Wednesday, November 2, 2011

boom explodey pow

Anyone who has ever seen a tank will know that it has as its main weapon a rather large gun that is mounted on an armored platform, called a turret, which is capable of turning a full 360 degrees. When I say large, I mean that the gun has a caliber ranging from 105 to 150mm. If you think that's small, understand that the shells the gun fires are between 10.5 and 15 centimeters across. For some perspective, a 12.7mm round to the shoulder would take your entire arm off, so imagine what would happen if something that big hit you. Most tank guns have barrels that are smooth, though there are slightly better ones, usually British, that are rifled. What this means is that the canon has internal grooves, not unlike those you'd find on a candy cane, that vastly improves its accuracy so it doesn't just 'hit something over there'.

These magic wands of death typically fire two different kinds of rounds (a fancy military term for a big, exploding bullet): armor piercing and high explosive. Now the people who design tanks would very much rather not have them exploded by other tanks, so obviously they try their very best to make them as least likely to get blasted apart as possible by covering them in armor specifically designed not to get penetrated by rounds fired from their enemies. This is why armor piercing rounds, as its name suggests, are specifically designed to try and pierce such armor. High explosive shells, on the other hand, are meant for blasting apart specially strengthened buildings you might have the misfortune of attempting to hide in on the battlefield.

Now there is no point having all of this if you can't aim your nice, big gun properly, so the tank people have used and developed fancy ways of making sure the tank round hits whatever the gunner (or tank commander, depending on who's boss) wanted to hit instead of some poor sod's house. In the good old days of World War II, this was accomplished, albeit not with complete success, by actually looking at the target with your eyes via either a periscope, which was the safest way at that time, or by opening a hatch on top of the tank and peeking out at the surrounding environment, though doing this would expose your precious noggin to sniper fire. Today's tanks have all sorts of fancy technological wizardry that use different types of sensors, computers and of course physics to make sure the the gun's shells hit the correct target.

Tanks sometimes have to fire their canons while moving, and because canons are very big and heavy things, they tend to flop about when the tank is rolling. This would obviously make aiming and firing rather difficult, so they have to be stabilized by a gyroscope, which is basically a much more expensive and complicated version of that spinning, top-like thing you had as a toddler. Tank guns also tend to be fitted with muzzle brakes, which are specially designed caps put on their ends to prevent the canons from jerking back excessively when they fire their big, heavy rounds.

If you have ever played with fireworks, you will know that gunpowder emits a lot of nasty, putrid smoke, and gunpowder is still used to fire tank rounds today, which is why a fume extractor, usually attached to the gun somewhere in the middle, is needed to stop fumes from entering the crew compartment. This is very important because there's no point having a tank when its crew is dead from breathing in too much of that toxic smoke. Also, something called an insulating thermal jacket is sometimes wrapped around the entire barrel (the long, protruding part of a gun) to prevent it from getting bent when used for extended periods of time. This rather unpleasant side effect happens when the extreme heat released during the firing of rounds isn't distributed evenly, causing the hotter bits of the gun to expand more quickly than the relatively cooler bits.

Bear in mind that there will be very unhappy people trying to knock out your precious tank with rockets and bazookas, and you will have to shoot them to make sure that they don't, but using your tank's main canon to fire at people is quite pointless for two reasons - one: that big gun can't be fired fast enough (normal firing rates are a few rounds a minute) to kill every single bazooka-toting Afghan running at you, and two: you DO NOT need a fifteen centimeter bullet to kill a reasonably sized human being. This is why all tanks have smaller normal machine guns, usually with a caliber of 7-8mm, mounted right next their main guns. Also, if your enemy is smart, he might try to drop bombs on your tank with a helicopter, or if he's both rich and smart, a jet, so bigger 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine guns are usually mounted on the roof to turn any aircraft the Iraqis throw at you into flaming piles of very expensive scrap metal. Oh yes, war sounds like fun now doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gods of Naughtiness

I know that there are certain people who will want to have me lynched for saying this, but I shall be brutally honest and tell you right now that I don't believe in God. This doesn't mean that I don't respect the opinions of people who have such beliefs, because I do. No, really. However, unless you're one of those hateful unreasonably staunch fanatics, you will agree with me that the only sensible argument you could possibly have going for the existence of such an entity is faith, and nothing more, which is why I would have to strongly disagree with a certain article that has been handed to me for inspection.

Now I will be frank and say that whoever wrote this hasn't been very clear about what he or she's on to, but from what I can make of it he or she is trying to brainwash us into thinking that the reason things exist as they are is due to an highly superior unseen presence, or a God, if you will. I can actually end this whole thing by saying that you simply cannot use something that hasn't been proven to exist as a valid argument for anything, but because I have to write a 400 word essay on this I shall be forced to elaborate.

In his opening sentence, the writer assumes that almost everyone knows that the Earth spins around its axis at speeds of thousands of miles an hour, which, as a certain someone pointed out, is a rather ambitious assumption because as far as I'm concerned it moves quite slowly, or at least it seems this way from here. He or she then proceeds to mumble something about big tortoises standing on the the top of huge elephants, which I couldn't see the relevance of initially but after considerable ponderation I suspect this is supposed to refer to a time when humans existed as huge, hairy gorillas.

The writer then proceeds to spit out some apparent facts about the Earth and our existence in general, and while I must admit that said facts are logical and make rather alarming amounts of sense, I feel inclined to point out that he or she should have at least included some credible references after the text to prove that the aforementioned facts are in fact true. All of this was supposed to be proof of the existence of some sort of higher being, because as he says: 'Such a well-organised structure cannot exist and be created incidentally, can it?'

If this ignoramus ever bothered taking secondary school physics, he or she would know that the reason everything in this part of the universe is so well balanced is because of something called equilibrium, which occurs when the forces acting on something balance each other out. Now if whatever magical forces acting on our world weren't in equilibrium, just like most other objects in the universe, we wouldn't even exist. The writer mentions that the reason we are alive and well right now is because the conditions here are just right, but what he or she neglected to consider was the fact that most of the universe isn't as fortunate as the part that we are miraculously lucky enough to live in, which is why the rest of it seems so lifeless until you take into consideration the significant possibility of something else living and breathing in a region of outer space even the most ridiculously expensive equipment can't explore.

Our beloved writer does not seem to have a reasonable understanding of the English language, a fact proven when he describes Darwin's theory of evolution as notorious, because it most certainly is not, reason being the word notorious lends whatever it's being used to describe a rather negative connotation. Famous yes, but definitely not notorious. The philistine then even goes as far as to say that the fact that no one still seems to know how we came about to exist, even after tedious amounts of researching and hypothesizing, is proof of the existence of an almighty being. I find this rather ridiculous because you simply can't attribute everything we're dumb enough not to know to this entity called God.

As a last-ditch attempt to justify his/her argument, the author starts quoting statements from famous scientists who favor the existence of a higher being, and while these were people who made huge contributions to all things scientific, they are merely opinions, and opinions do not guarantee fact. Whoever wrote this does not seem to be very bright because 'All believers of a religion cannot be wrong; at least the grain of truth must exist.' This is something called herd mentality, and I'm sure you've heard of it. There was a dark time when everyone was marrying their sisters, but I'm quite sure this wasn't right at all, unless of course you had some sort of weird, creepy fetish for incest.

The article finishes with 'Anyway, it is appealing to believe in something as pleasant as the reservation of the tiny hostel somewhere in paradise, which you might deserve after passing away, instead of something so horribly and terribly named as nothingness, isn't it?' Basic logic tells me that when we die, we cease to exist, so there's nothing for us to suffer or enjoy. Now of course I can't be completely sure of this, but when I do get out of here and if I find out that there really is an afterlife, I'll be sure to try my best to let you know what it's like.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Emission omission

I've just noticed a rather significant (or insignificant, depending on how seriously you take the art of engine-making) blunder in my previous post. I mentioned that a certain French automotive manufacturer has given birth to a tiny engine capable of producing as much power as an engine twice its size with only a fraction of its emissions. As it turns out, the aforementioned car giant was Italian, not French. Yes, it was Fiat that came up with the 1.2-liter two-cylinder 85bhp TWIN-AIR engine, not Renault. I sincerely apologize for providing you with the wrong information, a consequence of my unrelenting tendency to be lazy.

This engine is one of the fundamental reasons why I would reject the very concept of a hybrid. You see, I'm an insufferable petrol head (and a pyromaniac, if there's even the slightest relation) and any self-respecting petrol head would only want to be seen in something that's powered purely by some form of crude oil. The reason for this is simple, really: Petrol powered automobiles provide us with the widest grins upon flooring of the throttle. There are plenty of imbeciles who will tell you the a car's one and only purpose is to get you from one point to another, and it is these imbeciles who will be willingly seen bumbling about in one of those god-awful hybrids. In case you didn't know, a Prius is one of the worst cars to drive around in. Yes, it probably will save you a few quid on gas, but it's one of the dullest things available to mankind. The handling is rubbish, it takes roughly an hour to get from 0 to 60, and only people like Leonardo DiCaprio are to be seen in one. If you actually take the time to think about it, running out of petrol has absolutely no negative environmental effects. In fact, we're actually doing our planet a favor because no fossil fuel = no pollution. I therefore urge every single one of you to climb into the nearest V8 and make merry with the accelerator. If we're going to run out of fossil fuel we might as well enjoy every last bit of it as best we can, and that's exactly what the TWIN-AIR is for. I have previously mentioned that this revolutionary little thing will make hybrids the automotive equivalent of Betamax, and I still stand by it.

Why would you buy a Prius with its dirty internal combustion engine and its toxic batteries when you can get cars that spit out nothing but water? No, you aren't dream-reading, there really are cars with drinkable emissions. Such cars run on hydrogen, one of the most abundant elements in the UNIVERSE, and therefore if you're genuinely interested in saving Mother Earth you should get one of these instead. Do yourself a favor and give it a nice long thought: a car that runs on something available in plentiful amounts not just here but in places further than the Hubble telescope can see, and when you're feeling a bit thirsty you could simply place a mug at your vehicle's tailpipe.

Now I shall tell you that I'm not pulling you leg on this one because there already are hydrogen powered cars running around in exclusively selected places. I am of course talking about the Honda FCX Clarity, a car so very sexy that if it should appear right in front of you right now you'll find your unmentionables having emissions of their own. This of course sounds too good to be true, and sadly it is, at least for the moment because the process of extracting hydrogen itself consumes a rather alarming amount of energy, but then if they can send people to the moon I'll bet my bollocks that they'll figure out a much better way to do it soon enough.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Internal combustion fuelled transport has always been a problem (at least for environmentalists) since pollution started coming into the picture. This of course presented an almighty business opportunity to the world's leading automotive manufacturers, who decided that the world needs something that sips as little fuel as possible. Naturally, everyone decided that the best way to go about this business would be to come up with a vehicle that runs mainly on fuel but is assisted via electrical means wherever possible so as to reduce emissions while increasing mileage (we're looking at you, Toyota). And so, the hybrid was born.

For the ignoramuses among you who still don't know what a hybrid is, let me explain:
A hybrid is a vehicle that is propelled by two or more different sources of power, and in most cases it would be a combination of petrol/diesel and electricity. The whole point of this is to save on fuel and more importantly, cut down on those nasty, nasty things that come out of a car's tail pipe as the electricity is supposed to assist the car in moving so that less petrol would be needed.

Now I shall attempt to explain to you how exactly a hybrid works, and this might get a bit technical depending on whether or not you finished your primary school education so bear with me. A hybrid essentially consists of an internal combustion engine, a very big lithium-ion battery (the same kind you'd find behind your cell phone) and electric motors, usually one at each wheel. The batteries power the electric motors which are used to assist the car when accelerating, and because a car uses more power as it goes faster, this is supposed to help save on fuel. Most hybrids also have the option of only running on batteries at low speeds, usually up to 40km/h, which eliminates fuel use altogether and of course emissions. Each motor also acts as a generator which charges the batteries when the car is coasting down or whenever the brakes are applied. This is the reason why so many Hollywood celebrities have chosen the unholy Prius as their runabout of choice in their miserable attempts to gain green credentials.

As green as all this sounds, there is, however, one little niggle: The process involved in making a hybrid vehicle like a Prius actually does more damage to the environment than said Prius would be able to redeem in its entire petrol-and-emission saving life. This is because the bits needed to make the battery like lead and magnesium are actually rather toxic and need to be mined and then shipped from various parts of the world to the place where the batteries are made, and any idiot can tell you that mining releases the sort of things that would make Mother Nature flinch. Then of course the raw material is shipped by means of huge barges that release the wrath of their engines into the unsuspecting atmosphere.

So there you go, the Prius isn't actually as green as it seems. Hybrids are also rather expensive, so it would be better to just get a small car with a small engine because that would use about the same amount of petrol as a Prius. Then there was the time Top Gear put a Prius on a track, told it to go as fast as it could and had a BMW M3 follow it, and surprise, surprise, the Prius actually drank more petrol than the M5. Now this makes the Prius look quite bad when you consider that an M3 has a big-bore V8, which just proves that a hybrid wouldn't be all that good if you were to drive it on the Autobahn at high speeds.

Renault recently came up with a tiny two cylinder engine that put out as much power as a four cylinder engine twice its size with just a fraction of its emissions. Now there is a very real possibility that cars having engines like this would make hybrids obsolete and unnecessary since the process of making one is exactly the same as that of other conventional cars.

This brings us to the question of whether or not hybrids are still relevant, and the answer would depend on whether or not engineers can figure out a nicer way to make their batteries, otherwise it will be much better if we just stick to small engines like the one mentioned above.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Magic Toothpaste

I've always looked forward to the day I would go out and buy the latest issue of TopGear, after which I would read it on the way home and then read it some more until my mother told me it was time for dinner. The reason for this is that I have been, and still am, a huge fan of things on four or more wheels since I first knew what a car looked like. However, the reason I've chosen the aforementioned motoring magazine over the countless others available is because I've developed a taste for that exclusively English blend of witty writing containing plenty of dry humour, properties that provide genuine reading pleasure, if I may.

Unfortunately, the BBC decided that each significant portion of the world would have its very own version of the magazine, and so TopGear Malaysia was born. This had the nasty side effect of having our local motoring journalists writing for the magazine, which wouldn't be a problem at all if they actually knew how to write. I experienced some very nasty palpitations the first few times I read the articles written by these amateurs and have since then tried my very best to avoid their reviews.

I shall justify my stand by using a review about the new and very sexy BMW 640i coupe as an example. Now you should bear in mind that all this was written by the editor of TopGear Malaysia, a position that makes his literary blunders all the more intolerable.

One of the things that makes the articles by the original UK journalists so appealing is that there is a certain flair to their writing that is glaringly absent in those written by their Malaysian counterparts. The proper way to write something like this is to make sure everything comes together nicely, but in this article it's like as though our editor decided to make a list of the things he'd want in the review and went 'All right I shall write this first, and then this and then that', which really isn't the way to go about as a journalist for TopGear. This had the unintended effect of making some of his sentences seem rather mechanical. The only way you'd properly understand what I'm saying would be to read the whole thing yourself.

Of course, this being an English magazine, the writer tried to be as English as possible in his style of writing. However, this didn't quite work and his failure is especially evident in the first two paragraphs of the article. The thing with this sort of writing is that you either do it properly or you don't do it at all, and you can see how his miserable attempts would detract from the joy of reading such an article.

There are also quite a number other miscellaneous stylistic errors that make this article less than a joy to read, one of which being the somewhat clichĂ© manner the editor writes certain things. For example: 'The rear seats are great as long as you are not taller than DC (DC being the editor's initials). An interesting point to note: If in the future you happen to purchase a red 640i coupĂ©, and you find a little indent on the ceiling/roof,then...”DC was here”.' Nobody writes like this any more! There was also a sentence where he put words probably meant as sarcasm in inverted comas: 'We only got to test the “humble” 640i with “puny” numbers like 450Nm from 1300 – 4500rpm.' Really? Then there are the instances when he tries to fit too many things in a single sentence, resulting in a difficulty understanding said sentence without having to read it over and over again.

However, the worst sin committed in the writing of this review would be the appalling grammatical errors that so obviously show themselves even when one is merely skimming through the pages. Even then, this article isn't the worst I've seen as just last month another review written by the same person contained a rather alarming number of such errors. Of course these mistakes could merely be typos, but then this just shows that the lazy bastards never bothered proof-reading their work but then again, typos are mainly spelling blunders and not the screwing up of an entire sentence. This, I would say, is the main reason why I don't read the things written by our local reviewers any more.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pixie Poop

The people in charge of this university, it seems, aren't really that smart after all. Yes, our university may now stand higher than any of its lesser counterparts in Asia (at least according to some sources), but I have a rather nasty feeling that this ranking was based merely on all things academic. You see, I don't think the higher-ups here have nearly as much know-how on the way students work. It's really as though they've long forgotten the times when they were staying up all night to finish whatever needed handing in the next day.

I am of course referring to the way they cater to our rather demanding food requirements. Yes, there may be five places to eat from, but four of them close at 9pm, while the last one opens at six in the evening and closes at two in the morning. Now anyone will know that as people whose main responsibility is cramming facts (whether or not we actually understand the aforementioned facts is another issue) into our catastrophically overworked brains, our needs for stomach-filling extends to way beyond two in the morning. Therefore, it remains a great mystery as to why the campus authorities have yet to let us have an eating facility that is open throughout the night. Now because we haven't anywhere to go on campus when our collective tummies start rumbling in the wee hours of the morning, we're forced to stock up on instant noodles, and in case you happen to be an ignorant imbecile I shall tell you that these have the surprising side effect of being bad for you. If you haven't got any food you will find that you have no choice but to waste precious study time to walk to the nearby convenience store, which also only has instant food.

There was a time in the middle of the previous semester when a significantly large area around McDonald's was cordoned off for some sort of mysterious construction and upgrading work. At that exact same time LG7 conveniently decided that it too would like an upgrade. Unsurprisingly, everything went terribly wrong when there wasn't enough room for everyone to eat. When LG7 reopened, LG5 moved down and as it turns out there still isn't nearly enough space for everyone to eat during lunch hour. As a result we spend, on average, fifteen minutes trying to find a place and another fifteen minutes lining up to get our food. Now you can see how this would be a problem for someone, such as yours truly, who only has a half-hour lunch break on certain days.

Everyone was trying to guess what it was that was being installed behind the scaffolds surrounding the fast food joint. Was a Subway finally coming here? Alas, we were cruelly disappointed when we found out that besides adding a McCafe, they just made McDonald's bigger.

It is because of these things that I have come to the conclusion that the bigwigs don't quite care for our physical well-being, at least in terms of food intake. Now if you're reading this and you're one of the aforementioned bigwigs and you strongly disagree with me, I highly recommend you prove me wrong by letting us have some food that's actually healthy, and you can start by having a Subway here. Next, and more importantly, open a canteen that we can eat from all night. I'm really surprised that someone hasn't already done that since it's a huge money-making opportunity, plus we shall then possess the ability to somewhat pacify our insatiable night-time appetites. Win-win!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Oh sweet fish balls

I suppose it's time I resurrect this thing considering that the last time it has seen action was almost a year ago. I, unfortunately, am not here because I finally decided to share the contents of my brain cells online but because I haven't got a choice since the compulsory language course I'm taking, Styles of English for Engineers II requires that we write a blog entry at least once a week, which I guess is a good thing since my rusty writing skills need to be brought back to working order. So we're given a list of very vague things we're allowed to write about, though we've been told to be nice about whatever it is we're putting down which would be rather hard for me since I've chosen to write a complaint, reason being the time-honored tradition of complaining is one of the things we as human beings do best. I've chosen to complain about the food situation on campus, simply because I can't stand it much longer.

I'll be frank and say that I've gotten sick of the food here. No, really, it's so bad that even when my stomach's completely empty, I don't feel like eating. At all. Now I know some of you may have some strange, weird friends who don't eat much or/and don't feel like eating even though they haven't had anything all day, but I shall tell you know that I'm the sort of person capable of eating four Big Macs in a row with room to spare for a Double Cheeseburger, and I can't go for more than four hours before I feel the need to replenish my tummy, so you can see how this situation feels quite wrong for someone as metabolically endowed as myself, very wrong indeed.

I know that there are 4 main eateries on campus, 3 of which have very generous menus and the depressing fact that I've gotten tired of eating from all of them pretty much speaks for the degree of my predicament. Now the canteen that I have elected to have most of my meals is called LG5, because apparently it's five floors underground. This particular eating facility has a menu that occupies half the wall it's mounted on, and that has made me take twenty minutes to decide what to have for the first and half of the second semester (to the exasperation of my roommate), after which I never wanted to look at it anymore. I also found out the hard way that they have a horrible misinterpretation of the term 'Thai food'. The same applied for the LG7 below, though I only eat there about once or twice a week because it smelled funny. There's a coffee shop/cafe upstairs but I don't like eating there because it's mostly expensive western food. As for LG 1, which is where I have breakfast, if I was up early enough that is, I was getting sick of having lunch there too. This was simply because one of the best things there was the barbecued pork rice, aka charsiewfan, and there was a point of time where I had it every time I was there for lunch because I was sick of the mixed rice where what was supposedly sweet and sour pork was merely sauce-covered flour. The thing that I find completely intolerable, at least by Malaysian standards, is the fact that they use WHITE rice instead of the oily rice without which charsiewfan isn't charsiewfan. Really, white rice?

Now the main reason I can't stand eating here any more even though the food quality is actually quite decent is because as a Malaysian I've come to expect and observe a certain standard of eating, and as such I desire a certain quota of Malaysian grub every now and then. Also, try eating around the same menus every day for four months. I shall now tell you that I'm used to having either fishball noodle soup, proper Malaysian charsiewfan and wantanmee, or, if I'm feeling particularly spicy, curry mee or nasi lemak, every day, for breakfast and/or lunch. Now imagine not being able to have any of that for four bloody months, and you might just get a hint of where I'm coming from. Really, it's one of the most tormenting things I've had to withstand living here.

However, the single most unforgivable atrocity in UST's catering services is that the three main cafeterias close at nine, or sometimes even earlier if their feeling lazy, and McDonald's only opens until ten. There's another canteen near the halls that only opens at night until two in the morning, but that's rubbish so we're going to leave it out here. The people who run this university should know better than anyone else is that most students have a habit of staying up till the wee hours in the morning, either to study or to other non-academic (and usually unmentionable) things. So I think, and surely you would have to agree with me, that it's preposterous for them not to have an eating facility that's not open twenty four hours a day.

It is because of this that I've actually gotten sick of McDonald's, and I never thought a day would ever come where I would get sick of indulging myself in America's pride and joy. The reason for this is simple, really. McDonald's is the only main restaurant that's fully functional till ten, and because everything else closes at nine, I usually end up eating junk food a few times a week. Worst of all, there was a really low point in my life here when I almost got sick of instant noodles, the wonderful things that I've cherished since my mother lost the ability to keep me away from them. Since it's only normal to get hungry at the most inappropriate times in the morning, I've been regularly having them, sometimes everyday, and besides the horrifying possibility of my not wanting to ever have them again, this situation also has a funny side effect of being bad for my health. Now I know why so many of the locals my age are suffering from acute hair loss.