Wednesday, 30 May 2007

6 flower crabs and a homosapien

After the TV crew left, there was cleaning up to be done in the preservation room. The remaining crabs had to be preserved as well for exhibition purposes as instructed by Siva. Times like these, I really miss Danliang.

I met Kelvin before I had a chance to finish with any of the crabs and he gave me a few pointers to begin with. A container of 70% alcohol was prepared for me with some guides on where the soft spots of a crab are, and I'm on my own.

The fishy smell was really horrible, but that soon faded as I got used to it. Makes me admire my grandma a whole lot more for the frequent chilli crabs she used to cook us. Anyway, I found a pair of gloves, the syringe and the needle and started injecting away.

It was creepy doing that to six dead crabs. Before, Siva said more was better than less in order to prevent the rotting of the insides of the crab. So I think I flooded the the crabs with alcohol. The needle was hard to work with sometimes. It got stuck and it wouldn't allow the alcohol to flow out. For whatever reasons. That was probably why I had alcohol spurting out of the syringe and all over my shirt. I should have been professional like Joelle and worn a labcoat.

When Kelvin got back, he told me never to force the syringe if it got stuck. That was probably another reason why alcohol was flying everywhere.

Besides lessons on the techniques of preservation learnt, I've also discovered soft sports of a crab. It's via the mouth, the joints, and the back part of the carapace. Basically skin's what you find at the joints.

The experience of alcohol surging through crab meat and the distension of the claws was totally cool. But it left a mark of my hands. The stench of alcohol and dead crabs, yet again. Sigh. More scrubbing and soaking my hands in body shop bath foam to get the stench off!

Brush with the stars..

It all started on the 25th May evening when the scriptwriter of the host show - On the Beat 2 came down to the museum. The museum would be highlighted in the show and he needed to know the interesting stories. Which we have plenty to share of course.

Siva set us on an impromptu tour with Spruce then and we gave him a version of the Heartlander's tour we had rehearsed and presented only the day before. It was different though as he had a lot of questions for us. Embarrassingly, there were some questions that baffled both me and Danliang.

After the tour and chasing Spruce back (because we forgot Siva wanted to review what knowledge he had), most of his questions were answered by Siva himself. He was particularly interested in the pitcher plant and its preference for cheese. That'd have to be confirmed when I make a call to Gwynne.

He was excited upon learning that preservations are done within the museum and after a whole series of finding people to find courage to appear on TV, Joelle , a researcher on crabs finally was game enough to yes.

With questions answered and a demonstration all prepared, all that remains is the filming session on the 29th of May.

The artistes, Vivian Lai, Jeremy Tian and Tang Ling Wi were all bounding with energy. It's amazing how they can keep up so much energy. I guess it's all in their job scope. Among the items that we told Spruce about, he picked the leathery turtle, the leopard, the roadkill leopard cat and the Pasir Panjang shark.

After which we went straight down to level one to demonstrate the preservation of a flower crab that Mr. Yeo has kindly bought from the market only the day before. Joelle did the explanations of preservation in chinese, which I thought was really good! All the complicated terms sounded strange but I guessed she pulled it off. Also, the lab coat and gloves made her look really professional at the same time.

So after a whole lot of NGs, the film finally came to an end. The entire process took about 2 hours. And how long was this going to be featured in the program? "Only 1/4 of the show!" Spruce enlightened me. I guess artistes don't have it easy as well. In fact, they were hurrying off to another location to finish 1/8th of the host program.

Finally, to what you all have been waiting for, the showtime! It airs on Channel U at 8.30pm on the 12th of June. So, remember to turn on your television with the right channel at the precise time to catch a glimpse of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research!

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Holding the fort alone.

Danliang's stopped internship early to help her dad out. Her schedule's really tight as the deadline to get the textbooks done is this June. So it's just left with me and Siva.

Nevertheless, she couldn't shake away bits and pieces of internship at RMBR. A review on the internship was tasked upon her at the last hour. Only given 2 hours to summarise an eventful three weeks, she churned out a blog styled review. Totally not what Siva wanted - a report styled review.

Anyway he assured her having content and things to write about was at least good enough. He went through the review with us and decided he should change the "review" title to "final analysis". That was after realising we don't analyse events and situations happening around us. The problem is we don't delve into things as much as we should. In fact, I'd say I'm a surface scraper. So yea.

Also, I have to give tribute to this point Siva never mention to stress. My porus memory. It's like things thrown at me from Siva goes through the huge pores of my spongy brain. Well, some get caught but most get out fromt he other side. That was probably the reason why he got me a Ta-da list and emphasized yet again on using the handy dandy notebook. And that's also probably why he kept emphasizing the importance of precision to us. Talk about the headache he had..

Anyway, besides trying to get us to scratch deeper, he touched a lot on relationships and how we must be able to observe people, interact with them and empathise with them. Putting myself into other's shoes, showing respect in different ways to mentors or friends, giving up egos while on apprenticeship, and interacting face to face with other people are amongst the many relationship lessons he touched on. If I were to carry on in detail, I guess you readers out there would wither like how Danliang and I did.

Danliang had to re-do the analysis and send it to Siva again. I guess she'd be occupied with that and her dad's work. So after the disappearing footsteps of Danliang, I'm left wondering how miserable I'd be, as Siva promised, from that day onwards. Not too bad I suppose. Even with the critcs we got from Siva, there were approvals as well. It's this motivation which got me more prepped up than I would be after knowing I'm going to work alone. The world really works on motivation as Siva said.

Okay. Enough said, more to be found in future posts. =)

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Crocs ahoy!


Is it even dead?!


Was saying to YC the other day that we had a chance to see a baby crocodile undergoing preservation by Mr Yeo, one of our museum curators, and the first thing he said was: gross!

Kind of, in my opinion. Especially at the part where blood and waste was spurting out of its mouth and genital opening. And the smell of rotting fish, combined with the sickly sweet smell of formalin... But you'll get used to it, I did so, anyway. Cheers to my blocked nose :p But all in all, it was quite fun and very fascinating.

(Ed: A short snippet on stuff I missed out:
The crocodile was from Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve. It was discovered "drowned in a drift net left behind by poachers who frequently enter the reserve from Kranji." (quoted from comment by Siva, see below) SBWR plans on using the crocodile as a display specimen for education, hence SBWR staff Jeremy Ang brought it to the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity for preservation on 23rd Feb 2007. Erm.. I do not know the reason why the preservation is only done now, but well.. the museum is very active, and there are many ongoing events, so.. yea..)

Let me outline the basic procedures here:

1) The crocodile was taken out of its newspaper wrapping and allowed to thaw under running water for around 45min. That's important for the step where Mr Yeo had to inject formalin into the body. If the body is hard the formalin won't go in.


Curled innocently after being thawed in a tub.

2) 15% formalin was prepared from the standard stock of formaldehyde using a big measuring cylinder. Formalin is basically formaldehyde diluted with water. Usually 10% is sufficient but Mr Yeo uses 15% just to be on the safe side. Formalin is used to preserve the tissues to prevent decomposition, but it also hardens the tissue, so the concentration mustn't be too high as the tissue will become brittle and break off easily.



Measurement of pure formaldehyde to prepare the 15% formalin.

3) The height and weight of the crocodile was taken using a long ruler and a weighing scale respectively. The total length (snout to end of tail) is 75.2cm, body length (snout to beginning of tail) is 37cm and the weight is 942g. These information are recorded down on a label, together with the species name and where it was found.


Taking the vitals of the croc.


Intent upon weighing it, here's a photo of Mr. Yeo in concentration.

4) A plastic syringe was used to inject formalin throughout the length of the body. Mr Yeo prefers to start from small parts such as the tail and limbs before moving on to the head and stomach. He injects at half to one inch intervals. Usually he will cut open the body to pour formalin in, as plain injection does not usually get enough formalin into the body cavities which can result in partial rotting, but it is not possible in this case. (Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve wants the croc back whole) Therefore, he massaged the entire length of the croc to ensure that there is formalin throughout. He also poured formalin through the mouth down the throat.


Getting it inbetween the tough plates..
5) Because formalin hardens the tissue, Mr Yeo put the croc on a styrofoam board, arranged it into a natural-looking position with head propped up using styrofoam and limbs fixed on the ground using pins to maintain a climbing stance. Then he put the entire thing into a box and submerged the croc with 15% formalin. To prevent the structure from floating, he weighed down the styrofoam board with bricks.


Mr. Yeo pinning little croc down with precise posturing!


All ready to be submerged in tub of formalin!



Nailed down by bricks.
Work done! ^^

Friday, 25 May 2007

A hawk and two eagles

Another interesting mission Siva set me and Danliang on today was to collect bird specimens. He was informed of a donor who decided to donate her uncle's collection. We went along with Mr Yeo. It was a rickety ride in a mini-lorry to Bukit Batok. We were pretty much clueless about where block 227 was, but three brains and 6 eyes set things right.



Beautiful aren't they?

While waiting for the donor to arrive, we pried into Mr Yeo's life. Hee.. He's been in the museum so long, he's seen Prof Ng come as a student and rise as the new director! We discovered museum life changed when Prof Ng came. More specimens were collected and preserved. Before that, it was pretty much maintenace. Mr. Yeo's been thought of as a shy man, but I think it's delightful talking to him once he gets going. =)



Back to the collection, the birds were just.. Magnificent. That'd be the only befitting word to describe them. We had no idea what they would look like and were awed by it. The uncle was cold towards us initially. But he warmed up a little after seeing the interest we had for his collection.



He told us the sea eagle and the hawk was shot dead accidentally while he and his brother went to Bukit Timah Hill to shoot flying foxes. That was in the 60's and they used a shotgun. Can't imagine people having shotguns in Singapore just 40 years ago. Anyway, flying foxes are noctural so the brothers hunted at night and mistaken the eagle and hawk for their target. The last mountain eagle was reared as an eaglet till it it was of age. They taxidermised all of them in some shop in Katong which can't be found now.



Donor's brother with his collection!


Bringing back the birds with pride!

There should be more to it but it'll only be discovered after the email interview takes place. Anyway it was enough to know that these beautiful specimens will grace our museum. Currently, they stand in level one waiting to get dust off their backs and feathers. I guess that'd be another job for us interns in time to come.

In case you're interested to sieve through more photos, click here!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

The other side of Siva

Let's start this off with a bright smile and delve straight into it. =)

Today was kind of special. The museum had Prof Rost and his wife Ann to grace the day. They were taken on a special tour around the exhibit and into the storage rooms of the museum. This is where flexibility of presentation comes to play.

Knowing our museum to be heavily biased towards the animal kingdom, Siva made the obvious note to Prof Rost who agreed. I guess for a plant expert like him, it seemed quite unfortunate that it should be so. After all, I believe his passion is pumping strong as he's currently working on bacterial infections on grape plants even after 35 years of retirement. I guess Prof Benito Tan whom he met earlier in the day, would be able to speak on plants and their development the entire day.

Coming all the way from California, they were introduced to our astounding biodiversity of South East Asia. It was like training for the museum guides all over again. I guess our stories were intriguing judging from Ann's response. It was kind of surreal seeing it unfold and I kind of spaced out when Siva asked me the same question he asked when I saw him in the morning. Sometimes.. My mind just goes blank. It was embarrassing but he helped me out of the hole he dug for me to fall into anyway.

Which fits the title of this blog. Siva can be strict at times, always wanting precision and to be on your tippy toes. Yet, he's soft side shows inconspicously in many ways.

Besides helping me out with the death date of the King Cobra, I saw another soft side of him when he took out the first specimen he was taught to preserve. I guess it's special to him the way it will be to Danliang and I who are going to preserve a baby croc tomorrow.

Also, the fact that he never leaves us out of the tour by including the smelling of the preservation room in the VIP's tour, kinds of makes it less dreary to walk around in the freezing storage rooms. Many stories of biodiversity and even history of Singapore were unfolded before Danliang and I. It was almost back to secondary school heritage tours around Singapore listening to tour guides ramble on about history. I guess this shows only the fragment of the knowledge our otterman has.

The tour ended soon but discovering another side of Siva lasted longer. As he was reviewing our day and work, Prof Ng came and gave him a last minute notice that he had to leave in 20 minutes time. He seemed a little lost, if I may say so, yet calmly finished what he was teaching us. Done with us, he finally had 15 minutes to come up with a 30 minute talk.

It was amazing just standing there looking at him go.

He sifted through old slides, typed a skeleton of points he was going to cover and pretty much was able to go after downloading it onto his mac laptop. Amidst calling for a cab. And you wonder why some people say men can't multi-task.

Just a little something I found out today, Siva actually adopted not one, but FIVE cats during the SARS period. Talk about angels in your nightmare. These cats were being culled and blamed for the panic that settled in Singapore. There isn't much to be done against the culling then so this Samaritan took in cats. Even when he was more of a dog man. Two have unfortunately passed on, but three beautiful cats remain. Check them out in his blog!

Now that's more than enough of soft sides for the hard brain regiment he constantly puts Danliang and I up to!

The search for differences between search services

Some of you may be wondering about the morning exercise that I was mentioning about in twitter. Actually since monday morning, Otterman set us a tutorial:

An internet exercise to compare search services
1. Compare a search for "NTU Bike Rally" in Technorati versus Google Blog Search
2. Compare "Raffles Museum" results in Google News versus Yahoo! News.
3. Find a good article about search engines and searches.
4. How would you keep track if anyone is saying something about Raffles Museum online?

And because of all that happened during the past few days (we were very busy preparing for the public bus tour guiding), we only did the overdued exercise this morning.

So, anyway, the answers, as provided by Otterman, eventually (although we did get a small part of it correct...):

1. Google Blog search has a cleaner interface as compared to Technorati, making it easier to search (and nice to see). Also, it has a wider scope and generates more results as compared to Technorati. Therefore Technorati has this idea of allowing people to add a link into their blog posts allowing that post to be shown in its search results. Google Blog search does not need to do that.

2. Google News has a tool called "news archives" which allows for searches of newspaper articles dated up to before 1942, as compared to Yahoo News which only allows for searches up to 30 days ago, thus Google News, again, has a wider scope. Besides, Google News Archives can show the timeline: meaning that it shows the year of the articles containing the search terms, from earliest to latest. The Timeline tool is good if we want to search for old newspaper articles dating back to a few decades ago.

(Ed: Bad news for the people who thought they can access the archives freely; it's USD25.00 per 7 days. Guess like what Otterman says, we got to accumulate more articles before we dive into it, ya?)

3. We do not have to search for complicated scholarly articles on "search engines" but we can just simply google it, perhaps using the search terms: "search engines" explained, and a whole list of relevant results will turn up.

Some good sites
Simple explanation: http://www.smallbizonline.co.uk/about_search_engines.php
For the IT savvy: http://www.lockergnome.com/nexus/it/2005/10/14/search-engines-explained/
Tips for using search engines: http://www.webreference.com/content/search/how.html
The future of search engines: http://www.searchengineguide.com/beal/2004/0128_ab1.html

4. That's pretty simple. We can just subscribe to the feeds provided in Google Blog search, Google News search and Yahoo search. We can combine them under a single group using NetNewsWire Lite and monitor the feeds.

Symposium Afterthoughts

Even as the registrar for the symposium, I'd say I didn't quite expect people to sign up for it 9 hours before the event. I slept 11 hours before the event. Get what I mean..

Anyway, the symposium was what I imagined it would be. Talks by various people which had to it the theme of climate change and the importance of taxonomy in their speeches. Some topics were quite dry while some were hilarious. The guest of honor Tommy Koh's speech was light and I guess best suited for such an early morning. I didn't manage to catch all of what the first few speakers said; having to shuttle late comers in and assuring them that seats in front won't have spotlights above.

I met Airani finally, previously known to me as the caterer for the symposium. Helping alongside were Oi Yee, Gwynne and Wei Song. They were all in toddycats t-shirt which makes me wonder what you must have been through to officially be a toddycat.

Back to the talk, some interesting points still fresh in my mind was how critical the environmental situation is. Everybody had an underlying message of conserving and reaching more people to increase awareness of the impending demise of inhabitants on Earth.

Prof Ng (director of RMBR a.k.a the crabby man) pointedly uncovered the selfish truth behind these conventions. And that's to save our skins. Not the ecosystems, diverse animals and plants we so fondly talk of conserving but our plain old skins. Referring to how dinosaurs were wiped out and Mother Earth hurt but still surviving really threw me a whole new perspective.

Like the saying truth hurts; it kind of stung me and my conscience that he's right. The bid to save the other ecosystems is indeed a desperate attempt to save ourselves. Humans are powerful, we wield technology like a whip on a horse. Yet if we had no horse, the whip would be useless. So, humans aren't infallible and indestructible. Ingenious as we think ourselves to be, we actually depend on the Earth and interactions of other inhabitants to get to where we are today.

Another accurate spot Prof Ng touched on was "Anything that can go wrong, WILL (not may) go wrong." It was surreal to see it happening as rain poured into botanic gardens. Refusing to belief the day would go wrong with rain, the food were left in the open area. I guess Prof Ng's talk held a huge amount of truth.

It was quite an experience to attend such a major function. At least I know that such talks are held in Singapore. A misconception I had was that people fly over to other countries for such talk. Well, I for now, know that we have ambassadors from Sweden for the symposium. I guess more misconceptions regarding the biodiversity circle will be uncovered further into internship.


Adapted from the otterman's blog on 23rd May 2007. More can be found in his blog.

Visit of the Heartlanders - the first time we did gallery guiding

And i really thought we had to guide by ourselves. It was so stressful I actually had trouble sleeping the night before, for fear of not knowing what to say when I actually did the tour. Luckily Gwynne supervised me for the 1st two tours while Nanthinee looked after Ruoyu, until we were ready to guide by ourselves. Somewhat.

The heartlanders were extremely enthusiastic and receptive to what we had to say. Some of the aunties and old uncles even contributed stories to us, such as the female King Cobra actually having 2 erm... genital openings as well! One uncle eagerly told me that he used to keep leopard cats when he was staying in Lim Chu Kang area, just at that period of time when we thought they were extinct! And of course they all oohed and ahhed at the wet station where we showed them tree-climbing crabs, and the display on "Things we eat". The older generation really consumed a greater variety of food when they were young as compared to us, the generation of MacDonald and KFC.

Special mention to the two kids, kx and ww, that I guided on the 3rd and 4th tour respectively: kx: an extremely cute boy with large goo goo eyes and keeps on running around touching stuff and I was so afraid he'll touch the arsenic on the displays. ww: very beautiful girl holding her two pieces of tissue paper pretending to fly... So cute... I'm falling in love with them...

All in all the guiding was fun and interactive, although very tiring, and I really enjoyed myself.

We have to thank:

Gwynne and Wei Song, our trainers, who used up a ton of saliva just telling the stories of the specimens to us interns. They also helped us, along with Nanthinee and Oi Yee, in the guiding during the actual day itself. We won't be able to survive without you all, thanx so much! :)

And of course to Otterman, who trained us in a militaristic manner. (He probably will think otherwise, he always thinks that he's being soft with us T_T) He stressed us all out by making us memorise all the dates and places where the specimens were found 2 days beforehand. We had to look for information of 10 exhibits on our own, we even had to find out where exactly they are located in the museum by ourselves.He taught us on presentation skills and how we should structure our talk such that it flows. We know that we still have a lot to learn on guiding, but we do hope that we didn't let you down yesterday. And once again, thank you so much! :)

PS: So sorry we couldn't answer the question of when the King Cobra was killed. I'm not sure about Ruoyu (she prob just got stunned when u suddenly asked) but on my part I really can't rem dates... Am trying... Now I know it's 2002 ^^

Monday, 21 May 2007

Internation Museum Day Launch

It was the first time that I ever saw someone as important as our Minister of Information, Communication and the Arts Dr Lee Boon Yang give a speech in front of me. Live leh! It's live okie? So exciting!!!

Ruoyu and I was invited to the International Museum Day opening launch held at the National Museum of Singapore on Fri 18/5/07. First thing that struck us when we arrived at the location was that: why are there no seats? There were only a few tables scattered around where people would congregate around and start chatting, or 'networking'. It was kind of an eye-opener for me. Talk about socialising. Otterman initially wanted to talk to us about the upcoming gallery guiding, but he was so engrossed talking to a bunch of people (i thought at that time that it was probably the first time he met them...) about the power of blogging. So... Ruoyu and I are not the only people he gives lectures to :P

Anyway, the speech by Dr Lee was extremely informative. Not that I could catch all of it, but it was enough. I never knew, until it was reflected in his speech, the drastic revolution of museums in Singapore and all over the world, from being merely a storage and exhibition space for artefacts to using technology, such as that employed by the Singapore Science Centre when talking about their exhibits, to explain things in a more interesting and clear manner. Like what's advertised on the Science Centre webpage: "With interactive exhibits to touch, see and hear, students would have a better understanding of the scientific principles involved and, at the same time, appreciate the impact of scientific and technological advances on their lives." (Accessed Singapore Science Centre|Programmes|Science Exhibition on 21/5/07) I also never knew about the usage of internet, to create online resources such that people can view the artefacts from the comfort of their own homes. The speech by Dr Lee in its entirety can be viewed at http://www.mica.gov.sg/pressroom/press_0705181.htm

Dr Lee also mentioned in his speech of working closely with tour operators Luxury Tours, City Tours and Duck Tours to launch new tours specialising in museums and our heritage in the future. These tours are catered for Singaporeans, especially the general public. In fact, we had a taste of what is upcoming, as we were taken for a short 1hr bus tour around the city area by each of the 3 tour agencies in turn. (A bus by one agency, think it was City Tours picked us up at the National Museum and a guide showed us around, then dropped us at a certain location and then we were picked up by a bus from the second agency and so on.. you get the idea?) While travelling on the bus the guides pointed out famous locations such as Ford Canning Hill, Singapore River, the War Memorial etc. They also explained much of the history behind these architecture which also serves to reflect the history of Singapore. Because this is not going to be a history lesson, I'm not going to talk about them, but interested readers may want to sign up for any of these tours, which will be held over the next two months.

I have to blog about the food! So extremely scrumptious! Fit for a minister, I'd say! Wahahahhaa.... There was cream puff, small cute little sandwiches, chicken leg, chicken pie, 'crystal bao' with sweet sauce, small mushroom pies, a great variety of cakes and oh dear, I can't remember what else. And the syrup drink doesn't taste like cough medicine, for once. Haha... Hungry just thinking about that. ^^

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Getting to know you

The raffles museum of biodiversity research's the place where I intern at and yet, I was clueless of the exhibits and history of the museum.

This fact of horror was discovered by Siva as he told me to direct him to the various exhibits to be highlighted to the public. I've only been in there once to stroll around, looking and not observing the huge preserved animals. I was just fascinated to see the creatures fossilized and poised in action as if they were still alive and breathing.

Anyway, Danliang and I were set on a mission to guide the public on the 23rd of May around our Museum as part of the programe that celebrates International Museum Day. We were given a list of ten animals to work with. Basically, finding information about these species and the stories behind them that relates them to Singapore.

It was a daunting task that took us only 50 minutes as Siva put us up to the time challenge. Nevertheless, we drafted up information through sifting between wikipedia and some raffles museum archives. Occasionally, articles online as well.

All this information was to be our content for the tours, and we were fortunately, trained by a Toddycat, Gwynne. Her friendliness and maze of knowledge for the exhibits and the museum made the whole process of presenting and hearing critics about myself so much easier. There're so much to learn about the art of presentation and the correct details and facts about each exhibit that more research needs to be done for the second round of training.

There will be three rounds in total, so I better gather my thoughts together and conduct a visual imagery tour before I present it once again to Gwynne. I only hope she doesn't find it boring as she's been doing this for almost three years already. As she said: " This is my 80 millionth time doing this so I know pretty much everything around here. " Enough said about the well of information she has about the museum don't you think so?

Friday, 18 May 2007

Discovering Pulau Ubin

It was a day of sweat and grit at Pulau Ubin. Danliang and I were dispatched by the otterman to accompany TKSS on an imminent expedition to clean up the coasts of the reticent island.

Although the buses were late and we (Grace, Danliang and I) were frantically counting the seconds of beach lost to the high tide, the entire group still managed some clean up part of the beach. If somewhat on a minor scale. Nevertheless, the students, interns, guides, teachers and parent volunteers spanned the coastline with enthusiasm that surprised me.

Recalling back to the times when I had to do community involvement programs (C.I.P) back in secondary school, there was always an air of grouch clouding over. I guess collecting donations on Orchard road has absolutely no way to compare with the thrill of going away from mainland. Even if it's just cleaning up the coastline. Anyway, these lucky kids get much more out of the trip away from mainland by being exposed to one of the reclusive yet still-surviving islands of Singapore.



After the rubbish collected were fished out, collated and weighed, they were given a mini lesson on the different molluscs and shells that are found naturally on the beach. Earlier on, they caught a jelly fish and examined it before letting it go. Some were fascinated over a tiny crab. So I guess them knowing that the molluscs and shells found on the beach are actually the "chutchut" and "gong gong" they eat must have been really interesting.



After that, it was time to explore the Sensory trail. It's termed "Sensory" because it caters to our five senses. The blind would be able to feel the guiding ropes and move along, smell the pandan leaves, hear the crickets humming, even read braille on signposts. These considerate acts just emphasizes how often we need to put ourselves in others' shoes to make the world a better living place for everyone. A little altruistic, but that's one way to achieving utopia isn't it?



Back to the sensory trail, we were enthralled by our guide, uncle Ah Hock, as he introduced the history along with the flora and fauna found there. Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage back in the good old days were revealed by him. Some students gamely went back in time by chewing the leaves old coolies used to freshen themselves up. Plants which oozes poisonous sap, and blind people should it get in the eyes when the leaves break were also demonstrated. We were then enlightened on the many proliferating plants that provided so many basic medical needs for the residents. It was like having everything in your backyard. You just needed to know which plant works for which symptoms of illnesses which really makes me respect them. Their knowledge and experience must be extremely vast.

With the flora flourishing, how can anyone miss the fauna bit? Tracks of a wild boar's foraging path were scouted followed by the elusive and beautiful golden web spider on her delicate golden web. We also had the honor of viewing the Atlas moth which is the largest moth in the world up close while it was in its dying throes as we were told.



Soon, it was time leave for mainland. Everyone had mosquito bites wherever skin was exposed. Yet I'm sure they had fun. One acknowledgement goes out to the person in charge of this trip; Grace who amazed and taught everyone with her bountiful knowledge. It was really easy to get hurt while clearing up the beaches but her repeated concise briefing spared the group from any such thing. Also, her sincerity extended throughout the entire trip, which is really inspiring as reality often don't see people working alongside such passion.

All in all, a good trip which brings back the message that Singapore isn't a land barren with heritage. In fact, discoveries like Chek Jawa speaks volumes that there could be more out there, unknown and waiting to be discovered by us. The guide was right in saying that the younger generation should be educated in Singapore's history, culture and biodiversity to give them reason to fight and protect whatever remaining heritage left; just as it was with Chek Jawa. That would just be the tip of the iceberg and the future of preserving such wondrous places will thus lie with passionate Singaporeans of the future generations.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

I confess...

We are bad girls.

We make both the lifts in S6 (that's the building that houses the Raffles Museum) come down to the basement level where we're waiting at, when we wish to travel up. It's done by pressing the corresponding buttons outside of the lift for both. Since the two lifts are not connected, both come down.

We should not have be so inconsiderate! We could have gotten one lift to come down and let the other lift serve people on other levels of S5.

For that matter, we should not have used the lift and used the stairs instead. We are young, we need to be energetic, we need to have drive, spice, whatever. Cos we are only young once!

And with regards to that, it's good to be enthusiastic and bubbly too! And have a positive outlook in whatever we do, including work! Else what for are we living? We are just wasting resources on our planet if we remain depressed all the time.

Precisely because of this, we should have passion for our work! The word is passion. We should immerse ourselves in it. We should like what we are doing. Only by doing so will we perform our job well.

But we are thinking individuals, we cannot follow blind passion. We need to know why we are doing the job before we can build passion for it. For that, we need to know the objective. For example, if we are guiding people in the museum, we need to know our purpose: to educate the public. We have to know conservation efforts in Singapore, how every person's efforts matter. Knowledge of the objective will build up passion for the job.

All right then, I just finished a summary of Otterman's (that's Mr Siva) lecture. On core values, this time. Hopefully, in an interesting enough manner. As what he says: we should always think of the audience. The aim is to interest and entertain, yet educate at the same time. ^^

PS: a must add! we have to eat well so that we will have enough energy to be passionate and enthusiastic and active wahahaha :P weird though, this coming from Otterman as I think i've seen him skip lunch a few times. perhaps he eats extremely fulfilling breakfasts :)

Symposium!

Here's a little post that's running late, so I'll try to keep it short and sweet. The Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium's happening real soon on next Tuesday(22nd May 2007)! And I'm proud to say my name's up there! Haha, not as a speaker like Mr. Siva, as a reference for registration matters. In any cases, that's enough to make me all glow with adrenalin.

The big reaction's probably due to the fact that I've never handled registration matters before. Let alone such a major congregation. Initially there were some confusions about the day the event would take place on. Some thought it was on both the 22nd and 23rd of May. This information is only misleading if you visit the homepage of the symposium without reading any other relevant articles with background information. I guess confusion's all in the package when you have such major events happening. This can be salvaged from further misleads by quick action, as Danliang and I witnessed Siva's hurried amendments with Snap&Drag, GraphicConverter and his handy pixel ruler upon discovering the flaws.

The objective of this event is to celebrate World Biodiversity Day(22nd May) and the 300th birthday of Linnaeus(23rd May). On the homepage, the year 2007 was initially left behind those dates, leading to confusion despite the event day being bolded as 22nd May 2007. That was quickly rectified by An Nee who's kindly volunteered to design the symposium's webpage. Now it's doubtless as everything's cleared up!

Airani's in charge of catering for the event and I've shared my somewhat organised spreadsheet with her. It has the primary details of the person and affiliation and secondary details of the person themselves. This reflects how widespread the community is interested enough to sign up with this event, and allows us at the museum, to know the various backgrounds of the people that will be listening to the talk. Airani is also able to get a gauge on how many people she must cater for. Besides, these people can be contacted should there be another event with related topics. An increase in the biodiversity community is probably one of the ways we can increase awareness of biodiversity in Singapore effectively. Thus, killing many birds with one stone. =)

Anyway, for all out there, the Biodiversity of Singapore Symposium II (2007)'s information is just a click away! ^^ For people who are interested, please register as soon as possible, and for those who have already registered, see you all this coming Tuesday!!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Interview!

Setting: Meeting room of Raffles Museum, complete with big square table and blue chairs.

People involved: Mr Siva (interviewer), Daniel (interviewee), Ruoyu and I (interns scribbling on notebooks invisible to the rest of the people)

Background info: Daniel is doing his honours thesis and he needs to come up with a topic. He has been presented with 3 by Prof Peter Ng (I didn't really catch the 3 topics, there's one on invasiveness of erm... armoured sucker catfish, one on dwarfsnakeheads and i dunno about the last...), and Mr Siva is attempting to breakdown the 3 topics (talk about pros and cons and what they will involve) in this interview.

What we learnt:
1) The general process of working on an honours thesis. First the student needs to find a lecturer to act as a supervisor. These lecturers usually have a limit as to how many students they can supervise. The lecturer will then propose a few topics out of which the student chooses one. He will have to read up to decide on which topic. Then he needs to come up with a central question in the thesis. This can be achieved by doing more readup! After that, the fieldwork, experimentation and write-up will fall into place naturally. Therefore the central question is very important in providing the focus of the thesis.

2) Considerations that should be made: The distribution of the species in question (whether it is easily found.). The status of the species (is it endangered? endangered creatures cannot be captured or experimented on). The habits (is it nocturnal? fieldtrips for specimen collection will have to be conducted at night if they are). Etc etc.

3) The aim of writing an honours thesis should be to specialise, such that the student eventually surpasses his supervisor with regards to knowledge of that particular area that his honours thesis is about. This is important so that scientific research and knowledge always proceeds forward, generation after generation...

4) Biodiversity papers, including old honours thesis, are evergreen. That means if someone is doing research on a particular species now, he can refer to papers written several decades back if they are about the same species. Quoted from Mr Siva directly: the animal doesn't change.

Georeferencing - when we actually did it

We've been trying to put off georeferencing for as long as we can, but as Nanthinee said she was coming over on Tues, 15/5/07 to check on our progress, eventually we had to set our minds to the task.

By the way, when I talk about georeferencing, I mean 'find the coordinates of the location of this specific place on the Earth'. The two coordinates needed are the longitude (point on horizontal line) and latitude (point on vertical line). Longitude and latitude are measured in different ways, Google earth uses degrees/min/sec. I'm sorry for all the layman language but it's the easiest way I can explain.

So we started, and encounted problems.

Macritchie area, Thomson Ridge, on trail
So you thought the 'on trail' is insignificant right? That's what we thought too. And so we found the coordinates for Thomson Ridge. Which is entirely wrong! We should have georeferenced the trail beside Thomson Ridge!

Woodcutter's trail
Where the hell is it? Huh? We spent 1hr searching online for map of the trail. And we couldn't find it. Oh yea so we gleaned from various online sources that it starts near Dairy Farm Estate and ends near Upper Pierce Reservoir, but it didn't help in the georeferencing, at all.

Rifle Range Road, lamppost 95
Of course we couldn't find the exact location of a lamppost on any map. So we georeferenced the entire road by taking the midpoint. Which creates a large error as this particular road is very long.

So in the end, first attempt at georeferencing = failure :(

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

People introduced at the talk in TKSS

The gist of the talk in TKSS consisted mainly of how inconsiderate disposal of rubbish is costin gthe lives of many animals. Marine creatures such as sea turtles think plastic bags are jelly fish and gulp them down. They end up feeling full all the time and thus ironically, starve to death by not eating food with nutrients. In other words, they are cruelly forced into malnourishment.

So, the students and staff from TKSS are contributing a lot to these victims by clearing up rubbish from our coastlines before they get washed out to sea. This project involves greater involvement in the environment, and I think it's a great way of promoting awareness. Reading and knowing about such incidents barely hold a candle against going down to the coasts and actually cleaning it up. Therefore, I'm proud to announce that Siva has included Danliang and me into one of the days TKSS has dedicated to clean the coasts of Pulau Ubin up.

This blog seems a little out of way for the next portion as I'm going to dedicate a paragrpah to the amazing people we've met for the talk. One of the most energetic and bubbly adults I've ever come acrossed is Grace, the director of
CreativeKids. She's a biologist who used to work in NUS. Makes me wonder how much I'd enjoy her lectures if she happened to teach me. As I said, I've never met a more friendly and fun-orientated adult than her. =)

Along side her is Dionne, who's is a manager for the education programmes at CreativeKids as well. She gives the impression of a very outdoor-ish person with a sunshine personality. Also she gives a more approachable front as she's not too much of a senior from us interns.

Next on the list is Kevin, who has a blog that everyone should go check it out. I haven't, but I bet it has loads of cool technology stuff since his interest lies in how people use the web for communication and the many inter-relationships forged out of it.

Lastly, Eric, the one who brought everyone at the talk to Chek Jawa with his film - "Remember Chek Jawa". Without him, I guess the talk would not be half as interesting as it was.

All this inspiring people put together and awareness of the environmental problems around the world will be heightened!

The nitty-gritties of work, expanded

Mr Siva's evening lecture was so long (1hr) it will probably have to be split up into different blog posts again.

Anyway first up, his comments on our work and how we can improve it.

1) We had a spreadsheet entitled "Daily log". Okie, admit it, none of you guys out there know what that means right? Actually it's a log of what we interns did in work, and it's updated on a daily basis, (or rather, as and when we remember...) So there you go, the importance of titles and precision again. No I'm not going on a long lecture one more time (see post on scanning "blue plan"), but, there you go again, the title needs to be self explanatory. Oh anyway I changed the title to "Daily log of activity of interns in RMBR". Equally stupid title, but I'll think of a better one. Hopefully.

And I think the next time titles and precision appears in a lecture by Mr Siva again, I'll just omit it in the blog entry. Lol. Actually, what I should do is make sure he never talks about precision again. Okie I shall aim for it, lol.

2) We have to create a Google calendar and share it with Mr Siva. He wants to know what we are doing. And because we have stuff that we have to do everyday (update RBZ book review, see links; update the Daily log blah blah spreadsheet), listing these activities in Google calendar helps us remember. I mean, instead of remembering the things that we have to do, why not just list them down in Google calendar, and just remember to check Google calendar everyday?

3) That time I was looking for online journals for Mr Siva and I managed to find 4 out of 5. He actually managed to find the last one! Oh dear. Anyway he taught me that I should just go into NUS library's E-resources and search for the journal itself, not the article. Sigh. Next time I know how to search for online journals.

4) He mentioned about the "blue plan", which I blogged about in an earlier post here:

5) This one is not exactly about our work, but rather an extension of the "blue plan" lecture. He mentioned that he has many files in his computer (those who haven't seen it won't be able to imagine the extent. The desktop of his computer was filled/cluttered/whatever with icons AFTER he organised his files). So anyway, he said because he has too many files, he should avoid deep folders else it will be hard to locate a specific file. Which is true. I guess no one will want to keep on clicking and clicking on folders and more folders just to get to a specific file.

But if we really have to search for a specific file on a Mac computer (must be Mac OS 10 Tiger okie?), we can use... *drums rolling* Spotlight! It's the search tool in Mac OS X Tiger, fyi.

Because this entry is getting long, and also because I haven't really explored Spotlight, it'll be reserved for a later entry. ^^

Of scanned pdfs and titles

As what usually happens on Monday mornings, Mr Siva started the day (my day, not his day, his starts way earlier) by sending me off on an errand for him. This time he wanted me to scan a 50++ page document, entitled "Proposal for the adoption of a 'blue plan' in Singapore - saving Singapore's invaluable marine heritage" for him.

So I trotted off to S3 where the department of Biological Sciences is located and asked An Nee there for help in scanning. And so once again, I was amazed by the marvels of technology, and also by my own "suakuness" (fyi: it means ignorance). The scanner (from HP, I didn't check the model) has a feeder, which of course can hold a stack of papers, When I loaded the document, the pages were swallowed in turn by the machine, digested, spewed out, and voila! Everything's scanned, all 50++ pages in a matter of, perhaps 10-15mins. (okie okie it wasn't THAT fast, but would you rather scan each and every piece individually AND manually instead of having everything automated?)

Oh by the way, from the scanning episode, I finally know how to reduce the contents of an A3 to A4 using the photocopying machine! I figured it out by myself! (Though it took me 15mins). Lolz. I'm so proud of myself =)

Then, I went all the way back into the museum, only to have Mr Siva ask me to rescan it. Reason being 1) He wanted the pdf, that's the scanned product, to be searchable, and 2) Some of the pages were the wrong side up (actually upon hindsight I didn't have to rescan if only for reason 2, 'cos I could have just used Adobe to rotate it into the right orientation. But of course, there was reason 1...)

NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Alright, enough of grumbling and back to work. I went back and asked An Nee again for help. And so to cut a long long long story short (the story includes a 40min attempt to upload the pdf unsuccessfully into my Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, and even my NUS account. Omg. It also includes several trips between the museum and S3 for stuff like getting Ruoyu's flashdrive, and retrieving binders.), I finally got the rescanned pdf and handed it to Mr Siva. Who was happy with it. Kind of.

(Conclusion: I am very inefficient. *cries*)

And so we were busy with stuff till the afternoon until Mr Siva decided to give us an evening lecture (Oh it happens sometimes, maybe 2 times a week? On a random basis. When this happens we'll almost certainly knock off at around 615 or later.) Out of the stuff he talked about (I'll blog about this in a later blog entry), he mentioned the importance of titles. The idea of precision (see post) can be applied here as well. The filename I labeled the pdf with: "blue plan", was too imprecise. It did not provide enough information such that another person will not be able to understand what the file is about if he/she were to come across it, just by looking at the file name. Instead, I should have given the full name of the article itself, or at least something acceptable like "Proposal for blue plan in Singapore".

This is also important if I had a lot of files in the computer and had to search for the pdf. A longer filename gives more keywords which will make the search more precise (namely turn up less false positives). Mr Siva demonstrated this to us by typing "blue plan" into Spotlight and performing a search. It turned out that there were many unrelated files, all with "blue plan" either in the title or contents, in the computer.

So, conclusion: give a longer filename next time. ^^

Monday, 14 May 2007

Things I never knew

The heavy rain on friday morning delayed both me and Danliang to Tanjong Katong Secondary School (TKSS). Nevertheless, we made it and I've learned more about diversity in Singapore than I ever knew, even though I was 15 minutes late.

Along with the teenagers of TKSS, both me and Danliang were subjected to the environmental facts of Singapore. Learning how her speedy development has affected (and still affecting!) and taken a toil on the many ecosystems in parts of Singapore, is only secondary to the interesting facts on biodiversity around Singapore.

Chek jawa was introduced as an amazement of biodiversity located in the eastern regions of Pulau Ubin. Being such a tiny land, it is an understatement to say it is fascinating as it boasts a surprising number of 6 different ecosystems - Coastal Hill forests, mangroves, rocky shores, sandy shores, seagrass lagoon, and coral rubbles. As expected, a great wealth of creatures and plants can be found here. Some that I read from the articles found on the
Chek Jawa website includes octopuses, seahorses, a variety of crabs to a friendly wild boar. Also mentioned and shown in the talk was the purple crab with distinctive violet shades and the moon crabs with their spade legs. I guess everyone was captivated to see a purple legged crab as the silence in the lecture hall said it all.

The next topic was on Pulau Hantu. There were several inhabitants I thought I'd never see in Singapore except on discovery channels and animal planet. We were treated to slides of some of the world's most poisonous snakes; sea snakes! One of the animals that got some student's interacting was the sea turtles. The incident of baby turtles losing their direction in East Coast Park (ECP) by crawling inlands instead of going out to sea allowed me a special lesson. I never knew that turtles are guided by stars. The numerous lamp-posts illuminated ECP like the stars illuminates the sky and these little hatchlings thus get confused and lose their directions. After that a frantic and tight rescue operation was executed and the day was saved by some of the RMBR team and the roller bladers who found them.

This shows that the public, not just the conservationists, can contribute to helping and conserving anything. Be it ecosystems or a specific animal like the sea turtle. The video on Chek Jawa shouts out the fact that people from all walks of life actually have the ability to make differences in plans, like the reclamation plan on Chek Jawa, by voicing out their opinions and standing firm on their beliefs. This is quite sensational, as making impacts in major government schemes is something that has never crossed my mind and something that most people will advise me against as "dont try anything funny with the government ah.."

Back to the interesting facts I learnt from the talk,
Sungei Buloh a wetland reserve in Singapore, is home to the smooth coated and small clawed otters. A total of 13 species of otters can be found worldwide and only 4 are known to be in South East asia. It is quite a feat that 2 are located in Singapore and that a family of otters have made permanent residence here. =) Also caught wrestling in action were two male monitor lizards. The video clip was shown again with excited ooos and ahhs from the students as Mr. Siva pointed out the object of the conflict - a female monitor lizard slipping of coyly into the mangrove waters. The males battle it out by just pushing each other about through a hugging (not mating) position. The winner would be the one who is able to hold on the longest without falling over. Following this, we were told how a scratch would be fatal to these creatures as the forest they live in are full of bacteria and flies that carry diseases. One can just die from an infection of a shallow cut. Fortunately, the battle doesn't involve hurting each other a lot; only a lot of pushing around. Nevertheless, this certainly makes me all the more thankful I'm human and living in sanitary urban areas.

One other burning fact to share's the fact on how some mangrove snakes eat crabs. During shredding season, crabs release hormones which alerts the snakes. They they spot one, kill it and pull chunks of crab meat out by holding it down with loops of their muscular bodies. The amazing adaptability of these snakes means more choices on the menu and a higher chance of surviving in the wilderness.

Danliang just reminded me how short blogs should be and I guess you readers out there are waiting for this to end.. So I'll get to the highlight of the day, which is the fact that snakes actually JUMP. Yes they do, and that's one of the escape mechanism which increases their survival chance. Usually, they sidewind after being released. Yet a video of a snake jumping away showed how it can change direction while getting away. The amazement of it chorused around the lecture halls as students and interns alike exclaim in disbelief and excitement. This talk really widened my horizons on the many animal lifeforms to be found and their amazing potential for weird behaviors. No wonder for the saying, "Learning never stops." With so much biodiversity around to discover and experience about, I'd come up with one of my own, "Never stop learning".

Last but not least, these are several blogs that can be related to the talk:
Pulau Hantu - A celebration of marine life, The Blue Tempeh, Habitatnews, wildsingapore, and not forgetting the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research of course!

Friday, 11 May 2007

more lessons learnt

Oh gosh, and the title says it all.

1) Don't trust your memory. When Mr Siva rambles off a long list of instructions, it's best to get a pen and notebook and jot down everything he said. 'cos he won't repeat himself. Hard lesson learnt.

2) Never ask Mr Siva to repeat what he said, 'cos he won't. Anyway what he said was that people usually can't be bothered to repeat. Else sometimes when people explain things, they ramble on and on and get themselves into a kind of "zone", or "trance" if you get what I mean. Then when one finally ask them to repeat themselves, they find that they can't. 'cos they lost their momentum, and they forget what they just said. Even if they try to, the things they say won't be as detailed.

3) Seemingly complex stuff can be simple. For example while we were doing the RBZ Book Review entries, Mr Siva went on and on until I asked him to repeat himself 'cos he was going too fast and I couldn't catch up. Which of course he didn't. Then I went to figure out things by myself, and I got it out. It was actually just a simple matter of copying and pasting from pdf.

Oh but I wish to add in a point about seemingly simple stuff can be complex too. Right now he's getting me to install the Mac OS10 combo update and he gave me some simple instructions (just go to this website, click on this link, follow the instructions there). I mean, how difficult can installation get? Until I really tried installing the combo update, and found myself swamped with problems of "where's the external drive he's talking about?" "what's the password". You know, things ppl'll never think of when we install something. Well, I guess I think too little =/

4) It's good to want to clarify something and hence ask for it to be repeated. But sometimes if we stop and think about it, we may figure it out by ourselves. For example, I asked Mr Siva while classifying picture slides what we should do for duplicate slides. Actually I should have known that since the purpose of the classification was for storing and also to allow for easy retrieval, it makes sense that duplicate slides should be put together. Yea that's it! Think of the user and understand his purpose.

5) We understand better when we really start doing something, as compared to just hearing instructions on how to do it. So it's better to get corrected after doing something wrong, rather than aiming to do everything right the first time round.

It's time to knock off. So I'll stop here! ^^

PS: the time is corrected. and nope i don't knock off at 4.05pm, for goodness sake. that time came about when i saved this entry as draft.

the art of writing (for blogs, at least)

Believe it or not, these blog posts have been re-edited by us amateur bloggers as best as we can, after some comments by Mr Siva on how we can improve on the way we present stuff. Here are some pointers that he gave us:

1) We have to understand the medium on which we are writing. In this case, we're posting on a blog, which is a medium to express our opinions quickly. Therefore, we can be informal while writing. We don't have to stick to rigid use of language, we don't need to follow a certain style of writing with an introduction and a conclusion, we are merely expressing our thoughts and opinions on the internship. And of course what we learnt in the meantime. In other words, we can portray our personality in the blog.

(Oh btw I think I've been somewhat serious in all the blog posts. Actually the writing style I'm used to is informal, way too informal I'd say, for the "formal" intern blog? :P Just thought I'd clarify)

2) We have to understand the audience, in other words, the people we are writing to, the people who are reading the stuff we write. So, I gather that since we are writing for Mr Siva, we have to be somewhat formal, and courteous. After all, he's the boss, right? :P Anyway anyway, because people usually do not make the time and effort to read lengthly entries in blogs, (people usually read blogs to relax, right?) he asked us to make the entries bite-sized. We can split long entries into short posts. Yet these short posts should stand alone.

3) the title is important. In the case of blogging, it should capture the imagination of people. Just like in the case of newspaper headlines, people usually read the title and then decide whether they want to read it or not. So now I gotta start agonizing over a catchy title for this boring post. =/ The thing is, Mr Siva said that the title should be short enough to preserve the punchline, yet still provide enough information.

And I never really cared when I blogged last time (for my frens). Every post had the title "Another boring day", something like that. But then I figured no one reads the titles anyway. *Shrugs*. Oh well, this is for a... different audience.. I guess... =/

All right, since we should keep in mind the importance of "bite-sized entries", this'll end my post for the day. Ciaoz.

PS: For the first time since posting here, I spent less than 3 hrs crafting an entry. so happy~~ ^^

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Wonders of technology - online tools part 3

Google Reader, the must-use tool by the busy Singaporean. It allows us to access newly updated blogs that we are interested in reading. What this tool is really useful for is that it will show the updated content for sites for which an RSS feed subscription has been added. Therefore, just by visiting the Reader, we minimise the number of blogs that we have to visit (and bookmark), and we will also have first hand notice of new content, just by accessing the Reader. This is important for the busy adult nowadays who does not want to waste time visiting outdated blogs and rereading old content.

A picture of updates available for reading is shown here:

Wonders of technology - online tools part 2

Google calendar is another tool we played around with, and it looks like this:
















Google calendar allows the user to jot down important events. It even has a "reminder" function, which makes it even more efficient than the standing calendar to remind people about upcoming events. Ho
wever, it has a big disadvantage in that it can only be shared with people who have a google account. According to Mr Siva, people tend to resist signing up for multiple accounts, for which I think a few reasons may be an inability to remember multiple usernames and passwords, and a fear of spam mail. Therefore, the versatility of online tools is not fully exploited by most people, which is indeed a pity as they provide much convenience.

Anyway, because of the fact that people who want to share and input events in the calendar may not have a google account, I searched for online calendars, and finally came across one which looks like this:
















The website can be accessed here. This tool allows other people to look a
t the created calendar and even input events without signing up for any account, a strong plus point. To restrict editing of the calendar to certain people, a password can be set up. However, it does not contain as many functions as Google Calendar. Therefore, we can see that technology, despite being versatile, still has its limits and disadvantages, and when choosing a online tool, we should choose the tool that is most suitable for our needs. In this case, although Google calendar is obviously more "hi-tech" than this online calendar, for our purposes what we needed was a calendar for which an account need not be created, hence this calendar was chosen instead.

The importance of precision

The first thing that Mr Siva said when we came to work was to ask us to check our mailbox. So we did and found out that he had informed us that he had just set up a blog about book reviews: RBZ Book Reviews, from past issues of the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology (http://rmbr.nus.edu.sg/rbz/). This once again shows the convenience of technology such that information can be conveyed without the need to meet face-to-face (see post here).

However, I believe that we also learnt another valuable lesson, that information need not be communicated to us verbally. Instead, we have to find out knowledge by ourselves. In other words, we have to take our own initiative instead of absorbing passively all the time. This can be further demonstrated later on, when Mr Siva requested for us to subscribe to the mailing list of Habitatnews and Ecotax (it acts as a medium to announce latest updates). As interns in the museum, we are supposed to know the events occurring at the present moment, and we cannot expect our supervisor to keep on informing us about it. Instead, we are supposed to be familiar with it, and if not, to find out by ourselves.

This then brings me to my next point, the idea of precision when conveying ideas, whether verbally or in writing. Mr Siva asked me what is Habitatnews, and I replied that it was an online journal. He corrected me and said that using the word "journal" is not precise. The definition of "journal" on the web is "A type of periodical, often issued by a society or institution, containing news, proceedings, transactions and articles about work carried out in a particular discipline. Intended for a scholarly audience" (From University of Connecticut Libraries). It is quite apparent that Habitatnews is not a periodical as it is not updated at stated intervals (it can be updated several times a day, or every few days), and also, Habitatnews is meant for "the busy Singaporean", which naturally includes both the scholarly audience and the layman. A news blog for natural history will perhaps be a better description.

Precision is important as it prevents our language from being open to misintepretation, which will mislead people. This is important in today's world where there is so much knowledge and so little time to verify it. Precision allows for one to absorb knowledge at the most efficient rate accurately. I must admit that I am very imprecise in my language, be it verbal or written, and I will work hard to correct this problem.

Precision can be achieved in a variety of ways, for example, when describing the nature of a thing, such as Habitatnews, we should try to use the correct word or sentence. However the example Mr Siva highlighted to us was when we are doing citations. The four elements which we should at least include in a correct citation of an online resource are "author", "title", "address link" and "date (last referenced on)". The providing of the full amount of information with regards to how the online resource was obtained is a form of precision, as it allows the reader to access the online resource easily if he wants to. It allows for greater convenience to the reader. Besides that it also reflects on the authority of the paper. The example given to us was that an article which cited sources from university research will have more credibility than one that cited sources from a layman.

Besides that, precision can also be achieved through presentation. For example, when we were updating the blog "RBZ book reviews", the title of the book that was reviewed, together with the author(s) and date of publication was shown as the heading. Right below it was the source of the book review itself, which was from RBZ. This is a form of imprecision and incorrect formatting, as it misleads the reader to think that the source of the book to be reviewed came from RBZ, which was totally wrong. It was more accurate to cite RBZ right at the bottom with the words "First published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology (volume) (page) on (date)." Whereas, the source of the book was posted below the header. Indeed, this allowed for more clarity with regards to both the source of the book and the source of the book review.

However, even though Mr Siva emphasized on precision, he also mentioned that we should be flexible as well when doing a citation. It depends on what kind of material we are writing about. For example when writing a scientific article and doing referencing we should always follow a consistent format, which is sometimes dictated to us by publishers in "Instructions to Authors". Yet, when writing a report in which the aim is to provide basic information only, "author", "title", "address link" and "date (last referenced on)" will do, and the order may change to suit the purpose.

For example:

Retrieved from Government Gazette: Current Notices:
Notice - Environmental report for disposal of dredged material at designated containment site east of Pulau Semakau. 02 May 2007.

(Example taken from Habitatnews,accessed on 10 May 2007)

This citation contains all 4 elements mentioned above, but rearranged in such a way that it conveys to the reader that it is a report for laymen to read, and not a scientific article. Thus, we should cite accordingly depending on the situation.

As a conclusion, precision is important when conveying information, and can be achieved through a variety of ways such as in citations and presentation.

PS: Actually after reading this entry, Mr Siva pointed out to me that the correct title was not "HabitatNews", rather, it was "Habitatnews", which was rather ironic as this post is basically about precision.

Geo-referencing

Geo-referencing was one of the alien terms introduced to me. Thankfully for Nanthinee, who is going to be a graduate student at NUS this coming semester, I've finally grasped a rough idea on what geo-referencing is all about.

In order to understand geo-referencing, one must know what HerpNET is first. Basically, natural history museums around the world are collating the collection of the study of reptiles and amphibians by bringing together knowledge from world wide museums to generate a database of these herpetological collections. This will facilitate understanding and ultimately conservation as this database has a great wealth of knowledge from all corners of the world. In fact, it being accessible via various portals makes it a great online tool for research too. All that said and more to be found at the above link.

Finding coordinates to the localities that are provided is what geo-referencing is about in just a few words. The larger picture behind it includes a whole lot of map reading techniques that no geography teacher has ever come close to introducing me. I thought it was really nice of Nanthinee to sit down patiently and explain things one by one, if I must say, painstakingly. Well at least now my knowledge of maps extends beyond just scales and contours to triangulation points, datum and projection. One interesting item was projection. Maps being a 2-D depiction of a 3-D Earth never crossed my mind once till she explained; making me realise the many simple things in life that I've taken granted for.

Also, learning how to express coordinates was totally fresh. I never knew they were measured in degrees, minutes and seconds. That level of measurement had always seemed to me like morse codes and now that I've got it right, I thought I could be on my way to geo-referencing. Yet, I could not be more wrong.

Sheets of Excel spreadsheets were opened relentlessly, displaying laborious work done by November, Grace and Nanthinee. The overwhelming number of columns were daunting. Fortunately, once again for Nanthinee, she went through each part and made it easier to see through the bulk and realise the intricate organisation of the data.

Throughout the entire tutorial, I have to say almost 50% made not much sense to me. I have to admit I'm bad at map reading, but Nanthinee made it seem almost like a breeze. She whipped us to the map room which was located along a corridor I used to wander along during term time, and yet still fail to notice it. There, we met Sarkina who will be seeing us and assisting us a lot in getting the relevent maps. Once she pulled out several maps, Nanthinee got down to a simple demonstration on how to read scales and deriving coordinates.

Although I can now give coordinates to a localities given a map and a ruler, it still remains fuzzy about doing the actual geo-referencing. I guess learning skills in life is not enough. To etch it in our brains, the application of the skill is essential. That'd be for another blog entry to come.

Encounter with the dead..

Early into the day, a call came in from a museum volunteer on her way to NUH that changed my life. Well, in a way as it was my very first encounter with a wild bat. After all, how many people actually get to handle bats, dead or alive?

After hanging up, Siva sent me to collect the bat with just tissue papers, a plastic bag and loads of apprehension.
I can't imagine myself touching a dead bat even with tissues separating fingers from fur. Thoughts like how to handle a dead bat and mainly curiosity on how it died in a place so populated with humans boggled my mind. However, all that soon turned to frustration, and made me realise one thing when I got to the designated area sketchily drawn up by Siva on a tiny piece of sticky paper.

Communication is very crucial. Initially thinking there will be someone there to light up the precise location, I panicked when I found nobody waiting and no bat in sight at all. After a series of calls to Danliang who helped to convey messages as a middleman between Siva and me, I decided to take matters into my own hand and search the entire length of Medical Drive. (I obtained Siva's number from Danliang later on)

It was a long and desperate search as I didn't want to return empty handed. Amids weird stares from people, I finally made the last call to Sivav who decided it was time to conclud the search. Disappointed from the unfruitful search, I decided against using the short cut back and ambled along the trail. It was this action of hanging on to any last hopes I had that provided the turning point of the day. I spotted the bat along the edge of the pavement into Medical Drive! It was much smaller version of my imagination; no wonder I missed it since it's only about 8cm from head till tail with it's wings closed up against its body. Quickly forgetting any early apprehension, I wrapped it in tissue and rushed back to RMBR without second thoughts of capturing a photo. *Sigh*

Back at the office, Siva immediately got me and Danliang going to the first level of the museum after a phone call to Kelvin. There, we learnt that that the bat was a female pouch bat
Kelvin showed us the characteristic valves under its limbs and extended them to show the distinctive white wings. So you know what type of bat is flying around at night if you see white wings!

After which, Kelvin taught us the proper way of preserving these precious specimens. To avoid contracting any disease that the animals could carry, we avoided direct contact by using tongs to hold the animal down while injecting 95% alcohol into the animal. It doesn't seem to matter where you inject the animal as long as you get the alcohol in and all over it. In fact, alcohol was also poured down the bat's throat. This probably sterilses the entire animal and prevent further rotting.

Danliang and I actually got the rare opportunity to inject alcohol in! Kevin pumped in quite a huge amount which bloated up the bat right before our eyes. Then, he gave Danliang and I the rare opportunity of a lifetime to inject some in. Even though it was in minute amounts to prevent the bat from bursting from alcchol, it was totally cool. The syringe they use are the ones you usually see on comedy shows - huge fixed with a long thin needle at the tip. It was really hard to pump in any alcohol when it was my turn, but just getting a chance to hold the syringe and spray alcohol all over the bat was enough for me. And all he while, Siva was hopping around feverishly taking photos.

Done with that, the bat was then left in a jar full of 95% alcohol, which must completely submerge the specimen as emphasized by Kelvin. Before sealing the lid with silicon, Siva handed me a label with these details: Name of collector (me), location of finding it (medical drive) , where it goes to (RMBR), the date, and the species name if it's available at the time of identification. It was all written in pencil as the markings would not go off in alcohol as pen ink would. One important point stressed yet again by Siva is with regards to precision once more. Not only must the collector's status be identified, which is a member of the public in this case, another very important factor is the exact location which must be given specifically and clearly.

Following that, we were taught the methods of maintaining the already preserved animals. Even with the silicon seal around the rim of the lid, the alcohol nevertheless evaporates out at a slow rate. Thus once in a while, alcohol has to be refilled in these jars. Initially, Kelvin tried injecting alcohol through the silicon itself as it works sometimes. However, this time saving method didn't work and he reverted to plan B which was cutting open the silicon to remove the lid and re-submerge the specimen (a baby dugong) by pouring in the alcohol. Although it's a bit of a hassle as he has to reseal the jar with silicon, I think it's a faster way of getting the alcohol in. Also, resealing it once more with a fresh layer of silicon probably means the dugong won't be seeing Kelvin for a long long time.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

First Day of Internship ^^

Starting work as an intern in the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR) in NUS has me caught up to my neck with so much new information that I can only start blogging about it 3 days into internship. The going ons behind a museum was never a thought that i analysed much. It was more of looking at stuffed animals and probably reading information about animals that I never knew existed, at a very superficial level. Yet, I was blown off my feet about what really goes on in a museum.

My supervisor, Mr. Sivasothi (Siva for short), a very busy man (:P), was the one who brought the mundane idea of a museum very much alive for me. I could not be more wrong about the fact that nothing goes on in a museum. Over here in the RMBR, it can get very happening.

On top of the list of new terms introduced to me was the Toddycat's room. It's a room mainly for storage of materials ranging from cartons of maps, fossil figures, outfield items like tools for dissecting a dugong to fiction books. Most of the items were strewn about because there was an exhibition and many cartons were just taken down to be rummaged for the essential materials and abandoned. So my comrade in hand, Danliang and I were set upon to clean up the room.

Besides being a storage room, it's also a place where meetings are to be held about major events like Earth day and the International Museum Day (IMD). One emphasis Siva made was on the trolley which had several glass jars of various preserved animals like crabs. It had to be accessible, probably because it has to be used often to carry huge loads of such jars for events like exhibitions, in and out of the museum many times. Maybe, the visitors are allowed to get a close up look and feel at the contents in the jar. After all, RMBR's all about educating the public about conservation. And collecting specimens and research of course. Anyway, what better way is there to learn than to expose people directly to it.

The room was further equipped with two Mac computers Danliang and I lugged from LS lab7. Anyone thinking it was an uneventful process would be wrong because pushing a trolley around the hilly and full-of-steps-NUS can be challenging both physically and mentally. The lesson learnt at the end of the day: there's a direct connection between S6 and S1a with absolutely no steps and gradient. This only shows the boundless amount of new things you can learn while on internship.

Aside from the Toddycats room, it was down to work in the cubicle with Siva. Forget hotmail as gmail is the webmail that allows access and linkages to many things like Blogger and Flikr. It also has a cool option of allowing people you select to share documents and spreadsheets within your community of friends. Edition can be done by those selected ones too. Which will really help in future group projects. These files are stored online as well, which cancels all worries of losing it if your computer or hardisk crashes. Lastly, it has a huge storage amount of 2,600 megabytes which wins the other webmails around hands down.

Besides gmail, Siva taught us how to use an online graphics editor, Snipshot. It allows you to save directly into an online photo management program, Flickr, which can be shared with friends. This way, the photos are organisable and more importantly, conveniently available to either Danliang or Siva to upload on any new events reported, anywhere and anytime. As hands on practice, a mugshot (picture with only my face) was taken and posted on gmail.

Among those that were mentioned, RSS feeds was one of the important ones. It allows instant notification of a web content its connected to once it is updated with new posts. In other words, it displays publicly what you have just done online which alerts people to things happening around you. We were told to subscribe to various mailing lists like Habitatnews, Raffles Bulletin of Zoology (RBZ) and Ecotax. RBZ is a scientific online journal which comprises of South East Asian zoology that's published publicly. It has two issues issued per year that is downloadable as PDF files for research and educational purposes. Also, an exchange of information around the world of different museums can be made easier this way. Habitatnews is a RMBR blog about events regarding environmental issues. These were the major web locations that make up RMBR as the only museum which actually blogs and remains active in engaging the public.

All that in the first day, with more to come on the second. Some of the job scopes incude talks in schools, entourage around the museum and a major portion which will be left for another entry, georeferencing.

Last but not least, the friendly staff Danliang and I were recieved by, Greasi holding fort at the reception, Martyn a research assistant, Kelvin a curator with the museum, Dr. Tan Swee Hee at the next cubicle and Nanthinee a graduate student. There will be many interactions to come, but that is not for this, but the next post.

Wonders of technology - online tools part 1

Snipshot is an online tool that allows one to edit pictures online. The best thing about Snipshot is that besides being easy to use and being free, no prior download is necessary. For this internship, we used Snipshot to generate mugshots of ourselves, and the homepage looks like this:
















The image is opened from the computer into Snipshot and edited using the crop tool inside. After editing the image to satisfaction, we then saved the file in Flickr:
















Flickr is a website that allows one to store photos onto the web, and the user can upload photos stored in Flickr by linking from the corresponding URL. However, because Gmail does not allow for uploading via URL, we had to save our edited image in the computer and upload it from the computer.

From this small exercise of creating a mugshot using online tools, I realised the versatility of today's technology. For a simple cropping job, it is not required to purchase and install a graphics editor on the computer. Rather, the internet can take over every needed job by going into the necessary websites. The only prerequisite is a stable internet connection, which is widely available as Singapore opens up wireless hotspots.

Most of the time, we do not even need to store files in the computer. Instead, we can upload everything online via websites such as Flickr. It is possible to access the required files on any computer, so long as there is an internet connection. Thus the computer becomes a mere medium, greatly diminishing the chances of losing important files in the unfortunate event of the computer crashing.