First of all, my apologies to all the readers of my blog for the recent bout of inactivity on my blog. I would like to attribute the lack of posts to the following reasons: 1. Been distracted by recent developments in my personal life. 2. Lack of inspiration for new posts – as well as lack of motivation to write about other topics I’ve come across in the last few weeks. I’ll do my best to get back in the rhythm of things from this point on.

Seriously, no link to my above paragraph. Just find this picture cute

My Life and (listening to) Music

I am a music ‘addict’ – I can’t go anywhere without music. In front of my computer, on the bus, on the train, when I’m having lunch out on my own, etc. Listening to music has become an integral part of my life. I remember there was once where I was out of home on my own for the whole day, and I was listening to my iPod music for the entire day, non-stop.

Usually, I would leave all my songs on my 16GB iPod Nano on ‘Shuffle’ mode, and let the iPod automatically select songs at random throughout my entire music library. However, there are some points where I would get irritated by the inappropriateness of the music being played when I am at certain places, or when I am experiencing certain moods that don’t go well with the songs being played. E.g Listening to hard rock or metal songs when I am trying to read in a quiet library, or having to listen to (painfully) slow R&B or jazz music when I am feeling hyped and energized walking around.

Sure, iTunes has this pretty nifty feature known as Genius Mixes, which does a pretty good job at grouping songs of similar genre together, and by selecting the particular mix you wish to listen to, you will only shuffle between songs of that genre. However, with my preferences and mood constantly changing, that means I would have to keep picking up my iPod and adjusting the mix I am listening to. How inconvenient.

An iPod that plays music based on… emotions?

A week ago, I was reading an article on how scientists have created an implant that lets you move things with your mind (those guys are neuroscientists from Brown University! Yay!) Similarly, it got me thinking: Perhaps there is a way where neuroscience becomes so advanced in the future, that we are able to track the neural signals that are linked to our emotions?

If such a means is devised, then it may be possible to build a system that is able to track our feelings based on signals in your brain, and tap other electronic devices to ‘read your mood’ from it. Imagine wearing a watch with a special mode known as ‘Emotions’, where it is able to describe your broad feelings with a word. Subsequently, our iPods can tap onto this ‘mood meter’ and predict the songs that we would want to listen to, and automatically queue them in the playlist! Now wouldn’t that be awesome?

Complications

Of course, such an idea is facing many, many complications. Ask any neuroscience researcher, and they would probably give you the wide-eyed look like how astronomers would give you the wide-eyed look if you asked them about black holes 3 decades ago.

First of all, our study of the brain is still rather limited, despite advances made over the recent years. Reading brain signals has always been a tricky issue – and more often than not, a game of ‘hit-and-miss’. A complex brain activity like our emotions would generate many kinds of neural signals, in degrees so complex that they probably escape our current ability to comprehend them (though this does not necessarily mean that they will evade our comprehension forever). Therefore, it falls onto the neuro-scientist to work out a means to effectively predict our emotions based on brain activity. Once that is achieved, we can implant a chip that is able to collect this information and convert it into an electronic signal readable by a computer.

For a headstart into exploring the recent developments of emotions studies, I recommend starting from this Wikipedia article on it.

I am waiting for the day Apple surprises me with something new and funky in their iPods. Haha. They are indeed trendsetters in our world today.

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OK perhaps it is not entirely accurate to say that this method is novel, but it is certainly a good change from your typical ‘mug-your-ass-off-and-regurgitate’ styled questions, or your ‘working-and-solution’ questions. Credits to my classmate and friend Theophilus Teo for sharing his question set with me. I can’t produce the exact questions here, but I shall make an adaptation for your reading.

Conceptual Understanding Questions

You are given two phrases linked together by the word ‘BECAUSE’: One is a statement, and the other is a reason proposed for it. Your job is to critique this statement and decide whether the statement and reasons are true or false, and whether the statement and reason are linked by an appropriate cause and effect sentence.

There are several possible scenarios that can arise:

1. Statement and Reason are both True, and are appropriately related by cause and effect.
E.g. When we jump from a height, we experience free-fall BECAUSE of the Earth’s gravitational pull acting upon our body masses that pulls us towards the ground. (PHYSICS)

2. Statement and Reason are both True, but are NOT related to each other by cause and effect.
E.g. Markovnikov’s rule states that with the addition of a protic acid HX to an alkene, the acid hydrogen (H) becomes attached to the carbon with fewer alkyl substituents, and the halide (X) group becomes attached to the carbon with more alkyl substituents, BECAUSE of the sp2 hybridization of the carbon atoms in the C=C bond in alkenes allows for a planar molecular shape. (CHEMISTRY)

3. The Statement is True, but the Reason is False
E.g. We inherit genetic traits from our parents BECAUSE the traits that they have acquired during their lifetime as a result of the environment are passed on to us through Mendel’s Laws of Inheritance. (BIOLOGY)

4. The Statement is False, but the Reason is a true statement that is not applicable in this instance.
E.g. We can accelerate past the speed of light BECAUSE conversation of energy dictates that all energy cannot be destroyed in an isolated system, and can be transformed from one form to another. (PHYSICS)

5. The Statement and Reason are both False
E.g. I love to wear pink shorts because the sky is pink. (PURELY RANDOM BULLSHIT)

These questions are interesting, because it forces the individual to take the knowledge he has read from the textbook out and integrate it within his mind. In the successful case, he will be able to apply his knowledge and decipher the underlying problem behind each statement and identify the root cause of the confusion. It is a good way to prepare the scientific mind too

This is most applicable in the Physical Sciences, because they rely a lot on logic and cause-and-effect to explain physical phenomena around us. However, I am certain that such questions could be adapted in other fields as well. Maybe, say, Economics? Or Psychology? Who knows?

Conclusion

Theo and I both agree and hope that NUS High School will apply more of such questions in their curriculum to test its students’ knowledge and understanding of the respective subjects.

Give the science teachers more work when setting questions for quizzes and tests… and more headache for the students who think they are too smart.

Posted by: angmlr007 | 07/04/2011

Knowledge is Power; Guard it Well.

Knowledge: The psychological result of perception and learning and reasoning. In this age of the Internet, knowledge is abundant and freely accessible to anyone with a computer and within walking distance of a Starbucks outlet (or, well, any available wireless hotspot really). Log in, type a key word into Google, and be amazed by terabytes upon terabytes of information about almost anything under the sun. Text, diagrams, pictures, videos, animations, even 3D animations are all becoming more readily available to consumers worldwide, and this has greatly influenced the way we lead our lives today.

What most people don’t realize, however, is how powerful we become when we’re in possession of this knowledge.

Scientia Potentia Est – Knowledge is Power

Scientia Potentia Est‘ is a Latin maxim meaning “knowledge is power”. It is commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, though there is no known occurrence of this precise phrase in Bacon’s English or Latin writings.

I was introduced to this phrase when I was playing the video game Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War, where the Blood Ravens Space Marine Chapter have adopted this maxim as their motto. I really liked it, and I spent much time pondering about what exactly does this three words mean. In the game, the Blood Ravens, unlike their fellow Space Marine brothers from other chapters, spend as much time in their scholarly pursuits as they spend dispensing the Emperor’s justice. Their inquisitive nature brings them to exploring many unknowns and collecting information which will benefit the Chapter and the Imperium of Man. This exploration sometimes brings them close to dangerous knowledge which, in the wrong hands, would cause much devastation and suffering e.g. heresy to the Emperor of Man.

The Double-Edged Sword

Knowledge itself is a neutral being. It’s is pure information: objective, and without favor. As such, its the application by the user that brings about the good and evil we witness in the world today. The invention of fire is a double-edged sword; it brought warmth to households and cooked food to our table, but it also brought much destruction throughout the ages and damage to property. The discovery of nuclear fission ushered in a new age of nuclear energy, but it also brought with it the invention of the devastating nuclear bomb. The creation of lasers has brought about a variety of interesting applications in physics and engineering, but has also provided us with the tools to build advanced weaponry to aim at our enemies. Indeed, knowledge gives us much power: Power to create, and power to destroy

Power to the Man who wields the Sword

Since knowledge grants the user with immense power, we come to realize that this power is indeed dangerous in the hands of men who know how to wield it. Take Wikileaks for instance. Because of the ingenuity of a couple of hackers, some of the world’s most sensitive information became accessible on the web. Some of this information is so sensitive that it can cause unrest in many places and create unnecessary instability. Knowledge – particularly false knowledge – can also create paranoia and panic amongst the public. For example, during the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Japanese government censored some of the radiation readings in Fukushima prefecture, as well as nearby areas, because although transparency would have been good for the people, it may also cause unnecessary instability when people overreact to the news (e.g. increased nuclear radiation levels, but isn’t significant enough to cause health impacts). How ironic, that knowledge becomes even more dangerous to those who do NOT know how to wield it.

Guard it Well

It comes to no surprise then, why the Blood Ravens complete their motto with the phrase ‘guard it well’. Knowledge harbours great potential, and in the right (or wrong) hands, can be exploited. Hence, we should always pay extra careful attention to guard sensitive information, especially if we realize this information can be used to give your opponent the edge over you in the competition. In contrast, it will do you well to be able to obtain information from your competitors, so that you can stay ahead in the game and outmaneuver your enemies.

And perhaps it is because of this fact, that it is so hard to trust people we meet. The more we trust someone, the more knowledge we entrust in him or her, and the more power we give him or her to turn against us when we have our backs turned.

 

Knowledge is Power. Guard it Well.

In my previous post, I’ve written An Unofficial Guide to Admission to Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. This is somewhat a continuation from that post. In this article, I will discuss a bit about my personal experience with my application to NUS for Medicine, and explain my reasons for eventually choosing to reject the honor to study this prestigious course.

Early Days – An aspiring doctor-to-be

When I was in school, I was dead certain I would eventually become a doctor in future: I loved human physiology and anything medically-related, I performed quite well academically, and I was aiming for a high-paying job in the future. Throughout the time when I was in high school, I did everything necessary to create a strong portfolio so that I could be considered favorably for the course, from scoring straight A’s for sciences to getting an attachment at a local hospital. I pull out all the stops to get it done right, but there was something I couldn’t change, and that was my character.

Turning Point – Attachment at SGH

Looking back, I guess the point where I started doubting my decision to do medicine was during my short attachment (or rather, job-shadowing) at Singapore General Hospital in June 2008. I was attached with a neurophysiologist for 2 days, and got to witness what life is like as a doctor. To keep this article as neutral as possible, I will not disclose the details of what happened during the attachment (you may, however, sieve through my old blog for posts in June 2008 and see if I have written anything about my attachment). After those two days, I learned a couple of very crucial things about doctors: 1. you spend more time with the sick than you do with yourself. 2. You are working in a clinical environment, not an office environment, or a laboratory environment. The feel is different. 3. The ‘responsibility’ of being a doctor is much higher than that of any other profession, since you have the lives of patients in your hands.

It got me thinking if I was prepared for such a lifestyle in the years to come. Since then, I started to reassess and weigh my options again.

What it Takes to be a GOOD Medical Doctor

I’ve narrowed down the traits of a good M.D. into these couple of points (I’ve used ‘he’ for the subsequent points. So sorry girls):

  1. He must be passionate about the human body, illness, and anything medically-related. He must love what he studies, otherwise he will be suffering together with his patients for the rest of his life, like a chronic disease that refuses to go away.
  2. He must place his patients’ welfare and well-being before everything else, and dedicate his all to not only curing the illness, but making it as bearable as possible for his patients. A doctor without a heart for his patient will bring more harm than good.
  3. A good doctor must be able to handle immense amounts of psychological and emotional stress. In a span of 5 minutes, the doctor can determine the life and death of an accident victim that has been rushed into A&E. A good, stable head coupled with a high tolerance against panic and mania
  4. A good doctor must be optimistic! Nothing kills a patient more than a doctor who keeps telling him that he is not going to live past tomorrow because his cancer is in its terminal stages.

What you should NOT join Medicine for

  1. Prestige. Seriously. If you want prestige, go do something extraordinary and win an award for it.
  2. Money. If you want more money, go do business. More green, less effort. And guess what? Most of the people around you will be doing the work for you!
  3. Status. If you want social status, you get more being a politician.
  4. Because you don’t know what else to apply for, and Medicine sounds cool. If you fall under this category, I STRONGLY ADVISE you to get an attachment at a local hospital, or do some volunteer work before you make the decision.

My Eventual Choice

I knew that I loved science – particularly biology, and human physiology. I always knew with certainty that science will accompany me for the rest of my life, along with a life-long exploration for knowledge. But medicine will not fuel that thirst for knowledge. It won’t keep me satisfied. I knew that if I were to become a doctor, I would no longer have the time for myself, and the freedom to pursue the different types of things to learn in the world. I loved biology, but I also wanted to learn more about physics, cosmology, maybe even history, economics, and theology. I want to indulge in education, and medicine was definitely not the best choice for it. Also, I knew that I did not have much compassion and love for the patients I will eventually deal with (though of course what I said in my interviews was the more ‘politically correct’ answers, but that I preferred to stay in the research labs to do clinical research), hence I wouldn’t make a good doctor.

In the end, I rejected the offer from NUS. Instead, I decided to pursue a life of scientific research by taking up a scholarship from the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and going to Brown University to study biology. Hopefully, the time I spend there will allow me to broaden my intellectual horizons and experiment new things. I know I am not going to regret this decision for the rest of my life.

Posted by: angmlr007 | 30/03/2011

Ten Things I’ve Learnt about Love

I am bored (and short of time) today, so I shall do a short post about something different. Here goes.

Ten things I’ve learnt about ‘Love’:

  1. Love is blind
  2. Love takes reason and throws it out of the window
  3. Love makes you do a lot of silly things
  4. Love is a drug: You can’t get enough of it, and you are always coming back for more.
  5. The more you try to explain Love, the less you understand it
  6. Love is powerful. It gives the weak strength to overcome, and cripple the strongest of men with its loss
  7. Love is a journey taken by two bodies in one soul, and two minds in one heart.
  8. Love is unconditional.
  9. In love, there is no ‘you and me’. There is only ‘we’.
  10. Love is fragile: Lose control, and it shatters forever.

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