Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

It's nice to hear someone else tells a story you can so identify with, because of the state of mind you are in, or life experiences you have had. That's how I felt, at times, reading this book; at other times I felt encouraged.
With so little preparation and know-how, her decision to walk the Pacific Crest Trail is as rash, and reckless as her turning to heroine. But this time she is earnest to find a way out of the pain she has been carrying for four years, since she lost her mother. She was 22, and her mother 45 then.
Hiking through wilderness alone is no joke, and Cheryl details the seriousness and intensity of doing such a thing well. Plus, having an untrained body, shoes that don't fit properly, and a huge pack, a.k.a Monster, makes her survival through the journey and arrival at her destination, Oregon, incredulous. From black bears, fox, and humans she has encounters with all species and as significant as it may sound, they are amazingly non-life threatening.
She neither philosophize, nor dramatize; she chronicles her journey the way it happened. This, I appreciated very much.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

On the Cancer Frontier, One Man, One Disease, and a Medical Revolution

The book is about the author's cancer research, his experiments to understand the miraculous impact of treatments on some  but not all individuals, and his journey to build a prominent centre, The Sloan Kittering Cancer Institute, dedicated to this  cause.

It's humbling to read the admittance that "no two cancers" are the same, even there are many differences amongst the signature of the same clinical types, colon and/or breast.  That identifying these abnormal patterns that kill, from the normal is challenging due to the slim delta in difference between them.

"Developing anticancer drugs is not like shooting at a fixed target;" because in the root of the battle lies an intelligent group of genes which communicate and coordinate their growth activity.

"Consider the successful drug Herceptin," the author remarks. "For years we were not sure why it worked only some cases.  Researchers finally discovered that the drug blocked a specific cellular signalling mechanism, or "receptor", that simulated breast cancer cell growth, but only 35 percent of women with breast cancer have that particular receptor."

There are numerous non-approved and experimental drugs touting the cure. These are often a by product of an unexpected result in a lab experiments which didn't repeat when tried on humans.  One of the more commonly known of such drug is DMSO.  When added to the mice cells which where colourless due to cancer, DMSO turned them red.  The red cells were identified as haemoglobin.  "DMSO had, in effect, switched on a genetic function in the leukimic mice blood cells that the disease had switched off."  This fascinating accident didn't repeat on the malignant blood cells of humans.

Unlike what we make or want to believe, "conquering cancer" is not within reach; we should accept that. Despite some progress, we are far from finding the "cure".  All we have is knowledge based on experiments, surveys, and statistics that perhaps help us to determine the survivor rate.  And potent drugs to alleviate the cancer pain and provide "comfort".

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The time keeper, Mitch Albom

The book is a fiction about what has become of us since we learned to measure time; and our desire to do more in less time.

The author develops two vastly different characters, one who wants too little time, and the other who desires eternity. They have been picked to be given the chance to see the consequence of their decision and revert it.

Our time here is not ours to choose, the book concludes. It is neither early nor late, but it is always when "it is is supposed to be". When the time comes, at that very moment, is the time that earth joins heaven...

Sweet book. It ends with hope!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Inside, Alex Ohlin

At first I thought I am reading a collection of short stories.

I met Grace in the first chapter, and became quite intrigued by her pursuit.  I was absorbed with her curiosity, care for, and attention to a total stranger and imagined she could help this total stranger, guy, person, a broken soul utilizing her knowledge of human psychology.  Then I found the author had other plans for them. A love story crafted with pauses at the right moments, to keep the reader hanging and wanting to continue reading.  Pity that Grace, despite having  good intentions, was not able to mend this guy's soul, and her soul broke in the process as well.
Then I read Annie's story.  A tall, slender, beautiful young girl, independent, strong, ambitious actress.  This girl will go places, I thought.  She'd be a sensational success in theater and becomes an overnight success, I thought.  Annie encounters and accommodates a run away kid in her house with no curiosity to know who she is, why she is in New York, where she is from...  The unexpected turn of events  leads the two girls share the stories of their lives, not entirely with honesty.  Annie, however doesn't let the humanity of this connection overpower her.  She disconnects from the bond she has established with the girl and her boyfriend, shortly after the girl's uncle, his father finds them and comes to take them back to the family farm.  As soon as they are gone, and before the void get to her she leaves for an audition in Los Angeles.  Where she encounters her second opportunity to feel in a Lesbian relationship.  This one also doesn't sustain the turn of the events.

Then comes Mitch, like Grace a psychologist, but with a very different approach towards his subjects.  He is reluctant to get involved outside of the framework and mandate of the profession.  He encounters pain, fear, despair, and anger in his patients and knows he needs to reach out to them but falls short in doing so.  It's not hard to see why he thinks he is failure.

The author reveals Grace, Annie and Mitch in present time, then reveals their connection through stories of their past.

It is truly sad to see how in author's point of view both indifference, and care in another person's well being has the same ending.  That either we fail to connect or we fail to sustain the connection.


Note this book is: Editors' Pick: Best Books of 2012
Shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, and selected as an Oprah's Book Club Summer Reading Pick

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Health care system: present and future

In present tense country officials, knowledgeable doctors, common people believe the system we call Health Care requires change.  The officials' concern is the burden of cost this system imposes on the national treasury.  The common peoples' concern is treatments are not effective.  And the knowledgeable doctors, well their role is somewhat questionable, at the moment they don't seem to play any significant role other than what it may seem to be "doing their job or not."

I am one of the common people.  I don't necessarily have an opinion on this or any topic unless I am interested.  I am interested in this topic now because a life event exposed me to the health care system.  A year ago if you asked me what I thought of the health care system, I would have admitted "oblivious is bliss".  Today, I no longer have the luxury to claim this.

Today, I have roughly 280 hours of self training from books, and material on the internet about human body and its content.  Today I know more about our organs purpose, their function and what they need to continue functioning properly --consequently keeping us healthy.  I also have come to find out about other elements that make our body.  It is also these elements that need to be present in balanced amount in order for our body to function properly --consequently keeping us healthy.

Before this nominal hours of training, I relied on my GP to administer the tests, read the results and provide me with the necessary feedback to keep the organs healthy and the elements balanced.

Today, I say that I learned the hard way that I must not rely on my GP to do what I stated above.  Most GPs, statement doesn't apply to all, administer the tests but fail to read the results and provide feedback.

There is tons of information available on the Internet and a lot of books.  Each of these resources empower us, the common people, with knowledge about our body in non-medical terms.  With a bit of common sense,  and time lots can be gained.  I boldly claim that the knowledge claimed this way could make the vision of "personalized medicine" a reality.

We all are built of the same organs, but the elements in each of us is different.  It is essential for each of us to know what elements we have and/or we lack.  Claim each blood or urine test result, don't take it for granted that all is fine because you didn't receive a call.  Understand your body content and customize a diet, and activity that is good for your body type.

At present the Health Care system is only a waste of our national treasury, and million of  dollars of "donations".  It is an illusion that continuing down this route is going to mean a good "Health Care" system in the future.  We are going to become sicker, given our current thinking.  Therefore we will rely on the Health Care system more to get better.  It is a vicious circle.  The GPs meanwhile, most, neither proactively nor re-actively diagnose and cure, they just administer tests.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

You don't reach 100 without having seen a thing or two exciting things in the world.  For some it is the World Wars, for others is landing on the moon, for Allan it is being the center of discovery and building of the atomic bomb.  For the protagonist of "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared" book by Jonas Jonasson, the list of exciting things is long enough to fill a book of 400 pages.

Allan Karlson a centenarian climbs out of the window of his room in a senior home on the day of his 100th birthday in his casual clothes and pee slippers, hours before his birthday party.  When he arrives at the bus station he has no idea where he is heading.  All he knows is that he doesn't want to stay in that city and at that home any longer.  When he is given the task to chaperon a black suitcase, of a man with long, greasy blond hair, a scraggly beard and a denim jacket with the words Never Again on the back, while the man visits the washroom, he acts on his instincts, and drags the suitcase with him to the bus leaving the station while the man with long, greasy blond hair, a scraggly beard and a denim jacket with the words Never Again on the back, is still in the washroom.  It is May 2nd 2005!

This is how the book starts.  As Allan's adventure in present unfolds.  He shares his life since he was a little boy.  Both of Allan's life, present and past, are filled with zest and adventure.  His expertise with explosives brings him a life of convenience, adventure, hardship, extensive travel on foot, meeting the many important political figures.  No matter how convenient or how hard the situation is, how important or common the person is, Allan's attitude towards it all remains the same, "Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be."

This book is a great read!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking

What a roller coaster of a read this book was for me. I honestly think two completely different people wrote this book. There are parts of the book that the research is thorough, the examples relevant and writing flows smoothly, example: "Part One When Collaboration Kills Creativity". There are other parts that the content becomes theatrical and without substance, example: "Part Two Is Temperament Destiny? Nature, nurture and the orchid hypothesis". The book is organized in an indecisive way, and lacks cohesion. There are parts that in one paragraph the words "introvert" and "extrovert" have been repeated more than what a brain can contain the context.

No doubt she has spent time researching the topic. But, putting every single research, the conversation, and the stories collected, verbatim, in the book left my brain gagging for some "quiet" time.

She maybe an introverted person, but she definitely is an extrovert author. She just keeps going on and on, from many different angles: business, childhood, psychology, communication, and etc. to describe the differences between an introvert and an extrovert.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mesopotamia, in between two rivers, at ROM, Royal Ontario Museum

Statue of Ashurnasirpal II
Smacked between Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the land currently Iraq and parts of Turkey, was the birthplace of the Mesopotamian culture more than 5000 years ago.

The area housed four empires, Sumarians, Akaadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians.  Telling the social, economical, and political story of this ancient time through the study of artifacts excavated in this area is an intricate task; disrupted many times by change of political power and point of view.

Through showcasing 170 artifacts of Sumerian, Assyrians and Babylonians, on loan from British Museum, "Mesopotamia: Inventing our World" at Royal Ontario Museum attempts to establish a parallel between the past and present.

Escape Across River, Nimrud 875-860 BCE
The exhibit opens with two glass boxes placed next to each other.  In one there is a clay tablet with cuneiform carved into them and in the other there is an electronic tablet.  Although the exhibit is organized by rise and fall of empires, Sumer, Assyria and Babylon (and some references to Akaad), but the subliminal message is to showcase the rich and advanced culture of the past and its influence on the present time.

There are keywords such as Justice, Globalization, Innovation, and etc. projected on the walls through out the exhibit. The script written on the wall describes topics such as irrigation, city building and architecture, law, agriculture, animal domestication, priests, gods, and kings.  In addition there are animation to bring the story written on the clays to life, like the one here showing the escape across the river; as well as the fact that they knew how to swim. There are clasped-hands posed men, and women statues; looking at these made one feel so calm.

We are lucky to have exhibits like this to show us the richness of the civilized world.  Sadly, however, the present day quality of life shows discontinuity between then and now.  There is regression in the quality of life 5000 years ago and today.