Trip up North

Last week  we decided to make a trip up North, to celebrate Aric’s birthday. A 4D3N trip, staying overnight in Kuala Sepetang, Gunung Jerai and Georgetown.

Kuala Sepetang, or Port Weld as it was originally called, has recently become a popular tourist destination. We arrived at lunchtime on a Saturday and were amazed by the large number of tourist buses. There are now two “boutique” hotels and we had booked a room in the Happy 8 Retreat , located above a fish processing factory and a seafood restaurant.

Port Weld


The reviews for this hotel are rather mixed, the decoration of the rooms and the use of recycled materials is appreciated, but the walls between the rooms are paper thin and there are some complaints about the service. We were lucky, not many other guests, so we could sleep well. We had a room with a view of the river, you can spend hours there, watching the busy traffic.

Here is a video, taken from our balcony

We were just in time for the famous curry mee of Kuala Sepetang. After our siesta we walked in the village. The new bridge makes the other side easily accessible, fortunately not yet very developed.

For our dinner we went to the Tepi Sungai restaurant, also located above a fish processing factory. We had mantis prawns, lala shells, spikey snails, vegetable and tea for RM 61

The sunset view was priceless and free of charge…:-)

One reason to visit Kuala Sepetang was that I would like to have a look at Kuala Sangga, a small fishing village at the mouth of the Sepetang river. We saw  many tourist boats coming in and out and expected that at least a few of them would go to this village. Mistake. Most tourists come for the fireflies and the eagle feeding, not many are interested in the (tiny) village.

After an interesting “fusion” breakfast we continued our trip to Gunung Jerai. As an alternative for Kuala Sangga, we decided to visit the Hindu temple complex of Bukit Batu Pahat, on the slopes of the mountain. But first of course lunch…:-)



I had read about these temples, but never visited them. The Bujang Valley where these temples are located is considered the richest archaeological area in Malaysia! But many Malaysians have never heard about it. Why? Could they be neglected because this part of Malaysian history predates Islam and the Malacca Sultanate?

Expecting the complex to be a bit rundown, I was pleasantly surprised to find it in mint condition. The museum with information about the excavations and some artefacts is interesting. The Bukit Batu Pahat temple is in situ, the others have been relocated. And there is even a small waterfall, more a cascade.

Only a few visitors, not surprising as the site is badly signposted. Merbok is the nearest larger village. The complex is really worth a visit. And free of charge!

We had booked accommodation in the Regency Jerai Hill Resort, near the top of the mountain. A winding road leads you to the resort at an altitude of almost 1000 m above sea level. From the resort and from our balcony we had a fascinating view of the rice fields and the coastline of Kedah.

Here is a video, taken at the resort. We are just below the clouds

We had booked a puasa promotion, RM 230 for the room including 2x dinner and breakfast. During puasa (Ramadan) Muslims will eat only after sunset, and we thought it would be polite to follow that rule. Muslims will also not eat after sunrise, but for our breakfast we did not follow the rule…:-)  English breakfast!



Also here we had something on our program. There are quite a few waterfalls on the slopes of Gunung Jerai and one of them is located not far below the resort. Just before entering the resort, you will see a path with cemented steps going down. In about half an hour you reach the Alur Naga fall. A vertical fall in a romantic surrounding. On the way back I noticed a swarm of bees/wasps, my enemies. I managed to pass  without disturbing them. There were also leeches, I don’t mind to give them a free lunch..:-)

Here is a video of the fall

Our last destination was Georgetown. My friend Joe Yap had suggested a heritage hotel in Armenian street, Straights Heritage. They have only two “suites” and we had booked the Phoenix suite, on the second floor. It was like a dream, the most beautiful place where I have ever stayed.

It would have been nice to stay in our “mansion” the rest of the day and relax, but we also wanted to taste Penang durians! We met one of Aric’s friends and went to a stall in Bayan Lepas, where we tasted a Red Prawn durian. Yummy. After dinner in the New Lane hawker center, we went back to our suite and enjoyed the luxury.

Our program for the last day consisted of two parts. Joe had told us about a Christian cemetery where one of the graves had a sculpture of a dog, resting on the tombstone.The Western Road Cemetery was easy to find, but it was much bigger than I expected. Fortunately the caretaker could point out the grave to us. Legend has it that the dog visited the grave of is master after the latter had passed on, and continued to stay at the grave.

Nearby the cemetery is one of our favourite Laksa restaurants, the Taman Emas Coffee shop, where we had an early lunch. Last stop was at the Penang War museum, another suggestion of Joe. It is located at Bukit Batu Maung, where in the 1930’s the British built a fortress to protect the island against the Japanese army. It was a huge complex with cannon firing bays, barracks, tunnels etc. Manned by British, Malay and Sikh soldiers, each group in their own barrack, with their own cook etc, of course…:-) The fortress fell because the Japanese attacked from the land side and not from the seaside…. Like not much later Singapore.

After the Japanese had taken over, it became their army base. And after years of neglect it is now a museum. Steep entrance fee, RM 20 for locals, RM 35 for foreigners. Overpriced. You can also play war games (paintball) or follow ghost tours…:-(. Nevertheless still interesting, you can crawl through tunnels, climb escape ladders etc.

Not far from Batu Maung you can enter the second Penang bridge back to the mainland. The bridge is 24 km long with many curves. Interesting

Second bridge

It was a very satisfying trip, full of variety

Close encounter with Pluto

In an earlier post, Close Encounters , I mentioned three memorable astronomical events in 2015. One of them was the flyby by the New Horizons spacecraft of the (dwarf) planet Pluto on 14 July at 11:49:58 UTC  (7:49:58 pm Malaysian time)

One day earlier, when the New Horizons was still a respectable 800.000 km away from Pluto, it took this picture.The heart-shaped region, the smooth surface, caused already much excitement


New Horizons was approaching Pluto at a speed of ~ 50.000 km/h, so the flyby was near. At this high speed the observation window for taking close-up pictures was narrow. It was decided to stop communicating with the spacecraft during the flyby, as the on-board computers would be busy collecting data. There was a lot of tension in the control room during the blackout. Here is the response when the first signal of New Horizons after the flyby is received. Mind you, it takes about 4.5 hours for light and radio signals  to cross over form the spacecraft to Earth, as the distance to Pluto is about 5 billion km at the moment.


This first signal was only a sanity signal that everything was working normally. Transmission of the images is a time-consuming process. It was only the next day that NASA published the first detailed image. nh-pluto-surface-scale

Many surprises. The surface looks very smooth, scientists think it can not be more than a few hundred million year old. Has Pluto still an active interior? And there are mountains, up to 3 km high. They might consist of water ice.

A second picture has been published today, details of Pluto’s (principal) moon, Charon.


More excitement. Impact craters here, but what is this strange feature in the top left corner? More pictures will arrive and hopefully be published in the coming days. But the analysis will take months if not years.

New Horizons has done a marvelous job. It will now pass through the Kuiper Belt and leave our solar system. You can follow the spacecraft on the New Horizons website

What about the two other events?

Dawn has successfully entered orbit around Ceres and is still observing the asteroid. The white dots on its surface have not yet been explained. Here is a collage of images taken by Dawn. The Dawn Blog is still online and active


Finally Rosetta and Philae

Rosetta is still orbiting comet 67P, which is now on its way to perihelion, the closest distance to the Sun. Perihelion will be reached on 13 August. Already the comet is feeling the heat of the Sun and partly evaporating. This picture was taken on 7 July


Mixed news about Philae. There was huge excitement when it came out of hibernation on 13 June and “talked” for a few minutes with Rosetta. But after that, communication has been intermittent, for reasons unknown. However, ten days ago, Philae has contacted Rosetta again and actually transferred data from one of its on-board experiments! The scientists are hopeful that it will get more active the next few weeks. Read more on the Rosetta/Philae blog

I will update this post when more  news/pictures become available

Update 18-7-2015

Yesterday NASA published another picture, a detail of the heart-shaped area , which has been provisionally named Sputnik Plain. Some features have been identified. This icy plain can not be more than 100 million old. More details here


Lawing waterfall

Six years ago, in 2009, I finally discovered the Lawing waterfall in the Ulu Langat region. I knew that there should be a waterfall on the way to Gunung Hitam and I had tried a few times to find it. Here is a Google Earth map with some of those attempts and the final success.



Soon the waterfall was published on my Waterfalls of Malaysia website, Lawing Falls , with the description “Unknown, pristine waterfall in the backyard of KL”


When you visit the webpage, you will notice that there are several comments that the falls could not be found. Was there something wrong with the directions given, for example “turn left at a remote orang asli hut“?

Therefore I decided to revisit the falls with a group of friends. We met for breakfast at Suntex, then drove to Kg Lui, following the directions of the webpage until we reached the end of the road. It was durian season and we had to be careful where to park the car because there were durian trees all over the place. Crossing the bridge we followed a clear trail until we reached the orang asli hut.

A whole family was staying there, very friendly. We asked the old man how to go to the waterfall. Just turn left for the waterfall, he said. And also without him we would have found the (vague) trail. BECAUSE…. the house was in the center of a durian orchard and the undergrowth had been cleared, so people could find the fallen durians easily. That explained a lot. When you come outside the durian season, the hut is empty and the undergrowth has grown back, making the trail almost invisible.

It is only a small part of the trail (until you enter the jungle again), that “disappears” outside the durian season. I will update the description on the website. Once you have entered the jungle, the trail is clear and leads you to the waterfalls.

We had a pleasant time at the falls, enjoying the pristine environment and our lunch. Two of us were interested to find out if there was another fall upstream. They found one, but the access was difficult, huge boulders and slippery rocks.

On our way back to the car, we spotted several durians that had just fallen down. We could not resist the temptation to take a few, opening one on the spot to find out that the taste was delicious! We also passed a tree with a makeshift ladder leading to the top. Could it be to collect honey? Many beautiful beehive gingers (Zingiber spectabile)

We still felt a bit hungry so we went to a Thai seafood restaurant in Hulu Langat. We asked permission to prepare the rest of our durians and have them with our meal. As you can see, Aric loves durians but not with a meal…:-) The others enjoyed durian with rice.

A fun trip with nice company!

Anybody out there?

When you have followed my blog posts, you will know that I am a supporter of the Rare Earth Hypothesis. Mind you, I will be more than happy if  proof of extraterrestrial life is found, but for the time being, I think we may well be alone in the Universe..:-(

Actually, for many years already I am participating in the SETI@home project. SETI stands for Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. The purpose of the project is to analyse radio signals for signs of intelligent life in the universe, and it is doing this by what is called distributed computing. The data to be analysed come from the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

More than 120.000 PC’s all over the world take part, my PC is one of them. When my computer is idle, it starts analysing a data packet received from Arecibo. Results of the analysis are sent back to SETI, I receive a new data packet and so on…:-)  Here is the Arecibo telescope (with its mirror diameter of 300 m the largest in the world) and a screenshot of my monitor while it is analysing the data. Visual output is a screen saver, moving around the screen all the time..



The project has started in 1999 but until now no sign of (intelligent) life has been found.

You might describe this activity as LISTENING : is there anybody in the universe trying to communicate with us?

What about SHOUTING : is anybody out there? That is the topic of this post. Making our (human) existence known to the universe.

The first attempt to send out a signal to the universe dates back to 1972. The Pioneer 10 space probe was going to explore Jupiter and would leave the solar system after the end of its mission. Carl Sagan , who had been active already in promoting SETI, suggested  that a “plaque” should be attached to the space probe, with information about our human species. The left image gives an artist impression of the Pioneer 10, now traveling in outer space, far away from Earth. It might come close to Aldebaran, a red giant star, in about 2 million years..:-) The right image shows the Pioneer plaque, designed by Sagan and his wife.



For more info about the meaning of the various elements, click on the link above. Here I only want to mention that there was a discussion about the naked humans. Was that acceptable of “porn”? By the way, the male genitals are shown, but the female vagina is missing, so aliens will still be in doubt how we reproduce. Would they be able to interpret the info correctly? Here is a hilarious interpretation: the Real Pioneer Plaque

Five years later the two Voyager space probes 1 and 2 were launched, again to explore the outer solar system. They have been extremely successful and are still operational, after almost 40 years! The Voyager 1 is now 19.6 billion km away from Earth, you can check the actual distance here . It has on board a phonographic(!) record containing information about Earth and about us. A kind of time capsule! The left image shows an artist impression of the Voyager 1 with the location of the golden record clearly visible. The right image shows the cover of the Voyager Golden Record.



Mind you, in 1977 digital coding was not common, no jpeg or mp3 existed yet, it was all analog!. Here is a fascinating Table of Contents of the Golden Record. Please click on this link and be surprised. A welcome message by Jimmy Carter, at that time US president! Greetings in 55 languages. One of them in Dutch (yes!), another one in Indonesian, four Chinese dialects, but no Malay, nor Tamil..:-(  Music, from classical until modern. But this time no picture of naked humans, thanks to a (still) prudish US..:-).

If ever an alien civilization would pick up this time capsule, would they be able to decipher it? Some sources doubt it,  check this funny Gizmodo report

You might compare these first attempts with throwing a bottle in the ocean. Maybe somebody will ever find it. Can we get more active?

Yes, we can. In 1974 the Arecibo telescope, mentioned above, sent out the Arecibo message to the Universe. A sequence of 1679 zero’s and one’s. Why that number? Because it is a semi-prime, product of two large prime numbers 23 and 73. When you order the message, split in a matrix of 73 x 23, you will get this (in black and white!):


To “explain” this, the white part represents our decimal system, the green one the  nucleotides  in our DNA, the blue one the double helix. The red human has next to it the human size (in binary) and the human population (also in binary), but probably you understood that already, didn’t you…LOL? Yellow represents our solar system, the third planet is shifted to the left with the human standing on it. Easy, right?

But would you be able to reconstruct the content from this binary sequence?



These communication attempts date back quite a long time. Here is a recent one. On 9 October 2008 a high-powered digital radio signal was sent towards the Gliese 581c extrasolar planet: called A message from Earth. Followers of my blog may remember Gliese 581 as the name of a star with more than one habitable planets in orbit. Here is the blog report: New extrasolar planet has been discovered

The distance is about 20 light year, the message will reach the star in early 2029. If “they” reply immediately , we may expect a reply around 2050…:-) Here is the Ukrainian (!) telescope used to send out the message, and a sketch of the Gliese 581 planetary system.



Let me end this post with a question:

Is it wise for us to make our presence known to the Universe?

Stephen Hawking is not so sure about it and he is not the only one. Contact with aliens  could be risky.If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans ,” he said. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

A contact with aliens might be very different from Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, my favourite science fiction movie, released in 1977.