The Joys Of Learning

When we were young, curiosity was our second nature. The world was not some mundane environment, but an exciting adventure. Slowly as we grew up, this sense of curiosity and wonder started to fade. Education became an automatic act, a way to add on more facts to the overstuffed cabinets of our minds.

I am in my mid-30’s now. I’ve completed my training to be a neurologist and instead of working hard to become a consultant, I chose to spend a few years pursuing a PhD. One of the reasons for going down this path is to discover — or perhaps re-discover — the joys of learning. Alhamdulillah, so far I feel like I’m doing well on that track.

You see, the good thing about being a student at this age is that you’ve done it before. That’s why, when you come across something challenging, or maybe some concept that you’ve never heard about before, you (hopefully) won’t panic too much. Just chill and learn, chill and learn. After all, nobody can ever hope to know every single thing, so why should we be afraid or frustrated when we encounter something new?

Just this week, I gave a brief presentation during my research group’s lab meeting. I talked about one of the things that’s been bugging me as someone studying cerebral small vessel disease — the question of how exactly to diagnose the condition. One can write at length about this topic, but suffice it is to say that the diagnosis of cerebral small vessel disease is still somewhat subjective, and nowhere near as straightforward as it should be ideally. While researching the topic, I came across this paper by Sundaresan et al. entitled:

Automated lesion segmentation with BIANCA: Impact of population-level features, classification algorithm and locally adaptive thresholding

You may wonder why I’m talking about this paper. Well, the reason is because I stumbled upon something new while reading the paper that reminded me of the joys of learning.

Voronoi diagrams.

Those of you who are mathematicians or computer scientists may be laughing at me now, but I genuinely did not know of the existence of Voronoi diagrams before.

And yet, they are an elegant solution to many problems that occur around us, for example, if you had 10 post offices in a given area, how do you determine the optimal coverage area for each branch?

Similarly, when doing automated segmentation of lesions in the brain (in this case, attempting to segment and quantify white matter hyperintensities), one way to improve the technique is by using Voronoi tesselation to produce what are effectively Voronoi polygons in the brain. This allows you to apply local thresholding to generate a better binary mask of white matter hyperintensities.

Simple, right? Ha ha ha…

Anyway, despite struggling with the concept initially, I came away with something rare, a feeling that ‘Hey, I learnt something completely new today!’

Bonus: check out this Medium article on making ‘Artistic Voronoi Diagrams in Python‘ by Frank Ceballos. The colours are gorgeous!

Why Stroke Matters

A picture says a thousand words.

I wish Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili the very best of health as he recovers from his “extreme exhaustion”.

From the article:

KOTA KINABALU: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Sabah and Sarawak Affairs) Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili has shared a picture of his daughter visiting him in hospital where he is being warded due to “extreme exhaustion”.

Ongkili’s absence on the first day of the highly-anticipated Parliament session earlier this week was not due to a stroke.

Since the article mentions stroke as a possible cause of the Minister’s “extreme exhaustion”, I think this would be a good opportunity to educate the public on stroke.

First of all, why does stroke matter in the grand scheme of things? According to the World Stroke Organization:

  • This year 14.5 million people will have a stroke, 5.5 million people will die as a result.
  • 80 million people have survived stroke worldwide.
  • Many stroke survivors face significant challenges that include physical disability, communication difficulties, changes in how they think and feel, loss of work, income and social networks.

Time Is Brain

In managing heart attacks, medical students are taught early on that ‘time is myocardium’, in other words, the faster you treat the condition, the more heart tissue is saved.

Similarly, in stroke cases, ‘time is brain’.

In fact, researchers have calculated that someone who has just had a stroke loses about 2 million nerve cells for every single minute that the stroke is left untreated!

So then, how do you recognise a stroke?

One of the easiest ways is to use the FAST test, where:

F is for Face
A is for Arms
S is for Speech
T is for Time

Basically, the idea is that whenever you see someone having problems (for example, weakness or numbness) with their face, arms or legs, and/or speech, then please call the ambulance and bring them to a hospital as soon as possible.

Here is a video showing you how to do the FAST test.

Granted, these are not necessarily the only symptoms and signs of a stroke, but the FAST test is a pretty decent way for someone with no specialist knowledge to spot a stroke.

Lastly, if you’re interested in helping out with stroke in Malaysia, the Malaysia Stroke Council is one avenue where you can contribute. Thank you for reading.

Nasi Goreng Ayam

Location: Restoran Saudiah Ali Nasi Kandar, Kuala Kangsar

To a normal person, this may not look like much. But to an MCKK boy, a pack of this ‘Nasi Goreng Ayam’ from So’od is worth more than a shipment of Musang King durians.

Moving Away From Facebook

I had originally wanted to give this post the title ‘Leaving Facebook’, but in reality, it may not be as easy to do so for various reasons outlined below.

But first, let me tell you what I initially thought of Facebook, all the way back in 2005 when it was still a platform only certain people had access to (you had to have a university email address, and only some universities were on the list).

Basically, I didn’t see the point of it!

Sure it was fun to check your friends’ brand new profiles, give them a ‘poke’, and see your friend count increase, but the novelty tends to wear off after a while. I mean, seriously, who on earth wants to know what you had for lunch three days in a row?

This is an important point because a site like Facebook can only survive if people spend a lot of time on it. It’s not enough that you go on it once a week, they want you to be on Facebook every single day for as long as possible.

Which brings me to the reasons why I’m moving away from Facebook: it pushes me towards narcissism, and it encourages me to care about trivial things.

Hey, Look At Me!

Let’s face it, nobody just posts everything that happens to them unfiltered on Facebook. Your profile is a carefully manicured lawn, a polished mirror, a room that’s been Marie Kondo-ed to perfection, because deep down everybody cares what someone thinks of them (even if they don’t care what everyone thinks of them).

When I post something on the site, it is with the intention of getting attention. Facebook, like its sibling Instagram, actively exploits this by tweaking a hundred and one things on its site. Now I’m not saying they’re doing it because of some nefarious plan to dominate the world or anything, instead they’re doing it because they want to drive engagement with the site. Engagement is difficult to define, but basically it revolves around the idea of making Facebook central to how people experience the Internet.

Looking for news? Go on Facebook.

Something good happened to you? Tell your friends about it on Facebook.

Starbucks barista misspelled your name? Moan about it on Facebook!

Stuck in a boring meeting? You know what you need to do…

I’m not going to speculate how other people feel or use this (or any other) social media platform, but for me personally, the more I’m on it, the more narcissistic I become. Deep down, I do care how many people like or comment on my post. This is one of the main reasons for me wanting to move away from Facebook.

OMG Will You Look At This?

Another reason for my increasing aversion towards the site is because it makes me care/worry/rage/think about trivial things. On the Internet, someone is always angry about something. These days, more often than not, that thing ends up on Facebook. OMG some random uncle cut into the supermarket queue in front of you? Take a photo of him and post it to your friends and followers. Watch as the condemnations pour in! Revel in your superiority over these uncouth people!

Sure, that’s a slightly more extreme example, but social media really is full of unnecessary debate over trivial things. Your time should be precious to you, so why should you waste it caring over what some celebrity is doing? Why should it bother you that someone got into a fight at their office and is now rage-posting about it?

You may argue that this is all just harmless fun. But try looking around you the next time you’re at a restaurant. How many families are sitting together at a table without anyone making eye contact or talking to another family member, because every one is so engrossed with the little screen in front of them? Pick your poison: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, WhatsApp, YouTube etc. We’re all guilty of it!

Focusing On What Really Matters

Ultimately, these are MY reasons for moving away from something that is toxic in my life. Other people may feel differently, of course. Maybe Facebook is how you make your living. Maybe you do gain a lot of benefit from it, but for me, the negative aspects far outweigh whatever good comes out of spending time on the site. Even so, I haven’t deleted my profile, I’ve merely deactivated it. The sad reality is that some things just aren’t possible to do without being on Facebook. I get that, and I’m resigned to the fact that from time to time I may need to log back in to check on some information that’s ONLY been posted to the site.

I still want something better though.

I want to spend my time with my family. I don’t want to sit down for dinner with my kids only to end up scrolling my News Feed half the time. I want to care about more important things in life, like the question of what memory is, the nature of consciousness, how do we train better doctors and scientists, how to nurture good habits among our children. These are the issues that deserve our time and attention.

When Albus Dumbledore saw Harry Potter staring at the Mirror of Erised, this was the advice he gave Harry:

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

I fear in our time, this needs to be modified for when Dumbledore sees Harry furiously refreshing his News Feed:

It does not do to dwell on Facebook/Instagram, and forget to live.