Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Predicting death within 30 days


'Death test' brings up intriguing debate on accurate technology and its application

PLACING one's fate in the metallic hands of technology is an unwelcome prospect for many people. It hearkens to images of robotic customer service voice recordings inputting requesting our vital bank information and autopilot programming guiding our planes in the sky. A.I. fused with circuitry and bolts may seem un-human, but the reality is that we have become reliant on the use of technology. That being said, it is not blind faith that we entrust with machines, but rather endless hours of research, design and testing, conducted by human hands. Here lies an aspect of control and some sense of security and confidence.
     Over the years advances in technology have developed to such a degree in the medical profession that doctors now apparently have the ability to determine the relative expiration date of elderly patients. A new test, recently created by doctors, will seemingly be able to tell them if an older patient will die within 30 days of being admitted into hospital. Officially known as the Criteria for Screening and Triaging to Appropriate aLternative care (CriSTAL), the test looks at 29 indicators of health. The lengthy list includes age, illness, frailty, heart rate, mental impairment and previous emergency admissions. It then takes this data and creates a percentage chance of death between one month and 12 weeks. But what of its accuracy and whether the selection of parameters to evaluate is justifiable? What are the thoughts of the patients themselves?
     It is certainly eyebrow raising and controversial. The main idea behind the 'death test' will be to give a patient the chance to go home or bid farewell to loved ones. A seemingly depressing notion, however, there is science and logic even behind this phenomenal technological development. Health experts say that the test's checklist will reduce expensive, ineffective and inevitably futile medical treatments which only serve to extend a patient's suffering. It also delays unavoidable death and increases escalating healthcare costs, according to the experts. Understandably, the aforementioned reasons make sense from an overall standpoint and 'big picture' point of view. Expensive medical remedies do not necessarily change or even help the condition of an ailing patient. It may not improve their quality of life, causing stress for family members, while also frustrating health care professionals.
     Which brings everything back to accuracy and interpreting the technology correctly. What of the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) controversy? Here was an end-of-life plan that ended up being abandoned after a review found that hospital staff incorrectly interpreted LCP, resulting in patients being drugged and fluids withheld from them in their final weeks of life.
     Ultimately, the overall idea needing contemplation here is whether or not CriSTAL will help families accept, honestly and openly, that dying is a part of life. Yes, no one wants a machine deciding a person's fate, life or death. However, at the same time, there should not be such immense pressure from family members and society itself on doctors and nurses to prolong the life of patients at any costs. This new test could very well be the deciding factor in helping families understand that further exposure to exceedingly pricey medical treatment will not help the cause of their ailing relative. In fact, it will only prolong their pain and struggle. CriSTAL could also potentially aid in giving families and patients some choice in the preferred place of death. However, confronting all parties involved compassionately and positively with all of these issues is a sensitive task that does not always go over well.
     Whether we as humans - filled with emotions and understandable attachment to our loved ones - can go so far as to accept and implement a percentage chance of death generated by an expensive piece of technology, is an issue that requires much more thought. Time will only tell.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Weekends in the Cotswolds

Bibury, Gloucestershire, England
UK travel

Getting away for a few days in the beautiful Cotswolds brings relaxation aplenty

A FRESH, cool breeze greets my nostrils as I disembark the tour bus. It is crisp, refreshing, emanating a sense of solitude and peace. Birds hurry off into the bright sky while a slight mist drifts in across the rolling hills. As I take my first steps on the soft ground below, a warm aroma of baking bread from the local inn fills the air around us all. This is the charming countryside of the Cotswolds.

     While the demanding work schedule of the month of January continues, escape in some form or other is never far from the mind of a casual citizen of the world. Life in the United Kingdom, as well as continental Europe, brings visions of grand adventures to Europe's finest cities. From Paris and Amsterdam to Munich and Barcelona - all reachable by train in a handful of hours. Such is the great advantage of living in Europe, each country seemingly blending into its closest neighbour - accessibility at its best.
     However, when I first arrived in London, I had a great desire to see England and the United Kingdom first and foremost. I dreamed of picturesque train rides to Edinburgh and the Highlands of Scotland. Sea side strolls on the shores of Wales. Gazing at the white cliffs of Dover and historic treks through the ancient streets of Cirencester and York.

The Cotswolds beckons

Visiting the Cotswolds, I had a particular vision in my mind of what it would be like. Quaint little villages, inhabited by horse-riding pleasant folk who always had a friendly smile. And all this surrounded by the most delightful scenic hills and astonishing views of nature and wildlife. What I actually saw that day far exceeded my wildest imagination. Like a fairytale, it conveys an England of the imagination, rather than the daily commute of city life. Thatched cottages, flowing streams, grazing sheep, timeless churches, country pubs, silent woods and ancient marketplaces are all there to be seen in the Cotswolds. Very much the England of fantasy and history, brought to reality.
     The Cotswolds are essentially 'the Shire' of England, Middle-Earth's favourite rural settlement. With Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare's abode) bordering it to the northeast, and Bath in the southwest, this area in south central England is home to the rolling Cotswold Hills and the famous golden coloured Cotswold stones, of which many of the beautiful cottages are made from.

The dwellings of the Cotswolds

There is a vast assortment of towns and villages to be found in the Cotswolds, each unique in their own way. Aside from the grand view, they all have so many other things to offer, waiting for you to discover. Medieval Tewksbury awaits, as do the villages and towns of Upper and Lower Slaughters, adorable Bibury and Stow-on-the-Wold, offering hill-top views of immense contemplation.
     I enjoyed every minute travelling in the Cotswolds. A truly unique part of England where you can get lost in for a week or simply a day or two. Local inns, restaurants and markets are incredibly welcoming any time of year. I loved exploring the many country lanes and town squares that I came across. Wandering silently through the historic churches that sit peacefully among the hills - only to settle down in a vintage wooden chair in a local village pub. The experiences are endless.
     Venturing beyond the borders of the city can bring timeless surprises of varying beauty. The serene setting of the Cotswolds evokes peaceful thoughts and complete enjoyment to those willing to escape in the imagination of their minds. Local food, hospitality and warmth are only a few of the delights that await the restless traveller. As for myself, I can only admire the careful balance of man and nature embodied so gracefully in this part of the world. It envelops my senses at the close of the weekend as I leave this luscious land of green.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Free Public Lectures

Barnard's Inn, London. Source
Daily series to expand the mind

This year, The Forum Populares will be covering a selection of the over 400-year-old lecture series in the heart of London

SEEKING knowledge has always been a journey that each person traverses on their own. Inspiring, illuminating, and sometimes controversial, the path to furthering our minds can take on many shapes and forms, involving individuals and groups of people from around the world. Often extensively highlighted during university and college years, this building of knowledge often times ceases to function for many once undergrad and post-education studies have been completed and the monotony of work takes its toll. It need not be so.
     In the afterglow of higher studies, there are countless ways to consistently maintain the expansion of our knowledge and understanding of the world, both historical and contemporary. They do not have to be isolated ventures, sitting in deep recesses of libraries, but can also be engaging, contemporary and interactive. For this kind of journey, there exists the Free Lectures series, conducted by the Gresham College in London, England. From the month of September to June each year, for over 400 years, the lectures at Gresham have covered expansive topics of the world. At an almost daily rate the lectures are given by an abundance of current and visiting professors from Gresham College. Bright minds holding varying and unique perspectives. It is as if you are taking an endless course of global knowledge, without any tuition fees, essays or exams to speak of. Pure scholarly indulgence.
     Barnard's Inn Hall and the Museum of London are the preferred venues in the heart of the City. Of bright note is the Barnard's Inn, which was established as an Inn of Chancery in 1542. Described by Charles Dickens in Great Expectations, the actual Hall where the lectures are conducted date from the 14th century, with the chalk and tile foundation preserved in the wall of the Council Chamber below originating in the Saxon period. It is a marvellous setting for an hourly lecture and discussion in the early evening after a hard day at work.
     It is with great joy and satisfaction that The Forum Populares is proud to announce its coverage of a selection of the last six months of these exciting and intriguing lectures through our blog. But to grasp the importance of this venture, a little background knowledge to understand the Gresham lectures is surely needed.
     Gresham College was founded on the behest of Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579), to be established by the Corporation of London and the Mercers' Company following his wife's death after his own. Seven professors were to be appointed to read lectures daily on seven subjects: Astronomy, Divinity, Geometry, Law, Music, Physic and Rhetoric. And it has been that way to this day, with the addition of Commerce and Environment in 1985 and 2014, respectively. Sir Thomas Gresham himself was a man of many talents. First and foremost an English merchant and financier, he worked for a tidy collection of historical figures, including Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I. Born in London, descended from an old family, Sir Thomas studied at Cambridge and was so adept at finance as a merchant and financial agent of the crown, that his advice was regularly sought for on various financial issues. He was also a skilled diplomat.
     The man's immense talent and knowledge beamed through his accomplishments. But what also stood out from a close examination of Sir Thomas is his aim to promote the city he was born in, through his legacy. That is what Gresham College stands for, among many other things. As for the lectures that go with it, they stand for something even greater. A fluid repository of thoughts, ideas and pondering, all for the enjoyment of the resident city folk, visiting international student, scholar or those who are simply curious. We hope you enjoy The Forum Populares's take on the lectures as much as we will enjoy bringing them to you.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Green Technology

Eco-conscious living one app at a time

Environmentally friendly purchases should increase with a growing number of “Green” apps in 2015

THE evolution of useful and meaningful mobile apps for the general populace to indulge in has been unwavering since they were first introduced in 2008. An abundant collection of touch-friendly applications have helped people in various ways, from checking e-mails and bus schedules to social media gratification and gaming. Over time, more and more distinctive apps have begun to be developed that help mankind in rather unique ways.
     Take the creation of the newest wave of “green” apps designed to reverse the negative aspects of human activity on the environment. They are conveniently aimed at the average, eco-friendly individual that will greatly assist consumers in the improvement of their lives, while also minimising their carbon footprints. For example, Think Dirty is an app any cosmetics savvy can use in their local beauty aisle or store to compare different products, particularly in the ingredients they use. One simply needs to scan a product’s bar code to find out whether it contains any neurotoxins, carcinogens or hormone disruptors.
     iRecycle can also be included among the apps of sound functionality. It lets the user know where to properly dispose of essentially any household item, whether it be electronics, household or construction. With a cache of more than 1.6m ways to recycle over 350 materials, it is bound to attract a wide range of users who want to find a quick way to get rid of their old summer gas grills and other defunct items.
     Another incredibly practical app is Food Tripping, which uses GPS to help people find local farmer’s markets, juice bars, healthy cafes, microbreweries and more when you are travelling. A collaboration from and Ford Motor Company, it is committed to helping the community of conscious consumers. Food Tripping has a fun, easy-to-use interface with a growing database of healthy food markets and eateries that is a more sensible alternative to the fast food establishments that litter the highways. It is another example of an innovative application that stresses the exposure of sustainable food options and businesses that are also local. has been steadily pushing their creation by establishing a growing hub of consumers who can share and suggest the places they discover with friends through Facebook and Twitter – thus promoting itself through popular use. These are all steps in the right direction for green technology.
     All three of these applications demonstrate the forward thinking solutions that some companies and independent developers are creating in order to give people options that are consumer-friendly, affordable and simple to use. More than that, their use and popularity can be spread relatively easy with their careful balance of services that give users more control of their self-improvement and assisting nature at the same time.
     Shopping with knowledge and confidence, while also consciously helping the environment and an individual’s well-being is a trend that has been gaining ground for some time now. What was once fashionable – eating organic produce and avoiding certain animal-tested products, among other consumer choices – is slowly but surely on the rise as the early 21st century slowly marches on. Old, self-defeating habits, such as smoking and not eating healthy, are becoming less commonplace today. With the innovations in green technology and their subsequent emergence in mainstream consumption, one can only hope that expensive solar panels and electric cars will not be the only saviours to mankind’s penchant for creating waste.