Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

The Chinese lunar new year will be celebrated next Monday (January 26th) the world over.

I am blessed to live in a multi-cultural country where this is another new year that is a national holiday (we celebrate the secular calendar, the Chinese lunar calendar and the Islamic calendar). In my old neighbourhood, we can expect a great deal of noise in the nights preceding the Chinese new year's (CNY) eve and for up to three weeks after with the celebratory fireworks and sparklers. Fireworks and sparklers are actually banned in my country, but the police are rather tolerant of festival firecrackers as long as no one loses a finger (or an eye, or a limb or any part of their body).

With every festival season, all my countrymen look forward to the celebratory advertisement put out by Petronas. I was lucky to have caught it on screen tonight as I was chatting with my parents. All of Petronas' festival advertisement are like micro features; a superbly crafted story executed fluidly in about two minutes. Laden with meaning, beauty and emotion, these advertisements serve to remind us that the most important thing in life is love; be it family, lover or country. If I am not mistaken, all or nearly all of the ads are the handiwork of the incomparable Yasmin Ahmad. She is a film-maker of renown who often deals with subjects such as love and betrayal and compassion for fellow man so passionately and beautifully. Unfortunately, her "unconventional" expressions often lands her in hot water with the national censorship board. Thanks to their overzealousness, our neighbouring Singaporeans get to watch her films much earlier than any of her own countrymen.

This year's CNY ad reminds us how fleet time is and how sorrowful regret can be. The muted tones, the lowered voice ... tres fantastique. The actors are very fine and did a wonderful job at telling the story. The backdrop is Ipoh, with its old world charm and idiosyncratic features.

It is said that the year of the Ox will be a better one than the last. Here's to that!

Yam seng!

Monday, January 12, 2009

I vote for Hospital X ...

Getting the best of healthcare treatment should be the rights of all individuals. Unfortunately, the healthcare market is skewed to favour those with the more moolah. But is money alone the sole determinant of getting the best treatment when you are dealing with cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular issues etc? How do you know to shop for the best place to get your gall bladder out?

This article in NYTimes indicated that it is important to shop around for the best treatment and that physicians should be ethically obligated to disclose whether or not the institution that they are affiliated with is the best place for the patient to receive the treatment indicated. But when you consider how little interaction the physician wants to have with you, as a patient, it renders this a moot point. Many physicians are still of the old school, paternalistic style: I know what's best for you and you should trust and not question my judgment/recommendation.

I was just glad that when my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer, he agreed to go to a teaching hospital that my mother frequents. Not only is the cost reasonable (hehehe, we cheated on this one as my sister is a government servant and could get massive discounts for the treatment), the surgeon (a scary and uber competent woman) does the operation on a weekly basis and thus, is well-trained for the occasion.

The thing is, many patients are still unable to communicate their needs well with their physician. It is easy to point the finger at the physician for not being better listeners/willing to spend time with the patient etc., but do we, as patients, pay attention to what and how we tell our problems to our doctors?

Point to ponder.

I am my gene, not my ethnicity

This article by Jerry Adler in Newsweek gave me pause. I'm in the middle of constructing a proposal to look at the pharmacogenetics of diabetes in the Malaysian population. One of the parameters that I plan to collect during the course of the investigation is ethnicity (or race, except that race sounds so ... racist.). Living in multicultural Malaysia where you have a box in any given form to indicate your ancestry(Melayu, Cina, India dan lain-lain), identifying yourself as part of an ethnic group is pretty much a way of life.

For those who are of mixed parentage, things can get pretty squeaky. As Asians, you are expected to identify yourself per your father's ethnicity (paternalistic society norms still prevail in the 21st century). But what if your father is a mere sperm donor and you do not want to link yourself to him at all? Or you're a dyed in the wool feminist who believes in aligning yourself with your maternal lineage?

Anyway. A number of the work done in disease genetics in Malaysia do indicate certain patterns that relate to a person's ethnicity. I guess I will not be going all gung-ho about not being "racist" in my project.

*crescents fingers*

Thursday, December 18, 2008

To Sir, with Love

Whoever said, "Those who can do, those who can't, teach." ought to be shot and mounted on a wall with a plaque declaiming "Judgmental Idiot". As someone who have been involved in the teaching industry for nearly eight years, let me tell you: teaching is not for the faint hearted.

It takes a lot of hard work, courage, determination, ingenuity and patience to be a good teacher; whether you teach pre-schoolers or university students, science or arts. You think it's easy to face 20-odd students and try to impart knowledge to them with your heart in your throat and cold sweat running down your back? It's facing stage fright every single day. Not just surviving it, but flourishing through it.

You gotta have passion for it. Respect and real appreciation for the students; be it the class sloth who sleeps everyday in your class, the slow one who doesn't seem to grasp the concept after you explained it for the dozenth time and the star who outpaced everyone including you. In my experience, the best part of teaching is when you see the lightbulb go off in their head and you know that they will carry whatever it was you showed them when they walk out. How long it stays in their head, doesn't matter, even if they lose it right after the exam result comes out.

The Schulich School of Engineering of the University of Calgary came up with Iron Science, a challenge celebrating science teachers, which is loosely based on Iron Chef, the Japanese cooking television series. I don't know how well this helps to improve science education in Canada, but it sure is a fantastic way to acknowledge science teachers and their creativity.

There is a reason why people keep making movies about teachers. Think about it.

Take a chance on me ...

I love this offer by the University College London that they would fund researchers without the peer review process. As someone who had experienced rejection when requesting for research grant, this made me dance around with joy for the lucky UCL researcher who could convince the Vice Provost that their idea has merit.

I remember reading a character in a Jayne Ann Krentz book wondering if Charles Babbage had the money to build his super calculator, how advanced would our computer technology be right now. Would the technology be what it would be, in say, 100 years from now? Who knows. Maybe Babbage couldn't make it work. May be he could.

But still, what a wonderful concept!

Good deeds done dirt cheap ...

Microfluidic technology has a variety of application in health diagnostic, environment monitoring and quality control. For the most part, the preparation of the chips are not cheap, making the technology relatively inaccessible. But this may change, thanks to a group from Harvard, who created a microfluidic device using little more than paper and sticky tape.

Talk about awesome. How far is this from the market is still unknown but the group promised that profits from the product be channeled to help developing countries manufacture and utilise said product.

Somehow, I'm rather skeptical of that. But hey, didn't someone told me to be less cynical? I'm waiting to be proven wrong here.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Friends will be friends ....

Human beings are a hostile lot. Just ask anyone who survived playground politics. Or boardroom politics. Any sort of backstabbing behaviour perpetrated by another upon oneself. Abuse. Murder. What-have-you.

It made me wonder, what a terrible spot this orca must be in that it sought human contact for companionship.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Doping your way to higher grades/pay scale

When looking at a student's grade, do we ever think about the effort it takes to achieve it? Swotting, sure. Some all-nighter perhaps. So what if the kid knocks back a couple of Red Bull to keep his/her red rimmed eyes open to cram as much as possible for tomorrow's paper. No biggie. But taking and (most likely) abusing a controlled drug? Would that be considered extreme?

This commentary in Nature deserves some examination. According to some, as human beings, we owe it to ourselves to go further than ever with the aid of such enhancement. For others, it is "unnatural" and therefore abhorrent.

Whatever your take on this, you can betcha if I could line me some Ritalin, I would not hesitate to take it for my all-nighters, warranted or not.

Does that make me a bad person?


Wanted: Another lonely gene

Everyone has known loneliness to a certain extend. Sometimes you can shake it off easily, sometimes it takes you a while to bounce back. Is our loneliness due to our personal choices, contact avoidance and simple inadequacy? According to this CNN report, maybe not. I have not read the reports from which this story was sourced, so cannot determine whether the numbers speak the truth.

But what struck me most was the last quote by John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago's Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience. "It's really having one good relationship is all that it takes," Cacioppo said. "Spending all your time online getting 4,000 friends on Facebook is not useful. The number is not where connection occurs."

In a world where everyone is frantic to be famous, do they actually want to hear this?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Don't go gently into the good night ...

Or something like that. Yeah, quote abuse abounds in this blog.

Anyway, to my point. Euthanasia is something that is hotly debated the world over. Some countries legislate it and allow people; commonly the terminally ill or massively disabled, to end their lives. Belgium allows assisted suicide, so does Switzerland and some states in the USA, notably Oregon.

Why do these group in the population request for assisted suicide? Well, primarily because they can't do it themselves. They are seriously ill with limited physical ability or was injured severely that they can no longer perform daily tasks such as feeding themselves, walking etc. Why do they want to die? Is their physical condition or deterioration reason enough to snuff out their life? Well, judge not lest ye be judged, is all I can say.

I do not want to judge people who opt for this decision. No one wants to live out the rest of their life infirm and dependent on others for their physical needs. The loss of dignity and being a burden is something that is feared by many, with good cause. To lose control over one's body, to not be able to care for oneself the way one has always done so, whether due to physical or mental deterioration, is something that no one wants to contemplate. But millions of people the world over have to live (and slowly die) with this reality.

It is easy to say, when you are whole and hearty, that you'd rather die than become paralysed. But if that is your reality, can you actually make a firm decision to choose to die? Or for someone whose physical condition slowly diminishes, taking away their dignity and quality of life, does it take more strength to die or to live? I think that no one who have to live with such reality, or have someone they love live with that reality, should make any kind of judgment.

Most religion forbids the taking of life, with suicide one of the greatest insult of all. If you are a person of faith, it is perhaps, not so difficult a decision to make. But for many without the comfort of faith and devotion to The Divine Being, the lines can be as blurred as the tidelines come monsoon.

But to broadcast this choice in the name of education, documentary, what-have-you, is that acceptable? I wonder if the station actually warns viewers of possible disturbing content that they may see from the film. But even if they do so, it is human nature to gawk at horrid circumstances.

Just ask any faithful rubberneckers at the highway accident.