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Origami Spinosaurus

Origami spinosaurus

Location: Selangor, Malaysia

I thought it would be a good idea to introduce the kids to origami during this Movement Control Order period. My son found a YouTube video purporting to show an ‘easy’ way to make a spinosaurus. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the head to fold correctly so for some weird reason this spinosaurus ended up looing upwards. Oh well, better to spot a falling meteor I guess!

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My Plan For The Site

I read a really interesting article entitled ‘Running a Paid Membership Program‘ by Craig Mod recently. That got me thinking about my long term plans for this site. I’m lucky enough to have a job that, while it will never make me a millionaire, is more than good enough for meeting my basic needs. So in that sense, Craig’s advice doesn’t really apply to me as I’m not intending to set up a membership program or anything for this site.

I do, however, like the idea of building an audience of like-minded people who can appreciate the sort of things I pay attention to. One really useful tip I came across in the article is to:

Start writing / making videos / producing what it is you intend to produce for members today, build up that muscle, and do it, ideally, for years before launching the program

Yes, it takes years of work to build a following, especially if you shy away from sensational news or social media spamming. I’m OK with that. I think if you look at this endeavour as a long-term project, then it enables you to stop obsessing about where you are now, and start focusing on the trajectory that you’re on. For me, this translates to the following: it doesn’t matter if only 1-2 people are reading my site daily (as is happening now), as long as I keep on producing useful articles and my readership is growing.

Even though I don’t have any plans for recruiting ‘members’ to this site, I really like the idea of having a place where I can post my thoughts regularly, and where people can come to read (and maybe discuss?) what I’ve written. For years I have been using RSS to follow blogs like Daring Fireball by John Gruber, Kottke.org by Jason Kottke, and Six Colors by Jason Snell. I guess I like the idea of a blog that is personality-driven, rather than the bland news and opinion pages I often see on newspaper websites.

In summary, my plan for the site is this: to use it as an avenue for sharing my day-to-day experiences as a doctor, researcher, and lecturer with other people who are interested in these sort of things. Hopefully someone reading the site will find something useful, funny, or uplifting that they can then use to motivate them in whatever it is they’re doing.

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Keeping Fit During The Movement Control Order

I had gotten into something resembling a fitness routine prior to this Movement Control Order (MCO). I don’t have a car in Oxford, so I just cycled everywhere I needed to go. 80% of the time, this is fine—enjoyable even—given how nice some of the cycle paths are over there. The other 20% of the time, I’m huffing and puffing uphill trying to get to the John Radcliffe Hospital, or gripping my handlebars like a madman trying to prevent myself from being blown over while cycling in strong winds.

In addition to cycling, I also went to the gym 2-3 times a week. For me, this was a pleasant outcome from reading the book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. For those of you who’ve never come across the book, it’s basically about how small changes make a big difference in the long run. With my gym routine, I started off doing simple cardio once a week. Truth be told, at that point that was all my body could cope with, I was pretty badly out of shape! But slowly I started to vary the routine, in addition to increasing the frequency of my gym visits. Lo and behold, after a few months, I had gone from 0 visits to the gym to going there every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday almost without fail. I even cycled to the gym during Storm Ciara, although this sounds braver (or more foolhardy) than it really was, seeing as in Oxford it was basically just stronger winds than usual.

I flew back to Malaysia around the time of the first MCO in mid-March to be with my family while continuing my DPhil work remotely. One thing I’ve found challenging is the inability to go anywhere to exercise. This has forced me to change my routine slightly. I’m doing less cardio (which may be a good thing?) and more body weight type of exercises.

I tried running around the porch. Given that one round takes me about 20m, it took me almost 250 rounds to get to 5km. To avoid wearing out only one knee, I ran clockwise for 500m before going anti-clockwise for another 500m, alternating between the two until I got to 5km. Overall, not a very fun experience! Also, my pace of 9’51″/km was very slow as I was unable to get a clear stretch of road to build up any kind of speed. I mean, I’m a pretty slow runner at the best of times, but I’m not THAT slow usually.

Calories from 5km run

So I switched to doing more body weight exercises, and that seems to be more promising. At the moment, I’m trying a new routine whereby I start off with some jumping jacks and then switch between leg, chest, shoulder, and back exercises. The whole routine takes about 10 minutes and includes things like:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Air squat
  • Prisoner squat
  • Mountain climber
  • Step in
  • Bird dog
  • Superman
  • Push up
  • Shoulder tap
  • Bridge
  • Straight arm plank
  • Elbow plank

I try to do 2 rounds each session, although towards the end I tend to get a bit wobbly from exhaustion! Haha…

One interesting thing I’ve discovered is that performing the ‘Taraweeh’ prayers burns up a respectable amount of calories (see below). I’m trying to figure out if changing the type of exercise from ‘Mind & Body’ to ‘Yoga’ or ‘Fitness Gaming’ changes how it counts those calories, but I don’t have enough data to come to any conclusions just yet.

Calories from Taraweeh prayers

So yes, ladies and gentlemen, do not neglect your prayers!

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Books

Books

Location: Oxford, UK

Just some of the books that I managed to read last year. I particularly enjoyed ‘The World As It Is’ by Ben Rhodes.

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Learning How To Learn

I wrote a short post on Facebook yesterday that garnered some attention (by my own measly standards), so I thought I’d expand on the post here.

First of all, let me just say that I’m always wary of giving parenting advice such as this. Why? Because to a certain extent, it implies that I’ve got it all sorted out when the reality is quite the opposite. Being a parent is a bit like building a plane while flying it, or flying a plane while building it, whichever order you prefer. Most of the time I struggle to get my kids to stop playing ‘Frogger in Toy Town’ or ‘Cricket Through the Ages’. Heck, I often end up joining them…that cricket game is hilarious!

Cricket Through the Ages

Secondly, I’m aware of how lucky I am to have the luxury of staying at home to look after my kids without having to worry too much about where the next meal is going to come from, how to pay the bills etc. Being in lockdown is clearly a lousy situation, it really sucks. For some people, it’s an inconvenience; for others, it’s an unmitigated disaster. I don’t want to downplay the negative aspects of a lockdown, merely to share with you some of the methods I’ve tried to make the best of this unfortunate situation.

So to re-cap, the Facebook post was about giving my kids a topic to research and present. Basically I choose a topic at random, they get half a day or so to read about it online, and then they have to prepare a short presentation about said topic.

My reason for doing this is not so much to get them to learn things, but to learn how to learn.

Kids these days are faced with a daunting challenge i.e. how to make sense of things in a world overwhelmed with information. That’s why I think one of the most important skills to acquire at an early age is how to sift through the pile of information available, in order to get to the bit of knowledge that you need. This is a lot harder than it sounds, and unless you train them to do it, it’s not going to get any easier as they grow up.

I’m being relatively flexible about how my kids research their topics. In fact, I’m kind of hoping that they make mistakes along the way because I think it’s valuable to know how you ended up making a mistake in the first place.

Because they’re new to this, my kids often end up copying down whatever is in the very first website they encounter. Often, this is Wikipedia, so in that sense, they’re not that different from many university students! Eventually, I hope to nudge them away from just using Wikipedia, but for now, I just want them to develop a sense of excitement towards independent learning…so Wikipedia it is!

One tweak I’ve made is to get them to alternate between presenting their findings in English one day ,and Bahasa Melayu on the next day. I really want to include Arabic and Mandarin in this list, but I’m not fluent in either language. Oh well, something for the dad to learn I guess! I don’t know how long they’ll be able to stick to this routine, but hopefully they will pick up some useful habits while doing it.

And now, back to ‘Cricket Through the Ages’…

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Ship

Ship

Location: The National Gallery, London

I can’t be the only person to appreciate the amount of love and care that went into painting this ship.

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Adab Perbahasan

Saya mula berkecimpung dalam arena bahas Bahasa Melayu semasa di Tingkatan 1. Hasrat asal untuk menjadi pemain ragbi tidak kesampaian kerana ibu tidak benarkan, jadi saya pun memilih untuk menyertai pasukan bahas. Alhamdulillah, rezeki saya banyak di situ, dapat jugalah mewakili sekolah lebih kurang 50 kali dalam pertandingan bahas. Penglibatan saya biasa sahaja, hanya di peringkat sekolah menengah, tidak lebih daripada itu. Mahu ke hadapan lagi pun tidak boleh kerana universiti tempat saya belajar tidak ada kelab bahas Bahasa Melayu (jangan kecam ya ‘netizen’!).

Tujuan saya menceritakan kisah sebagai pembahas adalah untuk berkongsi pengalaman paling penting yang saya pelajari sepanjang tempoh 4-5 tahun bergiat aktif dalam bidang tersebut.

Saya namakan prinsip ini ‘adaT perbahasan’, tetapi mungkin lebih elok kalau dibaca sebagai ‘adaB perbahasan’.

Saya bersyukur kerana telah dapat berkongsi arena bahas dengan ramai individu yang benar-benar hebat. Antara ‘musuh-musuh ketat’ saya dahulu adalah para pembahas daripada SEMESTI, SAINA, TKC, STAR, dan SMAP Kajang. Yang menariknya, ramai daripada mereka ini akhirnya menjadi sahabat baik saya. Ada yang sudah menjadi doktor pakar, ahli politik, jurutera, peguam, ahli perniagaan, tokoh korporat, selebriti Facebook dan sebagainya. Walaupun menjadi ‘musuh ketat’ dalam dewan bahas, tetapi hakikatnya saya tidak pernah membenci atau berdendam dengan mereka. Malah saya amat kagum dan gembira melihat masing-masing kini berjaya!

Dewasa ini saya bimbang melihat kecenderungan masyarakat untuk berlebih-lebihan apabila ada perbezaan pendapat. Sesiapa sahaja yang tidak sehaluan, secara automatik dilabel sebagai pengkhianat, berniat jahat, ‘macai’, kurang cerdik dan sebagainya. Seharusnya kita berhujah berlandaskan ilmu dan dengan penuh adab. Malangnya kita lebih gemar sindir-menyindir, atau memarahi, berbanding cuba memahami. Saya sendiri tidak terkecuali daripada berbuat sedemikian. Malah, kalau melihat komen-komen lama saya di Facebook atau Twitter, malu juga memikirkan ketidakmatangan diri ini. Tetapi saya tidak padam komen-komen tersebut, supaya menjadi peringatan buat diri sendiri bahawa saya juga tidak sempurna dan perlu berubah ke arah yang lebih baik.

Bagaimana untuk membuat anjakan paradigma ke arah yang lebih baik? Nasihat saya, sebagai permulaan, kurangkanlah penglibatan kita semua dalam persatuan ‘Bawang Rangers’. Fikir dahulu sebelum bercakap. Berikan komen dengan cara yang sopan. Tegas pada prinsip, tetapi berhujah dengan penuh hormat. Bersangka baik terhadap orang yang berbeza pendapat. Buang ego ketika berbahas. InshaAllah, kita semua tidak rugi apa-apa dengan berbuat sedemikian.

Oleh kerana masa mencemburui saya (ayat lazim ketika berbahas), izinkan saya mengakhiri hujah dengan mendoakan agar kita semua istiqamah dalam berpesan-pesan dengan kebenaran dan kesabaran.

Wallahu a’lam. Salam Jumaat buat semua.

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Should I Wear A Mask In Public All The Time?

Short answer: Yes!

Longer answer: I am 99.9% certain that EVERYONE should wear a mask when out in public ALL THE TIME.

There are two main reasons why I am saying this: one’s medical, and the other one is cultural.

Medical

The first thing to note is the World Health Organization’s own advice on ‘When and how to use masks‘. Broadly speaking, the WHO says that you should wear a mask in the following situations:

  • If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.

Here in Malaysia, the official advice from ‘Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia’ (KKM) is similar to the one given by the WHO. I have a lot of admiration and respect for our KKM, as well as its Director-General (who I think is a national hero regardless of how much he tries to deny it!). Nothing of what I say should take away from the fact that they have done an incredible job at managing the COVID-19 situation in Malaysia. Having said that, I humbly beg to differ with regards to their advice on the use of face masks.

One of the main reasons for saying that masks are not needed for all is due to the worry of not having enough masks for healthcare providers. I fully understand that, and in a situation where the supply of masks is limited, I completely support giving it to those who need it the most. Once that is taken care of, however, we really should consider making it ‘highly recommended’ for people to wear masks in public all the time.

Of course, the science behind this is still developing. But absence of proof is not proof of absence. In other words, just because we don’t have scientific papers showing how wearing masks in public reduces COVID-19 transmission rates, doesn’t mean that masks don’t work! The main problem with saying ‘you only need to wear a mask if you’re sick’ is this: people can be asymptomatic carriers.

An asymptomatic carrier, or even a COVID-19 positive individual with very mild symptoms, may not even be aware that he/she has the infection. Here the science is stronger. We know that people can be asymptomatic carriers. We know that asymptomatic carriers can pass on the virus to other people. After all, that is the basis of our social distancing and restriction of movement efforts. So if you take into account that we can be walking around feeling perfectly well while shedding the virus, then it doesn’t really make sense to say that you only need some form of protection i.e. masks, only if you’re unwell and at risk of passing it on to others.

Medically-speaking, do face masks work all the time? Of course not. No reasonable intervention does. But even a 5%, or 10% improvement, is better than nothing. Progress, not perfection. If you’re even remotely familiar with how new medical treatments are approved, you will know that some drugs/procedures are given approval simply for showing a statistically significant, but clinically marginal, benefit over their competitors. So if I were to tell you that we have a cheap, relatively safe, readily available intervention that can help to further ‘flatten the curve’, wouldn’t you want to use it?

Cultural

The other main reason for recommending widespread use of face masks in public has to do with destigmatizing the whole condition. If people are only told to wear face masks when they are unwell, then guess what your reaction will be when you encounter someone in public wearing a face mask? You’ll probably avoid that person like the plague, or like COVID-19, as it were.

I’ve heard many stories of healthcare workers being inadvertently exposed to the virus because one of their patients chose to withhold important travel or contact information. I don’t believe all of these cases are due to selfishness, malice, or stupidity on the part of the patient. Fear of stigma can make you do foolish things.

Look, this movement control order cannot last forever. Once it is lifted, and people try to go back to their normal lives, there is a real risk of another wave of COVID-19 infections. We can do more to ‘flatten the curve’ further by making it acceptable to wear face masks when going shopping, when at school, or when attending meetings.

Suggestions

If I were helping the government to implement this policy, in addition to all the economic measures that have been announced, I would certainly consider handing out washable face masks especially to the people who need it the most e.g. the urban poor who are less likely to be able to practise social distancing effectively.

Given a choice between disposable and washable face masks, I’d vote for the latter, simply because they are more practical and sustainable. In order to meet the demand for washable face masks, I think there are a few possible solutions, for example engaging local businesses to manufacture and distribute them, and even teaching people how to make their own. I mean, if Penor Prison inmates can make personal protective equipment, why can’t people make a basic face mask themselves?

Does it matter that it is made of cloth instead of whatever fancy material that medical-grade face masks are made of? Probably.

Does it matter if it is 1-ply, or 2-ply, or 3-ply? Maybe.

But remember, we should aim for progress, not perfection. Even some level of protection is better than none, given the situation.

Epilogue

This post was inspired by an excellent article by Ben Thompson over at Stratechery entitled ‘Unmasking Twitter‘.

I used to think that wearing face masks when you’re feeling well is a bit of a waste of time, despite my wife telling me otherwise. (Editor’s note: Kids, this is the reason why your significant other is called your better half!) I now think that we should strongly recommend the use of face masks in public all the time.

For the record, I am perfectly happy to be proven wrong by any doctor, epidemiologist, social activist, keyboard warrior, or even acik bawang Facebook. Just show me the evidence. I am only interested in getting to the truth, something that will help us win this war against COVID-19. This is not about me trying to be smarter than all the other experts. This affects all of us, and now is not the time to be dogmatic or egoistic about potential solutions.

Speaking of which, I hope you will excuse me while I figure out how to apologize to my wife and admit that she’s been right all along. Maybe I should use my Doraemon voice…

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Peacock

Peacock

Location: Sunway Lagoon Wildlife Park, Selangor

I was struck by how smoothly the colour blue morphs into green on this peacock’s body.

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Personal Cost Of COVID-19

There have been many MANY articles written about the COVID-19 pandemic. Many more will be written before we get to the end, no doubt. Some people choose to focus on the science behind it, others talk about the effect it has on their own lives.

Here are two really good articles about the personal cost of dealing with COVID-19.

The first article is by neurosurgeon Henry Marsh entitled ‘COVID-19 And The Doctor’s Dilemma‘:

Doctors are usually both fatalistic and anxious about their family’s health. We know that bad things happen — we witness this at work every day — but also that bad things are, on the whole, unusual. Until you reach old age, that is. When members of our family fall ill, we have to wrestle with professional realism and anxiety driven by too much knowledge. I have little choice other than to think of the worst that might happen, work through my feelings about it, and then try to put it to one side. I suppose you could call this “catastrophising” but, I’m afraid to say, Covid-19 is a catastrophe, even though almost all of us, strange to say, will survive it.

Beautifully written, as is the second article, entitled ‘What I Learned When My Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus‘, by Jessica Lustig, deputy editor of The New York Times Magazine. One of the most poignant paragraphs contains this moving detail about a sweater:

I am texting the doctor. I am texting T’s five siblings on a group chat, texting my parents and my brother, texting T’s business partner and employees and his dearest friends and mine, in loops and loops, with hearts and thankful prayer-hands emoji. He is too exhausted, too weak, to answer all the missives winging to him at all hours. “Don’t sugarcoat it for my family,” he tells me. He has asked for the gray sweater that was his father’s, that his father wore when he was alive. He will not take it off.

Stay safe everyone.