Posted in Science & Nature

Tip Of The Iceberg

Icebergs are deceptive things. You may see a small bump above the ocean surface, but beneath the surface hides a massive block of ice. Using Archimedes’ principle of buoyancy, we can calculate exactly what proportion of an iceberg lies under the surface. Pure ice has a density of about 920 kg/m³ and sea water has a density of 1025 kg/m³. Ergo, we can calculate that about 10% of the volume of an iceberg is above water. Therefore, whatever you see above the surface, there is nine times the volume hiding beneath it.

Tip of the iceberg” is a useful metaphor in describing many things. Our base instinct is to believe what we see at first glance. We rely on first impressions, we judge books on their covers and we tend to believe headlines before reading the full text of an article.

Although this is a useful way to process massive amounts of information that we are exposed to every day, it is certainly a flawed method because not only can we miss a vast quantity of information, also easily misinterpret or misunderstand things.

Take mental health for example. Because we cannot read minds, we take clues from people’s expressions, body language and what they tell us to gauge what is happening in their minds and hearts. We are reasonably good at gauging this, so we often make assumptions based on surface information.

We might assume our friend is happy because they are smiling, or that a couple’s marriage is harmonious because of cute photos on their social media. Conversely, we might assume that a stranger is rude to us because they are terrible people.

But the smiling friend may be suffering crippling anxiety and depression. The happy-looking couple may be at the brink of divorce because of relationship problems. The rude stranger may have lost a loved one just the day before. Things are not always what they seem and it makes an incredible difference to have the insight to see past the surface.

Another lesson to learn from the tip of the iceberg is that when we encounter a problem – whether it be with another person or even within ourselves – we should ask the question of what lies beneath. The problem we notice may just be the tip, with 90% of the issues hidden from plain sight.

For example, if you feel tense and easily triggered often, perhaps it is worth looking under the hood and going on an introspective journey to discover what past experiences and traumas may have caused the insecurities. If you keep feeling victimised, attacked or sensitive, examine what story your subconscious is telling you and try to correct the narrative, being the agent of your own story.

Avoid the fate of the RMS Titanic: look beyond the visible tip of the iceberg and be aware of the entire problem. You will be surprised how it changes your perspective of the world, the people you interact with and how you feel about yourself.

Image credit:

Posted in Science & Nature


If you mix 1 part water to 1.5-2 part corn starch, you create a strange mixture called “oobleck“, named after a Dr. Seuss story. It is so simple to make, yet it exhibits some very strange properties that makes it a popular science experiment.

Oobleck is what is known as a non-Newtonian fluid, where the viscosity (or “thickness”) changes with how much stress it is under. If you press your finger gently into it, it will feel like water, but if you strike it with a hammer, it will behave as a solid. It will stiffen when you stir it, but run when you swirl it.

Related image

You can even run over a tub of oobleck as long as you change steps quickly enough to apply enough pressure to keep the fluid under your feet solid. This is because oobleck becomes very viscous under high stress, making it behave more solidly (shear thickening).

We can learn from oobleck not only some interesting physics principles, but also how to interact with people.

Much like a non-Newtonian fluid, people will tend to react stiffly and with more resistance if you apply stress or force. But if you apply gentle pressure and be assertive, you will find people generally react more softly and fluidly.

This simple change in your approach will lead to much better conflict resolution and constructive outcomes when dealing with other people.

Image result for oobleck run gif

Posted in Life & Happiness

How’s The Water?

Two young fish are swimming along when they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says:

“Morning, boys. How’s the water?”.

The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes:

“What the hell is water?”.

This is a humorous analogy that writer David Foster Wallace told at the beginning of his commencement speech to Kenyon College’s graduating class of 2005. Although it is short, it can be unravelled to reveal many important guiding truths regarding adult life.

Much like the younger fish, many of us are not aware of the “water” that surrounds us. Although we live in it, reality is hard to process because it is made up of so many different layers of complexity. To make it easier to live our lives, our brains protect us from being aware of our reality, much like how people are not aware that they live in a simulation in The Matrix.

Even when we are aware that we are swimming in water, we keep asking ourselves “What the hell is water?”. We search desperately for the wise, older fish who can enlighten us – someone who can teach us what water is.

Many of us will be swayed by countless teachers, mentors, gurus, politicians and religious leaders who tell us to follow them to learn what water is. Many of us will firmly believe that we have grown up to become the older, wiser fish, and fight stubbornly against others who have different views on what water is. Some us may even choose to ignore that the water exists at all.

At every stage of our lives, many of us fall in the trap of believing that we have things “figured out”. Teenagers will rebel against adults, thinking that they will reinvent the world. Young adults will believe that now that they are working members of society, they are entitled to their “educated”, “mature” opinions. The middle-aged believe they have been adults long enough that surely they must have gained enough experience and wisdom on the way. And if we don’t feel confident that we know what water is, we seek the answer from those who claim they know it.

In short, we are always searching for the answer, or claim to have the answer. But that is not the lesson to take away from the parable of the fish in water.
It is not the answer that is important, but the question.

It is hubris to think that we can possibly understand how the world works completely within our lifetime. Instead, we should continue questioning what water is. Otherwise, we are just pretending to be enlightened, all the while becoming dimmer as we shut off our ability to learn and see things from a new perspective.

Consider the countless complexities that make up our reality: physical laws of the universe, the historical context, political climate, shifting cultural norms, societal pressures, chaos theory, our connections to other people… Even if you were to make sense of all this, you will never understand the reality that other people live in, as believing in only your reality stops you from being empathic and compassionate. Remember that water is a great environment for fish to live in, but a person would drown if left underwater.

This is why the parable does not tell the story of the older fish teaching the younger fish what water is. Instead, he is asking them how the water is. He is encouraging them to be aware of the context they live in and to keep question it and learning about it, while he himself stays curious as to how other fish experience the water.

So, how’s the water?

Posted in History & Literature


Factoids are commonly known as trivial tidbits of knowledge and fact. This is actually incorrect. Factoids actually mean pieces of false information that have circulated and become popular to the point that they are accepted as facts. This makes factoids ironic in the sense that the definition of a factoid itself, is a factoid.

Here are several examples of common factoids.

Vikings wore horns on their helmets”. 

There is no evidence of this ever happening and all Viking helmets found in archaeology are hornless. It is likely a myth originating from dramatisation of the Vikings in opera.

“Medieval people thought the Earth was flat”.

It has been common knowledge that the Earth is spherical even since ancient Greek times. Greek astronomer Eratosthenes even calculated the Earth’s circumference to within 5-15% error margin of the actual circumference in 240BC.

“Napoleon Bonaparte was short”.

Napoleon’s height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches, but this is in fact French feet. This converts to 5 feet 7 inches, which is taller than the average height for French males at the time.

“The low life expectancy in the Middle Ages meant people usually died around their 30’s”. 

The low life expectancy of the past was mostly due to the high infant mortality, meaning people who survived into adulthood lived much longer, fuller lives.

“You need to drink eight glasses of water to stay healthy”. 

There is no agreed upon amount of water a person should drink in medical literature. The current consensus is that drinking water when you feel thirsty is fully sufficient to avoid dehydration.

“Carrots help you see in the dark”.

Vitamin A is indeed used by the body to synthesise chemicals used in vision, but having more does not improve your vision. This was a myth propagated by Great Britain during World War 2 to mask the fact that they were using radar for accurate nighttime bombings.

“Evolution is a theory, meaning there is insufficient evidence to confirm it”. 

This is a complete misunderstanding shared by many people against evolution. The word “theory” in science means a concept or set of principles that best explains an observed phenomena, not a hunch as it is often used in common English. For example, gravity is a theory, as well as germ theory (that microorganisms cause infectious diseases).

“Chameleons can change the colour of their skin to match their surroundings”.

Chameleon’s skin colours change based on their mood, not the colour of their surroundings. Cuttlefish, on the other hand, can perfectly mimic and blend in to their surrounding environment.

“Adding oil when boiling pasta stops sticking”.

The oil floats to the top and does nothing to prevent sticking. Adding oil after draining the water will help.

“Searing meat seals in the juices”.

Searing can actually make meat drier on average. It does, however, add more flavour by adding a brown crust due to the Maillard reaction.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Viscera: Kidneys

(Learn more about the organs of the human bodies in other posts in the Viscera series here:

Despite being a vital organ that one cannot survive without, the kidneys are not very famous to the general populace. Not many people know what the kidneys do, let alone where exactly they lie in the body. The kidneys (of which there are two) are the major excretory organs of the human body. They are found in the back of the abdomen (in an area called the retroperitoneal space), tucked under the lower three ribs below the diaphragm. This is higher than where most people think the kidneys lie, because the abdomen extends quite high into the ribcage, as seen from the location of the liver.


The kidneys undertake many functions, but they can broadly be grouped into three groups: making urine, filtering blood and maintaining homeostasis.

Although the organ associated with urine is the bladder, it only stores urine, which is made by the kidneys and sent to the bladder via the ureters. Urine is the body’s main way of disposing excess water, salt and other byproducts such as urea. The kidneys fine-tune how much water we lose to urine depending on how much water is in the body. For example, if you drink a lot of water, the kidney senses the blood vessels being dilated and the blood being diluted, then allows more water to leave the body. Conversely, if you are dehydrated, the kidney does everything in its power to hold on to as much water as possible, resulting in concentrated urine.

The kidneys literally act as filters for the blood using a fine, intricate network of sieve-like blood vessels. These vessels have walls that have various sized holes that causes water and small molecules to pass into the kidney, while leaving large proteins in the blood. The filtered blood (containing water, various electrolytes and other metabolites) travel through a pipe network called nephrons, which reabsorb things the body needs (like water when you are dehydrated or salts like sodium), while leaving toxic products like urea and various medications.


Lastly, the kidneys maintain homeostasis (the status quo of the body) in various ways, such as fine-tuning the water and salt levels of the body. If you have renal failure where your kidneys do not function properly, you will retain too much water and may suffer a build-up of potassium, which can cause fatal changes in your heart rhythm. It is also involved in controlling the acidity of your blood and your blood pressure, through very complex mechanisms.

One way kidneys are famous is that they are popularly mentioned in the context of organ transplants. If you have renal failure, you may be able to get a kidney from a healthy, live donor as you can live with one kidney. When you take out a kidney from a healthy person, the remaining kidney will grow in size to compensate for the other kidney, while the transplanted kidney will go on to save the patient’s life by doing the many jobs mentioned above.


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 Science & Nature

Dihydrogen Monoxide

Many people know about the dangers of chemicals such as lead and dioxin, but there is lack of awareness of an even bigger killed chemical: dihydrogen monoxide. It is a colourless, odourless, tasteless chemical that is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Most deaths caused by dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) are by accidental inhalation, causing cerebral hypoxia. However, the dangers of DHMO do not end there. Its solid form can cause severe tissue damage after prolonged exposure, and both its gas and liquid forms can cause severe burns. It is possible to overdose on DHMO, with symptoms ranging from excessive diaphoresis and micturition, bloating, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance such as hyponatraemia. For those who are dependent on it, withdrawal means certain death. DHMO has also been found in various types of tumours biopsied from terminal cancer patients.

Not only does DHMO have consequences on human health, it is also damaging for the environment. DHMO is the leading cause of the greenhouse effect (surpassing carbon dioxide), a key component of acid rain, accelerated corrosion and rusting of many metals and contributes to the erosion of natural landscapes. DHMO contamination is a real, global issue, with DHMO being detected in lakes, streams and reservoirs across the globe. DHMO has caused trillions of dollars of property damage in almost every country, especially in developing nations.

Despite the danger, DHMO is commonly found in the household, in the form of additives in food and drinks, cleaning products and even styrofoam. There are no regulation laws for DHMO and multi-national companies continue to dump waste DHMO into rivers and the ocean. It is astounding to see such a deadly chemical go unregulated.

If you have not caught on by now, dihydrogen monoxide’s chemical formula is H2O – also known as water. Technically speaking, there are no false statements in the above description. But even children know that water is not only (relatively) safe, but necessary for life. The report on “dihydrogen monoxide” originates from a 1997 science fair project by Nathan Zohner, who was 14 years old at the time. His project was titled “How Gullible Are We?” and involved presenting his report about “the dangers of DHMO” to fifty school students to see what their reaction would be. 43 students favoured banning it, 6 were undecided and only one recognised that DHMO was actually water. Even more surprising is that there are cases (such as in California in 2004), where city officials came close to banning the substance, falling for the hoax. This goes to show how gullible people can be in the face of what they do not know.

Posted in Philosophy

Oil And Water

It is said that oil and water do not mix. This phrase is also used to describe two people who do not get along and cannot even stay near each other. But technically speaking, oil and water can be mixed. When you mix oil and water, you will find that droplets of oil float in the water. If you add an emulsifier (something that helps emulsion – the mixing of oil and water – such as soap or egg white), the oil droplets break down into very fine droplets that spreads through the water to make a stable emulsion fluid. Thus, even something like oil and water that appear to never mix can be mixed using science. Not only that, but some foods that we enjoy so much such as mayonnaise, milk and vinaigrette are all emulsions. Two fluids with different densities and properties, never wanting to be together, can combine to form such a great mixture.

If two people who never get along and refuse to mix were to congeal like mayonnaise, they may form a surprising combination, producing synergy.

1 + 1 = 3

Posted in History & Literature

Zodiac: Aquarius

Aquarius is the Zodiac sign for those born between January 20 and February 18. The symbol for Aquarius is a boy who bears a vase full of water.

The model for Aquarius is Ganymede – a beautiful Trojan prince. According to Greek mythology, one day the gods were having a feast when Hebe the cup-bearer (pouring nectar for the gods) twisted her ankle. Zeus looked all around but could not find someone worthy of replacing Hebe. The other gods introduced fine young maidens to Zeus but he was not interested.

While this was happening, Apollo went down to Troy for an errand, when he saw Prince Ganymede in the castle. He was struck by his beauty and immediately reported back to Zeus. Zeus, curious as to how beautiful this boy was, went down to Troy to see for himself. He too was taken aback by Ganymede’s beauty and he decided right there to appoint him as the cup-bearer. So Zeus transformed into a giant eagle and snatched Ganymede away. Thus, Ganymede became the cup-bearer against his will. The Trojan prince was despaired by how he would not see his family again and would cry every night. Seeing this, Zeus felt remorse and visited the king of Troy to offer an explanation and also presented golden grapes and mythical horses in exchange. Also, he allowed the prince to visit his family one last time. Afterwards, Ganymede was made immortal and became the official cup-bearer of Olympus. Zeus also made him into a constellation to honour his services.

(Part of the Zodiac series:


Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Muslin Disease

The French Revolution that occurred in the late 18th century had a significant impact on not only politics, but French society as a whole. Even after the revolution, there was much hatred against the nobility and especially the luxurious and extravagant lifestyle they lead. Men and women wearing too much clothes and jewellery were punished heavily. There was even a law stating that the weight of your clothes and accessories combined must not exceed 3.5kg. In the early 19th century, the fashion trend changed from the fancy dresses of the past with many decorations to a much more simple, clean and frugal type of dress. A point of interest is that women wearing petticoats (an undergarment worn to puff out skirts) – a key point of the Rococo style – were executed on the guillotine, causing women to quickly throw away their petticoats and try to look as slim as possible. To look thin, women did not even wear underwear. There was a fabric that suited this new fashion trend very well and that was the extremely thin cloth, muslin.

But to follow the fashion of then, it is not enough to simply wear a muslin dress. In early 19th century France, the trend was to douse your dress in water. Why did the women drench themselves in water? The reason being, muslin is a very thin and light cloth that becomes half transparent when wet, while clinging to your body. Women dampened their muslin dress to prove that they were wearing nothing underneath. Also, the ideal, beautiful woman of the time was an intellectual woman who looked fatigued from reading books all night long. Drenching yourself in water adds to this gaunt image, accentuating your fatigue and by extension, your beauty. The woman probably also intended to make the clothing cling to their body to show off their figure (much like the modern day wet t-shirt contests).

The problem was that muslin is an extremely thin material that is unsuitable in the winter or in Northern regions. Considering that women were wearing such a thin dress and even pouring water on themselves, one can imagine how cold they must have been. In fact, France suffered a heavy epidemic of pneumonia in the early 19th century with as much as 60,000 patients turning up with pneumonia every day. A high proportion of these patients were women who liked to wear wet muslin dresses. Thus, the pneumonia was nicknamed muslin disease.