Psychoactive substances in the Maldives

Like elsewhere in the world, Maldives is host to a variety of substances that have been known and used by the local people for achieving altered states of the mind. Oshani (Datura stramonium) and Afihun (Papaver somniferum), grown locally in the Maldives, were popular until relatively recently when the plants became classed as illegal.

However, while quite a few of the "reality altering" substances are illegal and carry prison sentences for possession and consumption, there exist psychoactive substances that do not have any restricting legislation on it. In fact, there are quite a few substances that are available right at home or at the convenience shop down the road. Here are a few of the substances available in the Maldives that "supposedly" have psychoactive/psychedelic properties.


Morning Glory (Ipomoea violacea)
Morning Glory is a non-native plant variety that had been imported into Maldives. The plants are grown and sold freely. Being an imported plant, they are mostly grown as a decorative garden plant. Among the various morning glory varieties, several are known to contain LSA (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), a chemical similar to LSD, in amounts enough to create hallucinatory effects. The varieties commonly known as "Heavenly Blue", "Pearly Gates", "Flying Saucers", "Wedding Bells", "Summer Skies" and "Blue Star" posses these properties which amusingly, to say the least, are proudly grown in some of the homes in Male'.

Nutmeg
While nutmeg is not known to grow locally in the Maldives its products are available freely, especially for use as a spice. The red mesh covering of the nutmeg nut is even used as a traditional medicine ingredient in the Maldives. However, it is the nut itself that presents the psychoactive properties! Ingestion in the right amount will cause an altered state of mind that is very intense and hallucinatory.

San Pedro
There are many varieties of cacti being imported to the Maldives and San Pedro is undoubtedly among them. It is legal everywhere in the world. This harmless looking cactus packs a punch of mescaline although the amount of mescaline it contains varies with the particular variety. The Native Americans used another similar variety of cactus known as peyote, which contains a stronger dose of mescaline, for their spiritual rituals in order to gain "prophecies" and reach an "enlightened" state.

Passion Flower
Yep, that harmless looking plant whose fruit we make juice out of has varieties that contain sedative chemicals that is supposed to give a mild high. All the parts of the plant, especially the leaves, are rich in these chemicals and can be used to relax by boiling the leaves in order to make a "tea".

Mimosa
There are a few varieties of mimosa in the Maldives. The potency of the plant comes from the presence of DMT, a powerful psychedelic. The type "Mimosa Hostilis" is attributed to as having this chemical. I am not sure of the plant's exact identity but apparently "ladhu gas" (the plant that closes its leaves when you agitate it via touch) belongs to the mimosa family.


This list is ofcourse non-exhaustive and there are a few other plants like "salvia" which I suspect is also grown in the Maldives oblivious of its psychoactive power. Extra information on these and more can be found on erowid.org, which is an excellent resource on plants and drugs and happens to be where I got most of the information here.

Disclaimer: This information serves to cater for the intellectual enrichment of sane, curious individuals. It is not my intention to encourage unapologetic unleashing of scary monsters and/or morphing time and space into unrecognizable landscapes by the means of chemically induced altered states of consciousness and perception for nefarious purposes.

Make a spud gun!

One thing I remember particularly from my childhood is my liking for those toy guns that made a bit of explosive flash and sound when triggered. It came in different forms but I remember my favourite one (or rather the only one my parents dared to get me :-P) which was shaped almost like a real gun with a changeable ammunitions magazine. The magazine packed a round of these cool bullets that when fired made a small explosion. The bullets had a teensy weensy amount of gunpowder in them to achieve the effect - I know because I took apart a bullet (and eventually the gun itself) to learn how they worked. But then, the government added fireworks, firecrackers and anything that went bang including these toy guns to their list of banned items. Being an avid experimenter, that got me started on making my own things-that-went-bang...

Here is how to make a spud (potato) gun. It is something quite common and easy to make. It is also pretty powerful - has a range of atleast 30ft when constructed correctly and delivers a punch that would make you go a big "ouch!" if hit by one. I made a mini pistol-like version of this when I was in Male' for holidays in August 2006, just to reminisce the gunslinging days :-D.

Materials:
- Insect repellent spray (shelltox, bop spray...)
- Piezo electric igniter from a cigarette/kitchen lighter
- About 2ft of large diameter plastic pipe
- About 4-6ft of small diameter plastic pipe
- Endcap for the large pipe
- Reducer that connects large pipe to small pipe
- Paperclip
- Small length of wire

Diagram:


Construction:
- Any type of insect repellent should do. I've tried "Shelltox" and "Bop Spray".
- Piezo electric igniters are those things found in some cigarette and kitchen lighters that when pressed makes a spark. I'm sure many have used these things to deliver a jolt of friendly electricity to friends ;-)
- Glue the large diameter pipe to the reducer and then glue the reducer to the small diameter pipe.
- The end cap doesn't need to be glued and can be just plugged onto the large pipe.
- Break the paperclip into two, heat up pieces using a lighter and when hot, push the two pieces about 5mm from each other.
- Connect wires to the paperclips terminals.
- Connect the end of the wires to the piezo igniter.
Construct as shown in the diagram.

Usage:
- Push a Potato into the end of small pipe making sure it fits snugly and there is no space for air to flow. Push the potato till it is almost at the beginning of the reducer.
- Spray some repellant into the large pipe and quickly cover with the end cap.
- Take aim and press the igniter to shoot!

More details:
The above is what I did in August. There are many, many different versions of spud/potato guns available on the net. I suggest reading up more from this guide at instructables.com. They have photos and videos there.

Enjoy!

The earthquake that stunned Maldives: Tsunami 2004

Here is an account of the cataclysmic tsunami that struck Maldives on 26th December 2004. It was written and published by me on my then digital playground at maldivianunderground.net. I had kept the page updated for a few days as the events unrolled. It is in its original form and was last updated at 15:53, 31st December 2004.
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Aftermath at Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu

PRELUDE
The earthquake that originated in Sumatra, Indonesia, on the 26th of December 2004 resulted measured in tsunamis that inflicted massive destruction in the Maldives. The earthquake a whopping 8.5 on the Richter scale at its origin and was felt at a thankfully lower 4.0 in the Maldives (according the Meteorological Department). The following is an account of the events that took place with a major viewpoint from the authors location, Male’.

THE EVENTS
Beginning…
The earthquake was felt in the Maldives at around 6.25am, the morning of 26th Decemeber '04, right when most of the country was about to wake up. The government working hours begin in the Maldives at 7.30am. The shakes were mostly minor, though people in different islands have been reporting of having felt tremors of varied intensities. There has been no reported news of the earthquake directly inflicting any damages. Life went on as normal for most people till around 9.20am, when massive waves shocked everyone.

In Male’
Male', the capital of Maldives was among the first islands to be hit by the waves. There was no news, no warning that such an event may take place. Sea faring vessels were all docked at the harbors and jetties. People were enjoying another sunny day by the beachside while some were swimming in the lagoons. Assembling together the eyewitness accounts of the invasion by the waves indicate that at first the sea levels dropped abnormally low. While this may have acted as a warning sign of an imminent tsunami for some, most people in Maldives have never ever heard of a tsunami before, let alone have seen or experienced one. Oblivious to what was happening, everyone kept to their affairs till the oceans rose sharply. The sea bubbled up from afar, nearer to the beginning of the reef as a giant wave started to mount up.



Witnesses claim having seen waves larger than 7 meters in height. The waves gained momentum, building up higher and higher till it reached the sea wall around Male’. (The sea wall was built by the Japanese government, as a means to protect the then rapidly eroding and constantly-under-wave-threat Male’.) Witnesses say that the wall successfully thwarted most of the force from the waves. However, the waves climbed over the sea walls and crashed into the outer rim of Male’. This is where most damage is seen now. The waves damaged a lot of the boats in the harbor and sank a few. Several were lifted up and brought over onto the land as well. The Eastern and Southern sides of Male’ experienced the waves most. Sand, coral and other debris was brought onto the land. The waves crossed the outer road, smashing onto cars and motorcycles parked in the area. Cars were carried with the waves and crashed into shops and food outlets in the South-Eastern side of Male’. Tin roofing, used as partitioning, were seen to have been bent and deformed as the force of the waves drove into them. Living quarters located in the southern side, sheltering some expatriate workers were damaged as the iron rods and sheets construction buckled under the waves and deformed. No deaths were reported in the capital Male’ although around 40 were reported to have suffered injuries, mostly minor.

Islands
The events unfolded more terrifyingly for most islands. The islands, numbered at 1190, that Maldives is composed stand at an average of 1 meters above sea level. Islands lack a sea wall and have no wave protection other than that provided by the reef. The massive waves crashed into the islands and crossed from one side to the other uprooting trees and shrubs located in the beach area. Few boats were dragged into the land as well. The loose sands of the islands were washed away leaving behind eroded beaches. Fishes were seen swimming in the flooded streets. Several houses, often shoddy and not built as strongly as that in the capital, collapsed in the islands.

Resorts
The sequence of events for the resort islands were pretty much the same as the islands. Since a lot of resorts have water bungalows, the bungalows were hit by the waves first. Waves are reported to have smashed into the sides of the bungalows, breaking windows, flooding the interior dragging and floating the furniture inside. Jetties leading up to the bungalows took serious blows as well and several have been reported to have taken serious damage. The waves washed over the smaller resort islands uprooting trees and shrubs and bringing in debris. Fishes, including baby sharks were dragged into the islands. Some resorts experienced electricity problems due to floods in their power generation plants.



Aftermath
Relief operations in Male’ began work in the latter part of the day. The public were on the scene first protecting their homes from flooding waters. The police began work pumping out the waters flooding the streets of Male’. Police were also at work along with public removing the debris littering the roads of Male’. Work to lift up boats that sank into the harbor was carried out as well work to place the beached boats back in water.

In the islands, death reports are mounting up and mostly include the elder and the younger. Causes of death vary and are mostly vague at the moment. Lots were reported to be injured although hard figures are not available as of now. This vague description of the events in the islands will be complemented with more details as we get hold of it. Several islands have been evacuated and residents moved to nearby islands. Residents in some islands have also been gathered into large community areas such as school halls to help account for all aid supply operations. Most islands have total destruction with no building left intact. Beds, mattresses, clothes, utensils, electronics gear and monetary savings have been either swept away or destroyed by the waves. Islands are reported to be uninhabitable anytime in the near future. There is hardly a place to shelter all the people in need.

Missing persons were reported across the resorts as lots of tourists were in the sea swimming and snorkeling when the waves hit. One death, having caused by heart stopping due to shock has been reported. Tourists are being relocated to safer areas and some have been moved to other islands.

Damage assessment was delayed since communications was unavailable to most parts of the country. The government established a taskforce to assess damages and oversee the relief operations. An operation to send in supplies to the islands was started around 8pm. The work is being carried out by volunteers and is based at Aminiyya School. The public and businesses located in Male’ contributed food and clothes to be sent to the islands. Medicine is not included in this supply operation at the moment. All areas are reportedly having problems obtaining clean drinking water. The taskforce is calling out for more volunteers to help pack the supplies and is also calling out for boat owners to help deliver supplies to the areas in need.

FOLLOW UPS
The account above was written 5am 27th December. However, we intend on posting updates and photos over the coming days as relief operations continue. Feel free to contribute photos and videos to us and share any news you may have on the day’s events and the relief operations. Send any pictures or videos or even accounts of your experience to [email protected]

We call out for all Maldivians to join in full community and national spirit to help Maldives recover from this unfortunate event. We also urge international agencies to help us in this time national disaster and aid us in the recovery process.

10:40am, 27 Dec 2004
  • As a new day began, most people in Male’ have returned to their normal schedules. The damages inflicted on Male’ is under repair. Relief operations are underway in full swing.
  • Islands were not so fortunate though. A lot of people were left sleepless as they spent the night in boats and large halls. Food supplies are depleting. Houses are not inhabitable due to high water levels having soaked bedding. Utensils and toilets are unusable due to dirty waters and rubbish having soaked and flooded them all. Many of the islanders are under psychological shock and fear.
  • 43+ people have been reported dead. 50+ missing.
  • 12 atolls sent relief aid.
  • A visiting Pakistani navy ship has left at 4:00am for Medhufushi and Hakuraa Huraa. It is to pickup 500 people from Medhufushi and 200 from Hakuraa that were left stranded.
  • A Donier aircraft of the Indian coast guard has arrived in Maldives this morning. They are here to discuss strategies to combat situation.
  • The Motorola office in Singapore is donating 20 radio set to help reestablish the broken communication links across Maldives.
  • A support team is expected to leave by aircraft to help some atolls in the South.
  • IGMH hospital reports that 70 people were taken to that hospital since yesterday with injuries related to the tsunami. They also report that 12 foreigners and 7 Maldivians are still admitted there.
  • Majeedhiyya school is being utilized as a temporary shelter.
  • Dhiffushi, a very small island, is reported to be destroyed totally. People evacuated and brought to Male’. They are in the temporary shelter at Majeedhiyya School. Witness accounts say that there was panic and people climbed onto boats to save themselves. Houses were destroyed.
  • In Gaafu Alifu. Maamendhoom, waves washed over carrying with it furniture and other household items. Houses were flooded and water levels well over 4 feet high was reported. Everyone scrambled to get on boats and was on boats when the water line declined and the lagoons and reef emptied. People was hurrying back to land when the a second wave came crashing in. Lots of people were caught up in the second wave and resulted in majority of the injury cases.

4.24pm , 27 Dec 04
  • Aid collection has sped up. People in Male’ are donating goods, both used and new, to be distributed to disaster struck areas across Maldives. Aid collection teams are roaming Male’. Sadly, abuse of this situation has been reported and authorities are requesting everyone to not exploit.
  • 20 resort islands have reported extensive damage.
  • Two taxi centres in Male’ have offered their services for free to be used to transport the injured and the weak being taken there.
  • Damage assessment has revealed that the waves imposed most damage on the islands located East.
  • Of the 17,000 tourists currently in the country, 2 have been declared dead.
  • Food arrangements have been made for evacuees brought in from islands and resorts. Camps set up at Majeedhiyya School and Aminiyya School are providing food to the evacuees brought in from islands and resorts.
  • Some islands are still without electricity.
  • Funerals for the dead are being held in the islands now recovering from yesterdays events.
  • The national TV station, Television Maldives, has been operating live on air since yesterday. They are covering the events and bringing news and updates as the events unfold. They are also acting as a point of dissemination of instructions to the public. The audience will probably exclude most of the islands.
  • The number of people being admitted at the hospitals is increasing as more and more evacuees and injured are brought.
  • 3.5 tons of food and water and other essentials have been taken to Haa Dhaalu Atoll on a Indian Air Force aircraft.
  • Banks remained closed in the morning and afternoon.
  • The hospitals are calling for blood donors to help keep a ready supply of blood for transfusion to the victims being brought in.
  • The U.N as well as the local Department of Public Health have issued health warnings of imminent outbreak of diseases.
  • Meemu Atoll is reporting extensive damage. Most buildings were demolished. Residents are waiting on the beachside awaiting rescue. Dead animals have started to rot in some of the islands, making worse the situation with the addition of unpleasant smells and flies.

11:45pm , 28 Dec
  • Tourists at Hakuraa Huraa and Medhufushi has been brought to Male’. They are being kept at Dharumavantha School.
  • More than 9,000 people left homeless. Mind you, this is quite a high number compared to the population of Maldives.
  • Death toll at 55. Missing 69.
  • Diarrhea spreading fast, declares Ministry of Health. IGMH hospital in Male’ is treating 18 diarrhea patients at the moment.
  • Only 3 islands of the 200 inhabited islands report to have not experienced the tsunami. 37 islands report heavy damage, 78 report medium damages and 41 have no damages. Another 41 islands remain from which no information has yet been received.
  • 13 islands have had people evacuated.
  • There was a country wide prayer at mosques today after afternoon prayers to pray for the dead.
  • Dhiraagu, the sole telecommunications company operating in Maldives say that they are not sure when services can be reestablished to those areas currently in a communications blackout.

11:00pm, 29 Dec
  • Death toll at 67. Missing 75.
  • Government is to send 40 electricity generators to islands without electricity.
  • If you are interested in helping us Maldivians, please send your donations to: Ministry of Finance and Treasury – Disaster Relief Fund. Account Number: 7701-147 900-002
  • Maldivian National Chamber of Commerce has gathered and contributed MRF 3.3 Million to be used in disaster relief operations.
  • UN in Maldives has allocated US $100,000 to be used to address food, hygiene, sanitation and shelter related needs. United Nations Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Assitance (OCHA) is also to deploy a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team to the Maldives.

11:00pm, 30 Dec
  • We are very much disgusted by how much of a political game the relief operations have transformed into. It seems to be less and less about the people in need and more about the people in power and struggling for power.
  • Death toll now stands at 78. Missing 42.
  • Planes carrying aid from Norway, Singapore and Japan has arrived. Another plane carrying aid from UN has also arrived. The planes delivered items such as water containers, desalination plants, tents, food, blankets and medicines.
  • There was a false alarm of a new tsunami today morning. Everyone in the islands was in panic.
  • Scottish Water is to send drinking to the Maldives.
  • India is to send 20 tonnes of relief. Includes biscuits, milk powder, dry food and water tanks and will be accompanied by medical and surgical teams.
  • Vegetation in Male’ and other islands have started to yellow and die due to the salt water flood from the tsunami. The salt water flood also leaves a grim future to the agriculture in Maldives.
  • The supply of fish has decreased due to the decrease in fishermen at work.

Recover deleted files

Almost all computer users encounter times when they wish they hadn't deleted the file they just did so moments ago. Sometimes files disappear in weird program crashes - something which happened to me tonight. Sometimes it is done accidentally. Sometimes you need to spy on someone. Whatever the occasion, recovering the deleted file can be extremely handy and might save hours of work.

The good news is that deleted files CAN be easily recovered. It is possible to do so even if you deleted the file permanently, even if you emptied up the Recycle Bin and sometimes even if you formatted the disk. This applies for more or less all popular read/write storage systems with the exception of CDs and DVDs. The recovery process requires special software to accomplish the task but fortunately such software is freely available and are quite easy and straightforward to use. Usage typically follows in the form of selecting which disk to try recover files from and then letting the software do a "low level" scan of the disk. After a while, the software will list out the files on the system including any found deleted files. Files can then be selected and saved.

My particular favourite for the task is Handy Recovery 1.0. It is freeware and is available for download from the vendor's website. It has an uncluttered interface, is easy to use and did a good job of helping me recover some (accidentally :p) deleted assignment work tonight!

How to boost and extend Wifi network coverage

An increasing number of people in the Maldives have adopted the wireless networking technology, Wifi, as their preferred mode of computer networking to connect together the computers at office and home environments. The wire-less nature of Wifi allows people to easily and cheaply setup a network that covers their home (and neighbours) for gaming and sharing internet. Sadly, the rich presence of metal constructs (iron rods in buildings, tin roofing etc), tend to scatter and attenuate the signal considerably.

One of the best ways to increase the signal and extend coverage is to use a Wifi antenna. Nevertheless, Wifi antennas do not come cheap and are not usually available in the shops in Male'. I am an avid DIYer and in my experience, constructing a Wifi antenna yourself is cheap and yields results as good as most commercial products.

There are many designs of antennas that are suitable for Wifi use. A Cantenna is a type of antenna for Wifi use that became quite famous a couple of years ago and remains a favourite among the DIY community. My favourite, however, is the Bi-Quad. It is compact and gives about 12 dBi gain in signal. A bi-quad can be made using just a single, small piece of copper plate/sheet and copper rod/wiring - both of which are easily obtained from several hardware stores in Male'. I bought them for less than MRF 100/- total in September this year. Assembling the antenna would require a soldering iron and would take about half an hour at most. You may connect the antenna directly to a wire or have a connector on the antenna so that you can use any commercial pigtail connector to attach it to the wifi card or access point. Remember to double check all dimensions and connections before connecting the final product to the wifi gear. Use NetStumbler to check the signal strength change.

There are many resources on the net detailing bi-quad antenna construction for the 2.4Ghz range. Check out the following links if you are interested in building one:
- http://martybugs.net/wireless/biquad/
- http://www.saunalahti.fi/elepal/antenna4.html
- http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Wifi:Building_an_antenna

Have fun ;-)


1ft x 0.5ft copper sheet


Copper rods and a completed bi-quad loop

Self Organising Maps

I got reminded of Self Organising Maps(SOMs) at last week's Neurocomputation lecture. I learnt SOMs last year while on a craze to teach myself about neural nets. They are fascinating little buggers I tell ya!

The knowledge of SOMs had come in pretty handy earlier this year when I designed and programmed a blog analyzer/classifier intended to be contributed to the mvblogs.org project. The "classifier" part utilized SOMs to do the magic. However, sadly, I never got around to finishing an "analyzer" (which does the text and language processing) that I was happy with and soon enough my interest waned out and the effort died. I will probably tackle it sometime soon, now that my interest has been rekindled :-P Anyway, onto SOMs...

What are SOMs?
Self Organising Maps, also known as Kohonen networks in honour of its inventor, are a very interesting type of (artificial) Neural Network. It features an input neuron layer that is directly mapped to all the output layer neurons - where the output neurons are represented as being arranged as a grid.

A SOM when presented with training data, is able to train itself in such a way that "similar" data is placed closed together on the grid. By "similar" I refer to the manner in which any number of the attributes of the input data can be represented on the output by mapping the variation of the attributes. Any type of data that can be broken down or converted to a vector of numbers so that it can be mathematically manipulated can be fed to the input of a SOM. Possible input data may include text blocks, books, images, surveys etc. This makes SOMs extremely powerful and useful as a tool for making a simple 2D/3D representation of highly complex, multi-dimensional data.

The algorithm for a SOM is quite simple and very elegant. If you are keen to learn more, try the paper "The Self Organising Map" by the creator Teuvo Kohonen himself. Alternatively, this simpler guide may be more accessible and a shorter read :p

SOM eye candy
One of the coolest demonstrations of an application of a SOM is color classification. In such a setup, a SOM is fed a set of colors - as vectors with components in RGB, CMYK or whatever representation we choose - and set to the task of "organizing" them. At the end of the run, the SOM has the colors all arranged neatly by (mostly) placing similar colors close to each other.

Here is a simple sample case where I fed a SOM a collection of 80 random colors.


Random 80 colors.

I then set the SOM to churn and after 500 ticks the output has the output grid has the colors neatly arranged!


Post SOM run...

Interesting stuff eh?

Introduce a kid to computer programming

An increasing number of homes in the Maldives are getting equipped with at least one computer. Sadly, however, their use seems to stay limited to being simply a platform for games and accessing the internet for chat. Following in the footsteps of the "grown-ups", kids too stick to this notion of a computer being a big box with a screen for the said purposes. Reality, however, is that there is a plethora of uses for a computer that is more useful, educational and fun - things that will help stimulate the brain, especially a kid's brain.

Programming is one such use for a computer. It lets one build software and games. It lets one create. The desire to create is one of the most fulfilling and one of the most innate cravings we have. It is why we all revel in the act of painting, sculpting, drawing and even carpentry and masonry. Programming is also an essential part of modern education. It is required in many of the courses in graphics design, business administration, architecture and even economics. Knowledge of programming will help even if all one wants to become is an office secretary! So parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts etc etc ? Listen up! Here is something you can introduce to your favourite kiddo. Once they get hooked to programming, they won?t be running around the house with complaints of boredom?

Here are two ways I recommend you take to getting a kid into programming. Both options cost you zilch...

Phrogram
Phrogram, the latest version of the Kids Programming Language, is a programming language/environment specially crafted for kids. It was designed to teach kids how to program in a fun and enjoyable manner. It lets one create anything from word editors to games. The software comes with several tutorials on getting started and using its various features. It is said to have been designed in such a manner so as to make the transition to ?grown up? languages like VB, C# and Java a simple matter. The basic version of the software is free. I reckon this might be a neat addition to the computer classes run in the primary schools.
- Click here to go to Phrogram homepage

Visual C# 2005 - Express Edition
This offering from Microsoft is a great introductory path to the power of Microsoft?s newest programming language: C#. The Express edition includes much of the features found in the Professional versions of the software. There are loads and loads of free C# tutorials and guides on the net that can be used in tandem with the Express edition to make learning easy and fast. With this package, the jump to professional programming is just a matter of gaining confidence and understanding. This option is more suitable to older children and youth. The software is available to download for free from the Microsoft website.
- Click here to go the Visual C# Express Edition homepage.

Have fun!