Posted by: Arthur337 | March 30, 2009

I Heart Iceland

Iceland suddenly entered into my list of must-visit places before I die. Here’s why.

1. My favorite documentary BBC Planet Earth had a very stunning beautiful trailer that featured the song Hoppipola by Sigur Ros. Sigur Ros is a band from Iceland.

planet-earth

2. Sigur Ros released a film discography about their free performances across Iceland called Heima (translated: At Home). Although it was a film discography, it can also be viewed as a very artistic film of the natural places of Iceland. It’s so pretty that LA Times reviewed “more art-house movie than concert rockumentary

heima1

3. Freakonomics, a blog that I follow, presented a captivating guest post about Nathan Myhrvold’s travels in Iceland with great photographs to show.

ice-waterfall

ice-glacier-u

4. Yeah, so it’s a beautiful island with a great soundtrack to back. So what? What’s so special about Iceland? It is because Iceland is a great case study of the human impact on the environment and how that risks our survival. Jared Diamond, in his book Collapse, gave an account of how the Vikings first settled on Iceland when it had trees to support moderate settlement sizes. Because of the harsh climates, Iceland forests growth could not keep up with the pace of the deforestation. Soon the island became barren, and its people endured severely when they suddenly realize they do not have wood to repair huts, or firewood to cook, or fuel for furnaces to repair metal tools for fishing. Today you can still find deserted primitive villages throughout the island. The lucky ones who survived are those who managed to trade with merchant ships which arrived (though very infrequent considering the island’s odd location), bringing crucial resources the Icelanders needed – metal and wood. Therefore you can’t help but to admire the resilience of the people when you look at the beautiful, though sadly barren Icelandic landscape – that these people managed not only to survive, but to prosper and become one of the wealthiest people per capita on Earth today (neglecting the recent financial meltdown).

Cheers to Iceland, and its proud history.

Posted by: Arthur337 | March 27, 2009

Earth Hour

earthour

Though I personally believe that celebrating Earth Hour by switching off lights for an hour has negligible effect in preventing climate change, it does help create awareness that global warming has been acknowledged as real – and to send a signal to politicians that the citizens of the world want solid actions to tackle this clear and present danger to the human civilization .

However I am horrified by the number of public events organized to celebrate Earth Hour. Think of the endless traffic jams and the amount of the carbon dioxide emitted by those cars to drive to such events. Think of all the pamphlets, posters, and bottled water used during these “street parties”. It’s an irony that while we want to celebrate Earth Hour and show support to tackle global warming, we are actually causing more damage in its name.

What the society should be doing is to organize local events within their own neighborhoods. Encourage people to switch off everything at home, and walk or cycle to their nearest playgrounds or community halls where they could hold screenings of documentaries of global warming, or discussions of what they can do to contribute to the cause on local community level .

Most of all, without city lights, urban kids would finally have the chance to see the celestial night sky filled with stars. Let their imaginations soar about the vast universe out there – the limitless possibilities. Then bring their imagination back to Earth. For once let them feel how important, precious and fragile our tiny little pale blue world is – and that it is up to us, and us alone, to protect it.

That is what we should be doing.

Posted by: Arthur337 | March 25, 2009

YTL Residence

Initially I thought this was just an artist rendition of a bold contemporary architectural residence in Malaysia.

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Until I saw the construction photo of it.

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So it is true after all – that this grand architectural piece is real.

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According to Interior Design:

This wild mélange of nature, architecture, and ethnic diversity is the backdrop for a futuristic yet traditional house that is as eclectic as KL itself. Parisian interior and product designer Patrick Jouin and partner Sanjit Manku, a Kenyan-born Canadian architect, designed the mammoth 32,000-square-foot residence and reception suites for three generations of a prominent Chinese-Malaysian family.

Grandparents, parents, and seven children ranging in age from 10 to 22 have the run of three floors comprising nine bedrooms, living and family areas, Western-style and open-air Chinese kitchens, an outdoor breakfast terrace, a formal library, a game room, and a swimming pool.

The banqueting and reception areas are equally expansive, since the family entertains on a grand scale: Small weddings take place in a sleek but spare chapel; for bigger nuptials, a wall of glass panels retracts for more guests. The adjoining ballroom can accommodate as many as 200 people for receptions that include a Chinese New Year’s banquet each winter. Elaborate dinners, frequently for government and business VIPs, are held in the formal dining room, which seats up to 30. Among these three spaces are 13 bathrooms.

More sites and pics: here, and here

Posted by: Arthur337 | March 23, 2009

“Art” of Seeing the World

econ-cov-china

Had a good laugh when I saw the latest The Economist front cover. I wonder how many readers do realize the illustration is a cheeky adaptation from the famous New Yorker front cover by Steinberg 33 years ago.

steinberg NYorker

Of course there was another spoof of the art just recently on Sarah Palin when she claimed that she knows Russia inside out because Alaska is so close to Russia that Russia can be seen from one of the Alaskan islands.

palin_russia

Posted by: Arthur337 | March 20, 2009

A Small Sacrifice

They say religious people are happier. At times of great adversity, they could fall back and seek comfort on knowing that a loving God is looking over them – that justice will eventually prevail, and that God has greater plans for them later. Not to mention also they are usually surrounded by their religious community who is always ready to lend a hand or an ear.

Atheists such as myself, on the other hand, are left to face the stark reality of life – that life is indeed unjust and no divine power will set things right. “Why remain as bitter atheists? Come join us and feel the love of God. You have plenty to gain and nothing to lose,” or so the religious people say.

Though we atheists may not have the mental support as the religious do, most explicit atheists are willing to accept such handicap. We would rather face the harsh truth, which is a small sacrifice to make, than to eventually surrender ourselves to organized religion that has filled our human history with endless intolerance and hatred against those who do not share similar beliefs.

Posted by: Arthur337 | March 15, 2009

In tatters

euphoria

Posted by: Arthur337 | March 14, 2009

Rational Irrational

I think I have built a strong reputation among my friends to be the most rational person. Even in the most explosive situation, more so if I’m not directly involved, I am capable of peeling away every layer of emotional baggage and look at it in the most objective and practical perspectives.

However recent turn of events helped me understood the nature of my personal rationality. I am incapable of avoiding myself from entangling into certain situations no matter how clearly the logical mind says otherwise.

I was trapped. And I was shocked. I strive to live my life embracing utmost rational thinking. So how is it possible that I could be rendered helplessly by emotions and impulses?

Perhaps being rational is just knowing and being aware of when our desires or actions are deviating from logical conclusions. Being rational could mean understanding how human biases can be triggered. Instead of attempting to suppress unwanted natural instincts – which is mostly impossible to be done, being rational could mean anticipating and accepting our own decision making flaws and provide room to perform damage control.

Posted by: Arthur337 | February 22, 2009

25 Random Things

Looks like the Facebook’s 25 Random list has been spreading like wildfires across the internet that even major publications including Wall Street Journal and Time wrote about this phenomenon. Perhaps it signifies the hidden urge in everyone to express themselves to everyone about who they really are, without appearing too random during conversations to pop up certain aspects of their lives.

Typically I don’t join in such chain fads, but since I was tagged by two of my dearest friends and co-RAs from Cornell (Hi Jason! Hi Kriselle!), I felt obliged to make one of my own.

Here they are.

  1. I used to be really fat when I was young around 4-7 years old. I lost weight naturally before I hit my teens, before gaining a back a little now, unfortunately.
  2. Friends everywhere – high school friends, college friends, office friends – somehow caught into the habit of calling me uncle.
  3. Most people think I’m the eldest in the family. That probably partially explains the uncle part. I’m actually the youngest of 2 other siblings in the family.
  4. I can’t really pronounce my name own Arthur. I usually end up saying Artur. ‘th‘ pronunciation is never really emphasized in Malaysia.
  5. I do not know how to ride a bicycle. I don’t even know how to swim well, despite Cornell’s requirement of passing a swim test to graduate.
  6. When I was young, I once told my parents that when I grow up, I wanted to become a gas station attendant. I just thought they were awesome – pumping gas and wiping windshields. My parents still bring that story up once a while for laughs.
  7. I’m really bad at small talks. I hate bumping into office acquaintance while waiting for elevators or in the toilet, or even worse – in a long train ride.
  8. I love books. Walking through a good bookstore makes me wish I have the time in the world to read them all. I think books are more interesting than most people, thus more often than not I would prefer to have meals while reading instead of dining with people.
  9. The person who influenced my life the most, without actually meeting the person, is the late Carl Sagan, an astronomer and professor at Cornell University. He taught me how to understand science, to question even the most sacred beliefs, to love Earth and humanity, and to appreciate art and music.
  10. Going to Cornell University is one of the best things that happened in my life – the great friendships, the invaluable knowledge and exposures, the road trips and the wilderness experience. I would never have dared to dream of going there if not for the scholarship offer appearing at my doorstep.
  11. I used to love Japanese culture when I came back from an exchange program. Now after graduating from an American university, I’m kind of pro-American culture. The interesting part is that the Japanese and American culture are pretty polar.
  12. Acadia National Park in Maine is the most beautiful and inspiring place I have ever visited so far.
  13. One of my short-term luxury goals is to own a tiny but elegant loft in a prime downtown area. It would have high ceilings, wooden floors, large artpieces on the walls, and huge windows. After work, I would relax on a comfortable armchair by the windows sipping wine, listening to Norah Jones while appreciating the view of the city lights.
  14. I love photography, though I have stopped taking photos since graduating from Cornell. I guess my passion for photography was mostly driven by my love for Cornell and Ithaca.
  15. If humans have past lives, I would want to believe that I used to be a Navy officer in the 17th century with a royal charter to explore the New World. Then I would be reincarnated later in the 1920s during the Jazz Age.
  16. If I could start over and have a different career, I could consider being an industrial designer, an architect, a camp instructor, a museum curator, a national park guide, a geologist, an astronomer or perhaps even a ranch owner with a huge farm.
  17. I always wish I have the courage to drop everything and start to backpack around the world, occasionally stopping momentarily in an exotic country and work oddjobs to support my living expenses. But alas, there is too much Asian blood in me.
  18. I listen to instrumental soundtracks – James Horner, Alan Silvestri, Hans Zimmer, Jerry Goldsmith etc. It makes me feel like my life is part of a movie and so, less mundane.
  19. I love folk and indie music too – Barenaked Ladies, Jason Mraz and other mostly independent labels found in TV soundtracks. They make me feel happy, and reminiscent of the old quaint town of Ithaca.
  20. If I am rich enough to start my own charity foundation, I would allocate 25% to building a fine arts museum in Malaysia, and the remaining to start a global initiative to encourage governments to teach high school students about the responsibilities of a global citizen instead of just nationalism and patriotism.
  21. For the most part, I guess I am still a geek. I miss the college conversations about weird science ideas and textbook jokes. I doubt anyone in my office would figure out jokes about Schrödinger’s Cat. If you catch me smiling to myself in the office, it’s because I have a geeky joke running in my head.
  22. I enjoy taking people out for tours. At Cornell I like taking the freshmen around Cornell, especially the lesser known areas. In Malaysia, I get excited when any Cornell friends would visit me, despite taking them to the same places over and over again.
  23. Subscribing to humanism, my life motto would be “informed by science, inspired by art, motivated by compassion“. I wish there is a Latin version of that. It would be so much cooler.
  24. Knowing that I am a strong atheist, most people could not believe that I have an uncle who is a Catholic priest, and an aunt who is a nun.
  25. If I can plan the sweetest moment of my life, it would probably be a reunion/gathering with a large bunch of friends in a summer cabin inside a beautiful national park. During the day we could do some sailing, hiking and playing wiffleball. At night we could set up a large garden table at the backyard underneath the stars for barbecue dinner before retiring to singing songs together by the fireplace accompanied by guitar and piano.
Posted by: Arthur337 | February 21, 2009

We Deserve It

Most Malaysians would be horrified with the recent few unfortunate events in the political scene. Most would be wondering why our local politics are so dirty and corrupted? Why are the politicians bickering and undermining each other instead of putting joint efforts to tackle the impending economic difficulties?

Why?

Because we deserve it.

Freakonomics recently posted this quote by Joseph de Maistre(1753-1821):

Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle me/rite.
(Every country has the government it deserves.)

When I first read that quote, it struck me how true it is, though I would give some exceptions to emerging and unstable countries where luck plays a major role in determining which charismatic leader manages to seize power and implement ridiculous policies.

However for countries which have gained independence for many years – such as Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and the United States – whether the governments are corrupted, efficient, transparent and fair, the people deserves that kind of government.

You can’t point all the blame  to the government if its citizens are so politically and socially apathetic. You can’t point all the blame to the government if its citizens voted those who promised freebies while it’s so obvious with simple knowledge that that policy would bankrupt the nation.

Again I will re-iterate 3 things that would make a good government – free press, educated citizens and the courage to challenge authorities. Schools should educate children to question the government. It’s unfortunate, instead we are instilling irrational sense of patriotism of how great their nations are, and how they should serve their country like mindless robots.

Carl Sagan, in his book “The Demon Haunted World”, said:

If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights (free speech etc). With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit.

Posted by: Arthur337 | February 15, 2009

My Core Values

I have my own opinions on a lot of things, though none of them are in absolute confidence. Most of my opinions are based on a few principles, values or philosophy. I guess being in an American college full of vocal liberal hippies helped solidify some of my views and identified the camps in a more systematic way. Here they are, my core values and philosophy:

Lifestyle: How I live my life
Minimalist

Minimalist has always been my aesthetic style, but I didn’t know it could be applied in my practical daily life until much later. Probably four years living in the dormitory system, I learned to keep my possessions minimal to minimize the hassle of moving in and out each year. Also due to the environmentalist in me, I strive to consume as little as I can to minimize the environmental footprint.

Karim Rashid, a famous industrial designer, have this idea in his book Design Your Self:

Streamline your possession. Analyze each object in your home and ask yourself the key questions: When was the last time I used it? Why do I have it? Do I need it? Does it bring meaning, memory, love, function, experience, pleasure, humor or energy to my life?

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Personal Conduct/Ethics: How I behave
Stoicism

I don’t normally exhibit strong emotions. Even when I’m terribly offended or wronged by another person, restraint and prudence are in priority to determine what is the next best course of actions. Being calm and clear-headed to act according to reason and not clouded by destructive negative emotions is among the many principles of stoicism. Stoicism also involves stringent self-discipline to personal conduct, especially in integrity, sense of duty, honesty and honoring words (including time punctuality, my major pet peeve).

If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you……. if you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this.
Marcus Aurelis, a Roman emperor and a stoic philosopher

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Epistemology: How I know what is truth/real to make my decisions?
Scientific Empiricism

Most people associate science with people in white lab coats conducting weird experiments in laboratories mixing strange liquid in test tubes. Science is just a systematic method of searching for answers to questions we form. It isolates all other influence and factors, including personal emotions/biases to seek the answers.

Science is not perfect and the quality of the answers found are dependent on the quality of the experiments. Therefore empiricism is important. Empiricism requires evidence that it works. I don’t care what theories you built on top of each other to come to this conclusion, just show me that it works. I want to see the results.

If you say Feng Shui can help improve someone’s fortune, I don’t care about the theories of how chi flows around the house. Just prove to me that those who practice Feng Shui has high chance of success than those who does not.

I also believe that there is no absolute truth. We can have certainty on what can happen, but never 100%. We can be sure that 99.9999% that the Sun rises tomorrow, but never 100%. We should give ways for doubts, and welcome others to challenge our knowledge (at their expense of course) and never censor them if they do not agree with us.

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Ethical Judgments (Normative Ethics): How I decide what I do is morally right or wrong
Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism judges a morally good action to be the choice that maximizes the happiness of the people involved. However I don’t subscribe fully to it because of its flaws.

For example, would you bomb a school with 50 children just to kill 200 enemy soldiers who might later shoot and kill 100 of your friends in the army? Would you agree to torture to extract information from terrorists so that you might prevent a bigger terrorist threat?

I believe in utilitarianism, but with one precedence to the law: respect of human rights. No one should be denied basic human rights unwillingly for the betterment of others.

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Political Philosophy: How the society should conduct
Libertarianism

The best government for absolute liberty is no goverment. People are free to do whatever they want. Such utopia is of course based on the assumption that the people does no harm to others, thus libertarianism.

I am not going as far as to suggest anarchy, but I believe the best government should allow its people the absolute freedom to do whatver they want, as long as their actions do not harm the others directly or indirectly.

If they want to smoke marijuana at home, go ahead. If two men wants to get married, go ahead. If they are suffering from a terminal disease and want to kill themselves, go ahead. If several men and women want to engage in polygamy with total consent, go ahead. None of these actions affect anyone else, so why should we deny their liberty to do so?

We the society has no say on what others should do or not do. We are not in the position to decide what’s best for others have their perspective. What we know for sure is that human liberty should be preserved.

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