Monday, April 30, 2012

Driving holiday

Driving holiday has become the preferred holiday option for out family. But we did not endear to this option until more than a decade driving in Singapore. There was a psychological barrier when it came to driving long distances and across the border.

This barrier was torn down when we travelled by car in the United States. The longest distance we had done was the drive from Pennsylvannia (East) to California (West) and back again. The whole trip took us 15 days plus some sightseeing. But it was significant as we have proven to ourselves that we could do it with two brawling toddlers (one 4-year old and another 2-year old).

Nowadays we do not think twice about driving up north to Genting Highlands. The trip from Singapore to Genting Highlands took about 6-7 hours (breaks and lunch included). It was pretty mundane, nothing really exciting except if you would to count the nice, rustling scenery on the road. We would be at cloud nine in no time. We would be watching the clouds drifted by from the comfort of our hotel rooms. Hey, this place was not called "Clouds' Top" (the Chinese name) for nothing. If there was a bone to be picked about this place, I would say it is the casino. Because of the crowds it drew, I cannot help but think of the sleazy it brought. That's what parents are for. To protect and guide our offspring.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Speaking to Inform Advance Project 4

Is Reading in the Toilet a Concern? 

This is a familiar sight in the early morning rush hour of Singapore. We see people (pause) reading (pause) newspaper. They can be seated or in standing position, with their papers opened at 45 degrees due to the space constraint in the very crowded train. Try as they might as there is little elbow space and very often, we do get brushed when they flipped the newspaper. 

Have you ever wondered if the persons who are reading the newspaper next to you (gesturing left and right) do so in the loo? And if so, would you be sick because the same newspaper has touched you? And if you are one of those people who read in the toilet, is reading in the toilet good for you? 

A very good afternoon, Club President, fellow toastmasters, friends and guests, today, I shall share with you my findings from some medical reports on the public health consequences of reading in the toilet.

There are two which I have studied – one is by Dr Ron Shaoul published in 2009. He is a paediatric gastroenterologist, in layman term, he is a doctor for the children, hence the term paediatric, specializing in the digestive function. Dr Shaoul has drew up a questionnaire and together with his colleagues, they had about five hundreds of people from all shapes and sizes completing it. Another is by Ms Val Curtis, director of Hygiene Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who has also in last year conducted a study in Britain on similar matter. Today, I shall share the salient findings from their reports by using a question-and-answer format.  

There are three questions which I will seek to answer. They are: 
1.     From a medical standpoint, do the reading materials become irreversibly infused with nasty contaminants when carried into the toilet?
2.     How long can unpleasant microbes live on glossy magazine covers or, for that matter, the pages of a newspaper?
3.     What does the straightforward act of reading on the toilet do for bowel movement? Is it good to read in the loo, or not? 

Answer to qn 1, does reading in loo put us at risk of being infected by the bugs in the poo. Ms Curtis summed it up all, in theory there was a risk. However, in practice, the risk was very slim. And in her own words, “there is no need to get anal about it.”The important thing is to wash your hands with soap after using the loo to get the bugs off. This way, even if you happen to be in contact with a shit-smeared newspaper, wash your eyes before eating should keep you quite safe.  Of course, if you refuse to do so, and later in your office, pick your nose when no one is watching, thereafter and rub your fingers in your eyes. You might well get an infection. For the determined, there is always a way. Don’t blame the person who read in the loo.

Q2, how long can microbes live on glossy magazines or pages of newspaper? Here is the good news. They don’t fare too well on non-absorbent surfaces. At best, they survive a few minutes. So by the time, the person reach the MRT station, all the microbes will have been long dead. How about smartphones, iPads? Unfortunately, such smart devices are not that smart when it comes to microbes. Their shiny and smooth surfaces are more accommodating and it is likely that bugs that live on those for hours. Curtis’ study suggested that one in six mobile phones is contaminated with faecal/excremental matter largely because people fail to wash their hands after going to the toilet. So don’t pick up smart devices lying around with your naked hands. Use a tissue instead. 

Let’s move on to Q3, is reading in the loo good for you, in particular your bowel movement? Dr Shaoul thought that sitting and reading while doing your business might be relaxing and make things go better. Maybe it could just be the cure for constipation. As it turns out, it is not true. Toilet readers spend more in the loo and think that they are less constipated than non-toilet readers. Other measures of their defecation habit show that the two groups hardly differ. Shaoul’s work hints that toilet readers suffer more haemorrhoid or piles. But before you get too paranoid about it, the effect is negligible. 

In conclusion, my dear friends, reading in the toilet while quite widespread, is a harmless habit. It alleviates boredom. Next time when your tummy hurts badly, you can use it as a distraction therapy. Back to you Toastmaster of the day. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thinking fast and slow

Today, I will like to share about a book I have just started to read last weekend. The title of the book was "Thinking fast and slow" by Nobel prize laureate, Daniel Kahneman. Basically, Dr Kahneman purported that there are two Types in our brain - Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is about our intuition - that's the fast thinking. Type 2 is about data processing - usually it takes effort to do so. Most (if not all) people rely on Type 1 of their brain most of the time.

E.g. When shown a picture of a person, we can read his emotions almost effortlessly. When we make such inferences, we are using Type 1 of our brain.

Another example: Person A is meek and shy. She is also highly structured. Do you think she is more likely to be a librarian or a farmer. When posed with such a question, many will unanimously say "librarian". That's the Type 1 of their brain working. But not many will think further about statistics. In America, for every librarian, there are 6 farmers. So Person A is 6 times more likely to be a farmer than a librarian.What Dr Kahneman shares is not something new. We know that logic tells but emotion sells.

What does it mean for us? There are three takeaways which I will like to share.

(1) Be careful when we make inference. More likely than not, we are using unsubstantiated intuition. It takes effort to use Type 2 of our brain.

(2) And of course, as what Malcolm Gladwell shared in 10,000 hours, when we practise hard enough it will make it to Type 1 of our brain. That's why top chess player could very quickly decide what is the best strategy. In the case of doctors, top doctors are able to make the right diagnosis in a split second, due to their vast experiences. (Yes, there is no free lunch in this world. If you want to be good, you have to work very, very, very hard).

(3) Last but not lest, is to tell stories not just convey data. Data by itself is meaningless. Information is data with meaning

Monday, April 16, 2012

Economics, Mathematics and I

My MBA got me into economics. I am grateful to the postgraduate programme. I am first and foremost a mathematician. But I found in economics powerful application of the rational thinking that I learned from mathematics.

Economists and mathematicians are really quite similar in the lens they look at the world. When I look at numbers, I am looking for the stories behind the numbers. The same is true for economists. We are like detectives using investigative tools to unravel the truth behind the statistics and stories. By using the logics, we could do pure armchair reasoning that enable us to do a fairly good analysis a situation. After which, like doctors, we order tests in the form of data collation to verify our hypothesis. This helps us to separate wheat from chaff.

We live in a world inundated with data. The complications of everyday life often hide the larger trends behind the scenes. It is fun and challenging to shine a spotlight on the underlying process. Yes, in a sense it simplifies an issue by only emphasizing one part of the underlying reality – but the emphasis is helpful in revealing something important.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Chess Players

Chess Players, by Aileen Chua
Oh, chess players.
The intellect gang.
They find friends.
First as foes.
A game of chess.
A match of wits.
Deep in thought.
Simulating all possible moves.
Oh, chess players.
The mighty strategists.
A worthy clan.

Monday, April 2, 2012

7 Lovely Logic

From a fellow toastmaster who is also my club president. I am also very impressed and inspired by him as he has brought our club to the top 5 clubs among the more than 150 clubs in Singapore and Thailand.

7 Lovely Logics

1) Make Peace with your Past so it doesn't spoil your Present.
2) What others Think of you is None of your Business.
3) Time Heals Almost Everything, Give Time, Some Time.
4) No one is the Reason of your Happiness Except You yourself.
5) Don't compare your Life with others, you have No idea what their journey is all about.
6) Stop Thinking too much, Its Alright not to know all the Answers.
7) Smile, you don't own all the Problems in the World.