Posted in Science & Nature

Death Pose

When a dinosaur fossil is excavated, it is not uncommon to find the dinosaur in what is known as the death pose. The long neck is bent dramatically backwards and the mouth is gaping open, as if the dinosaur is letting out one final bellow.

For a long time, palaeontologists believed that dinosaurs found in this pose had remarkable neck flexibility. For example, the Elasmosaurus was originally thought to have a snake-like neck that could bend and curl around, even being able to lift its head above the water, as seen with the image of the Loch Ness Monster. However, in reality, the neck would have been too stiff and heavy to move around like that, meaning that Elasmosaurus would have swam around with a straight neck, barely lifting its head above water.

It is still unclear exactly why dinosaurs are often found in the death pose.
Traditionally, it was believed that the strong ligaments holding the neck bones (vertebrae) contracted as they dried out, bending the neck backwards where there are more ligaments.
Others refute this theory, instead suggesting that the dinosaur remains would be rearranged by water currents, or that the carcass would naturally bend backwards when floating in water.
Finally, another group of scientists believe that the pose happens in the final moments of the dinosaur’s death throes, suggesting that they experience opisthotonus (arching of the back muscles, as seen in tetanus) either due to lack of oxygen in the brain, or poisoning.

It is fascinating to think that although these dinosaurs have been dead for 66 million years, we still have so much to learn from them.

Posted in Science & Nature

Dinosaur Meat

Did dinosaurs have red or white meat? Typically, we think of white meat as coming from poultry, such as chicken, duck, turkey, while red meat come from large mammals such as cows, pigs and deer. So if you were to hunt down a stegosaurus or a triceratops and cooked it over a barbeque, what colour would their meat be?

The redness of meat comes from a protein called myoglobin, which carries oxygen from the blood to the muscle cells. It is similar to haemoglobin, which gives blood the characteristic red colour. An important note is that when you see reddish water drip from meat from the butchers, you are seeing myoglobin, not blood (the blood is drained when the meat is prepared).

The difference in colour between red and white meat come from the type of muscle fibres and their myoglobin content.
Red meat is made from slow-twitch fibres, which are useful for sustained activities such as walking or to keep standing. They exert a smaller force over a longer period of time, meaning they require more oxygen for aerobic respiration (a more efficient way of burning fuel using oxygen). Ergo, red meat is full of myoglobin, hence its deep rich red colour.

On the other hand, white meat is made of fast-twitch fibres. These fibres are better suited for quick bursts of energy, such as flying or quickly responding to a threat. These fibres use anaerobic respiration (no oxygen), which allow for a quicker, faster burn of energy, but only for a short time. In birds, the breast muscles are typically very white, but they do have some slow-twitch fibres in other muscle groups such as their wings and legs, which is why there is a distinction between light and dark meat.

So how about dinosaurs? Dinosaurs are the ancestors of birds and reptiles, so it would make sense for them to have had white meat. However, the majority of dinosaurs, especially large ones such as sauropods, would have had very powerful muscles with slow-twitch fibres, making their meat quite red. A good example are ostriches. Even though they are birds, their meat is as red as beef because they have powerful leg muscles for running.
Smaller animals such as raptors probably had more white meat akin to modern poultry, as they would require sudden bursts of energy for ambushes.

As for how they would taste, that is something we could not answer until Jurassic Park becomes a reality.

Posted in Philosophy


Is it better to have a skeleton inside the body, or on the surface?

In the case of insects, the skeleton is on the surface and takes the form of a shell that protects them from external damage. The flesh is protected by this shell and becomes soft until it becomes fluid-form. Therefore, when something sharp penetrates the armour, it causes critical, irreversible damage.

If the skeleton is inside the body, it takes the form of thin, hard bones. The soft flesh on the outside is exposed to harm. This leads to endless number of wounds. However, the weakness of being exposed leads to the muscles becoming harder with more resistant muscle fibres. The flesh evolves.

I have met many people who wear an intellectual shell made from remarkable knowledge and intellect, protecting themselves from attacks made by people with different ideas. They appeared much more robust than normal people. They would laugh at everything else, saying “I don’t care”. But when a different opinion would penetrate the hard exterior of their mind, the blow to their ego was indescribable.

I have also met people who would be hurt by even the smallest, insignificant confrontations or dissonance. However, they were sensitive because their minds were open and they learnt something from whatever attack they received.

(from The Encyclopaedia of Relative and Absolute Knowledge by Bernard Werber)

Werber spoke of the “skeleton” of the body and mind, but human beings have one other thing that needs a sturdy skeleton – the heart. Many people protect their heart from being broken with hard armour. They do not open up themselves easily and always give an image of strength and stability. But there is no such thing as a life without pain. People who put a skeleton on the outside of their heart tend to be those who have been hurt badly before and trying to protect themselves from being hurt again. This may be effective to some degree, but if you close off your heart, you cannot heal your wounds and you also shut off the happiness of connection. If they suffer pain greater than their armour can withstand, their heart is shattered and they fall into a pit of despair, unable to recover.

On the contrary, some people open up easily to others, exposing themselves to frequent pains from social interactions. These people are sensitive to pain and heartbreak. Hence, the world considers them frail and weak. But as these people have a strong skeleton inside their hearts, they can recover from any wound and they become stronger like well-developed muscle. They grow through pain and their heart – like a warrior who has fought countless battles – becomes strong and resilient against the pains of the world.

We mustn’t avoid suffering and pain and instead try to overcome it. Through this we learn how to bounce back and through experience, we develop ourselves. Suffering is hard, but it is a catalyst that helps us grow into a strong, resilient person.


Posted in Science & Nature


With exercise, muscles get bigger and bigger to generate enough power to meet the demand. This is called hypertrophy, where the cells in tissue divide faster to increase their numbers and build mass. When you do not use the muscles as much, the body decides to recycle the precious resources by breaking down the extra muscle. This is called atrophy – also known as wasting.

Muscles are not the only things that atrophy. The less you think deeply and explore your curiosities, the more your intelligence and wisdom atrophies. As you care less, your heart and ability to love atrophies. As you smile and laugh less, your happiness atrophies.

Like much of nature, the human body dislikes the status quo and strives to avoid stagnation. It continuously breaks down old, unnecessary things to make way for new, different things that will help you better adapt to your environment.

Unfortunately for us, that means to maintain the parts of us that we like, we must train and use the relevant “muscles” – whether it be lifting weights, reading books or laughing heartily for no reason.

Posted in Life & Happiness

One Hundred Eggs

How many eggs can you eat in one sitting? Three? Half a dozen? No matter how big or hungry you may be, eating a hundred eggs is just unthinkable. Whether you fry it, boil it, scramble it or straight out drink it, “one hundred’ is simply too much. Too difficult to imagine how much one hundred eggs would be? A hundred eggs weigh about 4~5kg. Considering a steak is usually 200~400g, this is an incredible amount. The nutritional values cannot be ignored either. A hundred eggs contain about 32350kJ of energy (7750 calories), 56g of carbohydrates, 530g of fat and 630g of protein. It is an astonishing amount of food. How could anyone eat such a massive amount in one sitting?

Surprisingly, even a petite, slim girl can eat a hundred eggs. The secret lies in how the eggs are cooked. The best thing about eggs is that they can be cooked in various ways, such as fried eggs, poached eggs, scrambled eggs and boiled eggs. The following is a fascinating way of cooking eggs to maximise the amount of eggs you can eat in one sitting. The secret method is noodles.

This is not the same as standard “egg noodles” that merely contain eggs. This is noodles only made of eggs. As strange as it sounds, once you learn the recipe and some simple scientific facts, it all becomes very clear.

Firstly, take a hundred eggs, crack them into a very large bowl and whisk thoroughly. This may be difficult due to the sheer amount of eggs as mentioned above. Next, take a cupful of the whisked eggs and strain it through a sieve straight into boiling water. The egg instantly solidifies into thin, long noodle-shapes. The reason you strain it is to make the texture smoother. Repeat this method until all of the eggs are used up and then cook the noodles in whatever way you fancy.

How does turning eggs into noodles let you eat more of it? The reason being, two-thirds of an egg is just water. Most lifeforms contain a large proportion of water. For example, about two-thirds of your weight is water too. By dripping the whisked egg in the boiling water, the water disperses out while the proteins and fat solidify to form noodles. Ergo, the nutritional components of the eggs are preserved but the filling portion is thrown away. Any other way of cooking eggs causes the water to be trapped in the final product.

Of course, this is an extremely wasteful way of eating eggs, but it can be of some benefit for a person seeking a high-protein diet to bulk their muscles.


Posted in Psychology & Medicine


Tetanus is an infectious disease caused by a soil-borne bacteria called Clostridium tetani. Patients are often infected soil entering the blood through deep wounds, such as a cut. The bacteria produces a toxin called tetanospasmin which leads to the characteristic symptoms of tetanus involving muscle.

The term tetanus actually refers to a state where skeletal muscle remains contracted and cannot relax due to maximum signalling from the nervous system. Tetanus is associated with some distinct symptoms involving tetanised muscles.

Tetanus starts in the face in the form of lockjaw (jaw clamps shut and cannot be opened) and sardonic risus sardonicus. Risus sardonicus, also known as sardonic grin, is a contorted, malicious-looking smile that is caused by spasms of muscles in the face. A good portrayal of the grin is seen in the Joker’s face from the Batman comic book series.
The disease then progresses to cause stiff neck, spasming of chest and leg muscles and difficulty swallowing. 

A dramatic symptom is opisthotonos, where the patient experiences extremely painful contractions of back muscles causing them to arch their back against their will. Along with lockjaw and risus sardonicus, it is a characteristic sign of tetanus and has been known for centuries. Before it was attributed to tetanus, people used to think the person was possessed by a demon due to the agonised screams and involuntary spasming of the body.

The disease is especially devastating in infants and can be spread to the fetus within the womb. This is because babies do not have a developed passive immune system that can combat the infection. Neonatal tetanus carries a mortality rate of over 90% and is responsible for 15% of all neonatal deaths.

Tetanus is a preventable disease through immunisation. Immunisation is done by injecting an inactive form of the toxin (i.e. cannot cause disease), inducing a reaction by the immune system. This essentially “teaches” the immune system to defend the body against tetanus. By completing a course of three doses and receiving occasional booster shots throughout life, tetanus can be prevented. Pregnant women must be immunised against tetanus to prevent neonatal tetanus (the babies receive scheduled immunisations soon after birth too).

This is one example of how immunisation can effectively prevent fatal diseases in a population.

Posted in Life & Happiness

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Everyone goes through a tough time at least once in their lives. As modern life is ideal for stress to build, it is easy to get weighed down by fatigue and negativity. Pent-up stress is the cause of all ill health and one cannot lead a healthy life without overcoming their stress.
Although everyone has a unique method of overcoming stress, there are some very effective generic methods of stress relief. Some examples include hobbies, laughter yoga and meditation, but the method that will be introduced here is progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR.
PMR is very simple and doesn’t take up much time, making it a useful way of relieving stress for busy people.

  1. Sit back comfortably, close your eyes and rid yourself of all thoughts.
  2. Breathe in slowly and deeply and then breathe out. Concentrate on your breathing.
  3. Relax all the muscles in your body into a jelly-like state.
  4. Squeeze both hands into a fist as hard as possible for 5 seconds, then release.
  5. Rest 5 seconds and then repeat twice more.
  6. After three cycles of contraction and relaxation, repeat with your arm muscles.
  7. Apply the same three cycles on your feet, legs, abdomen, chest, neck and head.

The key principle of PMR is achieving complete relaxation by concentrating all your energy into one spot then releasing it. Furthermore, concentrating on your slow breathing has a meditation effect, resting both your mind and body. Once you are relaxed from head to toe, you will feel all the fatigue in your body disappear.
There is no greater enemy than stress. Therefore, it is best to have your own defence mechanism against it, but it also very useful to know a few general methods.

Now, try the progressive muscle relaxation on yourself to resolve all the stress that accumulated over the day.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine


In medicine, a person’s way of walking is termed gait. By analysing a person’s gait, a trained professional can gain insight into what pathologies the person may be suffering from. For example, just from the way the patient limps, the doctor may discover that the patient has an incurable degenerative brain disease.

The most common gait abnormality is the antalgic gait, or limping due to pain. Most people would have experienced the difficulty of walking with a sprained or broken ankle, muscle ache or knee problems. This is easy to spot as the patient quickly switches to the other feet when leaning on the affected leg due to the pain. Therefore, the side that stays on the ground less than the other is the affected leg.

Sometimes, you can see a person “waddling” along as they swing from one side to the other. This may be a waddling gait, also known as Trendelenburg’s gait, caused by a weakness in the hip muscles that support the pelvic girdle, either due to muscle or nerve damage. As the patient cannot support their weight on the affected side, their pelvis tilts towards the opposite side. To avoid falling over, the patient lurches their body towards the other side, causing them to waddle. Looking at the tilt and lurch gives insight into what side is affected.
Another rather common gait is the steppage gait, where the person lifts one leg higher than the other, while their foot drags on the ground. This is caused by nerve damage leading to the loss of ability to lift the foot up (termed foot drop).

As the brain controls the motor system, damage to the brain also leads to motor dysfunction. A common example is a stroke.
If the stroke damages a significant part of the motor cortex, the patient suffers from hemiparesis/hemiplegia, or weakness/paralysis of one half of the body. This causes the limbs on the affected side to stiffen, as seen by an extended leg pointing inwards and retracted arm. The patient has to swing the affected leg around while they walk as they cannot flex the hip, known as a hemiplegic gait.
If the cerebellum is damaged, balancing becomes an issue. This causes the patient to suffer from ataxia, where they cannot coordinate their movements and are prone to toppling over. These patients tend to sway violently from side to side as they try to walk in a straight line.

Lastly, degenerative brain diseases can also affect gait. There are two main examples.
In Parkinson’s disease, the patient suffers from what is called hypokinesia and bradykinesia – reduced and slow movement. This leads to a shuffling gait where the patient walks slowly by shuffling their feet in small steps. They are also stooped over and are often seen with a pill-rolling tremor of their hands – a cardinal symptom of the disease.
In Huntington’s chorea, the opposite (hyperkinesia) occurs. This causes flailing as the muscles contract in an uncoordinated manner, including both the arms and legs. Ergo, their gait is quite jerky and interrupted by bouts of flailing, termed choreiform gait, but their balance is fine so walking in a straight line is still possible.

Knowledge of these disorders may help one appreciate the suffering a patient walking along the street has to undergo everyday of their life.

(Video demonstrations:

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Sleep Paralysis

Sometimes just before you fall asleep, or just after you wake up, it is impossible to move any muscles. The panic caused by this sudden paralysis is soon followed by a sense of impending doom and unknown horror. When trying to look around to figure out what is happening, you see a ghost or demon sitting on your chest, pinning you down.
This is a typical scenario of sleep paralysis. It occurs when the mind wakes up before the body (in loose terms) and is experienced by everyone at least once throughout their life. 

Sleep is divided into two phases: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and non-REM sleep. These two phases cycle to make up sleep at a 1:3 ratio (i.e. about 90 minutes non-REM, 30 minutes REM, repeat). NREM sleep is often thought of as “shallow sleep”, but this is incorrect as the third phase of NREM is literally “deep sleep”. This is followed by REM sleep, characterised by relaxation of muscle tone and the eyes darting in all directions (rapid eye movements). The brain cuts off motor signals to the body during REM sleep to prevent it acting out the movements in a dream (without this, many people would injure themselves or others during sleep). For example, patients suffering from diseases such as Parkinson’s disease with REM sleep disorder show vigorous movements during sleep, often hitting their partners in the process.

The problem occurs when the onset of REM atonia (relaxation) comes before the person fully falls asleep, or fails to disappear after waking up. As the motor system has been shut down, the muscles cannot be moved yet the person has regained consciousness. The more frightening thing is that sleep paralysis is usually accompanied by an intense visual and auditory hallucination, which is almost always related the person’s worst nightmares and fears. This explains why so many cultures associate it with demons and ghosts, and it is also possibly the cause of alien abduction experiences and ghost sightings. Reason being, the hallucination is so vivid the person easily believes that it actually happened.

Sleep paralysis can be caused by excessive drinking, stress or the induction of lucid dreams, but tend to be spontaneous and can happen to you on any day.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Cranial Nerves

Nerves can be divided broadly as spinal nerves and cranial nerves: the latter which is directly from the brain. There are 12 pairs of cranial nerves:

  1. CN IOlfactory nerve (smell)
  2. CN IIOptic nerve (sight)
  3. CN IIIOculomotor nerve (eye movements, control of pupil and lens)
  4. CN IVTrochlear nerve (eye movements)
  5. CN VTrigeminal nerve (sensory information from face and mouth, chewing)
  6. CN VIAbducens nerve (eye movements)
  7. CN VIIFacial nerve (taste, tear and salivary glands secretion, facial expressions)
  8. CN VIIIVestibulocochlear nerve (hearing and sense of balance)
  9. CN IXGlossopharyngeal nerve (taste, swallowing, parotid gland secretion, sensory information from oral cavity, information about blood)
  10. CN XVagus nerve (sensory and motor signals to and from many internal organs, glands and muscles)
  11. CN XIAccessory nerve (movement of SCM and trapezius, which are neck/shoulder muscles)
  12. CN XIIHypoglossal nerve (tongue movements)

As there are so many nerves and the names are all varied, there is a simple (yet very obscene) mnemonic to help medical students remember the names and order of nerves:

Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel Virgin Girls’ Vaginas And Hymens
Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel A Girl’s Very Soft Hands
(where vestibulocochlear -> auditory)

It is also worth noting the mnemonic for the types of nerves is:

Some Say Marry Money, But My Brother Says Big Boobs Matter More

Perhaps the only way to survive medical school is through humour.