Posted in Science & Nature

Space Pen

According to a popular legend, it is said that during the height of the Space Race, NASA was hard at work trying to develop a pen that could be used in space. The standard ball-point pen relies on gravity to pull the ink to towards the ball, allowing it to write. Obviously, this design does not work in space. NASA reportedly spent $1.5 million (some sources say $12 billion) and finally developed a space pen. This pen could write upside-down or in zero-gravity, on almost any surface and would work even at temperatures below freezing or over 300°C.
The Russians were faced with the same dilemma – they used a pencil.

As entertaining the story of overthinking Americans is, it is a complete urban myth. Both US and Russian astronauts used pencils in the early stages of the Space Race, but there were many flaws with pencils. Firstly, it was deemed unsafe to write important official documents using an erasable writing tool. Secondly, wood is combustible and fire is potentially disastrous on a space mission. Lastly and most importantly, pencil lead is made of graphite and broken tips and graphite dust are commonly released when using a pencil. Graphite is an extremely conductive material and if the dust were to go into an electrical circuit, it could easily cause a short-circuit and spark a fire.

To solve this solution, Paul C. Fisher – founder of Fisher Pen Co. – invested his own funds (not the US government’s) to create a pen that used pressure-loaded ink cartridges, making it perfect for zero-gravity use. NASA approved of the pen’s effectiveness and not long after, even Russia imported about a hundred of these space pens for their own use.

Posted in Philosophy

Of Cats And Dogs

When a dog is fed by its owner, it thinks to itself: “This human feeds me every day and cares for my every need. It must be god.

When a cat is fed by its owner, it thinks to itself: “This human feeds me every day and cares for my every need. I must be god.

Posted in History & Literature

To End All Wars

In his play Lysistrata, Greek playwright Aristophanes gives a comic account of one woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War – a 30 year old war between Athens and Sparta. How did one woman bring an end to such a deadly war?

In the play, Lysistrata (the female protagonist) becomes sick and tired of men treating women like simplistic hedonists incapable of functioning on their own. She believes that the war is a result of irrational men making stupid decisions and the long war is a waste as young, nubile women are aging away. She holds a convening of the women of various city states and proposes that the women must rise up to stop the war. Lysistrata’s plan is simple: withhold sex from the men until they cave (i.e. a sex strike). The women are reluctant at first, but agree to join her. They then take over the acropolis of the city, setting up a safe haven for women, barring any man from entering.

The men initially scoff at this revolution and try repeatedly to lay siege on the acropolis. However, they fail and the women continue to not provide any sexual pleasures to any male. The men constantly make snide comments about how women are hysterical and only seek pleasure, but sooner or later, they become desperate for sex. One by one, desperate men (sporting “burdens”, i.e. erections) come to the acropolis, pleading for relief (funnily, some women desert the acropolis in desperation for sex as well). The women take the men in, but only to tease them and leave them disappointed.

Eventually, the men (of both Athens and Sparta) cave and surrender, agreeing to end the war. There is a hilarious scene during the peace talks where Lysistrata brings out a stunning young girl named Reconciliation in front of the men, quashing any complaints or objections. Even the men who protest against the women’s demands are overcome by their lust and want(/need) for sex. Once peace is declared, the men and women all come together in the acropolis for singing and dancing, celebrating the women’s success in ending the war.

Although the play is only a comic exploration of the battle of the sexes, it clearly shows the power women have over men, and how they can use that power to easily control men.

Posted in Science & Nature

Niven’s Laws

Larry Niven is a science fiction author. Like many other science fiction authors, he is responsible for citing many rules regarding the world, humorous or not. Niven took to this another level by publishing a series of laws on “how the universe works” as far as he can tell. The following is the revised list as of January 29, 2002.

  1. Never throw shit at an armed man.
  2. Corollary to #1: Never stand next to someone throwing shit at an armed man. 
  3. Never fire a laser at a mirror.
  4. Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re having fun.
  5. Giving up freedom for security is beginning to look naive. (or “F x S = k”, meaning that the product of freedom and security is a constant.)
  6. Psi and/or magical powers, if real, are nearly useless.
  7. It is easier to destroy than to create.
  8. Any damn fool can predict the past.
  9. History never repeats itself.
  10. Ethics change with technology.
  11. Anarchy is the least stable of political structures.
  12. There is a time and a place for tact.
  13. The ways of being human are bounded but infinite.
  14. When your life starts to look like a soap opera, it’s time to change the channel.
  15. The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently.
  16. Corollary to #15: The gene-tampered turkey you’re talking to isn’t necessarily one of them.
  17. Never waste calories.
  18. There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
  19. No technique works if it isn’t used.
  20. Not responsible for advice not taken.
  21. Think before you make the coward’s choice. Old age is not for sissies.
  22. Never let a waiter escape.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


We laugh when we are happy. Laughter provides us with happiness and is the best medicine available to us, relieving the pain and stress of life. In fact, when we laugh we secrete a neurotransmitter called endorphin, which as the name suggests (endo(inside) + morphine), has the same properties as morphine.

What makes us laugh? The best theory to date is that laughter is an instinctive response to the passing of danger (also called the relief theory). For example, if our ancestor came across a predator but it passed by without noticing him, he would have laughed in response to the relief he felt. Others would see from his laugh that the danger had passed and laugh also (possibly explaining why laughter is contagious).

This theory also explains why humour makes us laugh. When you throw a joke, you are essentially giving the other person a “cognitive riddle” with a logical inconsistency. This inconsistency causes the recipient’s subconscious to become confused: “Why is it funny? Why can’t I understand it?”. As jokes are fundamentally a “surprise” to the other person’s mind, they try to solve it and figure it out whether it is a danger or not. If they get the joke, the inconsistency is solved and the person feels relief (as it has been revealed that the confusion brought on by the inconsistency was not dangerous). Once the confusion passes, the person laughs in response. But if the person does not get the joke, the “danger” has not passed and the person does not laugh. This is the basis of one of the laws of comedians: “if the audience is confused, they do not laugh”.

Laughter is beneficial for your health. Frequent laughter lowers the blood pressure, boosts the immune system, relieves pain and lowers the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Laughter is especially good for your mental health, therefore having a five-minute laughter yoga session every day where you just laugh as hard as you can will help you lead a happier life. However, ironically laughter can kill you too. Cases of “death from laughter” have been recorded since ancient Greek times to the modern day. The cause has not been identified but it is known that intense laughter can cause cataplexy, which is a paralysis induced by extreme emotions. It is possible that intense laughter overloads the nervous system and causes a heart attack.

Whatever it is, anything is toxic in excess.

Posted in Philosophy

Monkeys And Acorns

A man living in the Song Dynasty had many monkeys. He was wary that he might not have enough food to feed the monkeys, so he implemented a rationing system, telling the monkeys “As we are short of food, I will limit the acorns you get to three in the morning and four in the evening”. The monkeys screamed and protested, so the man told the monkeys: “Then I will change it to four in the morning and three in the evening. The stupid monkeys could not figure out that the sum was the same and were overjoyed. This is the story behind the proverb: cho sam mo sa ("Three in the morning, four in the evening”, 조삼모사, 朝三暮四).

It is common to see people who cannot see the forest for the trees and only focus on the immediate gains, just like the monkeys. Although there might be some short-term benefit, the results will be the same (or worse) in the long run and not seeing this is very foolish. To lead a successful life one must have the insight to understand how the happiness gained now will affect the future and the wisdom to achieve the balance between short-term and long-term benefits. Too many people lack these qualities and fall into the trap of hire purchases, mortgages and frauds.

The monkeys made another critical mistake. If they protest against the man’s plans for a better future, he can just say “If you’re not happy, starve” and everything will be over. To throw away the future for a quick fix is an incredibly idiotic act.

Posted in Life & Happiness

The Ant And The Grasshopper

Once upon a time, there lived an ant and a grasshopper in the forest.
In the hot summer, the ant worked hard under the burning sunlight.
But the grasshopper spent all of his time playing on his instrument and having fun instead of working.
The ant was envious of the grasshopper, but on the other hand he pitied him.

One day, the grasshopper asked the ant: “You should rest a bit. It is important to work hard, but you should also think of your health.”
The ant, in a fit of rage, said: “You have no right to say that. The summer will not last forever and there is a finite supply of food in the forest. If you do not work hard now to gather food, everyone else will take it and you will die in the winter. To be happy in the future you must endure the pain of the present. I worry for your future.”
“If you have to live a hard present for a happy future, what meaning does your life have? Food does not define happiness.”
“That is just wishful thinking of the poor. A day will come when you will pay dearly for your lack of reality.”

And time passed until winter came. The winter brought a merciless cold snap and the forest quickly froze over.
The ant was right. The grasshopper – with no food or shelter – could not fight the cold and soon froze to death. As his body became more and more rigid, he thought to himself: “Well, I enjoyed my youth and had a happy time, so I have no regrets at least.”

The ant had enough food stored up and so he could live in his burrow without starving to death.

In his cold, damp, dark burrow he spent a lonely time, extending his miserable life just a little bit longer.
After a month of enduring it, he could not bear the continuous cold and eventually froze to death.

All is vain in the face of nature. Instead of just worrying about the future, one must also invest in the past and present to lead a complete life of happiness.

Posted in Philosophy

The Difference Between You And I

If you do it, it’s verbal abuse;  if I do it, it’s humour.
If you do it, it’s an affair;  if I do it, it’s romance.
If you do it, it’s graffiti;  if I do it, it’s art.
If you do it, it’s showing off;  if I do it, it’s romance.

If you do it, it’s being drunk;  if I do it, it’s entertainment.
If you do it, it’s foolish;  if I do it, it’s romance.
If you do it, it’s a lie;  if I do it, it’s the truth.
If you do it, it’s a scandal;  if I do it, it’s romance.

If you do it, it’s wasting time;  if I do it, it’s resting.
If you do it, it’s stalking;  if I do it, it’s romance.
If you do it, it’s your fault;  if I do it, it’s your fault.
If you do it, it’s insane;  if I do it, it’s romance.

If you do it, it’s impossible;  if I do it, it’s possible.


Posted in Science & Nature

Fainting Goat

There is a very interesting breed of goats called the Fainting Goat. These goats suffer a genetic condition called myotonia congenita, which produces fascinating yet hilarious situations. When startled by the sudden presence of another animal or even a loud noise, these goats all suddenly freeze and fall to one side. This phenomenon can occur even while running, which causes the goats to crash into the ground, lying on their backs with their legs straight up. This can even occur from the excitement of seeing food and starting to run towards it.

The reason for this peculiar phenomenon is that myotonia congenita damages systems that allow muscles to relax, causing it to become easily excited. Ergo, when a goat is startled, its muscles tense reflexively, causing it to contract suddenly while taking longer to relax. This results in the goat becoming paralysed and falling. Young goats tend to be helpless when this occurs, but more experienced goats prop their legs apart quickly or lean against something to prevent falling (they can even be seen hopping on their stiff legs). These “fainting spells” are painless.

Although this kind of trait is often removed by natural selection (for example, in nature these goats would freeze when they meet a predator, and then proceed to be eaten), humans have bred these goats specifically to save their trait. In old times, these goats were used as “sacrifices” so that they would get eaten first when wolves struck, but nowadays they are bred in certain farms for no particular use. 
Myotonia congenita also affects other animals such as cats, and there are many people in the world affected by this condition too.

Posted in Life & Happiness


Humour is language that can make people laugh. However, being a language, every person responds to it differently. This is due to age, culture, religion, nationality and many other factors defining their way of thinking. In 2001, a famous psychologist called Dr Richard Wiseman tackled this problem scientifically. He used the question: “Is there a joke that is funny anywhere in the world?” as a basis to design the experiment called “LaughLab”. The design was quite simple: design a website where anyone can upload a joke that is rated by the world on a scale of 1 to 5. Using this method, Dr Wiseman found the World’s Funniest Joke:


Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip, and after finishing their dinner they retire for the night, and go to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.” “I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes” exclaims Watson. “And what do you deduce from that?” Watson ponders for a minute. “Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?” “Watson, you idiot!” he exclaims, “Somebody’s stolen our tent!”

World’s Funniest Joke:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?”. The operator says “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”

Dr Wiseman says that effective jokes are usually short but gives the audience a feeling of superiority, while relieving stress and featuring a sudden twist.