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Showing posts from March, 2018

PhD existential problems

The freedom of choice , by Irini Topalidau. A postdoc friend recently called me to discuss his career options. He didn't want to run his own lab, he said. Instead, he wanted to become a research scientist, mainly working at the bench—like me. I sensed that his mind was already made up, but he needed validation about pursuing a path that is not generally thought of as a professional success. Our conversation got me thinking about my own decision to become a research scientist—and about other career choices I made that went against the norm. The article's conclusion: My experiences over the next 5 years reinforced my decision not to pursue PI positions. I realized that I like being the person who not only thinks of scientific questions, but also performs the experiments. I don't want to miss the eureka moments at the lab bench, even if the discovery is as insignificant as a new transgenic worm. I need this daily feeling of personal accomplishment that I get from being

Christians and Twitter

I'm on Twitter . I use it for news, like an RSS feed. It is slowly becoming a lot like Facebook, which I avoid. Since last year, hardly a day has passed when I didn't ask if I should engage in social media at all. I'm on the brink of quitting entirely, but Read Mercer Schuchardt's article makes me rethink my social media usag e. All digital media favor and reward reaction over reflection. This is why you can't offer your perfect Tweet any time but right now. Thus, the best way to Tweet is to ask, “If I were to Tweet right now the thing I wished I'd said tomorrow morning, what would it be?” and Neil Postman suggested we relieve ourselves of the need to have an opinion on everything. Goethe's Twitter advice? “Every day one should at least hear one little song, read one good poem, see one fine painting and—if at all possible—speak a few sensible words.”

A kid who looked like me from behind

Taken at the viewing deck of The Macau Museum , August 2017.

In and out

Miniso traps you into believing that you need the things you didn't know existed. My brother and I, after doing errands at Greenhills, entered a Miniso store near the mall entrance (I don't know which). We went home carrying two coffee cups and saucers and one trash bin that resembles a Starbucks coffee mug. I was set on buying a notepad--it had cream-colored paper ideal for fountain pens--but I remembered I had bought a notebook from Muji three days ago, a store that feels a lot like Miniso but one that has more clothes. The Japanese think of everything.

Lancets called McLance

It's not every day that one sees a brand that sounds like one's own name. (Taken from Maasim Municipal Hospital in Sarangani Province.)

I love PDFs

Ernie Smith writes about why the PDF is the world's most important file format . It's not often, of course, that the PDF gets this level of notice. The PDFs origin story is a bit more boring than that of the MP3, which was built around the contours of Suzanne Vega’s unaccompanied voice on “Tom’s Diner,” and the ZIP file, which came to life in a brutal legal battle that was egged on by the whims of BBS users. But the PDF still has a story, and that story is that of a format that promises to be even more valuable in the decades to come.

Why I don't like "batch names"

(Photo credit: PGH Internal Medicine Facebook page). I've never referred to my Internal Medicine colleagues as IMAX, the batch name we were supposed to adopt. I consider batch names extraneous and juvenile—we are, after all, not taxonomists who need to follow a nomenclature for a phylum or class of organisms. Most of all, we are not high school students! But I have loved working with these men and women—brilliant, kind, hilarious, and so opinionated that they'll brush off my objections as nonsense in an instant. Congratulations!

America's political style icon

Robert Mueller, the FBI director who leads the investigation regarding Russian collusion in the last presidential election in the US, is a fascinating figure for me. He is a figure beyond reproach. His loyalty is not determined by party lines. Interestingly, his clothes reflect this dignity. Photo credit: Die, Workwear ! From Die Workwear! : It’s hard not to notice Robert Mueller if you have an eye for clothing. In a town full of bad suits and ugly ties, Mueller is one of the only people in Washington who knows how to wear a coat-and-tie. His look is quintessentially American. Soft shouldered suits with naturally rounded sleeveheads, worn over white button-down collars and tastefully selected foulard ties. All the details are middle-of-the-road, but they’re so perfectly executed that they come together in a classic American way you rarely see anymore. The analysis goes deeper into Mueller's watch. Mueller does have some personal style quirks. For one, all his shirts lo

The doctor as an abnormal human being

Dr. Richard Mark Boulay in The New Abnormal: How a Regular Person Becomes a Doctor : Most of us choose the medical profession for a rewarding career of getting folks through the most difficult days of their lives. A desire to be helpful. A hope to be needed. A need to feel important. However, the individual experiences of this noble endeavor change physicians deeply. Our normal deviates markedly from most. The study of medical sciences quickly dehumanizes, as we discover that life is a series of biochemical reactions and the body, a physical construct subject only to the laws of physics. Clinical medicine reinvigorates our humanism, but similar to other first responders, reinforces that lifetimes play out as a series of dramatic and spectacular events loosely interconnected with humdrum. We just happen to be involved in managing everybody’s furor, so our personal lulls are hijacked. The simple discussion of “How was your day?” falls by the wayside. We live abnormally. Dr. Boula

Another death

I receive news that Papa Eddie, my uncle from Tatay's side, has died. Colon cancer. He already had liver metastases when he was diagnosed just a few months back. February 28 was the last time I saw him alive, in a hospital in General Santos, where he was confined because he felt weak. He wasn't eating and did not feel like it. Hours before my flight back to Manila, I told him to keep strong, to trust in the Lord, and to hold on so he could see me become a cancer specialist. I told him I'd be delighted to care for him when I'm done. Days later I would receive the news that his cancer had progressed, the nodes in the liver had enlarged, and a new chemotherapeutic regimen would be started. Papa refused any more treatment. Perhaps he just wanted to rest or be done with chemotherapy and all of its side effects once and for all. He knew what he was up against. He used to get me notebooks for school. I will miss him.

The biography of cancer

The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is written by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee , an oncologist, researcher, and writer. The title refers to this work as "a biography"--of cancer as a disease, its mechanisms, its evolutionary strategies to evade any form of cure. It is also a biography of scientists, physicians, and politicians whose efforts have led to its greater understanding; of its victims and survivors, both patients and their families alike. The book rekindled my love for medical history; it is as fascinating and intriguing as our present-day politics. Many issues tackled in this work--including, for example, the discovery of cigarettes as a leading cause of preventable cancers and the powerful, multi-million dollar efforts of tobacco companies to stifle public health efforts aimed against it--remain relevant today. It is a narrative that illustrates the value of the scientific process, and how basic sciences--molecular biology, chemistry, and physics--form

JI Packer on weakness

Weakness is the Way by J. I. Packer from Crossway on Vimeo . JI Packer, who wrote the book, "Knowing God," talks about weakness in the Christian life. Christianity is an amazing movement in that it runs counter to many of the world's beliefs: salvation to non-Jews, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, respect and equality for women, love for others as love for self. Here, JI Packer argues for the different definition of strength in the Christian life and the acknowledgment that that true strength can never be had without an acknowledgment of one's weakness. I like listening to old, godly men, especially if they happen to write with typewriters, as is the case here.

The apostle Paul got married at some point?

The apostle Paul is major figure in the New Testament. He argues that being married is not superior to being single. Theologian Denny Burk writes that at some point  Paul was actually married. I think this interpretation [of 1 Corinthians 7:8-9] is mistaken. It may be that Paul’s words have implications for all who are unmarried, but I think Paul’s reference to the unmarried refers to widowers specifically. There are a number of reasons for this. Not the least of which is the fact that the Greek word for “widower” was rarely used in ancient Greek and was never used in the Koine period (Fee). For some reason, first century speakers did not use the word “widower.” My hunch is that they didn’t use it because of the negative social connotation attached to the term. In the first century, a widow was not only bereft of her husband, she was also often destitute. It was a patriarchal culture, and to be without a husband was to be in an extremely vulnerable position. That vulnerability is

Follow Mike at Walk and Eat

If you like eating out in Metro Manila, I invite you to follow Mike at Walk and Eat . He visits restaurants almost every day and writes about food, interior design, and service. As far as I know, his job allows him some flexibility to roam around town, and maybe this is why his blog is called such. How he chooses the restaurants amazes me. A self-confessed obsessive-compulsive and completist, he follows a list of best restaurants for this year or the other year and ticks off the place once he has visited it. He also chooses randomly. Some of his best pieces are those when he stumbles upon a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and finds out that the food is amazing. Unlike many professional food critics, he writes simply, devoid of any pretensions. If he likes the food, he writes that he'll be back. Otherwise, he just says that burger, for example, is bad without sounding condescending. It has become a habit to scroll through his archives, or do a quick search in his site, so I'd have

Yellow is the color of the tennis ball

What color is a tennis ball? My answer is yellow. I learned recently that this is quite a divisive question . The seemingly trivial question tore apart our usually congenial group. Lines were quickly and fiercely drawn, team green against team yellow, as my colleagues debated the very definition of color itself. Swords were brandished in the form of links to HTML color codes or the paint selection at Sherwin-Williams. Attempts to broker a cease-fire, to consider that maybe tennis balls are actually yellow-green—or green-yellow, or chartreuse—were brushed aside. At one point, I lashed out at a colleague who then reminded me we were on the same side. The article offers a theory on color perception. When we’re looking at a given object in different types of light, our brains make substantial color corrections that allow us to see the object in a stable color over most lighting conditions. Conway’s theory is that some people discount cool colors in their perception, while others

Consider it pure joy

Notes from Pilgrim Cell, my Bible study group that meets Thursdays. Kuya Vance spoke on faith and suffering, drawing lessons from James 1.

Teary-eyed

I was moved by this: former President Obama surprises Vice President Joe Biden with the Medal of Freedom, a spectacular display of generosity of spirit and a humble heart. From the NPR : The two have enjoyed an unusually close working relationship over the past eight years, and Obama himself even joked at the outset of the ceremony that "this also gives the Internet one last chance to talk about our 'bromance.' " Throughout the ceremony it was evident not just how close the two men were but how close their families and staffs had become, and Obama said his "family is honored to call ourselves honorary Bidens." You don't have to be friends with the people you work with. But if you are friends with them—well, that makes the work easier, the hardships more bearable.

Coffee impacts biodiversity

Another good news for coffee drinkers and environmentalists : The impact of coffee on biodiversity has been intensively studied, particularly in Latin America. The conclusion of most, but not all, of those studies is that biodiversity impacts increase as more intense farming techniques are used. Truly rustic coffee, where coffee plants are grown interspersed with forest trees and understory, has the least impact on vegetation and birds. Shade-grown monoculture is a slightly more intensive technique, farming larger densities of coffee plants underneath the forest canopy. This impacts biodiversity more than rustic coffee, but still far less than sun coffee, which involves clearing the forest like a traditional farm, removing epiphytic plants from the coffee plants, and applying chemical fertilizers.

The patients' narrative

As I prepare for my clinical fellowship in Oncology, I'm reading Siddharta Mukherjee's masterpiece, The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer . As with any medical discipline, the patients remain central. But the story of leukemia—the story of cancer—isn't the story of doctors who struggle and survive, moving from one institution to another. It is the story of the patients who struggle and survive, moving from one embankment of illness to another. Resilience, inventiveness, and survivorship—qualities often ascribed to great physicians—are reflected qualities, emanating first from those who struggle with illness and only then mirrored by those who treat them. This book excites, challenges, and inspires me.

Diplomate

I. Dr. Jun Jorge, chair of the Department of Medicine at PGH, called me up at 9 PM, March 14. I passed the diplomate exam of the Philippine College of Physicians. I'm now a board-certified internist. I will remember this day with Sir Jun's sonorous tone as background. He was perhaps holding back his excitement that everyone in my batch made it, some with the highest scores. My heart is bursting with joy at the past and the present and the future, all of my life bearing the indelible mark of God's faithfulness. If doubts assail me in the future, I will look back to this moment. This is yet another milestone in my life, a testimony of God's goodness and love. Whenever I celebrate victories, King David's calming and humble prayer gives me the right perspective. Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. — Psalm 115:1, New American Standard Bible II. After the end of residency in Decemb

Three brothers, train rides across India, a spiritual journey

Darjeeling Limited is the Wes Anderson film about three brothers who travel across India with the pretensions of the trip being a spiritual journey. After their father dies, they search for their mother who has become a nun in the subcontinent. The film is a brilliant display of color, culture, and brotherhood, and a lot of it resonates with me. My brothers still wrestle with me, or we still argue about which seat in the dining table we should occupy. Don't get me started with the movie's soundtrack . I loved Les Champs-Élysées by Joe Dassin . This Time Tomorrow by The Kinks is also a favorite.

How it feels like to live in Antarctica

During tag-init  in Manila, I dream about living in Antarctica, where there's ice in all of its material manifestations. I'd rather have gloomy skies than sunny weather, to be honest, but the sun is central, invasive, and critical in this equatorial life I've gotten used to. I'm not complaining, considering that people who stay in Antarctica likely feel "more isolated" than their counterparts in space stations.

Salami-slicing

A case of publishing thirty-three papers from one study. From the Neuroskeptic : “Salami slicing” refers to the practice of breaking scientific studies down into small chunks and publishing each part as a seperate paper. Given that scientists are judged in large part by the number of peer-reviewed papers they produce, it’s easy to understand the temptation to engage in salami publication. It’s officialy discouraged, but it’s still very common to see researchers writing perhaps 3 or 4 papers based on a single project that could, realistically, have been one big paper. But I’ve just come across a salami that’s been sliced up so thinly that it’s just absurd. The journal Archives of Iranian Medicine just published a set of 33 papers about one study. Here they are – this is a rather silly image, but it’s a silly situation.

Animate me with joy

Lord's Day Evening, from the Valley of Vision . Animate me with joy that in heaven praise will never cease, that adoration will continue for ever, that no flesh will grow weary, no congregations disperse, no affections flag, no thoughts wander, no will droop, but all will be adoring love. Guard my mind from making ordinances my stay or trust, from hewing out broken cisterns, from resting on outward helps. Wing me through earthly forms to thy immediate presence; May my feeble prayers show me the emptiness and vanity of my sins; Deepen in me the conviction that my most fervent prayers, and most lowly confessions, need to be repented of. May my best services bring me nearer to the cross, and prompt me to cry, ‘None but Jesus!’

Thirsting for Jesus

From Scotty Smith's Heavenward : Lord Jesus, the image of thirst is fresh in my mind, for after my 12-mile bike ride yesterday, I couldn’t screw off the top of my water bottle fast enough. Thirst is neither patient nor polite, and we’re usually quick to slake its unrelenting demand, one way or another. Thirst will not be denied. Because this is true, we join the psalmist in crying out: Jesus, intensify our thirst for you. As a deer panting after streams of water, cause us to pant relentlessly after the unpolluted, un-distilled, never-ending brooks of your grace. Only the draft you draw, the potion you pour, the life-giving libation; only living water can satisfy this God-given thirst.

Starting April, I begin my life as a cancer specialist in training

I just learned that I qualified for fellowship training in Medical Oncology at the Cancer Institute, UP-Philippine General Hospital. Thanks for all your prayers during this moment of "uncertainty" that only crossroads of life can show us. Since med school, God has instilled in me the interest and joy in caring for patients with cancer. This was further fueled by my Internal Medicine residency experience which revealed an important aspect about myself: I am drawn to patients with malignancies. That I have two more years or so of learning the ropes of chemotherapy and knowing when to stop; of breaking the news of cancer repeatedly to the patients and their families, without making it sound like it's the end of the road for them; of cheering for the blessing of another added month, week, or day added to already fragile lives; of waging war against the mother of modern-day diseases—the task overwhelms me. So I'll need your prayers and encouragement even more. May God be

For Coke drinkers out there

Coca-Cola will launch an alcoholic drink. From the Irish Times : Coca-Cola is planning a break with 125 years to experiment with its first alcoholic drink as the world’s largest soft drinks company eyes Japan’s growing market for “Chu-Hi” alcopops. The gambit, which a senior Coke executive described as “unique in our history”, will propel the US company into a competitive alcopop market dominated by Japanese brands such as Strong Zero, Highball Lemon and Slat. The plans, which Coke’s Japan head said “make sense” given the strength of the Chu-Hi market, have come to light almost four months after a US-based analyst at Wells Fargo speculated in a report that Coke might shortly announce a move into alcoholic drinks. I don't drink soda anymore, but I felt I had to, during the one hour-lunch break of the diplomate exam. The soda was Coke Zero. My friend Racquel scoffed at me.

You cannot by any works merit eternal life

John Calvin quotes a prominent Catholic scholar, Bernard, Sermon I in Annunciation (1596): I believe that the testimony of conscience, which Paul calls the rejoicing of the pious, consists in three things. For it is necessary to believe, first of all, that you cannot have remission of sins but through the mercy of God; secondly, that you cannot have any good work unless he bestow this also; lastly, that you cannot by any works merit eternal life, unless that also be freely given.

Post-exam

After the barrage of exams—the Internal Medicine Diplomate Exam and qualifying exam for fellowship—I figured I should take the day off for the next few days. I watched Flame of Recca on Youtube, preferring the version dubbed in Filipino, as it reminded me of childhood. I watched Red Sparrow , a movie about ballerina, spies, and Russia. I watched  Little Men , a film about childhood friendships, a coming-of-age story that's pure and devoid of sex. I wish there were more films like that.

Making sense of awards

Gideon Lasco on the " Anatomy of an Award ." How do we make sense of such awards and their significance? Using the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, we can think of them as a form of “academic capital” that awardees can use to boost their status or legitimize their positions . . . Meanwhile, for the award-giving institutions, academic capital can be exchanged for political capital (i.e., closer relationships with people in power), financial capital (i.e., getting a donation or higher budget), or even just symbolic capital (i.e., prestige of being associated with a famous person). Always spot on, Dr. Lasco's column in the Inquirer offers a balanced analysis of things. I may disagree with him, but it's hard not to see reason in his arguments. (Also read: Why Filipinos have a sweet tooth and 'Doctors to the Barrios.' )

Coffee being poured

My favorite coffee place, second to home, is Midtown Diner along Padre Faura Street. Kuya Ruel, who has been serving us—my friend and me—coffee, occasionally with free refills, indulged my request for a short clip. I included this in my 1 Second Every Day collection for 2017.

Wooden fountain pens in Taipei

Taken in Taipei, Taiwan, December 2017. The pens were quite good but cost Php 5000 each.

Stories from trash

Erica Cirino, writing for National Geographic, on  plastic pollution: a message from nature, an opportunity for art. On the beach I collected plastic for about an hour, focusing mostly on its tall cliffs. That’s where a lot of lighter trash blows—things like balloons and rope and plastic bottles. The beach was generally covered with household trash: lots of food wrappers and containers, lighters, pens and construction debris. When I finally got down to the wrack line, my backpack was bulging, but I wanted to see if I could find any unusual items that had recently washed ashore. Immediately my eyes were drawn to something that wasn’t plastic: a decaying rose bouquet that had been tossed on the beach. Was it to memorialize someone? Was it to celebrate a Valentine? Was it from a wedding? If I see trash along the shore, I think of the irresponsible people who once frolicked there. Erica Cirino's is an interesting perspective.

Growing old in Japan

Tokyo Times posted this photo collection of Japan's aging population . A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death, written by Norimitsu Onishi, is one of the best pieces I've read in a long time. She had been lonely every day for the past quarter of a century, she said, ever since her daughter and husband had died of cancer, three months apart. Mrs. Ito still had a stepdaughter, but they had grown apart over the decades, exchanging New Year’s cards or occasional greetings on holidays. So Mrs. Ito asked a neighbor in the opposite building for a favor. Could she, once a day, look across the greenery separating their apartments and gaze up at Mrs. Ito’s window? Every evening around 6 p.m., before retiring for the night, Mrs. Ito closed the paper screen in the window. Then in the morning, after her alarm woke her at 5:40 a.m., she slid the screen back open. “If it’s closed,” Mrs. Ito told her neighbor, “it means I’ve died.” These pieces resonate with me. My paren

Tom Hanks changes a typewriter ribbon

I've always wanted to own one. It might depress you to know that the last typewriter factory in the world, stationed in India,  shut its doors in 2011 . (HT: Karen Flores, who sent me the link this morning!)