Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Filming on location

I stopped over at my school's Science library to pick up a brainy book for work. On the way, I happened by a flurry of activity. A small area around Queen's Park had been cordoned off. There were lots of police and even some EMS, but there were also tents and lots of cameras. What in the world was going on? It looked far too organized to be an emergency situation.

Turns out they were filming for Flashpoint, which is a Canadian police drama that I used to see advertisements for while watching Heroes. I was actually pretty interested in watching it based on the commercials, but never got around to sitting down at the right time.

The police Mobile Command truck sure looked impressive. I wasn't sure if it was the real deal or just a prop. For that matter, I wasn't sure if the police were real police or just pretend (although they did seem to have some real police cars). Maybe I should have looked to see if the cars were specifically Toronto Metropolitan Police or some generic Canadian brand for TV?

Still, that was pretty neat.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Love of the underdog

...even if he's a villain.

So, this weekend I joined up with a new guild on iRO Loki. Boy was that ever the greatest decision ever, because I found the most hilarious thing ever made on the guild forums. Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog is a short musical composed by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly) consisting of six webisodes. It follows the faux video blog of one Dr. Horrible (with a PhD in "horrible-ness"), a would-be super villain. The feature gets off to a slow start, but once the singing commences, it consistently crescendos upwards, providing some of the finest raw entertainment I've seen in ages.

Watch it all on YouTube:

In Dr. Horrible, we find a character bent on being evil (like Bad Horse, the thoroughbred of sin!). Yet at the same time, he bears such a benign alter ego. His evil ambitions seem justified against his pretty-boy nemesis, Captain Hammer, the girl-stealing, lady-boning "corporate tool."

He's the likable underdog. The irresistible anti-hero. Like Codename V, except funnier. Did I mention that Neil Patrick Harris is genius? Pure gold.

The question you have to ask is: How can something so wrong feel so right?

This appeared as a moral dilemma
Cause at first it was weird though I swore to eliminate
The worst of the plague that devoured humanity
It’s true I was vague on the ‘How’
so how can it be that you have shown me the light?

It’s a brand new day
And the sun is high
All the birds are singing
That you’re gonna die

How I hesitated
Now I wonder why
It’s a brand new day

All the times that you beat me unconscious I’ll forgive
All the crimes Incomplete, listen honestly I’ll live
Mr. Cool, Mr. Right, Mr. Knowitall is through
Now my future’s so bright and I owe it all to you Who showed me the light

It’s a brand new me
I’ve got no remorse
Now the water’s rising but I know the course
I’m gonna shock the world
Gonna Show Bad Horse
It’s a Brand New Day

And Penny will see the evil me
Not a joke not a dork not a failure
And she may cry but her tears will dry
When I hand her the keys to a shiny new Australia.

I loved this because back in high school when I harboured my own ambitions for world domination (which included being elected, dissolving parliament, overwhelming the world with Gundam soldiers, and throwing all the world's douchebags on Antarctica whilst first removing their jackets and auctioning them off for the profit of the state), I planned on making Australia my shiny new private estate.

"Why Australia?" you might ask. Well, in the game of Risk, my brother once held off my entire army by merely holding Australia. Yes, that tiny continent with its two-extra-armies-per-turn and single choke point flustered my troops for ages. This despite the fact that I was the world's one and only superpower and my influence was so large that I had to dip into two separate player colours to satiate my nation's thirst for armies. So, Australia? Australia is king.

P.S. When I went to work today, I told everybody I could find about Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. 90% of people didn't know who Joss Whedon was, and 75% had never watched any of his shows. This begs the question, "What the heck is wrong with you people?"

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Is this the one?

For my birthday, Brutus picked me up a copy of Utada Hikaru's new English language record, entitled This is the One. Utada and I go way back, her being my First Love of Japanese pop music, she always kept things Simple and Clean.

This is the One is the second Utada album to be gifted to me by Brutus in our longstanding friendship. The first, Single Collection Vol. 1, assembled the best of Utada's Japanese singles and forever affirmed her status as the queen of J-pop in my eyes.

This is the One also represents Utada's second foray into the English-language music space. Her first album, Exodus, crashed and burned in the North American market, vaguely damaging her overseas reputation. So is this album, as the title asserts, the One?

Get your own playlist at snapdrive.net!

Brutus warned me that I would need to give the album three chances before I made any judgements. It would take me that long not to hate it. True to his word, my first listen through This is the One left me with the unimpressive sensation that I was listening to any other would-be pop diva following in the footsteps of Britney Spears circa 1998, cheap-looking self-promoting cover art and all. Whatever charm made Utada's Japanese music so likable seemed to be missing.

However, as predicted, through multiple listens, the album quickly began to grow on me. The teeny-bopper style still prevailed, but Utada's recognizable voice and J-pop familiarity began to shine through. Particularly catchy was the single Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence - FYI, which I have included for your discrimination above.

NYC, NYC, whoa, whoa... Tokyo, Tyoko, whoa, whoa...

What surprised me the most about Utada's English-language album, however, was the amount of sexual innuendo. Now that I could actually understand lyrics, some of Utada's lyrical content seemed to stand in contrast to her generally modest image. Not unwelcome, simply unexpected.

Take, for instance, the song aptly titled Dirty Desire:

When I'm alone at night, I sit and fantasize
And in my fantasies, I love you long time
Doing my nine to five, I'm thinking six and nines
I've got to make you mine

Can you feel my?
(Dirty Desire)

When I told Brutus about my surprise, he replied, "She knows Westerners are horny, so she says a couple of dirty words - platinum." But I think in terms of horniness, the Japanese already have Westerners beat.

In the end, Utada's album invokes in me teen angst over love and relationships that are highly reminiscent of high school. Her trademark style is in there somewhere, so I still hope that she will be able to take off in the North American market (I actually heard her song playing at Suzy Shier when shopping with my girlfriend). Ganbatte!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Fresh Prince lives!

Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down and I'd like to take a minute just sit right there. I'll tell you how I become the prince of a town called Bel-Air. In west Philadelphia born and raised. On the playground is where I spent most of my days. Chillin' out, maxin', relaxin', all cool, And all shootin' some b-ball outside of the school. When a couple of guys they were up to no good, Started makin' trouble in my neighborhood. I got in one little fight and my mom got scared, And said, "You're movin' with your auntie and uncle in Bel-Air." I whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said fresh and it had dice in the mirror. If anything I could say that this cab was rare, But I thought, "Nah, forget it. Yo home to Bel-Air!" I pulled up to the house about 7 or 8 and I yelled to the cabby yo holmes smell ya later! Looked at my kingdom I was finally there to sit on my throne as the prince of Bel-Air.
Will Smith's Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a veritable pop icon, launching the actor's career into high gear and making Will Smith a household name. But that was the 1990's. So imagine my surprise when on my way home on the subway in 2009, on strolled a chap who had clearly taken style tips from one Fresh Prince. He had Will Smith's hip-hop swagger, and he was not shy about it. As he grooved to tunes emanating from his crimson red Nintendo DS, he shuffled his hands and feet in a form of seated dance. In case it's been too long since you last watched an episode of Fresh Prince, and you think that I am exaggerating the correlation, let's perform a style breakdown:

Exhibit A: Like Will's sidekick, Jazz, our subway patron sports a large pair of black plastic-framed glasses. Like Will himself, he sports a little bit of bling.

Exhibit B: Mister subway shares Will's backwards cap style, public use of ear-buds, and shameless public enjoyment of music.

Exhibit C: Like Will, subway guy also believes in the black vest plus t-shirt combo together with tight jeans.

Conclusion? The Fresh Prince lives! And he's right here in Toronto.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Epic Fail 168

I cannot recall the last time I had food this bad. Seriously. (Maybe it was that poutine I had at Burger King a few years back that was drenched in gravy which tasted like liquid salt...)

After attending our weekly Monday afternoon seminar, Mello, Ting, and I headed over to Tea Shop 168 at Yonge and Dundas. Now I love bubble tea, and I love cheap, instant bubble tea food - places like Ten Ren's and Go For Tea are my friends. However, I hate, rather I loathe, Tea Shop 168.

For the uninitiated, Tea Shop 168 is a chain. It sucks everywhere. In fact, one of my very first blog entries (which I deleted whilst I was still settling into this whole blogging thing) was about the abysmal service I experienced at Tea Shop 168 at Commerce Gate.

On this particular occasion, I ordered a milk black tea (with pearls), noodles with stewed beef, and a condensed milk brick toast. Things were already off to a bad start by this point, the waitress having given me a dirty look for trying to order while at the same time being on the phone with J-Rock. The tea was bland. The noodles were bland. The brick toast? Not toasted.

Instead of the warm, toasted delight to which I am accustomed, I was served a cold piece of thick bread with condensed milk spread on top. What in the world is that? We could barely finish it.

Ting had to leave early. After walking to the front to pay, she came back and dropped off some money with us because the person at the front desk didn't know how to operate the cash register. Stupid Tea Shop 168...


In other news, a third year medical student was selling his one-year old HTC Touch in preparation for a new iPhone. The going price was $50, and I considered laying down a bid, but decided that it would probably be quickly snapped up. As it turned out, the buyer was Mello!

After playing around with her phone for an hour or so (at Tea Shop 168), I came away with a bad case of the envies...


After tea, we dropped by J-Rock's place to hang out for awhile. On the way there, we passed by this patient sleeping on a bench outside the hospital in broad daylight. I thought they were a homeless person, but Mello told me that they were wearing an inpatient bracelet. Strange?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Welcome to the Trauma Team

Trauma Center for the Nintendo Wii was one of the most entertaining gaming gimmicks I have ever bought into. It's also one of the only Wii games that I ever saw through from start to finish.

You take on the persona of Derek Stiles, an up and coming young surgeon, and for the first chapter of the game things seem downright medical - stitching up wounds, transplanting kidneys... (although that magical green elixir that you inject to keep people alive is rather fanciful). That is, until you hit chapter two and unlock your magical powers known as the "Healing Touch." The rest of the game involves "surgeries" where you frantically remove tumours (which look and act more like space aliens) called GUILT from patients bodies. So it's not realistic, but what fictional medical setting is? Grey's Anatomy? Don't make me laugh.

Well, from the makers of Trauma Center now comes Trauma Team. That's right, a good doctor doesn't handle things on his own - medicine is a team sport, right? And that team consists of voluptuous, busty young doctors in such real-life specialties as... Diagnosis and... Endoscopy. That's right, if only we could all do a five-year residency and come out only having to know how to do endoscopy...

Realism aside, I'm sure Trauma Team will be an awesomely killer game. However, based on how difficult the first one was (frantically operating in the dark, anyone?), I've more or less resigned myself never to attack another trauma game on the Wii again... regardless of how smoking hot the anime nurses are.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Seriously, double-yew-tee-eff??!!

Being a slave to my blog, I used to check my Google Analytics statistics everyday. Eventually, however, I realized that it wasn't worth sweating over something I had such little control over. Nonetheless, it's entertaining to once in awhile to peruse through the keywords that sometimes lead strangers to bump into my blog completely by accident via search engines like Google.

For instance, one fellow was desperately seeking affirmation that Wii Motion Plus worked well for Virtua Tennis 2009 on Nintendo's popular console. After bumping into my scathing review of this deeply flawed technology, the said visitor immediately bounced off my site, spending less than a second to scan the contents. They say ignorance is bliss.

When I saw this one, I almost choked. I guess Grad House's gay porn is no secret. Then again, none of those searches specifically mention gay porn at Grad House... so maybe these visitors were actually seeking for information on gay-friendly environments and homosexual sex at said residence. In that case, a free porn channel is just gravy.

After my opinion piece of North Korea, I had more than a dozen people hit my blog whilst searching for Kim Jong Il and North Korea. Most of them immediately bounced off. A sizable number of them wanted to know if Kim Jong Il has syphilis. While I wouldn't be surprised since I'm sure "supreme leaders" do often to have their own harems, is this really a key issue?

It's always interesting to see how two keywords from different blog entries can combine to draw people to my blog...

The lesson? I can see your private searches, and we are not amused... No, I lied. We are.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Best of Facebook advertising

Those of you who grace my Facebook friends list have probably already seen the sketchbag "Zo sees you naked" advertisement that I screen-captured off my deviantArt page, but this was certainly not the last colourful advert that I can thank Mark Zuckerberg for. Hours of playing Restaurant City have bled my eyes dry from Facebook marketing. Some genuinely compelled me to click ("I make $5000 a week, and all I need to know is how to touch-type!"), where others had me fighting my gag reflex. Here are three of the most entertaining adverts I've seen this year:

#1: Effectively cashing in on "Swine Flu" panic, this advert correctly declares that "surgical masks are not effective" against pathogens. It then audaciously claims to be "the only mask in the World" (that's "World" with a capital "W") that "kills Swine Flu." Yeah, fat chance buddy.

The fact of the matter is that even if everyone went out today and bought an N95 mask (which lots of people did during SARS), they'd still be ineffectual since the average layperson has neither been fit tested nor trained to use such a device. In other words? Masks make people who aren't protected feel protected.

But what's the huge hubbub about anyways? Swine Flu has scarcely proven as virulent as the seasonal flu. Heck, my little cousin (somehow amazingly) contracted H1N1, and it did little more than give him a fever and exempt him from writing his high school exams. Was it really necessary for the Chinese to quarantine my friend Kushima in a hotel room over fears of this pithy little bug?

#2: I caught this one while logging into Evey's restaurant (which she's neglected ever since she managed to raise three dishes to level 10). Yes, women do get different adverts from men - for better or for worse.

#3: And on the male side of things, there's a permanent solution to those unsightly man-boobs. You don't have to change your diet or even exercise! It's kind of like the Atkin's diet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's savory!

Today, one of the PhD students at work successfully graduated. In following what is allegedly the French tradition, we held a "pot de départ" - essentially a potluck-esque gathering with food and drink. One of my fellow research students thoughtfully eyed an ambiguous looking breaded pastry before eating it...

Andy: How is it?

The artsy one: It's savory.

Andy: Now that's a word I don't use everyday...

The mean one: I know! Me neither.

The weird one: Really? What's the opposite of sweet then?

Andy: Bland? ...Salty?

The weird one: Savory means salty. What do you think savory means?

Andy: Tasty?

The mean one: Yeah, that's what I thought too.

Andy: Hmm... two versus two. Let's ask the smart one.

The smart one: Ask me what?

Andy: What does savory mean?

The smart one: Uh... tasty and not sweet?

Andy: See! We said tasty, they said salty.

The smart one: Savory can be salty but it can also be other things.

The artsy one: Well we said "not sweet."

The smart one: Yeah, I don't think that's a good way at looking at it.

[Insert evil, satisfied laughter here]

/ˈseɪvəri/ [sey-vuh-ree]

1. pleasant or agreeable in taste or smell: a savory aroma.
2. piquant: a savory jelly.
3. pleasing, attractive, or agreeable.

4. British. an aromatic, often spicy course or dish served either as an appetizer or as a dessert, as pickled fish or brandied fruit.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bollocks to Wii Motion Plus

Wii Motion Plus is the latest bite-sized controller add-on for Nintendo's Wii video game console. Nintendo's promise for this device is that it will greatly improve the controller's accuracy. The catch phrase "one-to-one" has been tossed around a lot, meaning that Wii Motion Plus allows the controller to replicate your movements exactly - if you move your arm above your head, your character should move their arm above their head; if you bob your controller up and down, your character should bob their hands up and down. It's an exciting concept - imagine Wii Tennis where you can actually give a proper backswing rather than attacking from the wrist.

Some have criticized Wii Motion Plus as a con, making consumers pay $25 for what is essentially a "patch" to make the Wiimote do what it should have been able to do originally. Indeed, Wii controllers have continually milked consumers for more cash - $45 for the Wiimote plus $33 for nunchuk and now $25 for Wii Motion Plus? That brings a single Wii controller up to a wallet-draining $103 plus tax. So it had better work, right?

Electronic Arts (EA) promised it would. With Nintendo's lead Wii Motion Plus title (Wii Sports Resort) not due out until the end of July, it was up to EA's Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 and Grand Slam Tennis, as well as Sega's Virtua Tennis 2009, to demonstrate why Wii Motion Plus was worth all that cold hard cash. The above video demonstration certainly made it look like a sweet deal.

Riveted by the prospect of fully fleshed out versions of Wii Golf and Wii Tennis just as I had always imagined, I ran out and picked up two Wii Motion Plus attachments shortly after their June 8th release along with a copy of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10. Less convincing reviews for Grand Slam Tennis and Virtua Tennis 2009 gave me pause, and I decided to rent both from Blockbuster Video at a cost of $10 each.

After reading the generally positive reviews from critics about the second-coming of Wii gaming via Wii Motion Plus, I expected to be blown away. Sadly, never has it been more apparent that critics are little more than paid mouthpieces for the industry than during my trial run of this deeply flawed technology.

I'll admit that for Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10, Wii Motion Plus worked more or less as advertised. While Tiger refused to follow my every motion, he seemed relatively happy to follow my up and down swings with precision... which in fact made the game a lot harder (and more realistic). That was good (I think).

I moved on to tennis, which really excited me. Which of these two games would be worth buying? The answer was neither. After spending a little time with both games, it was clear that the controls were bollocks and claims of "one-to-one" fidelity were shameless lies. If I pointed my Wiimote to the right, my character would point to the left. I tried moving my racket every which way, but my character refused to mimic my actions. Indeed, the only motion that was truly registered was the actual swing, which left me with the sour taste that I'd been had. After all, wasn't that just what the original Wiimote had done? The only difference between my character's movements with and without Wii Motion Plus was that with the new attachment, he seemed to flail his arms around a lot more, but this random flailing by no means mimicked my own movements.

I referred back to EA's demo video (posted above) in an attempt to understand how in the world my own experience could be so drastically different from the advertised one. Of course, if you look carefully, you'll realize that EA's spokesperson is actually matching the character's movement more than the character is matching his. I'd been had indeed!

In IGN's deceptively glowing review of Grand Slam Tennis, Mark Bozon notes, "It took me about 10 – 15 minutes of time to really get a feel for what Wii MotionPlus was doing, and another half hour or so to really feel confident that I was playing exactly how it wanted me to, but considering the amount of time real tennis takes that's not exactly a huge investment." But wait, there's something wrong with that statement. The whole point of Wii Motion Plus is that you shouldn't have to get a feel for what Wii Motion Plus is doing, it should be doing what you're doing, you brain-dead lapdog.

The conclusion is that Wii Motion Plus is an unimpressive add-on, which will likely be requisite for all future Wii games (hence bleeding Nintendo's faithful users even more dry through unnecessary hardware). It's a gimmicky conspiracy conceived of by backroom Nintendo executives, dishonest EA programmers, and dodgy game reviewers which simply does not work as advertised. Period.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My HR nightmare

So I'm spending my summer doing full-time medical research at a leading downtown hospital, which I shall henceforth refer to as the Hospital for Unwell Muppets (HUMP). While HUMP may be world renowned for its groundbreaking medical expertise, it is possibly the worst organized hospital... ever. Let me explain.

My adventure with HUMP begins in December. I signed on for a year-long research programme, part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer from June to August. In order to get keycard access to my workspace as well as be paid, I needed to get my hire at HUMP completed as well as my hospital orientation. Orientations only took place on Mondays, most of which I had class during. I tried to organize orientation twice - once in December and once in March, sending the appropriate forms to the secretary twice (because she had apparently lost them after the first time). In a heartwarming show of ineptitude, my orientation slipped through the cracks.

Because I was not starting full-time until June, my supervisor proposed that we not worry about keycard access and my hire until then. This meant, of course, that I wouldn't be paid during the year and that I would need a lump sum to make up for this. That was fine with me, so we went along with that arrangement. Come May, I informed the secretary again in a timely manner that I would be starting full time on June 1st. In an uplifting demonstration of apathy, she booked me an orientation for June 15th. Additionally, when I did finally see my contract, I got a sinking suspicion that I would only be making about half of our agreed upon salary. I tried not to let this bog me down, however, since I'm in this for the prospect of publication, not the money.

Still, it was becoming irksome to have to solicit aid everytime I wanted to unlock a door. Could I possibly get a badge (with key access) before the orientation? No, replied the secretary. Meanwhile, my TB test, which was current during the period at which I had submitted my HR forms (December and March) had expired just as the secretary had finally gotten my hire sorted out. Occupational Health, being the charming chumps that they are gave me about two days notice that I needed to get a new TB test or face suspension. Jolly good.

Then, today my orientation arrived at last... except the secretary had not told me where to go. I showed up on the Main Floor of HUMP, where my contract had indicated orientation would occur at 9 AM. Another student from my lab met me there because she too was supposed to have orientation. No dice. After aggravating an Information Desk staffer who apparently didn't start work until somewhere in the order of 9:15, I managed to get the phone number of my supervisor's secretary. Oh really? I didn't tell you where to go? My bad. It's in the building across the street.

My friend and I barrelled across the street and took the elevator up to our supposed training location. Nope, training is back in the hospital on the First Floor. Curse you all! My friend blitzed back across the street, almost getting us run over in the process. A black SUV screeched to a halt just like in the movies. I hate being the retard that doesn't look.

And so we arrived at the proper orientation location almost thirty minutes late. I hate being late. I got dirty looks from the instructors, meanwhile my friend's name was not even on the list (another win for our secretary) and couldn't participate. Did it matter that I was late, though? Not really. The orientation was the waste of so many hours of my life that I will never get back.

It began with an hour and a half of hospital intro: We pay you competitively. We have competitive benefits. We're world leaders. Welcome to the family. Yadda yadda. Then there was an hour for a pointless self-guided tour where we walked to random locations in the hospital and read out a little museum-guidebook-like transcript: This part of the building was constructed in 1985 at a cost of 25 million dollars yadda yadda. We spent another half hour talking about policy - namely how you can infringe them by not being honest or by calling your colleagues funny names. Whoop dee doo. After an hour's lunch, there were another two hours of listening to Occupational Health and Safety... which was actually pretty entertaining. Still, the training certainly could have been condensed into two solid hours. Instead it ran from 9 AM to 3 PM.

While the orientation was in progress, there were also sheets floating around for us to sign up for badging times and Occupational Health appointments (more time lost...). However, while the sheets were going from side to side, the douche beside me decided it might be a clever idea to send it backwards instead of back to the side. Those sheets went round and round and round the theatre before finally finding their way to me almost dead last.

What could only exacerbate my vexation was that plenty of students had gone to receive their badges prior to their orientation. That means (to my surprise) that the secretary had no idea what she was talking about and that I could have spent two weeks with lovely access to all the proper doors. Well, if we could just walk in and get a badge, I wasn't going to wait for days to get one at an inconvenient appointment time. So at 3 PM, I bolted for the badging office and got my badge done up post-haste.

All's well that ends well, right? I wish. Not only did my badge bear the uninspiring title of "Research Institute Volunteer" (which apparently requires another damn form to be fixed) but it also has zero access to any doors, rendering it thereby useless.

Conclusion? I wasted an entire day at a pointless orientation so that I could finally get my badge that actually didn't require the orientation. Meanwhile my badge was mislabelled and useless and Occupational Health is breathing down my neck for immunizations that were fully valid at the time when I submitted my forms and threatening me with suspension.

Oh, and did I mention that Occupational Health also said that as long as I don't have a badge number that they don't actually have a file for all the forms that I sent over already? HUMP, my friends, is an HR nightmare.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How I almost died

A friend is visiting this weekend from out of town. I was awakened by her around 2 AM to the smell of smoke and the distant cry of the downstairs fire alarm. "You guys are deep sleepers," she said. She'd woken up from a dream about eating burnt curry... except that burning aroma was real.

I rushed downstairs to see a cloud of smoke in the kitchen hovering above the stove's red-hot glowing element, an unhappy pot rattling loudly above it. Holding my sleeve to my mouth to screen the overwhelming fumes, I briefly cringed at the prospect of reaching over the element to turn off the stove. I inspected the dials, but didn't see any of them on.

In my panicked, half-groggy state, I couldn't quite comprehend the situation. My brain raced through scenarios of stove malfunction (on, but not on). I ran back upstairs to rouse my sleeping parents. "Something's burning, but I don't think the stove is on!" I explained. "Of course it's on!" retorted my Mom, who rushed back downstairs to deal with the crisis.

Apparently, she had thought to boil some soup before sleeping and had turned it "off" before sleeping, but the dial hadn't quite clicked, leaving the stove "on" but deceptively close to the "off" position. The upstairs fire alarm was dysfunctional.

The pungent smell of burning soup and metal remained thick in the air for the rest of the night (and is quite evident even now), even with all the upstairs windows open. But I can't think how bad things might have been if my friend hadn't woken me up at 2 AM and I had instead slept through till 10 with a... burning house?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Abnormal after all

Today, one of my friends from work was looking at the the 3D reconstruction of their head that the research assistant (who looks like Kirsten Dunst) had sent to them from their MRI scan. Since I know how to look at my own brain on the computer, I had never bothered to unzip the pictures that the research assistant had sent me. But since I didn't know how to do all these neat graphic reconstructions, I decided to finally look at my own batch of photos.

As I perused through facsimiles of my face and rainbow coloured 3D models of my brain, I noticed something unusual in the two or three unmodified slices that I'd been sent...

There was unusual hyperintense blob sitting in front of my brain in my frontal sinus! I quickly double-checked this on the axial and coronal slices. Slightly perturbed, I looked through a couple other brains and didn't see anything similar on any of them. The research assistant assured me that these scans are reviewed by a neurologist, and so I should be safe...

But I'll buy a free lunch for anyone who can identify the lesion!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What I've learned...

Today, I had the chance to attend clinical neuroradiology rounds. After watching and listening to the discussion of MR images, I realized that a substantial amount of the baseline knowledge that I needed to understand what was going on had been laid down as I studied for Lady Brain and Behaviour. My brain ached in pain as it tried to pull back all the diffuse bits of knowledge I had accumulated over the last two months, loosely tethered to the outskirts of my memory.

Above: First year medicine

And as I attempted this painful memory exercise, I stopped to ponder. Probably, I thought to myself, I've learned a sizable chunk of applicable medical knowhow this year. But I remember so little of it. I realize that UofT believes in iterative learning, but the recognition of all this fleeting medical information still made me feel more than a little dissatisfied. I'd love to reacquaint myself with all my notes from this year, but not only am I not motivated enough to do so but there are literally thousands upon thousands of pages. Even when I hear a timely medical factoid and recognize, "Hey, I learned that, I'd rather like to look it up again," there is virtually no way for me to find the said fact. The stack of notes is simply far too overwhelming.

One day, I too will be like that neuroradiology resident who after years of training had no idea what a clivus was. Even I know what a clivus is. And that, sadly, is the point - right now, I know what a clivus is.

So the question is, is it better to have learned and lost than to never have learned at all?

I learned something else today:

Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don't make sense

Doesn't it seem unfair that I'll probably remember this poem for the rest of my life, but in a few years I won't know what a clivus is?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Grad school horrors

Sorry for the blog neglect, I've been more lethargic than ever...

With so many newly minted graduates shuffling their way off to graduate school come September, locked into Ivory Towers for two to seventy billion five years of research, I thought I might share some inspiring anecdotes encouraging them to lament laud their good fortune.

I myself am not a graduate student. But friends, acquaintances, and siblings and have successfully traversed that road and returned with many stories of fire and tarnation involving buddies, peers, and fellow grad students. The problem with graduate studies in science is that you're entirely at the mercy of your supervisor. They decide when you are ready (or not ready) to approach your defense. They may want to squeeze you for a few experiments, a few papers, or inexhaustible cheap labour. And when it comes to taking sides, the university will often pick the one with whom they'll be stuck working with from now until forever... that is, the supervisor.

It's not that good supervisors and good graduate experiences don't exist (in fact, they're probably the majority), it's that bad supervisors with god-complexes and a serious sadistic streak do exist (likely traumatized from the early stigmatism of being the helpless science geek). And given one of those, you're completely and utterly screwed.

Where should we begin? With the fellow who was so at odds with his supervisor that he only entered the lab at night (so as to never encounter the said prof)? The lady whose New York professor up and left for a new position in Tennessee? No, there are stories better yet.


This is a true story. It happened to a friend of a friend of mine...

Lady W was a grad student when my sister was an undergrad and TA-ed one of my sister's courses. My sister graduated and went on to work on her PhD. Lady W continued working on her own degree for years and years... and years...

What went wrong? Once upon a time, there was a fire in the chemistry building. W was busy working at her fume hood down the hall from the fire. With the fume hood on, she couldn't at all hear the fire alarm. You see, the university had recently installed a newfangled alarm system. Where once there was a jarring screech, now the fire alarms emitted a pleasant "ping".

Using her woman's intuition to detect something amiss, W stuck her head out the lab door to be greeted by smoke and alarms. She made a break for it and got out safely. Later, she complained to her professor. "I could have died," W explained. "I'm going to file a complaint with the safety commission."

"No, I don't think you should do that," replied an angry professor. As it turned out, W's supervisor had been on the committee that had implemented the new alarm system. He was not about to be questioned. W took the issue to the safety board anyways. A large scale investigation was undertaken and it was found that in a dozen or so laboratories, the fire alarm was inaudible with the fume hood on.

W's supervisor, however, would not forgive this usurpation of his judgement and authority. W would continue to be strung along for as long as she could bear. Years of work with little to show for it.


This is a true story. It happened to a friend of a friend of mine...

Mister G was working on his Masters degree. He could see no end in sight to his work - every time he finished an experiment, his supervisor simply assigned him more work. G didn't know how to say no.

Anticipating his graduation, G was scheduled to return to India for an arranged marriage. However, with his supervisor never letting up on the cheap labour, G received one new experiment after another. Eventually, he even postponed his wedding.

Months later, G finished up his last set of experiments. When he notified his prof, he expected a pat on the back and a, "Great, now we're done." Instead, he received a brand new battery of work. Already flustered at his ongoing Masters and postponed wedding, G snapped and broke down in tears.

"Oh..." commented his supervisor. "Okay, you don't have to do it."

The prof went on to encourage G to return for a PhD once he was married.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What a coinkidink!

On Friday, I got off work at 5. Usually, I can count on my Mom for a ride home from Finch station, so I gave her a ring. No answer. Rather than trudge all the way uptown and be locked out of my house (I didn't bring a key), I decided to see if Kushima wanted to eat downtown.

Kushima is usually up for anything fun at any time, but as it turned out, he was leaving for China the next day. His parents were already on the way downtown to take him home to Markham, so he had to politely decline my offer. Bollocks.

Plan B. I remembered the Bluenotes gift card from my birthday and considered hitting the Eaton's Centre. Okay, I thought to myself, It's Friday afternoon, and there aren't that many people on the street. A lot of people probably took off early because it's the weekend. If I walk across College to the Yonge line, the subway probably won't be as crowded as on other days. (I usually catch the TTC subway on the University line and ride it around the loop so that I can sit down) If figured that if I could get a hold of my Mom by the time I reached Yonge, I would head north. If I couldn't, then I would head south and go shopping.

Now even though shopping by myself would probably be efficient, I wasn't really keen on clothes shopping alone, so I started brainstorming. Would Sydney be downtown? Maybe not. What about Mello? Definitely one of my more reliable lady friends. No, probably hanging out with Lucky if anything. Truth be told, the only person I'd usually trust to shop with other than Evey is Pomme - one of my oldest friends and annual Christmas shopping companion.

I thought about these people as I walked east on College toward Yonge. Then, about halfway... I saw Pomme! She was walking along with her boyfriend (who I got to meet for the very first time, which was exciting), and as I waved, I heard someone yell behind me. "Andy!" I turned around, and there was Mello! I didn't get to talk to either for very long, but that was a pretty uncanny scenario.

To offset this seemingly good fortune, I arrived at the subway and it was packed to the brim. I had to wait for three trains to go by before I managed to get onto one and squeeze myself inside like one of many canned sardines. Hooray? /end week

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Oh, brother...

After four years of secrecy, my brother's game has finally come out of hiding at the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) 2009. Yes, Splinter Cell Conviction has my brother's fingerprints all over it, from the teeming civilians blithely walking by chatting on their cell phones, to the toilet basin that smashes to bits as it meets skull, to the elaborate chandelier that comes crashing down. I couldn't be more proud. /tear

He's married to his wife

So today I was in the MRI suite waiting for a scan to be completed. Two of the nurses that brought the patient in (N1 & N2) were talking amongst themselves:

N1: "Look at this sentence here: 'He's married to his wife.' Isn't that stupid? I mean... He's married to his wife. Isn't that redundant?"

N2: "It's redundant. It's very redundant."

N1: "Yeah, I mean, 'He's married to his wife.' Who else would he be married to? Hah! He's married to his wife..."

A: "Well, he could be married to his husband..."

It's true.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Life of science

So, it's only been two days of full-time work, but I already feel like a helpless, useless waste of air. The consoling factor is that I got an MRI scan of my freaking brain! That... is... awesome...

(Yes, that image is actually my brain... and it's spectacular)