Howie Lee, Ma On Shan, Hong Kong (SCMP letters 31 March 2011)
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7 optical illusions
15 hours ago
TV presenter dazzles audience with tales of the universe
Friday, 22 March, 2013, 4:02pm
Masters of the Universe – meet Wonders of the Universe.
Hard-nosed bankers sat in respectful silence as Brian Cox, scientist, television presenter and former pop star, explained the Big Bang, the importance of research and why it’s not a bad thing for scientists to play around.
In a wide-ranging talk to the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference on Friday, Cox, a particle physicist, launched his lecture with a picture from the European Space Agency’s Planck space observatory. The image showed the oldest light – dating back to a mere 380,000 years after the birth of the universe.
“What you’re looking at here is a snapshot of, essentially, fluctuations in the density of the early universe. These are the seeds of the galaxy,” Cox told an audience of financiers, who, for once, looked more excited by life, the universe and everything than by mergers and acquisitions.
Cox, who has presented a series of BBC flagship science programmes, including Wonders of the Universe, Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of Life, is a professor at Manchester University. In Britain he has become a household name and, due to his legion of adoring female fans, is the man credited with making science sexy.
He also works on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, near Geneva, which was useful when he explained how the Big Bang had helped shape life.
The picture also helped to pinpoint the origin of the universe.
“The universe is 13.81 - plus or minus 0.05 - billion years old,” he said, in a talk which ranged from cosmology to practical outcomes of science, including such “serendipitous side-effects” like the invention of the Internet.
“The great side-effect from CERN, without a doubt, which many of you know of, was the Worldwide Web, which was absolutely invented at CERN to face the challenges of problems that we had at CERN back in the 1980s and 1990s,” said Cox, who raised a laugh when he noted that the line manager of Tim Berners-Lee, generally seen as the father of the Internet, dismissively described Berners-Lee’s proposal as “vague but exciting”.
“Within a few years – within a decade certainly – this proposal transformed the global economy. There’s no doubt about that. Could it have been invented elsewhere? Possibly,” said Cox, emphasising that CERN’s open culture facilitated the flow of ideas that helped lead to the Internet in March 1989.
Cox, who was probably better known for music than for maths back in the 1990s when he was on keyboards for D Ream, which had several hits, including the UK number one, Things Can Only Get Better, lamented signs of faltering spending on research and development
“This is the node, this link between curiosity-led exploration of nature and economic growth – the generation of new knowledge and the generation of new money essentially, Cox said.
Cox said the pursuit of knowledge tended to produce economic benefits.
“Although it’s difficult to show in any specific case that this is true, it seems to be generally true – it almost seems to be self-evidently true – that the generation of new knowledge is the way that economies grow. Without the generation of knowledge, economies stagnate,” Cox said.
He cited the Nobel Prize winning discovery of graphene “a one atom thick layer of carbon rings bonded together – it’s one of the strongest materials known”.
“You can take a pin, and balance an elephant on the pin on a one-atom thick sheet layer of graphene and the elephant wouldn’t go through the graphene,” said Cox, predicting that graphene had huge potential in composites. It was also one of the best conductors of electricity, and an efficient transmitter of heat.
It was discovered by Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim at Manchester University with a piece of sellotape and a pencil.
“They were playing around, and Andre Geim, in particular, is a great advocate for the fact that new knowledge is generated when scientists are free to play,” said Cox.
Former world mixed doubles champ decides not to renew contract after a decade at helm
Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
Chan Kin-wa firstname.lastname@example.org
Hong Kong's table tennis team is seeking a head coach after Hui Jun decided not to extend his contract when it expires at the end of this month.
A former world mixed doubles champion from the mainland, Hui joined the China national team as a coach in the late 1980s after retiring from playing. He has been coaching in Hong Kong since 1998 and took up the head coaching job at the Sports Institute in 2002.
Over the past decade, Hong Kong achieved their best Olympic result in the sport when Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching won a silver medal in the men's doubles at Athens 2004, while the women's team won two silver medals at the 2004 and 2006 World Championships.
An advertisement has been posted for the top job, which carries a maximum salary package of HK$1.6 million.
Hui's wife, Li Huifen, who is the Hong Kong women's team's coach, said yesterday the decision to leave had been made, without giving further details. "We will let you know our plans very soon," she said.
We will let you know our plans very soon
Chan Kong-wah, a table tennis coach at the Sports Institute, is one of the favourites for the position, but the former Hong Kong team member refused to comment yesterday.
Hong Kong's table tennis team have been a major force at the world's highest level, but are in transition since the world governing body introduced a ban on players aged over 21 representing an adopted country at world title events in 2008.
In the past, Hong Kong have been reliant on players from the mainland to achieve results, but this has to change.
One of the major responsibilities of the new head coach will be to nurture local talent to fill the gap following the retirement of men Ko and Li, and women Lin Ling and Zhang Rui.
Some hope for the future was provided over the weekend as Minnie Soo Wai-yam won the under-15 women's singles at the Italian Open.
Hong Kong also took a silver medal in the girls' team event after a close defeat to Japan, and the boys' team finished with a bronze medal.
Friday, 08 March, 2013, 3:03am
This has all the makings of a tempest in a Nutella jar, which may not be as appealing as a Nutella milkshake, Nutella fudge or Nutella-stuffed French toast. Or stolen Nutella, which, apparently, has mouth-watering appeal at New York's Columbia University.
Last month one of Columbia's undergraduate dining halls began serving Nutella every day, not just in crêpes on weekends.
For the uninitiated, Nutella is a creamier-than-peanut butter, chocolate hazelnut spread from Italy that a university student might eat a whole jar of in a single sitting when the pressure is on.
The problem was that the Columbia students went through at least 45kg a day, according to a first-year member of the Columbia College Student Council who had urged the university's Dining Services operation to provide it in the first place.
Apparently they were not just eating it in the dining hall, they were spiriting it away in soup containers and other receptacles, to be eaten later.
Before you could say chocolate-covered Nutella marshmallow cookies, the council member, Peter Bailinson, heard from Dining Services chief Vicki Dunn. The subject was how much Nutella students were taking back to their dorms.
"People take silverware, cups and plates, and that adds up over the course of a year to a lot of money," he said. "With Nutella, it added up much more quickly. Where Dining might have to spend US$50,000 to replace silverware and cups, they were spending thousands of dollars on Nutella in one week."
Dunn "told me it was close to US$5,000 in the first week," he said. As for the amount of Nutella that Columbia students were consuming, or at least loading up on and walking away with, he said, "I was told it was more than 100 pounds [45kg] per day."
Third-year student Jeff Desroches said he made off with Nutella when he was stressed out before final exams. "Usually," he said, "people apply peanut butter on one slice of the bread and Nutella on the other slice, but I apply thick layers of Nutella to both slices of the bread".
Nutella is not the only thing that disappears from the dining halls. Of 11 students questioned on campus, all confessed to having spirited away bread and bottles of ketchup, not to mention milk and fruit.
I dare say the student at Peking University who commented on Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's Putonghua was either being parochial or simply cocky ("Could do better, Donald - that goes for all of us", March 8).
Anyone who has travelled around China knows that not too many Chinese speak the "Beijing tongue".
Tell the student to go to Chongqing or Wuhan. I bet he will meet a lot of people there who speak Putonghua with such a heavy accent that he would hope to be able to communicate in English.
Putonghua has become Putonghua from a Beijing dialect because of a decision of the central government.
If Cantonese had been chosen as the national tongue (for argument's sake), I am sure equally many people would find it difficult to manage.
Even English, another widely spoken language, is spoken with many tonal inflections that baffle native speakers.
Wilkie Wong, Pok Fu Lam
Some 17 families have left the Anglican diocese after St John's Cathedral confirms claim that priests are still using online sermons dishonestly
Sunday, 24 February, 2013, 12:00am
Lana Lam email@example.com
St John's Cathedral appears to be fighting a losing battle against plagiarising priests - a practise that has already led 17 families of believers to leave the Anglican church.
A former parishioner at the Emmanuel Church in Pok Fu Lam, a St John's affiliate, said four priests were guilty of using sermons from the internet and preaching them as if they were their own.
He said they had been doing so for 18 months.
The Very Reverend Matthias Der, the new dean of the cathedral, confirmed that some priests had persisted with their plagiarism despite his warnings against the practice at his first meeting with them in September.
"There is still bad practice in some of the priests," Der said on Friday, without confirming the number of clergy involved.
"I told my clergy that any kind of use of outside sources needs to be attributed," Der said of the September meeting.
"I understand that when we do research, we will look at other people's writing, but if we are using direct quotes then we need to attribute them. Plagiarism is not acceptable."
Several priests are still failing to cite their sources. Der said: "When I learned of this a few weeks ago, I [again] made it clear to my colleagues that it was not acceptable."
The former parishioner, who had attended Emmanuel Church for almost a decade, said he left recently because of the dishonesty of the priests and the inaction of the church.
"It is very disappointing to see the extent of plagiarised sermons published on the websites of St John's Cathedral and Emmanuel Church, even though this was brought to the cathedral's attention 18 months ago," he said.
The church keeps an online audio archive of its sermons. It shows a number of priests have included direct quotes from sermons or church newsletters found online with no attribution of the original source.
The Sunday Morning Post contacted some of the priests accused of plagiarism, but they refused to comment.
Two of them told the Post to speak to the dean, while another denied the allegation.
Der said the priests accused of plagiarism "all have different reasons" for their actions.
He said he was surprised when he realised what was happening.
"I had heard of [plagiarism by priests] before, but I had never met anyone who had done it," he said.
Der said plagiarism called into question a person's honesty.
"If we borrow, we need to attribute and that is the part they didn't do," he said. "It's an unfortunate issue and it's not something I condone or support."
Der said he always advised his clergy to prepare original sermons.
"While we research and look at other sources, the sermons we deliver are meant to be from our own preparations," he said.
Referring to the departure of the 17 families because of the ongoing plagiarism by priests of the church, he said: "Losing a single parishioner pains me, but unfortunately that has happened.
"Under my watch, this is an issue I take seriously and I'm doing my best to amend it.
"I trust my colleagues will comply or there will be more serious consequences."
Police want immigration to crack down on bogus Buddhist monks working as beggars in the same way that they deal with prostitutes
Sunday, 24 February, 2013, 12:00am
John Carney and Jennifer Cheng
Mainland beggars masquerading as Buddhist monks should be treated the same as prostitutes, and the immigration authorities should crack down on the practice, according to police.
One police source familiar with a rising trend of bogus Buddhist monks visiting Hong Kong as "professional beggars" said they may be violating their three-month visitor visas.
Over the past 12 months, the city had seen a major increase in the number of people clad in monks' robes and begging in Central, Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui, the source said. The police arrest people for begging, particularly in Central. But unlike prostitutes, whose work is illegal because they enter Hong Kong on tourist visas, according to the Immigration Department begging does not constitute working.
Stronger penalties would deter bogus monks from coming to the city, the source said, adding that the police wanted a change in immigration laws.
"If these bogus Buddhist monks come here specifically to beg on a three-month tourist visa, why isn't this a breach of their conditions of stay?
"If you come to Hong Kong as a mainland prostitute on a tourist visa, you will be arrested by police for breaching your conditions of stay. Why are these bogus monks not treated the same?"
On Friday night, one man dressed like a Buddhist monk in Lan Kwai Fong tried to sell a wooden beaded bracelet to the Sunday Morning Post. The bracelets - which he said could bring blessings - cost HK$100 each.
The sale of these bracelets constitutes working and is a clear breach of tourist visa laws.
But an Immigration Department spokesman said it was difficult to define whether begging should be classed as work. He noted, however, that it was the police's duty to tackle begging.
"In the case of mainland prostitutes, they breach the conditions of their stay by establishing a business here. It is a clear immigration issue," the spokesman said.
"But it is also clear in the police ordinance that they prosecute beggars. The police are the appropriate authority to enforce the law here. There is no loophole in the immigration law."
Entrepreneur Rory Hussey, whose bar Solas is on Wyndham Street, Central, called the bogus monks a "plague".
Hussey recalled how he went on holiday last year to Thailand and a group of bogus monks were on the same flight, dressed in civilian clothes. "I see them every night, so I recognised them on the plane straight away. A few of them even had girlfriends with them," he said.
In Tsim Sha Tsui, Mike Brown, bar manager of Ned Kelly's Last Stand in Ashley Road, said the impostors "would try to get away with anything".
"They'd blatantly walk in here and ask my customers for money," Brown said. "They're regularly annoying tourists all along Nathan Road."
At Delaney's in Luard Road, Wan Chai, general manager Clare Kirkman told how up to 12 monks could be patrolling up and down the streets.
"They work in pairs; while one begs, the other keeps a lookout for police," she said. "They're a nuisance but they are very well-organised."
Last weekend, authorities in the northern province of Shaanxi closed down two temples on a sacred Buddhist mountain and arrested six people after tourists complained of bogus monks deceiving them into donating money.
Tuesday, 26 February, 2013, 12:00am
Richard Lord firstname.lastname@example.org
Labiaplasty - an operation to reduce one or both of the labia minora, or inner lips of the vagina - is rapidly gaining popularity as women go under the knife for health-related or purely cosmetic reasons.
In the West, the rise in the operation's popularity is startling. In Britain, for example, there's been a five-fold increase in the past five years to more than 2,000 surgeries in 2011 in the public health system alone; while American women spent US$6.8 million on the procedure in 2009, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
It's increasingly common in Asia, too, with the cosmetic surgery hot spot of Thailand catering to a growing number of women from around the region - including plenty from Hong Kong.
Part of the trend for so-called "designer vaginas" - other popular types of cosmetic vaginal surgery include vaginal rejuvenation or tightening, hymenoplasty ("revirgination") and clitoral unhooding - labiaplasty is a fairly straightforward surgical procedure, using a scalpel or laser. It can be performed either under local or general anaesthetic, takes about 20 minutes and rarely goes wrong.
Still, it is not the type of operation that any woman would take lightly. So why are so many women willing to undertake the surgery when many doctors question whether, in most cases, it's necessary, or even advisable, for them to do so?
In this type of surgery, there is no clear dividing line between what is necessary and what isn't.
Overly large labia can be present from birth, but can also be caused or exacerbated by medical conditions, and by the stresses and strains of childbirth, sex, masturbation and even genital piercings. Some women opt for labiaplasty because the size of one or both of their labia is causing them discomfort, or even pain, usually during sex or while undertaking strenuous seated activities such as cycling, but in some cases all the time.
Other women are just unhappy with the appearance of their vagina and want to change it. The problem is there's no definition of a "normal" vagina. There is no set of dimensions women and their doctors can use to determine whether labia are abnormally large. The term labial hypertrophy describes the labia minora extending beyond the labia majora, but that's quite common and may not be a problem in itself.
That has led to concerns that women are opting for the procedure to conform to an unrealistic notion of what the female genitalia should look like. It is the ultimate area in which women are being asked to live up to an ideal of beauty. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says labiaplasty is unnecessary, and possibly unsafe and unethical.
Clinical guidelines state that, in addition to women with any form of gynaecological disease and smokers, the surgery is inadvisable for women with unrealistic body-image goals - but realism in this case is entirely subjective and at least partly culturally defined.
The divide between functional and aesthetic motivations for the surgery is reflected in confusion over which medical discipline performs it. In Thailand, as in many countries, most labiaplasties are undertaken by cosmetic surgeons, but in United States, for example, gynaecologists commonly perform it - largely because they're trying to muscle in on the lucrative cosmetic surgery market. The procedure isn't cheap - costing between HK$8,000 and HK$20,000 in Thailand - and so, as with all cosmetic surgery, doctors have an incentive to recommend it.
In reality, however, a lot of women who undertake the procedure don't need medical prompting. Jenny (whose name has been changed for reasons of patient confidentiality), 29, from Sydney, was thinking about having the operation for at least a decade before she travelled to Bangkok's Yanhee International Hospital 18 months ago.
"I've never liked the appearance of my genitalia," she says. "As a teenager I always felt embarrassed about the way my vagina looked and felt that I was abnormal. I had quite long labia minora with a large asymmetry [of more than 2.5cm] between the length of each side. In particular, I felt uncomfortable to wear small underwear because I would find that my lips might protrude. I often felt embarrassed if I was with a new partner and didn't feel I was sexy. I also found that the lip that protruded could become itchy or irritated from being exposed and was often uncomfortable."
In fact, she adds, the operation didn't feel like a risk at all: "I really disliked the appearance so figured it couldn't be much worse."
She says that the operation itself was a good experience, although she was in pain and swollen afterwards, with an intense itching and burning sensation that lasted several weeks. She adds that she was advised not to have sex for six to eight weeks afterwards, but that it was actually more like four months.
The result, however, she says, "is perfect. It looks totally natural. I am much more confident in myself as a woman and am also more comfortable physically."
Vitasna KetglangThe doctor who performed Jenny's operation was director of the Cosmetic Gynaecology Centre at Yanhee International Hospital, where about 50 labiaplasties are performed a month, and the chair of the Thai Cosmetic Gynaecology Society. She says that labiaplasty has become more popular in recent years because before, "a woman who had not heard about the surgery may possibly have felt insecure about her enlarged labia, but would not do anything about it, and may have considered having an elongated labia minora her 'normal' anatomy.
"Women are becoming more aware of how their body looks down there and are empowered by information. The adult media and the internet may be important tools in disseminating information about the labiaplasty procedure."
As Professor Somyos Kunachak of Bangkok's Yoskarn Clinic says, "This is not a new procedure: we have been performing it for more than 20 years." He adds that most women who have "unsightly" labia - a subjective judgment, of course - want them corrected, but "in the past, they just didn't know that this area could be beautified and may have been a bit shy to request it".
He says that almost all his patients, who include a number from Hong Kong, have the operation for aesthetic reasons, and about half also have vaginal rejuvenation at the same time.
Vitasna, who has also had many patients from Hong Kong, says women come to her for a mixture of aesthetic and functional reasons.
She acknowledges that the operation can pose ethical questions.
"I am an advocate of women's rights and I believe in respecting a woman's autonomy or freedom: women have the right to choose to change their bodies however they like," she says "It is, however, important to determine the motivation for surgery.
"Surgery is just an option. It takes great courage for some women to accept having elongated, large labia. They think it is not normal. Acceptance and surgery are both options women need to weigh."
According to Jano Ha, spokesperson for Kamol Cosmetic Hospital in Bangkok, which is headed by leading aesthetic surgeon Kamol Pansritum, the operation can have a helpful psychological effect. "We have found that many people have had mental problems because of a little part of their body that they did not like. Plastic surgery can help them to fix those parts and so to improve their mental state."
Cosmetic surgery often provokes strong opinions, and surgical genital alteration, of course, is always an emotive subject. Labiaplasty might sound a drastic move, but an increasing number of women feel they need it. That could just be because more women have heard about it, but it could also be because more want it, for whatever reason.
As ever with cosmetic surgery, the line between correcting an abnormality and trying to conform to a physical ideal is often blurred.
Inquisitive, enterprising and resourceful journalist Joyce Man has written an engaging piece to US readers about "weird" names ad...