Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Car crashes, bad guys, and the boogie man

There are lots of odd and interesting things going on in politics today. For instance, Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate - a woman who only got a passport last year and had never met a foreign leader until the last couple weeks - has been trying to pass off the fact that Alaska and Russia are side-by-side as foreign policy experience. As her lack of political competence is turning the McCain campaign into a sinking ship, I garnered this amusing anecdote from the news:

If Thursday's debate is television's highest-rated vice-presidential debate ever – as expected – it might be because U.S. politics is now drawing the type of crowd that flocks to car races.

They say they are there for the speed, but a lot of them are there for the crash.

I found this particularly amusing because my sister has firmly asserted her belief that people watch car racing for the crashes (and that explains the emphasis on it in video games). I aways told her that was just plain morbid... but hmm... maybe she was on to something after all.

Now if we can rip our eyes away from our neighbours to the south, who are busy bringing world economies to the brink of destruction, there are plenty of interesting things going on here. For instance, the Conservatives are poised to win a majority with only 40% of the Canadian vote. Meanwhile the Greens are favoured to win zero seats in Parliament, despite the support of 12% of Canadians. Some clever people have proposed a solution to this at http://www.voteforenvironment.ca/, who assert that if we vote as we are inclined to we will end up with the following seat distribution:


However, if we vote strategically, we can dramatically change the outcome:


While I'm not in favour of vote swapping (since I don't think you can trust strangers that much), I think is worth taking a look to see where your vote will be best invested. For myself, I've been told:
This is a safe Liberal riding. Vote your heart's desire.
And indeed, Susan Kadis has been our MP for quite some time, and she seems to be doing alright. Of course, none of this "strategic voting" would be necessary if poor Stephane Dion had done a better job of selling his not-all-that-bad Green Shift program. But unfortunately, the Liberal advertising campaign has been complete bollocks, and the Conservatives have done a pretty good job of convincing people that the Green Shift is a scam and that Stephane Dion is a weak-kneed, incompetent intellectual. This is because many Canadians still believe what Stephen Harper says (the idiots) or are just completely apathetic to politics (my friends). What Stephane Dion needs to do is lay down the law like Jack Layton has done: "I am in control now, this is not the party you knew, you did not trust, and you did not like. We are the Liberal party now."

Why is this so important? Why have I taken an embarrassing photo just to get you to read this? Because the face of our country may be very different based on who we vote on. And if we do not vote, if we turn down the power to influence our contry that is our priveledge - or if we do not care enough to try and understand the world we live in - then we will get the government we deserve. We will get the country we deserve. It will be a different country from this one.

Please watch the English language leader's debate on Thursday, October 2, from 9-11 PM on CBC, and cast your vote on October 14.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Kick it Old School

This Sunday got off to an early start. With exams coming up, I woke up early and rushed downtown to take advantage of the anatomy lab's special extra hours. The study period only served to reinforce to me how much I have left to study! Some of my friends who really don't project an aura of keen were really quite impressive in the lab yesterday. I really need to get past this feeling of intimidation (of "I have to prove I'm not stupid"), and realize that these people are my peers and my friends... and that if they know X, Y, and Z so much better than me, then I can take advantage of that, just as they can take advantage of the Q, R, and S that I know better than them.

Funny moment though when I was eating lunch and talking to my friend, T, about why our mutual friend, L, had not shown up for lab study.
Andy: Weren't there more people coming today?
T: Oh well I think L is coming. Check her [lab] room.
A: ...L?
T: Yeah, she might already be here. Check her room!
A: ...L is in our [lab] room...
T: *blank stare*
T: ...oh SH*T!
I had to leave the anatomy labs one hour before closing so I could make it back to the suburbs in time to be picked up to go to a birthday celebration for my friend, "Sydney". Syd had made plans to go to Mississauga, with the end goal of going roller skating - that old school precursor to roller blading.

We started the night at Moxie's Classic Grill at Square One mall. It's kind of like Baton Rouge in offering that higher-class-than-average-but-not-posh kind of dining environment. A number of the guests seemed to be grumbling a bit about the size of the portions (small) and the quality of the food. I have to admit, my lamb shank with mashed potatoes and side Caesar wasn't as impressive as I expected, and smaller that what I was hoping for at the given price point.

Luckily, the Fish and Chips my friend ordered came with much more copious portions (that tends to happen when things come with "chips"), and I managed to steal a bit of the fish. It was (as expected) very greasy... and actually smelled pretty fishy considering it was fried. The food also didn't seem to sit that well with me this morning... but I'll spare you the details.

It wasn't a complete loss though. In the end, Sydney got a free white chocolate brownie, which a classmate informed me this morning, is reason enough to go to Moxie's. Happy birthday! Unfortunately, nobody told me about this, so I did not have the pleasure of trying this allegedly amazing dessert item.

Another funny story though. Since there were so many people sitting at a long table, we ended up with many microcosms of conversation. At one point Sydney (at one end) and the girl at the other end of the table, O, decided to attempt to converse. It went something like this:
S: We're so far apart from each other!
O: It's okay, we both have loud voices, we can hear!
S: Yeah!
O: So when did you get your hair cut?!
S: *points to drink*
S: It's supposed to be a [insert drink name here]!
After dinner we headed over to Scooters, the roller skating arena. We were vaguely disappointed by the size and number of people there, but they did seem to have some pretty impressive tricks up their sleeves. I can understand why people like roller skates since people could do all sorts of backwards skating, side-to-side swish moves, and other groovy tricks. I still couldn't help but feel like I was in an old disco flick, though.

The staff were pretty rude. They were constantly eyeing us newcomers, telling us that we were skating too slow, that we weren't allowed to stop, that we were in the wrong lane, or that we weren't allowed to take pictures. By the end of the night, I was annoyed just to see that red "Staff" t-shirt. I've gave them what I consider the appropriate nickname: "Staffholes"

Staffholes in action:

Part of the reason this place was also strange was that most of the people in with us felt like they were older than forty. They could swish around pretty impressively, but it felt like a bunch of disco kids reliving their glory days.

Of course, maybe this is just jealousy talking. It didn't help that I couldn't roller skate for beans. I mean, I couldn't really do much more than skate around in a circle, and even that took me awhile to figure out. Two pairs of wheels is definitely different from four in a row.

In the end though, I did figure out why the crowd, and the music, was so old:

Old School night. Go figure.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another giant fail for the TTC

Who needs cable? You can get all the entertainment you need from the TTC. Tune in every Thursday afternoon, same crap time, same crap (subway) station:

Since my recent close call with my professor due to a TTC service outage, I have experienced several more delays (though mostly on the way home). These are usually minor, and cleared in 5-10 minutes, but still underscore fundamental inefficiencies of Toronto's transit system.

Today I had a club meeting until about 7:15 PM, so things were already pretty late. I was expecting to get home a little bit after eight. On the upside, I had already eaten dinner, so I didn't need to budget any time for this when I got home. As I descended to the platform at Queen's Park, I caught the end of an announcement... something about Bloor and Lawrence and running shuttles? I quickly did some mental calculations in my head. If this was a service stoppage, then it would probably be prudent for me to take the University line to Downsview instead of riding the loop to Finch (where I am usually picked up). However, since I wasn't sure what I had heard, I decided to wait ambiguously between the North and Southbound sides for the announcement to play again.

Instead, the Southbound train (my usual) arrived. There was no announcement, so I assumed whatever problem had been announced was cleared. And if it was not, surely it would be by the time I got to Bloor. Once I stepped on that Southbound train, I would be committed: the Downsview route becoming increasingly less practical.

It's strange, I must admit... in retrospect, it seems much more prudent to have taken the Downsview route. Even though I hadn't heard the announcement clearly, the mere chance that I'd heard what I thought I heard probably warranted me to go a little out of my way to avoid what could be a large inconvenience. My only explanation for this lapse is that when faced with an ambiguous situation, it is our nature to defer to what is familiar... in this case, Finch. Still, in my defense, my perception of normalcy was reinforced by the fact that there were no further announcements at any of the stations that we stopped at after I got on the train.

It was not until arriving at Bloor that the train announced itself as out of service. Even then, I and many others milled around for awhile waiting for the next train. It was only then that the conductor of the train we had just gotten off stuck his head out to explain that yes, there would be new trains coming, but they would also be turning back at Bloor. To proceed north, we would need to take a shuttle bus.

Now let me tell you: TTC shuttle buses are the bane of my very existence. I have worked downtown enough summers to know that when the subway breaks down, you will be waiting as many maaaannnnyyyy shuttle buses pass you by before you get on one. The fact is, the TTC cannot replace their subway capacity with buses. You'd think that would encourage them to make their subway service a little more durable... but wait, my bad... that would actually be responsible.

Above is but a small fraction of the enormous crowd and uncomfortably stuffy buses that were there to whisk us away from Bloor. I'd like to note that the subway had actually been broken since 4:30 PM, about 30 minutes after I ended class. Obviously, when the subway realized that I was not actually going to use it, it decided to stay broken until I finished my club meeting... and then overnight for good measure.

I guess I should count my blessings though, since the driver said that during rush hour, the spill-out from Bloor was so bad that no cars could drive since the road was completely packed with pedestrians. They had to wait a half-hour for police to arrive and control the crowd before the shuttles could actually start running.

Meanwhile, my shuttle stopped at every subway station between Bloor and Lawrence to drop people off and pick people up. Except almost nobody got off, and people did get on. It was actually quite impressive how many people they managed to pack onto an already full bus.

There was one guy who got on at a station who insisted on calling his friend and making a big deal very loudly. He was a large, intimidating, accented, shaven-head young Caucasian man with a bad attitude - the kind you picture would have pushed you against a wall and beat you up for your lunch money in high school and then would have dropped out so he could focus on his true calling (e.g. drinking). I thought about trying to sneak a picture of him, but I thought this would defy my desire for self-preservation and decided against it.

So on the phone with his friend, he mentioned that the subway was not working, and then went on to describe that, "Now I'm on the f*cking crunch car." His friend obviously didn't get it (no surprise there), so he reiterated: "I'm packed into a f*cking can of sardines." Miss again. "I'm on a f*cking shuttle bus. Honestly, I can't f*cking take this. Anyways, I'll call you when I get there. Easy."

Now let's just stop for a minute and consider this closing ghetto-ism. We all use a bit of modern language, and most of it originates from the ghetto. But when people like this close their conversations, you can almost feel it dripping with that "high school cool" aura... you know the one I'm talking about: a slight slouch, a hand waiting for props, a very serious eyebrow - the "I'm so cool that it makes up for me being an angry, delinquent jerk" aura.

In any case, my shuttle finally made it to Lawrence, much to my relief. The subway station was still surprisingly full... but it was more than manageable to get a seat and ride the rest of the way to Finch.

Let's reflect: I wholeheartedly support decreasing our ecological footprint. I think a good transit system is a great thing! But honestly, nobody is going to take transit if they don't have to when the subway (which transports tens or hundreds of thousands of people a day) gets delayed twice a week! If you can only rely on yourself, then you're going to drive yourself. Period. (And the plan to make Metropass holders pay extra for parking is extra stupid: If you want more people to take transit, you charge the people driving, not the people already taking transit, dummy. What's that? It's all to make more money? Transit is a public service - and one that they want us to use, at that - they really shouldn't be trying to gouge us...)

Luckily I have my clinical medicine course at the hospital tomorrow morning and can avoid the TTC (which may still be nonfunctional), thus avoiding my professor's morning wrath.

I'm a little irked that I didn't get home until almost 9:30 PM (and somehow have taken another hour blogging this). Not only is that exceedingly late (and thus I'll get virtually no work done), but I also missed the season premier of Grey's Anatomy! (Pronounce: Double-yew-tee-eff!!??)

I think the TTC needs to get a "yellow-sticker-of-death" (the nickname I've given to the sticker that appears on your exam paper when you fail, indicating a "come hither" request from the professor). I bet my prof's intimidating British wrath would set them straight.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Trolling for a trauma

The popular show Grey's Anatomy follows the lives of a set of surgical residents through their medical training at a fictitious Seattle hospital. Running frantic lives, they often end up treating medicine like a game, fighting tooth-and-nail for the chance to score the next big trauma. While such an aloof attitude seems somewhat morbid, one can only assume that these characters are driven by the desire to observe, learn, experience, and ultimately become skilled physicians.

Yesterday, I described some of my more profound thoughts on my observership at a local area hospital. Today, I return with some less philosophical details. While the program details specified four-hour observerships, the actual hospital ran eight-hour shifts. After making arrangements directly with the coordinator for that hospital, I was under the impression that I would be attending for the entire shift.

The first place I was shown was the trauma room. It contained about four beds, and could accommodate two more as well as an X-ray machine. When needed, a trauma team could be assembled from a wide variety of specialities including surgery, anaesthesiology, etc. The physician indicated that it was quite possible that this room might be used later, with things like car accidents in the afternoon and gunshot wounds in the evening. This actually had me quite excited, as it would be my first time seeing medicine in such frantic action or a patient with such an urgent medical need. Please don't get the wrong impression: I was not hoping in any way for someone to get shot so that I could observe a trauma - but, large traumas do occur, and if it was going to occur, I would very much liked to have been there to observe the activity. These particular thoughts are what reminded me of Grey's and the surgical residents sticking up their hands in a "Me! Me! Pick me!" manner in order to be assigned to a big surgery.

As it turned out, the shift was pretty slow. So much so, that the physician I was observing found himself flipping back and forth between his own area and helping out in another. Most patients presented in hospital for pain from a variety of causes, and from a medical standpoint, these cases were generally quite simple. Though being the medical neophyte that I am, I still learned lots standing around and watching.

At about ten minutes and three hours into my shift, another student unexpectedly showed up to observe. The physician was also surprised, but indicated that if another student was here, then probably it meant that I was supposed to go: "Four hours, four hours, right?" It made sense to me, though I was slightly irked that the coordinator had not made this clear, so I accepted the fact and was on my way.

The turnover occurred so quickly that I didn't really have time to think about it. I looked at my watch and realized I had only been there for a little over three hours. If the other student had been told to come after the third hour, then she was late (which was specifically frowned upon in the observership instructions). If she had been told to come after the fourth hour, then she was almost an hour early, which was equally frustrating when I thought about the bite that had been taken out of my own observership.

Still, at least this meant I got to eat supper. But honestly, I bet the minute I left there was a big trauma. Murphy's Law.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Down the Yellow Brick Road

When I went to my Western interview, one of the physicians gave a talk about the "yellow brick road" of medical education. It was a cheesy little talk about how medical students enter school, like Dorothy's companions, seeking intelligence (scarecrow), compassion (tin man), and courage (lion). In the process of education, we often acquire intelligence but the compassion and courage are bred out of us. The doctor went on to talk about how at Western, they make sure that their students retain their compassion and courage. Years later, Western grads who have gone on to become residents at other schools like UofT call them up with complaints like, "I almost had a losing 'heart and courage' moment. Can we talk about it?"

At the time, I thought it was the corniest thing I had ever heard. However, as cheesily as he had phrased it, the principle of the talk was true. In the first two sessions of clinical medicine course, the physician tutors talked at length about how important it is to address the patient's needs and the patient's agenda. Often doctors have their own agenda, and seek to fulfill their information-gathering needs without regard for the patient. This can lead to miscommunication and dissatisfaction on the patient's part. Meeting the patient's needs is also important, and thus the needs of the physician and patient must be balanced. It is important that the patient feels like they are being listened to and that their concerns are being attended to, and in doing so, the physician also often elicits important information that they might have otherwise missed.

Today, I took part in an observership at a local area hospital. As it sounds, I got to observe real doctors putting real medicine into practice. All of them were nice people, who joked around and were well-liked by the staff. All of them were excellent physicians, with vast medical knowledge that they used to make diagnoses and plan medical treatment. However, what really surprised me was the brisk nature with which some of them treated patients. While they were excellent at treating the illness, I could often see where miscommunication might be starting to play in. In addition, while the patients' medial illnesses were being treated, I felt like not all their needs were being met. For instance, one patient was expressing a great deal of pain due to their condition, but the physician seemed relatively unresponsive to this while conducting the necessary physical examinations. Then once he was done examining, he quickly slipped out of the room.

In retrospect, it is actually foolish of me to be surprised about this. After all, when my physician tutors talked about how important it is to attend to the patient's needs, they cited troubling statistics about how many physicians do not. Similarly, they explained that many medical residents forget these kinds of basics because they accumulate so much knowledge that they become simply focused on the problem and the application of that knowledge. Yet here, at the beginning, I can see how some of these situations might have been significantly better for the patient had the doctor done something as simple as acknowledge their pain, and talk soothingly instead of responding in a detached, apathetic manner (treating the patient as a person rather than a problem to be solved)... this wouldn't necessarily have taken more time. Clearly, this is something not lost at least to the physicians who teach first-year students.

Yet looking towards the future of our education, as we accumulate knowledge and seek to solve problems, am I too destined to treat people in pain in a detatched, analytical manner? And so, I must admit, as corny as it sounded the first time, maybe it really is important to be guarding our "heart" and our "courage" as we go along.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Viva le subway

Despite my recent subway woes, today something exciting arrived in the mail. It was a postcard-sized advertisement informing us of a public meeting for a subway extension into York Region. Now, most York Region residents are aware of the plans to extend the subway from Downsview Station to York University. This doesn't really excite me though, since I don't attend York, and frankly, I don't use the University Ave. arm of the Yonge-University-Spadina line very often. This particular ad, though, had quite a number of items to get excited about included within its minimalist offerings:
  1. A new subway line being extended from Finch to Highway 7: There are a number of reasons why this is exciting. First of all, it will mean the subway will make it all the way up to where I live and beyond, making it way easier to catch. Second of all, when I want to get together with people I almost invariably go uptown (to Highway 7 in Markham) rather than downtown (where the subway goes). With a new line, this trek would be really easy to do by transit, which will be great for a lot of people.
  2. Fast public transit will finally be making its way into the suburbs: It was once explained to me that the purpose of Viva (the recently minted express arm of York Region transit) was to drum up enough ridership for major routes in order to make it feasible to install genuine rapid transit, such as LRV (light-rail vehicles). Subways are even better.
  3. Viva-branded: The ad came with the Viva brand on it rather than TTC. This is exciting for me, because Viva and YRT have really done a good job putting together a pretty effective and modern tranist system despite limited ridership (and probably funding). The bus stops for the Viva buses, which indicate the time of arrival of the next bus are a great example of this. This is hardly a modern marvel (for instance, I've seen it for the MTR subways in Hong Kong), but it's definitely a step up from the TTC, whose administration runs things a little backwards.
  4. Utilization of new trains: When I was working at Princess Margaret Hospital after third year, I was excited to hear news of 30 new trains being procured for the aging TTC subway fleet. These would be fully modern trains after Asia's own heart including digital route maps and walk-through car coupling (i.e. you can walk from one end of the train to the other). The Viva advertisement sports a stylized cartoon of these trains, slated to arrive before the end of 2011.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Long rides and short tempers

The Toronto Transit Commission's (TTC) slogan is "Ride the Rocket", obviously a reference to the speed with which you are supposed to reach your destination. But sometimes Riding the Rocket is more like Biting the Bullet, as too often, delays leave one in uncomfortable positions.

Now this is not an eventuality that I was unprepared for. In fact, when it was decided that I was going to commute from Thornhill to school everyday, I resolutely decided to get up at 6 AM everyday and get out the door at 6:50 (sometimes this has denigrated to 7) to make my 8 o'clock class (which starts at 8:10). As a result I can't recall an occasion (in the mere two and a half weeks since school has started) that I've arrived in the classroom less than 15 minutes before the start of lecture.

Today as I boarded the subway at Finch (the most northeast station on the "U"-shape), I heard an announcement that an "injury" at Bloor (the station where the horizontal line intersects the "U") had caused the subway to be shut down from Davisville to Union. No doubt some foolish bloke had thrust himself off the platform, much to the chagrin of both his liveliness and the timeliness of rush hour commuters.

This had managed to cut off my usual route to Queen's Park (all the way around the "U"). Because trains were stopped at Davisville, this also ruled out the possibility of going West at Bloor and then catching a southbound train on the other side of the "U". The TTC was running shuttles from Davisville, but as I have discovered from plenty of experience, boarding a shuttle is a sure way to lose 30 - 60 minutes since trying to fit all the commuters from the subway onto buses is completely irrational.

I opted instead to catch a westbound bus from Lawrence to Lawrence West. However, the service stoppage at Davisville had caused a backup of trains, leading to slower than usual travel times culminating with a 10 minute stop at York Mills (one stop before Lawrence). The clock was ticking.

Finally I got to Lawrence and, lucky for me, the bus was there and waiting. Within a few minutes we had left the station. Unfortunately, the "U" is not symmetrical, and Lawrence and Lawrence West are farther apart than stations further south. The bus made a number of stops, and getting to Lawrence West station actually took quite a long time.

At Lawrence West, I managed to take a pretty amusing photo before my train pulled in: "Please Do Not Feed the Pig." That was about all the amusement I would get for the morning though, because it was already around 7:50 AM, and I was still quite far from Queen's Park station.

Now my professor is a legend. He's been around practically forever, such that doctors that went to school decades ago remember his lectures (and the same overheads he uses to this day). He's also notorious for picking on latecomers, and has a reputation for kicking them out of his class.

Thus, on the train I was already trying to psychologically prepare myself for the verbal beating I anticipated taking while also seriously considering skipping the first class. But since A) I wasn't going to be that late, B) I really should get functional notes, C) I paid a whopper in tuition fees, and D) I really don't feel like I should be scared of a professor, I troopered onward.

(Above: A little doodle I did of myself in DOCH class expressing my unhappiness with the day's events) Well I tweaked the door open to the classroom, looking for a nearby seat, and then stepped in. Now the MSB lecture theatre is actually very poorly designed in that all the main entrances are at the front of the room. I know at Queen's, it happened all the time that students would stumble in late (through the doors, which are almost always in the back) and then sneak into a nearby empty seat. With doors at the front, it's virtually impossible to enter the room without drawing the attention of pretty much everyone in it (who are all looking forward), so it's actually a pretty stupid arrangement. Anyways, the following uncomfortable interaction ensued:
Prof: "You're late."
Me: "The subway wasn't running between--"
Prof: "You're late. Get out."
Me: "..."
Prof: "They all seemed to make it on time."
(Gestures towards students)
Me: "Well I bet they all live a lot closer than--"
Prof: "Did you sleep in late?"
Me: "What? No, I have to come from Finch."
At this point, a number of kind students in the first couple rows spoke up to say that indeed the subway was not running, at which point the professor indicated for me to take a seat, grumbling something about us torturing ourselves. I have to admit, I felt pretty relieved after that little face-off. I felt a little like Elizabeth May versus the broadcasting consortium, where the people spoke up to let her enter the federal election debates. I was really and truly pleased to be part of a class that was kind enough to stick up for me a little.

That said, my professor is kind of a schmuck. First off, he really doesn't pick on everyone universally. Actually, I heard that a few minutes before I came in, two other people rolled in late and he didn't say anything. Certainly I've seen quite a number of people sneak into the class with little more than passing insults from him, and I've never actually seen him try to kick someone out before (although he has a reputation for doing so). What exactly it is that draws his ire is not entirely clear, though I imagine it has something to do with his mood.

I was a little insulted, considering that I'm always early for his damn class. But I suppose it's too much to expect him to know that in a class of 224. I'll probably go through this course and the rest of my education without him ever knowing my name, and that's probably just as well.

Anyways, I made it in, safe and sound and with only a few jabs here and there from passing classmates later. No damage done except to my pride, right? At least, until next time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Anatomy stinks

No seriously... I feel like I need to burn my labcoat and bathe in rubbing alcohol.

After spending four hours deep in the bowels of the human abdomen (...literally?), with gloves covered in stinky particles of who-knows-what kinds of bodily by-products I really did feel nasty.

But after having experienced the adventures of dissection first-hand, I've come away with a completely new appreciation and respect for the work that anatomists do. How scientists ever sorted out the body in the way they did is beyond me. When you see exhibits in anatomical atlases or scientific exhibits (like Body Worlds), you are inspired by the intricacies of the human body, but you don't really appreciate what went into putting that specimen together: Hours of scraping off fat and membranes, while painstakingly preserving nerves and vessels embedded therewithin.

When I think about how hard it is to clean the structures of interest while not obliterating them with your scalpel in the process, I think back to the 1997 film Starship Troopers. In it, the main character, Rico, and his girlfriend are dissecting a giant alien bug in biology class. After splitting the carapace open with a saw, Rico sticks his hands in and starts pulling out internal organs: Heart, intestines, etc. He doesn't need to cut them apart or even use any tools other than his hands. All of them are just in there clean and ready for the taking, surrounded by little more than a slimy mucous. Now I've never dissected an insect, so I don't know how accurate a portrayal this is (probably not very), but it certainly doesn't work this way for mammals.

If real life were like that, anatomy labs would certainly be easy as pie! But then... you'd probably cough up your spleen or something too.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I am not fifteen, dammit

Something has been happening that I'm not entirely comfortable with, and that is people mistaking me for being younger than I am. I don't mean ballparking, like twenty-ish... I mean younger. Mind you, I don't think I look that young. I've never been carded ordering a drink, so I assume that the general population agrees with me. However, whenever I'm with my little cousin, people seem to think I look about fifteen, which really irks me.

The first time this occurred was a couple of months ago. My mom was in the States, so my aunt and uncle invited me for Summerlicious with my little cousin. They had also invited some of their friends from church, and one couple had brought along their three daughters. Now, as it turns out, I knew one of these daughters, who happened to be my own age; and she had two sisters, one about 20 and the other 15 (my cousin's age). Apparently, the three of them had drawn a conclusion that I looked like one of their youngest sister's friends... and in fact, looked about 15 myself. They all came to consensus on this issue, which of course leads me to the conclusion that they're all completely nutty.

The second time occurred today, hence my current blog-ranting frenzy. We had just finished Sunday service, and we were waiting for my brother (who was visiting from Montreal) to finish schmoozing with his old friends. My little cousin locked eyes with one of his friends, went to talk to him, and then brought him over to meet me. After a quick name exchange, he asked if my cousin and I were the same age. I asked him, "Do you think we look the same age?" He took a split second glance from side-to-side and said, "Maybe." My eyes widened. "Really?! You think I look fifteen?" ("Sixteen," my cousin corrected.) "Whatever, sixteen?!" "Well how old are you?" he asked. "Twenty-two." "Oh, I'm twenty-one." (Great, so he's younger than me too...)

So why? Why is this happening to me? One explanation obviously, is that my cousin just looks old despite his age. Put beside him (sick as this prospect is to me), we look about the same (this has indeed happened sometimes between my brother and I, where people thought I was older than him despite being five and a half years younger than him; I finally understand his abhorrence). Indeed, my cousin tells me that many people have mistaken him for being my age (22) or older (25+). True as this may be, however, it's completely poppycock. My cousin does not look like a twenty year old. He looks like a proper teenager. Sure he's huge (as tall as me, and quite a bit wider), but he still has young features matching his age (such as a round face) and wears characteristically teenage baggy clothing. Honestly, people, size is not everything (Stop what you're thinking right there, pervert!).

An alternative explanation is that this has, in fact, nothing to do with my cousin but everything to do with what I was wearing when I received the comments. As a matter of fact, both times I was wearing casual dress shirts that I had bought on the same occasion near the beginning of undergrad. Since my overall wardrobe has changed over the years (hopefully for the better), maybe I would look my age if I got around to chucking out all the clothes that I wore in high school, but still fit properly. Maybe. Just maybe.

Lastly, one final explanation is that... well, Asians age better than other ethnicities (this is certainly true of hair loss, as my siblings have lots of Caucasian friends who are already slightly balding at age ~30). My sister firmly believes that most people can't tell the difference between Asians aged between 15 and 30 because they don't change that much. Of course, this is partially her own justification for her own bad experiences (one time in residency, a patient expressed discomfort at being operated on by her because she looked like she was "just out of high school").

In the end, all three of these explanations may contribute to my unusual ability to be perceived as youthful. But for goodness sake people, I don't look like I'm fifteen. >_>

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thursday afternoon oddities

Today I got out an an uncharacteristically early 2 PM because my lab group is not scheduled to dissect this week. This is amazing, because school has only been on for one and a half weeks and I am already suffering from major sleep debt.

After leaving MSB (Medical Sciences Building), I headed for the subway. The ride takes me about 40 minutes to get to my final destination. When I first sat down, there was a newspaper on the seat next to me, folded open to a page containing a political editorial with the title "Because Harper says so, that's why". I assumed it was a Globe & Mail since it lacked the Toronto Star's characteristic colourfulness. At first it was quite amusing, even including a little song that Harper might sing if he was a bird:

I'm only a minority

My party, my priority

I give myself authority

To go for a majority

However, as I read on, I began to disagree profusely. This editorial was gushing opinions about how Harper's government does not act Conservative, how Dion hopes he can take a minority so that he won't have to implement the Green Shift, and how both the Conservative and Liberal party are still more or less the same. And as I thought about the dramatic differences in policy and (even more drastically) attitude between the two parties, and how in fact the very character of Canada into the future is on the line, I asked myself, "Can the Globe & Mail really be writing this drivel? Who wrote this crap?" So I glanced to the top of the page, and read National Post. Ah yes, that makes more sense. The National Post is that sad piece of writing masquerading around as a newspaper - the one that used to have radio commercials like, "Ding ding ding. Your door is ajar... Your door is not a jar. It is a door, plain and simple."

Apparently, because the paper is called the National Post, immigrants often confuse it as being the national newspaper. One time, my brother was talking to someone who had visited Vancouver and picked up a National Post who had commented something along the lines of, "Wow, I never realized that other Canadians hate Quebec so much." My brother, querying as to where this was coming from, found out that the person in question had mistaken the National Post in this manner and replied to the effect of, "Oh... no, that's just the National Post."

Anyways, after I finished reading that particular article, I put the National Post back down where I found it and proceeded to zone out. However, at one of the new few stops a lady got onto the train. She was pushing a stroller filled with baby items, but strapped into the seat was a stuffed animal. It was a little doggy in people clothes... but it was proportioned almost exactly like a real baby, so much so that at first I thought it might have been a real baby in a dog costume. I soon realized that a dog mask would probably suffocate a little child, the appendages were nothing more than stuffed blunt ends (as most stuffed animal paws are), and that the stuffed animal was not moving. But the body was so infant-looking that I got this eerie image of someone taking their baby and replacing their body parts with a stuffed animal...

In any case, my mind then began the process of rationalization. The stuffed animal in the stroller was probably some kind of gift. The baby was probably just missing for the time being, possibly at daycare. However, as we rode on, the "mother" took out some colouring pencils and a colouring book and began to fill it in. Every now and then, she would hold it up and show the stuffed animal and talk to it lovingly. She was speaking another language, which sounded like it could have been Russian, but since I don't speak a word of Russian it could just as easily have been gibberish. Anyways, by the end of the trip, I was pretty convinced that the lady was a few screws short of a full set.

So faced with this strange situation, what was I thinking? I thought about you, my readers (few though you may be), and how I have been boring you for weeks with my election-mania. I thought about how I needed to blog about this unique and unusual experience. And as I did so, I thought... well, my posts are really so much more interesting when I have pictures. I really wish I could take a picture of this so people can know what I'm talking about! Well, I was scared. Scared not only because it is slightly unusual, but also scared that the crazy lady would jump me if she noticed, since genuinely crazy persons are often unpredictable. But, for the sake of my blog, I took out my phone... and... started playing Brickbreaker. After a few minutes of losing miserably, I casually took a few test shots of my backpack and the subway door, in order to test the volume of the snapping sound and also to make those around me accustomed to the sound. Then I sneakily snapped the photo above (the faces of people have been blurred out to protect their privacy, though). Yes, I am so sneaky... I'm like a ninja!

Except... I hate ninjas.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Andy says vote, vote, vote

This election, with the differences between parties being greater than any time in my limited recollection, it is more important than ever that citizens take an interest in the politics of their country. We, as members of this democracy have the privilege of being able to vote. But if we do not exercise this right now, when the differences are stark, then we need not exercise them ever, for our country will move without us, whether to our benefit or detriment.

So what I am saying is, it is important to vote! Take a little interest in the issues... watch the election debate. Get yourself a little bit informed, and vote. Vote Liberal, NDP, Green, or Conservative (if you must...), but do exercise your civic rights.

That said...

Here's why I think you should vote Dion (Liberal)

Dion is squeaky clean. Although he hasn't shown us much of himself yet (and I hope he shows us much more), the times where has has taken action have been quite successful. In particular, he helped for forge the Clarity Act following the Quebec referendum, his term as environment minister has been vetted by many, and he won the Liberal leadership race against all odds.

Dion, running his first national election campaign, appeared unfazed by polls showing that Canadians prefer Harper as a leader for Canada. As a minister in the Chr├ętien government, Dion won unlikely battles with Quebec separatists and he triumphed in the Liberal leadership race in 2006 against all odds. So he said he is glad to run as an underdog against the Tory chief.

"When Canadians see who I am and what I stand for, they will be happily surprised," Dion, who has had trouble catching on with the public, told the Toronto Star.

Source: http://www.thestar.com/article/492492

The Conservatives flaunt their "proven record" while decrying Stephane Dion's "risky plan". However, the proven record of the Conservatives is one of broken promises, shameless manipulation, and arguably anti-democratic behaviour.

Here are some highlights from a recent newspaper editorial:

His government has been secretive and manipulative, with all power concentrated in the prime minister's office and cabinet ministers reduced to mere ciphers. The public service has been effectively muzzled, too, with the chief of the nuclear regulatory commission being fired for daring to stand her ground.

Harper was elected in 2006 on a promise to bring "a culture of accountability" to Ottawa, then furiously evaded attempts by parliamentary committees to hold his government accountable.

As for Harper's stewardship of the economy, on his watch the country is experiencing its slowest growth in almost two decades. While many of the circumstances (such as a slumping U.S. economy) are beyond the government's control, Harper's laissez-faire approach has not helped matters.

In foreign affairs, Canada under Harper has lost its standing as a respected independent voice as his government has cozied up to the Bush administration in the U.S.

On the environmental front, Harper abrogated the Kyoto accord and implemented a permissive plan that will allow Canada's greenhouse gas emissions to continue rising.

On two other issues, health care and the cities, Harper has essentially abandoned all responsibility to the provinces. And he has failed to engage in the war on poverty.

Harper yesterday listed the election promises his government has kept, including cuts to the GST, the new child care allowance, and anti-crime legislation. Unmentioned were the broken promises, including a fixed election date in October, 2009. By calling the election early, Harper has broken not only the promise, but his own government's law. His lame excuse is that he needs a new mandate from the voters.

Finally, Stephen Harper is very much a one man show. He has a chokehold on his party and on the government with a secretive, dictatorial style. Stephane Dion has a great team behind him, including Liberal leadership race front runners Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae. Hopefully, we'll be seeing more of these two, and it will make a difference. And if we do, it'll be further evidence for me that Stephane Dion speaks what he means.
In the interview, he also said the Liberals will showcase their team – particularly Toronto incumbents Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, who both challenged Dion for the party leadership. Rae and Ignatieff will campaign outside their Toronto ridings as part of this effort.

"We have by far a much better team than the Conservatives and a leader able to work with a team," Dion commented.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Torontonian's Guide To Missing Your Train

Today my girlfriend was scheduled to take the train back to Queen's University in Kingston. In this public blog, I'll be referring to her under the pseudonym Evey (after Evey Hammond from V for Vendetta, which is one of the few action movies we both enjoyed). When she called me in the morning, she was preparing to take the bus down to the subway station, and then the subway to the train station, all the while carrying quite a bit of luggage. This lack of vehicular transportation was a revelation to me, so I offered to drive her to the subway, and subsequently take it down to the station with her.

Let's review the design of Toronto's Union Station a bit. The station has two floors, an upper and a lower. Departures and ticket sales take place on the upper floor, whereas arrivals come out on the lower floor. The lower floor is also directly connected to a food concourse which leads to the subway.

We arrived at Union around 11:45 AM, and the train was scheduled to leave at 12:20 PM. Since the ticket had assigned seating, we decided to eat first and catch the train afterwards (a little last minute).

Having arrived by subway, we got to the station on the lower floor. We first debated the logistics of getting her tickets first (she had an e-Booking, so she needed to convert it to a real ticket). I suggested eating at Harvey's, which is inside the station on the Departures floor. However, Evey had a coupon for McDonald's, down in the concourse (just outside of the station on the lower floor), which was valid for this month. We opted for McDonald's, and therefore decided to get the tickets later so as to not have to take the luggage up and then back down the stairs. Our error in this was twofold: First, by choosing the food concourse, we were out of the audible range of the station announcements (including "last call"). Secondly, by not getting the tickets first, we left our preparations ruefully incomplete.

Our third error was not watching the clock carefully. By noon, both of us had just about finished our sandwiches, yet were both still leisurely chatting and picking off our French fries. We probably didn't start back to the station until five or ten past. This, mind you, would still have been sufficient if we had the tickets on the ready. If you recall my Adventures in Ottawa, I arrived at the station at 6:10 PM, my train was at 6:15 PM, and I made it on (just barely).

We got ourselves to the automatic kiosk to convert her tickets, but to my surprise Evey's Mom had used her credit card to purchase the tickets. Without the purchasing credit card on hand, the automatic kiosk was not going to be forthcoming with the tickets. We lined up for an actual ticket salesperson to convert the tickets, but looking at my watch I saw 12:17 PM, and I knew we were in trouble. When we finally got to a kiosk at 12:19 PM, the kiosk lady printed our tickets just in time to tell us that the train had left. Boo-urns.

The next train was at 3:10 PM, boarding started at 2:40 PM. Evey was actually supposed to call a professor and meet up with him later today in regards to a music course she was hoping to get into, so arriving in Kingston at 5:30 PM was going to be a problem. After kicking our heels about until 1 PM and trying to figure out how to get in touch with the prof, we decided to look into bus schedules to Kingston. Indeed there was a bus running at 1:30 PM, but since it was already 1 o'clock, we decided it was safer to wait. We would have to refund Evey's train ticket, transit up to Dundas station, walk to the bus terminal, buy a ticket, and board the bus... After our train experience, neither of us were keen to push the timing too close again.

In the end, Evey got in touch with her professor, who was comfortingly understanding, and caught her 3:10 PM train with lots of time to spare, hence ending our adventure. Review time!

How to miss your train in Toronto
  1. Eat downstairs, where you can't hear any announcements
  2. Make sure you do not convert your e-Booking to tickets in advance
  3. Lose track of time, chatting is an effective method
  4. Buy your tickets with a credit card you don't carry, so you can't use the automatic kiosk
If you follow these simple steps, you're guaranteed to miss your train with ease! For maximal results, make sure you don't check alternative bus schedules until it's too late to catch them. This way, you'll arrive at your destination later than desired for sure!

How to make the most of your missed train

You may wonder what Evey and I did for the two and a half hours while we waited for the next train. Other than frantically trying to organize her meeting with the professor, we managed to entertain ourselves for the duration. In fact, I went and I bought a whole bag of assorted Jelly Belly jelly beans from a nearby candy stand. We then spent the next thirty to sixty minutes taking turns picking them out, guessing at their flavours, and then eating them. There was supposed to be a reward if one person guessed the flavour and the other didn't, but we haven't yet figured out what it is.

What we do know, however, is that I lost the game. A word of advice to anyone who desires to play this game in the future... Melon is not a flavour. Don't guess it. For some reason, I guessed it multiple times. I was slightly disadvantaged though, as those who know me well recognize that my colour vision is less than 100% (don't say colour blind, that is very much misleading and certainly not politically correct), so I ended up double-checking what colour the beans were most of the time. When we got to one that Evey described as "red with... flesh coloured spots" (I think it was Sizzling Cinnamon), I guessed "Bleeding Cadaver." Obviously I've been spending a bit more time in the anatomy lab, but I thought it was a pretty good conjecture.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Gagging on election campaigning

Have you perchance noticed the new Conservative advertisements running on your television? The Conservatives have pulled into full election mode, with their website proclaiming "Harper Leadership '08"... except that the election hasn't even been called yet. If this was the Olympics, I think Harper would be disqualified for making a false start.

I actually have only caught the end of one of these ads, although other people have mentioned them to me. I went to the Conservative website hoping to watch a couple of them (I watched only one, but Harper sure shoves himself into a slick package). I had to hold back my gag reflex though, both in the portrayal of some kind of big softie all-around-nice-guy and in the unexpected level of venom in the anti-Dion splash banners they had everywhere (with Dion pasted in with PhotoShop to make him look dumb). I read through the "Dion's Tax On Everything" page the Conservatives have set up to slander the Green Shift plan, but it was surprisingly thin in substance even by my expectations, with about a paragraph on each page none of which actually addressed any specifics laid down in the Green Shift plan.

What made me the most sad though were two things: 1) The comments I read on the Toronto Star and CBC websites with shameless (and often inaccurate) bashing of Stephane Dion (I mean, yes, he is not the most media savvy, outspoken leader... but stupid or dishonest he is not, at least he has not proven to be thus far). 2) A new CBC poll showing that the Conservatives are poised to win an upcoming election (although the election hasn't even been called yet, and nobody except the Conservatives are campaigning... so hopefully that will turn around).

I'm really shocked where this country is at right now, where this country is ready to invest its votes, and the attitude of Canadians. If Harper wins the next election, I think I might even be sad to live here. Dion recently gave a speech in Winnipeg criticizing many of the weaknesses of the Harper administration. Although this may seem to go against Dion's policy of not going negative, most of his criticisms were on the level and accurate... which is more than be said of the mud being slung off the Conservative side.

One last thing that has caught my attention recently, is a nickname being slung around by Harper supporters on the CBC user comments, which is Lieberal. I think it's pretty audacious for people who are obviously closing their eyes to the outright lies and slander the Harper administration doles out to be calling the Liberals names, when Stephane Dion appears to be a politician of more integrity than I've seen in a politician before.

Some pre-election updates:

1) PM betrayed Canada, Dion says (Toronto Star)
Dion begins to explain why Harper should not be running our country.

2) Canadians set to vote Conservative: poll (CBC)
This is so depressing... I really hope the Liberals manage to put together one hell of an election campaign. An argument I see a lot in user comments is that Liberal supporters want to support Dion just because he is Liberal. I don't know if this is some kind of Conservative scam that is being spread around, but the reason I want to vote Liberal (and want you to vote Liberal) is that Harper is slimy, and Dion seems intelligent and nice.

3) PM authorized offer to Cadman (Toronto Star)
Harper's authorization to (essentially) bribe an MP to help bring down the Liberal government in 2005.

4) Go negative, St├ęphane, or lose (Toronto Star)
Opinion article on where Stephane should lay his punches. I have to admit, I don't actually think that there is anything wrong with showing where your opponent is weak. You just need to follow that up with how you are going to be stronger in that area. Really nasty negativity involves slander, lying, or just unsubstantiated accusation. That tends to be where I find a lot of the Conservative attacks land The article contained an interesting statement by a Toronto Area Liberal MP:
"Sure, for Dion integrity is critical and he wants to take the high road. But that's not going to work with a mudslinger like Harper."
And it also added:
"There's a dirty little secret about negative advertising that every political strategist knows all too well – and that's while voters insist they hate such ads, they work."
What does this say about us as a people? We're bad...