You can now sit down to a complete dinner of faux gourmet items like Greece’s famous Kalamata olives and domestic Spanish or Italian cured ham, followed by a pasta course made with “Italy’s” world renowned San Marzano tomatoes and topped with Parmigiano-Reggiano, “The King of Cheeses.” The main course? Kobe beef of course, maybe topped with Kobe pork, all washed down with Champagne and red Burgundy.
Top it off with a glass of Port or a nice cup of Darjeeling tea, and you will have just consumed a meal that may well have been produced entirely in a factory down the street from you.
This is a consequence of consumerism.
Food is an integral part of a country's cultural heritage. And producers disrespect a culture when they half heartedly copy and falsely market food with a historical lineage. In some circles, we call that bootlegging.
But of course, nothing matters as long as consumers lap it up.
From time to time, I'll feature pieces by great guest writers. If you've something you'd love to see up here, drop me a note.
This week's writer has asked to remain anonymous.
Yesterday evening I watched actor Chis Larner tell an honest tale of his journey bringing his ex-wife to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to commit physician-assisted suicide. She was in her 60s suffering from late stages of multiple sclerosis, leaving her with limbs almost completely non-functional, doubly incontinent, in constant pain, fatigued after a 15-minute conversation and consequently housebound. However, her mind was fully functional, and she was destined to continued deterioration for the next decade at least. In her words, “I don't want to die. But I don't want to live, not like this.”
Dignitas is a Swiss charity which has assisted over a thousand suicides since it was founded by a Swiss lawyer in 1998. As I have learnt from the monologue, requires a mountain of medical and legal admin, passing a strict selection process and about £7500 to die. A cupful of liquid pentobarbital causes one to fall asleep and heart to stop within 30 minutes. Over the years, it has has seen the flourishing of 'suicide tourism', where people from all over the world travel to kill themselves.
In this note, I'd like to propose a controversial perspective that end-of-life clinics should be an integral part of a healthcare system. I can't imagine this ever happening, at least not in my lifetime, but it could at least make for an interesting discussion.
1. Living with Dignity
I have often been told by people that they want to 'die with dignity'. House, M.D. firmly refutes: “Our bodies break down, sometimes when we're 90, sometimes before we're even born, but it always happens and there's never any dignity in it… it's always ugly, always! You can live with dignity, we can't die with it.” I see where he's coming from, after all even in everyone's 'dream death' (in their sleep at a ripe old age), physiologically the final process is ultimately some sort of suffocation, which is by no means dignified. In any case, falling asleep and dying from a lethal drug seems a bit more dignified than driving an electric wheelchair into a lake/off a building or starving oneself to death (or however else a disabled person can commit suicide). But even if we accept that death is universally undignified, then the question rests on life - whether it is dignified or not. This line should not be drawn by lawyers or medical ethics commissions, but rather by the individual. An undignified life to one might not be so for another and vice versa. If one believe that they are living without the level of dignity they desire, then perhaps death becomes the logical and even kind option. So no, I don't really care about dying with dignity, but I don't want to live without it.
2. Anyone can commit suicide (if physically able)
The argument is strongest not for people who are in vegetative states or who are suicidal secondary to mental illness, but for the individual who is fully conscious of their condition sentenced to deterioration over many years. Generally neurological, these conditions are not immediately life-threatening but impairs functioning which renders them physically unable to commit suicide. For them, having a heart attack would be a reprieve. Suicide is lawful in the UK, and although illegal in Singapore apparently this law is rarely enforced (much like Penal Code 377A). So if happy healthy me or the depressed drunk has every right to throw our body under a train, why should those with multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, dementia etc (who have more reason to do so) have any less right to end their life? With suicide tourism, there exists an option, but only if one can afford it.
3. Is the “best interest” always to stay alive?
As a future medical professional, of course I believe in doing no harm, and want to act in my patient's best interests. I would do everything within my power to ensure the utmost health of my patient, defined by the WHO as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being (and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity). Chris Larner's performance portrayed carers and doctors as obstacles who they had to hide their plans from lest she get 'captured' by social services and sent to a nursing home for the rest of her years. To be honest, I can't think of anything worse for a sound-minded patient. If everything within my power was not sufficient for my patient to live with the dignity he or she so desires, then all I would be doing is helping/forcing them live a horrible life. Perhaps what the patient truly desires may just be in the patient's best interests, and also within the power of my profession to help with.
4. The End-of-Life Clinic as a complement to healthcare services
It is not uncommon for countries to legalize what is deemed at 'undesirable behavior' in order to control it. The Netherlands legalizes cannabis and sees a lower use in young adults than in the UK, and a below-average level of problem drug use. Singapore legalizes prostitution to subject sex workers to frequent health checks. Is it preposterous to suggest an end-of-life clinic for people who express a wish to die? Drawn by the prospect of an assisted painless death, access to such services can provide people with a place to talk about issues of life and death. 70% of those who become members of Dignitas (required to complete the act) never take action, but they relish in the comfort of it just being an option. 13% of those who submit an application to be approved actually complete the process. Such figures suggest such clinics can be useful in helping in a pro-life manner, such as psychological assessments and referral to social services or palliative care. And only if these attempts fail, then to help them in the other direction.
Would such a service increase or reduce suicide rates? I'm not sure. But it would provide people who can't afford to fly to Switzerland with the right to choose. It enables people who wish to die to do so in the comfort of their home country amongst friends and family and not have to carry it out in a covert fashion in a foreign country. It opens up the opportunity for death to be a celebration of life, where one can say farewell to loved ones and even plan their funeral if they so desire.
From the age of 5, I have wanted to dedicate my life to the naive cause of helping others. If I have such a condition which deprives me of the ability to do so, removes the control over my body or mind, and even worse, if it causes continued pain and suffering of those around me, I would like to consider Dignitas. And if a loved one unfortunate enough to be in such a position asked me accompany them to Dignitas, I would. But it would be nice not to have to fear for my medical licence, and not to travel so far away from home to do so.
I admit the pro-choice view is fraught with emotion & subjectivity. Many arguments against legalizing physician-assisted suicide are legal or religious, which I don't claim to understand, so comments are very much welcome!
Despite Instagram’s awesome performance and our monstrous return, a number of articles have come out criticizing us for not making even more money on our investment. Ordinarily, when someone criticizes me for only making 312 times my money, I let the logic of their statement speak for itself.
And the intricacies of venture capital:
After speaking with both entrepreneurs and much internal discussion, we concluded that funding Kevin to compete with Dalton would be a violation of the original implicit commitment we made to Dalton—to not fund competitors to PicPlz. On the other hand, funding Dalton did not violate our implicit agreement with Kevin because he changed his business—we’d funded Burbn not Instagram.
In a calculation of an average review score of a book where only two reviews are available, both giving scores of 10, a normal average score would be 10. However, as only two reviews are available, 10 may not represent the true average had more reviews been available.
The review site may instead calculate a Bayesian average of this score by adding the average review score of all books in the store to the calculation. For example, by adding five scores of 7 each, the Bayesian average becomes 7.86 instead of 10.
The results were great. Our top 20 list was laid out exactly as we expected.
After all, a rating is a relative representation of quality. It only makes sense among other ratings. The Bayesian average gave our users a more accurate indication of a place's quality.
Then suddenly, and almost unexpectedly, our users started to rage. Some questioned our integrity. Some lobbed conspiracies at us.
Why were we on the receiving end of a backlash, when all we did was to improve our users' experience with more accurate ratings?
It turns out we didn't. Our users were wondering why that amazing new place was only still a “7” when they were giving it “10s”. Or why that crappy one was rated a “4” despite having received ten “0s”.
A Bayesian average makes sense conceptually on a macro level, but not at first glance. When you rate an unrated place a “10”, you expect to see a “10”, not a “7”. Our rating system just didn't fit the typical mental model of ratings.
The system works better once a place has larger number of ratings, as users don't expect their contribution to nudge the overall rating by much. New places typically have a low number of ratings, so the effect of a Bayesian average becomes too obvious for comfort. In the end, we tweaked our rating system to better suit our users' mental model.
People always expect feedback with any action they perform. If the feedback strays too far from expectation, it affects their understanding of what they just did. And that, in turn, degrades their experience.
In product design, perceived logic often trumps conceptual logic. No matter how conceptually awesome an esoteric feature may be, you have to always keep your users' perception in mind. Your users aren't you.
Note: At the time of posting, Alvin painted a scenario of an aspiring engineer rejected admission to a university. Since then, this premise has been heavily disputed. He apparently willfully misrepresented himself. If those are the facts, he has mislead many people who genuinely supported him.
That said, I'm leaving the post up in the name of openness.
Oh the drama.
Hello, my name is Alvin Wang, and I'm 21 years old. Recently, my application to pursue a degree in Computer Science at National University of Singapore was rejected.
I am starving for this opportunity.
In short, an engineer with a huge potential is rejected by Singapore's most well regarded university - the National University of Singapore (NUS). Unable to give up, he started a web page to appeal for his reconsideration.
Here's my theory:
Alvin's grades probably didn't meet the university's cutoff.
His “hobbies” weren't deemed impressive enough.
The Computer Science department's admission process is flawed.
NUS has a record, on the surface at least, of encouraging students to go off the beaten path. They were the first to have a work-exchange program in Silicon Valley to encourage entrepreneurship. They were the first (locally) to have an iOS development course. So it's ironic that they are still that rigid. But I'm not surprised. As we often see, great intent can be destroyed with bad execution.
While Alvin's attitude warmed my heart, I'm still left discouraged. Like Silicon Valley, Singapore is starved of engineers. As I've mentioned before, solving the problem of talent during education is crucial. Local institutions must play their part.
I've experienced this lack of talent first hand. While running Startup Roots, I made it a point to find engineers with exceptional potential among the Singapore's students. That involved screening through countless resumes.
And Alvin's repertoire reads better than 90% of them.
If NUS continues to remains blind, don't be disenchanted. There are always other schools.
Or enter the world of startups. Start a company. Join a startup. Others have done it. We'll welcome you with open arms.
I was doing my usual rounds through the social networks when I noticed the stark difference of emotions at play.
Twitter streams are filled with shared thoughts of humor, anger, arrogance, sadness and intrigue. While Pinterest boards visually focus on two very powerful emotions - love and desire.
But when I look at Facebook, I see effortless brain dumps of disparate content. Facebook is sharing in the purest form. They have made the act of sharing ubiquitous ('Like' button) and effortless (Open Graph). They have designed a product so efficient that we can't help but share on it.
Facebook has sacrificed emotional connection in the quest to make sharing our second nature. While as engaging as ever, the product has the emotional depth of a paper resume.
It's emotion that keeps Twitter and Pinterest so relevant and compelling in the face of Facebook. The effort you put into crafting and curating something meaningful helps develop an emotional bond between you and the product.
That could change with Instagram.
Instagram is a product emotionally connected to millions of users. I'm certain Facebook's looking to learn from that. Some emotion should do them well.
Reality TV's goal is entertainment. Not portraying the truth or providing real educational value. If a “Jersey Shore meets The Apprentice” edit gets the ratings and viewers, the producers would happily do it.
When Dustin contacted me about joining Svbtle, I couldn't have been more excited. For one, I was looking to move out of Posterous (the instability since Spaces was killing it for me).
But more importantly, I'm thrilled with Svbtle's focus on the experience of producing and consuming great content. It's something that has - up till now - been sorely lacking among the services and platforms out there. And to be able to join an amazing community of bloggers is always a privilege. Thanks a lot Dustin.
To my readers, I trust that you'll enjoy the new experience as much as I do.