Monday, December 26, 2005

I carry your heart with me

(By Edward Estlin Cummings)

i carry your heart with me (i carry it inmy heart)
i am never without it (anywhere i go you go, my dear;
and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet)
i want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
which grows higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

N.B. The above poem was read out during one of the most poignant scenes in the movie "In her shoes" by Maggie Feller (Cameron Diaz) to the Professor (Norman Lloyd). The Professor, who taught college English, was especially important to Maggie. He wanted her to read to him, gently helped her understand the technique and purpose of reading and guided her through possible dyslexia. He needed a reader because he was blind. She read him "One Art," a poem by Elizabeth Bishop that was about "the art of losing," and as a woman who made a life style out of misplacing people, possessions and responsibilities, Maggie found it strangely comforting. She later did some reading on her own, setting up the powerful appearance later in the film of the e.e. cummings poem.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

CERK Radio 40Mhz - Ashes To Ashes

(By the Nightcrawler Lucien Lacriox)

The cruelest evil is not some wretched entity manifested in cloven hooves and leering goat's head. The child, its soft cries - the sound of all that should be cherished and protected. The father takes the child into his heart in pure love. Unaware.

The child's innocence and purity knows no bounds, and neither does its cruelty when evil comes upon its soul.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Legend of the Thornbird

(By Colleen McCullough, Great Britian, 1980)

There is a legend about a bird
which sings just once in its life,
more sweetly than any other creature
on the face of the earth.
From the moment it leaves the nest
it searches for a thorn tree,
and does not rest until it has found one.
Then, singing among the savage branches,
it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine.
And, dying, it rises above its own agony
to outcarol the lark and the nightingale.
One superlative song, existence the price.
But the whole world stills to listen,
and the gods in their heaven smile.
For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain...
Or so says the legend..

N.B. I undertstand that the Legend of the Thornbird is derived from an actual legend that exists in Welsh mythology.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


(Inspired from the lyrics of "The Legend" by Fairyland In Reality or FIR)



N.B. The above commentaries were reproduced in full from D!♥r 小妞 under the website

Friday, September 30, 2005

CERK Radio 40Mhz - Trophy Girl

By the Nightcrawler Lucien Lacroix

They say no two persons are alike. Never is that more true than when it comes to our desires. Some cherish what others abhor. One man's precious cargo is another man's poison. Some prize what others revile.

Prize what you will, prize what you can, but always remember, even he who dies with the most prizes still dies.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Lt. Colonel Frank Slade's Disciplinary Hearing Speech

(By Lt. Colonel Frank Slade (casted by Al Pacino) during a discplinary hearing for the expulsion of Charlie Simms, a young and innocent scholarship student, from the school for not whistle-blowing on his classmates)

(S = Lt. Colonel Frank Slade; T = Mr Trask, the headmaster of Baird School)

S: This is such a crock of shit.

T: Please watch your language, Mr. Slade, you are in the Baird school, not a barrack. Mr. Simms, I will give you one final opportunity to speak up.

S: Mr. Simms doesn’t want it. He doesn't need to be labeled, “still worthy of being a Baird man.” What the hell is that? What is your motto here? “Boys, inform on your classmates, save your hide, anything short of that we’re going to burn you at the stake"? Well, gentlemen, when the shit hits the fan, some guys run and some guys stay. Here’s Charlie, facing the fire, and there’s George, hiding in big daddy’s pocket. And what are you doing? You’re going to reward George and destroy Charlie.

T: Are you finished Mr. Slade?

S: No, I’m just getting warmed up. I don’t know who went to this place. William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bride, William Tell, whoever. Their spirit is dead, if they ever had one, it’s gone. You are building a rat ship here. A vessel for seagoing snitches. And if you think you’re preparing these minnows for manhood, you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills. What a sham. What kind of a show are you putting on here today? I mean, the only class in this act is sitting next to me, and I’m here to tell you that this boy’s soul is intact. It’s non-negotiable, and you know how I know? Someone here, and I’m not going to say who, offered to buy. Only Charlie here wasn’t selling.

T: Sir, you’re out of order.

S: I’ll show you out of order! You don’t know what out of order is, Mr. Trask. I’d show you but I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too fucking blind. If I were the man I was five years ago, I’d take a flame thrower to this place! Out of order, who the hell you think you’re talking to? I’ve been around, you know? There was a time I could see. And I have seen. Boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But that is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetics for that. You think you’re merely sending this splendid, foot soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs? But I say you are executing his soul. And why? Because he’s not a Baird man. Baird men. You hurt this boy, you’re gonna be Baird bums, the lot of you. And Harry, Jimmy, Trent wherever you are out there, fuck you too.

T: Stand down, Mr. Slade.

S: I’m not finished. As I came in here, I heard those words, ‘cradle of leadership’. Well when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and it has fallen here, it has fallen! Makers of men, creators of leaders, be careful what kind of leaders you’re producing here. I don’t know if Charlie’s silence here today is right or wrong, I’m not a judge or jury, but I can tell you this, he won’t sell anybody out to buy his future. And that, my friends, is called integrity. That’s called courage. Now that’s the stuff leaders should be made of.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

CERK Radio 40MHz - Last Knight

By the Nightcrawler Lucien Lacroix

(The following transcript was forwarded to CERK Radio ina small cassette tape and the cassette tape was played as the Nightcrawler's final broadcast in his absence.)

Life is a gift. As sweet as the freshest peach, as precious as a gilded jewel. I have never been able to understand the logic of willfully surrendering such a treasure.

How dark can your existence be when compared to an eternal void. Unless, of course, you have faith that there is something beyond.

What do you see from where you stand? A bright light at the end of the tunnel? Is it a ray of hope? A glimmer of something better? Or will it burn you like the rising sun? Are you hearing the trumpeting of St. Peter's angels or the screams of Memnoch's tortured souls?

You can't answer that, can you? Because you will never know the answer until after the deed is done. And is your faith really that strong?

I understand the need to move on. It is something that happens to us all. But if your time has truly come, I also understand that with the beauty of this life,there comes pain and despair. No one is immune. But consider what you have in your hands! Don't trade a treasure for an empty box!

What about love? Heaven makes means to kill our joy with love . It's suffering. It's anguish. It's pain. And yet, we must have it - at any cost. But are you so enamored that you'll overlook your love of life? And you do love it. I have seen you smell the sea, gaze at the stars at night. Are you willing to sacrifice one mistress for another? Look into your heart and tell me that you're willing to make the choice!

Aren't you tired of this incessant guilt? Hasn't it swayed your back and stooped your shoulders to the point of throwing it off? You insist on taking responsibility for the actions and emotions of those around you, when they *alone* are truly responsible. It is so unnecessary. It is so mortal. And it must stop. This, and everything else that has happened tonight should make that clear to you.

It's time for both of us. we have come full circle. Nicholas, don't you see? You have overstayed your welcome. The pain that you're causing your mortal friends is no longer acceptable to them. Those that do survive will not allow your relationship with them to continue the way it was. They will demand change. and you will be compromised. One way or another. Nicholas, the time has come. I will be at your loft tonight for your decision. And then, I am leaving. With or without you.

There's a price to be paid. Love may be tasted but never savored. In our darkest moments we may envy mortality, but we should never aspire to it. Guilt is a poison. And staying past our time is death. But it need not be. If we truly care for a mortal, if we love one, then we must go. Isn't that something you taught me? Leaving is the purest form of love.

All that remains now is to lock the doors and turn out the lights. Unless, of course, you have decided to add her to our entourage. Oh, Nickolas, you have thought this through, haven't you?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Further excerpts from "The American President"

(The following dialogues were based on a discussion among the President's Joint Chief of Staffs in respect of an appropriate reprisal to Libya for an unprovocated attack they launched on the US troops)


A. J. MacInerney:
Sir, it's immediate, it's decisive, it's low-risk, and it's a proportional response.

President Andrew Shepherd:
Someday someone's going to have to explain to me the virtue of a proportional response.


President Andrew Shepherd:
What I did tonight was not about political gain.

Leon Kodak:
Yes sir. But it can be, sir. What you did tonight was very presidential.

President Andrew Shepherd:
Leon, somewhere in Libya right now, a janitor's working the night shift at Libyan Intelligence headquarters. He's going about doing his job... because he has no idea, in about an hour he's going to die in a massive explosion. He's just going about his job, because he has no idea that about an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You've just seen me do the least presidential thing I do.

President Andrew Shepherd's Press Briefing Speech

(By President Andrew Shepherd (casted by Michael Douglas) in his capacity as the President of the United States of America in the movie “The American President”)

For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being president of this country was to a certain extent about character. And although I'm not willing to engage in his attacks on me, I've been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation, being president of this country is entirely about character.

For the recond, yes, I am a card carrying member of the ACLU, but the more important question is 'Why aren't you, Bob?' Now this is an organization who's sole purpose is to defend the bill of rights, so it naturally begs the question, why would a senator, his party's most powerful spokesman and a candidate for president choose to reject upholding the constitution? Now if you can answer that question, folks, then you're smarter that I am, because I didn't understand it until a few hours ago.

America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You've gotta want it bad, cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say 'You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man who's words make your blood boil, and who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.' You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of it's citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

I've known Bob Rumson for years. And I've been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn't get it. Well I was wrong. Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it.

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only : Making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character and you wave an old photo of the president's girlfriend and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she's to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her a whore.

Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interest of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, because Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.

I've loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer. And I lost the other because I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job. Well that ends right now.

Tomorrow morning, the White House is sending a bill to Congress for it's consideration. It's White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a twenty percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I'm throwing it out. I'm throwing it out and writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention with out getting rid of assault weapons and hand guns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I'm gonna convince Americans I'm right, and I'm gonna get the guns.

We've got serious problems, and we need serious people. And if you want to talk about character, Bob, you'd better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American Values, fine. Tell me where and when, and I'll show up.

This a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up.

My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I am the president.

N.B. This is one of the most inspiring speeches I have heard crafted from a movie script.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The right to label women

(By Wendy Cheng a.k.a. Xiaxue, the blog mistress, “Why are you worshipping the ground I blog on” at

"Slut", by definition, means the woman will fuck everybody right? So unless you manage to get her to fuck you, you have no rights to say she is a slut, loser!

N.B. This is a direct link to the article from which the quotation was extracted:

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Sleeping Prayer

As I lay myself to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Friday, June 03, 2005

網上歌 - 他約我去迪士尼

原曲歌手: kellyjackie @ Royals
原曲作者: kellyjackie @ Royals
原曲作詞: 海藍 @ Royals / 庭 @ Royals
原曲編曲: 林柿 @ Royals

兜過幾個圈 看木馬旋轉 美夢似是遙遠 仍埋藏著繾綣
快樂旅途中 有沒有熱戀 看著這入場券 如同尋獲溫暖

笑問你 你話連夜候票再多的困倦 也不怨 似在平靜地說出 絲絲的愛戀

畢生也願記起 香港迪士尼 煙火璀璨夜晚定會很美
坐咖啡杯 溫馨記憶 旋轉中細味 天邊星宿也沒法比

今天心碎或痛悲 只需要記住陪伴在你身邊有米妮
始終可以幸福地 沉迷在美夢裡希冀

要是你 決定明日伴我去闖天與地 會很美 故事延續下世紀 一生都記起

不必理是與非 不需要顧忌 穿梭堡壘內陪伴我嬉戲
米老鼠 比精品店的美 輕輕靠近 都可使我快樂跳起

當 身邊掛著相機 假使到最後還未望到不准你別離
可知心裡正準備 無緣合照亦抱緊你

公主與白雪都 不需要羨慕 因可跟你在長夜裡擁抱
見阿拉丁 本想說聲坐飛氈 卻又不可媲美你待我好

星空不算是太高 假使有你在旁陪伴我一起每段路
可將一切記心內 明日共你愉快傾訴

N.B. As i understand it, the above song is available for free distribution over the internet, which is in fact the song's initial place of release. The song can be found and downloaded at the following website:

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Random Question: When you spilled the milk, did it look like the moon?

When milk is spilled onto the floor, to put it in a very clique manner, it is only natural for us to cry over the spilled milk.

All advanced species on earth, including human beings, have strong propensity towards the display of emotion, and we often use the outpouring of emotion, whether in happiness or in sadness, as a means to maintain equilibrium over our general well-being. In other words, it is only natural for us to remain upset over a loss in the past, even if there is absolutely nothing we can do to restore the situation completely to the state before the offending event that caused the loss. This is so that we can purge the unhappiness that is generated as a result of the offending event from our body so as to maintain the steady state in our body.

As in the case of the spilled milk, it is obvious that when the milk has been spilled, it is already wasted and therefore cannot be used in the normal hygienic sense. Nevertheless, the process of crying cleanses our body of the negative emotions generated so that our body can begin to heal in an effort to restore equilibrium once again. Perhaps then, we can once again see the cat playing his fiddle on the kitchen counter while the cow jumps over the moon formed from the spilled milk. The little dog then shall laugh heartily to see such fun, and perhaps even the dish will ran away with the spoon.

N.B. the imagery as described in the last sentence is taken from a nursery rhyme named “Hey Diddle Diddle”. The original version goes something like this:
"Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon,
The little dog laughed to see such fun,
And the dish ran away with the spoon"
The purpose of introducing such a ludricious imagery in the midst of trying to come to terms with the sense of loss over the spilled milk is to encourage ourselves to try using humour as tool to resolve internal conflicts. It works surprisingly well when we are able to see the world from the funnier perspective.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Random Question: When you open your eyes underwater, do you ever worry that you'll drown?

Whenever I have the chance of opening my eyes underwater without the benefits of wearing some form of eyewear, say goggles or diving masks, the first question that inadvertably materialise inside my head is, more often than not, “what am I going to do to prevent myself from being drowned” rather than that “will I drown”, which incidentally is a thought that I do not really relish much.

Fortunately, each human being has self preservation instincts which are genetically programmed into the body at birth. These instincts serve to protect the human body automatically without conscious effort and intervention in times of peril. In cases where a human body, particularly the face, is unwittingly subjected to a medium foreign to the natural environment, say a large body of water, the mammalian diving reflex kicks in.

As the name suggests, the mammalian diving reflex is is found in all mammals, but especially in marine mammals like whales and seals. In the case of the human being, this reflex puts the human body into a sort of energy saving mode whose aim is to maximize the time that the human body can be spent under water. For marine mammals, this diving reflex is obviously rather important since they live the greater part of their lives in frigid water itself, especially the whales. For mammels like human beings, the reflex is presumably triggered so that the person could indulge in swimming extensive distances for the purpose of exercise, or perhaps to do something useful in an effort to prevent himself from drowning after suffering shock from his inability to climatise fast enough with the foreign environment he is in because he just has to open his eyes under water.

The mammalian diving reflex is generally larger in cold water than in warm water, and includes three factors:
1. Bradycardia, a reduction in the heart rate of up to 50% in human beings;
2. Peripheral vasoconstriction, the restriction of the blood flow to the extremities to increase the blood and oxygen supply to the vital organs, especially the brain;
3. Blood shift, the shifting of blood to the thoracic cavity, which refers to the chest between the diaphragm and the neck to avoid the collapsing of the lungs under higher pressure during deeper dives.

In addition to the above, the same reflex also prevents an unconscious person from actually breathing underwater. As a result of the above, both a conscious and an unconscious person can survive longer without oxygen under water than in a comparable situation on dry land. In this case, the consious person will then have some time to ponder over the question “what am I going to do to prevent myself from being drowned”. As for the unconscious person, he will just have to find some way to wake up himself, otherwise, he should be pondering over the question “will I drown”.

Friday, May 27, 2005


An extremophile is an organism, usually unicellular but not always so, which thrives in or requires extreme conditions. The definition of extreme is anthropocentric, and this is because to the organism itself, its environment, not matter how extreme it may seem to be, is completely normal to itself. Thus, strictly, extremophilic labels should be used to describe the environment that an organism thrives in, regardless of how normal or extreme they may seem to human beings. For example, human beings are classified as a mesophilic aerobe.

When used in the context of describing organisms that thrive in environments that are extreme from human perspectives, most extremophiles are members of the Archaea family, although the terms are occasionally used interchangeably to describe the many extremophilic bacteria and eukarya. The Archaea are a major group of prokaryotes, which are unicellular (in rare cases, multicellular) organisms without a nucleus. This is in contrast to eukaryotes, organisms that have cell nuclei and may be variously unicellular or multicellular. Most prokaryotes are bacteria, and the two terms are often treated as synonyms. However, Carl Woese, originator of the RNA world hypothesis in 1967, has proposed dividing prokaryotes into the Bacteria and Archaea in 1977 because of the significant genetic differences between the two.

It is also important to note that not all extremophiles are unicellular. Examples of extremophilic metazoa are the psychrophilic Grylloblattodea (insects) and antarctic krill (crustaceans).

Different types of extremophiles

There are many different classes of extremophiles, each corresponding to the way its chosen environment differs from what is considered normal by other organisms. These classifications are not exclusive. Many extremophiles fall under multiple categories. For example, organisms living inside hot rocks deep under Earth's surface are both thermophilic and barophilic.
1. Acidophile: An organism which thrives under an environment with an optimum pH level at or below pH 3.
2. Aerobe: An organism which requires O2 to survive. There are 2 sub-categories of aerobes and they are the obligate aerobes and the facultative aerobes. Obligate aerobes require oxygen, while facultative aerobes can use oxygen, but also have other options. Almost all animals, most fungi and several bacteria are obligate aerobes. Being an obligate aerobe, although being advantageous from the energetical point of view, means also obligatory facing high levels of oxidative stress. Yeast, on the other hand, is an example of a facultative aerobe. Individual human cells are also facultative aerobes, as in they can switch to lactic acid fermentation if oxygen is not available. However, for the whole organism this cannot be sustained for long, and humans are therefore obligate aerobes.
3. Alkaliphile: An organism which thrives under an environment with an optimal pH levels of 9 or above, such as soda lakes and carbonate-rich soils.
4. Anaerobe: An organism which does not need O2 to survive. There are several sub-categories of anaerobes in existence. Aerotolerant organisms do not require oxygen, but are not affected by exposure to air. Microaerophiles are organisms that may use oxygen, but only at low concentrations (low micromolar range) and their growth is inhibited by normal oxygen concentrations (approximately 200 micromolar). Nanaerobes are organisms that cannot grow in the presence of micromolar concentrations of oxygen, but can grow with and benefit from nanomolar concentrations of oxygen. Certain anaerobic bacteria produce toxins, such as the tetanus or botulinum toxins, that are highly dangerous to higher organisms, including humans.
5. Endolith: An organism that lives inside rocks down to a depth of up to about 3 km, though it is unknown if that is their limit, or in the pores between mineral grains. Judging from the hyperthermophiles as discussed below, the temperature limit is at about 110°C, which limits the possible depth to 4 km below the continental crust, and 7 km below the ocean floor. Endolithic organisms have also been found in regions of low humidity.
6. Halophile: An organism which thrives in environments with very high concentrations of salt (NaCl) and requires at least 0.2 molar of salt for growth. Of particular note are the extreme halophiles or halobacteria, which require at least 2 molar of salt and are usually found in saturated solutions. These are the primary inhabitants of salt lakes and inland seas, such as the Dead Sea, where they tint the sediments bright colors.
7. Hypolith: An photosynthetic organism that lives inside or underneath rocks in climatically extreme in cold deserts. The rocks are generally translucent to allow for the penetration of light, such as quartz, which is one of the most common translucent rocks.
8. Mesophile: An organism that grows best in moderate temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, typically between 20 and 45 °C with an optimal temperature near 37 °C, which is the normal temperature of the human body. Most organisms that are pathogenic to humans are mesophiles. Organisms that prefer cold environments are termed psychrophilic and those preferring hot temperatures are termed thermophilic. A psychrophile is an organism which thrives at relatively cold temperatures. There are generally considered to be two groups of psychrophiles and they are name the classic psychrophiles and the psychrotrophs by food microbiologists. Classic psychrophiles are those organisms having a optimum growth temperature of 15°C or lower and do not grow in a climate beyond a maximum temperature of 20°C. They are largely found in icy places (such as in Antarctica) or at the freezing bottom of the ocean floor. Psychrotrophs, on the other hand, can grow at 0°C and up through approximately 40°C, and exist in much larger numbers than classic psychrophiles. They are of particular significance to food microbiologists as they can grow in refrigerated environments and cause food spoilage. A thermophile is an organism which thrives at relatively high temperatures, up to about 60 °C. Thermophiles have been found in various geothermally heated regions of the Earth such as hot springs like those in Yellowstone National Park and deep sea hydrothermal vents, and they are primarily responsible for producing the bright colors of the said waters. A hyperthermophile is an organism that thrives in extremely hot environments which are above 60°C. The optimal temperatures are between 80°C and 110°C. In fact, the recently-discovered Strain 121 has been able to double its population within 24 hours in an autoclave at 121°C, hence it was named as such. Many hyperthermophiles are also able to withstand other environmental extremes, such as high acidity or radiation levels. Hyperthermophiles were first discovered in the 1960s in hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. The most hardy hyperthermophiles are known live on the superheated walls of deep-sea hydrothermal vents, requiring temperatures of at least 90°C for survival.
9. Metalotolerant organism: An organism which is capable of tolerating high levels of heavy metals, such as copper, cadmium, arsenic, and zinc.
10. Oligotroph: An organism which is capable of growth in nutritionally limited environments.
11. Piezophile (also known as Barophile): An organism that lives optimally at high hydrostatic pressure, such as in high-pressure deep-sea environments, where pressure is well above atmospheric pressure. A pressure of 1 atmosphere is aproximately equivalent to 0.1 MPa. For every every km below ocean, the pressure increases approximately 10 MPa. For every km below earth’s crust, the pressure increases about 30 MPa. One strain of barophilic bacteria, Hirondellea gigas, was isolated from a sample of the world's deepest sediment, collected from the Mariana Trench, Challenger Deep, at a depth of 10,898 m. The Mariana Trench, Challenger Deep (11°22'N, 142°25'E) is the deepest ocean bottom in the world. Apparently, the Hirondellea gigas could grow only under pressure conditions of greater than 518 bars, that is approximately 50 MPa or more.
12. Radioresistant organism: An organism which is are capable of resisting very high levels of ionizing radiation, such as nuclear power plants. Please kindly refer to previous posting "Deinococcus radiodurans - The most radioresistant organism known to mankind".
13. Xerotolerant organism: An organism which can survive in environments where there is very little water. Water activity is a measure of the amount of water within a substrate that an organism can use to support growth. Xerotolerant organisms can survive in environments with water activity below 0.8. Endoliths and halophiles are xerotolerant.

N.B. Anthropocentrism is the practice, conscious or otherwise, of regarding the existence or concerns of human beings as the central fact of the universe.

Deinococcus radiodurans - The most radioresistant organism known to mankind

Deinococcus radiodurans is an extremophilic bacterium (a category of baterium which we will further discuss in the next posting) and it is the most radioresistant organism known to mankind. Radioresistant organisms is defined as organisms which are capable of living in enviroments with very high levels of ionizing radiation. A dose of 10 Gray or Gy, which is the SI unit of energy for the absorbed dose of radiation and one gray is the absorption of one joule of radiation energy by one kilogram of matter, is sufficient to kill a human. A dose of 60 Gy is sufficient to kill all cells in a culture of E. coli. However, Deinococcus radiodurans is capable of withstanding an instantaneous dose of up to 5,000 Gy with no loss of viability, and an instantaneous dose of up to 15,000 Gy with 37% viability.

It is not entirely clear as to how Deinococcus radiodurans could have developed naturally such a high degree of radioresistance. Naturally, background radiation levels are very low. In most places, background radiation is on the order of 0.4 mGy per year, and the highest known background radiation, which is near Guarapari, Brazil, is only 175 mGy per year. With naturally-occurring background radiation levels so low, mechanisms specifically to ward off the effects of high radiation cannot have been selected for during evolution.

Using genetic engineering, Deinococcus radiodurans has been given the abilities to consume and digest solvents and heavy metals, even in highly radioactive sites. It is now known that Deinococcus radiodurans accomplishes its resistance to radiation by having multiple copies of its genome and rapid DNA repair mechanisms.

When a creature gets hit by a high dose of radiation, the intense energy causes the large DNA molecule in each cell to fall apart. No creature can survive without its genes in working order. Most microbes have tools they can use to repair occasional damage to their DNA. The Deinococcus radiodurans, unlike other bacteria, has lots of extra copies of its genes. Deinococcus radiodurans cells have four to ten copies of their DNA molecule. Most bacteria have only one copy. These copies serve as back-ups, and when radiation hits and the Deinococcus radiodurans’ DNA becomes damaged, the bacterium has a lot more chances of finding an intact copy of each gene to use as it stitches its DNA back together.

In addition to the above, it also appears that Deinococcus radiodurans may have more of the cell repair tools that most bacteria have. Other microbes have many of the same kind of tools, although not in as high numbers and variety as Deinococcus radiodurans does. Michael Daly of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences also suggested that the bacterium uses manganese to protect itself against radiation damage.

As a consequence of its hardiness, Deinococcus radiodurans has been nicknamed "Conan the Bacterium" (after Conan the Barbarian) and its official latin name literally means "strange berry that withstands radiation".

In addition to high levels of ionizing and ultraviolet radiation, it can also survive, and acid genotoxic chemicals, oxidative damage, extreme temperatures and vacuum. It also turns out that Deinococcus radiodurans is also able to live through extensive periods with absolutely no water. It was hypothesized that the bacterium’s radiation resistance could be a lucky side effect of the ability the bacterium evolved to withstand long periods without water, which is a more common natural occurrence than being exposed naturally to incredibly high radiation blasts. This is because dehydration causes the same kinds of breaks in DNA as radiation does and requires the same stitching process to fix these breaks.

Deinococcus radiodurans was discovered in 1956 by A.W. Anderson at the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station in Corvallis, Oregon. Experiments were being performed to determine if canned food could be sterilized using high doses of gamma radiation. A tin of meat was exposed to a dose of radiation that was thought to kill all known forms of life, but the meat subsequently spoiled and Deinococcus radiodurans was isolated from the meat.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bristlecone Pines - The oldest known living species on earth

The bristlecone pines are a small group of pine trees under the Pinaceae family (genus Pinus, subsection Balfourianae) that can live up to nearly 5,000 years, an age which far exceeds any other living thing known.

There are three closely related bristlecone pines species and they are:
1. Rocky Mountains Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata) species which can be found in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona;
2. Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) species which can be found in in Utah, Nevada and eastern California; and
3. Foxtail Pine (Pinus balfouriana) species which can be found in California.

The oldest living specimen of bristlecone pines that is currently known is an individual of Great Basin Bristlecone Pine nicknamed "Methuselah" after the reportedly longest-lived Biblical patriarch. Methuselah is located between 10,000 and 11,000 feet in the lnyo National Forest within the White Mountains, east of the Sierra Nevada. The core samples of Methuselah indicted the age of the bristlecone pine to be in excess of 4,700 years old, which is 1,500 years more than the age of their nearest competitor, being the Giant Sequoia. And quite possibly, there may be even older specimens may exist elsewhere in the White Mountains and in other remote parts of Nevada.

A bristlecone pine older than "Methuselah" was cut down in 1964 by a geography graduate student performing research in an area now protected by Great Basin National Park in Nevada. The tree, posthumously named "Prometheus", was found to be about 4,900 years old by ring counting.

The other two species, being the Rocky Mountains Bristlecone Pine and the Foxtail Pine, are also long-lived, though not to the extreme extent of Great Basin Bristlecone Pine. Specimens of both types of bristlecone pine have been measured or estimated to be up to 3,000 years old.

Bristlecone pines grow in isolated groves at and just below tree-line. Young bristlecone pines are densely clad with glistening needle-covered branches that sway like foxtails in the wind. With their bristled cones dripping pine scented resin on a warm afternoon, the bristlecone pines exude all the freshness of youth. As centuries pass and the bristlecone pines are battered by the elements, they become sculpted into astonishingly beautiful shapes and forms.

The trees manage to survive in the poorly nourished, alkaline soil with a minimum of moisture and a forty-five day growing season. In fact, the trees longevity is linked to these inhospitable conditions. Between cold temperatures, high winds, and short growing seasons, the bristlecone pines grow very slowly, adding as little as an inch in girth in a hundred years. Those bristlecone pines that grow the slowest produce very dense, highly resinous wood, and it is the dense and resinous wood that enables the bristlecone pines to be highly resistant to invasion by insects, fungi, and other potential pests.

As the tree ages, much of its bark may die. However, while most of its wood is dead, growth barely continues through a narrow strip of living tissue to connect the roots to the handful of live branches. When all life finally ceases, the snags of the bristlecone pines stand for a thousand years or more. The bristlecone pines then continue to be polished by wind driven ice and sand and the dense wood becomes slowly eroded away rather than decayed.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Saffron - The most expensive spice in the world

Saffron is a commercial spice that comes from the bright red stigmas of the saffron flower, or Crocus sativus, which flowers in the fall in many different countries, including Greece, India, Iran and Spain. The Crocus sativus stigmas are the female part of the flower. During a good year, each saffron crocus plant might produce several flowers. Each saffron flower contains three stigmas, which are the only part of the saffron crocus that when dried properly, become commercial saffron. Each red stigma is like a little capsule that encloses the complex chemicals that make up saffron's aroma, flavor, and yellow dye. In order to release these chemicals, you must steep the saffron filaments or threads, which are actually the dried stigmas of the saffron flower. Powdered saffron is more efficient because it does not need to be steeped.

Since each saffron flower contains only three stigmas and the stigmas must be picked from each flower by hand. As such, more than 75,000 blossoms or 225,000 hand-picked stigmas of these saffron flowers are required to produce just about one pound of Saffron filaments, thereby making saffron the most precious and most expensive spice in the world.

Soil and weather conditions naturally vary in the saffron cultivating countries and so do the methods of drying the fresh saffron stigmas. The international measuring stick for determining the quality of saffron is called a photospectometry report, the result of a laboratory analysis of the three chemicals in the saffron stigma which relate to aroma, flavor and color. Even though saffron stigmas are red, their dye is the color of egg yolks which gives the appealing yellow to culinary dishes. The chemicals that are being analyzed in a photospectometry report are crocin (the source of saffron’s strong orange-yellow coloring property), picrocrocin (source of its flavor) and safranal (source of its aroma). The higher the saffron’s coloring strength, the higher its value, as the saffron's coloring strength determines its flavor and aroma. If saffron has the right coloring strength, it will have the right color and general appearance, whether it is in the thread or powder form.

The saffron powder, with a high coloring strength, offers many advantages over the threads. When saffron threads are ground into powder, the chemicals corresponding to aroma, flavor and color are immediately released. The powder is then stored carefully, away from moisture and light, just as the threads need to be in order to maintain their potency. When the saffron powder reaches the chef, it is ready to be added directly to any recipe. When the chef adds the saffron powder to a recipe, immediately the deep yellow dye, delicate aroma and unique flavor are released.

As for saffron in the thread form, in order to release the potent chemicals in the saffron threads, they must be inmersed in an alcoholic, acidic or hot liquid for longer than just a few minutes. This allows aroma, flavor and color to be generously extracted. Saffron threads can release aroma, flavor and color for 24 hours or more, depending on their quality.

N.B. According to Greek myth, handsome mortal Crocos fell deeply in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax. But his overtures were rebuffed by Smilax, and he was turned into a beautiful purple crocus flower.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Recipe for cooking Dry Abalones

There are mainly 2 different types of Dry Abalones. They are:
Green Abalones: these species of abalone is characterized by their relatively thicker and heavier body and the quality of their meat is firm and fleshy; and
Yellow Abalones: these species of abalone is characterized by their relatively thinner and lighter body and the quality of their meat is generally poorer and tougher.

Recipe for cooking Dry Abalones:
  1. Immerse and soak the Dry Abalones in clear water for 2 full days and nights. In the midst of the soaking, change the clear water every 4 to 5 hours.
  2. After soaking for the above duration, if the cores of the Dry Abalones are still hard, continue to immerse the Dry Abalones in clear water and raise the temperature the clear water to boiling point, after which turn off the fire and allow the clear water to cool to room temperature. If the cores of the Dry Abalones are still hard after the boiling process, repeat the boiling process until the cores of the Dry Abalones are become soft.
  3. Clean the Dry Abalones again in clear water, while taking special care to clean out the intestines and the chrysanthemums shaped lip edges for sand particles.
  4. Prepare and clean the required other ingredients, being old hen, chicken feet, lean meat laced with fatty meat, pig ligaments, pork ribs etc.
  5. Prepare iron pot or clay pot by placing bamboo mat at the bottom of the pot to prevent charring the pot’s bottom. Place the required other ingredients, being old hen, chicken feet, lean meat laced with fatty meat, pig ligaments, pork ribs etc into the pot. Then, place the Dry Abalones into the pot followed by clear water until the water level covers all the Dry Abalones and ingredients. After that, place a little rock sugar into the pot. Take note that when cooking Dry Abalones, salt and soy sauce must never be used to prevent the Dry Abalones from hardening.
  6. Use big fire to cook the pot of Dry Abalones and ingredients to boiling point before changing to small fire to achieve a consistent small boil or simmer. Maintain this simmering for 18 hours before switching off the fire. After another 12 hours, extract the cooled Dry Abalones from the pot and cut up the Dry Abalones when cold so as to ensure that the sweetness of the Dry Abalones is released from the flesh.
  7. Use the resultant soup and gravy from the pot to heat up the cut Dry Abalones, at the same time, add the necessary flavoring. After that, the Dry Abalones can be served from consumption.

Venomous Mammals

There are only 2 main species of mammals which are venomous by nature. These mammals include the shrew and the platypus.

Shrews are small, superficially mouse-like mammals of the family Soricidae. Although their external appearance is generally that of a mouse with a long nose, the shrews are not rodents and not closely related and the shrew family is part of the order Eulipotyphla. Shrews have feet with five clawed toes, unlike rodents, which have four. Shrews are also not to be confused with tree shrews, which are also unrelated, and belong to their own order, Scandentia. Shrews are distributed almost worldwide and of the major temperate land masses, only New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand do not have native shrews at all; South America has shrews only in the far-northern tropical part.

Certain species of shrew are venomous, as in these species produce a toxic secretion which are channeled via little grooves in their teeth on the outside that the venom follows into a bite wound, which probably helps to immobilise especially large prey, such as other small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and larger invertebrates, by its effects on the nervous system. This poisonous bite has been reported from North American Blarina and European Neomys. The bite can be quite painful to a human hand for, although shrew's teeth rarely puncture the skin, the toxin in the saliva of some species seems to produce a slight inflammation and reddening of the skin which can persist for several days.

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a small, semi-aquatic mammal endemic to the eastern part of Australia, and one of the four extant monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. Please kindly note that the other three are from the echidna family. The scientific name Ornithorhynchus is derived from "ornithorhynkhos", which literally means "bird nose" in Greek, and anatinus means "duck". The name platypus is often prefixed with the adjective "duck-billed" to form duck-billed platypus, despite there being only one species of platypus.

All platypuses are born with spurs on their hind feet to inject venom. The spurs on the female fall off after the first year. The spurs on males become venomous during the breeding season.

N.B. Apparently, there is a slight difference between being vemonous and being poisonous. The definition hinges on how the toxin gets into the prey. A poison is something that has to be eaten or breathed in for it to take effect, that is ingested or inhaled. A venom is usually harmless if eaten. In order for it to do harm, it must come into contact with tissue underneath the skin, that is injected.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Antimatter - The most expensive material on earth

Antimatter is essentially substance composed of elementary particles having the mass and electric charge of ordinary matter (such as electrons and protons) but for which the charge and related magnetic properties are opposite in sign.

The existence of antimatter was posited by the electron theory of Paul A.M. Dirac in 1929, where he suggested that the building blocks of atoms, being electrons (negatively charged particles) and protons (positively charged particles), all have antimatter counterparts, being antielectrons and antiprotons. One fundamental difference between matter and antimatter is that their subatomic building blocks carry opposite electric charges. Thus, while an ordinary electron is negatively charged, an antielectron is positively charged (hence the term positrons, which means "positive electrons") and while an ordinary proton is positively charged, an antiproton is negative.

In 1932, the positron (antielectron) was detected in cosmic rays by Caltech scientist Carl Anderson when a positron flew through a detector in his laboratory. This was followed by the discovery of the antiproton and the antineutron which was detected through the use of particle accelerators by Berkeley scientists in the 1950s. Positrons, antiprotons, and antineutrons, collectively called antiparticles, are the antiparticles of electrons, protons, and neutrons, respectively. When matter and antimatter are in close proximity, annihilation occurs within a fraction of a second, and large amounts of energy would be produced as a result.

With the presently known techniques of production, the prevailing market price of one gram of antimatter is approximately US$62,500,000,000,000, thereby making it currently the most expensive material on earth. And if, given the annihilative properties of matter and anti matter in close proximity, antimatter were to be used today for the purpose of producing electricity, the cost from man made antimatter would be approximately US$720,000,000 per kilowatt hour.

According to the “Antimatter Energy” website’s press release number 4 on Coal Power Plants Waste Products dated 14 February 2003, which can be found at the following website:,
it says that in accordance with the U.S. Department of Energy, the United States of America generated 1,968 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2000 by burning 900 million metric tons of coal, thereby creating 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide plus another 360 million metric tons of coal combustion residues of waste in the process. By comparison, an antimatter power plant would use 45 kilograms of antimatter to generate the same 1,968 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. The mass ratio between plants is 25 billion to 1 (2,223 million metric tons/45*2 kilograms).

Friday, May 06, 2005

Medical Journals - Prosopagnosia

Prosopagnosia, or face blindness in layman terms, is a rare disorder of face perception where the ability to perceive and understand faces is impaired, although other basic perceptual skills, such as recognising and discriminating objects, may be relatively intact.

Face perception is the process by which the brain and mind understand and interpret the face, particularly the human face. The face is an important site for the identification of others and conveys significant social information. In view of the importance of its role in social interaction, psychological processes involved in face perception are known to be present from birth, complex, involve large and widely distributed areas in the brain.

Most cases have been reported following focal or localized brain injury, such as physical trauma (head injury), stroke, aneurysm or neurological illness, such as disorders of the central nervous system (brain, brainstem and cerebellum), the peripheral nervous system (neuropathy, including cranial nerves), or the autonomic nervous system (parts of which are located in both central and peripheral nervous system). More recently, cases of congenital or developmental prosopagnosia have also been reported.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Spear of Destiny - The spear that pierced Christ's side

The Spear of Destiny, sometimes known as the Lance, Spear Luin or Spear of Longinus, is claimed to be the spear that pierced the side of Jesus when he was on the cross. It is described in John 19:31-37 as being used by a Roman soldier. Later Christian tradition would give the soldier's name as Gaius Cassius, and he is later called Longinus.

It is superstitiously believed that whosoever might hold the spear would have the power to conquer the world but losing it would mean instant death. The legend states that since the Spear had pierced the body of God, that would be Jesus Christ, it became imbued with some kind of magical power and therefore was a weapon capable of defeating any opponent. It is rumoured that the spear even has the power to kill an angel.

According to its legend, it has passed through the hands of influential world leaders throughout the ages including Constantine, Justinian, Charlemagne, Otto the Great, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the Habsburg Emperors, and Adolf Hitler.

The earliest reports of the Spear were circa A.D. 570, described as having been on display in the basilica of Mount Zion in Jerusalem adjacent to the Crown of Thorns, which was wore by Jesus Christ on the day he was cruxified on the cross. The point of the spearhead was alleged to have been snapped following the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in A.D. 615. The point was set into an icon, and found its way to the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It was later transported to France, where it remained in the Sainte Chapelle until the 18th century. The icon was briefly moved to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris during the French Revolution, but it subsequently disappeared. The lower section of the spearhead was allegedly conveyed from Jerusalem to Constantinople sometime in the 8th century. It was sent by Sultan Beyazid II as a gift to Pope Innocent VIII in 1492; Innocent had the relic placed in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It still resides there. The Catholic Church makes no claim as to its authenticity.

The holy spear that was used by the Holy Roman Emperors (cited from Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor on, the spear described above) as a part of their imperial insignia found its way to Vienna, Austria, where they are kept in a museum.

Hitler's interest in the relic probably originated with his interest in the 1882 opera named “Parsifal”, which was in turn written by Hitler’s favorite composer, Richard Wagner. The opera’s plot revolves around a group of knights and their guardianship of the Holy Grail, as well as the recovery of the Spear.

On March 12, 1938, the day Hitler annexed Austria, he arrived in Vienna a conquering hero. He made his way to the Schatzkammer in the Hofmuseum where he took possession of the Spear which he immediately sent to St. Katherine’s Church in Nuremberg, the spiritual capital of Nazi Germany.

One legend maintains that the spear came into the possession of the United States of America on April 30, 1945; specifically, under the control of the 3rd Army led by General George Patton. Later that day, supposedly in fulfilment of the legend, Hitler committed suicide. Patton became fascinated by the ancient weapon and had its authenticity verified. Patton did not go on to use the spear, as orders came down from General Dwight Eisenhower that the complete Habsburg regalia including the Spear of Longinus were to be returned to the Hofburg Palace , where it remains today. This legend has recently been shown to be quite false. The spear was not recovered until roughly six months after Hitler's suicide, and Patton never had possession of it.

N.B. It should be noted that there is a historical figure named Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of the conspirators responsible for the murder of Gaius Julius Caesar which occurred on the Ides of March, being March 15, in 44 BC.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Natural Nuclear Reactors in Oklo

(Reproduced in full from the fact sheet as published by the U.S. Department of Energy - Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management under the following website:

Creating a nuclear reaction is not simple. In power plants, it involves splitting uranium atoms, and that process releases energy as heat and neutrons that go on to cause other atoms to split. This splitting process is called nuclear fission. In a power plant, sustaining the process of splitting atoms requires the involvement of many scientists and technicians.

It came as a great surprise to most, therefore, when, in 1972, French physicist Francis Perrin declared that nature had beaten humans to the punch by creating the world’s first nuclear reactors. Indeed, he argued, nature had a two-billion-year head start. Fifteen natural fission reactors have been found in three different ore deposits at the Oklo mine in Gabon, West Africa. These are collectively known as the Oklo Fossil Reactors.

And when these deep underground natural nuclear chain reactions were over, nature showed that it could effectively contain the radioactive wastes created by the reactions.

No nuclear chain reactions will ever happen in a repository for high-level nuclear wastes. But if a repository were to be built at Yucca Mountain, scientists would count on the geology of the area to contain radionuclides generated by these wastes with similar effectiveness.

Nature’s reactors

In the early 1970s, French scientists noticed something odd about samples of uranium recovered from the Oklo mine in Gabon, West Africa. All atoms of a specific chemical element have the same chemical properties, but may differ in weight; these different weights of an element are known as isotopes. Some uranium samples from Gabon had an abnormally low amount of the isotope U-235, which can sustain a chain reaction. This isotope is rare in nature, but in some places, the uranium found at Oklo contained only half the amount of the isotope that should have been there.

Scientists from other countries were skeptical when first hearing of these natural nuclear reactors. Some argued that the missing amounts of U-235 had been displaced over time, not split in nuclear fission reactions. "How," they asked, "could fission reactions happen in nature, when such a high degree of engineering, physics, and acute, detailed attention went into building a nuclear reactor?"

Perrin and the other French scientists concluded that the only other uranium samples with similar levels of the isotopes found at Oklo could be found in the used nuclear fuel produced by modern reactors. They found that the percentages of many isotopes at Oklo strongly resembled those in the spent fuel generated by nuclear power plants, and, therefore, reasoned that a similar natural process had occurred.

Uranium isotopes decay at different levels

The uranium in the Earth contains dominantly two uranium isotopes, U-238 and U-235, but also a very small percentage of U-234, and perhaps small, undetectable amounts of others. All of these isotopes undergo radioactive decay, but they do so at different rates. In particular, U-235 decays about six-and-a-third times faster than U-238. Thus, over time the proportion of U-235 to U-238 decreases. But this change is slow because of the small rates of decay.

Generally, uranium isotope ratios are the same in all uranium ores contained in nature, whether found in meteorites or in moon rocks. Therefore, scientists believe that the original proportions of these isotopes were the same throughout the solar system. At present, U-238 comprises about 99.3 percent of the total, and U-235 comprises about 0.7 percent. Any change in this ratio indicates some process other than simple radioactive decay.

Calculating back to 1.7 billion years ago—the age of the deposits in Gabon—scientists realized that the U-235 there comprised about three percent of the total uranium. This is high enough to permit nuclear fissions to occur, providing other conditions are right.

So how did nuclear reactions occur in nature?

Deep under African soil, about 1.7 billion years ago, natural conditions prompted underground nuclear reactions. Scientists from around the world, including American scientists have studied the rocks at Oklo. These scientists believe that water filtering down through crevices in the rock played a key role. Without water, it would have been nearly impossible for natural reactors to sustain chain reactions.

The water slowed the subatomic particles or neutrons that were cast out from the uranium so that they could hit-and split-other atoms. Without the water, the neutrons would move so fast that they would just bounce off, like skipping a rock across the water, and not produce nuclear chain reactions. When the heat from the reactions became too great, the water turned to steam and stopped slowing the neutrons. The reactions then slowed until the water cooled. Then the process could begin again.

Scientists think these natural reactors could have functioned intermittently for a million years or more. Natural chain reactions stopped when the uranium isotopes became too sparse to keep the reactions going.

What happened to the nuclear waste left at Oklo?

Once the natural reactors burned themselves out, the highly radioactive waste they generated was held in place deep under Oklo by the granite, sandstone, and clays surrounding the reactors’ areas. Plutonium has moved less than 10 feet from where it was formed almost two billion years ago.

Today, manmade reactors also create radioactive elements and by-products. Scientists involved in the disposal of nuclear waste are very interested in Oklo because long-lived wastes created there remain close to their place of origin.

The Oklo phenomenon gives scientists an opportunity to examine the results of a nearly natural two billion-year experiment, one that cannot be duplicated in the lab. By analyzing the remnants of these ancient nuclear reactors and understanding how underground rock formations contained the waste, scientists studying Oklo can apply their findings to containing nuclear waste today. The rock types and other aspects of the geology at Oklo differ from those at Yucca Mountain. But this information is useful in the design of a repository at Yucca Mountain. Were the Oklo reactors a unique event in natural history? Probably not. Scientists have found uranium ore deposits in other geological formations of approximately the same age, not only in Africa but also in other parts of the world, particularly in Canada and northern Australia. But to date, no other natural nuclear reactors have been identified.

Scientists believe that similar spontaneous nuclear reactions could not happen today because too high a proportion of the U-235 has decayed. But nearly two billion years ago, nature not only appears to have created her first nuclear reactors, she also found a way to successfully contain the waste they produced deep underground.

The radioactive remains of natural nuclear fission chain reactions that happened 1.7 billion years ago in Gabon, West Africa, never moved far beyond their place of origin. They remain contained in the sedimentary rocks that kept them from being dissolved or spread by groundwater. Scientists have studied Yucca Mountain to see if the geology there might play a similar role in containing high-level nuclear waste.

221b Baker Street, London, England - The residence of Sherlock Holmes

Between 1881-1904, the above address was occupied by Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his colleague, Dr. John H. Watson, M.D., in accordance with the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson spent many years at this address in London, England, under the rent of Mrs. Hudson. Characters of every type have frequented the rooms of this place, calling on Holmes for help and assistance on mysteries only the finest criminal detective could unravel. The house was last used as a lodging house in 1936 and the famous first floor study overlooking Baker Street is still faithfully maintained as it was kept in Victorian Times.

Sherlock Holmes, the amateur detective, chemist, violin player, boxer, and swordsman (among other talents), first appeared in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet" in the Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887. A brief description of the house at 221b Baker Street could be found from "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" as follows:

“It was pleasant to Dr. Watson to find himself once more in the untidy room of the first floor in Baker Street which had been the starting-point of so many remarkable adventures. He looked round him at the scientific charts upon the wall, the acid-charred bench of chemicals, the violin-case leaning in the corner, the coal scuttle, which contained of old the pipes and tobacco.”

History of the Marine's Mameluke Sword

(Reproduced from the Marine Corps Historical Center, HQM)

Marine Officers were initially allowed swords of any style as long as they were yellow-mounted.

In 1805, the Marines assembled a fleet to Derna, Tripoli to put down Barbary Coast pirates taking a toll on American merchant ships in the Mediterranean. Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon and his Marines marched across 600 miles of North Africa's Libyan desert to successfully storm the fortified Tripolitan city of Derna.

Hamet Karamanli, a desert chieftain who took as ruler of Tripoli after the war, presented Marine Lieutenant O'Bannon with his personal scimitar to show his appreciation. The scimitar was used by Mameluke warriors of North Africa. By 1825, all Marine officers were mandated to wear the Mameluke sword.

Except for the period from 1859 to 1875, commissioned Marine officers have carried the Mameluke sword.Regulations adopted in 1859 outlined the specifications for the sword still carried by today's noncommissioned officers. The design is based on the 1850 Army foot officers' sword, which Marine officers carried from 1859 to 1875.


The story of Lieutenant Presley Neville O'Bannon begins in 1805. For several years American ships plying the waters along the coast of North Africa had been endangered by bands of Barbary pirates who grabbed what loot they wanted, killed many of the seamen or shackled them to lives of slavery. Annual payments in tribute to the area's many rulers were demanded for "protection" of American lives and shipping.

Although the U.S. was tired of a Naval war which had dragged on for several years, it decided to carry the fight to Derne, the inland stronghold of the enemy and chief fortress at Tripoli. To do this, General William Eaton, U.S. Navy agent in charge of the region, asked for 100 Marines from a nearby U.S. squadron. In answer to his request, a young Virginian, Lieutenant Presley Neville O'Bannon and seven enlisted Marines were placed at Eaton's disposal.

O'Bannon was given an odd assortment of men to form a task force formidable enough to seek the surrender of Jussup - the reigning Bey of Tripoli. His handful of Marines, a few Greek mercenaries, and a motley crew of cut-throats and sheiks loyal to Hamet Karamanli, the disgruntled brother of the Tripolitan ruler, started from Egypt on the 600-mile trek across the desert of Barca.

Along the way, every obstacle known to the East beset Eaton and O'Bannon. Instead of the usual two weeks, the trip covered 45 days. O'Bannon was called upon to prevent the Moslem's plundering of the Christians. It was he who brought the numerous revolts of the camel drivers to a halt. He constantly prodded the Arab chiefs who repeatedly refused to proceed. And all these delays prolonged the journey, stretched food rations, and at times, exhausted water supplies.

On the 25th day of April, the forces under Eaton and O'Bannon reached Derne and terms of surrender were offered to the enemy. The flag of truce was immediately returned. "My head or yours," came the reply from the Government's stronghold.

O'Bannon then swung into action. With the support of naval gunfire from American ships in the harbor and accompanied by his seven Marines, he spearheaded a bayonet charge which resulted in the capture of the fort on 27 April, 1805. O'Bannon personally lowered the Tripolitian flag and hoisted the Stars and Stripes for the first time on foreign soil, securing the War with Tripoli.

Hamet Karamanli promptly took as ruler of Tripoli and presented the Marine lieutenant with his personal jeweled sword, the same type used by his Mameluke tribesmen. Today, Marine officers still carry this type of sword, commemorating the Corps' service during the Tripolitian War, 1801 - 05.

Appropriately, the actions of O'Bannon and his small group of Marines are commemorated in the second line of the Marines' Hymn with the words, "To the Shores of Tripoli". These same words were also inscribed across the top of the Marine Corps' first standard, adopted around 1800.

Upon his return to this country O'Bannon was given a welcome by the people of Philadelphia and was acclaimed "The Hero of Derne." After his separation from service, O'Bannon went to Kentucky, where his brother, Major John O'Bannon, a Revolutionary War figure, was living. Shortly after his arrival he was elected by the people of Logan County to represent them in the state legislature. He served from 1812 through 1820.

Presley O'Bannon died on September 12, 1850, and was buried in Henry County, Kentucky. In 1919, through the efforts of the Susannah Hart Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, O'Bannon's body was moved to the Frankfort Cemetery at Frankfurt, Kentucky. On a lonely knoll in the cemetery stands a simple stone marking the grave of the "Hero of Derne". It is among the final resting places of vice-presidents, senators, governors, artists, and scores of local patriots who fell in action against the wilderness and foreign aggressors. Even today, many people still stop by to pay their respects to the man who, by his gallant actions, helped to "set the best traditions of the Corps".

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Reichenbach Falls - The place of Sherlock Holmes's death

The Reichenbach Falls in Meiringen, Switzerland, has a total drop of 250 metres. At 90 metres, the Upper Reichenbach Falls is one of the highest cataracts in the Alps. This is the place where Sherlock Holmes apparently died at the end of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series "The Adventure of the Final Problem".

Accordingly, to the storyline of "The Adventure of the Final Problem", Watson was tricked by Holmes's greatest opponent, the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, to return back to the hotel where he was then staying with Holmes. After Watson realised at last what had happened, Watson rushed back to Reichenbach Falls only to find no-one there, although he did see two sets of footprints going out onto the muddy dead-end path, but none coming back. Towards the end of the path, there were also signs that a violent struggle had taken place. Apparently, it seemed that Holmes and Moriarty have both died, falling to their deaths down the gorge whilst locked in mortal combat.

Medical Journals - Hemostasis

The ability of the body to control the flow of blood following any vascular injury is of paramount importance to continued survival. The process of blood clotting and then the subsequent dissolution of the clot, following repair of the injured tissue, is termed hemostasis.

There is a total of 4 major events that occur during hemostasis in a set order following the loss of vascular integrity.

During the initial phase called vascular constriction, the affected vascular tissues limits the flow of blood to the area of injury.

During the second phase, platelets become activated by thrombin and aggregate at the site of injury, forming a temporary, loose platelet plug. The protein fibrinogen is primarily responsible for stimulating platelet clumping. Platelets clump by binding to collagen that becomes exposed following rupture of the endothelial lining of vessels. Upon activation, platelets release ADP and TXA2 (which activate additional platelets), serotonin, phospholipids, lipoproteins, and other proteins important for the coagulation cascade. In addition to induced secretion, activated platelets change their shape to accommodate the formation of the plug.

During the third phase, to insure stability of the initially loose platelet plug, a fibrin mesh (also called the clot) forms and entraps the plug. If the plug contains only platelets it is termed a white thrombus; if red blood cells are present it is called a red thrombus.

During the last phase, the clot must be dissolved in order for normal blood flow to resume following tissue repair. The dissolution of the clot occurs through the action of plasmin.

Two pathways lead to the formation of a fibrin clot: the intrinsic and extrinsic pathway. Although they are initiated by distinct mechanisms, the two converge on a common pathway that leads to clot formation. The formation of a red thrombus or a clot in response to an abnormal vessel wall in the absence of tissue injury is the result of the intrinsic pathway. Fibrin clot formation in response to tissue injury is the result of the extrinsic pathway. Both pathways are complex and involve numerous different proteins termed clotting factors.

N.B. For purposes of laboratory tests, plasma is obtained from whole blood. To prevent clotting, an anticoagulant such as citrate or heparin is added to the blood specimen immediately after it is obtained. (Usually the anticoagulant is already in the evacuated blood collection tube (e.g. Vacutainer or Vacuette when the patient is bled.) The specimen is then centrifuged to separate plasma from blood cells. Plasma can be frozen below negative 80 degree celcius nearly indefinitely for subsequent analysis.

For many biochemical laboratory tests, plasma and blood serum can be used interchangeably. Serum resembles plasma in composition but lacks the coagulation factors. It is obtained by letting a blood specimen clot prior to centrifugation. For this purpose, a serum-separating tube can be used which contains an inert catalyst (such as glass beads or powder) to facilitate clotting as well as a portion of gel with a density designed to sit between the liquid and cellular layers in the tube after centrifugation, making separation more convenient.

Barring the use of the inert catalyst and the centrifugation, if the blood cells and the blood serum were to be allowed to separate naturally, it would take at least 20 minutes and above to occur. As such, if blood that were found on evidence taken from the crime scene were confirmed forensically to have the blood cells to be separated from the blood serum, then it would be extremely likely that the blood were actually planted onto the evidence after the crime was committed rather than transferred onto the evidence during the occurance of the crime.

On a separate note, it is interesting to note that the approximate distribution of blood types in the United States of America population is as follows. The distribution may be differ for specific racial and ethnic groups.

O Rh-positive: 38 percent
O Rh-negative: 7 percent
A Rh-positive: 34 percent
A Rh-negative: 6 percent
B Rh-positive: 9 percent
B Rh-negative: 2 percent
AB Rh-positive: 3 percent
AB Rh-negative: 1 percent

Friday, April 29, 2005

Random Thoughts - Playing among the Fields of Gold

I have again reproduced in the following another of my all-time favourite song from the modern era, "Fields of gold", by Sting. Like "Mad About You" as discussed in my previous posting, the lyrics of Sting’s “Fields of gold” has, in my opinion, also extensively utilised vivid imagery to convey the central theme. Unlike "Mad about you" whose theme centres on the vast emptiness of power, the central theme of "Fields of gold" should be that of love that lives at eternity's sunrise. The last four words of the previous sentence were of course borrowed from the great poet Willaim Blake's "Independence of Joy" which incidentally was reproduced in one of my earlier postings. I just could not find any other phrases that would describe how I feel about the lyrics of the song.

One of my greatest desire is to be able to sit at the verandah of my ranch house, overlooking vast fields of barley under the setting sun, together with the person I love, holding her hands firmly and kissing her lips gently, while our children play hide and seek among the fields of barley. Nothing would ever make me happier than the day when this scenario materialises. As such, I guess the reason why I feel so deeply for this song is because inside me, i secretly wanted to be the person in the song.

Fields of Gold (By Sting)

You'll remember me when the west wind moves

Upon the fields of barley
You'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we walk in fields of gold

So she took her love
For to gaze awhile
Upon the fields of barley
In his arms she fell as her hair came down
Among the fields of gold

Will you stay with me, will you be my love
Among the fields of barley
We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky
As we lie in fields of gold

See the west wind move like a lover so

Upon the fields of barley
Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth
Among the fields of gold

I never made promises lightly
And there have been some that I've broken
But I swear in the days still left
We'll walk in fields of gold
We'll walk in fields of gold

Many years have passed since those summer days
Among the fields of barley
See the children run as the sun goes down
Among the fields of gold

You'll remember me when the west wind moves
Upon the fields of barley
You can tell the sun in his jealous sky
When we walked in fields of gold
When we walked in fields of gold
When we walked in fields of gold

It's Probably Me

(By Sting with Eric Clapton)

If the night turned cold and the stars looked down
And you hug yourself on the cold cold ground
You wake the morning in a stranger's coat
No one would you see
You ask yourself who'd watch for me
My only friend who could it be
It's hard to say it
I hate to say it but it's probably me

When you belly's empty and the hunger's so real
And you're too proud to beg and too dumb to steal
You search the city for your only friend
No one would you see
You ask yourself, who could it be
A solitary voice to speak out and set you free
I hate to say it
I hate to say it, but it's probably me

You're not the easiest person I ever got to know
And it's hard for us both to let our feelings show
Some would say
I should let you go your way
You'll only make me cry
If there's one guy, just one guy
Who'd lay down his life for you and die
It's hard to say it
It's hard to say it, but it's probably me

When the world's gone crazy and it makes no sense
There's only one voice that comes to your defence
The jury's out and your eyes search the room
And one friendly face is all you need to see
If there's one guy, just one guy
Who'd lay down his life for you and die
It's hard to say it
I hate to say it, but it's probably me
I hate to say itI hate to say it, but it's probably me

N.B. This is a wonderful song about friendship in a sad and desolate sort of way. The effect was further enhanced by the simple acoustics accompaniment which came in the form of Eric Clapton's guitar. At this point, I would like to highlight that there are actually two versions to the song. One version has only Sting performing to a traditional jazzy arrangement. The version I am referring to has both Sting and Eric Clapton performing to a bluesy arrangement, with Eric Clapton on the guitars and as backup vocals.

Random Thoughts - Emptiness of Power

I have reproduced in the following one of my all-time favourite song from the modern era, "Mad about you", by Sting. The lyrics of Sting’s “Mad about you” has, in my opinion, incorporated one of the most extensive use of vivid imagery in modern music. If you should be so kind as to review the lyrics, I am very sure that you would concur with my opinion.

Mad about you (By Sting)

A stone's throw from Jerusalem
I walked a lonely mile in the moonlight
And though a million stars were shining
My heart was lost on a distant planet
That whirls around the April moon
Whirling in an arc of sadnessI
'm lost without you, I'm lost without you
Though all my kingdoms turn to sand and fall into the sea
I'm mad about you, I'm mad about you

And from the dark secluded valleys
I heard the ancient songs of sadness
But every step I thought of you
Every footstep only you
Every star a grain of sand
The leavings of a dried up ocean
Tell me, how much longer,
How much longer?

They say a city in the desert lies
The vanity of an ancient king
But the city lies in broken pieces
Where the wind howls and the vultures sing
These are the works of man
This is the sum of our ambition
It would make a prison of my life
If you became another's wife
With every prison blown to dust
My enemies walk free
I'm mad about you, I'm mad about you

And I have never in my life
Felt more alone than I do now
Although I claim dominions over all I see
It means nothing to me
There are no victories
In all our histories
Without love

A stone's throw from Jerusalem
I walked a lonely mile in the moonlight
And though a million stars were shining
My heart was lost on a distant planet
That whirls around the April moon
Whirling in an arc of sadness
I'm lost without you, I'm lost without you

And though you hold the keys to ruin of everything I see
With every prison blown to dust my enemies walk free
Though all my kingdoms turn to sand and fall into the sea
I'm mad about you, I'm mad about you

The song's central theme on the vast emptiness of power has resonated very strongly with one of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most famous poem, Ozymandias, which I had the honour of being examined upon in my literature lessons during my secondary school days. I have reproduced the said poem below.

Ozymandias (By Percy Bysshe Shelley)

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert.
Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains.
Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

N.B. The morale of the story in this case should be everything is only transient and nothing lasts forever :)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Medical Journals - Ephedra

Ephedra is also known as Ma Huang, Ma-Huang, Cao Mahuang Desert Herb Herbal Ecstasy, Joint Fir, Mahuang, Mahuanggen (ma huang root), Muzei Mahuang, Popotillo, Sea Grape, Teamster's Tea, Yellow Astringent, Yellow Horse and Zhong Mahuang among others.
Ephedra is an herb, whose branches are usually used to make medicine. However, the root or whole plant can be used. Ephedra contains a chemical called ephedrine, which stimulates the heart, the lungs, and the nervous system.

There is limited evidence that ephedra may decrease the symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and other breathing problems but in most cases the does needed to lessen these symptoms is too high to be safe. Using ephedra for these conditions is not worth the risk, since there are many safer alternative treatments. There is no credible evidence that ephedra has any effect on weight loss or improving athletic performance.

On the other hand, there is some evidence that ephedra is not safe, especially when used in high doses or when used long-term. Use of ephedra has been linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, muscle disorders, seizures, strokes, loss of consciousness, and death. Ephedra can also cause less serious side effects including dizziness, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and others.

Taking ephedra with other stimulants, such as caffeine, is extremely dangerous. This may increase the chance of having serious and possibly life-threatening side effects. Sources of caffeine include coffee, tea, cola nut, guarana, and mate.

Under no circumstances should ephedra be taken with medicine for depression that is classified as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. Blood pressure could get dangerously high. There is some concern that ephedra could also cause high blood pressure if taken with certain migraine medications such as ergotamine. There is also some concern that taking ephedra with digoxin might cause an irregular heartbeat. Ephedra can increase blood sugar. People with diabetes might need to have their medications adjusted to make up for this.

Lead of a pencil

The pencil lead, as it is known today, is actually not made of lead. The traditional material used to make the pencil lead is actually a mixture of Bavarian clay (or, to a lesser extent, Georgian clay) and graphite from Sri Lanka, Madagascar or Mexico. The above mixture is bound together with waxes from Brazil or Mexico and gum Tragacanth from Asia. The wood used to encase the pencil lead in the Americas is generally derived from cedar from California, Oregon and some parts of Nevada. On the other hand, white pine and basswood are the preferred pencil wood in Russia and China respectively.

The purest graphite discovered was revealed in 1564, when an oak tree fell during a storm near Borrowdale, England. The shepherds in the area found the rough chunks to be useful to mark their flocks, but the raw material was also very dirty and messy to handle. That problem was addressed by cutting the material into square pieces and encasing them with wood. The material discovered was called "plumbago" (imitation lead). In 1779, K. W. Scheele, a Swedish chemist, found "plumbago" to be a form of carbon and suggested that it be called "graphite" from the Greek word for writing. The first hand made pencils, in the form that we know today are the "Crayons d'Angleterre", made from Borrowdale graphite. One year after the discovery in Borrowdale, Conrad Gesner of Zurich, wrote the earliest surviving description of a pencil in his Treatise on Fossils, illustrated with a woodcut by the author showing a wooden tube holding a piece of graphite. Some scholars believe this "Gesner pencil" was used by Shakespeare.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Fame of a commoner

(By Wendy Cheng a.k.a. Xiaxue, the blog mistress, “Why are you worshipping the ground I blog on” at

A friend once told me, "But you are not common and normal, you are a celebrity." And I replied, "Yeah but the only reason why I became a celebrity, is because the world likes to read how common and normal I am."

N.B. This is one of the most impressively wise statements i have had the pleasure of reading in a long while :)

Random Thoughts - The Babel Fish

The following paragraphs were reproduced in full from a blog posting titled “Evangelising has a time, and funerals are not it” under the blog called “Why are you worshipping the ground I blog on” by Wendy Cheng a.k.a. Xiaxue, the blog mistress, at These paragraphs were in turn extracted from one of my all-time favourite classics, the first of five “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” book series by Douglas Adams,

"The Babel Fish," said The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy quietly, "is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy not from its carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel Fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel Fish."

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof for the nonexistance of God.

The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It would not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."

"Oh dear," said God, "I haven't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

All of a sudden, I understood fully as to why Douglas Adams chose to name the mind-bogglingly useful fish “Babel”. For this sudden revelation, I have to extend my thanks to Xiaxue for linking the above extracts from “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” to the content of the blog posting as mentioned in the above. In view of the unfortunate circumstances under which Xiaxue’s blog posting was written, I shall not further elaborate its contents in this blog posting, mostly because of my sheer inability to do justice to her elegant and precise proses with my often clumsy and long-winded paraphrasing techniques. To experience the full impact, I strongly recommend that you visit her website to read it for yourselves.

Needless to say, the name “Babel” was mentioned in the Bible. Of what little that I know of the Bible, and according to the narrative documented under Genesis Chapter 11 of the Bible, the Tower of Babel was a tower built by a united humanity in order to reach the heavens. To prevent the project from succeeding, God confused humanity’s languages so that each human spoke a different language, and hence couldn't communicate with each other and thereby no work could proceed. After that time, the people moved away to different parts of Earth. The story is generally used to explain the existence of many different languages and races. There is no implication that God directly destroyed the efforts of the builders, that is the tower, and so presumably, the building fell into disrepair later on.

In view of the fact that the very essence of the Babel fish is its ability to allow the carrier to instantly understand anything that is said to him in any form of language, perhaps Douglas Adams named the fish as such in a large part due to the sheer irony of the name, and in a smaller part hoping that, even in fantasy, the natural barrier to free communication that God has imposed on humans will one day be lifted. For fear of blasphemy, I dare not construct any phrases stronger than the above :)

N.B. The noun “ Babel” derives from two roots: "bab" ("gate") and "el" ("God"), "the gate to God". However, in the Hebrew language, there is a similar word, "balal", which means "confusion".

Medical Journals - Opiates

Opiates are a class of drugs that are derivatives in the broadest sense of the word of opium. These include two groups of alkaloids, namely phenanthrenes and papaverines. Opiates in the narrower sense of the word are only the phenanthrenes. Opioids are synthetic drugs that are chemically unrelated to the opiates, but act on the same receptors in the central nervous system and have similar clinical effects.

Examples of Phenanthrenes naturally occurring in opium are Morphine and Codeine. Examples of Phenanthrenes from semisynthetic derivatives are Heroin, Hydromorphone, Oxymorphone, Hydrocodone and Oxycodone.

Phenanthrenes which are fully synthetic can be divided again into two groups, namely Phenylheptylamines and Phenylpiperidines. Examples of Phenylheptylamines include Methadone and levomethadyl acetate hydrochloride (LAAM). Examples of Phenylpiperidines include Meperidine, Fentanyl, Alfentanil, Sufentanil, Remifentanil.

Examples of Phenanthrenes from semisynthetic derivatives that are specifically manufactures for veterinary uses include Etorphine and Carfentanyl. In view of the fact that the constitutions of the larger animals, like the elephants, are generally much stronger than that of the human beings, the Phenanthrenes that are used are generally much stronger than those which are not designed for veterinary uses. For example, although Etorphine is semisynthetic derivative of morphine, it has the potency of 10 000 times that of morphine itself.

Opiates generally belong to the group of medicines called narcotic analgesics. Narcotic analgesics are used to relieve pain. Opiates generally act in the central nervous system to relieve pain. Some of its side effects are also caused by actions in the central nervous system.

When a narcotic is used for a long time, it may become habit-forming, causing mental or physical dependence. A high number of opiates are considered to be highly addictive. One exception is loperamide, which cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. However, people who have continuing pain should not let the fear of dependence keep them from using narcotics to relieve their pain. Mental dependence or addiction is not likely to occur when narcotics are used for this purpose.

Physical dependence may lead to withdrawal side effects if treatment is stopped suddenly. However, severe withdrawal side effects can usually be prevented by reducing the dose gradually over a period of time before treatment is stopped completely.

N.B. Cisapride is a medicine that increases the movements or contractions of the stomach and intestines. It is generally used to treat symptoms such as heartburn caused by a backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. This medicine could be used in conjunction with opiates to prevent the natural gagging reflexes of the body to purge the opiates, even if taken to an excessive level, to achieve whatever ends there is to achieve.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Stairway to Heaven

(By Led Zeppelin)

There’s a lady who’s sure,
All that glitters is gold,
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows,
If the stores are all closed,
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

There’s a sign on the wall,
But she wants to be sure,
’cause you know sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook,
There’s a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.

Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder.

There’s a feeling I get,
When I look to the west,
And my spirit is crying for leaving.
In my thoughts I have seen,
Rings of smoke through the trees,
And the voices of those who stand looking.

Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it really makes me wonder.

And it’s whispered that soon,
If we all call the tune,
Then the piper will lead us to reason.
And a new day will dawn,
For those who stand long,
And the forests will echo with laughter.

If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow,
Don’t be alarmed now,
It’s just a spring clean for the may queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run,
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.

And it makes me wonder.

Your head is humming and it won’t go,
In case you don’t know,
The piper’s calling you to join him,
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow,
And did you know,
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind.

And as we wind on down the road,
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know,
Who shines white light and wants to show
How ev’rything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard,
The tune will come to you at last.
When all are one and one is all,
To be a rock and not to roll.

And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.

N.B. Although he will probably never get to read this in this life, I would however still like to extend my gratitude and thanks to MajorEasy for mentioning and dictating the lyrics of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven in his post, thereby reviving my memory in respect of this very wonderful song :)

Book Review - The Five People You Meet in Heaven (Excerpt of Chapter One)

(By Mitch Albom - reproduced in full from the following website:

The End

This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time.

The last hour of Eddie's life was spent, like most of the others, at Ruby Pier, an amusement park by a great gray ocean. The park had the usual attractions, a boardwalk, a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, bumper cars, a taffy stand, and an arcade where you could shoot streams of water into a clown's mouth. It also had a big new ride called Freddy's Free Fall, and this would be where Eddie would be killed, in an accident that would make newspapers around the state.

At the time of his death, Eddie was a squat, white-haired old man, with a short neck, a barrel chest, thick forearms, and a faded army tattoo on his right shoulder. His legs were thin and veined now, and his left knee, wounded in the war, was ruined by arthritis. He used a cane to get around. His face was broad and craggy from the sun, with salty whiskers and a lower jaw that protruded slightly, making him look prouder than he felt. He kept a cigarette behind his left ear and a ring of keys hooked to his belt. He wore rubber-soled shoes. He wore an old linen cap. His pale brown uniform suggested a workingman, and a workingman he was.

Eddie's job was "maintaining" the rides, which really meant keeping them safe. Every afternoon, he walked the park, checking on each attraction, from the Tilt-A-Whirl to the Pipeline Plunge. He looked for broken boards, loose bolts, worn-out steel. Sometimes he would stop, his eyes glazing over, and people walking past thought something was wrong. But he was listening, that's all. After all these years he could hear trouble, he said, in the spits and stutters and thrumming of the equipment.

With 50 minutes left on earth, Eddie took his last walk along Ruby Pier. He passed an elderly couple.

"Folks," he mumbled, touching his cap.

They nodded politely. Customers knew Eddie. At least the regular ones did. They saw him summer after summer, one of those faces you associate with a place. His work shirt had a patch on the chest that read Eddie above the word Maintenance, and sometimes they would say, "Hiya, Eddie Maintenance," although he never thought that was funny.

Today, it so happened, was Eddie's birthday, his 83rd. A doctor, last week, had told him he had shingles. Shingles? Eddie didn't even know what they were. Once, he had been strong enough to lift a carousel horse in each arm. That was a long time ago.

"Eddie!" . . . "Take me, Eddie!" . . . "Take me!"

Forty minutes until his death. Eddie made his way to the front of the roller coaster line. He rode every attraction at least once a week, to be certain the brakes and steering were solid. Today was coaster day -- the "Ghoster Coaster" they called this one -- and the kids who knew Eddie yelled to get in the cart with him.

Children liked Eddie. Not teenagers. Teenagers gave him headaches. Over the years, Eddie figured he'd seen every sort of do-nothing, snarl-at-you teenager there was. But children were different. Children looked at Eddie -- who, with his protruding lower jaw, always seemed to be grinning, like a dolphin -- and they trusted him. They drew in like cold hands to a fire. They hugged his leg. They played with his keys. Eddie mostly grunted, never saying much. He figured it was because he didn't say much that they liked him.

Now Eddie tapped two little boys with backward baseball caps. They raced to the cart and tumbled in. Eddie handed his cane to the ride attendant and slowly lowered himself between the two.

"Here we go . . . . Here we go! . . . " one boy squealed, as the other pulled Eddie's arm around his shoulder. Eddie lowered the lap bar and clack-clack-clack, up they went.

A story went around about Eddie. When he was a boy, growing up by this very same pier, he got in an alley fight. Five kids from Pitkin Avenue had cornered his brother, Joe, and were about to give him a beating. Eddie was a block away, on a stoop, eating a sandwich. He heard his brother scream. He ran to the alley, grabbed a garbage can lid, and sent two boys to the hospital.
After that, Joe didn't talk to him for months. He was ashamed. Joe was the oldest, the firstborn, but it was Eddie who did the fighting.

"Can we go again, Eddie? Please?"

Thirty-four minutes to live. Eddie lifted the lap bar, gave each boy a sucking candy, retrieved his cane, then limped to the maintenance shop to cool down from the summer heat. Had he known his death was imminent, he might have gone somewhere else. Instead, he did what we all do. He went about his dull routine as if all the days in the world were still to come.
One of the shop workers, a lanky, bony-cheeked young man named Dominguez, was by the solvent sink, wiping grease off a wheel.

"Yo, Eddie," he said.

"Dom," Eddie said.

The shop smelled like sawdust. It was dark and cramped with a low ceiling and pegboard walls that held drills and saws and hammers. Skeleton parts of fun park rides were everywhere: compressors, engines, belts, lightbulbs, the top of a pirate's head. Stacked against one wall were coffee cans of nails and screws, and stacked against another wall were endless tubs of grease.
Greasing a track, Eddie would say, required no more brains than washing a dish; the only difference was you got dirtier as you did it, not cleaner. And that was the sort of work that Eddie did: spread grease, adjusted brakes, tightened bolts, checked electrical panels. Many times he had longed to leave this place, find different work, build another kind of life. But the war came. His plans never worked out. In time, he found himself graying and wearing looser pants and in a state of weary acceptance, that this was who he was and who he would always be, a man with sand in his shoes in a world of mechanical laughter and grilled frankfurters. Like his father before him, like the patch on his shirt, Eddie was maintenance -- the head of maintenance -- or as the kids sometimes called him, "the ride man at Ruby Pier."

Thirty minutes left.

"Hey, happy birthday, I hear," Dominguez said.

Eddie grunted.

"No party or nothing?"

Eddie looked at him as if he were crazy. For a moment he thought how strange it was to be growing old in a place that smelled of cotton candy.

"Well, remember, Eddie, I'm off next week, starting Monday. Going to Mexico."
Eddie nodded, and Dominguez did a little dance.

"Me and Theresa. Gonna see the whole family. Par-r-r-ty."

He stopped dancing when he noticed Eddie staring.

"You ever been?" Dominguez said.


"To Mexico?"

Eddie exhaled through his nose. "Kid, I never been anywhere I wasn't shipped to with a rifle."
He watched Dominguez return to the sink. He thought for a moment. Then he took a small wad of bills from his pocket and removed the only twenties he had, two of them. He held them out.
"Get your wife something nice," Eddie said.

Dominguez regarded the money, broke into a huge smile, and said, "C'mon, man. You sure?"
Eddie pushed the money into Dominguez's palm. Then he walked out back to the storage area. A small "fishing hole" had been cut into the boardwalk planks years ago, and Eddie lifted the plastic cap. He tugged on a nylon line that dropped 80 feet to the sea. A piece of bologna was still attached.

"We catch anything?" Dominguez yelled. "Tell me we caught something!"

Eddie wondered how the guy could be so optimistic. There was never anything on that line.

"One day," Dominguez yelled, "we're gonna get a halibut!"

"Yep," Eddie mumbled, although he knew you could never pull a fish that big through a hole that small.

Twenty-six minutes to live. Eddie crossed the boardwalk to the south end. Business was slow.

The girl behind the taffy counter was leaning on her elbows, popping her gum.

Once, Ruby Pier was the place to go in the summer. It had elephants and fireworks and marathon dance contests. But people didn't go to ocean piers much anymore; they went to theme parks where you paid $75 a ticket and had your photo taken with a giant furry character.
Eddie limped past the bumper cars and fixed his eyes on a group of teenagers leaning over the railing. Great, he told himself. Just what I need.

"Off," Eddie said, tapping the railing with his cane. "C'mon. It's not safe."

The teens glared at him. The car poles sizzled with electricity, zzzap zzzap sounds.

"It's not safe," Eddie repeated.

The teens looked at each other. One kid, who wore a streak of orange in his hair, sneered at Eddie, then stepped onto the middle rail.

"Come on, dudes, hit me!" he yelled, waving at the young drivers. "Hit m --"

Eddie whacked the railing so hard with his cane he almost snapped it in two. "MOVE IT!"

The teens ran away.

Another story went around about Eddie. As a soldier, he had engaged in combat numerous times. He'd been brave. Even won a medal. But toward the end of his service, he got into a fight with one of his own men. That's how Eddie was wounded. No one knew what happened to the other guy.

No one asked.

With 19 minutes left on earth, Eddie sat for the last time, in an old aluminum beach chair. His short, muscled arms folded like a seal's flippers across his chest. His legs were red from the sun, and his left knee still showed scars. In truth, much of Eddie's body suggested a survived encounter. His fingers were bent at awkward angles, thanks to numerous fractures from assorted machinery. His nose had been broken several times in what he called "saloon fights." His broadly jawed face might have been good-looking once, the way a prizefighter might have looked before he took too many punches.

Now Eddie just looked tired. This was his regular spot on the Ruby Pier boardwalk, behind the Jackrabbit ride, which in the 1980s was the Thunderbolt, which in the 1970s was the Steel Eel, which in the 1960s was the Lollipop Swings, which in the 1950s was Laff In The Dark, and which before that was the Stardust Band Shell.

Which was where Eddie met Marguerite.

Every life has one true-love snapshot. For Eddie, it came on a warm September night after a thunderstorm, when the boardwalk was spongy with water. She wore a yellow cotton dress, with a pink barrette in her hair. Eddie didn't say much. He was so nervous he felt as if his tongue were glued to his teeth. They danced to the music of a big band, Long Legs Delaney and his Everglades Orchestra. He bought her a lemon fizz. She said she had to go before her parents got angry. But as she walked away, she turned and waved.

That was the snapshot. For the rest of his life, whenever he thought of Marguerite, Eddie would see that moment, her waving over her shoulder, her dark hair falling over one eye, and he would feel the same arterial burst of love.

That night he came home and woke his older brother. He told him he'd met the girl he was going to marry.

"Go to sleep, Eddie," his brother groaned.

Whrrrssssh. A wave broke on the beach. Eddie coughed up something he did not want to see. He spat it away.

Whrrssssssh. He used to think a lot about Marguerite. Not so much now. She was like a wound beneath an old bandage, and he had grown more used to the bandage.


What was shingles?


Sixteen minutes to live.

No story sits by itself. Sometimes stories meet at corners and sometimes they cover one another completely, like stones beneath a river.

The end of Eddie's story was touched by another seemingly innocent story, months earlier -- a cloudy night when a young man arrived at Ruby Pier with three of his friends.

The young man, whose name was Nicky, had just begun driving and was still not comfortable carrying a key chain. So he removed the single car key and put it in his jacket pocket, then tied the jacket around his waist.

For the next few hours, he and his friends rode all the fastest rides: the Flying Falcon, the Splashdown, Freddy's Free Fall, the Ghoster Coaster.

"Hands in the air!" one of them yelled.

They threw their hands in the air.

Later, when it was dark, they returned to the car lot, exhausted and laughing, drinking beer from brown paper bags. Nicky reached into his jacket pocket. He fished around. He cursed.
The key was gone.

Fourteen minutes until his death. Eddie wiped his brow with a handkerchief. Out on the ocean, diamonds of sunlight danced on the water, and Eddie stared at their nimble movement. He had not been right on his feet since the war.

But back at the Stardust Band Shell with Marguerite -- there Eddie had still been graceful. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to summon the song that brought them together, the one Judy Garland sang in that movie. It mixed in his head now with the cacophony of the crashing waves and children screaming on the rides.

"You made me love you -- "


" -- do it, I didn't want to do i -- "


" -- me love you -- "


" -- time you knew it, and all the -- "


" -- knew it . . . "

Eddie felt her hands on his shoulders. He squeezed his eyes tightly, to bring the memory closer.
Twelve minutes to live.

"'Scuse me."

A young girl, maybe eight years old, stood before him, blocking his sunlight. She had blonde curls and wore flip-flops and denim cutoff shorts and a lime green T-shirt with a cartoon duck on the front. Amy, he thought her name was. Amy or Annie. She'd been here a lot this summer, although Eddie never saw a mother or father.

"'Scuuuse me," she said again. "Eddie Maint'nance?"

Eddie sighed. "Just Eddie," he said.


"Um hmm?"

"Can you make me . . ."

She put her hands together as if praying.

"C'mon, kiddo. I don't have all day."

"Can you make me an animal? Can you?"

Eddie looked up, as if he had to think about it. Then he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out three yellow pipe cleaners, which he carried for just this purpose.

"Yesssss!" the little girl said, slapping her hands.

Eddie began twisting the pipe cleaners.

"Where's your parents?"

"Riding the rides."

"Without you?"

The girl shrugged. "My mom's with her boyfriend."

Eddie looked up. Oh.

He bent the pipe cleaners into several small loops, then twisted the loops around one another. His hands shook now, so it took longer than it used to, but soon the pipe cleaners resembled a head, ears, body, and tail.

"A rabbit?" the little girl said.

Eddie winked.

"Thaaaank you!"

She spun away, lost in that place where kids don't even know their feet are moving. Eddie wiped his brow again, then closed his eyes, slumped into the beach chair, and tried to get the old song back into his head.

A seagull squawked as it flew overhead.

How do people choose their final words? Do they realize their gravity? Are they fated to be wise?

By his 83rd birthday, Eddie had lost nearly everyone he'd cared about. Some had died young, and some had been given a chance to grow old before a disease or an accident took them away. At their funerals, Eddie listened as mourners recalled their final conversations. "It's as if he knew he was going to die . . . . " some would say.

Eddie never believed that. As far as he could tell, when your time came, it came, and that was that. You might say something smart on your way out, but you might just as easily say something stupid.

For the record, Eddie's final words would be "Get back!"

Here are the sounds of Eddie's last minutes on earth. Waves crashing. The distant thump of rock music. The whirring engine of a small biplane, dragging an ad from its tail. And this.


Eddie felt his eyes dart beneath his lids. Over the years, he had come to know every noise at Ruby Pier and could sleep through them all like a lullaby.

This voice was not in the lullaby.


Eddie bolted upright. A woman with fat, dimpled arms was holding a shopping bag and pointing and screaming. A small crowd gathered around her, their eyes to the skies.

Eddie saw it immediately. Atop Freddy's Free Fall, the new "tower drop" attraction, one of the carts was tilted at an angle, as if trying to dump its cargo. Four passengers, two men, two women, held only by a safety bar, were grabbing frantically at anything they could.

"OH MY GOD!" the fat woman yelled. "Those people! They're gonna fall!"

A voice squawked from the radio on Eddie's belt. "Eddie! Eddie!"

He pressed the button. "I see it! Get security!"

People ran up from the beach, pointing as if they had practiced this drill. Look! Up in the sky! An amusement ride turned evil! Eddie grabbed his cane and clomped to the safety fence around the platform base, his wad of keys jangling against his hip. His heart was racing.

Freddy's Free Fall was supposed to drop two carts in a stomach-churning descent, only to be halted at the last instant by a gush of hydraulic air. How did one cart come loose like that? It was tilted just a few feet below the upper platform, as if it had started downward then changed its mind.

Eddie reached the gate and had to catch his breath. Dominguez came running and nearly banged into him.

"Listen to me!" Eddie said, grabbing Dominguez by the shoulders. His grip was so tight, Dominguez made a pained face. "Listen to me! Who's up there?"


"OK. He must've hit the emergency stop. That's why the cart is hanging. Get up the ladder and tell Willie to manually release the safety restraint so those people can get out. OK? It's on the back of the cart, so you're gonna have to hold him while he leans out there. OK? Then . . . then, the two of ya's -- the two of ya's now, not one, you got it? -- the two of ya's get them out! One holds the other! Got it!? . . . Got it?"

Dominguez nodded quickly.

"Then send that damn cart down so we can figure out what happened!"

Eddie's head was pounding. Although his park had been free of any major accidents, he knew the horror stories of his business. Once, in Brighton, a bolt unfastened on a gondola ride and two people fell to their death. Another time, in Wonderland Park, a man had tried to walk across a roller coaster track; he fell through and got stuck beneath his armpits. He was wedged in, screaming, and the cars came racing toward him and . . . well, that was the worst.

Eddie pushed that from his mind. There were people all around him now, hands over their mouths, watching Dominguez climb the ladder. Eddie tried to remember the insides of Freddy's Free Fall. Engine. Cylinders. Hydraulics. Seals. Cables. How does a cart come loose? He followed the ride visually, from the four frightened people at the top, down the towering shaft, and into the base. Engine. Cylinders. Hydraulics. Seals. Cables . . . .

Dominguez reached the upper platform. He did as Eddie told him, holding Willie as Willie leaned toward the back of the cart to release the restraint. One of the female riders lunged for Willie and nearly pulled him off the platform. The crowd gasped.

"Wait . . ." Eddie said to himself.

Willie tried again. This time he popped the safety release.

"Cable . . ." Eddie mumbled.

The bar lifted and the crowd went "Ahhhhh." The riders were quickly pulled to the platform.
"The cable is unraveling . . . ."

And Eddie was right. Inside the base of Freddy's Free Fall, hidden from view, the cable that lifted Cart No. 2 had, for the last few months, been scraping across a locked pulley. Because it was locked, the pulley had gradually ripped the cable's steel wires -- as if husking an ear of corn -- until they were nearly severed. No one noticed. How could they notice? Only someone who had crawled inside the mechanism would have seen the unlikely cause of the problem.

The pulley was wedged by a small object that must have fallen through the opening at a most precise moment.

A car key.

"Don't release the CART!" Eddie yelled. He waved his arms. "HEY! HEEEEY! IT'S THE CABLE! DON'T RELEASE THE CART! IT'LL SNAP!"

The crowd drowned him out. It cheered wildly as Willie and Dominguez unloaded the final rider. All four were safe. They hugged atop the platform.

"DOM! WILLIE!" Eddie yelled. Someone banged against his waist, knocking his walkie-talkie to the ground. Eddie bent to get it. Willie went to the controls. He put his finger on the green button. Eddie looked up.

"NO, NO, NO, DON'T!"

Eddie turned to the crowd. "GET BACK!"

Something in Eddie's voice must have caught the people's attention; they stopped cheering and began to scatter. An opening cleared around the bottom of Freddy's Free Fall.

And Eddie saw the last face of his life.

She was sprawled upon the ride's metal base, as if someone had knocked her into it, her nose running, tears filling her eyes, the little girl with the pipe-cleaner animal. Amy? Annie?
"Ma . . . Mom . . . Mom . . . " she heaved, almost rhythmically, her body frozen in the paralysis of crying children.

"Ma . . . Mom . . . Ma . . . Mom . . . "

Eddie's eyes shot from her to the carts. Did he have time? Her to the carts --

Whump. Too late. The carts were dropping -- Jesus, he released the brake! -- and for Eddie, everything slipped into watery motion. He dropped his cane and pushed off his bad leg and felt a shot of pain that almost knocked him down. A big step. Another step. Inside the shaft of Freddy's Free Fall, the cable snapped its final thread and ripped across the hydraulic line. Cart No. 2 was in a dead drop now, nothing to stop it, a boulder off a cliff.

In those final moments, Eddie seemed to hear the whole world: distant screaming, waves, music, a rush of wind, a low, loud, ugly sound that he realized was his own voice blasting through his chest. The little girl raised her arms. Eddie lunged. His bad leg buckled. He half flew, half stumbled toward her, landing on the metal platform, which ripped through his shirt and split open his skin, just beneath the patch that read Eddie and Maintenance. He felt two hands in his own, two small hands.

A stunning impact.

A blinding flash of light.

And then, nothing.