Seeking the Dark Tower

On the path that eventually leads to the clearing in the woods, the Charyou Tree. Fraught with danger, fear and loss, and yet, fulfillment. Welcome.

Monday, February 27, 2006

its got a wonderful defense mechanism

"its got a wonderful defense mechanism.. you don't dare kill it"
- Parker, Ship Engineer, to Ash, Ship Science officer, aboard the Nostromo as the alien facehugger bleeds its acid blood.

Nature often comes up with ingenious ways to defend itself. Take the bombardier beetle for example; when threatened, it mixes a noxious soup of chemicals that react and explode from its backside in a high pressured, high velocity 212F blast of death - that usually encourages most predators to look for an easier meal.
So there should be other creatures that do the same thing, right?

Enter the humble sea cucumber. Here we can see one putting out its mouth appendages to sweep in food to its mouth. This ground mucking, detritus sweeping echinoderm is often seen gracing chinese dishes, a delicacy as it is considered. So how many people have actually seen them alive and thrashing?

Today i took my biodiversity class down to Sentosa for a field trip. Among other things (which i will get to), i chanced upon two black cukes going about their normal buisness. And since the class was around, i decided to show them natural defence 101: How creatures come up with ingenious ways of avoiding becoming dinner.

The cuke isnt exactly the fastest of sprinters, so it cant outrun even the slowest snail. And such a boneless, fat, juicy roll of meat is sure to be eaten to extinction, wouldnt it?

Enter defence mechanism 1:
The sc if under a rock, jams itself into any crevice by inflating itself with water. It becomes very turgid and cant be pried away that easily. This is actually possible by its unique body structure. The cuke possesses a very peculiar 'bone structure'; consisting of trillions of tiny particles in fluid state floating ard its body, allowing it to move lie well a bag of water. But on command, it can actually pump itself full of water and tighten its ossicles to interlock, thus becoming very rigid. Jamming itself under the rock, enemies can't really get to it.
If that still dosent work...

Enter defence mechanism 2:
It spews.
(i somehow can't manage to imbed the video; so you'll have to go to the link here. Anyone can advise on this??)
PLEASE, DO NOT TRY THIS ON YOUR OWN. Some cukes are toxic and their spew can give you a rash. Also, it is highly stressful for them. I did this for the benefit of the entire class; so please, don't go doing it if you intend to, ok?

Now back to the juicy part. What you actually see is, as i agitate the cuke, it compacts and becomes turgid. still persistant? it starts 'peeing' water. Still persistant? It starts hurling out white sticky threads (Cuvierian tubules) that entangles its would-be predator. Guys don't laugh. you've seen this before, haven't you? Should i further agitate it, the cuke will actually spew its guts, respiratory tract and other non essential organs. Even its gonads =). This provides a meal for the predator while it crawls away.
While this seems insane, spewing actually dosent kill the cuke; it now has less innards to take care of, and its metabolism can afford to drop. In fact, in periods of stress and overcrowding, cukes have been known to spew just so they don't need to eat so much to upkeep themselves. A very 'modular' system don't you think? The cuke then regrows its innards quickly, and becomes as it was.
Some other stuff worth from the trip:
Here is a clip on how the cuke feeds. Note how it extends its appendages and sweeps em back.
Here is a clip on an octopus CUTE AS HELL which i caught. Ockys are really smart, and are the houdinis of the sea. Had the hardest time trying to catch this guy.
The ocky is released.
Blue Sponge.
Soft Coral. Just like the hard ones, except lacking the hard CaCo3 shell. Hence it looks.. flaccid.
Algae growing on a sponge.
A marine spider. These guys are tiderunners, hunting for fish with their huge fangs.
homo nussies on the beach.
the last shot before we left. Note the seagrass; they've started to flower.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

We put this festival for you bastards, with all our love!

Liam you fucking bastard you were actually almost on time. Fxxking in the bushes was the actual opening act:



It could all have been:
"We pour our vegetables on you bastards,
with all our love... "

With the way they were speakin, there was no way of knowing in that thick accent of theirs. They'd go "Annowow-fucking-omenohea-fucking-neeonwomoo-fucking-ouryeah" and the crowd goes wild and in kicks another song.

It was more than high i say. Concerts are worth every cent when you're mashed up front with armpit in nose and elbow in eye, singing to the rythym of your favorite tune, then every so often some white kid pours water on his long hair, flings it around, screams yeah! and shoves, and it really pisses you off and you shove right back. Hard. See the inferno, the madness: Special mention goes to fiza, whom a tall guy just pissed her off bad enough and she went SUPERNOVA and started thrashing like crazy. Needless to say she cleared precious space for me to slip in. Poor girl was just so mashed, i had to lift her up a few times just so she'd get to see something. Others wer'nt that lucky. But still, for that thrashing you gave that asshole, you one up, dudette.
Not that it wasnt spectacular. Songs generally threw the crowds wild and it was an ocean of motion. Bitches and bastards everywhere so much i couldnt see ass nor the gallaghers much at all. You fuckers. But you could see that it wasnt as energetic as those they had in manchester. For one, liam wasnt as verbose. Y'got the feeling they were mechanically belting out song after song then hahafuckyouthankyouverymuchforyourmoney and its back to the hotel to get drunk again, throw some stuff around and grope the pretty maid.

But those rare, far-off (and admittedly bad quality pictures) glimpses of Liam in his trademark bent-forward-arms-behind-the-back singing pose with a tambourine were just priceless.

It was the glimpse of a legend.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

for all that we have

He, for all that he claims, for all his pride, removes his thoughts from view each and every time the tide gets rough.
She, for the lack of, maintains her posture and gracefully plods each step with surety.
He, for all his power, shows how much a romantic he is through his practicality.
She, for all her power and pride, lays it upon those she believes in.
He, for all his aloofness, bends weak where it hits hardest.
She, for all her dreams, only believes what she sees.
You, for all your concerns, hold what's most dear to you closely to your bosom.
I, for all that i have bothered to care for, take each step to rediscover life, and can only stand aside to watch it wash away.
For all your darkness, you burn with a unbearable light.
For all my devastation, i can only see this life.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Recce trip to Sentosa - Critter Hunting!

hey folks, im doing a recce trip for a biodiversity module to Sentosa (see here for details on wildlife found there), so if you want to come along....

It will be on this sunday, ard 3ish till 6.
Expect octopi, seaslugs, sponges, crabs, odd fishes and even the occasional coral snake.
Let me know if you want to come be email azurehalcyon at gmail or replying on the tag - leave me your email.

Will most probably meet ard 3 at harbourfront, grab a bus to Sentosa, then frolick in the mud. Tide goes down 4ish till 6ish, then we come back up for a nice meal and head home. Cost is $3 per entry, and thts about it.

What to bring:
PROPER FOOTWEAR! - There are posionous critters like stonefish there, as well as sharp rocks. Booties are the best, but an old shoe will do fine if you dont have booties. Remember to bring another set of sandals to change to!

SHORTS! We will be going down into the water and mud, so unless you dont mind getting your jeans wet, i suggest shorts that dry easily. I sont suggest bringing an extra change of clothes as there isnt any convenient place to change.

LOTS of WATER! There isnt any convenient potable water source there unless you like seawater.

HEADGEAR! ITs going to be blistering hot and no shade, so bring the biggest broadrimmed hat you have, unless you want to get roasted. Oh, sunblock as well too.

CAMERA! There's bound to be a whole lot of exotic critters you aint never seen in your life, so you'll be aching if you didnt bring a cammy.

Survival Tips:
When in doubt, do not touch! Many critters on the beach go cryptic to avoid being lunch, but that dosent mean they cant bite back! Stonefish can pretend to be rocks and pack a nasty swelling sting, while pissed-off crabs will of course snap off fingers. So do octopi. If you see a beige-ish brown conical shell with zigzag markings DO NOT TOUCH - they carry venom that can down a man in minutes. Needless to say, see snake DONT TOUCH. Its not all that bad though, but precautions are always good.

Leave things as they are. Upturning rocks expose many critters to the dessicating sun and other predators, so if you really must take a look at a rock, leave it as it is when youre done. Best not to touch it at all.

If you get stuck in mud, dont panic, bend forward and slowly extricate yourself. Holler if you cant. Someone will probably hear you.

Stick in groups!

Tides can come back up fast - so when you hear the signal to leave, please go back to the meeting point on the beach - we dont want any swept-aways.


- Yc out

Yc, Snake Wrangler

Went snake hunting last monday. After getting stuck in the mud too many times, getting sucked dry by all manner of bugs, after wading in water full of wriggly things, im proud to report baggin at least 10 out of 35 snakes for the day. And not getting bitten at all!
The Dog-faced water snake is a smallish, well tempered snake that hunts small fishes after dark in mangroves by waiting in the shallows for fish to come by or actively pursues its prey.

Me proudly bagging my 1st snake, to be brought back to lab for tagging and experiments.
Its done over a week each month, so there will be plenty chances to bag your own snake if you want to. Join up with Toddy Cats for access to these volunteer jobs.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Henna approval!

I was in the car at the pump station when i noticed this indian guy looking into the car ever so often. He motioned for another indian dude and then both started staring into the car. I was getting rather disturbed and looked around to see if there was anything valuable that had caught their eye... and unless they were interested in GU-ZHENG MUSIC OF CHINA i dont think there was anything else. Realising my bewilderment they raised their arms and pointed at it. In the end they were actually looking at this:

T'was the hennaisque pen-tattoo id drawn during the very mundane, very boring sonic arts lecture today. They smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up. Well thank you very much

Well it isnt the 1st time ive been approved by an indian on my henna art. Deepavali saw me doing 5 hennas at least, with the full approval of the host family who had invited me to their house. I think i REALLY would like to start a henna buisness. This should be proof enough =D

Any takers?

Monday, February 06, 2006


I have a proposal to all who read this. To play a game.


By reading this you hereby pledge yourself into playing the game, wether you like it or not. Here goes:

1. To know of The Game's existence is to play The Game. Once you start playing it, you can never, ever stop playing it.

2. The object of the game is to forget about it. To realise that you have thought of The Game is to lose The Game.

3. When you lose The Game, you must announce this fact to everyone present. Announcing a loss is usually done using a short sentence such as "I've just lost The Game" or "I thought of The Game" or "I've just lost", or more commonly phrases like "I lose", or even simply "The Game" both to create intrigue in others as to what the loser is talking about and as an in-joke to other Game players.

4. After losing, you have about a half hour grace period before you can lose again, to allow you to forget about it all over again, and to prevent continuous losing every few minutes. ) Failure to announce that you have lost is considered cheating, and is frowned upon.

5. If you say you have lost the The Game in the presence of non-players and are asked what the game is, you must explain to them the rules of The Game.

6. You may screw other players by forcing them to associate common occurrences or objects with the game, as well as using reminders of the game in various places either online in usernames or signatures, or in real-life locations in order to foster game-loss.

It is not possible to have the knowledge that one has won at The Game, only to have won it and remain ignorant of the fact, as if one remembers that they have won it, they have subsequently lost.

Imagine, in a lecture theather, one guy suddenly says ' ive lost the game'. This is followed by a number of groans 'ugh damnit, ive lost too, thanks bud' etc etc. Bewildered looks on nonplayers, as the players explain the game to them. Its easy to play at first, but as more and more people get to know about it, well its the game to be played.

Welcome. You are in the game.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

the final bastion.

The Chatterbox
as Fayeth says it so well:
"...And now, there's a new buncha noisemakers in there.Singlish-speaking, overbearing noisemakers.There is no longer that atmosphere of friendliness, when anyone and everyone could just strike up a conversation with a fellow USPer.
There was some strange exclusivity to those half-chinese, half-english speaking fellas that made me leave for the library.The only stronghold that remains is the ChatterCube.Once the 02 batch of students graduate, I doubt even ChatterCube will hold out much longer."

And that will the the final bastion. Where have friends and allies gone, when i am finally the last one left? Bleak times ahead, and hammerhelm will sound one last time before all the hordes overrun it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

one comic to piss them all off

I was surfing the news when i caught this article, on how a danish comic on the prophet was drawing very bad fire from the global Muslim community, something along the lines of "Lets go Jihad! We're ready for Jihad!". Well some comics were very much tongue in cheek, like using thw words "i will not draw the prophet" to draw out a face. How ironic. The danish claim freedom of speech, while the offended parties cry for blood.

I tried to google for the incriminating comic, but this was what i found, far scarier.

A comic called the Alberto Series VI: The prophet.
In essence, the entire christian comic states that the entire vatican, the roman catholic faith, was created/influenced by 'the dark one', giving old babylonian 'pagan gods' a face lift, like Venus ---> Mary, and in a bid to gain supreme power (i.e. winning over contested land Jeruselum), Islam was somehow a misguided side product of the roman catholic's foolery.

Here are a few excerpts:

"history proves that before Islam came into existence, the Sabeans in arabia worshipped a moongod who was married to the sun goddess. They gave birth to 3 goddesses called Al-alt, Al-0uzza and Manar. They became idols and were worshipped throughout the world as 'daughters of allah'. The cresent moon symbol is everywhere in Islam."

"in 1950 the moongod idol was excavated at hazor in palestine. The photo shows allah sitting on a throne. notice the cresent moon on his chest."
"ALLAH... is only an idol!"
Muhammad the prophet was somehow depicted as a poor misguided fool.

hold on here. making very BIG claims based on morphology/similarities. (Sounds ALOT like creationist talk.) And going straight to the biggun's.
Ching! i hear one angry party after their blood.

Satan carefully put the virgin Mary before the people to get their attention away from the lord Jesus."
"The betrayed Catholics atteempt to go through their church system to try to get to heaven. And using a similar trick, the Vatican helped set up a militant and sophisticated religion to keep the children of Ishmael from knowing the only One who could get them to heaven"

Uhoh. more big claims.
Ching! CHING!! I hear TWO angry parties braying for blood.

"Jesus knows how difficult it is to pull out of Islam, but He'll give you strength and courage to do it."

An insult to all that who are not us!
KA CHING! i think the comic struck the jackpot.

There is creepy in this world, and then theres the downright scary. i think this comic falls on one extreme end.

-yc out

like a dog on a leash (and the dracula ant)

schmoly flecks of phelgm! This is why i love carl zimmer so much. He's got a pechant for the parasites that makes any one so slightly uneasy to downright hurl-worthy disgusted. This time its Ampulex compressa, a parasitic wasp not unlike the ichineumon. Most just paralyse their prey and drag it down a burrow and lay eggs on them. This one dosent.

It first jabs its stinger down a cockroach in the midsection. This makes the roach's front legs buckle, allowing the wasp to leisurely snake its stinger now INTO the roach's brain and inject another neurotoxin, taking down its escape response, and susceptible to control.
Next, the wasp climbs atop the roach, and guides the doomed fucker by its antennaes into a ready dug burrow.
She lays an egg on the zombiefied roach. It does not resist, fight or flee.

The egg hatches.
The Larvae enters roach.
The larvae eats the roach.
The larvae pupates inside roach.
And the zombiefied roach remains vividly alive and aware all this while.
And finally, from the midsection, in classic ALIENS style, the chestburster emerges and begins another lifecycle of eating, mating and making zombies out of roaches.

So the next time you step on a roach, consider it an act of mercy. Better instantaneous squish than long slow vivid im-beling-eaten-alive.

On the other hand, a further relative of the wasp, the ant, has another creepy species up its sleeves. Dubbed the "Dracula Ant", adults will catch and chew on their young larvae until they bleed, and feed on the hemolymph (insect blood) that leaks out. They feed soley on this blood (cant take on solid foods), and usually take enough to sustain themselves without killing their young. Well, usually. The young larvae feed like normal ants on solid food brought back by the adults (ie paralysed prey, much like how wasps do it), and have been observed to run and hide when they sense an adult entering their chamber. No, i wouldnt want to be in that family.

Isnt it amazing just how things are so different (to the extents of beauty and repulsion) when we look at nature other than our ourselves? These insects, they operate on wholly different principles from us, and it is such diversity that makes this world truly, wonderfully, terribly, beautifully livable.

well, that's it for today's creature feature!

-YC out