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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Another meaning to having your face plastered on a wall

This is hilarious. Angela went around taking pictures of herself with pictures of herself. (Yes, yes, I'm not typing this drunk. Read it again.) Unfortunately, some of them have been manually photoshopped  :-P

The devil is in the details

Ling highlighted an article in an English Engrish newspaper in China, the People's Daily Online, where a journalist misidentified a Basking Shark for a Blue Shark.

Some would ask, "What's the big deal? Why fuss over details?" Well, my response would be, what if someone mislabeled the diesel pump at a gas station as "petrol"? How do you think your engine's fuel injectors will like it? Or mislabeled "Regular" as "Premium"? Hey, is that knocking sound coming from your high-compression engine? Or, if the pharmacist reads your doctor's prescription of "1 capsule, 3 times daily" as "7 capsule, 3 times daily"? In the latter case, the singular form of "capsule" would give a clue to the pharmacist. But if the pharmacist was educated in an environment where grammar matters little...

The difference in this case is that Blue Sharks are dangerous to humans, and have been known to attack humans (though it is no justification for slaughtering them), Basking Sharks are totally harmless — and close to extinction.

There is a saying that the absence of information is better than disinformation; or, in this case, misinformation. Instead of trumpeting the achievements of one of its star students, Mr. Li Kuang Mok, this advertisement broadcasted to the world that NTU can't teach its students to spell words at the elementary level correctly — or worse, that accuracy matters little at this technical university. If you are an employer, would you hire engineers who graduated from there? If you are a commuter, would you feel safe crossing a bridge designed by their graduates? A lot of damage (in this case, a university's image) may result from inattention to details.

Anyone care for steamed Puffer Fish for dinner tonight? Oops, I meant, steamed Pomfret. Details, details, who cares about details, eh?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sports Engineering

This month's issue of Professional Engineer has a focus on sports engineering. Dr. Peter Styring, a professor at the University of Sheffield invented a self-waxing system for skis, translating to an appreciable increase in speed.

Smooth operator

A device that continually waxes skis even while they are in use may prove a winner at the Winter Olympics, Heath Reidy investigates.

A competitor’s need for speed is the driving force in many outdoor sports. Whether it’s a faster engine at the Silverstone racetrack or a swifter oar in the Thames Boat Race, engineers can help sharpen that competitive edge and keep records tumbling.

When it comes to skiing, the opportunities for engineers to increase speed are limited. It is just gravity, some funky footwork and a tub of pricey wax that help add a few more knots to a skier’s slalom. But now a device has been developed that may take the alpine runs of the Winter Olympics to new heights.

Developed by Dr Peter Styring, a professor at the University of Sheffield, Wildfire is a self-waxing system that can increase a skier’s speed. With its top secret eutectic wax mixture, tests have shown that Wildfire can increase a skier’s speed by as much as two per cent from an average of 77mph. That can add as much as a metre of height to a jump.

The device has also given skiers a speedier performance off the ski slopes, with a 9% increase on artificial indoor slopes, and a 50% rise on dry ski slopes from an average speed of 20mph.

“It gives skiers a more competitive edge,” says Styring. “It’s good for amateurs and gives you more airtime. When I used it, I skied faster down the dry ski slope than I had in years.”

As an avid skier and ski coach himself, Styring thought up the idea of Wildfire while on the slopes. “I saw all these kids standing there with their various portions of Fairy Liquid and vegetable oil and, 10 minutes later, it would have come off. Then I had this idea of a continuous waxing system.”

With Wildfire, the skier doesn’t have to constantly apply wax after each ski run as the previous layer rubs off. Instead, the device can store 60ml of wax for hours and gradually spurt it on to the ski base, all while the skier is in action.

The Wildfire, above, conforms to governing body regulations.

The device is a hollow polypropylene container fitted into the middle section of the ski. Wax is poured into the container through a small capped hole in the top and stored before being sporadically released through a hole in the ski base.

When the skier steps on to the ski the pressure on the device flexes the container. This causes the wax to move to the front and into the tube where it is released. An air intake valve at the top of the device allows air to keep the wax moving through the tube. This means the wax can be constantly replaced by another layer as it is used up, removing any dirt that adheres to it which can slow down the skier.

Styring says: “If you have got this continuous flow system, then you are continuously moving that wax layer so any dirt that attaches to the ski is moved off so it doesn’t accumulate.”

Styring is taking Wildfire to trials in December to see if it can be used as an official skiing device at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. In the hope that it can be used in global ski competitions, it conforms to International Skiing Federation (FIS) rules.

Styring has experimented with various designs for Wildfire, including fitting plastic cups of wax to the front of the skis. He eventually decided to bolt the device into the middle section of the ski and remove a part called the rise plate.

The rise plate, beneath the ski binding, is needed only to add height to the skier and give him or her more leverage. The Wildfire has been built to the same dimensions, which conforms to FIS regulations that the height between the base of the ski and the sole of the boot must not exceed 55mm.

“One of the things we made sure was that it behaved as a normal ski so you don’t have to readjust your technique,” explains Styring.

Since being tested by ski professionals in the Alps and other European ski resorts this year, Wildfire has created a lot of interest from ski manufacturers around the world.

The final design will be chosen by the company that buys it, and may include a switch that opens and closes a valve to control the wax flow for different types of skiing.

Styring has also developed a similar device that can be used on snowboards. This consists of two interconnected reservoirs, which store the wax, and four holes in the board base that release it, allowing the user to move quickly in different directions.

“Because snowboards can move forwards, backwards and sideways, the delivery system has been re-engineered so it will work three-dimensionally.”
But Styring’s real hope is that Wildfire will be used at Vancouver. “We want it to outperform their best possible wax,” he says. “It’s my last chance to get an Olympic medal, even if I’m not on my skis.”

(Reidy, Heath. "Smooth operator." Professional Engineer 20.15 (2007): 37 - 8.)

At the moment, Wildfire's potential is useless to me — anything harder than a blue slope and I pretty much tumble down the mountain rather than ski it. I guess by the time I master black diamond slopes, Professor Styring's invention will be on the open market.  :-P

Monday, August 27, 2007

Iced water in Hell


Been there. Done that. Got the tee-shirt.

National Day Parade, 1993: the first year an artificial rock wall on a float, complete with rock climbers scrambling up as it passed the Padang, took place.

I was "patriotic" when your little brain was still wondering why Mommy spanks you for licking mains sockets.

It is not my job to enlighten you on the distinction between nationalism and patriotism. It is not my fault that you drank the Kool-Aid embraced indoctrination over education.

Speaking of education, check out this post. I may not agree with everything Elia writes, but the comment is a scream.  :-P

Related posts:

O imitators, you slavish herd!
Outside the gilded cage
Free letter template for newspaper forum writers
(Brownshirts) in lockstep

Good grief!

A trailer for Jesus Camp, which won the Jury Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary at the 2006 Tribeca Film Film Festival. It was also a nominee for the "Best Documentary Feature" at the 79th Annual Academy Awards.

Morally, evangelicals operate at the same level as used car salesmen; intellectually, they vacillate just below pond scum. Herd mentality, peer pressure, mass hysteria, fear-mongering, hate-mongering, rapture (Do read up, gentle reader, how many times anticipation of — and the accompanying hysteria over — this pseudo-divine event has occurred throughout history), and schismatic agendas, substitute for faith in these misled sheep. These are the fools of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor. These unwitting witless heretics close their eyes and dream of heaven, but they will burn all the same.

A blurb from Yawning Bread.

Jesus Camp currently screens at Cinema Europa, GV Vivocity, Singapore.

Bring your barf bag.

The directors of the film even dedicated a special page to the fallen, ex-pastor Ted Haggard.

Related posts:

Mephistopheles collects his due
Supertelevangelistic sexanddrugspsychosis

Engrish II

Attention, Mr. Daniel Martin of 93.8 FM 'Live',

When you read the news, do note that "McLaren" is pronounced "Mac Laren," not "Mac Claren."

Related posts:

World-class eDUHcation

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

       Who could forget, fall of that august year, where we stole clawed, tooth and nail, from Time moments to connect across oceans, to share, laugh, cry, cheer, wish and yes, love. I can never forget (I will never forget) how, as the days grew short, and dusk crept ever sooner — ever longer — you appeared from out of nowhere to breathe life (What was it? A friendly hug, a word that you have been there before, and a tender wish to hang in there?), hope, and sense, into this husk again. Like the salamander, I survived the conflagration. Heaven, however, requires its Beatrice...

Yes, I missed you too.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why touch?

From "Letters," National Geographic, July 2007:


As president of a company that operates two of the theme parts author T. D. Allman found so objectionable in his article on Orlando, I feel compelled to offer another view. His article manages to do something I would have thought impossible: find fault with a community that provides wholesome family entertainment and educational experiences for millions of visitors while providing many jobs. Allman is particularly critical of SeaWorld, a park that with its sharks detaches "experience from context." I submit that if there were ever an animal for which detaching experience from context was prudent, it is the shark. But in addition to learning about sharks in safety, visitors to Orlando can touch a sloth at Discovery Cove without traveling to Bolivia. They can see a beluga whale at SeaWorld without sailing into Canada's Resolute Bay. And they can experience an endangered leatherback sea turtle without diving a thousand feet beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean. These opportunities might explain why nearly six million people will visit SeaWorld and Discovery Cove this year alone. . . .

Keith M. Kasen
Busch Entertainment Corporation
Clayton, Missouri


Why the human fixation to "touch" wild animals? I just don't get it. Has it ever occurred to them that perhaps these animals were never meant to be touched by humans? If one wishes to see or swim with whales, et cetera, then jolly well master the skills and equipment to do so in their habitat (which, in itself, is a controversial activity). To have the animals held in captivity — imprisoned in perpetuity — just so that they can be a freak show is a monstrosity.

How can gawking at wild animals in captivity be "wholesome family entertainment"?

Tell you what, I wish to see what the world's highest paid ministers, and a handful of CEOs, hypocritical liberals / Chicken Little environazis such as Michael "I actually own Halliburton stock" Moore, Rosie "Common people should not own guns" O'Donnell, Al "ONE of my homes consumes 20 times the electrical energy of the average American household" Gore, et cetera, look like going about their daily lives. After all, humans are many times more dangerous than sharks. More people have been killed by other people (more than 69 million in the two World Wars) than by sharks — making an even stronger proposal for "detaching experience from context." I propose putting people such as Mr. Kasen and his ilk in cages — simulated to resemble their natural environments, of course — and then charging the public $20 to look at them. $200 if anyone desires to pet them. Kicking them is free.

Oh my!

Professional Downhill (DH) and Cross Country (XC) mountain biker, Niki Gudex, in a dress.

If I have a heart rate monitor on me, it will probably explode  :-D

Digital Imperialism?

This is pretty funny. I am sure some Chicken Little with a chip on his/her shoulder will eventually write a thesis about how this is a new form of imperialism.


You heard it here first.

Monday, August 20, 2007

O imitators, you slavish herd!

In a summer issue of Reflections, Al Maxey wrote:

Charles Colton (1780-1832) once observed, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." There is some degree of truth to that statement. On the other hand, it can simply reflect an inability or unwillingness to think or act independently. There are times when it is the path of wisdom to walk in the steps of those who have successfully led the way; there are other times, though, when it is simply a reflection of what is sometimes characterized as "herd mentality." Horace (65-8 B.C.), for example, wrote: "O imitators, you slavish herd!" Shakespeare (1564-1616), in his play[,] King Richard II, spoke disparagingly of the manners and customs of Italy, which "our tardy apish nation limps after in base imitation." This is hardly a flattering portrayal, but it often depicts the reality of those whose minds gravitate toward mimicry.

When I returned from a recent trip (deliberately timed such that I would be away during NDP NPD — National Propaganda Day), I was tickled by a gross irony in the ads for a re-telecast of the National Day Parade: the soundtrack of the television advertisement was shamelessly lifted from the score of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings" (specifically the ending section of Track 13, "The Bridge of Khazad Dun").

And these are the same people sheeple bleating about teaching creativity in schools.

Elia Diodati also penned an interesting piece for this annual day of self-delusion and propaganda, Happy Anachronism Day.

Personally, I prefer Reinhold Messner's terseness:

Nature is the only ruler. I shit on flags.

Get over yourselves.

Related post:

My post for National Propaganda Day 2007.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Bike boxes may be purchased from the oversized and/or unaccompanied luggage Qantas counter at major airports.

Never one for vacuous in-flight movies.

(Yes, I'm back.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

World-class eDUHcation

An advertisement in The Straits Times The Shitty Times, 24 July 2007.

And one wonders why Singaporeans heading to USA for tertiary studies have to take the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language), and that they are not considered native speakers of the language.

Mr. Li Kuang Mok should demand a refund of his tuition fees from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He would probably be required to pass a spelling test at every job interview for the next millennia.

Uniquely Singapore.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Planning committee for one

IRONY: Reading the "100 pounds lost: cycling passion and weight loss" thread on Mountain Bike Product Review while polishing off a large "El Scorcho" pizza with triple-layer cheese and BBQ sauce filling (Garfield would be proud), two 750 ml bottles of 5.5% alcohol by volume hard cider, and two 375 ml cans of 9% alc. by vol. Bourbon Cola, all by yourself.

In other news, here's a little black / grim humor:

Fatter Australians cause hazard for mortuaries

Sun Aug 5, 2:04 AM ET

SYDNEY (Reuters) - More than two-thirds of Australians living outside major cities are overweight or obese, and extremely obese corpses are creating a safety hazard at mortuaries, according to two studies released on Sunday.

Nearly three quarters of men and 64 percent of women were overweight in a study of people in rural areas. Just 30 percent of those studied recorded a healthy weight, said research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

"Urgent action is required at the highest level to change unhealthy lifestyle habits by improving diet, increasing physical activity and making our environments supportive of these objectives," wrote the lead researcher, Professor Edward Janus.

The figures were much higher than for the general population, where statistics show about 3.2 million of Australia's 21 million people are obese.

Meanwhile, pathologists are calling for new "heavy-duty" autopsy facilities to cope with obese corpses that are difficult to move and dangerously heavy for standard-size trolleys and lifting hoists.

The bodies presented "major logistical problems" and "significant occupational health and safety issues," according to a separate study, which found the number of obese and morbidly obese bodies had doubled in the past 20 years.

Specially designed mortuaries would soon be required if the nation failed to curb its fat epidemic, providing "larger storage and dissection rooms, and more robust equipment," said Professor Roger Byard, a pathologist at the University of Adelaide.

"Failure to provide these might compromise the post-mortem evaluation of markedly obese individuals, in addition to potentially jeopardizing the health of mortuary staff."

In the past year, there have also been requests for larger crematorium furnaces, bigger grave plots as well as super-sized ambulances, wheelchairs and hospital beds.



Old but true

What's going on in car forums these days:
 Bentley forums
 - - - I used the ash tray today. How do I replace it?
 Camaro/Firebird forums
 - - - My girl slept with my brother and my wife. How can I kill 'em? BTW, I have a record and I ain't going back.
 Mustang (Chevelle) forums
 - - -Some punk kid in a Civic tried to race me.
 Monte Carlo forums
 - - -Why do I keep getting pulled over? it ain't stolen yo!
 Civic forums
 - - -Some punk kid in a Mustang tried to race me.
 VW Bug forum
 - - - The "Save the Earth" concert was a success! (pics)
 Yugo Forum
 - - - When's the last time yours ran?
 Lamborghini forum
 - - - Wind noise around 210 mph.
 Miata forums
 - - - Some redneck jackass in a Chevy Tahoe just ran over my car! (pics)
 Chevy Tahoe forum
 - - -Miata stuck in my undercarriage. How do I safely remove it? (pics)
 Pontiac Fiero forum
 - - - Just bought a new flame retardant suit. (pics)
 BMW 7-series forum
 - - - Where to get service on my Rolex?
 Cadillac forum
 - - - Problems parallel parking at Bingo.
 Chevy Suburban Forum
 - - - Is the price of gas going down anytime soon?
 Buick Forum
 - - - Is Medicare or Medicaid right for me?
 Delorean forum
 - - - Just got back from the future and blew a head gasket. Please help! I'm from 1985.
 Crown Victoria forum
 - - - How come people never pass me on the highway?
 Honda Accord forum
 - - - Mom is giving me the car. Looking for some cheap, used 18-inch rims.
 Toyota Prius forum
 - - - Do our cars use AAA or AA's?
 Ferrari forums
 - - - Need suggestions about a business trip to Colombia. Want to get in and out fast.
 Porsche forums
 - - - Tire just went flat. Is it best to trade or sell the car myself?
 Saturn forums
 - - - Roman candle landed on my fender. Melted and need to replace.
Toyota Vios forum
 - - - Engine tossed out from car under hard braking. Possible to secure it with the passenger seat belt?

 Jaguar forum
 - - - Is the carbon fiber dash kit group-buy still on?
 Mercedes forum
 - - - My wife and her stink hole lawyer are trying to ruin me in divorce court. How do I get them both killed and not get in trouble with the medical board?
 Mini forum
 - - - Just flipped the Cooper after seeing "The Italian Job." Suing the movie company. (pics)
 Dodge Viper forum
 - - - I frightened myself on the way home from work yesterday. How to get pee stains out of the leather?
 McLaren F1 forum
 - - -Some punk kid in a F16 tried to race me.
 Dodge Minivan forum
 - - - Where's the best place to post the soccer schedule so I don't forget where I'm supposed to be?
 Hummer forum
 - - - Had a fender bender today. 24 hurt, 10 killed. Do I have to get the black touch-up paint from the dealer? He's 25 miles away. That's $35 in gas.
 Fiat forum
 - - -Hello? Am I the only member?
 Subaru WRX forum
 - - - I hate cops. Got ticketed for drifting in the Walmart parking lot.
 Chevy pickup forum
 - - - How do I git the dried tobacco juice stains off the side of mah truck?
 SRT Forums
 - - - Will this void my warranty?
 RX7 Forums
 - - - 13B group-buy full! Stop PM'ing me!
 DSM Forums
 - - -Transmission group-buy full! Stop PM'ing me!

Lada / Skoda Forums
 - - -Radiator group-buy full! Stop PM'ing me!
 Supra Forums
 - - -Head to big to fit in car, should have bought the targa.
 Corvette Forums
 - - -Why did I pay $50k for something with a Cavalier steering wheel?
 Ford 2.3 forums
 - - -Help! Replaced everything, still doesn't start!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Not to be tricked

You come across as a nice young man. You've a bright future ahead. You're not homosexual. You're unmarried, unattached. What the hell is wrong with you?

Hmm... interesting conversation I got myself into. Note to self: stay away from little old ladies in cafes, especially on cold, rainy days where there is nowhere else to go without being soaked.

Now, why would "a nice young man" (if she only knew what a vicious SOB I can be usually am, ha!) with "a bright future ahead" want to be saddled with a ball and chain?

You're missing the boat, my boy. You don't know what you're missing out on: being a good husband, a nurturing father, a responsible provider. You're missing a lot out of life. You may think you've it good now, but, mark my words, when you hit your forties, you're going to be a lonely old man wondering how life has passed you by. Men are unlike women. Women can be widowed in their thirties and will adjust to it. Men, men can't take care of themselves. They need someone to look after, and someone to look after them. Look at widowers in their forties and fifties; with their wives gone, they just fall to pieces.

Oh, my! Here comes the carrot and the stick (or, "Good cop, bad cop," or Singapore) approach. Nah, that's not going to work on me, dearie. Here's four words: better lonely than trapped.

Friends who tell me they can't commit to an epic ride because their wives would be pissed; friends who shy away from a risky dive because they have wives and children dependent on them; friends who can't drop $$$$ on equipment because of their kids (more like their wives would bobbit them) — I have heard them all. I don't think I am missing much, or anything at all.

I've said this before and will say it again: the only way I will be a father is if the initials, "S.J.", appear after my name.

This is one aspect I love about traveling — you meet all sorts of people: people who try to teach you English; people who try to rip you off; people who go out of the way to know you; people who go the extra mile for you; people whom you share love with, however fleetingly; people who try to convince you to own a cell phone; lonely, old people who project their loneliness on you by selling you the dream of marriage, kids, and happily ever after; people who try to persuade you to part with $5 to see a rare "Mexican Zebra" that's actually a poor, old donkey sprayed with cans of black and white paint, et cetera.

What do I envision as utopia in my old age?

A windswept, secluded cottage by the Pacific Ocean — probably Inverness, with its population density of 222 per square mile (85.6 per square kilometer), as opposed to Singapore's 16,392 per square mile (6,369 per square kilometer) — along Highway 1, with a tomato, herb, and rose garden, and a few dogs. Every evening I will boil a pot of tea, sit by the fireplace in my rocking chair, and watch the sun set while ruffling the fur of my dogs, reminiscing of days gone by, where I ran wild, young and free.

I see no one else in the picture.

Enjoy the article.


This is your brain on love
When you're attracted to someone, is your gray matter talking sense -- or just hooked? Scientists take a rational look.

By Susan Brink, Los Angeles Times
July 30, 2007

Her front brain is telling her he's trouble. Look at the facts, it says. He's never made a commitment, he drinks too much, he can't hold down a job.

But her middle brain won't listen. Man, it swoons, he looks great in those jeans, his black hair curls onto his forehead so adorably, and when he drags on a cigarette, he's so bad he's good.

His front brain is lecturing, too: She's flirting with every guy in the place, and she can drink even you under the table, it says. His mid-brain is unresponsive, distracted by her legs, her blouse and her come-hither stare.

"What could you be thinking?" their front brains demand.

Their middle brains, each on a quest for reward, pay no heed.

Alas, when it comes to choosing mates, smart neurons can make dumb choices. Sure, if the brain's owner is in her 40s and has been around the block a few times, she might grab her bag and scram. If the guy has reached seasoned middle age, he might think twice about that cleavage-baring temptress. Wisdom -- at least a little -- does come with experience.

But if the objects of desire are in their 20s, all bets are off. A lot will depend on the influence of Mom and Dad's marriage, the gossip and urgings of friends, and whether life experience has convinced these two brains that what they're looking at is attractive. She just might sidle over to Mr. Wrong and bat her eyes. And he could well give in to temptation.

And so the dance of attraction, infatuation and ultimately love begins.

It's a dance that holds many mysteries, to psychologists as well as to the willing participants. Science is just beginning to parse the inner workings of the brain in love, examining the blissful or ruinous fall from a medley of perspectives: neural systems, chemical messengers and the biology of reward.

It was only in 2000 that two London scientists selected 70 people, all in the early sizzle of love, and rolled them into the giant cylinder of a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner, or fMRI. The images they got are thought to be science's first pictures of the brain in love.

The pictures were a revelation, and others have followed, showing that romantic love is a lot like addiction to alcohol or drugs. The brain is playing a trick, necessary for evolution, by associating something that just happened with pleasure and attributing the feeling to that magnificent specimen right before your eyes.

All animals mate: The most primitive system in the brain, one that even reptiles have, knows it needs to reproduce. Turtles do it but then lay their eggs in the sand and head back to sea, never seeing their mate again.

Human brains are considerably more complicated, with additional neural systems that seek romance, others that want comfort and companionship, and others that are just out for a roll in the hay.

Yet the chemistry between two people isn't just a matter of molecules careening around the brain, dictating feelings like some game of neuro-billiards. Attraction also involves personal history. "Our parents have an effect on us," says Helen Fisher, evolutionary anthropologist at Rutgers University who studies human attraction. "So does the school system, television, timing, mystery."

Every book ever read, and every movie ever wept through, starts charting a course toward the chosen one.

The love dance

"Love," that one small word, stands for a hodgepodge of feelings and drives: lust, romance, passion, attachment, commitment and contentment. Studying this brew is made harder because the pathways aren't totally distinct. Lust and romance, for example, have some overlapping biology, even though they are not the same thing.

Similarly, the dance that leads, if we're lucky, to a stable commitment moves through several key steps.

First comes initial attraction, the spark. If someone's going to pick one person out of the billions of opposite-sex humans out there, it's this step that starts things rolling.

Next comes the wild, dizzying infatuation of romance -- a unique magic between two people who can't stop thinking about each other. The brain uses its chemical arsenal to focus our attention on one person, forsaking all others.

"Everyone knows what that feels like. This is one of the great mysteries. It's the love potion No. 9, the click factor, interpersonal chemistry," says Gian Gonzaga, senior research scientist at eHarmony Labs.

The passion lasts at least for a few months, two to four years tops, says relationship researcher Arthur Aron, psychologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

As it fades, something more stable takes over: the steady pair-bonding of what's called companionate love. It's a heartier variety, characterized by tenderness, affection and stability over the long haul. Far less is known about the brains of people celebrating their silver anniversaries or more, but researchers are beginning to recruit such couples to find out.

When Kelly and Robert Iblings of Calabasas had their first face-to-face meeting after a month of corresponding online, all signs of a spark were there. Kelly, 30, recalls thinking "Wow!" Robert, 33, thought Kelly was beautiful. "I love his height," Kelly says of Robert's 6-foot-4 frame. "And those eyes. He's quite handsome. I mean, look at him. He's cute. He's hot."

"She's very cute," Robert says. "And I like the way she laughs."

Their brains' signals were in sync, and it was good.

It probably didn't hurt that they were a little bit nervous about meeting each other.

For years, scientists have known that attraction is more likely to happen when people are aroused, be it through laughter, anxiety or fear. Aron tested that theory in 1974 on the gorgeous but spine-chilling heights of the Capilano Canyon Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia -- a 5-foot wide, 450-foot, wobbly, swaying length of wooden slats and wire cable suspended 230 feet above rocks and shallow rapids.

His research team waited as unsuspecting men, between ages 18 and 35 and unaccompanied by women, crossed over. About halfway across the bridge, each man ran into an attractive young woman claiming to be doing research on beautiful places. She asked him a few questions and gave him her phone number in case he had follow-up questions.

The experiment was repeated upriver on a bridge that was wide and sturdy and only 10 feet above a small rivulet. The same attractive coed met the men, brandishing the same questionnaire.

The result? Men crossing the scary bridge rated the woman on the Capilano bridge more attractive. And about half the men who met her called her afterward. Only two of 16 men on the stable bridge called.

Fear got their attention and aroused emotional centers in the brain. "People are more likely to feel aroused in a scary setting," Aron says. "It's pretty simple. You're feeling physiologically aroused, and it's ambiguous why. Then you see an attractive person, and you think, 'Oh, that's why.' "

In a laboratory, Aron tested his arousal theory further by having people run in place for 10 minutes, and compared them with people who didn't run. Those who had exercised were more attracted to good-looking people in photographs than those who had been sedentary.

Any kind of physiological arousal would probably do the trick, Aron concludes from his studies. Couples who ride roller coasters, laugh at a really funny comedian or escape a burning building together get an emotional jolt and could attribute the feeling to the attractiveness of the other.

The forces of attraction are in many ways mysterious, but scientists know certain things. Studies have shown that women prefer men with symmetrical faces and that men like a certain waist-to-hip ratio in their mates. One study even found that women, when they sniffed men's T-shirts, were attracted to certain kinds of body odors.

That initial spark can flash and fade. Or it can become a flame and then a fire, a rush of exhilaration, yearning, hunger and sense of complete union that scientists know as passionate love.

Key to this state of seeing a person as a soul mate instead of a one-night stand is the limbic system, nestled deep within the brain between the neocortex (the region responsible for reason and intellect) and the reptilian brain (responsible for primitive instincts). Altered levels of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin -- neurotransmitters also associated with arousal -- wield their influence.

But passionate love is something far stronger than that first sizzle of chemistry. "It's a drive to win life's greatest prize, the right mating partner," Fisher says. It is also, she adds, an addiction.

People in the early throes of passionate love, she says, can think of little else. They describe sleeplessness, loss of appetite, feelings of euphoria, and they're willing to take exceptional risks for the loved one.

Brain areas governing reward, craving, obsession, recklessness and habit all play their part in the trickery.

In an experiment published as a chapter in a 2006 book, "Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience," Fisher found 17 people who were in relationships for an average of seven months. She knew they were in love from their answers to what researchers call the Passionate Love Scale. They all said they'd feel deep despair if their lover left, and they yearned to know all there was to know about the loved one.

She put these lovesick, enraptured people in an fMRI to see what areas of their brains got active when they saw a photograph of their beloved ones.

"We found some remarkable things," she said. "We saw activity in the ventral tegmental area and other regions of the brain's reward system associated with motivation, elation and focused attention." It's the same part of the brain that presumably is active when a smoker reaches for a cigarette or when gamblers think they're going to win the lottery. No wonder it's as hard to say no to the feeling of romantic arousal as it would be to say no to a windfall in the millions. The brain has seen what it wants, and it's going to get it.

"At that point, you really wouldn't notice if he had three heads," Fisher says. "Or you'd notice, but you'd choose to overlook it."

Other studies also suggest that the brain in the first throes of love is much like a brain on drugs.

Lucy Brown, professor of neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has also taken fMRI images of people in the early days of a new love. In a study reported in the July 2005, Journal of Neurophysiology, she too found key activity in the ventral tegmental area. "That's the area that's also active when a cocaine addict gets an IV injection of cocaine," Brown says. "It's not a craving. It's a high."

You see someone, you click, and you're euphoric. And in response, your ventral tegmental area uses chemical messengers such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin to send signals racing to a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens with the good news, telling it to start craving.

"The other person becomes a goal in your life," Brown says. He or she becomes a goal you might die without and would pack up and move across the country for. That one person begins to stand out as the one and only.

Biologically, the cravings and pleasure unleashed are as strong as any drug. Surely such a goal is worth taking risks for, and other alterations in the brain help ensure that the lovelorn will do just that. Certain regions, scientists have found, are being deactivated, such as within the amygdala, associated with fear. "That's why you can do such insane things when you're in love," Fisher says. "You would never otherwise dream of driving across the country in 13 hours, but for love, you would."

Sooner or later, excited brain messages reach the caudate nucleus, a dopamine-rich area where unconscious habits and skills, such as the ability to ride a bike, are stored.

The attraction signal turns the love object into a habit, and then an obsession. According to a 1999 study in the journal Psychological Medicine, people newly in love have serotonin levels 40% lower than normal people do -- just like people with obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Experiments in other mammals add to the human chemical findings. Female prairie voles, for example, develop a distinct preference for a specific male after mating, and the preference is associated with a 50% increase in dopamine in the nucleus accumbens.

But when the monogamous vole is injected with a dopamine antagonist, blocking the activity of the chemical, she'll readily dump her partner for another.

Using their heads

Kelly and Robert Iblings, now married for nine months, are fascinated by all this talk of nucleus accumbens, addiction and primitive mating instincts. Sure, they admit, they found each other attractive. But they were also making use of their front brains' sharp thinking skills. They were remembering painful past lessons and looking for signs of compatibility.

They had each survived an earlier, failed engagement, and they knew what they were looking for this time around. They were listening to their front brains as they told them to look for compatibility, stability, shared values and commitment.

From their first e-mail exchanges through eHarmony, an Internet dating service, the Iblings each felt they had found a unique mate. She liked to travel. So did he. They both love books and learning, have similar religious beliefs and come from loving, intact families. She no sooner sent an e-mail telling him about an exhibit she saw on a business trip to New York than he sent a message back telling her he knew of the exhibit because he had bought a book on it the day before.

Coincidence, or soul mate?

The front brain certainly gets involved as it ponders all of life's experiences and past mistakes, researchers say -- but not just the front brain. The nucleus accumbens, virtual swamp of dopamine that it is, is also holder of memories. Its quest for reward is influenced by childhood experiences, friends, previous failed engagements or the jerk who cheated on you. The sum of those experiences make some people attracted to a prince or a frog, a princess or a shrew.

And, as it happens, practical matters such as whether a couple both like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain do matter in igniting passionate love.

A research project headed by eHarmony Labs' Gonzaga interviewed 1,200 dating and newlywed couples. The results, reported in the July issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that those who reported similar interests and feelings were more satisfied. "Those who reported chemistry said they felt at ease, relaxed, connected. They knew they had some things in common," he says. "Chemistry is more than just being hot or handsome."

Clearly, in the matters of love, the stars were aligned for the Iblings. When they met, they were ready for each other. But they were also attracted to each other. The chemistry was there. Most relationship researchers think it has to be.

They had what it took to kick-start the relationship with an undeniable urgency, allowing two people to give up the candy store of other choices and commit to each other.

Odds are that in two to four years, this urgency will fade -- and the couple will, if all goes well, settle in for the long haul with companionate love. Such peoples' lives are entwined, as are their property and bank accounts, and they begin to answer questionnaires differently. The rush and the urgency is gone, but they feel committed, emotionally close and stable.

It is the state that many desire, yet it is the least studied. There's a reason for that. Most studies of couples are of college students and young newlyweds.

Brown, however, has recently recruited volunteers for a study of people 40 to 65 who have been together for many years. She'll put them in fMRIs to see where love resides after the urgency fades. "It's unknown, the extent to which these original brain motivations are still active," she says. "Or whether companionate love has turned more cortical, more conscious thinking, more evaluative." Her first volunteers had their brains scanned this month.

The free fall of love's first rush can happen at any age, whether people are 20 or 70, says Elaine Hatfield, psychology professor at the University of Hawaii and relationship researcher.

What differs is that the older people get, the more memories they harbor of joy and trust, rejection and disappointment. And as people learn from experience, the front brain, with its logic and reason, probably gets a greater say.

"When you are young, passion and hope are so strong that's it's almost impossible to stop loving someone," Hatfield says. "After you've been kicked around by life, however, you start to have a dual response to handsome con men: 'Wow!' and 'Arrrrrrgh!'

"It takes not will power but painful experience to make us wise."

Somehow, it all comes together, for better or for worse, the sum total of what's found in the mating dance of the ancient reptilian brain, the passion of the limbic brain and the logic of the neocortex.

Oh, what a ride.



This article was reprinted in The Straits Times The Shitty Times (a.k.a The Daily Propaganda) on August 12, 2007, pages L10-11. A world-class paper that delivers news 12 days late. Uniquely Singapore.


He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

Lex orandi, lex credendi

Oakland priest Michael Wiener has been celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass since 1999

David Ian Miller, San Francisco Chronicle
July 30, 2007

Incense, bells, mysterious words intoned in an ancient language, congregation and priest moving gracefully in unison as they perform a 1,500-year-old ritual -- that was the old-style Catholic Mass.

But when the Vatican decided to open up the Mass to improvisation in 1965, guitars replaced Gregorian chants, local languages replaced Latin, the priest faced the congregation rather than the altar and the entire Mass was simplified; a priest no longer made the traditional complicated series of scripted gestures during the Mass, nor did he wear elaborate old-style vestments.

Some appreciated the more down-to-earth feel of the new Mass. Others mourned the loss of the mystical, magical ancient Mass. Priests whose congregations wanted to celebrate the old-style Mass -- also referred to as the Tridentine Mass -- had to receive permission from a bishop to do so, until Pope Benedict XVI removed that restriction earlier this month.

Father Michael Wiener is a priest of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in Oakland who has been celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass since he became a priest in 1999. I spoke with Father Wiener by phone about new- and old-style masses, the media coverage of Pope Benedict's restoration of the Latin Mass and the accompanying outrage over the reinstatement of a prayer asking God to convert the Jewish people.

Some of my Catholic friends who grew up with the traditional-style Latin Mass are quite passionate about it. They say it feels very special and powerful. What about it appeals to you?

It's mystical. It expresses very well the character of our faith, which at its center is a mystery -- the mystery of the incarnation of God.

Some people describe the Latin Mass as "bells and smells." That expression is somewhat belittling, but it's also accurate because the Latin Mass appeals to all of our senses in a powerful way. The Catholic faith is like that; it takes in the whole human being. It's not just something intellectual, something you read about in books.

You are a convert to Catholicism. Did you grow up in a religious family?

My father is Catholic, but not practicing. My mother occasionally took us to Protestant services in Hamburg, Germany, where I was raised. Throughout my youth and childhood I had a feeling that something was missing in my life, but I didn't really know what it was.

We didn't grow up, my sister and I, without any religious context. My parents prayed with us before we went to bed. So there was a notion of God and a notion of religion, but in a very distant and remote way, and I have to admit for a long time I wasn't at all interested in religion.

How did you get from not interested to becoming a priest?

I became interested in religion because I read books. I came to the conclusion that I had to be interested because many other people who are wise, intelligent and who have made great things of their lives talked about this quest to find God, and this was a point which I never really had considered. I became more interested also for personal reasons, because of some sufferings in my private life.

You were an attorney for a brief period before you became a priest. Did you enjoy being a lawyer?

No. As soon as I had studied philosophy and read some books about theology, I knew I was more interested in those subjects. My heart was never with the law.

Why did you become a priest? Was there one defining moment or a series of events?

I met a priest in Munich who is now my superior here in the United States. Over time, he got me thinking about that I might have a vocation as a priest. But I did not know how to pursue it, until I visited our seminary in Florence, Italy, and was finally exposed to Catholicism as I always thought it would and should be.

How so?

It's true, it's beautiful, it's charitable, it's civilized, it's calculated, it's warm. It's not something harsh or something that is nice in theory but not really livable. I loved that immediately, and I decided practically on the spot to enter the seminary and to try to become a priest. So at 33 I started to study there.

Let's talk more about the traditional Latin Mass. For a long time you needed to get permission from a bishop before you could perform the Tridentine Mass. Why?

I believe there was a desire to unify the church's practice to the greatest possible extent by introducing the changed liturgy [new Mass] to the greatest number of faithful. But there have always been large numbers of people who have continued to celebrate [the traditional way].

Do you think the pope's announcement came as a surprise to many people?

No, I don't think so. The pope's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, had published two documents that urge wider practice of the Tridentine Mass. Pope Benedict's announcement was in line with this, it was a natural progression for the pope to end the requirement to get a bishop's permission before celebrating the Mass. It's a very happy progression for the faithful who are attached to the traditional rite.

Do you prefer celebrating the Tridentine Mass?

I do! I'm very much in love with this "Mass of all Ages" because it links us to the history of man, so to say. For many, many centuries, this Mass was celebrated and sanctified people, and it has brought about many saints.

All this has developed slowly and organically over the centuries, and is therefore a joy to celebrate. In German we'd describe it as "Gesamtkunstwerk," which means a piece of art that expresses an idea in a very complete way. In the Latin Mass, the priest, who is representing Jesus Christ, is enacting the mysteries of our salvation. The rite itself is full with history and many significant gestures and prayers. It's not only the language the Mass is said in, it's also what the priest does at the altar. Every gesture has meaning.

What are some of the gestures?

The kissing of the altar, making the signs of the cross many times, bowing your head, putting your hands on the altar or folding them on your breast. There are many, many gestures that in their sequence and in their completeness express the beauty of our religion. These gestures express the reverence, the worship, the respect and the awe of the priest in the moment of celebration. And I think the whole composition is very beautiful.

Pope Benedict said he was authorizing parish priests to celebrate the old Tridentine rite if a "stable group of faithful" requests it. Why does one need a stable group?

Celebrating this Mass requires a great deal of organization. It takes a major effort even to make the celebration possible. To ask a parish priest to do that is excessive if nobody is really interested within the parish. I think for this reason, and for maintaining harmony within the parishes, it's very important that the Mass be conducted in an orderly way.

There's been some concern in posts on Catholic blogs that offering old and new Masses may polarize parishes into two camps. Does that worry you?

Not really. I'm in the happy position to be in a parish which has both rites -- St. Margaret Mary in Oakland has the new Mass, the so-called Reformed Mass of Paul VI, and the traditional Mass. And it's worked out well.

Do you think some priests are intimidated or worried about performing this complex ceremony? Or are most priests trained to do it even though it hasn't been performed widely for 40 years?

I can imagine some priests hesitate to practice this Mass, although many are trained to do it in traditional religious communities. I have had several requests, in the Bay Area, from priests who would like to learn to celebrate the Mass.

Many of the news reports since the Pope's statement have focused on the fact that the Tridentine Mass includes a prayer asking for the conversion of the Jews. How do you feel about that issue, and the way it's been represented in the media?

I don't think there is much to say. That prayer is part of the Good Friday liturgy. And the church doesn't ask for the light of faith only for the Jewish people, there are also other people mentioned. So I don't see any problem with that. I don't think it's bad to ask God for his grace and for help and for assistance.

The prayer mentions other groups?

There is a whole list of people for whom we ask God's help and God's light. First of all, we ask for God's help for the church, for all the priesthood; then for political leaders around the world there is another prayer. We pray for atheists, pagans, heretics and schismatics and all people who are not Christian. So there are all kinds of intentions, because this is the moment when we ask our Lord Jesus Christ to make his blessings available. Because Good Friday is the day when our salvation was effective. We were redeemed by the sacrifice on the cross. So it makes sense to do this on this day.

Nonetheless, Jewish groups and others are not happy about this. They don't like the idea that Catholics would be asked to pray that they be converted from their religion.

Yes. But we believe that the Catholic faith is something universally important. And that's why we may ask for conversion.

I think, in the context of our conversation about the Latin Mass, it's important to point out that even in the new-style Mass we do ask for the conversion of the Jews and other non-Christians. So this is not a new phenomenon. If you went to any normal Good Friday celebration over the past few decades you will hear almost the same prayers. And what is so problematic about that? I don't understand it.

Well, in some people's view, that suggests a certain level of intolerance for other religious views. You don't see that?

Other religions also have this standpoint. They also think that they have truth. Some Protestant religions also say those same prayers on Good Friday. Besides, I don't see it as intolerance. It's a sign of those who care and love for the souls of others.

Pope Benedict also recently said that other Christian traditions are not as valid as Catholicism. It just seems to me that the Pope might be thinking now is the time to bring people of all faiths together, rather than emphasize their differences. How do you feel about that?

This is, I would say, simply a repetition of the teaching of the church expressed in many documents and on many occasions. It's nothing new. It's the teaching of the universal importance of our salvation. I don't have any problems with that. The pope certainly tries everything to integrate all groups and individuals in a discussion and in his pastoral care, as pope. He receives everybody, and everything, and talks about these things, but he is also a teacher.

How do you bring people of all faiths together if you are saying that other faiths aren't as valid as Catholicism?

Well, that's a church policy question. I'm not the person who can really speak to that. But very briefly, it's the old and well-known position of the Catholic Church that the full truth of Jesus Christ is present in the Catholic Church. That does not mean that part of Christ and Christ's teachings are not present in other religious groups. But it means that in the Catholic Church alone there is the complete full truth of Jesus Christ.

I don't mean to badger you about this, but these issues have been widely talked about in the news lately, in the coverage of the Latin Mass. So I wanted to get your side of the story ...

I'm used to explaining to people, if they ask me, that when we say that the Catholic Church has the full truth, that does not mean that nobody can be saved outside of the Catholic Church. It means that Christ is our universal savior, and the Catholic Church is, so to say, the most safe ship with which we can cross the Atlantic or the ocean. The Catholic Church is the best equipped ship to reach eternity.

This is not news. People wake up every 10 years, when the church underlines these things again, but these are not new ideas. And other religions do the same thing. You will never hear from a member of the Islamic community that his faith is only relative. You will never hear from an Orthodox Jew that his faith is only relative. That would not be a faith -- - it would be something that is, perhaps, nice on a personal level, but not universally important. The Catholic Church has the name Catholic Church because it's universal. "Catholic" means concerning everybody and all. So, there is nothing new about this teaching.



I prefer not to pussy-foot around or mince words; to the heretics — extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.