Volunteering at ADA – Insights

Life in the modern world is complex and fast-paced. As a student at NUS Business School, I would naturally have my sights on running the rat race. A higher CAP, more internships, more CCAs, the pursuit of success never ends. Time and tide wait for no man, and we attempt to achieve as much as we can, within the limited time that we have.

However, during my volunteering stint at the Alzheimer’s Disease Association, time seemingly stood at a standstill. The clients, the elderly who are afflicted with dementia, can only recollect events that occurred to them a few moments ago. Hence, time bear no relevance to them. Singing, laughing, playing mahjong and poker, they enjoy the present without worries about the future. However, with the loss of memory, they lose the ability to recognise the important people in their lives, as well as the precious moments they shared together. In a way, some part of their identity has been stripped away.

I also saw a great deal of love during my stint. The staff within the centre, despite not being related to the clients, remember them by name. Knowledge of their clients’ habits, likes, dislikes, personality and hobbies are at the staff members’ fingertips, and they use this knowledge effectively, catering to the needs of each individual client. They talk to the clients not as a patient, but as a friend. Their tasks vary widely, from serving meals to moving furniture, and most of them require them to stand for long hours, moving from one place to another. However, even at the end of the day, they are still cheerful and show no sign of exhaustion.

As I continue my university journey, it is noteworthy that the accumulation of wealth, although important for financial independence, should not be my only goal. Giving back to society, to make the lives of the needy better, would make a world of difference for them.

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Your Truth, Not Mine: A Review

One of my best friends invited me to attend the event “Your Truth, Not Mine”, held by NUS CRU, which featured Sean McDowell speaking about moral objectivity, as well as providing the rationale for God’s existence.  As an atheist, I was sceptical coming into this talk. However, since it had an element of philosophy and theology, it would be interesting to see how Sean McDowell defends his claims.

In my 12 years in Christian schools, I have encountered many who shared their faith in Christianity with me. I wasn’t sure if they were attempting to convert me, but they weren’t really successful. Sean McDowell, however, put forward a very strong case. He begins by discussing objective morality, which argues that there is an objective solution for the morality of different controversial activities, instead of it being a subjective concept. He then proceeds to defend the claim that God exists. What really surprised me was that he used archaeological proof, as well as old documents, to defend his argument. Never once had any Christian done that when discussing theology with me. I was rather impressed.

Finally, several atheists challenged his claims and were quickly rebutted by the use of logic and objective morality, which impressed me as well. In conclusion, this talk has piqued my interest and I would be keen to venture into the field of theology and philosophy during my spare time.

Going All-In

From a young age, I was fascinated by playing cards. 52 cards, 4 suits of 13 cards in ascending order. I remember spending hours playing Big 2 during Chinese New Year. Playing cards are prohibited by all schools, but many students flout this rule and I enjoyed watching them play. Soon, I learnt about this esoteric sport called Contract Bridge. I fell in love with it. Hand strength, shape, bidding sequences, they all made sense to me intuitively.

When I hit 18, my parents brought me to a casino in Syndey, where the legal gambling age is set at 18. That was a playground for me. The shuffling of cards was like music to my ears. Blackjack, baccarat, casino war, Mississippi, I could see how the probabilities work out and the house edge. I have also played a little of Poker, although I do not fancy it due to the fact that competing against a human player is much harder than playing to a certain set of rules.

This forms the basis of my topic of discussion for today, which will be: risk.

Singaporeans are very risk-averse. In one of my classes, our prof introduced to us the St. Petersburg paradox. You can read more about it in the link below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Petersburg_paradox

By doing simple mathematics, one can easily see that expected winnings from this game are infinite. How much will people be willing to pay to play this game? The next highest amount from mine was a full quarter of what I was willing to pay.

In my personal opinion, risks are something we will face every day. Whether it is crossing a road, or boarding a bus with a cup of hot coffee, we will take risks in everything we do. What can do is to take a look before we leap. By having a keen sense of the numbers, the reward, the cost, and not letting emotion affect our judgement, we can arrive at an optimal solution based on the information we have on hand.

However, I would also argue that there are some things that you have to risk everything for, regardless of the probability and the costs. For example, Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t have known that Facebook would flourish in the current day and age. However, he took a leap of faith, abandoning his studies at Harvard to work on Facebook. Passion, love, happiness, these things are worth risking everything else to achieve. This is where you should put down the pen and calculator and say “Screw the odds, I’m doing it.” Of course, the payout associated with the risk may not materialise, but in these situations, wouldn’t you be happy you went all in?

The Power of Charts

Hey, everyone! This would be one of the math-intensive posts that I will be sharing so bear with me!Capture

(Taken from https://www.instagram.com/berniesanders/)

This graph showing the disparity in after-tax income savings due to a new policy change in the US. The difference between the household earnings of <$10k and >$1 million is quite significant, differing by a factor of ~2115 times! However, as I would explain, this bar chart has some issues. For one, the x-axis is in a range and is unevenly distributed. Furthermore, it disregards the fact that tax savings are a function of income. Hence, a more appropriate chart would be as shown below.

Capture 1

Adjustments I have made:

1. I have adjusted for the range by taking a simple average of the 2 extremes. Since there is an unlimited upside for household income >$1 million, I have estimated the average to be at $2 million.

2. I have divided the tax savings by estimated income for each segment to get an estimated percentage.

Hence, the difference of factor 2115 has been reduced to a factor of 4. As can be seen here, there is still a significant difference between the high and low-income groups in terms of household income savings. However, this can be attributed to the large number of tax deductions the poor would receive vis-a-vis the rich. The lower base of taxable income for the poor will push up the tax savings as a percentage of taxable income for the poor while for the rich, the taxable income would be about the same as household income and so, the percentage would remain flat.

In conclusion, how charts are presented can sometimes lead people to think one way instead of the other and so, we must consider carefully the axis of the chart, what the trend says about the 2 variables, as well as any sharp points of inflexions that may mean something. This would enable us to view charts more accurately and avoid being misled.

A story on Racism

This was inspired by a video that I saw on Facebook.

It was a typical Monday afternoon, and an Indian construction worker was waiting to meet his doctor. He fidgeted nervously in his seat. He reeked of sweat and grime, having toiled the earlier half of the day to build a new housing estate just beside the doctor’s office. His doctor had asked him to come down for no particular reason today, so he was quite curious as to what was happening.

The doorbell chimed and a family of three entered the doctor’s office. They were a typical family, consisting of a Caucasian father, a Caucasian mother and a Caucasian girl, who was no more than 5 years old. The girl immediately plopped on the seat next to the Indian worker and shot him a beaming smile. He returned the smile, something he had not done for a very long time.

Her parents were not so polite. With a face contorted with disgust, and against the will of her daughter, she pulled her daughter to the next seat and sat down gingerly next to the Indian. After a while, she too felt uncomfortable and her husband replaced her while she stood at the side awkwardly as there were only 3 seats available outside the doctor’s office. Just when the Indian worker’s wanted to stand up from his seat to let the woman sit together with her family, the doctor’s voice boomed from his office.

“Alice and family, you can come in. Abdul, come in too!”

The family and Abdul quickly made their way into the office. The doctor immediately extended a warm greeting to the family.

“Hello, Bill, Sarah, and Alice! I haven’t seen you in a while! How is Alice?”

Bill replied, “She is doing very well! The bone marrow transplant was a life-saver for her! It is all thanks to you, Doctor!”

“No, it is not me that you should thank. It is Abdul. He provided the bone marrow for the transplant,” the doctor exclaimed, with his hand firmly on Abdul’s shoulder.

Bill’s jaw dropped in surprise. Sarah began crying profusely as emotions overwhelmed her. Alice was instantaneously upon Abdul and hugged him. Abdul laughed sheepishly as he gingerly held Alice.

“We are so sorry, so sorry, so sorry…”