Saturday, December 31, 2011

Things I Am Thankful for in 2011

When a door is closed, a new one opens

So it’s the last day of the year. It’s a cliché, but time flies. Fast! Next year I will be 25. Quarter-life as some people label it. I can say that I have been through a wealth of experience, ranging from one extreme to another (good and bad), to make who I am today. I believe the things that define us are the things that we love to do. For me, it is traveling, writing and public speaking. 2011 has given me a chance to fulfil these things that I love doing. As for my passion for travel, 2011 has taken me to the England, Wales, Holland, Vietnam, Indonesia and Turkey. I am thankful to the Almighty that at the age of 24, I have been given the chance to see 15 countries and 31 cities around the world. While I am not a writer for the newspaper or magazine, I am also glad that my passion in writing has brought this so called ‘Coffee Talk’ to gain relatively wide readership, especially thinking that my blog is not that sensational with the latest gossips or gadgets. It’s just about my life. I am thankful that people read the things I wanted to share. It really surprises me when I was walking in the middle of nowhere people came and told me they read and love my blog. 

As for public speaking, I was also given a chance again to speak at an international level (the last time was in 2009 for the Model United Nations in Harvard). I represented the Malaysian medical students in the International Federation of Medical Students Association in Jakarta, and presented the Malaysian medical students organization in front of hundreds of other medical students worldwide. The feeling before stepping up the stage was nerve wrecking, but the feeling after was extremely exhilarating! My passion for public speaking has also enabled me to teach some students on the tips, tricks and techniques of speaking in public. I was willing to do everything for free, but when you’re unexpectedly paid for something you’re willing to do for free, the satisfaction is beyond words!

Academic wise, I am thankful that until now I never have to re-sit any paper along my journey as a medical student. It is indeed a blessing, because I know this year serves the toughest year yet, juggling between two huge responsibilities as the president of medical student association both at the University and national level. Going for meetings, events and interviews and keeping up with my studies at the same time admittedly was not an easy task. I am more than half-way through, and I hope I will keep the pace up and pass the current posting I am on and keep up with my responsibilities. If I can make it through this term, I believe I have equipped myself be more ready than ever to face the future challenges of my career.

However, not everything goes perfectly well for me this year. In the middle of the year I gained a permanent disability. My left ear was damaged up to the cochlear and nerves that I now have a constant ringing in my head, even now as I am writing this. It never stopped from that day, and I guess it will stay there until the day I lie on my deathbed. It was a traumatizing experience, especially during the earlier days where I was having vertigo and the world seems to spin around me for days. I wasn’t able to even walk without falling. It was even more traumatizing to know that my brain fluids (CSF) was leaking out, and without proper care, I could have contracted a brain infection and only God knows what will happen. Thankfully, the vertigo goes away, only the hearing problem stays. I am thankful that my family and good friends are there to support me during this critical times by visiting me, sending me gifts and wishes. It is in times like these you realize the people that you should prioritize in times of health.

The good thing about having traumatizing experiences is that all other bad experiences pale in comparison. I tend to take problems and other things in general more lightly now that I’ve been through a lot more worse. The problems I face daily become so small in comparison to the traumatic experience I’ve been through. Now that I only have one perfectly working ear, I tend to care less about what people say, and listen more to what my heart says. Every time I face a difficulty, I say to myself ‘Well, at least this might not kill me like last time’, as the saying goes ‘anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. How I appreciate life more now.

All in all, 2011 will be a year I will always remember. Partly thanks to the ringing in my ear which will always be there to remind me the things that I have learned this year. Goodbye 2011, you have been a great teacher. Welcome 2012, whatever you may bring, I am ready!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cook All Your Worries!

Great courage comes not from feeling great while everything goes well. The greatest of courage comes when you feel great despite constantly being tested or running through a complicated situation. What is courage if we do nothing much to test it? It is the ability to cultivate a mind that stays calm in the middle of the storm which is much coveted by those who wish to become great. While so many things are running through the mind, many imagine the worst thing that could happen. However, have you noticed that most of the things that you worry about in the past didn’t actually happen? Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere. All worry does is elicit unpleasant emotions and hinders you from truly enjoying the present moment. The future is uncertain, so live in the present, live the moment as it occurs to you. Take control of your worry and feelings, because if you don’t, it is possible to go sightseeing in Paris and still be depressed. Take control and you might feel happy just walking through your home garden.

I am not suggesting you to ignore all the troubles that might be looming in the future. I am just asking you not to ruminate about it again and again in your conscious mind. Put it in the back of your mind and solve it when the time comes. I have no experience in cooking, but I know that there is such term as ‘slow-cooking’ using the oven. I have observed chefs in cooking channels put some of their stuff in the oven, let it slow cook and sort of forget about it for a while until the time where the timer comes off. While waiting, the chef would tend to other things that needs present attention like cutting and frying. Uncertain problems that might occur in the future, instead of being tended to as in frying, should be let in the oven to ‘slow-cook’, while the current things in the present should be attended with your attention. It is not ignoring, it is putting in the back of your mind and live your daily life paying attention to the present. If it helps, put it on a note to remind you, and let it be. You are not procrastinating but letting time find solutions to your problems. You will be surprised that as you live your day, solutions will come from the most unexpected sources. The great thing about putting it in the back of your mind or your ‘oven’ is that the problems or issues will slow cook and by the time you get it out, it is cooked, or you might already have the solution to the problems.

Weird analogy, I know. Especially from a person like me who doesn’t cook. But that’s what got into my mind as I watched cooking channels. So, cook all your worries, and live your life in the present!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Moments I Surrender To

Sunset in Istanbul. One of the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen
Some people travel to get someplace. I travel just to go. I travel for travel’s sake. My great affair is to move out of the environment that I have been too accustomed with and realize that the world is wider than what my mind had initially perceived. When I am away, I am free from questions, attachments and worldly affairs. I surrender to these moments where I have the luxury of time to think about things I usually don’t think of when I am in the thick of hectic things. Like thinking about the universe, the purpose of my life and the purpose of living in this world. As I observe the wonder of the bizarre and beautiful things that surrounds me, I find beauty in the Creator. It is as if I was detached from my former self. Then comes the great understanding that I live in this world, but I do not belong to it eternally. I live and surrender to these moments, exaggerate the feelings until I truly feel it. In these moments, I resemble the flowers, the trees, the mountains and the stars in the sky…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Talking About an Intelligent Future

The Waiting Room

They say that the future belongs to those who can predict it. It sounds simple and honestly useless especially since there isn’t anyone in this world who has that ability. Maybe if we extend that saying to include ‘those who can predict the future with the most accuracy’, it would sound more logical. I have written before in a post titled ‘On Intelligence’ where I back Jeff Hawkin’s theory that intelligence is merely the interrelatedness of memory and prediction. In this post, I would like to elaborate more on the process of predicting, which lies discreetly on the elicitation of patterns from completely random memory, data or any other scattered things. These things that seem completely random initially will make a whole lot of sense when a pattern is elicited from it. From patterns, predictions are born. Patterns play a huge role in in visual arts, where certain patterns of various colour shapes and sizes appeal to the visual. They also play role in music, where certain arrangements of sound notes appeal to the human ear. The ability to find patterns from human behaviour and predict from it has been used my marketing genius to advertise and sell their products. It has also been used by politicians to gain popularity among the people. The ability to elicit patterns from economic data has saved countries from economic meltdown. Patterns of disease spread have been elicited to prevent infections from becoming increasingly epidemic. In short, pattern exists in everything in this world, as if the world itself is made out of patterns.

I was lucky enough to be invited to International Business Machines (IBM) headquarters in Damansara to get a direct input from IBM Malaysia’s Chief Technologist about the future of predictions. Now, why IBM? In my previous post ‘On Intelligence’, I have summed up that intelligence occurs when huge memories are stored and there exists extensive networks linking them together. The simple reason is that the technological capabilities to store large amounts of memory and create extensive networks covering them lie within the technological pioneers who mostly work for corporate giants, and IBM is one of them. On my visit there, I was introduced to a supercomputer they casually call Mr Watson. Almost brain-like (emphasize the word almost), Mr Watson crunches mind numbing data from its super huge memory and uses complicated algorithms (and I mean really complicated algorithms) to predict patterns from those random data and conclude by predicting an outcome. To show its capabilities, Mr Watson contested in the reality TV game show ‘Jeopardy’ and outwitted two of the game’s best performing human contestants. He was not connected to the web during the show.


But Mr Watson was created for a larger purpose than winning cash in ‘Jeapordy’. The people at IBM has a way of summing up what Watson’s purpose is: ‘To have computers start to interact in natural human terms across a range of applications and processes, understanding the questions that humans ask and providing answers that humans can understand and justify’. In the world we live today, huge amounts of data on various things has been obtained everywhere and on anything. However, they remain mainly scattered and largely give no meaning until someone does extensive research on it. For example, medical records are now compiled in digitally, but in order to see a pattern emerging from those data, researchers need to do laborious work of statistical analysis. However, the research outcome depends on the topic decided by the researcher. In other words, the researcher mainly chooses which pattern related to the topic that he wishes to elicit from those set of data, and his statistical analysis proves the pattern exist (hypothesis accepted) or not (hypothesis rejected). The eyes do not see what the mind doesn’t know. Researchers sometimes miss the subtle patterns that largely remain obscure. With a super computer that detects all possible patterns, this human limitation can be overcome. Medical researchers would also most likely rely on medical records, engineering researchers would rely on engineering records, and economic researchers would rely on economic data and so on. Rarely there is collaboration between fields, where in reality, each field always overlaps. When there is a huge and intelligent place to store all these data and process and make predictions from them, a whole new revolution in human history might take place.


With IBM Malaysia's Chief Technologist (second from left) and Head of Marketing (leftmost)

Think about the future with a technology like this. Think about a more intelligent future where traffic is diverted through its predictions of congestion and weather and reduces the number of traffic accidents. Think about a future of public safety where security is increased in places predicted to be high in crime rates and hence fight organized crime. Think about the future of commerce where the right business targets the precise market predicted. Think about the future of education where knowledge is targeted to those who would benefit from them most. Last and definitely not least, think about the future of medicine and healthcare. IBM has envisioning a smarter healthcare, and is how we got in contact in the first place. We were collaborating for a ‘Smarter Healthcare’ week and that is why they wanted to talk and explain in explicit details about this future technology. IBM is smart enough to realize that this technology is too early a technology to be introduced to those who are already doctors today. They target medical students, as the President of the Malaysian Medical Student Association, it is my job to expose the future doctors towards this future of possibilities. Someday, medical records might all be stored in a huge centralized system that automatically detects patterns of disease and relates it to other aspects such as lifestyle, economic status and family history. However, the question that remains to be asked is how do we maintain patient’s confidentiality in pursuit of this new technology? That question is to be answered by our generation.


One of IBM's vision

The integration between these data can no longer be delayed. When these data can be compiled into a single storage, and data from various fields like medicine, engineering, architecture, economic and social science brought together by networks to give a meaning. There could be a possibility to create a whole new intelligent world. Sometimes we are too frightened by Sci-fi Hollywood movies where machines overtook humans and conquer the world. But humans will never become obsolete because machines never make decisions. They only assist in making decisions. Perhaps when skeptics are overcome, we are well on our way towards a better, smarter future.

In front of IBM's logo
Cool hallway!