Adopt a waterfall!

A few years ago I visited the Sg Liam waterfall, near Ulu Yam with my friends Joe and Rahim. I published a report about this fall titled Most polluted waterfall in Malaysia! Here is a picture of what we found:

Sg Liam in 2010

At that time Joe was organising  waterfall cleaning operations with her group of Waterfall Survivors. These Save Our Waterfalls projects were a success, but it was disappointing that after a few months, the rubbish was there again. How to ensure that a waterfall after cleaning, remains clean? Of course the best solution would be to educate the visitors that they should take their rubbish home, but will that ever happen?

Two weeks ago I was back at Sg Liam, invited by friends who are active in a recently established NGO, the Waterfall Lovers Association of Selangor The occasion was the launch of a Sustainable Waterfall Adoption program, where a Company, a School, a Kampong, etc adopt a waterfall, regularly check the cleanliness, take action when needed, etc.

The event was well organised, hundreds of school children took part in the cleaning, there were speeches, there was food. Let’s hope the program will be a success!

Here is a pictorial report.

Largest structure in the Universe discovered

This will be a bit longish post…:-)

A few weeks ago an in international team of astronomers announced the discovery of the largest structure in the universe: a group of quasars extending over a distance of 4 billion lightyear (ly).


Quasars (Quasi-Stellar Radio Objects) were discovered about 50 years ago. They look like stars but are so distant (billions of ly away) that they can not be stars. Now we know that they are active nuclei of galaxies, surrounding a massive black hole in the center. Billions of ly away means that we observe them as they were billions of years ago  when the universe was still young.

More than 200.000 quasars are known at present. Some of them occur in (large) groups, called LQC‘s.The group that has now been discovered has 72 members (the black circles in the image). The red crosses form another, smaller group.

So, why is the discovery of this large group of quasars so exciting? To make that clear, we have to talk about the cosmological principle and the large-scale structure of the universe.

Long it has been thought that the Earth was the center of the Universe. Then it was discovered that Earth is one of several planets orbiting a star, the Sun. It is the blue marble in the image below. It is not in scale, light needs only 8 minutes to travel from the Sun to Earth, and more than four hours to reach the outermost planet Neptune.

The Solar System

Is the Sun the center of the Universe? No, the Sun is one of several hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way.  Some of you may have seen the Milky Way on a cloudless clear night far away from cities, as a white band of light across the sky. Here is an artist impression of the Milky Way as seen by an observer from outer space. The approximate location of our Sun has been indicated with a red cross. The diameter of the Milky Way is about 100.000 ly.

The Milky Way

Is then the Milky Way the center of the Universe? Again negative! Our Milky Way is just one of hundreds of billions of similar galaxies.  The scientists now think that the Universe has no center! From each location and in each direction the Universe looks the same, if you observe it on a sufficiently large scale. This is called the Cosmological Principle

So, what is a sufficiently large scale? If the galaxies would be randomly distributed in the Universe, we would not need to zoom out further. But that is not the case! Our Milky Way is a member of a group of more than 50 galaxies, bound by gravity. It is called the Local Group. Most of the galaxies in this Local Group are small ones, with the exception of our neighbour, the beautiful Andromeda galaxy.


Andromeda is bigger than the Milky Way, may contain one trillion stars and is located at a distance of 2.5 million light-years from our galaxy. Here is a “3-dimensional” sketch of the local group.

Local Group

The size of the Local Group is in the order of 10 million ly. Many more of these galaxy clusters exist, for example the Virgo Cluster, much bigger than our Local Group, consisting of more than 1000 galaxies, at a distance of 54 million ly.

Here is the Virgo Cluster. All the fuzzy blobs are galaxies, the light points are stars in our own Milky Way. Click on the image to enlarge it and take a few minutes to think about the meaning of life..:-)


We still have to zoom further out. Our Local Group, the Virgo Cluster, the Fornax cluster, the Eridanus cluster and about 100 more are part of an even larger collection, the Virgo Supercluster . Here is one more “3-dimensional” sketch of this supercluster.

Virgo Supercluster

You will see the Local Group in the center, the Fornax and Eridanus clusters and many more. We are talking now about a size of more than 100 million ly already!

Many more superclusters have been discovered. Could it be that these superclusters of galaxies are randomly distributed in the Universe. Let’s zoom out one more time! The image below shows the superclusters around us within a distance of 1 billion ly. So the width of this image is 2000 million ly.


Obviously this is not a random distribution. Clusters and superclusters are aligned along filaments filaments, with in between large portions of space almost without any galaxies. It  looks like a kind of foam-like structure and is sometimes called the Cosmic Web. In the center you notice the Virgo supercluster. Keep in mind the zooming out steps we have made to reach here! Earth → Sol → Milky Way → Local Group → Virgo Cluster → Virgo Supercluster → Cosmic Web.

Do we need to zoom out more? According to the present cosmology theories: NO. Computer simulations starting from right after the Big Bang show that this foam-like structure on a scale of hundreds of millions of light-years is to be expected. Starting point for these simulations is the measured Cosmic Background Radiation CMB), as depicted in the image below.CMB radiation

To explain the relation between this CMB image and the large-scale structure asks for another post…:-).  Basically the Standard model of Cosmology is used, including the effects of Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Here is a typical result of such a simulation. The image has a width of 1500 million ly  The bright nodes represent Superclusters. You will notice strings of galaxies and voids, quite comparable to the real Universe. At this scale, the Universe looks basically everywhere the same.

Cosmic Web

We started this post with the discovery of a group of quasars extending about 4000 million ly. Quasars are nuclei of galaxies, so in the terminology used above, they would form a “cluster”. But a cluster of this size would not fit in the above image at all!

This explains the excitement among astronomers and cosmologists. Is the Standard Model of Cosmology wrong?

Let’s wait and see!

Several images in this post come from a fascinating website: An Atlas of the Universe

A Secret Waterfall

After my recovery from jet lag and the germs I had taken with me from the Netherlands, I felt the urge coming up to visit a waterfall. Where to go and with whom?

‘Shall I bring you to a Secret Waterfall?’ my friend Siang Hui asked. He is an expert in discovering unknown waterfalls.  ‘But you must promise not to divulge the location on your website or blog! The villagers from a nearby kampong are using the water of the stream and are concerned about pollution.’

Of course I accepted the condition. Aric and Rani were interested too, so on a Saturday morning we met at a mamak stall for breakfast and drove to the trail head. Not a real trail actually, traces here and there and river trekking. As was to be expected the waterfalls (many tiers) were pristine.

Here is a picture report about the Secret Waterfall.

And here is a picture of the main fall in all its glory. Recently I have bought a hypsometer to measure the height of an object. For this fall I found 15 meter.

Secret Waterfall

Journal 17-1-2013

Last week it was 49 days ago that Aric’s father passed away. There is a special Taoist ceremony for this occasion. Two days later we visited the grave which was recently finished. The grave is beautifully located on the top of a hill, surrounded by oil palm plantations.

The family grave

I have recovered from my jetlag and settled in my usual rhythm, walking in Bukit Kiara in the morning, followed by breakfast in IKEA. And of course, in spite of my New Year resolution, a nice dinner or lunch every now and then..:-)

Here I have dinner, prepared by Paul, really delicious

Dinner Paul

A very special lunch I had a few days ago with my “bankers”…:-) A short explanation is needed, I think. Until recently I had an account with the Alliance bank, but I was not happy with their services and decided to cancel it. Even that turned out to be complicated, until I met an employee who was really helpful. He was interested in why I was staying in Malaysia, we talked about food, I said that I liked spicy food, he asked if I had ever tried Ayam Penyet, I said I had not, he said knew a restaurant nearby. So we decided to go there for lunch, with one of his colleagues. Lunch with my bankers…:-)

Ayam Penyet

The food was nice, the company pleasant. I don’t see this happen in the Netherlands and it is one of the reasons that I feel so at home in Malaysia…:-)

Last week I attended a meeting of the Friends of Bukit Kiara (FoBK). I have written several posts already about Bukit Kiara and the recently constructed, ugly fence. FoBK wants this fence to be removed, and I promised to take some pictures of the present state of the fence. I went for a walk with Pola, here is part of what we saw.

Kiara fence

The Meaning of Life

When you are getting older, it is probably normal that you think more about ‘existential’ questions regarding Life and Death…:-)

  • Is there an Afterlife?
  • Do we have an Immortal Soul?
  • Has (my) Life a Meaning?

My background is (Protestant) Christian, but already during my student days I lost my faith. For many years I called myself an agnostic, but during the last decade I became more and more interested, reading a lot (Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens) and I became a staunch atheist.

Actually I try to avoid the word atheist, because it raises aggression in many people.

So I call myself a secular humanist. The god of the Abrahamic religions does not exist, he (she?) is a human construct, a meme. I do not believe in an immortal soul or in an afterlife. This life is the only one I have. When my body dies, my mind will be no more, it will be the end of my “I”.

Life is without meaning. It developed on Earth, 3.8 billion year ago, probably only once. Everything that is alive now, is offspring from this common ancestor. There has been an era of the dinosaurs, now we live in the era of homo sapiens, the next era may be dominated by insects. Let’s not overestimate our importance.

Has my life a meaning? That is a different question and I think the answer is yes. We are social animals and can only survive in a group. Our relation with this group (family, friends, society) gives meaning to our life.

Recently I came across an impressive letter about these topics, written in 1931 by the American journalist and writer H.L. Mencken . The full text can be found here , where also background information is given.

The letter ends with:

I do not believe in immortality, and have no desire for it. The belief in it issues from the puerile egos of inferior men. In its Christian form it is little more than a device for getting revenge upon those who are having a better time on this earth. What the meaning of human life may be I don’t know: I incline to suspect that it has none. All I know about it is that, to me at least, it is very amusing while it lasts. Even its troubles, indeed, can be amusing. Moreover, they tend to foster the human qualities that I admire most—courage and its analogues. The noblest man, I think, is that one who fights God, and triumphs over Him. I have had little of this to do. When I die I shall be content to vanish into nothingness. No show, however good, could conceivably be good for ever.

Well said!

This will not be my last post about religion/philosophy and related matters

New Year Resolution

The last two months I have gained weight a lot, about 4 kg. So my New Year Resolution is obvious, I need to loose weight, preferably about 8 kg. A very ambitious target, as this post will show…:-)

Two days before New Year I had invited friends for a traditional Dutch Winter Meal: Hutspot  It is a stew of potatoes, carrots and onions. We had the famous raw herring as a starter.


After I came back to Malaysia I felt lousy for quite a few days, because of the jet lag, my running nose and my coughing, but yesterday I was fit enough tho have dinner with an ex-colleague from my former school, who is visiting Malaysia at the moment. We had steamed tiger garoupa, fried sotong and kai-lan in my favourite seafood restaurant around the corner.

Dinner with Dick

And today I had another dinner with Caroline and Dave, from New Zealand. She is the daughter of a dear friend of mine, who passed away two years ago. We had not met each other since then, so there was a lot to talk about. Location was the Little Penang Cafe in the Curve, I had Penang Curry Mee and Ice Kacang

Dinner with Caroline and Dave

It will not be easy to keep my New Year Resolution. Still, I lost 1 kg already…:-)

New Year’s Eve 2013

My plan to celebrate New Year’ Eve (Oud en Nieuw, as we call it in Dutch) with my sister Lous and her husband Arend in Valkkoog, almost failed because I did not feel very well. A running nose, a bad cough and a sore throat, apparently I can no longer handle the Dutch climate…:-(

But I was looking forward to meet my only sister, and she had promised that she would prepare oliebollen  ! These oliebollen (oily balls) are a very Dutch delicacy, I had not tasted them for years. So I decided to brave the weather.

Of course there was still a Christmas tree in the house. Often Christmas trees are thrown away after New Year, but last year Lous and Arend had placed the old one (still with roots in a pot) in their garden. Preparing to buy a new one, she had inspected the old one and found it still in good shape. So in the picture you see the second life of a real Christmas tree. Many birds in their garden, like this Great Tit.



After we had lunch, Lous and Arend started the preparations for the oliebollen. The dough is simple to make with lots of raisins and currants. It has to rise for at least one hour. In the meantime a pan with oil is heated. Then comes the moment to fry the balls, using two spoons. The dough has to be neither too thin nor too thick, the temperature of the oil has to be just right, etc, so it is always exciting to see how they come out. Is the shape round, are the balls not too dry or moist inside, etc.

Well, in this case they were perfect. You cover them with powdered sugar before eating. Another variety is the appelflap, a slice of apple, dipped in batter, then fried in oil. Also very tasty.

Later we had dinner, watched some TV and played a few games of sjoelen .This is another typical Dutch specialty. At midnight we wished each other a Happy New Year and we toasted with a glass of champagne. Far way in the villages you could hear and see the fireworks, but around their bungalow it was peaceful and quiet.

On New Year Day I flew back in the evening to Malaysia. Lous had given me a few oliebollen, for Aric. As you can see, he enjoyed them.


Still not feeling well, even went to see a doctor. My lungs are ok, will just have to keep quiet for some time.