Posted in Science & Nature


When the weather forecast says today will be sunny, it always seems to rain (and vice versa). In fact, according to a US study, forecasts are sometimes less accurate than flipping a coin. If not even professionals can accurately predict the weather, can ordinary people like you and I do it?
The key to this is observation. By carefully studying your surroundings, you can look in to the future.

There are many signs before rain comes. For example, if the sunset is unusually clear or if a mountain far away looks smaller or hazy then it is very likely that it will rain the next day. If you see a rainbow in the morning it suggests rain is coming from the west. On hot days without any wind, it is likely there will be a heavy shower.
Animals are also adept at telling the weather. Frogs crying, worms coming out and swallows flying low are all signs that the air is humid and rain is coming. Swallows are especially accurate, as they fly low to catch insects that cannot fly high due to the humidity weighing them down.
If you are at the beach and there is a swarm of jellyfish, avoid going out to sea. Jellyfish near the coastline is a premonition for a storm. 

If a more accurate weather prediction is required, the most precise method is cloud observation. If you study them carefully they comprise three tiers, with some clouds rising vertically.

Clouds in the highest level

  • Cirrus: Very fine, white feathery clouds that almost look combed over. If these clouds are curvy and organised the weather will be fine, but if they appear banded or spread chaotically they can gather and form rainclouds and start a shower.
  • Cirrostratus: Looks like a veil of cotton curtaining the sky. They cause halos around the sun and moon, which is a sign of imminent rain.
  • Cirrocumulus: Looks like a spread of seashells on a beach. If you find these clouds over a beach in winter, it will rain soon.

Clouds in the middle level

  • Altocumulus: Either appears as an ordered stream of rounded clouds, or looks like a herd of sheep. If these clouds shrink in size, the weather gets better (and vice versa).
  • Altostratus: Shaped like streaks of veil across the sky. They are often light grey or very dark. If they become thicker or sink to a lower level, it is a sign that the weather will be cloudy with a chance of rain.
  • Nimbostratus: The common “raincloud”, bringing rain and snow.

Clouds in the lowest level

  • Stratocumulus: Clumps of clouds that appear in layers without clear boundaries. You can see clear sky through gaps between them. If you can see clouds that were cumulus in the afternoon changing to stratocumulus by sunset, the weather will be great the next day.
  • Stratus: Looks like fog covering a low sky. If they come in the morning and disappear by night, that day will be clear. However, if they lie between altostratus and a canyon, it will rain.

Clouds that rise vertically

  • Cumulus: Fluffy clouds that you can see on a clear sky. If they disappear by evening the next day is clear, but if they can be seen late at night or float north-westerly, it is a sign that it will rain.
  • Cumulonimbus: Massive cloud pillars that rise to the level of cirrus. It always brings heavy rain and sometimes a thunderstorm.

If you know how to observe and analyse cloud patterns, you can predict the weather even when stranded on a desert island.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


When people think of the word “flatline”, they immediately visualise a medical crisis where a patient is lying unconscious, with doctors and nurses shouting out medical terminology while administering drugs, all to the suspenseful music and apathetic monotone and single horizontal line on the ECG machine. The doctor then shouts “Clear!” and proceeds to shock the patient with two paddles. This is repeated until some structures appear on the ECG, symbolising that the crisis has been resolved.

Of course this is a scene from a typical medical drama. Television shows, especially medical ones, are notorious for sacrificing medical accuracy for the sake of drama and tension. The “flatline” is the most cliché, repeated mistake made by almost every medical television show ever made.

The proper terminology for a flatline (a colloquial term), is asystole. This means that there is no systole, or contraction of the heart. An ECG (electrocardiogram) measures electrical signals in the heart, and in asystole there is insignificant amounts of electric activity, and the classic QRS complex is not seen. In this state, the heart is not pumping any blood and is electrically silent, meaning that the patient is clinically dead.

When asked how to treat this condition, the majority of people (even medical students) will shout “Shock!” or “Defibrillate!”. Defibrillation is the administering of an electrical shock to try “reboot” the heart, and correct the fibrillation – the chaotic electrical signal interfering with the normal, rhythmic electrical activity. Unfortunately, this is completely wrong yet so often depicted on television and films.
As asystole is a state of no electrical activity, there is no fibrillation to remove, nor is there anything to reset. Defibrillation in this state may even cause harm, causing tissue damage and lowering the chance of survival.

The correct treatment is injecting adrenaline (epinephrine in the U.S.A, atropine may be administered also) and CPR. Unfortunately, asystole is a condition that cannot be reversed, unless the heart somehow restores its own electrical activity. CPR merely keeps the patient’s perfusion going to preserve the organs for a longer time. Ergo, asystole signifies certain death, especially after 5 minutes where the heart will not respond to any drugs or electric shocks. In fact, asystole is one of the conditions required for the certification of a patient’s death.

Another related example of a (potentially fatal) misrepresentation of medicine in the media is the adrenaline injection. As mentioned before, this is the treatment for asystole. However, it is administered intravenously (into a vein) and never directly into the heart as in Pulp Fiction. This is more likely to kill the patient than save them, as the heart muscles could be damaged and delicate coronary arteries may become ruptured.

So why is it that the media continues to depict such blatant errors, that set a “common sense” that affect even medical professionals? This is most likely due to the audience wanting to see a dramatic scene, in a gripping life-or-death situation with drastic, powerful action. For example, the audience would much rather see the use of paddles or a giant needle being stabbed into the patient than seeing continuous CPR with no showy movements.

The next time you watch a medical television show, count how many times the doctors try to defibrillate a flatline.