Post-Lockdown 2.0

England emerged from Lockdown 2.0 into a world plagued with uncertainties, epitomised by debates over seemingly daft things like:

What exactly constitutes a “substantial meal”?

Under the latest rules, something like a Scotch egg would qualify as a “substantial meal” (according to a cabinet minister) but a Cornish pasty would not.

For my Malaysian readers, that’s a bit like saying a ‘karipap’ is a “subtantial meal”, but an ‘apam balik’ is not.

Confusing? You betcha!

I honestly have a lot of sympathy for the people in charge of writing these rules. Communicating something precisely to the general population is never easy at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.

Risky Talk

While we’re on the topic of communication, I’d like to share with you a really interesting podcast I came across recently. It’s called ‘Risky Talk’ and it’s hosted by Professor Sir (or is it Sir Professor?) David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge.

The latest episode, unsurprisingly, deals with communicating about vaccines.

I have a lot to say about vaccines and the vaccine refusal movement in Malaysia, but this is not the blog post for it. Some other time maybe. Anyway, have a listen to Risky Talk and let me know what you think.

Lab meeting

On top of listening to other people talk, I also delivered a brief presentation during my group’s lab meeting on Monday this week. I had hoped to present my data on visual working memory deficits in cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), but sadly, didn’t manage to finish the analysis in time for the presentation.

Instead, I talked about a recent paper in Neurology about the use of multi-shell diffusion MRI models for white matter characterization in SVD. This is an area of research I’m very keen to explore as part of my DPhil. Hopefully something good comes out of this inshaAllah.

Hello Cutteslowe

In other news, I also moved houses during the lockdown. When I first arrived in Oxford, my college (St. Catherine’s College) kindly gave me a room in their graduate accommodation building, known as St Catherine’s House, or Catz House, for short. It’s located in the south-eastern part of the city, in a district known as St Clement’s. After 6 months, I moved into a room off Botley Road in the western part of the city. This time around, I wanted to live in a different area so I chose a place in Cutteslowe, a suburb of north Oxford.

I’m lucky that I don’t have that many things with me, that is, unless you’re counting the pile of books I seem to have accumulated since coming here. But everyone knows books don’t count anyway; you can (and should) buy as many of them as you want!

Anyway, about the move…it all went well alhamdulillah, except for the fact that I have to wait for my broadband account to be activated. I know, I know, first world problem and all that. But damn, having to rely on mobile hotspot is frankly awful. I mean, take a look at this:

Which is painful when you’ve gotten used to this:

Of course, this is a trivial problem to have compared to everything else that is happening around us. I’m just being silly. I keep having to remind myself to be thankful for all the blessings and opportunities that have come my way. Alhamdulillah, always…

That’s probably enough for now. I hope all of you are staying safe, and managing to find some peace and happiness despite the circumstances. Take care.


Night Mode

Lockdown 2.0 and falling temperatures mean that there are fewer people outdoors especially at night. I’ve fallen into the habit of taking short walks almost every day to alleviate the boredom of sitting alone in a small room at home waiting for the time to pass.

One upside of this is that I’ve had more opportunities to try out Night Mode on the iPhone. Previously, I brought along a small tripod while taking photos of the Radcliffe Camera, but I was curious to see what the photos would look like if I handheld the iPhone, or minimally supported it, by leaning against a tree for example.

Here’s a photo I took earlier from Osney Bridge which crosses the River Thames in Oxford:

View from Osney Bridge

Not bad considering I only rested the iPhone on a bridge handrail while taking the picture. What I really want, however, is to be able to capture more stars in the night sky. Definitely going to put that in my Omnifocus list of ‘Things to Learn’.

The Holly Bush

As I was walking back to my house, I saw this pub looking all lonely and deserted. It reminds me of The Winchester Tavern in Shaun of the Dead, except this one is smaller, and there are no zombies around. Not yet, at least…


A Promised Land

Aaaaand, it’s here folks!

A Promised Land

I picked up the copy that I had reserved at Blackwell’s on Broad Street in Oxford. It’s a shame that they’re only allowed to open a counter at the front door, I would’ve loved to be able to read it over a cup of coffee at the Caffè Nero upstairs.

Excitement level: stratospheric!


The Atlantic’s Interview With Barack Obama

There was a time when I was genuinely interested in politics. This was back in 2005 or so, when I was in my second year of medical school. The previous year, a young state senator had given a speech during the Democratic National Convention in America, a speech so powerful it catalysed a movement that would eventually culminate in him becoming President of the United States of America.

Watching Barack Obama, who once described himself as a ‘skinny kid with a funny name’, overcome multiple challenges with dignity made me think that perhaps I too, should stop complaining and start making some real contributions on my nation’s political stage.

Was I too naive? Perhaps.

Fast forward to 2020 (the long-awaited year when Malaysia was supposed to have achieved ‘Wawasan 2020’), and politics has become a bit of a joke, an avenue for trolling others as well as a platform for self-promotion. Who would’ve thought that the former Prime Minister of Malaysia would go on to become the nation’s biggest internet troll? Malu apa, bossku? Like I said, it’s a joke.

Speaking of jokes, here’s one:


Name the top two ministers in Malaysia.


1) Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr Noor Hisham bin Abdullah
2) Ustaz Ebit Lew.

Harsh, but also true to a certain extent…

And yet, and yet…a part of me still wants to believe that good people should strive to lead. Leadership doesn’t just mean going into politics. We need leaders in all fields.

That’s why I’m very much looking forward to reading Obama’s forthcoming presidential memoir A Promised Land. I’ve always wondered what Obama thinks of his legacy. In his latest interview with The Atlantic, Obama spoke of how he chose to carry himself during his time in office:

Part of what you’re sensing here are times when I make decisions to be gracious, when I assume the best in people, not because I’m naive but because this is how I choose to operate in the world, because I think the world would be better if more people operated that way. Sometimes I fall short and am disappointed in myself, but at least I think it’s important to be anchored in ethics and morality and basic human decency in how you behave.

I think A Promised Land will be a very enlightening read indeed.


Python @ Microsoft

Guido van Rossum, creator of the Python programming language, has come out of retirement to join the Developer Division at Microsoft.

Although I’m an Apple enthusiast (no use denying it), I like the way Microsoft is increasingly embracing open technologies. I’m barely a script kiddie when it comes to Python, but it really is a fun language to learn. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of this collaboration.

The fact that Microsoft, of all companies, is becoming more open-source friendly is not that surprising when you consider the sort of things they’ve been doing recently. But like John Gruber says on Daring Fireball:

Historically speaking, though, it’s unimaginable. If you took a time machine back to 2000 and told a crowd of Python enthusiasts that in 2020 Guido van Rossum would be working at Microsoft, half of them wouldn’t believe you and the other half would pass out.


More Colours of Autumn

One of the reasons why I am so keen on documenting the beauty of Oxford is because I hope to inspire in other people the desire, and also the belief, that they too, can make it here. Despite being thousands of miles away from my family, despite being in yet another ‘lockdown’, I consider myself lucky to be able to go for a quick walk in these surroundings.

The setting occasionally reminds me of the movie Sleepy Hollow, especially when I see the gnarly trees, foggy mornings, and mist flowing over the river.

Nature has a way of healing the heart. One wonders if the world would be such a crazy place if more people were closer to nature. Definitely something I need to remind myself to teach my kids when they get here inshaAllah.

Anyway, here are some more pictures from my short walk near the river today.

For more pictures, check out my earlier post: Colours of Autumn


Lockdown 2.0

Here we go again.

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing…this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

Samwise Gamgee, SR 1380-1482

Colours of Autumn

Enjoying the colours of autumn before England goes into another lockdown.


The Science of Superspreading

Bottom line: in order to stop (or realistically, suppress) the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to deal with hot spots of transmission a.k.a superspreading.

These days it seems like everyone and their pet wombat has become a COVID-19 expert overnight. I’m including myself in this category of ‘experts’, because in reality, I’m not an epidemiologist or infectious diseases physician. That’s why I’ve largely refrained from writing about COVID-19, apart from sharing important information every now and then such as this article entitled Should I Wear A Mask In Public All The Time? (published in early April this year).

However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to learn about the disease. I strongly believe in educating the public, so that we can make informed decisions about what to do as a society trying to weather a pandemic.

This week, I strongly suggest that you spend a few minutes reading this article on ‘The Science of Superspreading‘. Despite the scary-sounding title, it’s actually really easy to read, and comes with some excellent illustrations in case you’re one of those people who feel faint when confronted with a wall of text.

As shown above, the key takeaway point is that:

Most people don’t infect anyone else. A small percentage of people cause most of the transmission.

For the general public, I think the above point is the most important thing to understand right now. But if you’re a card-carrying member of the Nerd Alert Society, then you might want to start reading about k.

Oh man, we’ve just spent ages trying to understand r, and now you want us to learn a totally different letter of the alphabet?

Err, yeah!

So if R0 (R nought) is the number of people, on average, infected by a single infected person, then k is the measure of dispersion for the disease. It’s a way of asking: does the virus spread in a steady manner or in big bursts? Here’s a really good article by Zeynep Tufekci on how ‘This Overlooked Variable Is the Key to the Pandemic‘.

So what?

If you accept that superspreading is an important feature in COVID-19, then it becomes obvious that we should promote measures that prevent superspreading. This is the rationale for avoiding the three Cs:

  • Crowds
  • Close contacts
  • Closed spaces with poor ventilation

The article also mentions backward contact tracing, but I think that’s more relevant for the authorities. So yeah, that wraps up our lesson for this week. Remember kids, ‘knowing is half the battle’!


As I’m writing this, Oxford has just entered Tier 2 of COVID-19 restrictions in the UK. This is probably the least surprising bit of news this week for me, considering the rapid rise in the number of infections here.

I’m not knowledgeable enough to come up with a fool-proof solution for the pandemic, so I don’t envy the authorities who actually have to deal with it. Increasingly though, I see people protesting against the myriad of restrictions imposed on the community. Here’s a picture I took on the 9th of October in the city centre:

COVID-19 protest

Instinctively, I feel like this is not the best response to our current situation (to say the least). But on the other hand, I fully recognise how lucky I am not to have to worry too much about work, health, finances etc. As more and more restrictions come into place, I can’t help but wonder how people will cope psychologically.

So if you’re reading this, I’d like to encourage you to reach out to your loved ones, check on them, make sure they are OK even if you can’t physically be with them. It may not seem like much, but to some people, it may mean the world to them.

Stay safe…


Thank you Dr Ahmad Munawwar Helmi (over on Facebook) who pointed out this article written by father and daughter team, Dato’ Dr Musa Mohd Nordin and Dr Husna Musa, on the need to think beyond R0 and movement control orders.


The Value of Failure

Like many others around the world, I waited with bated breath for the outcome of the Ultimate Fighting Championship 254 bout between Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov and Justin “The Highlight” Gaethje.

True to form, Khabib won the fight alhamdulillah and in a surprise move, announced his retirement saying he had promised his mother that this would be his last fight.

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs Justin Gaethje

I’m not a fan of the UFC, but I always make an exception when Khabib’s name comes up. It’s not so much his prowess in the octagon, but the way he carries himself outside it. This has won him many admirers, including Malaysia’s own Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri, who wrote about the lessons we can all learn from Khabib’s career, namely:

  1. Obey your parents
  2. Pray to God always
  3. Success is followed by the ‘sujud syukur’ (prostration of gratitude)
  4. Never boast
  5. Retire when you’re at the top
  6. Respected by friends and foes

Learning from failure

One thing that struck me after the victory, however, was this interview with Justin Gaethje. I quote:

Interviewer: You said something to him when he was down on the floor, obviously…very emotional…talk us through it, what did you, what words did you offer him?

Justin: I said, I haven’t had a chance to tell you that I’m so sorry for your Dad’s loss, but you just made your father really proud.

Interviewer: That says a lot about yourself as well, the way that you operate, my man, and it was nice to hear Khabib pay you that compliment as well afterwards…

You really should watch the video of the interview:

How a person carries himself/herself in the aftermath of failure tells you a lot about their true character. I hope more people can learn from this.

Failure is not the end of the line. There’s no shame in failure if you have given it your best. Take it on the chin, or in Justin’s case, wake up from the ‘sweet dream’ after a choke, get right back up and have another go at it. Good luck!


Instagram post from Khabib. True champion.