Paintballing Apophis!

Before I started blogging, I wrote emails to a group of friends, interested in science. Several of these emails I have, after editing, entered as posts for my blog.
The first email (and now the first post on this blog) was about Apophis, an asteroid, that will pass Earth in 2029 at a close distance, and might (with a chance of 1 to 250.000) collide with Earth 7 years later, in 2036

This is an artist impression of Apophis, diameter ~ 270 m with an estimated mass of 27 megatonnes.

A collision with the earth would be a catastrophe. The impact would be the equivalent of 900 megaton TNT, ~ 60.000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.


When Apophis was discovered in 2004, there was a brief period of concern that this asteroid might hit Earth in 2029. It will not, and even in 2036 the chance is almost neglegible

But there are thousands of asteroids with orbits that may bring them close to Earth, so called NEA‘s, and NASA has an observation program to monitor them.

What to do when an asteroid is discovered which is on a crash course with Earth? We will have to deflect it! How? Many solutions have been proposed. Send a rocket to the asteroid and detonate a nuclear bomb, or let the rocket crash itself against the asteroid. Or use a strong laser beam to deflect the course.When you do this while the asteroid is still far away, a tiny change in course could be sufficient.

For a couple of years already a yearly competition “Move an Asteroid” is organised by the Space Generation Advisory Council , for students and young (space) professionals.

This year the competition was won by a MIT graduate student, Sung Wook Paek.

His winning proposal:

Launch a rocket, with a cargo of 5000 kg of pellets, filled with white paint. When near the asteroid, fire two salvos of pellets, timed in such a way, that the (spinning) asteroid will be completely covered with a very thin layer of white paint.

Here are two screenshots of a YouTube clip, published by MIT. In the left picture two pellet clouds are approaching the asteroid.  In the right picture one cloud has painted one half of the asteroid white already.

The colliding pellets will change the course of the asteroid a little bit. That is not new, but the white paint is. The photons from the sun will reflect against this bright white surface, and this results in (additional) radiation pressure. Also a tiny effect, so this kind of action should be taken, many years before the asteroid comes close to the earth.

Cosmic paintball, what a nice idea!

A visitor from Holland

Last week Yolanda, the sister of my friend Paul, has been in Malaysia for a short holiday trip. It was her third visit, but there were still enough interesting things to see.

On Saturday 20-10 Paul and I fetched her from the airport.

She looked remarkably fresh after her 12 hour flight.







The next day Aric and I had dinner with them in our favourite seafood restaurant, near to our condo. When I am back in Amsterdam, Yolanda and I have made it a tradition to meet each other in a fashionable restaurant for an extensive (and often expensive!) dinner. This meal was a lot cheaper.

From Monday until Wednesday we made a trip to Taiping, Kuala Kangsar and the Cameron highlands. Here is the detailed report, Yolanda’s visit, October 2012

Just one picture here. In Kuala Kangsar I went for the first time inside the famous Ubudiyah mosque, after a friendly girl gave us robes to cover our “nakedness”.


This is the result. Cute? Hilarious? Judge for yourself.

Paul still looks skeptical as usual, but Yolanda has a serene,  almost saintly smile on her face.





I had asked her to bring some “stroopwafels”,as I know that my Malaysian friends love those sweet, typical Dutch delicacies. Oh, and she also brought a “fresh” Epipen from Holland, so I will feel safer now when I go jungle-trekking.

Here are two of my IKEA friends, carefully tasting a stroopwafel to find out if they like it. They did…:-)

It was a nice visit. Writing this, she is already back in Amsterdam.


In two earlier posts I have written about my favourite walking ground, Bukit Kiara. About the ugly and useless fence that has been erected by DBKL/JLN this year. About the protests, organised by the Friends of Bukit Kiara and other groups, resulting in a stop-work order by the Ministry. Probably too late as much damage has been done already.

My album The Great Wall of Kiara gives a detailed report.

Here is a Google Earth map from this report. The existing (tar) roads in white, the fence in red, and in blue the recently constructed or widened roads.

The red lines are a bit wiggly, because they are the result of my attempts to follow the fence as closely as possible.

Not always easy, but fun.

Compare this with an (official?) map where I have marked the same parts of the fence in red, and the missing/unfinished parts in orange. The red and yellow lines basically enclose the future Bukit Kiara Park.

The shaded area is the bone of contention, claimed by Berjaya for development.

Note the two red arrows.

The left arrow points to a gap in the fence, not more than 30 meter wide. Why? Here is a possible explanation.

The image below shows an enlarged region of the map above, with my GPS-tracks next to it. The thin straight lines mark the location of the proposed fence. As you see, by mistake or planned, those lines intersect at the other side of the tar road!

Imaginary conversation by the construction workers and their supervisor:

“Boss, we have been building the fence along the lines on the map, but now we have a problem. We have to build the fence across the road, twice even, and that will block the tar road. What to do now, sir?”
“Hmm, I will have to discuss that with my superiors! Leave it for the time being.

One day, on my usual Kiara walk, I came across a group of VIP’s at this exact spot, in apparently serious conversation. Could they be discussing this problem?  LOL

The second arrow points to a part of the fence which I had not yet explored. Would they really have built the fence this way, first going south, then turning almost 180 degrees and going north again? Enclosing a part of Kiara, at the end less than one meter wide?  Hard to believe.

Last week I went to explore this part. Difficult going, steep stretches, even swampy as it crosses a small stream. As I expected the last part is still unfinished, they worked on it when the stop-work order came. In the picture you see where the fence ends. Also you can see the road divider of the Sprint highway at the top of the picture

I could not believe my eyes, when I saw that, YES, they were planning to follow the lines on the map! The poles are already there. I was laughing out loud, all alone in the jungle!

Here is where the two parts of the fences are supposed to meet.To guide the eye, I have connected the poles with red lines.

When they would have continued the job, would  they have been able to fix the actual fencing to the poles, near the end? I have serious doubts.

Where I was standing to take the picture, there is still some space between the two sides. But near the end, there is none.


Birdbrains at work?

Or could Polonius (Hamlet, Act 2) be right:

“Though this be madness, there is method in it”


On 8-7-2012 I visited with my friend Rani a “new” waterfall in the Ulu Langat region. This waterfall is located in a gorge with steep walls and can only be reached by swimming!

The waterfall is around the corner. When we had arrived there and took some rest, I was hit by a piece of rock,falling down from the steep cliff.

The wound was bleeding heavily, luckily I remained conscious. Of course we went back immediately, first a swim(!) and then a two hour walk to the village where in a clinic I got a total of 15 stitches.

Click here for a detailed report. Later in the hospital it was found after a C-T scan that I had a hairline fracture in my skull. It would heal itself, but I should keep quiet for a while. And I did, although I wanted absolutely to go back to this waterfall. For closure/redemption…:-)

But first, after my recovery, I went to Terengganu with Paul and Rahim for a camping trip to waterfalls. All went well, here is the report. And in September I visited, again with Rani, two “new” waterfalls in the Bentong region. This time another mishap occurred, I was stung by a bee, and I have become allergic to bee stings! I wrote about this incident in an  earlier blog post.

Still I wanted to go back to the waterfall where I was hit! So I asked Rani if he would join me and he said, yes. I would have understood if he had declined the invitation, after all on our last two trips he had to think about an emergency procedure to get me out of the jungle, just in case…

To be honest, I did not sleep well, the night before the trip. I was not worried about another rock hitting me, but I am quite afraid now of bees and wasps!

But this time all went well. We visited the waterfall and the spot where I was hit.

Here I am standing at the location where I was hit. Symbolically I have a piece of rock in my hand, similar to the one that struck me.

Of course I looked up quite a few times, just to make sure, that nothing was coming down..:-)

You will also notice that I have been swimming with all my clothes on. That is one precaution I will take always, from now on, to reduce the risk of an encounter with a wasp.

During this visit actually I saw none.


I felt very relieved after this trip. And many thanks to Rani for his trust in me!

Here is the detailed report

The Hudson River School

Now that I have migrated my Multiply albums to my own website and also created my blog on the Stuif site , it is time to get my website out of its hibernation. Because for a long time I have not really maintained it.

So long that I had almost forgotten what I had put into it. Like for example my Virtual Museum. I created it in 2002 as a collection of some of my favourite painters. A very personal choice, often they have not created many works of art, so it is a pleasant surprise when you visit a museum and find out that they have a  Balthus or a Delvaux or a  Cole .

A Cole? Maybe you have never even heard about him.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was the founder of the Hudson River School, an American school of Romantic landscape painters. They started painting in the Hudson Valley (New York) although later they also visited other regions.

This is one of Cole’s paintings, created in 1826. The Falls of the Kaaterskill in the state of New York.

As romantic as it can be. Click on the picture to enlarge it and try to find the single person depicted, to show how fragile a human being is.

With my waterfall addiction I was of course curious to find out if waterfalls were a common topic for these landscape painters.

And indeed, they were..:-)


This is my favourite painting, by Albert Bierstadt, 1830-1902. He was born in Germany but emigrated, one year old, with his family to the USA.

It is called “Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains” and dates from around  1868. The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in California, culminating in Mount Whitney at 4421 m.

California? It looks more exotic, like a landscape in Avatar..:-)

And that was indeed a criticism of his contemporaries, that he was not realistic enough. People were also critical about the size of his paintings, that they were dwarfing the works of his fellow-painters. This one measures (including the frame) 245 x 367 cm !
A beautiful painting.

Here is another one, by Thomas Hill (1829-1908). Also a landscape in California, named Great Canyon of the Sierra, Yosemite. It dates from 1872. Also here signs of human life, an Indian tipi. Keep in mind that this part of the USA had only been recently explored and basically was still Indian territory.

One more, by Thomas Moran (1837-1926). In 1871 he joined, as a guest artist, an expedition to Yellowstone, until then an almost unknown part of the USA.

Back to the East Coast, the Niagara Falls, painted in 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church (1826 – 1900). Church was one on the most influential painters of the Hudson River School.

A final one by Church, possibly his most famous one, an impression of the Andes in South America, where he had traveled to Equador and Columbia a few years earlier. It was completed in 1859 and a huge success on its first exhibition  in New York, with people queuing and paying money to view the painting. Zoom in on the painting and try to find the village with the church, and other details.


About Kwai Loh’s, Ang Moh’s, Mat Salleh’s and more

A Dutch friend asked me, why is your blog called “The life of a Kwai Loh”?
Some of my Chinese Malaysian friends are a bit shocked, and ask me the same question.

Shocked, because Kwai Loh is a “bad” word  :-). It is Cantonese for “Ghost Man” and used for Caucasian people, maybe because of their often “white” complexion. It is generally considered to be a slightly racist word, although not as bad as the N-word in the USA.

But I liked the sound of it, and when I was looking for a suitable nickname for my Multiply website, I thought, why not Kwai Loh? That’s how it started and when I was in Beijing a few years ago and found a shop where an old man made traditional chops, I ordered one with the two characters for Kwai Loh. He was surprised, but did it..:-) A chop, by the way, is Malaysian/Singaporean English for a seal.

My “Kwai Loh” seal

In Malaysia two more “slang” words are used to describe Western foreigners. One is also Chinese, Hokkien dialect: Ang Moh, meaning Red Hair. Not really offensive, I would say.

Then there is Mat Salleh, which is Malay. Origin not clear, it might come from “Mad sailor”, referring to the wild colonial past of Penang ..:-) Quite common these days, not offensive.

I hope you will agree that Kwai Loh fits me best. Especially because, being a secular humanist, I do not believe in the existence of ghosts/spirits at all. Period. More about this topic in future posts..:-)

Talking about offensive, what do you think about this? This monkey is endemic to Borneo and you can find it in Sarawak. Official name is Proboscis Monkey.

Proboscis Monkey

Do you know how it is called in Malay language? Orang Belanda!  The Dutch Man! That I call offensive.

And what about this. In Asia it is quite common to have a bolster on your bed. Nice to cuddle when you sleep alone. This is our own bolster.

Our bolster

Now, guess how this bolster is sometimes called in Malay and Indonesia language!

A Dutch wife!

I leave it to your imagination to give an explanation…:-)


God’s particle

About three months ago CERN has announced the discovery of the Higgs boson, a.k.a. the God Particle. Several of my friends have asked me if I, being a physicist, could explain what it was all about. I tried, but it was not easy.

Here is another attempt…:-)

Let me start with an overview.

In the 19th century it became increasingly clear that matter is composed of molecules, and that molecules themselves are composed of atoms. Only a limited number of different atoms exists, ninety occur in nature, quite a few more have been made in laboratories. Imagine the tremendous simplification, everything around us is composed of these building blocks!

The periodic table of elements. Uranium (92) is the heaviest element found in nature. Promethium (61) and Technetium (43) are radioactive and not found in nature, giving a total count of 90 elements occurring naturally.

A monumental breakthrough took place in the 20th century, when it was discovered that atoms themselves consisted of only three (!) elementary particles, protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the atom with electrons orbiting around this nucleus. Just a matter of numbers. Carbon with 6 protons and 6 neutrons in its nucleus and 6 electrons around this nucleus. Add one of each, and you get Nitrogen, do this again and you get Oxygen.This amazing simplicity was one of the reasons I decided to become a physicist. Even a nuclear physicist..:-)

Actually two more particles had to be added to the list. Light also consists of particles, called photons. And some of the elements are not stable but radioactive, the nucleus can send out an electron and at the same time another particle, called neutrino. Everything controlled by four forces. The strong nuclear force, keeping the protons and neutrons in the nucleus together, the electromagnetic force, keeping the electrons in orbit, the weak nuclear force, responsible for the radioactivity and, finally, the force of gravitation.

But this is not the end of the story, soon it became more complicated again! In cosmic radiation, and also in laboratory experiments (using powerful accelerators to let elementary particles collide), new particles were discovered. Not stable, often only living for split seconds, before decaying in other elementary particles. They were named muons, pions, hyperons, a confusing multitude.

It was discovered that protons and neutrons were actually NOT elementary particles, but that they were composed of “quarks”. Not just one, but several families of quarks. Bound together by “gluons”. And the electron and the neutrino were accompanied by other particle families, the muon electron, the tau electron, with corresponding neutrino’s. The strong nuclear force is actually the force between the quarks, with three quarks forming a proton or a neutron.

It has also been discovered that the elementary forces are carried by “force particles” and that the photon is actually the force particle of the electromagnetic force. One of the big successes of the last decades, was the experimental observation of the “weak nuclear force” carriers, the W and Z bosons.

All these experiments lead to what is now called the Standard Model. Three families of quarks, three families of ‘electrons’, three elementary forces with their force particles. This leaves out until now gravitation. That is actually a big problem, but we will not discuss it here

The Standard Model. Gravity is not taken into account. There are three quark families (up-down), (charm-strange) and (top-bottom). And three “lepton” families, electron, muon and tau, with their corresponding neutrinos. Finally the force particles, photon, gluon and the (W,Z) bosons

All the particles in the picture above have been “observed”. Observed in quotes, because these particles are so short-lived that their existence must be concluded from the traces they leave behind when they die…

Much more complicated than the simple “proton-neutron-electron” model, but definitely one of the most impressive results of modern physics.

One problem remains. All these particles, the quarks, the leptons, the force particles, have mass. Some are heavy like the quarks, some are light like the leptons, the photon has no mass, the neutrinos almost nothing. Why?

In 1964 Higgs and a few others came with a theory. There might exist another force field, permeating the universe, acting as a kind of “syrup”, slowing down other elementary particles and in that way giving them inertia ( = mass!). But if that field existed, it should have its own force particle, the Higgs boson. Nicknamed the God particle, because it gave mass to all the other particles.

The theory was widely accepted, so the search for the Higgs boson was on. A fierce competition resulted between CERN and the Fermilab in USA.

It now looks like it has been found. With a mass about 130 times the mass of the proton. And so short-lived that I have not even been able to find an estimate on the Internet. So you have to look at the traces it leaves behind when it dies. Here is an artist impression.

And here is a picture of the experimental setup at CERN (the ATLAS experiment) Try to spot the human figure in the picture!

This is ATLAS, one of the four experiments at the Large Hadron Collider of CERN.

Is our understanding of the physical universe now complete? No way!

As mentioned before, there is still the problem left to combine the Standard Model with gravitation. Maybe string theory, but not everybody is convinced that this will be the solution.

There is a much bigger challenge. During the last decades it has become convincingly clear that there has to be more in our universe than quarks, electrons, photons, etc. Let’s call this “normal matter”. From what we know about the Big Bang and from the way our universe is expanding after the Big Bang, we now are sure that there are two more constituents of our Universe. There has to be “Dark Matter“, until now invisible. And there has to be “Dark Energy“, a repulsive force that actually accelerates the expansion of the Universe. That’s about all we know at the moment.

A small correction to the Standard Model? Absolutely not! Here is the present estimate. Normal matter takes only 4% (!). The rest is basically unknown at the moment!

We know a lot about the 4% normal matter and next to nothing about the rest!

A sobering thought. But also exciting. There is still a lot to discover and explore in our physical universe. And for the ambitious among you: a lot of Nobel Prizes to win!


Stung by a bee

Two years ago I have visited the remote Medang waterfall near KKB with my friend Siang Hui. It is quite a long hike, but you are rewarded with an impressive waterfall.

While we were relaxing at the fall, taking a bath, making coffee and having lunch, I was stung by a bee. They are called sweat bees, although I think that they are actually wasps, because they don’t leave their stinger behind.
The name tells it all, they are attracted by sweat. And I sweat profusely, so they like me. During the hike, no problem, because I am moving, but when I have arrived at my destination it doesn’t take long before one of these tiny(!) critters finds me and signals to his friends: come over here for a treat!

They are not aggressive, but probably, waving them away with my hands, I must have frightened one of them. I was stung in my back, it was not very painful and I did not pay much attention to it.

However on our way back, a bit later, I started to feel uncomfortable. I felt that my mouth got swollen, I could not swallow properly, my voice sounded funny and I felt faint. I told Siang Hui that I wanted to lie down a bit. Of course he was concerned, but he kept his cool.

After about half an hour I started to feel better and we walked back (still more than one hour!) to our car. First I was thinking about going to a clinic, but my recovery was so complete that there was no need.

Of course the question was, what had happened? I had the feeling that it was related to the bee sting, and searching the Internet confirmed that it had been an allergic reaction!

Actually I had experienced the onset of an anaphylactic shock ! Which can be life-threatening. It was an unpleasant discovery that I had developed an allergy for bee stings. I bought an Epipen and took it with me on my next jungle trips. With an Epipen you can inject yourself with a dose of epinephrine (adrenaline), in case of emergency.

Such an Epipen is not only expensive (~ RM 300), it has also a limited shelf life. Mine has passed its expiry date already.

Of course I was more than ever trying to keep those bees away. Because each following sting gives a stronger and faster reaction.

Two weeks ago I visited another waterfall with my friend Rani, see my earlier post. I was stung again, really a minor one, but still about the same effects.
And here too we were very far away from medical help. I had my Epipen ready, but after a while I recovered, so I did not need it. Kudos to Rani for his support!

When I wanted to buy an new Epipen, I was shocked to hear that they are no longer available in Malaysia! In a few weeks time a friend from Amsterdam will come here for her holidays, so I am now trying to buy one in the Netherlands and let her take it with her.

Recently a friend of mine, Harry Nian, died while on a solo expedition looking for new waterfalls in Terengganu. His last (unsent) sms was, that he was stung by many bees and could not move….. Anaphylactic shock?

I am rather scared at the moment to go back into the jungle..:-(

I am looking for a cream or spray that keeps bees and wasps away, found some information on the Internet, but no idea if this will be effective. And I have heard that there exists something called “immunotherapy” where you can overcome your allergy by regular (controlled) injections with tiny amounts of the venom. If a reader of this post has more information, please let me know!