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Friday, February 27, 2009

I'm Thankful I still have a Job - PH

PhotoHunt theme : thankful

Singapore is seeing its worst recession in decades. Many Singaporeans have already lost their jobs while others have their salaries cut.

I'm thankful I still have a job.....

I'm thankful there is still food on the table.........

and a roof over our heads.

First Commentator

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

It doesn't cost S$15,500 - WW

A Singapore top civil servant, Mr Tan Yong Soon wrote an extensive article in our local newspaper about how he spent the holidays with his wife and son at the famous and expensive Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris. He spent S$15,500 a head to learn at this posh cooking school.

Principal Ms Bong demonstrating the cooking steps

I sent my son Jaymes to Jia Lei, a private cooking school, when he was 14 during his vacations. He obtained a Diploma in Baking after 1 month of intensive lessons. He then spent several weeks baking in a bakery.

Ms Bong Hiong Hwa, the founder of Jia Lei, has been teaching for more than 2 decades. She graduated from various cooking institutions in countries such as Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia. She teaches Dim Sum Making, Chinese Cooking, Cake Making & Decorations and Pastry & Bread Making.

She conducts daily lessons at her training centre. She has published more than 10 recipe books which are well received.

Traditional Teochew delicacy - Glutinous Rice Cake

I have recommended local and international students to her. Recently, a Filipino friend sent her son to learn cake making here.

Ms Bong was teaching a lady to make a local traditional delicacy when we arrived. This lady intends to set up her own business selling this delicacy. It is a one-day hands-on course.

As I observed the lesson, Ms Bong generously shares her recipe and experience. She tells students what she knows, she does not hide anything from them. Jaymes has picked up lots of tips from her. Even until today, whenever Jaymes asks her for help, she would willingly share.

Ms Bong teaches housewives, school students and office workers at her training centre. Her centre is not posh but her recipes are authentic and you can be assured of good results for your baking or cooking.

Hong Kong student learning to bake a cake

There were two undergrads who were learning cake making. One of them was from Hong Kong. He is spending his holiday with his parents who are working in Singapore and decided to come for a one-day course.

tasting the finished product and giving feedback

Jia Lei Confectionery and Training Centre
Block 1 Rochor Road #03-502 Singapore 180001
Tel: 6294 6018 Fax: 6295 2383

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Genomic Map of the Mouse Brain

Nature Neuroscience has a nice little report about a new resource that should prove useful for neuroscientists - an anatomic gene expression atlas of the adult mouse brain.

The atlas is freely available at http://mouse.brain-map.org/agea, courtesy of the Allen Foundation. It's a map of the entire adult mouse brain including data on the expression levels of 4,376 genes. You can click on a point in the brain and see which areas have a similar pattern of gene expression:
The hotter the colour, the more correlated is the gene expression profile in that point vs. your selected region. This allows one to see the different regions of the brain defined not just anatomically, but genomically - fancy. Here I've clicked on a point in the cortex and this shows that other points in the cortex tend to have the same pattern of gene expression. That's hardly surprising, of course.

This is the kind of thing that will be invaluable for some neuroscientists, and not much use to most others, but it's a source of pretty pictures for everyone - and it's an example of the power of this kind of database. The genomic atlas is derived from the Allen Brain Atlas which allows you to see where in the brain any given gene is expressed. See also BrainMAP.org for a modest attempt to do the same thing for functional neuroimaging.

ResearchBlogging.orgLydia Ng, Amy Bernard, Chris Lau, Caroline C Overly, Hong-Wei Dong, Chihchau Kuan, Sayan Pathak, Susan M Sunkin, Chinh Dang, Jason W Bohland, Hemant Bokil, Partha P Mitra, Luis Puelles, John Hohmann, David J Anderson, Ed S Lein, Allan R Jones, Michael Hawrylycz (2009). An anatomic gene expression atlas of the adult mouse brain Nature Neuroscience, 12 (3), 356-362 DOI: 10.1038/nn.2281

Monday, February 23, 2009

S$10 for a Room in Hotel Ibis Singapore - RT/ WW

The normal room rate on 22 February 2009.

Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen, an economy hotel chain run by French hospitality giant Accor, opened its doors to guests from more than 100 countries on 12th February 2009.

For its grand opening promotion, half of the 538 rooms in Ibis Singapore were offered for bidding. Guests pay whatever they like for their hotel room. I logged onto www.paywhatyouwant.com.sg and put in the price I want to pay.

I paid S$10. Many guests paid S$1. Several guests were able to book a room for 4 consecutive nights at that low price! The price is still subject to 7 per cent GST and 10 per cent service charge.

Cool black - safe, tea coffee making facility and a mini fridge.

Wireless internet is available in the entire hotel and is free of charge. But the connection was very slow. I had to spend triple the number of hours to visit my favourite blogs and was not able to do much work online.

The temperature of the air-con room is kept constant at 25 -27 degree Celsius. It was warm and uncomfortable for me.

Our room on the 6th floor was near to these vending machines. The room was not adequately sound-proof so we got lots of noises. There is road construction going on at the ground level of the hotel and we were rudely awakened at 8 am the next morning.

nearby attractions

Ibis Singapore is just 20 minutes away from Changi Airport and close to Singapore's attractions. Guests can stroll to the colourful Little India nearby. Or pick up some bargains at the nearby Bugis Street and Orchard Road shopping districts.

I like Ibis Singapore's very innovative and brilliant way of promoting their hotel, especially when we are in a recession.

Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen
170 Bencoolen Street
Singapore 189657

Sunday, February 22, 2009

En Route

For some reason this picture reminds me of one I snapped when I was just a happy, broke college student in Texas; near identical church-spire silhouette, sparse trees and the beautiful sky for a backdrop.How different life is now...!This is a surprisingly serene shot on my way to work in the morning, near the busy downtown business district. What you don't see are the miles of cars snaking their

Dough Figure Sculpturing - WS

I was strolling along Waterloo Street, waiting for my Malaysian relatives who were praying at a nearby temple. Seeing a huge crowd ahead, I inched my way to the middle.

A young man was sculpturing a dough figurine of a tourist. Using several simple tools and different coloured dough, he began shaping the figure with deft fingers. Fascinated, I decided to watch.

I'm amazed by the young man's eye for details. Even the logo on his client's T-shirt didn't escape his eye. He focused on his subject and 20 minutes later, the product was completed.

Dough figurine is a traditional Chinese folk art with a history of more than one thousand years. Colored dough is made of flour, sticky rice flour, honey and preservatives, then steamed and kneaded with different colors.

His simple tools and coloured balls of soft dough.

A display of his completed work.

The happy couple who paid S$20 each for their dough figurines.

Dough figurines of the handsome couple.

These dough figurine remains colourfast and intact without getting decayed for decades.

How To Read Minds

(Update 27 4 2009: For a methodological problem which could cast doubt on some (but not all) of the kind of research that I discuss below, see this newer post.)

In the last couple of weeks we've seen not one but two reports about "reading minds" through brain imaging. First, two Canadian scientists claimed to be able to tell which flavor of drink you prefer (Decoding subjective preference from single-trial near-infrared spectroscopy signals). Then a pair of Nashville neuroimagers said that they could tell which of two pictures you were thinking about through fMRI (Decoding reveals the contents of visual working memory in early visual areas); you can read more about this one here. Can it be true? And if so, how does it work?

Although this kind of "mind reading" with brain scanners strikes us as exciting and mysterious, it would be much more surprising if it turned out to be impossible. That would mean that Descartes was right (probably). There's nothing surprising about the fact that mental states can be read using physical measurements, such as fMRI. If you prefer one thing to another, something must be going on in your brain to make that happen. Likewise if you're thinking about a certain picture, activity somewhere in your brain must be responsible.

But how do we find the activity that's associated with a certain mental state? It's actually pretty straightforward - in the sense that it relies upon brute computational force rather than sophisticated neurobiological theories. The trick is data-mining, which I've written about before. Essentially, you take a huge set of measurements of brain activity, and search through them in order to find those which are related to the mental state of interest.

The goal in other words is pattern classification: the search for some pattern of neural activity which is correlated with, say, enjoying a certain drink, or thinking about a bunch of horizontal lines. To find such a pattern, you measure activity over an area of the brain while people are in two different mental states: you then search for some set of variables which differ between these two states.

If this succeeds, you can end up with an algorithm - a "pattern classifier" - which can take a set of activity signals and tell you which mental state it is associated with. Or if you want to be a bit more sensationalist: it can read minds! But importantly, just because it works doesn't mean that anyone knows how it works.

Here's a pic from the first paper showing the neural activity associated with preferring two different drinks (actually pictures of drinks on a screen, not real drinks.) X's are the activity measured when the person preferred the first out of two drinks, and O's are when they preferred the second. The 2D "space" represents activity levels in two different measures of neural activity. A spot in the top left corner means that "Feature 2" activity was high while "Feature 1" activity was low.

You can see that the X's and the O's tend to be in different parts of the space - X's tend to be in the top left and O's in the bottom right. That's not a hard-and-fast rule but it's true most of the time. So if you drew an imaginary line down the middle you could do a pretty good job of distinguishing between the X's and the O's. This is what a pattern classifier does. It searches through a huge set of pictures like this and looks for the ones where you can draw such a line.

The second paper uses what's in essence a similar method to discriminate between the neural activity in the visual areas of the brain associated with remembering two different pictures. Indeed, the technique is fast becoming very popular with neuroimagers. (One attractive thing about it is that you can point a pattern classifier at some data that you collected for entirely seperate reasons - two publications for the price of one...) But this doesn't mean that we can read your mind. We just have computer programs that can do it for us - and only if they are are specially (and often time-consumingly) "trained" to discriminate between two very specific states of mind.

Being able to put someone in an MRI scanner and work out what they are thinking straight off the bat is a neuroimager's pipe dream and will remain so for a good while yet.

ResearchBlogging.orgSheena Luu, Tom Chau (2009). Decoding subjective preference from single-trial near-infrared spectroscopy signals Journal of Neural Engineering, 6 (1) DOI: 10.1088/1741-2560/6/1/016003

Stephanie Harrison, Frank Tong (2009). Decoding reveals the contents of visual working memory in early visual areas Nature

Saturday, February 21, 2009


You might have noticed that this blog has a new design - love it? Hate it? Got any better ideas?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Warm Henan Toasted Pancakes - PH

PhotoHunt theme : warm

On a cold morning in Henan, I was on my way to meet a client when this made me stop. The smell of the famous Henan toasted pancakes coming from this shop was making my stomach growled.

As I stood in front of his tiny shop watching him work, the boss took a toasted pancake from his improvised oven and offered it to me.

"Ouch. It's piping hot!"

He laughed and asked if I preferred a warm one from a box of pancakes besides him. I declined because a hot crispy pancake would warm me up faster on such a cold morning!

The slightly charred pancake, the size of a saucer, has spring onions and sesame sprinkled on it. It tasted like our prata, but more savoury.

It's cheap, costing one renminbi (17 Singapore cents) each.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Singapore Ironman is 1st Asian participant to complete Brazil 217km Ultramarathon - WW

Singapore Ironman Lim Nghee Huat is the first Asian participant to complete Brazil 217km Ultramarathon. A very proud moment for all Singaporeans. Below is his account of the ultramarathon.

************** ooooOoooo **************
At the starting line...

This is a brief report on my completion in the Brazil 217km Ultramarathon, a Badwater World Cup Series event.

Singaporean Ultramarathon runner Lim Nghee Huat and participants

I came in 26th position with a time of 52hr 37min, 7 hours before the cutoff time. There were a total of 61 runners from 9 countries in six continents and only 42 made it to the finish line.

The race was much tougher than the Death Valley Ultramarathon I did in 2007. The terrain was extremely tough, with numerous mountains to scale and descend. Some of them were definitely not fit for running!

I also fell down early on in the race, around 5 km into the start while running downhill but thank God it was only a minor abrasion and I was able to carry on.

During the second night I felt extremely sleepy and I was indeed struggling. It was pitch dark and there were howlings of wild animals around me. I also lost my way for several hours.

Throughout this, the support and the encouragement of many in Singapore motivated me to keep going. As the first Asian participant, I'm glad that I survived the course.

My run also raised more than S$20,000 for the Singapore Table Tennis Association.

Lim Nghee Huat

Donors to issue cheque payable to “Singapore Table Tennis Association” and mail it to :

Mr Tan Bak Hua,
Finance & Admin Manager,
Singapore Table Tennis Association
297-C Lorong 6 Toa Payoh
Singapore 319389
Tel: 6354-1014 Fax: 6353-9109

At the back of cheque write “ Lim Nghee Huat Brazil 217km Ultramarathon” for STTA. Donors are entitled for a Double Income Tax Exemption.

Monday, February 16, 2009

EastCoastLife Strikes Lottery - RT

Thanks to God of Fortune
at River Hongbao 2009!

I won 2nd prize!! It was an ibet and won me only S$166.

I was not supposed to win. I had misread a number as 0. My nieces and nephews who helped me 'catch' the numbers told me it was a 6. haha.... should I blame it on my poor eyesight?

It is my first time buying 4D. I bet on 0089 with 12 permutations. My sister-in-law helped me place the bet. I threw the ticket away when I thought I did not win. My husband saved it and helped me collect the money.

Showing the digits to Andrew, designer of River Hongbao 2009

aiyahhh.... had I known I was going to strike 2nd prize, I would have bet heavily on the 4 digits!

I'm buying the kids KFC on Sunday. :D

Singapore: On Clubbing and Crashing Self-Esteem

Last night, I met up with some friends and headed to Km8 (now called Tanjong Beach Club), one of Singapore’s beachside ‘clubs’ on Sentosa Island, complete with deck chairs, Jacuzzi pools and a dangerously potent drink called the Sarong Fly (which incidentally, leaves you looking like you swallowed a pot of ink – not so attractive!). So as we lay out, soaking up some much-needed ultraviolet

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ecstasy vs. Horseriding

Which is more dangerous, taking ecstasy or riding a horse?

This is the question that got Professor David Nutt, a British psychiatrist, into a spot of political bother. Nutt is the Editor of the academic Journal of Psychopharmacology. He recently published a brief and provocative editorial called "Equasy".

Equasy is a fun read with a serious message. (It's open access so you can read the whole thing - I recommend it.) Nutt points out that the way in which we think about the harms of illegal drugs, such as ecstasy, is unlike the way in which we think about other dangerous things such as horseriding - or "equasy" as he dubs it:
The drug debate takes place without reference to other causes of harm in society, which tends to give drugs a different, more worrying, status. In this article, I share experience of another harmful addiction I have called equasy...
He goes on to describe some of the injuries, including brain damage, that you can get from falling off horses. After arguing that horseriding is in some ways comparable to ecstasy in terms of its dangerousness he concludes:
Perhaps this illustrates the need to offer a new approach to considering what underlies society’s tolerance of potentially harmful activities and how this evolves over time (e.g. fox hunting, cigarette smoking). A debate on the wider issues of how harms are tolerated by society and policy makers can only help to generate a broad based and therefore more relevant harm assessment process that could cut through the current ill-informed debate about the drug harms? The use of rational evidence for the assessment of the harms of drugs will be one step forward to the development of a credible drugs strategy.
Or, in other words, we need to ask why we are more concerned about the harms of illicit drugs than we are the harms of, say, sports. No-one ever suggests that the existence of sporting injuries means that we ought to ban sports. Ecstasy is certainly not completely safe. People do die from taking it and it may cause other more subtle harms. But people die and get hurt by falling off horses. Even if it turns out that on an hour-by-hour basis, you're more likely to die riding a horse than dancing on ecstasy (quite possible), no-one would think to ban riding and legalize E. But why not?
This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates –indeed encourages – certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others, such as drug use.
Which is an extremely good question. It remains a good question even if it turns out that horse-riding is much safer than ecstasy. These are just the two examples that Nutt happened to pick, presumably because it allowed him to make that cheeky pun. Comparing the harms of such different activities is fraught with pitfalls anyway - are we talking about the harms of pure MDMA, or street ecstasy? Do we include people injured by horses indirectly (e.g. due to road accidents?)

Yet the whole point is that no-one even tries to do this. The dangerousness of drugs is treated as quite different to the dangerousness of sports and other such activies. The media indeed seem to have a particular interest in the harms of ecstasy - at least according to a paper cited by Nutt, Forsyth (2001), which claims that deaths from ecstasy in Scotland were much more likely to get newspaper coverage than deaths from paracetemol, Valium, and even other illegal drugs. It's not clear why this is. Indeed, when you make the point explicitly, as Nutt did, it looks rather silly. Why shouldn't we treat taking ecstasy as a recreational activity like horse-riding? That's something to think about.

Professor Nutt is well known in psychopharmacology circles both for his scientific contributions and for his outspoken views. These cover drug policy as well as other aspects of psychiatry - for one thing, he's strongly pro-antidepressants (see another provocative editorial of his here.)

As recently-appointed Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs - "an independent expert body that advises government on drug related issues in the UK" - Nutt might be thought to have some degree of influence. (He wrote the article before he became chairman). Sadly not, it appears, for as soon as the Government realized what he'd written he got a dressing down from British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith - Ooo-er:
For me that makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs.
I'm not sure how many "young people" or parents of ecstasy victims read the Journal of Psychopharmacology, but I can't see how anyone could be offended by the Equasy article. Except perhaps people who enjoy hunting foxes while riding horses (Nutt compares this to drug-fuelled violence). Nutt's editorial was intended to point out that discussion over drugs is often irrational, and to call for a serious, evidence-based debate. It is not really about ecstasy, or horses, but about the way in which we conceptualize drugs and their harms. Clearly, that's just a step too far.


ResearchBlogging.orgD. Nutt (2008). Equasy -- An overlooked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms Journal of Psychopharmacology, 23 (1), 3-5 DOI: 10.1177/0269881108099672