twenty dollars and are finished in a week or so, but one bag can keep one going for as long as a month. Also, a twenty kilogram bag of tobacco leaves are more accessible than cigarette packs.

However, these rollies come with their disadvantages too. They are more damaging to the lungs, as they come without filters that block larger particles of smoke from entering the lungs. The unwelcome particles cause the smoke to be more concentrated and lead to a greater risk of mouth and throat cancer. The amount of leaves bought has zipped uphill from 38,174 kilograms in 2006 to an astonishing 82,994 kilograms! Doctors warn that users may end up putting more leaves into each cigarette or smoke more cigarettes due to the uncontrolled amount of tobacco leaves.

Ironically, Health Promotion Board have shown that, even the overall proportion o young people who have tried smoking has decreased significantly from 26% in 2000 to !6% last year, there has been an increase in patients who suffer from lung diseases at a younger age. Why is this so? This is probably there have been an increase in amount of rollies sold, which increase the chances of a smoker being diagnosed with lung disease. Now, some diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are now in their 40's-50, while the range used to be from the 50's-60. This is likely to be due to people smoking at a younger age. Young people that begin smoking have a greater possibility of catching these diseases, as their lungs are still developing.

I think that the government can do more to improve the situation. For one, I think that they can give out quizzes to the younger members of the society through school to increase awareness, and stress that rollies are even more health-damaging to them. Secondly, anti-smoking campaigns can be organised more frequently. I think that parents should not let the government do all the work and sit back. They too play an important role in this. They can keep an eye on their children and make sure that they do not smoke. From young, they can stress to them the consequences of smoking. Say no to rollies!

Singapore, the Happiest Place in Asia

    Singapore is a carefully interwoven web of people of all different ethnic groups, and the laws of the country are like spiders, binding the people together.

Singapore's has become famous for its paternalistic government which strictly enforces laws on the most trivial things, from chewing gum in public to failing to flush a toilet. Data from polls and studies over many decades form Gallup, The World Values Survey and the World Database on Happiness has shown that Singapore is the happiest place in Asia, although the city-state may not initially fit in with some people's notion of happiness. The people in the multi-racial society of Singapore feel that they belong and fit in. Citizens are able to trust their Government and police. Unemployment is low, and home ownership is high. Singapore is also able to provide green places in spite of having on of the highest population densities in the world.

Singapore now shows that feeling secure is more important than freedom when it comes to happiness. This means that citizens feel happier when they feel secure than when they have freedom to do anything that they want. I think this is because they rather be safe than have the luxury of doing anything they want.

Different people have different views about what happiness means to them. In Singapore, it seems that majority of citizens chase after the 5 C's- to possess a car, condo, country club membership card and cash. In my opinion, life does not revolve around these things or getting these things. There are other important things that I feel make me and others happy-the 4 F's. They are- fitness, friends, family and food. Also, I think that sufficient rest, routine exercise and bonding with family and friends are essential. Rest will ensure that people do not feel fatigued during the day and have enough energy to perform, while routine exercise will improve both your mental and physical health and will lower the chances of you having to fret over illnesses and bonding with family and friends will improve your relationship with them, thus making you happy.

Ironically, foreigners love Singapore's style of life, enjoy their holidays here and some even wish to immigrate here, while many Singaporeans complain about their current lives and say that they want to move out of the country. I think that we, as Singaporeans, should learn to appreciate the luxurious lives we have here. We are already very lucky to live in a country with a low crime rate, a good government, and a harmonious multi-racial society. Stop complaining about trivial matters and start trying to improve ourselves and climb upwards. Go, Singaporeans!

Climate Change

Yesterday, as the curtains rose in Cancun, Mexico, on the next round of international talks on climate change, expectations were low that the delegates will agree on a new treaty to reduce emissions that lead to global warming. They were unable to do so last year in Copenhagen and since then, the terms of negotiation in the biggest countries have grown apart even more. However, it is still possible for this year's meeting to have more progress than the last's. The Cancun delegates should move their focus on the long-term efforts to help the current situation to other practical and immediate actions that could have an effect on global warming in the years to come.

Global is caused by two kinds of pollution- carbon dioxide and other gases such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFC's), lower atmospheric ozone- and dark soot particles. There are three reasons why the carbon dioxide problem is difficult to solve. Firstly, carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for centuries and there will be no other permanent solution to helping global warming if no deep cuts in the carbon dioxide emissions are made. Secondly, carbon dioxide is mostly produced due to the burning of fuels. Fuels are very important in today's society as they are used everywhere- in cars, power stations etc. Thirdly, It will take decades of years and trillions of dollars to convert all the current fossil fuel power plants to cleaner ones such as nuclear, solar and wind powered ones. Meanwhile, while some effort is put on doing this job, a fast-action plan is needed.

As for the other three gases, they can stay in the atmosphere from several days to about a decade, and they contribute to 80% of the total percentageof pollution as carbon dioxide. However, the world could easily and quickly eliminate these pollutants, as there is enough technology and regulatory systems. Take methane as an example. It is emitted from livestock, rice paddis, landfills and coal mines, is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide and is the main ingredient in natural gases. To lessen the amount of methane in the atmosphere, old gas pipelines, from which this gas is emitted, can simply be changed with better ones, better managing the water used in rice cultivation. Just by doing this, 40% of the amount of methane in the air can be reduced.

Big cuts are also possible for HFCs, which is mainly used as refrigerants in air-conditioners. They were used to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) but caused a lot of global warming. The warming effect of HFCs are 1000 times more than that of carbon dioxide and will continue to increase unless they are regulated as CFCs had been in the past. Shifting from HFCs to other climate warmers that are 100 times less potent will offset nearly a decade's increase in warming that is expected from rising emissions of carbon dioxide.

From the political point of view, the people want the amount of ozone and soot to decrease the most, as these substances contribute a lot to local air pollution and the people care about the quality of air they breathe even though most of them do not care much about global warming.

Ozone is formed in the lower atmosphere from carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, and is a hazardous component in urban smog. Every year, it causes tens of billions of dollars worth of damage to crops. Pollution restrictions to reduce ozone levels in the rapidly growing polluted cities of Asia could both clear the air and slow warming. Soot is also a problem in the world. Every year, soot is responsible for 1.9million deaths due to respiratory diseases. It also melts ice and snow packs. New air pollution regulations could help reduce soot. Such laws in California have helped cut diesel emissions there by half. In China and India, a power improving programme cuts soot levels by two thirds.

Reducing soot and other short-lived pollutants would not stop global warming, but it would buy time, perhaps a few decades for the world to include other plans. For too long a time, overly ambitious goals have focused on the aspects of global warming that are hardest to solve. A few modest steps, with quick and measurable effects are a better way to proceed.

Hypnosis at Work

Currently, some parents are putting their children through hypnosis, hoping that it will boost their children's performance both academically and in sports.

Some people imagine about people babbling away on stage when they think of the word "hypnosis". As a result of this and other similar associations, psychologists who study hypnosis prefer to describe it as research into the stages of consciousness and the power of suggestion. Instead of "hypnosis", they prefer to call it "focused attention" or "susceptibility to suggestion". If they are asked to define hypnosis, most will call it an altered state of consciousness in which the suggested object becomes totally focused on a particular image or idea. The state of trance is supposedly a state of consciousness that is distinct from wakefulness, relaxation, meditation or sleep.

Some may ask- can hypnotists really induce a state of trance? Psychologists also have differing opinions, and the field if thus now divided into two groups- those that believe they can, and those that doubt the existence of the state of trance. The latter tends to think emphasise that the customer plays the role he thinks is expected of him as the individual. The role is played in ways consistent with his attitudes to and beliefs about hypnosis as well as his own interpretations of the hypnotists suggestions. This is the reason why some argue that hypnotists cannot impose their will on the customer, who must first choose to assume the role.

There are studies that show that hypnosis induces a state of awareness distinct from that in wakefulness, relaxation, sleep and even meditation. There have been a few tests of people being asked to say the colour of the word RED when the colour of it is blue, or the colour of the word BLUE printed in yellow. The tests show that the words have an impact on your ability to say the word correctly. It is also noted that hypnosis relieves pain better than other treatments such as distraction, mental imagery, or placebo, although the reason why this is so has not been discovered yet. Hypnosis has also been found to alleviate the condition of tics, bed wetting, insomnia and anxiety disorder.

Most parents would like to know right now if hypnosis will improve school grades for their children. In recent years, not many studies have been done on this topic. However, one of the studies carried out by 119 psychology students from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, did show an improvement in overall academics functioning by way of improving student self-esteem. Currently, one session of one to two hours would cost you $150- $200.

In my opinion, I do not think that such sessions are necessary. Firstly, we should not try to find shortcuts or easy-way-outs. We should try to improve our studies by working hard, not through such methods. Secondly, if you argue that it increases your self-esteem, you should try to instill more confidence in yourself. Believe in yourself, work hard, and your grades will improve!

The Seeds of Hunger

In many countries have experienced harsh weather conditions recently, including droughts and extreme temperatures. As a result of this, many crops were affected, including wheat, rice, cocoa plants and oil seeds.

Wheat prices have risen 62% since June, breaking the 50 years record of the highest increase in wheat prices in one year. This is due to a decrease in the production of wheat, especially in a major producer, Russia, and others such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the European Union. The increase will make some of the rich stock up their supplies, resulting in a food crisis, and riots may occur.

For the oil seeds, which are used in spreads and cooking oils. They will also be used as biofuels. This year, the supply of half of the world's major oilseeds is likely to fall, and the demand is likely to outstrip supply next year.

Things are not as bad for rice. Although Thailand and Vietnam, the world's biggest two producers of rice, face severe drought conditions that threaten to ruin this year's crops and global supplies, the amount of rice up for trade has not decreased, and the price has not increased much due to fear of floods in Asia, where these producers are. Rice is extremely important and is a staple product for many- to be exact, more than half of the population, including 640 million undernourished people living in Asia. Once the rice supplies crumple, starvation will hit the globe badly. Cocoa plants have been heavily affected by the droughts in West Africa, to the utmost horror of chocoholics.

Singapore has carried out multiple Food Security Projects, for example finding ways to kill spud fungus' which causes $6 million in damage to potato crops every year. Already, countries have problems feeding the citizens enough food. Hopefully, the clouds will clear, and a clear sunny day will show in the sky soon!

About this blog


About Me

My photo
Hi guys, I'm a student in Singapore, and this are some thoughts and essays I have written over the years.