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Creepy Weird Nerds

Finally, someone who appreciates our talent! I can’t wait to show my kids what the famous comedian Dr Jason ‘Jho Low’ Leong says about neurologists. Haha.

In all seriousness, not a day goes by without me feeling #blessed to be in this position.

In case you’ve missed all the announcements, Hashtag Blessed is now available on Netflix.

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Can Maths Tell Us How to Win at Fantasy Football?

It’s that time of the year again! Payback for all the instances you were picked last when choosing teams. Redemption for all the missed kicks, headers, and tackles when you were a kid. A chance for nerds everywhere to finally prove their worth on the football field. Fantasy Football, that is…

If you’re interested in learning about mathematically-optimal strategies for Fantasy Football (and who isn’t?), here’s a lecture on the topic given by Josh Bull from the Mathematical Institute at Oxford.

You may rightly ask, what do scientists/geeks/nerds know about Fantasy Football anyway? Actually, more than you might think. Josh, for example, won the 2019-2020 Premier League Fantasy Football competition, partly using mathematical modelling strategies carried over from his work on cancer cells.

As Jack Black says (or sings) in the School of Rock:

Math is a wonderful thing
Math is a really cool thing
So get off your act let’s do some math
Math, math, math, math, math

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Goodbye Malaysia

When I returned to Malaysia in March this year, I honestly didn’t think I’d still be here come September. But all good things must come to an end. After almost 6 months at home, it’s finally time to go back to the UK.

I’ve been away from home since I was 12. So this shouldn’t be too difficult, should it? Yeeesss, and no.

In the last 6 months I’ve grown incredibly close to my kids. In that sense, this pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. Looking back at my life for the last few years, everything has been proceeding at breakneck pace. Housemanship, MO-ship, MRCP, neurology subspecialty training, PhD…all these leave very little time for family.

And yet for the last few months I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my wife and kids. I’ve been able to teach them how to:

Ride a bicycle

Play basketball

Play the piano

Do Taekwondo stuff

Attend online classes (!)

Paint

Play chess

All that, on top of spending more time with my other family members. Alhamdulillah, I am grateful for these moments , moments that are now etched into my memory and that I will treasure all my life.

Speaking of memory…

If we put aside the pain of being away from my family, I’m actually very much looking forward to resuming my DPhil work in earnest. To a certain extent, I feel torn between two loves. Love for my family, but also love for the topics I am studying: neuroscience, neurology, memory, motivation, apathy etc.

To me, these are important things, worth the time spent studying and researching them. Malaysia is not unusual in that we have a lot of people with stroke and dementia. If I can use my knowledge to help my future patients, that would be worth all the sacrifices I’ve had to make, and am still making.

10,000 km away

My 3 year-old son asked me this morning where I was going.

“Daddy’s going to work,” I replied. In my mind, I wonder if he understands that ‘work’ is 10,000 km away.

I asked my wife to just drop me off at the departure terminal earlier, but told my kids to stay at home, not because I was worried they’d burst into tears, but so that they won’t be able to see mine…

Hasbunallah wa ni’mal wakeel.

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TENET

This is not a review of Tenet per se. Having said that, if you’re even remotely interested in watching the movie, I suggest doing so first before you read any further.

Trying to pick a favourite Christopher Nolan film has always been difficult for me. Well, now it’s become even more challenging following the release of Tenet. The movie bills itself as a sci-fi action spectacle, in which events unfold in a setting that transcends time.

Hold on, you might say, not another time travel movie! Well, it’s a bit more dramatic than that.

Not time travel. Inversion.

In order to do it justice, it’s best to see Tenet in IMAX. The more expensive ticket price is well worth it. The only thing is you DO have to pay attention. This is not your typical superhero movie. And as much as I like superhero movies (favourite one: Doctor Strange, obviously!), I also enjoy movies like these where you have absolutely no idea what on earth is going to happen. All you can do is to try and keep up.

Is it better than Inception though? That’s a tough call. Inception is still my favourite Christopher Nolan movie. I will always have a soft spot for Inception because I see it as a story about a father trying to get home to his children. Forget the layers and layers of dreams, or the mind-bending architectural feats. At its core, Inception is a story about family. As someone who’s had to be away from his own family for extended periods of time, let me say this: it ain’t easy!

The other thing to say is, of course, the experience of going to the cinema itself. Here in Malaysia, things are not too bad. Although there are restrictions in place (for example, my wife and I had to leave an empty seat in between us because of…reasons), overall it’s still an enjoyable experience.

So, bottom line, will I be watching Tenet again?

Wrong question, my friend.

What you should be asking is: how many times will I be watching Tenet again?

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Thank You

Thank you Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah for showing us how one can make a meaningful difference while remaining humble.

We need more people like you, who refrain from political drama, and focus instead on the business of leading and inspiring the people around you.

There’s no doubt in my mind that you are a worthy role model for the next generation of leaders. So once again, tahniah dan terima kasih!

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The Language Of Mathematics

In my previous post, I touched on the importance of mathematics and statistics in science. Naturally, I’m not the first person to have said this; others have put it in a much more elegant manner.

Take for example, Galileo, who said that the book of the Universe:

Cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to understand the alphabet in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wonders about in a dark labyrinth.

Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)

I found this quote in the book I’m currently reading (re-reading, who am I kidding?) which is ‘Science: A History‘ by John Gribbin. Incidentally, the bookmark that I’m using is a Magic: The Gathering card called ‘Magical Hacker‘. Printed on the card is this message, which I will let you try to decipher:

1|=y()u(4|\|r3@d7#][5, y0|_|/\r3@IVI0N$+3|2&33|<
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Seni Berfikir Yang Hilang

Saya sebenarnya sudah lama ingin membeli buku ‘Seni Berfikir Yang Hilang (SBYH)‘ karangan Ustaz Hasrizal Abdul Jamil ini, tetapi hanya dapat berbuat demikian minggu lalu apabila saya pergi ke Kedai Buku Kinokuniya di Suria KLCC.

Seni Berfikir Yang Hilang

Buku ini bukannya berdiri sendiri, sebaliknya merupakan ulasan Ustaz Hasrizal tentang sebuah kitab karangan Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi bertajuk Thaqafah Al-Da’iyah. Di sini saya ingin mengucapkan jutaan terima kasih kepada penulis kerana tanpa buku-buku seperti SBYH ini, tentu sukar untuk insan seperti saya yang tidak fasih Bahasa Arab untuk memperoleh manfaat daripada kitab-kitab ilmuan tersohor umat Islam seperti Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi.

Baiklah, pertama sekali, apa pengajaran paling penting yang saya dapat daripada buku ini? Tidak lain tidak bukan adalah 3 bekalan yang diperlukan dalam dakwah iaitu:

  1. Bekalan Iman
  2. Bekalan Akhlak
  3. Bekalan Ilmu

Tujuan buku ini ditulis adalah untuk menghuraikan dengan lebih lanjut 6 cabang ilmu yang perlu dipelajari oleh setiap individu Muslim demi memenuhi bekalan dakwah yang dinyatakan di atas. Berikut adalah 6 bidang ilmu yang disentuh dalam karya tersebut:

  1. Ilmu agama (Al-Thaqafah Al-Diniyyah)
  2. Ilmu sejarah (Al-Thaqafah Al-Tarikhiyyah)
  3. Ilmu sastera & bahasa (Al-Thaqafah Al-Adabiyyah Wa Al-Lughawiyyah)
  4. Ilmu kemanusiaan (Al-Thaqafah Al-Insaniyyah)
  5. Ilmu sains (Al-Thaqafah Al-‘Ilmiyyah)
  6. Ilmu hal ehwal semasa (Al-Thaqafah Al-Waqi’iyyah)

Saya tidak berniat untuk menulis panjang lebar tentang setiap cabang ilmu di atas. Mana mungkin sedangkan saya sendiri bukannya mahir dalam kesemua cabang ilmu yang disenaraikan. Sebaliknya, saya ingin berkongsi beberapa komen tentang buku ini.

Asas Kepada Bekalan Ilmu Adalah Bekalan Agama

Setuju 100%. Malah, pada pendapat saya cabang ilmu itu sepatutnya bukan 6, tetapi 1 + 5. Dalam erti kata lain, ilmu agama itu perlu dijadikan lensa untuk melihat, mengkaji, dan memahami bidang-bidang ilmu yang lain. Tidak keterlaluan jika saya katakan, tanpa adanya asas yang kukuh, manusia akan cenderung untuk mensia-siakan, atau lebih buruk lagi, menyalahgunakan ilmu pengetahuan yang ada pada mereka. Sebagai contoh, sekiranya seorang doktor itu tidak memiliki iman dan akhlak yang baik hasil daripada didikan agama, mudah saja untuk mendapat keuntungan lebih dengan mempromosikan rawatan yang mahal tetapi tidak berkesan kepada pesakitnya. Begitu juga seorang ahli falsafah yang terlalu mengagungkan keupayaan minda manusia, silap-silap ajaran sesat pula yang dibawanya.

Pendek kata, ilmu agama-lah yang akan memberi makna dan perspektif untuk menilai cabang-cabang ilmu yang lain.

Bagaimana Mengejar Yang 1+5

Satu soalan yang mungkin timbul dalam diri kita adalah “Bagaimana mungkin saya boleh menguasai semua cabang ilmu ini?”

Jujurnya, walaupun saya ini agak ‘nerd‘ dan minat belajar (masih lagi status pelajar pada usia 36 tahun), tetapi saya yakin saya tidak akan mampu menguasai kesemua bidang ilmu yang disenaraikan di atas. Namun saya juga faham, bukan itu tujuannya.

It’s not the destination, but the journey that matters!

Maksudnya, walaupun kita tidak mungkin sampai ke tahap berjaya menguasai kesemua cabang ilmu tersebut, yang penting adalah usaha kita. Masa yang telah Allah SWT beri kepada kita, haruslah kita manfaatkan untuk belajar dan terus belajar. Cuma, kita perlu peka, apa sebenarnya yang sedang kita pelajari?

Saya sendiri sering terperangkap dalam persekitaran kognitif yang selesa. Sebagai pakar perubatan neurologi dan kini pelajar dalam bidang neurosains klinikal, saya lebih gemar membaca artikel-artikel berunsur saintifik. Jika ada masa lapang, saya juga minat membaca buku-buku sejarah dan hal ehwal semasa. Tetapi saya sedar kelemahan saya di mana saya sering mengabaikan bidang ilmu lain yang tidak kurang pentingnya seperti ilmu agama, sastera, bahasa, dan kemanusiaan. Untuk memperbaiki keadaan tersebut, saya mengambil keputusan mengatur strategi baru.

Prinsip yang saya ambil mudah sahaja.

Saya pastikan, dalam bahan bacaan saya, mesti ada yang mengajar saya ilmu agama. Mesti ada juga yang menyentuh hal ehwal semasa. Tidak dilupakan buku sastera, kemanusiaan, dan sebagainya. Jadi boleh dikatakan pada setiap masa, saya akan membaca 4-5 buku yang berlainan (bukan serentak, tentunya, tetapi bergilir-gilir dalam sesi bacaan yang sama).

Seni Berfikir Yang Lebih Baik

Kembali kepada buku SBYH ini, saya dengan rendah hati ingin mengemukakan dua cadangan untuk memperbaiki penulisannya.

  1. Seimbangkan isi kandungannya. Ustaz Hasrizal sendiri menulis:

Menurut hemat saya, pengagihan kandungan kitab tersebut agak kurang seimbang. Walaupun ia membincangkan tentang enam ilmu, ilmu yang pertama sahaja telah mewakili dua per tiga kitab. Manakala lima ilmu yang berikutnya berada dalam satu per tiga yang terakhir.

Mungkin disebabkan ketidakseimbangan dalam karya asal (Thaqafah Al-Da’iyah), buku SBYH ini juga lebih memberi tumpuan kepada ilmu agama dan ilmu sejarah. Cabang ilmu lain seperti hal ehwal semasa seperti di’anak tiri’kan kerana hanya mendapat 3 muka surat sahaja.

Dalam bab ilmu sains, misalnya, jika saya boleh menambah sedikit apa yang ditulis, saya akan tekankan betapa pentingnya memahami sedikit sebanyak ilmu matematik dan statistik untuk hidup dalam dunia moden. Ambil sahaja contoh COVID-19:

Andaikata ujian COVID-19 itu berjaya mengesan 99% kes, dan ditakdirkan anda positif setelah menjalani ujian tersebut, apakah kebarangkalian yang anda benar-benar menghidapi COVID-19?

Jawapannya bukan 99% ya! Klik di sini jika ingin belajar lebih lanjut bagaimana untuk menjawab soalan yang amat penting ini.

  1. Huraikan dengan lebih lanjut bagaimana untuk memupuk semula seni berfikir yang sudah hilang ini. Mungkin lebih sesuai dijadikan judul buku yang baru, tetapi saya lebih cenderung untuk melihat ini sebagai buku ‘Seni Berfikir Yang Hilang 2.0’ di mana Ustaz Hasrizal boleh menjawab soalan yang tentunya akan ditanyakan para pembaca: “Jika ini seni berfikir yang telah hilang, bagaimana boleh saya menjumpainya semula?”

Kesimpulan

Akhir kata, saya ingin mengucapkan jutaan terima kasih sekali lagi kepada Ustaz Hasrizal kerana telah berusaha untuk memperkenalkan kitab Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradhawi ini kepada lebih ramai pembaca. Saya tidak kenal Ustaz Hasrizal secara peribadi, cuma saya telah mengikuti penulisan beliau sejak zaman pelajar perubatan lagi. Penulisannya kali ini menarik dan mudah dihadam, sehingga saya membeli dan habis membaca buku SBYH ini pada hari yang sama. Saya doakan semua pihak yang terlibat dalam menghasilkan buku ini dirahmati Allah SWT dan dimurahkan rezeki mereka, inshaAllah!

P/S:

Setelah mencapai senaskhah buku SBYH ini di Kinokuniya tempoh hari, saya pergi pula ke rak buku sejarah. Dalam mencari buku yang menarik untuk dibeli, saya perasan ada 2 orang berdiri di rak sebelah, namun hanya seorang yang sedang meneliti buku-buku yang ada, manakala seorang lagi berdiri tegak di tepi.

Saya curi pandang, dan terbukti benar, bukan calang-calang orangnya! DYMM Paduka Seri Sultan Perak Darul Ridzuan, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah sendiri yang sedang tekun memikirkan buku apa untuk dibeli hari itu. Hendak disapa, tetapi saya diam sahaja apabila melihat muka pengawal peribadinya. Namun, hati saya amat gembira melihat pemimpin yang cintakan ilmu seperti baginda.

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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

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116056

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!

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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.

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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.