London Trip 2009: Part 6

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I dedicated an entire day for the Science Museum because I knew there would be too much things to see. And I was right. I didn’t manage to cover everything.

Fay Ying’s front porch.

Fay had to leave early for work. I was up early to wait for Sel to bring over Joanne’s stuff to bring over to Birmingham. Fay’s nocturnal sister was still awake and probably sleep deprived, so I figured that it was better that I let myself out of the house instead of keeping her up.

This was how the streets looked like after snowing for a few hours. Not very thick snow. Very gloomy morning too.

Managed to squeeze another hour of sleep before I finally got ready to leave Canada water and to the Science Museum. Didn’t lose my way to the station this time. But the snow last night made the paths slightly wet and I had to be careful not to slip and fall.

The Science museum, located just beside the Natural History Museum, is a geek’s dreamland. At least that was the case for me. Amazing exhibits, live models and very informative displays. I can spend a few days here. Unfortunately, I couldn’t extend my stay due to my finite annual leave days. Should have came when I was still in college. But then air fares would have killed me.

I didn’t have a shot of the building because I used the underground tunnel straight from South Kensington tube station.

Very early steam turbine. This is the ancestor of our current power turbines which are used in power plants and also in jet engines. The arrival of the steam turbine meant that for the first time in the history of mankind, work can now be done by machines instead of using human or animal power.

Rockets especially the German V2s paved way for modern space rockets, just one of many examples where war technologies were eventually used for the benefit of mankind.

Mechanical gyroscopes. The V2 was a very advanced missile during its time. It had gyro-controlled fins which helped it maintain the correct flight path.

These rocket thrusters are angled to give the rocket a spin around it’s axis for stability.

The moon lander module. Whether the moon landing is a hoax or not, a lot of technology and math were required to put a man on the moon and to bring him back safely again.

Had lunch with Sel at the museum after she finished her classes early. Being a medic student, she went over to the medicine section of the museum while I continued slowly up the museum.

The Apollo capsule.

Heart shaped gears. This model was built to show that gears need not be round. They will work as long as their shape fits the next gear.

Cray-1 supercomputer. It has a curved design to shorten cable runs.

Crashed F1 car. Does anyone know when this car crashed?

This is how Tupperwares are made. Heated molds melt small plastic pellets and form them into kitchenwares.

Chips on a wafer.

The mechanical computers were by far the most interesting exhibits on display. By using carefully designed mechanical engines, these “computers” were capable of making calculations. Of course, with the invention of microchips, our pocket calculators are now far more powerful for a fraction of the cost.

Charles Babbage’s Analytical Computer.

The Analytical Engine is a mechanical calculator so it uses gears and levers to perform calculations. This computer can only perform calculations that it was designed for. Any other calculations would require a redesign of the computer.

Electronic computers that we use today are more versatile. If we want extra functions, we just need to install additional software. Aren’t you glad that computers were invented? Life was so much difficult before.

More mechanical calculators.

There was a section in the museum on ships and navigation too.

This is a ship log (1861). Notice the propeller shaped fins? People would throw this down behind their ships to measure how fast they were moving. The water moving across the fins will make the log spin and since one side of it is anchored to the ship, the speed of the ship will be proportional to how fast the log was spinning. Now we just need GPS to tell us that.

I was more interested in the aviation section. They were showing mainly the evolution of flight and old planes. Old planes are actually very fascinating because they are mechanical in nature and you’ll be amazed at how engineers solved problems before the arrival of computers.

Air-cooled radial engine.

Spitfires used during WW2.

Cockpit of an old aircraft. Nowadays it’s more computerized and less cluttered.

The Boeing 777′s glass cockpit.

There was just too much to see and touch at the Science Museum. I’ll probably need 2 days just to go through everything. It’s well worth visiting if you love to see interesting things. And best of all, it’s free!

At night, we met at my aunt’s place (also the place where I stayed most of the time during my trip in London) for a scrumptious steamboat dinner. You have no idea how welcoming a steamboat dinner is during a cold winter evening.

Left to right: Me, Joel, Sel, Fay, Cher Ying, Alex.

Thanks Aunty Peng for the wonderful dinner and photos! We were stuffed to the brim!

Next: Birmingham. London Trip 2009: Part 7 Continue reading

London Trip 2009: Part 5

Back to London Trip 2009: Part 4

5th January 2010: Trafalgar Square‘s fountain has become frozen solid today! Just to be sure I went over to tap the ice. This has not happened since forever. Today was very cold, but it hasn’t snowed just yet. I was at the National Gallery today. Unfortunately, since it’s an art gallery, no photos were allowed.

The frozen fountain. For some reason the area was fenced off.

The topmost layer was frozen, but underneath it was still liquid. You can easily break through the ice with a hard tap.

Me with my aunts in front of The National Gallery.

And that’s St Martin’s church.

Again, my Aunt Mei was my personal guide for the day. Here at the National Gallery we can see how art form progressed throughout the ages. Initially art was used to decorate places of worship. Paintings of Virgin Mary and Jesus were very common. Virgin Mary was almost always painted wearing a blue robe because blue paint (which was made using a stone) was the most expensive during that time. And obviously Virgin Mary is the most important character in the painting since she gave birth to Jesus.

Later paintings became more lifelike and started to incorporate landscapes in the background. Then rich merchants and families started commissioning artists to paint them instead. This took place long before cameras were invented. And you can roughly imagine how much you would have to pay to get one of the best artist of the time to paint your portrait.

I wasn’t feeling 100% today. Coming down with the cold due to the freezing weather. After the National Gallery I headed over to Regent Street to visit the Apple Store. There’s nothing there that we don’t already have here. Ok, maybe the glass staircase and the giant Apple logo outside. And the friendly staff there. Felt a bit guilty walking in with a jailbroken and unlocked iPhone.

Since we were going to watch Avatar 3D tonight, I went over to Sel’s place at Canada Water. Had Fay-made pasta at Fay’s place before walking out to the nearby cinema.

The nice thing about London is that you don’t need to drive to go anywhere. If I want to catch a movie in KL the nearest cinema is almost 10km away. Even going out for dinner requires driving or cycling.

I am perhaps the last person from Malaysia to watch Avatar 3D. It was simply a magical movie. Sure, it may be a direct rip off of Pocahontas. But the new world created by James Cameroon is so rich with new experiences and adventure. And furthermore I’ve almost entirely forgotten the Pocahontas story. So I’ll have to give it a perfect 10.

And imagine the surprise when we walked out of the cinema and found out that it was snowing! For the first time in 23 years I actually get to touch natural snow. It was white, extremely fluffy like flour. It wasn’t wet because it didn’t melt on contact. The floor became extremely slippery because of it. And the snowflakes just floated down so slowly (unlike rain) like magic. As you walk you can feel the cold snowflakes on your face. It was truly an amazing experience. It’s something that I won’t be forgetting for a long long time.

However our coats became white because of the snow and we had to clean it off before getting in the house. Well that’s one of the disadvantages of snow. Unfortunately I will soon discover some more.

That night I bummed over at Fay’s place. Thanks Fay! Your heated floors made me want to sleep on the floor instead!

Next: Science Museum and steamboat dinner! London Trip 2009: Part 6 Continue reading