Reading about reading

Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder, is one of my favorite childhood books. From it, I learned that it is rather easy to wax poetic. Anyway, I think that philosophy books are really not meant for children to digest seriously, lest they overthink like me, or worse, turn psychotic or suicidal. Such is also true about Sweet Valley, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Animorphs; an unusually large dose of cutesy fiction for children could have been time spent on a math book.

Recently, it has become increasingly difficult to teach my younger siblings, brought up into an age of Facebook and MMORPG, to read their school textbooks. After all, Google Search has made daily homework ridiculously easy.

During my time in high school, my generation depended on encyclopedias, reference books, and the tattered, torn, or yellowing pages of burly books handed down in Philippine Science High School in order to make a research paper. During those days, internet was a luxury to be had inside an internet café at the vicinity of JS Southmall or through a stupid dial-up connection which just eats up prepaid anyway.

The last years of the first decade of the new millennium saw the emerging utility of handheld devices and mobile wireless fidelity. The first thing I do in the morning is to check my e-mail, FB, and Twitter. I have a fear that I depend too often on modernities, which is only validated by my atrocious penmanship today. I am frustrated by this because I had a neat, typesetted handwriting before, for which I had earned a ribbon for Best Penmanship in elementary.

Even reading books for leisure’s sake has become a struggle for me. While a folder of e-books has conveniently replaced my stack of paperback novels at home, I find scanning through friends’ posts on Facebook and Twitter a lot more amusing. Fortunately, they say that Kindle is pleasantly eye-friendly for hours of reading; I want that. Technology is both amazing and terrifying. It has seemingly very few demands, and yet it occupies a good chunk of our day without notice.

Don’t get me wrong; I will always love the freedom that it brings. Technology is beautiful. Hans Rosling, a well-loved Swedish professor, has surmised that the washing machine was invented in order to divert more time for mothers to read books to their children.

We might smirk at the multibillion empires that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Larry Page have built for themselves, but the reality remains that humanity benefited from these capitalists. It’s even a better thing that Bill Gates and Google have put up CSR funding for global health and other ventures.

Everyone thought that the web will lead to the demise of the publishing industry as experienced by small newspapers abroad, but our local dailies here in the country have stood resilient. This is a testament that today’s Filipino generation is still eager to read in print. There is something rustic and authentic about print, partly due to its unabashed appeal to the olfaction, which will never be replaced by LCD. This is perhaps why every university library preserves a stock room full of old, barely-used subscription journals; it is, arguably, the unmistakable smell of knowledge.

In the end, reading makes a wiser society; it expands horizons, widens perspective, and all those clichés. More importantly, however, reading teaches patience, a virtue that is forgotten in the land of fastfood delivery, 5 Mbps internet, credit cards, and liposuction. 

But for now, I’ll skip reading thick medical books and read the class transes instead, taken from technology's wonderful progeny, Yahoo and Dropbox .

Sizing Up Community Medicine

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Ranking TED Talks

Everyone likes TED Talks, especially the free-to-share Creative Commons license they come with. Everyone likes it free, that's for sure.

One asks however, when time constraint is a valid excuse, which TED Talks are actually worth watching? PostRank Labs has recently launched an exhaustive analysis for this purpose.

The company continuously monitors, collects, and summarizes data from Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, Google Reader, Delicious, Reddit, Digg, and other sharing sites to determine the most engaging of the bunch. PostRank then updates its report on its website and this Google Doc spreadsheet.

Below are the three most engaging TED videos to date:

Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation (2009)

Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology (2009)

Blaise Aguera y Arcas demos augmented-reality maps (2010)

Personally, I'd recommend talks by Hans Rosling, Elizabeth Pisani, and Helen Fisher, but I'll reserve their brilliant ideas for later posts.

Most recent TED Talks as seen from the TED Translators Dashboard

Lastly, I am inviting you to become a TED Translator! Spreading the message across language barriers is a noble cause. This project needs multi-lingual people to translate English talks into other languages, such as Filipino, Tagalog, and Cebuano. I'm actually very eager to start the Cebuano group, and we have translated 2 videos already. There are other local languages that are up-and-coming as well. I saw Ilocano, Bicolano, and Ilonggo on the list. I just think what they need is a little push. Whatever language you feel comfortable working with, just contact me and I will do my best to help!

Do help promote your country; represent!

Is there a cure-all?

Apparently there is, and it's at the Quiapo Medical Center.

Quiapo Church

Plaza Miranda
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The Quiapo Church, Lacson Underpass, and Carriedo Street during Sundays are usually described as a cacophony, a hodge-podge, and a fascinating barrage to the sensories. It's not surprising that hawkers, consumers, and passers-by collide on this day every week. The Church attracts a multitude of followers, devotees if you must, plus a random hundred or two who have other plans aside from attending the Catholic service that day. I was one of the latter. I was on the hunt for any plausible medicine, eccentricity  notwithstanding, that can cure uterine leiomyoma.

Roughly 50% of the entire business that takes place outside Quiapo Church involves candle-selling. My first stop on this walkabout was Ate Mayeng's cart of wishing candles in Plaza Miranda. One can describe Ate Mayeng's wares as a rainbow of colors. For 20 pesos, you get 7 candlesticks of different hues.  Each candle possesses the power to affect a certain aspect of your life, to wit:

BLUE - to attain peace of mind
YELLOW - to protect your general being
WHITE - to symbolize purity and to grant your birthday wish
RED - to wish for good health
VIOLET - to achieve spirituality
GREEN - to make money
BLACK - to clear your conscience
PEACH - to ace the exams
PINK - to bless your loved-ones

You have to say this prayer before you light the wicks of the entire lump: "Diyos Ama sa langit, Liwanag ni Jesus, ipagsanggalan mo kami sa kadiliman at sa aking mga kasalanan; tanggapin mo po ang liwanag ng Kandila ng katotohanan; humihingi ng Banal na Grasya, sumasamo sa iyong  Mahal na Poong Nazareno, Amen." You get to say your personal wishes three times at the end of the prayer.

Quiapo candles

Around the immediate vicinity of Plaza Miranda were stalls of fortune tellers. I walked past them, for I really fear that I might be haunted if the clairvoyants use the dark elements. Aside from the paranormal, some Quiapo tenants offer reflexology and aromatherapy sessions for their clients.

On some mobile carts, there were strange-looking wax figures that resemble odd faces and human bodies. I got freaked out, and a bit curious. When I politely asked the peddler about the purpose of those wax figures, she wanted me to buy some of her candles first, then she'll tell. I declined. It's probably for voodoo.

This walkabout was just starting, but it was already getting bizarre. Truth be told, I did this walkabout simply for a school requirement for the module on Philippine Health Systems. Just in time, I noticed a familiar face and stealthily stalked behind him. As it turns out, it was Lowie, and he was there for the same purpose as mine.

Just before Plaza Miranda meets Carriedo, I noticed a lady in white uniform, presumably a trained healthcare giver, holding a cuff of a sphygmomanometer that was latched unto an old man eager for his blood pressure read. On the table was a stack of several harmless-looking cartons of pharmaceuticals: multivitamins, paracetamol, and mifepristone; was I easily fooled. I later learned that this mifepristone, along with misoprostol, was the abortifacient that our professors wanted us to hunt down in Quiapo Medical Center.

We found beautiful stones, talismans, empty rifle bullets, burnt charcoal, magnetic decoration, even tawas chunks. There were more than five different types of soap bars: oatmeal, papaya, glutathione, tawas and whatnot. These were indicated for many skin disorders and the culture of vanity shared by many Filipinos.

I was excited to see buntot pagi (sting ray tail) being sold in many stalls; apparently aswangs still lurk in this city. Another vendor offered us malabituin, a sort of coconut-like husk shaped like a four-point star, which is indicated for goiter. It should be hung on the neck juxtaposed to the growing thyroid lump of the patient, she said.

Hinting at her warm receptiveness to our various queries, I asked her about my mother's growing nodule inside the uterus and how we can stop its growth. She advised of boiling guyabano leaves and drinking that herbal extract every day.

We continued our walkabout to another stall and asked for a cure to the leiomyoma. I was shocked when the lady vendor asked us about having problems with menstruation. Has she assumed that we were looking for abortifacients? Have we blown our cover? How does she know? Without any cue, she immediately handed to us this big white opaque packet, which read as a preparation for the treatment of various disorders of the female reproductive system, notably for the return of menses and the cure for ovarian cysts.

I politely refused buying the product, and insisted that I was looking for a remedy for a growing lump inside my mom's uterus. She then presented us a small sachet of milagrosa, containing dried herbs with spicules. I imagined it was potpourri.

Further along, we encountered a young lady selling different types of ointment. She warned us that the red eucalyptus ointment was a strong preparation, indicated for the relief of muscle pain. The white sampaguita ointment, on the other hand, was a milder version used for the treatment of hair diseases like dandruff, lice, etc.

In the end, we felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information from this walkabout. Interestingly, we took a short detour to Plaza Santa Cruz and Chinatown just a few meters away, where Lowie bought a red-gold windchime from a majestic-looking Chinese stall. Nearby, I see a drugstore selling traditional Chinese medicine, and my eyes instantly searched for Pei Pa Koa (loquat syrup), a cough suppressant that my parents buy for me when I have colds & flu. Instantly, I felt closer to home, and briefly thought that I was more Chinese than Filipino.

Amusingly, I have nary a trace of Chinese blood.

Conan Rouses Dartmouth

This was Conan O'Brien's congratulatory speech to Dartmouth College's Graduating Class of 2011. Like Mr. O'Brien, I am fond of quoting Nietzsche philosophy. I like how "Nietzsche" rolls in the tongue; it rhymes with peachy and tamagochi.

You will never know what your future job will be, Conan says. He may be right. Three years ago I wrote in my old blog a career crisis of sorts; I was asking myself whether medical school, graduate school or employment was the right thing to do. I never would have imagined working as a stocks trader, a home-based writer, or an office researcher after graduating with a degree in a specialist science.

Conan advises us to work hard, and when our efforts fail, we should be happy with it anyway. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it is solid advice. The future is not etched in stone. I never regretted my career decisions, and I am pretty happy with how I turned out.

Nietzsche (1888) was right: What does not kill you only makes you stronger.
Kelly Clarkson concurs, 123 years later.

Ode to Developmental Biology

I remember having written a piece of poetry after the last exam I took in developmental biology class. I still think it's witty and funny, so I'm resurfacing it and sharing it again:

goodbye! shh, lmx1, wnt7a, en1
goodbye! fgf8, fgf4, gli3
goodbye! hoxa11, hoxd11
goodbye! foxa1, foxa2, gata4, gata6

i really deserve a good break from
all those headaches you grilled into my brain... ;)

but there are things i will sorely miss.
indeed, Wolpert and Gilbert, i will terribly miss
your ringbound spines, your sweetly-torn pages,
those little scribbles of my fondness of you...

you were so accommodating with my confused sanity,
even if i was probably more pressured than curious
to dare touch your loving paperback...

even if i stole your copyright from the safe helm of the reserved sections of the library...
and had you mercilessly lay flat against the blinding light of the xerox machine.

now somehow, i pity you because
we used you... wronged you like this!
and then i curse you after each exam that
i had barely survived.

i will miss you, Wolpert and Gilbert,
because now i understand how it feels to be
a medical student...

how it feels to study the humerus, radius and the ulna,
why dinosaurs have digits I, II, and III,
why chicken feet have incomplete necrosis,
and why adidas has a useless claw.

but now, i will shove you up there in my cabinet,
to hide you from my weary eyes,

not because i hate you forever,
but because sometimes
distance will make the heart grow fonder... ;)

your ever-faithful student,