Saturday, June 20, 2015

I make a lousy fossil

Some people want to become diamonds after they die. Some people want to be star dust again. Me, I'm happy to be fertiliser. Unless I could become a fossil, because that would be extremely cool. But then again, that isn't very likely.

I got an opportunity to see fossils first hand at the Universiti Malaya Museum of Zoology with the crew from the Advocates of the Propagation of Science Literacy (APOSL) on Saturday, April 25th. Whodathunkit there's a museum of natural history in the heart of the great metropolitan of Kuala Lumpur? 


The Museum of Zoology is located in a new-ish block in the Institute of Biological Science (better known as ISB , Institut Sains Biologi), Faculty of Science. It is adjacent to the Institute of Mathematical Science (whose notice boards feature the most interesting stuff about numbers that even those allergic to maths like me find fascinating) and is open during weekdays from 9 am to 4 pm.

The entrance to the museum.

We were fortunate that the curator, Prof. Sasekumar, very graciously agreed to open the museum to us on a weekend and made himself available to show us around and answer our questions.

Prof. Sasekumar, the Curator.

He explained that a large number of the specimens were collected over the years from various sources. Some were donated by state museums that have run out of space to store their natural history specimens, while others were the university's own research collection. A few others were gifts from visiting biologists who brought specimens of animals that are common in their country, like the muskrat specimen from North America and a piranha from Brazil. It was here that I discovered that piranhas look a lot like pomfrets with bad teeth.

Prof. Sasekumar explaining the Earth's biological time scale.

Prof. Sasekumar began the tour by explaining the wonderful mural of the Earth's geological and biological time scale that was painstakingly done by students of the ISB. No members of the Homo spp. family were included in the mural as the most recent animal in the mural still predated Lucy by a few million years

 The Earth's biological time scale mural

 The Earth's geological time scale mural

The Curator further explained about how fossil evidence supports the biological time scale. He invited us to read further on the geological time scale as it was not his area of expertise and suggested that we speak to the Geology Department for more information.

One of the members asked Prof. Sasekumar if he has had to answer questions from students who are inclined towards creationism. His adroit answer was, "Let's keep science and religion separate." 

 Some of the resources available at the museum. Sticky tape is optional.

 Look at the date of the periodical at the far right. 

Prof. Sasekumar took us into his office for fossil viewing. I was gaping so much at this huge replica of a crinoid leaf fossil that I forgot to snap a pic. It looked like Han Solo in carbonite! He explained to us that fossils are generally expensive and that most that are on display are replicas of some sort. However, he did show us one of the few real fossil specimen of the museum which was a trilobite fossil. It was a lot smaller than what was shown in my biology text books, that's for sure.

Previously, there was no real effort to hunt for fossils in Malaysia. The recent discovery in Pahang gives hope to paleontologists and dinosaur hunters in the country for more exciting discoveries to come. The BBC has an excellent page of resources on fossils, which you can visit here.

 The Godfathers of Biology: Darwin, Linnaeus, Wallace and Mandel

Decorating the entrance to the exhibit are posters of the Godfathers of Biology; Charles Darwin, Carolus Linnaeus, Alfred Russel Wallace and Fr. Gregor Mandel. I can't wait for the September talk on Russell Wallace! Please visit the APOSL Facebook page for updates on this talk and other exciting events.

The Zoology Museum is divided into several sections: the Fossilarium (in Prof. Sasekumar's office), the Osteological exhibits, the Rainforest Diorama, the Animal Diversity exhibit, the River Basin Diorama and the Entomology Box.

The Osteological or bones exhibit feature several specimens that help us compare how form matches function in terms of skeletal structure. Although all bones are hardened by calcium, the structure differs to match the form and function of the animal.

Prey vs Predator skull comparison.

The crocodile skull above is an excellent example. Its skull is heavy, with a hinged jaw that gives it one of the most powerful bite in the animal kingdom. The muscles that hold the jaw open, however, are relatively weak, which makes the slamming force of the upper jaw snapping shut perfect for quick kills.

Their triangular teeth is perfect for tearing their  prey's flesh, but the lack of molars means that crocs cannot chew their food. Therefore, crocodiles use biting and whiplash motions to rip their prey apart and swallow the pieces whole. Think of it as swallowing your KFC drumstick as a whole piece. Plant-based food requires a lot of chewing to render it digestible, so this lack of molar also means a strict Atkins diet and no carbs for the crocs.

The crocodiles' metabolism is relatively sluggish and they take a long time to digest the pieces of prey that they swallowed. This is why they only need to eat every few weeks or so and spend most of their time just hanging out and chilling. Eyes at the top of their head are perfect for scouting careless prey moseying by where they lie in wait, half submerged.

Multi-teeth nightmares are made of these.

You expect to be frightened by the fangs of predators but nothing prepared me for the squirm-inducing teeth of herbivorous critters. Apparently plant-devouring critters have TONNES OF MOLARS to help them grind down their tough and fibrous vegetarian meals. I can't really explain why they give me the heebie-jeebies, but if you have trypophobia, you would probably understand.

Not serpent wine

No El Nino this year, thank God

I found the water cycle diorama interesting as it gave a good explanation about the great flood that affected Kelantan late last year. Did people really think that they can raze forests to a nub and that nature will not retaliate? Idiots.

Flood oracle

Scary tales.

We never really pay attention to soil loss because we are in the tropics. But in places where desertification is a problem, people scrutinise water movement and soil erosion in order to arrest the widening of deserts. Let's hope that we don't let things get that far before we do something concrete about our top soil loss.

The exhibit included some fine examples of the local fauna. Sadly, a number of them are already no more, and many more are on the endangered species list (e.g. kancil, binturong, tenggiling etc.). I'm an omnivor myself, but I don't get people who eat animals that are already diminished in number unless they actually dwell in the forest and cannot get poultry et al. What's wrong with sticking to beef, rabbits, chicken, etc? Assholes.

Tropical jungle animals

Corals and peat swamp forest

More on peat swamp forest.

I'm sure that not many of us here in Malaysia realise that we are home to more than one kind of swamp forest: the mangrove as well as peat swamp. Sepang used to be a humongous peat swamp forest reserve, as well as many areas dotting the coastline of the peninsula.

The mangroves are important because it provides a nursery for the natural fishery lots. Not to mention it helps to control coastal erosion, provides home to tonnes of biodiversity, help to detoxify the coastline and is a pretty neat place to visit.

Peat swamps are important because they are invaluable water catchment areas, provide shelter and food to migratory birds, enriches the soil, increases the underground water table reservoir, and many more. Sadly, they are also located in areas that are prime for development. I guess we'll only pay attention to the damage caused by loss of peat swamp forest when we have problems like flash floods and top soil loss.

Oh wait. It's already on going but nobody cares.

 Prof. Sasekumar explaining the difference between the stingless 
and regular bees

We ended the tour with a visit to the stingless bee colony housed outside the museum. The bees were acquired from an apiary in Melaka. They produce small quantities of high quality honey that the Institute sells on a seasonal basis. What a pity that our visit did not coincide with the season. *pouts*

 Stingless bee colony

The museum may be modest in size but is chock-full of information on Malaysia's environmental heritage with  its exhibits of preserved animal specimens and informative posters. The museum is happy to entertain tours of pax up to 20 people, so please contact them if you are interested!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I wanna drop kick art students

Undeclared (Woodlands, #1)Undeclared by Jen Frederick
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is my first foray into the "new adult" (NA) genre. I find it ... a little dull in terms of pacing; it has a lot of introspection but the character development is really slow. The female protagonist made me want to shake her on occasion, but that's probably because of some cultural thing. We don't dither that way in college here; we just jump in our course and just wade through 'em, come hell or high water.

The guy was interesting in that he served in the Marines before going to college. I was hoping for more development on his front as he had a great deal of things happen in his life that would shape him beyond the good-looking MMA champ-to-be who is breezing through college. Perhaps there's more about him in the second book, but I'm not sure if I want to spend my time there.

There's a great deal of partying, not enough school work at college here to make me feel that the situation is real. Perhaps that's because I was a science student; maybe the arty farty types have more jolly time in college. I don't know. But over all, even if I did read this in college, I'd probably drop it thinking that people sure don't think much about people my age.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A dreadful man, all intemperate appetites and no decorum to speak of.

A Lady Awakened (Blackshear Family, #1)A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Happiness is ... finding more books by a wonderfully enjoyable author at the rental book store.

Ms. Grant's debut heralded all the delicious things one can expect from her books: sensuality married with subtle humour and period-specific banter that truly enhances the characters' growth over the story arc.

She is excellent at writing characters who tread the fine line of acceptability or even jumped across it with glee. I also love that her characters are of the gentry and not nobility, with different sets of challenges to overcome and expectations of role in society.

She has a way of exploring her characters' inner landscapes to flesh them out with wit and thought. In this book, she pitted a conniving widow against a ne'er do well wastrel. I love how they transformed each other, by learning about one another so thoroughly, before they actually identified the affection and esteem each held for the other as love.

Some of my favourite passages:

Whose idea of good design was this? Why those awkward angles, and what could be the necessity for all that hair? If one believed, as the Bible and the Greek myths had it, that man had been created first and woman after, then one must conclude there had been some dramatic improvement in the process following that amateurish first attempt.

Oh how her disdain has changed over the course of the book.

"And are you my king?" Her eyes, in the mirror, stayed trained to his.

He shook his head. "Stablehand." She didn't resist as he brought her knee up; draped her leg over the chair's arm. "Great strapping stablehand who's caught the queen's eye and been summoned to service her in her chambers."

Role play can be so hot.

Mellifluous and thoroughly enjoyable.

Male protagonist: 4/5 stars
Female protagonist: 4/5 stars
Storyline: 4/5 stars
Pacing: 4/5 stars
Fun Factor: 4/5 stars
Repeat Reading Factor: 4/5 stars

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Eating crap

Diet is d-i-e with a t

Your body is a temple; worship it. So you take good care of what goes into it.

Paleo diet.

Atkins diet.

Gluten free.

Dairy free.



The list goes on.

All this is because we believe that we are what we eat. Garbage in, garbage out. Right?

Well, consider yourself lucky that you are not part of the African aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem that are dependent upon tonnes of hippo faeces for a nutritious diet.

Invisible fine print

Deep in the hearts of sleep deprived parents of young children, babies and toddlers is Samuel L Jackson reading this.

Parents who are at wits end to feed their kids anything (forget nutritious stuff that are actually good for them), will nod along to this ...

Things they don't tell you when you are told to go forth and multiply.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I want a perfect soul

When I first heard this on the radio, my first thought was: YES.

This song is my personal anthem; it resonates with my psyche, illuminates the darkest corners of my soul, voices the dreams I left unsaid. It has been many years, but my Pavlovian response to the opening chord remains the same.

This version by Scott Bradlee and co may not have the same shadowy depths but it's still delicious and hits the gut with a punch.

Happy Monday, y'all.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Coulrophobic no more

I've always found clowns creepy. No, I never saw or read It. I just don't like the idea of people whose faces are disguised from me; it rouses such violent impulses in me. Heck, I'd decap Ronald McDonald given the opp.

But this video goes a long way to make me look at grease-painted jesters with a little more equanimity.

But I still doubt I'd date one.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Picture by alizzzz is stolen from here

I taste like clouds.

The scissor didn't hurt as much as I'd thought. Its point slipped through the fibre of my skin delicately, elegantly. The blades snipped through me almost by its own volition, its jaws opening and closing with unexpected gentleness, separating the threads tenderly.

I taste like clouds.

I look down as the scissors progressed from the base of my belly, moving up and up, all the way to my throat. The blades stopped. My skin separated beneath the pressure of the incision.

I taste like clouds.

Almost immediately my stuffings fell out, like eager children after the bell rang, tumbling out the door that had confined them. My stuffings billowed out like exuberant clouds racing through the sky of a sunny afternoon. It fell out between my paw-feet, pillowy soft. I could feel the pressure within me ease. My knee gave way and I slumped against the wall.

I taste like clouds.

My paw-hand trembled as I scooped up what once gave me form and dimension. It seemed wrong to leave it wasted on the floor. I didn't know what to expect. It was soft and springy, the darker pink contrasted beautifully with the pale shell of my skin.

I taste like clouds.

I squeezed my hand-paw. I thought I'd feel a tug within, but nothing. My stuffing regained its former fluff, with a faint trace of the shape of my palm. The slight breeze from the fan made it quiver. I didn't notice as more spilled out of me, decorating the floor with whimsy.

I taste like clouds.

My stuffing crossed my lips. It was like a blissful sacrament of tenderness and joy. The sweetness was indescribable. It rested on my tongue for an eternity, before my jaws moved slowly, my teeth grinding my stuffing industriously, thoughtfully.

I taste like clouds.

The adults always tell you not to play with scissors, but they don't know what I know now: the scissors were a liberator. I am now free of the weight of my form and function.

I can just be.

I am.


*Title is taken from the biology term that describes "eating one's self". Cross-posted on writing blog and Facebook.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We're damaged people ... drawn together ...

A Gentleman Undone (Blackshear Family, #2)A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It has been ages since I found such a refreshing voice in historical romance. I would classify Ms. Grant in the same category with Joanna Bourne and Sherry Thomas. The narration was articulated in a voice that is very reflective of the Regency era but in an accessible manner.

This book features characters that would be considered as unconventional to the mostly silver spoon characters that populated this genre: the heroine is a prostitute and the hero a failed gentleman. She chose her ruin, which is rather unusual, as penance for her past mistakes which has extorted a large toll on her. He was a former soldier who harboured a dark secret which weighed his conscience and spirit down.

I love how the story progressed towards both of them accepting each other's flaws and darkness. Their love was unflinching, unconditional of perfection, but rather, healing two damaged people who have been adrift for so long.

I also like how the Blackshears are not the hunky dory family of most serial novels; Will's decision to marry a harlot has rendered him persona non grata to most of his family except for one sister. I do believe that there will be reconciliation and acceptance in future novels and I cannot wait to see that.

Some favourite passages:

... grateful for the darkness that prevented his being seen like this, given up to sinuous gyrations like some Amazon queen's slave-dancer ...

O.M.G. *fans self frantically*

But the one that blew me away?

She stared down at him, his judge and his ravisher, appalling as the eagle who'd feasted every day on Prometheus' liver, and he as powerless as that Titan, chained to the rock, rent open, his darkest, most unspeakable secrets laid bare to her view.

Her eyes hardened. Her lips pressed tight. She leaned an inch nearer. "I love you," she breathed, just loud enough for him to hear.

Stupendous. Made me cry, laugh, squirm, and all the good stuff that a great book do that gives you the feels. Go read it.

Female protagonist: 5/5 stars
Male protagonist: 5/5 stars
Pacing: 4/5 stars
Storyline: 5/5 stars
Repeat reading factor: 4/5 stars


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Screwball comedy heist fun

The Chase (Fox and O'Hare #2)The Chase by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ms Evanovich can be depended on for a fun romp of a book. This is her second collaboration with Lee Goldberg and the outcome is just as explosive and amazing as the first. They crafted such fabulous characters in Nick Fox and Special Agent Kate O'Hare, very much a throwback to the screwball comedy pairing of the Golden Age of Hollywood but with a modern twist.

This time the dynamic duo faced off with a crooked (is there any kind?) former White House Chief of Staff with a penchant for high end art and no moral compass whatsoever. I love how much Carter Grove, baddie du jour, reminded me of Donald Rumsfeld. At least this time around, he got what he had coming, unlike Mr R.

Second book usually means greater character development. Kate and Nick discovered how proximity breeds a kind of intimacy that made each go what-would-the-other-do, co-opting traits and skills, shifting perspective and ethics. Lots of international hijinks and imaginative art stealing action to spur things on; I practically inhaled this book in a single seating.

Fabulous all around. So much fun.

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