Tag Archives: life

Scientists are running away from problems

On June 20, 2013 mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Calgary, the Alberta’s largest city by population, as a result of flooding. The days leading up to the “2013 Alberta floods”, Alberta experienced heavy rainfall. The 2013 floods effected several areas such as Exshaw, High River and other municipalities and townships. Later that summer, communities along the rivers banks and flood plains were devastated by the consequences of additional downpour. Several mitigation and disaster response ideas have sprung out of this 2013 Alberta floods. This is where opinions of scientists, researchers and general public clashed. I can safely say we hear a lot of strong arguments on different aspects of the “problem” when our neighborhoods are in desperate situations. We also bombarded with “solutions” to these from our politicians and scientists. As a young scientist in training, I find these two groups in North America either want to go against nature or go against social dynamics.

Million solutions without progress

A recent article written by a Geologist on the Calgary Herald newspaper regarding insurance and communities along the flood plains1 drew my attention . It is a well written article against the idea of flood insurance. Dr. Jerry Osborn argued because people are building on flood plains, the premiums for insurance have to increase causing them to be unaffordable for most. He strongly suggested restricting community developments on floodplain using Groeneveld report as a method to protect communities from natural disasters. This is a very good valid point and I agree with the scientific merit behind Dr. Osborn’s argument. However, I have to respectfully disagree with the concept of scientists running away from the problem rather than facing it head-on. I respect Dr. Osborn for being direct about his facts. But at the same time we as a society would have never advanced in our civilization if we ran away from our problems.

This is not the first time I came across well-respected Canadian scientists and researchers formulate their opinions solely on science itself. I have been told numerous times by Geoscience, Natural Science and Engineering professors on why we should not do something due to natural hazards. The problem is not a matter of if there are natural hazards; the problem is scientists are trying to find reasons to run away from problems. One of the best examples of this would be the arguments against placing our Calgary light railway transit system completely underground. Every time I asked a science expert, the arguments are highly negative such as “Calgary soil and strata is not good for underground projects” or “the engineering community needs more data before undertaking such projects”. It sounds like we will be famous in history for running away from problems because unlike the ancient Romans, Geeks or the modern day Indians or Japanese, we do not try to mitigate environmental dynamics, but we are just running away from it. I believe this attitude of too much emphasis of why we can’t do something, hinders our ability to defend our civilizations from natural disasters.

Most scientists who opposed building on floodplains in Alberta promote the idea that if we move away from developments in floodplains, most of our problems will be resolved. That is ironic because even according to scientific principles and the history of science shows that no matter what we do, there is always “side effects”. Let’s say that we move all our communities out of the floodplains. What are the implications for the natural environments? What are the implications for the natural environments? How would redistribution of human populations to other areas affect the environment? In Japan, they found building roads have significantly reduced permeability of soils. Hence the drainage systems have to be upgraded to transport the water that is not soaking into the ground to rivers and the sea. It was an unforeseen environmental problem as a result of human development. The point is to solve the flood plain problem; you may have created several more problems without the foresight of long term future for the City of Calgary. In the long term if we move out so much from current Calgary city limits, we would also move into farmlands and other areas of natural resources causing more problems for our communities. It is ironic that nobody who are against building within highly populated floodplains ignore these “side effects” that may arise as a result of any form of development weather it is on the floodplains or not.

Society and science

The Government of Japan has spend the tax money wisely to the benefit of the people..

Human civilization is unique because unlike animals we can make logical decisions. While we do our best to alter our natural habits, we often go back to the nature’s way. Have you ever wonder why we have large communities around flood plains and volcanoes? Almost every single civilization has been built around naturally unstable grounds. It will be unproductive for modern science to work against these natural social habits. You cannot change our social dynamics to fit the principles of science. But rather you should use the find solutions to social dynamics. This is where those scientists against development on the flood plains fall apart.

Japan has few active volcanoes and suited near a major active fault line. Hence, it is obvious that majority of Japanese are living in environmentally unstable areas than majority of Canadians. If you visit Japan, you will most likely take JR Rail, a service provided by a Japanese state own railway company. Not only the railway line is mostly underground, but they also have large underground shopping complexes in almost all underground train stations. It is ironic that Canadian Geologists and Engineers are against building underground railway system in Calgary because of their claim that ground in Calgary is not suitable. Either we are, as a group of scientist, very lazy or ignorant of possible solutions for our growing needs. I should highlight that I believe the problem of running away is found within our scientific community in Canada rather than the general public.

Here is another example from Japan. In a CBC documentary a Japanese elderly women who seen the volcano near her house erupted said “I am not afraid of the mountain. It provides great opportunities for farming. I have lived all my life here and I will pull myself back up each time it gets erupted”. Now that should resonate throughout Canada because she is right. She is using the nutrient rich volcanic soils to grow rice, which feeds the community. She works with the environment and she understands the natural hazards. The Japanese scientists are very mindful of not to insult these volcanic famers intelligence. In fact, the Government of Japan has spent the tax money wisely to the benefit of the people of Japan with new equipment and research on predicting natural disasters rather than moving communities away from so called “danger zone”. This is what the Scientists in Canada also supposed to do; work with the society. But instead they are more concerned of the bottom line of private companies. Canada is an extremely pro-¬capitalist nation that we look for the revenue and the profit margin over the natural flow of civilization. In fact, I can argue the reason we do not have completely underground commuter railway system in Calgary not because “unstable ground”, but because the Government and the private companies do not want any project that benefit the society. I can also categorically argue that insurance rates increase because the CEOs of Canadian insurance companies would like to take home million dollar bonus. In other words, the profit margin is more of a concern than human dignity and natural civilization.

Two extreme ends never solve problems

With or without the 2013 Alberta floods, these insurance companies will find another avenue to increase premiums.

The attitude should be, yes we can build on a floodplains. I would argue while Dr. Osborn is right, his principles on flood insurance are wrong. Yes the flood may increase the insurance rates. However, it is Canada’s capitalistic class system that causes the insurance rate to increase. With or without the 2013 Alberta floods, these insurance companies will find another avenue to increase premiums. Canadians are hell bent on criticizing the India’s caste system; we often forget to criticize Canada’s class system. Insurance companies increase their premiums to pay off their rich CEOs, not to help out the Canadian public. Unlike in some areas such as in Europe and Asia, there are no regulations to protect the consumers from insurance companies in Canada.

While we are busy arguing against people who would want to live in floodplains, we should also highlight other issues. Tight regulations of insurance providers should be one step. Another would be, just like Japan, we should spend our tax revenue on helping our communities. Why not build infrastructures to control floods? Do not say it is not sustainable to run away from the problems. Yes, it is sustainable because there are many other communities around the world have done it! India and Sri Lanka for example not only have relatively cheap (relative to Indian/Sri Lankan average net income) flood insurance, but they also have highly effective drainage system. During the Asian Monsoon season, the capital of Sri Lanka should be under water. But that is not true and the last time it was under water was during the 2004 tsunami. But in Canada, a small rain fall in Toronto in 8 July 2013 resulted in mass flooding. How come a first world nation be so negative?

Now let’s take the argument of insurance premiums from another point of view. If we have proper infrastructure to divert water away from our major cities along flood plains, why should the insurance premiums for homeowner go up? In fact, it should go down unless the greedy capitalists in Canada want a higher cut for their profit. Dr. Osborn, according Canadians behind you and their logic, ALL Japanese people should commit suicide while ALL Indians and Sri Lankans should drown. To my fellow young Scientists, please do not run away from the problem like typical “Canadians” due to political correctness or to be nice to your professors, but face it like typical “Japanese” or “South Asians”. I am not saying scientific solutions are prefect. But we should think outside the two extremes which our Politicians and Scientists try to promote. It is our responsibility as scientists, to move away from special interest groups and find solutions to challenges rather than running away from them.


1. Osborn: It’s foolish to think worst flood is behind us (PDF)

It’s not the time to speak

If your ideas are not popular among your peers, it can be difficult to get your message across. Even if your points are valid and beneficial others, you may still have trouble convincing people around you. This occurs in almost all environments from home, school, office to in informal events.

While I am not very religious, there are some good points we can take out of almost all religions. In this particular case, an Indian philosopher (he never said he is a religious leader) well known as Buddha came up with several ways to improve how we speak and how to win an argument. The following diagram is based on his teaching which also later repeated by philosophers like Aristotle.

Chart is created based on the Buddhist texts titled, "Eightfold Path" and "Right Livelihood" translated by British and other historians.
Chart is created based on the Buddhist texts titled, “Eightfold Path” and “Right Livelihood” translated by British and other historians.


True or untrue is based on evidence. If you believe what you about to say is logically justifiable, then it is true.

Constructive ideas can either be beneficial to the society or improve the current conditions. Destructive ideas either can be beneficial, but at a great cost to humanity. For example, Hitler was a great leader to depressed Germans after World War I. But his ideologies popularized through his speeches were more destructive than constructive.

Great ideas come in both evolutionary and revolutionary forms. If a new concept is not currently accepted by a large supportive audience, a revolution may not be the best option to popularize it.

Tips for portable computer users

During the last decade, the portable computers have replaced most of the the desktop computers. Today some people use portable units like laptops or tablets as their primary computer. If you use these portable devices as your primary units, you should also take precautions to protect your privacy and data security. This is not a how to tutorial. This article is written for those who have no idea on where to start. I may improve some of the explanations over time.


In order to protect your data, create an administrative account with a very strong password. Your password should be at least eight characters long and should include numeric characters. In addition I recommend using capital and simple letters. But what if you don’t want to enter a long password each and every time you want to log in? The solution to this is to create a secondary account with “limited” privileges. You can use a weaker password for this account because this account will not have the permission requirements for modifications. The administrative account password will be needed every time you want to install (or uninstall) a program. While it will not provide ultimate protection for your personal data, at least it is a good compromise for busy individuals.


Caring for portable hardware similar to caring for desktop hardware. You to keep the electronics clean and in controlled environmental conditions. Both of these are harder to do with portable devices.


Compressed Gas Duster (oxygen can, air can, etc) is the best way to clean dust on hard to reach area. But dusting off also helps by removing debris around fans and vents intakes. If you decide to use the compressed gas to clean, make sure…

  • not to spry an area over a long period (will form water vapor)
  • not to spry directly into connectors causing the connectors to get lose due to the force of air


In countries like Canada where we have a very wide range in temperature, it is difficult to keep the portable devices at ideal conditions. Another problem you will run into is that with our busy lives we take the technology for granted a smallest malfunction due to these environmental elements could bring a catastrophe.

The best practices in controlling temperatures can be easily placed in a list.

  • Do not close your laptop (specially MacBook Pro) right after a long use. The head from the internal parts could damage the screen.
  • Place your electronic devices in protective casings whenever you can. For example, a laptop can be placed in temperature controlled sleeves.
  • The mobile phone/PDAs are most likely exposed to environmental elements because we cannot place them in enclosed cases (what’s the point of having a mobile communication device if it not quickly accessible?.


The best solution for this is not to spill anything around your electronics. The measures taken after any liquid damage is not always productive. Almost all liquids we use in our household are electrically conductive and have the ability to increase the process of oxidation of metals.


Some of you may be surprised to hear you may be able to repair some mobile devices at home. While most electronics circuity use machines, some parts are made with easy repair in mind. The most common portable device accidents are caused by gravity. To be more specific physical damage to a component caused by a fall.


Mobile smart phones made by Samsung have screen glued together using a heat sensitive material. Therefore you can remove the damaged screen by applying heat around the plastic front frame. You need to get proper tools which can be brought online. It is very cheap to repair at home than to actually send it out if the unit is not under warranty. So do your research and you might save some money.


While not all units have removable batteries, most of them have a method to open the battery compartment. This is because battery failures are one of the most common problems in portable electronics. Usually the power supply and the battery is fitted with removable plates. You may require a special tool to open it (such as special screws). I found hobby shops have variety of specialized tools that works for computers.

Power Supply

You cannot replace the power supplies without breaking them on any of the portable devices I know. However, you may want to do more research into your particular model.


This is the easiest part to replace or upgrade in most computers. Exception to some Netbooks and Ultrabooks, most laptops come with an access window for Random Access Memory (RAM) cards. Check the manual or the model number of the motherboard and verify the maximum amount of RAM it can take. In addition make sure you choose the right type of RAM (DDR2, DDR3, SO-DIMM, etc).

Tips for Emigration from Asia

Traveling outside the country is not something that most people in Asia would do. But with the growth of middle class, the interest in permanently relocating to developed countries have increased significantly. While some may argue that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” is not always applied in countries like Canada. But if you are not willing to be flexible in your new adopted country, you will find it difficult to live. In 2012, majority of immigrants to Canada identified their motherland as Asia (including South Asia).

Your Name

Asians have a rich heritage. On top of that South Asians are very proud of their culture and history. In most communities we use the names to identify our cultural background. This is why you would come across South Asians with long names. These names are not random. They have a structure. I found this can be an inconvenient in the Western society.

The South Asian Buddhist culture have the following name convention. HISTORICAL_FAMILY_NAME YOUR_NAME_1 YOUR_NAME_2… SURNAME. The first name has historical significant and has nothing to do with identifying a person. For example, my dad, my brother and I all have the exact same first name. The last name, also known as surname is also common to family members. Therefore in my Buddhist culture it is a combination of middle name and the first or middle name and the last is the identifiable unique name of a person.

Now let’s look at Canadian legal documents and general conventions. Official legal documents in Canada will provide you with enough space to include the entire name. But the subsequent correspondence will only include your first and last name. This is a major problem because three of us in my household have the exact same first and the last names (HISTORICAL_FAMILY_NAME SURNAME). If someone send us a letter addressed to one of us, it can be confusing. This is what exactly happens when we get letters in the mail. To solve it, I decided to switch my middle and the first names around. But since I did not change it before we came to Canada, I had to go through the process of requesting the name change from the government. I highly recommend officially changing your name before entering an another country to avoid extra paperwork. Having three names or even more is OK, as long as the first name is your unique identifiable name. I recommend the following format; YOUR_NAME_1 YOUR_NAME_2… HISTORICAL_FAMILY_NAME SURNAME, which will translate into YOUR_NAME_1 SURNAME in most official documents.

Your Documents and Drugs 🙂

All documents from your native country either must be in English or the official language of the country you are immigrating. These documents must be translated by a respected and approved translator. In other words, the validity of these documents depends on the authorized translator’s accreditation and therefore go to the embassy and request for a list of translators. Do not discard the original documents. The translated documents must always be accompanied by the original for future comparison.

If you are bringing in controlled materials such as pharmaceutical drugs, do not remove the materials from their original containers. Such containers also must be in one of the official languages. It is better if you can bring them with the manufactures sealed caps(eg. without opening bottles).

Travel Documents

While in Asia it is a common practice to include dependents (children) in parent’s passports, please get individual passports even for the children. Countries like Canada and US will specifically inform you to have separate passports. But even if it is not specifically told, I recommend obtaining individual travel documents to avoid any unforeseeable issues.

Photocopy all your travel documents including the air ticket and leave that copy with a relative. This is for in case of an emergency and / or loss of the documents.

Regardless of if you are going to be a Permanent Resident(PR) or not, write down the information on embassy of your birth country.

Do not hesitate to ask questions… lots of questions from border security personals when you arrived at your destination.

Geologist’s field checklist

The select all, none and invert functions uses JavaScript code. If your browser (like old mobile phones) cannot handle JS, you will sill be able to read the list, but may not be able to tick off the check boxes on the left most side. A word to those poor Geologists who still on IE instead of FireFox, Chrome (or webkit) or Opera, the time has come for a change. As always, the Print button at the top will remove my title images, menus and border for you to print. The check marks will also print as it is so you can use this page just like an Excel file.

This list may not be complete. Always check with your educational institution before making any arrangements. I am not responsible for you getting attack by a small rat in the woods or a bunch of engineers up to no good.

Travel Essentials

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Personal and Safety Gear

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Tools and Equipment

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If you would like to edit or add items to this list, please contact me. Improving this list may help your fellow students.

Updated: 30-July-2017