Monthly Archives: June 2005

The Vatican Exhibition, Singapore

I visited the Vatican Exhibition currently hosted at the Asian Arts Museum yesterday. I had the good fortune to be accompanied by a friend who has visited Vatican and a book on all about the Vatican paintings. I have just one comment to make on it.

Not impressive, not at all impressive.

Let me explain. After having read about the exhibition from the newspapers, I was bugging everyone left, right and center to accompany me. I was literally counting the hours to visiting the exhibitions and see the paintings. And what happened? The first thing that greeted us were brochers on the exhibition in all sorts of languages other than English. Dang!

We decided to chuck brochers and enter the galleries. Instead of seeing the actual exhibition, we found ourself right into the Singapore history art gallery. hmm…..Ok…..nevermind, should have guessed this after all the years of staying here. So on we go, open the next gallery door and wham! We are in the south east asian section!! What on earth!!!

By now, I decided to pay a bit more attention to the signboard and found the answer: A journey of faith. I was stunned, A journey of faith!!

Now I have nothing against this show and I certainly have nothing against showcasing different faiths, but isnt this cheap? Almost all the people there had come specifically to see the Vatican exhibition. Every other gallery was empty but for the Vatican one. All of us were forced to traverse through the entire museum before they could reach it. I found that a pretty immature way of attracting customers or promoting art, whichever was their intention.

Despite all these, when we did reach the exhibition, it did not fail though it did not live up to my humble expectations either. I must admit though, I was biased here. After having toured the british museum and the british art galleries and having had a first hand account of the paintings pocessed by Vatican, I did expect to see at least one painting by Raphael or one of the more famous painters. And I happen to be an avid fan of Raphael. Thus, I guess not seeing even one of his paintings did disappoint me.

However, I must point out that even those paintings on display were awsome.

How on earth did they manage to paint so realistically? The thin veil on the ladies, the staircases, the shadows on the columns, the chubbiness and the rosy-cheek of the infant. I hope someday, I can achieve at least 0.1% of the skills needed to paint them. They were realistic to the core. Expecially Paolo Caliari’s ‘Vision of St. Helena’. St. Helena was the mother of Constatine. She looked regal in a splendid white satin dress which embriodry. She was seated on a chair which according to the incription was rare for a Saint to do. Her eyes were closed and she was leaning her head on her hand. Her expression was one of worry, as if something was worryng her but she was tired of thinking. There was an angel nearby protraied as a baby with wings, which was a common protrayal in those days.

It was the elegance of her posture and the richness of her dress which stupified me. It was so realistic that I was actually tempted to touch her and ask ‘Whats bothering you my lady’.

And the background!. How did he manage to paint the gold sculpture on the wall behind so realistically?? Having said that Caliari was a very famous Venetian painter. Guess its sometimes just fustrating to think that I cant even get half the globe close to what they have achieved………*sigh*…enough about cribbing

There was one more painting of ladies plucking and eat strawberries in the garden while their little ones played around. Unfortunately, I neither remember the name of the paintings nor the painter. Guess, its time to head back to ACM

Vision of St. Helena by Veronese (Paolo Caliari)

Vision of St. Helena by Veronese (Paolo Caliari)

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Whats the point?

I was discussing a subject with my friend yesterday. A subject which keeps reoccuring to my mind in an uncannily frequent manner recently. The subject is: Whats the point of doing what we are doing?

Whats the point of subjecting yourself to the expectations of society? Whats the point of doing what friends and family expect you to do? Whats the point of inhibiting yourself simply because your sense of values imparted ot you by your parents tell you its wrong? Whats the point of doing something you do not believe in? Whats the point of doing something you do believe in? Whats the point of education? Whats the point of working day and out? Whats the point of earning more than what we need to put food on the table and have a roof over our heads? In short, whats the point of living?

We are born with nothing and when we leave, we will take nothing. For the majority of us, we will contribute nothing significant to the development of mankind or civilisation. For the few who do contribute something great, they will be remembered for how long? maybe 10-15 years. It really great, then 300-400 years? If geniuses than 2000-3000 years? 2000-3000 years out of 10000 of mankind’s history, 12 million of earth’s history and 1.2 billion of the history of the universe. For such a short rememberance timespan, is everything worth it? Sure, one can say thats not all that we can achieve, and even if it is, then its quite significant in itself. Agreed, but how significant? All
this scientific, artistic and technological advancement that we zealously persue now, where is it going to lead us?

Maybe to our glory or to our anniliation, but ultimately humankind will have to go wouldnt it? Lets’s look at the other point of view, the micro point of view. We will live for at most 100-110 years. During this 100-110 years, we will study, find a decent job, get married, have kids, bring them up to the best of our abilities, come up in career the furthest we can, watch the kids leave the nest, come up with ailements and eventually leave.

During all this process, we will inhibit ourselves, follow societial norms, have once in a blue moon rebellions, but on the whole, behave as our friends, family and collegues expect us to behave. But do we enjoy life that way? Is it all worth it? Is it worth living for such things at all?

I leave the rest to you…..

Atomic Clock


Dr Louis Essen (r) developed the first atomic clock 50 years ago
The time-keeping device that governs all aspects of our lives, the atomic clock, is celebrating its 50th year.

The first atomic clock, which uses the resonance frequencies of atoms to keep extremely precise time, was born at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory.

Atomic clocks form the standard for Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which governs legal time-keeping globally.

The clocks are vital for rafts of technologies, such as global satellite navigation, and TV signal timings.

Precise and accurate time-keeping is also essential for other synchronised events, such as the distribution and management of electricity, and financial transactions across the globe.

Even London’s Big Ben relies on atomic clocks to keep it right.

The first accurate caesium atomic clock was developed at the NPL in 1955 by Dr Louis Essen.
But the idea was originally proposed by Lord Kelvin in 1879. He said that time-keeping based on how atoms behaved would be a better way to count time intervals than anything else.

“Up until the introduction of the atomic clock, time definition was based on the rotation of the Earth,” Professor Patrick Gill, senior fellow at the lab, told the BBC News website.

“Whilst that was reasonable, it did show variations and the point about using the atomic clock idea is that you are using a frequency which corresponds to the difference in energy of the ground state of atoms – it is pretty accurate compared with astronomical arrangements.”

Atomic clocks are still much more constant than any other current method of time-keeping, although they are sensitive in a very small way to changes in electric and magnetic fields.

The development of the atomic clock was partly helped by technological advances such as radar during World War II.

In the 50 years since the first atomic clock started counting, the devices have grown to be more than 100,000 times more precise.

Atomic time is crucial for a plethora of telecommunications and computing applications, such as coordinating packets of data which are transferred across the net, global positioning satellite (GPS) systems and mobile telephony.

As net data is split in data streams and reassembled, for instance, the timing has to correct at the point of re-assembly.

If not, whatever data has been sent – voice packets in VoIP net phone calls for example – will come out garbled.

Atomic fountains

Now, using a beam of caesium-133 atoms, generated from a special type of oven, the best present-day atomic clocks are able to keep time to within a 10th of a billionth of a second a day.

They do this by counting time based on the way cooled-down caesium atoms jump back and forth between different energy levels.

This occurs at microwave frequencies, with nearly 9.2 billion jumps making up the interval of time known as the second.

Atoms are cooled to narrow down the width of this “resonant frequency”. The narrower that is, the more precise the measurement of time.

“Essen’s initial idea made use of a horizontal beam of uncooled caesium atoms, which travelled across a metre or so. He probed this with a microwave signal at two points along the way,” explained Professor Gill.

The current atomic clocks still use this method, but in a different kind of set-up, known as an “atomic fountain”.

“At the bottom of the fountain you have a cloud of a million atoms which are cooled by lasers – typically to micro-Kelvin temperatures.

“We give them a little kick from below; they travel up a metre in height and fall back down. We then take microwaves and probe them on way up and down.

“From that double probing we can get a very narrow frequency.”

There are five or six standards labs worldwide which now have a similar fountain clock set-up, all contributing to UTC.

There are a significant number of commercial atomic clocks in operation around the world, some of which also contribute to UTC, but they are not as accurate, says Professor Gill.

The next step Professor Gill and his team – and several other groups globally – have been developing replaces microwaves with much shorter wavelengths of laser light.

These optical clocks now under development operate at much higher frequencies and so allow for a much more precise description of time.

It is possible that optical clocks may replace the current microwave clocks as the primary standard of time in a decade or so.

Optical atomic clocks, therefore, have greater potential in improving the performance of global positioning satellite systems to the sub-metre level, according to Professor Gill.

“The technology that uses the most accuracy it can get a hold of is satellite navigation,” said Professor Gill.

“What you have in the GPS satellite systems are rubidium and caesium clocks. Those satellites which provide the basis for triangulation to receivers on the ground are also monitored by ground stations.

“Within those there are master clocks which are more accurate than the satellite ones.

“That gives you typically some nano-seconds’ timing accuracy on the ground and relates to a positional precision of a few metres or so.”

As optical atomic clocks develop, however, they may start to appear in ground stations, then in future generations of satellite systems, which then means sub-metre precision location, even when an object or person is on the move.

This opens up all sorts of possibilities for the military, which heavily relies on GPS, as well as more everyday uses in civil transport and location activities.

“There is even talk of importing receivers into mobiles and having tiny atomic clocks onboard mobile handsets,” said Professor Gill.

“They are not as accurate as caesium fountain systems, but they can be made small and could give local time for periods when your receiver could not see a satellite.”

In September 2004, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (Nist) used computer chip fabrication techniques to make a small atomic clock.

The final development should see a battery-operated system about the size of a sugar lump.

Food for Thought:

How did they start it? If they started the ticking at let’s say 12 noon, then that depends on the starter’s watch wont it? Then how can they say the time is accurate?

How do they know that one ticking is one nanosecond? Afterall, the ticking mechanism was an arbitary framework developed by humans to keep track of ironically, time wasnt it?

The atomic clock is supposed to be accurate to 1 sec in 30 million years, how do they know that?

And lastly, whats the point of so much precision and accuracy governing our lives? Agreed, scientifically, some intutitions may need this kind of precision, but humans for their day to day work?